Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies

Causal Texture of the Environment

For those who haven’t read the 1965 Emery and Trist article, its seems as though my colleague Doug McDavid was foresighted enough to blog a summary in 2016!  His words have always welcomed here, as Doug was a cofounder of this web site.  At the time of writing, the target audience for this piece was primarily Enterprise Architecture practitioners.   [DI]


Causal Texture of the Environment

Published on February 4, 2016

Doug McDavid

This post is a quick summary (or reminder) of a seminal piece of work by Fred Emery and Eric Trist, which I personally think should be required reading for EA practitioners. We occasionally hear about outside-in thinking, and inside-out thinking, and this paper is a very good place to start to focus on these styles of thought about the architecture of enterprise.

The paper I’m referring to is named “The Causal Texture of Organizational Environments”*. Emery and Trist pioneered the idea of sociotechnical systems at the Tavistock Institute in London in the 1950s. There’s a lot that can be said about organizations as sociotechnical systems. For instance, it’s worth noting this quote from Wikipedia (as of 3 February, 2016):

“Sociotechnical theory … is about joint optimization, with a shared emphasis on achievement of both excellence in technical performance and quality in people’s work lives. Sociotechnical theory … proposes a number of different ways of achieving joint optimisation. They are usually based on designing different kinds of organisation, ones in which the relationships between socio and technical elements lead to the emergence of productivity and wellbeing.”

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For those who haven’t read the 1965 Emery and Trist article, its seems as though my colleague Doug McDavid was foresighted enough to blog a summary in 2016!  His words have always welcomed here, as Doug was a cofounder of this web site.  At the time of writing, the target audience for this piece was primarily Enterprise Architecture practitioners.   [DI]


Causal Texture of the Environment

Published on February 4, 2016

Doug McDavid

This post is a quick summary (or reminder) of a seminal piece of work by Fred Emery and Eric Trist, which I personally think should be required reading for EA practitioners. We occasionally hear about outside-in thinking, and inside-out thinking, and this paper is a very good place to start to focus on these styles of thought about the architecture of enterprise.

The paper I’m referring to is named “The Causal Texture of Organizational Environments”*. Emery and Trist pioneered the idea of sociotechnical systems at the Tavistock Institute in London in the 1950s. There’s a lot that can be said about organizations as sociotechnical systems. For instance, it’s worth noting this quote from Wikipedia (as of 3 February, 2016):

“Sociotechnical theory … is about joint optimization, with a shared emphasis on achievement of both excellence in technical performance and quality in people’s work lives. Sociotechnical theory … proposes a number of different ways of achieving joint optimisation. They are usually based on designing different kinds of organisation, ones in which the relationships between socio and technical elements lead to the emergence of productivity and wellbeing.”

Read more (in a new tab)

Requirements … or … dreams?

This blogging area is about coevolution, and specifically coevolution of technology and culture. OK, maybe we haven’t said that so explicitly, but that is the larger process that would include coevolution of technology and business, or technology and work, or technology and enterprise.

How much of this is really about “requirements” at all? The definitions of requirements, as Martin has pointed out, are so dry and pedestrian. Requirements may be compulsory, requirements may be needs.

I like to think that much of what we do, even in business applications of technology, is about desires. Or, in the words of one of our IBM colleagues Sukanya Patwardhan, maybe it is about dreams.

What is it that gets right to the heart of what a user of technology aspires to? What can fulfill their human desires for success? How does this trace back to the levels of the Maslow hierarchy, from physiological survival to psychological actualization?

In a services world, like the one we live in (like the one we have always lived in even when fixated on the product-oriented industrial miracle), the fulfillment of dreams is an endless cascade of services. At some basic point there are people fulfilling their desires for influence, aesthetic satisfaction, or more basic survival and power. Almost none of this is “required” in any meaningful sense. Almost of all of this, however, is perfectly valid from the point of view of human beings embedded in their cultural environment, pursuing their most deeply felt dreams of success.… Read more (in a new tab)

Enterprise joy

I’m writing this as a response to one of David’s comments , where he noted the dark cast of my first posting on this site. 

I agree that there is a kind of serious cast to that post, where I talk about the complexity and uncertainty that managers face.  This prompted David to comment about the pain-relief school of management consulting.

However, I did mention the notion of sustainment, and this was meant in the most positive way, as an indication of the mutually life-sustaining relationship among human beings and their institutions.

I’d like to go a little further and propose the thought that enterprises may be a source of joy, and may even be thought to experience joy.  I credit this notion to one of our IBM colleagues, Sukanya Patwardhan.  As part of an extended discussion, I introduced one of my standard themes, which is that human social systems are fundamentally living systems , which, as usual led to a health care analogy.  Sukanya pursued this point further by saying that maybe what we should be concerned about is not simply healing, but rather to foster well-being in enterprise institutions.  She further said that as services professionals we should go beyond feeling our clients’ pain, but rather share their joy.

I have thought a lot about those words, and they resonate with me.  I agree with David that technologies can be fun, as well as utilitarian, or dominating in the sense of providing competitive advantage.… Read more (in a new tab)

Why coevolving?

The question of the relationship between technology and human social systems can be seen as a matter of coevolution.  That is the genesis of this discussion of factors and implications involved in coevolving technologies and human social systems. 

Technological tools and organizational methods have been coevolving rapidly over the past two hundred years as the world’s population has grown from an estimated one billion people in 1800 to six billion people in 2000. Technological tools, ranging from steam engines to electricity, from automobiles to airplanes, from telephones to computers are all ways of helping people accomplish work. Organizational methods, ranging from factories to assembly lines, from M-organizations to franchises, from call centers to outsourcing are ways of organizing and managing people and other resources to accomplish work. The rapid coevolution of these technological and social innovations creates a number of challenges for businesses and other enterprises.

The world of business today is increasingly competitive and uncertain.  Managers are faced with decisions about outsourcing and cost cutting, business process integration and productivity, partnerships and investments for growth. These are issues at every level from departments to business units, from enterprises to industries, and from regional to global economic planners. 

These issues of complexity, competitiveness, and uncertainty can be elevated to an overarching concern for enterprise sustainability. An enterprise can be any human social system, including business, government, and a whole range of non-profit and NGO institutions. These institutions are what sustain human life, and in turn they depend on the interplay of human intervention in the natural environment for their sustanence.… Read more (in a new tab)

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