Open systems LO19800

Roy Benford (
Wed, 11 Nov 1998 10:24:18 +0000

Replying to LO19776 --

I have been following this thread on Open Systems. In my understanding,
an Open System is one that exchanges material, including information, with
it's environment. The boundary of the system being defined by the
observer. As an observer, I define boundaries where I observe some
interruption in the flow of material and information.

In practical systems, such as organisations, I view the boundaries
(internal and external) as being defined by the way individual members of
the organisation pass information. So a workgroup defines it's boundary by
collectively deciding what internal information will be made public. In
the UK, this is sometimes formalised in law, for example there are rules
regarding information that the director workgroup can discuss outside the
workgroup as a mechanism to reduce "insider trading".

I see the issue of boundaries as a fundamental power issue. So to deny a
workgroup the right to define a boundary by controlling the flow of
information becomes an issue of power and control over the workgroup by
the environment, possibly even reducing the workgroup to a collection of

> Since this dialog opened, I have been doing some internal exploration on
> the subject also. I have been trying to relate the concepts of openness
> and divisionlessness (no boundary), to the corporate and systems
> environment. What I keep coming back to is fundamental Chaos theory.
> Even in a chaotic system there is order. By dissolving the boundaries and
> allowing free exchange and shared resources chaos is bound to occur.

This reminded me about a story about two British birds, Blue Tits &
Robins, that I read in "The Living Company" by Arie de Geus. In the UK,
milk is distributed to people's house in bottles. Orgininally, the
bottles were opened and both birds accessed the milk. Then the bottles
were capped with aluminium foil, the entire Blue Tit population learnt to
pierce the foil whereas the Robins did not. This difference between the
species was attributed to the Blue Tits dissolving their family boundaries
once a year and flocking. The resulting chaos seems to have caused
learning and evolution.

> Since
> it is human nature to order things, either to understand or to control,
> order would reassert boundaries. This would eventually return the system
> to its original form where boundaries are required and accepted. The
> major difference is the form and ideology of those boundaries. When man
> moved from roving family groups, mainly as gatherers, to hunter gatherer
> societies he did away with existing boundaries and moved to a new system
> where order of a different level of complexity was required. When he then
> settled into an agrarian society the old boundaries disappeared and a new
> order and new boundaries were formed. And so it has been down through the
> ages with each new evolutionary advance, either technological, theological
> or societal. Each time old boundaries are dissolved and new ones
> established out of the chaos of the change. What makes it important to
> understand these changes and develop LO's, education resources and
> systemic belief structures, is the rapidity of the changes. Between the
> family groups and the hunter-gatherer and the agrarian societies etc., was
> time for the changes to evolve and adapt. The rapid changes in todays
> social and economic structure does not allow for the assimilation of new
> material, methods or ideals before change occurs again. LO's, educators
> as a whole and enlightened corporate structures are going to have to
> dissolve current lines of demarcation or boundaries and reform new ones
> based on future possibilities.

Again, this reminded me of some reading. Gerald Midgley in his article in
Systems Practice on "The Sacred and Profane in Critical Systems Thinking"
talks about systems having primary & secondary boundaries that give rise
to different ethics resulting in conflict and that this conflict giving
rise to the scared and profane. So we customers being sacred or profane
depending upon which culture dominates. In "The structural transformation
of the public sphere" J|rgen Habermas talks of the evolution of European
Society and the emergence of the bourgeois from the conflict betweeen
society and the state and the resulting capitalism of today's western
world. Again, we have the sacred and profane views of capitalism
depending upon whether the dominant culture is private or public. It did
occur to me that this conflict between society and the state could be the
cause of other social phenomena such as the mafia (Russian or Italian) and
guerilla movements (S America).

> I, personally, feel that we are at the edge of a very large breakdown of
> current boundaries and that chaos is about to occur. Out of that chaos
> will grow a better and bigger structure. But to aid that evolutionary
> step, and prevent a disastrous chaotic period, we have to define and
> design and assist the systems and corporations we work with today.

It seems that society is moving into another stage of evolution. Over the
last two decades, we have been witnessing the withdrawal of the State from
the Means of Production (Thatcher in the UK, Regan in the US, etc.) in a
similar fashion to that recorded by Habermas that preceeded the emergence
of the bourgeois. How does Society steer the evolution to be beneficial?
I believe it is through ethics and values but I do not know the what ones
or how to apply them.

Roy Benford
Fulmer, UK


Roy Benford <>

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