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Classes of executive functions: homeostatic, mediative, proactive | Zaleznik (1964)

The term proactive, in comparison to reactive, only dates back to 1964. [1]  #AbrahamZaleznik, a professor of organizational psychodynamics and practicising psychoanalyst, cited Chester Barnard in the distinction for managers performing in nonexecutive and executive functions.  Building on Sigmund Freud’s later development of energy cathexes, with emotional energy towards (i) ideas, (ii) persons, or a (iii) fusion of the two, the predisposition of a manager influences priorities.  These may (or may not) be altered through (executive) education.

A central objective of … training efforts [within and outside of universities] is to modify behavior, usually interpersonal, according to some set of norms that relate to organizational effectiveness or improved individual and group performance.

The purpose of this paper is to raise for inquiry the adequacy of existing notions of what interpersonal competence is, how it relates to the manager’s job, and the best means for helping managers achieve this competence. [Zaleznik (1964) p. 156]

Executive functions ensure the organization operates as a cooperative system through specialized authority; nonexecutive functions include technical activities of the organization that might be carried out by others.

The term proactive, in comparison to reactive, only dates back to 1964. [1]  #AbrahamZaleznik, a professor of organizational psychodynamics and practicising psychoanalyst, cited Chester Barnard in the distinction for managers performing in nonexecutive and executive functions.  Building on Sigmund Freud’s later development of energy cathexes, with emotional energy towards (i) ideas, (ii) persons, or a (iii) fusion of the two, the predisposition of a manager influences priorities.  These may (or may not) be altered through (executive) education.

A central objective of … training efforts [within and outside of universities] is to modify behavior, usually interpersonal, according to some set of norms that relate to organizational effectiveness or improved individual and group performance.

The purpose of this paper is to raise for inquiry the adequacy of existing notions of what interpersonal competence is, how it relates to the manager’s job, and the best means for helping managers achieve this competence. [Zaleznik (1964) p. 156]

Executive functions ensure the organization operates as a cooperative system through specialized authority; nonexecutive functions include technical activities of the organization that might be carried out by others.

Inquiring systems and asking the right question | Mitroff and Linstone (1993)

Inputs, Operator, Outputs, Guarantor

Fit the people around an organization; or an organization around the people? Working backwards, say @MitroffCrisis + #HaroldLinstone, from current concrete choices to uncertain futures, surfaces strategic assumptions in a collective decision, better than starting with an abstract scorecard to rank candidates. The Unbounded Mind is an easier-reading follow-on to The Design of Inquiry Systems by C. West Churchman.

This scorecard metaphor shows up in the second of five ways of knowing (i.e. inquiring systems)

Inputs, Operator, Outputs, Guarantor
Figure 2.2 . An inquiry system [Mitroff & Linstone (1993), p. 32]
Chapter 3 is “The World as a Formula: The Second Way of Knowing”. A case study commonly used in business school education is described.

To illustrate the use and meaning of the Analytic-Deductive IS in a social realm, we’ll apply it to a situation that on the surface at least is as “simple” as the question that occupied us in the last chapter. There is a somewhat dated yet classic case in the Harvard Business Review that provides a perfect depiction of the Analytic-Deductive IS. [5] Four men are running for the presidency of a fictitious life insurance company, Zenith Life. Background information on their strengths and weaknesses, families, career history, skills, and so on, is given for all four, although we do not receive the same information for each of them. Thus, we know more about one candidate in one category than we do about another. Also, the history and current nature of Zenith Life itself, its prospects and problems, its opportunities as well as threats, are described. The central question of the case is, “Which of the four candidates is best qualified to head Zenith Life, given both its past history and its current condition?”  [pp. 41-42]

  • [5] Abraham T. Collier, “Decision at Zenith Life,” Harvard Business Review, January-February 1962, Vol. 40, No. 1, pp. 139-157

In all the years that we have given this seemingly “simple case” to scores of students and executives, the typical response has remained remarkably the same. Almost every student and executive — whether they worked individually on the case or in small groups — built a single, simple model that selects one and only one of the candidates as best for Zenith Life. The models are virtually the embodiment of Analytic-Deductive reasoning whether the students and executives were aware of this or not; in most cases, they were not.

The models essentially work as follows. A set of attributes that are characteristic of leadership is determined or specified: for instance, how charismatic each of the candidates is; their capacity to inspire others; the ability to formulate a vision of what Zenith Life needs to be in the coming decade; to present one’s ideas in a direct and persuasive manner so that others will want to join on; a clear sense of ethics and the ability to make decisions that are ethical and moral; their past job performance — job history, personality, and so on. Other variables such as”family support” were also included. Each candidate is then scaled on each attribute to the degree that the individual either embodies or possesses it. Typically, a score of “1” represents the absence of a particular attribute or poor performance on it, whereas “10” indicates the complete possession of an attribute or high performance. On more sophisticated models, the attributes are weighted differently so that, for example, the category “ethics” might be rated three times more important than one’s score in the area of “past job performance.” The “best candidate” to run Zenith Life is then selected on the basis of who has the highest score on all the attributes and their weightings.  [p. 42]

So, the scorecard would look something like this:

Fit the people around an organization; or an organization around the people? Working backwards, say @MitroffCrisis + #HaroldLinstone, from current concrete choices to uncertain futures, surfaces strategic assumptions in a collective decision, better than starting with an abstract scorecard to rank candidates. The Unbounded Mind is an easier-reading follow-on to The Design of Inquiry Systems by C. West Churchman.

This scorecard metaphor shows up in the second of five ways of knowing (i.e. inquiring systems)

Inputs, Operator, Outputs, Guarantor
Figure 2.2 . An inquiry system [Mitroff & Linstone (1993), p. 32]
Chapter 3 is “The World as a Formula: The Second Way of Knowing”. A case study commonly used in business school education is described.

To illustrate the use and meaning of the Analytic-Deductive IS in a social realm, we’ll apply it to a situation that on the surface at least is as “simple” as the question that occupied us in the last chapter. There is a somewhat dated yet classic case in the Harvard Business Review that provides a perfect depiction of the Analytic-Deductive IS. [5] Four men are running for the presidency of a fictitious life insurance company, Zenith Life. Background information on their strengths and weaknesses, families, career history, skills, and so on, is given for all four, although we do not receive the same information for each of them. Thus, we know more about one candidate in one category than we do about another. Also, the history and current nature of Zenith Life itself, its prospects and problems, its opportunities as well as threats, are described. The central question of the case is, “Which of the four candidates is best qualified to head Zenith Life, given both its past history and its current condition?”  [pp. 41-42]

  • [5] Abraham T. Collier, “Decision at Zenith Life,” Harvard Business Review, January-February 1962, Vol. 40, No. 1, pp. 139-157

In all the years that we have given this seemingly “simple case” to scores of students and executives, the typical response has remained remarkably the same. Almost every student and executive — whether they worked individually on the case or in small groups — built a single, simple model that selects one and only one of the candidates as best for Zenith Life. The models are virtually the embodiment of Analytic-Deductive reasoning whether the students and executives were aware of this or not; in most cases, they were not.

The models essentially work as follows. A set of attributes that are characteristic of leadership is determined or specified: for instance, how charismatic each of the candidates is; their capacity to inspire others; the ability to formulate a vision of what Zenith Life needs to be in the coming decade; to present one’s ideas in a direct and persuasive manner so that others will want to join on; a clear sense of ethics and the ability to make decisions that are ethical and moral; their past job performance — job history, personality, and so on. Other variables such as”family support” were also included. Each candidate is then scaled on each attribute to the degree that the individual either embodies or possesses it. Typically, a score of “1” represents the absence of a particular attribute or poor performance on it, whereas “10” indicates the complete possession of an attribute or high performance. On more sophisticated models, the attributes are weighted differently so that, for example, the category “ethics” might be rated three times more important than one’s score in the area of “past job performance.” The “best candidate” to run Zenith Life is then selected on the basis of who has the highest score on all the attributes and their weightings.  [p. 42]

So, the scorecard would look something like this:

Doing, not-doing; errors of commission, errors of omission

Should we do, or not-do?  Russell Ackoff, over many years, wrote about (negative) potential consequences:

There are two possible types of decision-making mistakes, which are not equally easy to identify.

  • (1) Errors of commission: doing something that should not have been done.
  • (2) Errors of omission: not doing something that should have been done.

For example, acquiring a company that reduces a corporation’s overall performance is an error of commission, as is coming out with a product that fails to break even. Failure to acquire a company that could have been acquired and that would have increased the value of the corporation or failure to introduce a product that would have been very profitable is an error of omission  [Ackoff 1994, pp. 3-4].

Ackoff has always been great with turns of phrases such as these.  Some deeper reading evokes three ideas that may be worth further exploration:

  • 1. Doing or not-doing may or may not invoke learning.
  • 2. Doing or not-doing invokes implicit orientations on time.
  • 3. Doing or not-doing raises question of (i) changes via systems of willful action, and/or (ii) changes via systems of non-intrusive action.

These three ideas, explored in sections below, lead us from the management of human affairs, beyond questions of science, and into question of philosophy.

For those interested in the history of philosophy and science, the three ideas above are followed by an extra section:

  • Appendix. Doing or not-doing in management can be placed philosophically in American pragmatism.

The question of doing or not-doing has been deep in the intellectual traditions of American management thinking in the latter 20th century.  The attitude of Bias for Action espoused by Tom Peters first published in 1982 exhorts managers to do.  Peters describes the shifts of 1962 “Bias of planning”, to 1982 “Bias for action” in a report card from 2001, and observes in a 2018 interview that it’s become the first of eight commandments in Silicon Valley.

1. Doing or not-doing may or may not invoke learning

One way of framing doing and not-doing is around decision-making mistakes.  In 1994, Ackoff was advocating strongly for organizational learning.  He criticized executives who suppress the surfacing of prior errors that might preclude the recurrence of mistakes.

The impacts of platforms

Concerns in the larger research body of research on platforms often leads to a subset looking into the impacts of the platform economy.  Let’s try some more digests responding to questions.

  • A. Is a shift to platforms considered as disruptive innovation?
  • B. Do network effects lead to a platform economy of “winner take all”?
  • C. With digital platforms based in information systems, what are the opportunities for knowledge effects?
  • D. What is the logic of participation on a platform?
  • E. Should platform capitalism be seen as positive or negative?
  • F. As an alternative to platform capitalism, should platform cooperativism be considered?
  • G. In the larger context of the sharing economy, how might platform initiatives be categorized?

The rise of the platform economy may be described either by the metaphor of “We Don’t Know Who Discovered Water, But We Know It Wasn’t a Fish” or the fable of the “Boiling Frog“.

Concerns in the larger research body of research on platforms often leads to a subset looking into the impacts of the platform economy.  Let’s try some more digests responding to questions.

  • A. Is a shift to platforms considered as disruptive innovation?
  • B. Do network effects lead to a platform economy of “winner take all”?
  • C. With digital platforms based in information systems, what are the opportunities for knowledge effects?
  • D. What is the logic of participation on a platform?
  • E. Should platform capitalism be seen as positive or negative?
  • F. As an alternative to platform capitalism, should platform cooperativism be considered?
  • G. In the larger context of the sharing economy, how might platform initiatives be categorized?

The rise of the platform economy may be described either by the metaphor of “We Don’t Know Who Discovered Water, But We Know It Wasn’t a Fish” or the fable of the “Boiling Frog“.

Platforms, an emerging appreciation

The term “platform” is now popular in a variety of contexts.  What do “platforms” mean, and what research might guide our appreciation?

Let’s outline some questions:

  • A. What came before the rise of platforms?
  • B. What types of platforms are there?
  • C. Why take a platform approach?
  • D. How do platforms manifest?
  • E. Why might a platform not be viable?
  • F. How are digital and non-digital platforms different?
  • G. What don’t researchers know about digital platforms?
  • H. What are the economic consequences of the platform economy?

The articles cited below are not exhaustive, but they may give a sense of the ballpark.

A. What came before the rise of platforms?

The industrial age was typified by descriptions of “supply chains” and “value chains”, which otherwise may be called “pipelines”. Marshall Van Alstyne, Geoffrey G. Parker, and Sangeet Paul Choudary write:

… platforms differ from the conventional “pipeline” businesses that have dominated industry for decades. Pipeline businesses create value by controlling a linear series of activities — the classic value-chain model. Inputs at one end of the chain (say, materials from suppliers) undergo a series of steps that transform them into an output that’s worth more: the finished product. [….]

The term “platform” is now popular in a variety of contexts.  What do “platforms” mean, and what research might guide our appreciation?

Let’s outline some questions:

  • A. What came before the rise of platforms?
  • B. What types of platforms are there?
  • C. Why take a platform approach?
  • D. How do platforms manifest?
  • E. Why might a platform not be viable?
  • F. How are digital and non-digital platforms different?
  • G. What don’t researchers know about digital platforms?
  • H. What are the economic consequences of the platform economy?

The articles cited below are not exhaustive, but they may give a sense of the ballpark.

A. What came before the rise of platforms?

The industrial age was typified by descriptions of “supply chains” and “value chains”, which otherwise may be called “pipelines”. Marshall Van Alstyne, Geoffrey G. Parker, and Sangeet Paul Choudary write:

… platforms differ from the conventional “pipeline” businesses that have dominated industry for decades. Pipeline businesses create value by controlling a linear series of activities — the classic value-chain model. Inputs at one end of the chain (say, materials from suppliers) undergo a series of steps that transform them into an output that’s worth more: the finished product. [….]

The Systems Approach and Its Enemies | C. West Churchman | 1979

West Churchman (1913-2004) was a Ph.D. supervisor to some luminaries in the systems sciences, including  Russell L. Ackoff, Ian Mitroff, Harold G. Nelson and Werner Ulrich.  Churchman’s 1979 book, The Systems Approach and Its Enemies, is unfortunately out of print, and is only readable on the web if you already have the text to search on.  Here, some excerpts will be surfaced that may encourage readers to seek a copy in a local library.

Preface

[….] This book is just another step in the search for the meaning of generality, in this case a general design of social systems.

There are lots of themes that can be used to describe this search. Perhaps the best one is the discovery that the usual dichotomy of x or not x never seems to display the general, because neither of the above is always so prominent an aspect of the general social system. Thus there is an immense part of social systems reality that is none of the following popular dichotomies in the current literature: rational-irrational, objective-subjective, hierarchical-nonhierarchical, teleological-ateleological, deductive-nondeductive reasoning (for example, inductive or dialectical), ineffable-effable.

West Churchman (1913-2004) was a Ph.D. supervisor to some luminaries in the systems sciences, including  Russell L. Ackoff, Ian Mitroff, Harold G. Nelson and Werner Ulrich.  Churchman’s 1979 book, The Systems Approach and Its Enemies, is unfortunately out of print, and is only readable on the web if you already have the text to search on.  Here, some excerpts will be surfaced that may encourage readers to seek a copy in a local library.

Preface

[….] This book is just another step in the search for the meaning of generality, in this case a general design of social systems.

There are lots of themes that can be used to describe this search. Perhaps the best one is the discovery that the usual dichotomy of x or not x never seems to display the general, because neither of the above is always so prominent an aspect of the general social system. Thus there is an immense part of social systems reality that is none of the following popular dichotomies in the current literature: rational-irrational, objective-subjective, hierarchical-nonhierarchical, teleological-ateleological, deductive-nondeductive reasoning (for example, inductive or dialectical), ineffable-effable.

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