Coevolving Innovations

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Measurement and mathematics – two different things

A large portion of managers prefer to run their businesses “by the numbers”. Gary Metcalf wrote about measurement and mathematics, but they’re two different things. Actually, mathematics is a subset of measurement. This is clear in the writings of C. West Churchman.

I got into reading West Churchman‘s writing, since he was Russell Ackoff‘s dissertation supervisor. (Russ is 87 years old, now. Churchman passed away in 2004 at the age of 90, so it’s not like he was a generator older.) In my reading of Churchman’s writings, I came to understand that his dissertation was actually on metrology — the philosophy of measurement. Given that background, it shouldn’t be a surprise to find that progress is the guarantor of the Singerian inquiring system (in The Design of Inquiring Systems).

Making a distinction between measurement and mathematics is straightforward in Churchman’s framework. Progress (including the sweeping in of new content) is the “fifth way of knowing” (if I use the ordering presented by Mitroff & Linstone in The Unbounded Mind. Mathematics is primarily an analytic-deductive inquiring system, which is the “second way of knowing”.

The important distinction between the second way and fifth way of knowing is openness. Mathematics is a closed system, In a Singerian inquiring system, new ideas are constantly “swept in” to ensure freshness and preclude groupthink. These ideas are applied by Barabba and Zaltman in Hearing the Voice of the Customer, and by Barabba in Meeting of the Minds. I apply these principles in the design of the sessions of the Special Integration Group on Systems Applications in Business and Industry at the annual ISSS meetings.It’s not measurement that is the issue per se, but what is being measured. The traditional has been to measure reductively, e.g. for performance of the group as a whole, measure the performance of the individuals, and then apply some mathematical function to add (or multiply) their contributions. What should be measured instead is the emergence — features that arise as a result of interaction between the parts (which are individual persons, in a human system).

In my system-based theory of the firm, an business only deserves to exist if it, as a whole, can produce something different from its parts. That’s synergy. Some feature in the whole that is a different from that which could be produced from the parts.


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