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How do Systems Changes become natural practice?

The 1995 article by Spinosa, Flores & Dreyfus on “Disclosing New Worlds” was assigned reading preceding the fourth of four lectures for the Systemic Design course in the Master’s program in Strategic Foresight and Innovation at OCAD University.  In previous years, this topic was a detail practically undiscussed, as digging into social theory and the phenomenology following Heidegger is deep.  Peter Jones and I are fans of ideas expanded into the 1999 book. I was privileged to visit personally with Fernando Flores in Berkeley in 2012, as I was organizing the ISSS 2012 meeting.  Contextualizing this body of work for a university course led into correlated advances in situated learning and communities of practice.

A preface to the lecture included The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory, and revisiting Change as Three Steps to clarify what Kurt Lewin did and did not write.

The agenda was in four sections. In the timebox available, the lecture covered the first two:

  • A. Situated Learning + History-making
    • Legitimate Peripheral Participation + Practices (Lave, Wenger)
    • Skill Acquisition + Disclosing New Worlds (Dreyfus, Spinosa)
  • B. Commitment + Language-Action Perspective
    • Conversations for Action (Flores)
    • Deliverables, procedures, capacities, relationships

The 1995 article by Spinosa, Flores & Dreyfus on “Disclosing New Worlds” was assigned reading preceding the fourth of four lectures for the Systemic Design course in the Master’s program in Strategic Foresight and Innovation at OCAD University.  In previous years, this topic was a detail practically undiscussed, as digging into social theory and the phenomenology following Heidegger is deep.  Peter Jones and I are fans of ideas expanded into the 1999 book. I was privileged to visit personally with Fernando Flores in Berkeley in 2012, as I was organizing the ISSS 2012 meeting.  Contextualizing this body of work for a university course led into correlated advances in situated learning and communities of practice.

A preface to the lecture included The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory, and revisiting Change as Three Steps to clarify what Kurt Lewin did and did not write.

The agenda was in four sections. In the timebox available, the lecture covered the first two:

  • A. Situated Learning + History-making
    • Legitimate Peripheral Participation + Practices (Lave, Wenger)
    • Skill Acquisition + Disclosing New Worlds (Dreyfus, Spinosa)
  • B. Commitment + Language-Action Perspective
    • Conversations for Action (Flores)
    • Deliverables, procedures, capacities, relationships

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.

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.

A philosophy of “becoming with” as “becoming alongside”

In foundational research, I went through a philosophical shift from “being” (in the sense of Hubert Dreyfus’ reading of Heidegger) towards “becoming”  — as I was writing a finalization of Open Innovation Learning in Chapter 9.  As I reflect more, my view of systems as living can be expressed as “becoming with“, and more precisely “becoming alongside“.

This is influenced not so much directly from philosophy, but from the ecological anthropology of Tim Ingold, as indicated in “Anthropology Beyond Humanity” in 2013.

I conclude with just two proposals.

First, every animate being is fundamentally a going on in the world. Or more to point, to be animate — to be alive — is to become. And as Haraway (2008: 244) stresses, ‘becoming is always becoming with—in a contact zone where the outcome, where who is in the world, is at stake’.

Thus whether we are speaking of human or other animals, they are at any moment what they have become, and what they have become depends on whom they are with. If the Saami have reindeer on the brain, it is because they have grown up with them, just as the reindeer, for their part, have grown up with the sounds and smells of the camp.  [….]

In foundational research, I went through a philosophical shift from “being” (in the sense of Hubert Dreyfus’ reading of Heidegger) towards “becoming”  — as I was writing a finalization of Open Innovation Learning in Chapter 9.  As I reflect more, my view of systems as living can be expressed as “becoming with“, and more precisely “becoming alongside“.

This is influenced not so much directly from philosophy, but from the ecological anthropology of Tim Ingold, as indicated in “Anthropology Beyond Humanity” in 2013.

I conclude with just two proposals.

First, every animate being is fundamentally a going on in the world. Or more to point, to be animate — to be alive — is to become. And as Haraway (2008: 244) stresses, ‘becoming is always becoming with—in a contact zone where the outcome, where who is in the world, is at stake’.

Thus whether we are speaking of human or other animals, they are at any moment what they have become, and what they have become depends on whom they are with. If the Saami have reindeer on the brain, it is because they have grown up with them, just as the reindeer, for their part, have grown up with the sounds and smells of the camp.  [….]

Exploring the Context of Pattern Languages

Pattern language is not for wicked problems, said Max Jacobson, coauthor with Christopher Alexander of the 1977 A Pattern Language: Towns, Building, Construction.  In addition, the conventional definition of an Alexandrian pattern as “a solution to a problem in context” when applied to social change might better use the term “intervention”, rather than “solution”.

These are two of the major ideas that emerged at Purplsoc 2017 conference last October.  A 90-minute workshop was run in parallel with other breakouts.

For about the first hour, vocal participants included Max Jacobson (who had given a plenary talk on “A Building is not a Turkish Carpet“), Christian Kohls (who gave a plenary talk on “Patterns for Creative Space“) and Peter Baumgarnter (one of the Purlpsoc chairs).

As an impetus to discussion, we stepped through slides that had been posted on the Coevolving Commons.

For people who would like the next-best experience to being there, the slides have now been matched up with the digital audio recording, for viewing as a web video.

For devices decoupled from the Internet, downloadable video files are portable.

Video H.264 MP4 WebM

Philosophers squashed, discussed and read

When I can’t figure out where an author “is coming from”, I look at the list of references. Sometimes, this leads to philosophy. The best way to learn philosophy is a slow path of discussion in a seminars. For people with less time, I’ve discovered the web version of Glyn Hughes’ Squashed Philosophers books.

Is this a reasonable way to read philosophy? Hughes comments:

Philosophers are generally appallingly bad writers and you’re after ideas, not precise words.

Hughes suggests that you might be able to pass an exam by reading Squashed Philosophers, although for Squashed Divines and Squashed Writers, you would really need to access the original texts.

In addition, the original texts of many philosophers are translations, and there are often multiple translations from which to choose.

When I can’t figure out where an author “is coming from”, I look at the list of references. Sometimes, this leads to philosophy. The best way to learn philosophy is a slow path of discussion in a seminars. For people with less time, I’ve discovered the web version of Glyn Hughes’ Squashed Philosophers books.

Is this a reasonable way to read philosophy? Hughes comments:

Philosophers are generally appallingly bad writers and you’re after ideas, not precise words.

Hughes suggests that you might be able to pass an exam by reading Squashed Philosophers, although for Squashed Divines and Squashed Writers, you would really need to access the original texts.

In addition, the original texts of many philosophers are translations, and there are often multiple translations from which to choose.

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