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World Hypotheses, Contextualism, Systems Methods

The first Systems Thinking Ontario session for 2023 is scheduled for January 9, on “Root Metaphors and World Hypotheses”.  This is philosophical content, for which a guided tour and discussion will be better than attempting a solo reading of the World Hypotheses wiki on the Open Learning Commons.  Upon announcing the session on social media, I was honoured to receive a response from Michael C. Jackson, OBE.

Very interesting, David. And great that you are bringing Pepper and Emery/Trist back into centre of debates about systems thinking – where they belong.

Thanks, also, for drawing attention to my 2020 discussion of world hypotheses.

Sociotechnical thinking went through a brief ‘mechanical systems’ phase (Trist and Bamforth) before discovering von Bertalanffy and embracing organicism. It is also true that both Trist and Emery later claimed to have moved beyond organicism and embraced contextualism.

My own view is that they did not succeed and that organicism continued to dominate in the L22 work and even in the later socio-ecological work.

I recently had an exchange with Merrylyn Emery on this who, of course, says I am wrong and that her and Fred’s later work is clearly contextualist.

My argument, which I still adhere to, can be found in the chapter on sociotechnical thinking in my ‘Critical Systems Thinking and the Management of Complexity’. It is this chapter Merrylyn objected to. She is still very active in Australia.

Read more (in a new tab)

The first Systems Thinking Ontario session for 2023 is scheduled for January 9, on “Root Metaphors and World Hypotheses”.  This is philosophical content, for which a guided tour and discussion will be better than attempting a solo reading of the World Hypotheses wiki on the Open Learning Commons.  Upon announcing the session on social media, I was honoured to receive a response from Michael C. Jackson, OBE.

Very interesting, David. And great that you are bringing Pepper and Emery/Trist back into centre of debates about systems thinking – where they belong.

Thanks, also, for drawing attention to my 2020 discussion of world hypotheses.

Sociotechnical thinking went through a brief ‘mechanical systems’ phase (Trist and Bamforth) before discovering von Bertalanffy and embracing organicism. It is also true that both Trist and Emery later claimed to have moved beyond organicism and embraced contextualism.

My own view is that they did not succeed and that organicism continued to dominate in the L22 work and even in the later socio-ecological work.

I recently had an exchange with Merrylyn Emery on this who, of course, says I am wrong and that her and Fred’s later work is clearly contextualist.

My argument, which I still adhere to, can be found in the chapter on sociotechnical thinking in my ‘Critical Systems Thinking and the Management of Complexity’. It is this chapter Merrylyn objected to. She is still very active in Australia.

Read more (in a new tab)

When Unfreeze-Move-Refreeze Isn’t Working: Doing, Thinking and Making via Systems Changes Learning | SCiO 2022-07-11

For their community of systems practitioners, Systems and Complexity in Organisation (SCiO) UK invited a presentation at their Virtual Open Meeting in July. Presenting in a 45-minute slot, the slides at http://coevolving.com/commons/2022-07-11-doing-thinking-making-systems-changes were covered in 38 minutes, leaving time for a few questions and comments.

The agenda mainly focused on “Doing”, with “Thinking” and “Making” referring to others presentations now available as recordings online.

A. What if Systems Changes aren’t Unfreeze-Move-Refreeze?
B. Doing: Briefing, then hub + 4 spokes in workshop
C. Thinking: Action learning for facilitators
D. Making: Systematic methods via multiparadigm inquiry
E. Co-learning with the 10-year journey

The “doing” section provides a minimal briefing on (i) rhythmic shifts, (ii) texture, and (iii) propensity. From there, the practices are depicted as a hub with four spokes.

This video available on Youtube has also been archived on the Internet Archive .

Video H.264 MP4
July 11
(48m39s)
[20220711_SCiO_Ing DoingThinkingMakingSystemsChanges.m4v]
(HDPlus 1920×900 645kbps 268MB)
[on the Internet Archive]

Audio downloadable onto mobile devices was transcoded from the video into MP3.

Audio
July 11
(48m39s)
[20220711_SCiO_Ing DoingThinkingMakingSystemsChanges.mp3]
(46.6MB)

A principal aim for the Systems Changes Learning Circle is provide guidance that is practical in use. While theory and methods have been developed in parallel, this presentation may provide an easier entry into reorienting towards rhythmic shifts as a central focus. Some compatibility of a systems change approach with the rich heritage of systems sciences is retained, and available with a deeper inquiry.… Read more (in a new tab)

For their community of systems practitioners, Systems and Complexity in Organisation (SCiO) UK invited a presentation at their Virtual Open Meeting in July. Presenting in a 45-minute slot, the slides at http://coevolving.com/commons/2022-07-11-doing-thinking-making-systems-changes were covered in 38 minutes, leaving time for a few questions and comments.

The agenda mainly focused on “Doing”, with “Thinking” and “Making” referring to others presentations now available as recordings online.

A. What if Systems Changes aren’t Unfreeze-Move-Refreeze?
B. Doing: Briefing, then hub + 4 spokes in workshop
C. Thinking: Action learning for facilitators
D. Making: Systematic methods via multiparadigm inquiry
E. Co-learning with the 10-year journey

The “doing” section provides a minimal briefing on (i) rhythmic shifts, (ii) texture, and (iii) propensity. From there, the practices are depicted as a hub with four spokes.

This video available on Youtube has also been archived on the Internet Archive .

Video H.264 MP4
July 11
(48m39s)
[20220711_SCiO_Ing DoingThinkingMakingSystemsChanges.m4v]
(HDPlus 1920×900 645kbps 268MB)
[on the Internet Archive]

Audio downloadable onto mobile devices was transcoded from the video into MP3.

Audio
July 11
(48m39s)
[20220711_SCiO_Ing DoingThinkingMakingSystemsChanges.mp3]
(46.6MB)

A principal aim for the Systems Changes Learning Circle is provide guidance that is practical in use. While theory and methods have been developed in parallel, this presentation may provide an easier entry into reorienting towards rhythmic shifts as a central focus. Some compatibility of a systems change approach with the rich heritage of systems sciences is retained, and available with a deeper inquiry.… Read more (in a new tab)

Being a scholar-practitioner, humble inquiry, human and non-human systems

With recent invitations to mentor graduate students, I’ve had to more strongly assert my identity as a scholar-practitioner.  It’s now been over 10 years since I “graduated” from a career at IBM of 28 years.  University students are often amused to discover that, besides having spent a lot of time around universities, I first entered a Ph.D. program in 1982.  When I met my future spouse, I was a doctoral student.  Many years later, I’m still a doctoral student.

My colleagues in the Systems Changes Learning Circle have surfaced an interest in humility.  This reminds me that in spring 1982, I met with Edgar Schein in his office at the MIT Sloan School of Management.  (In the end, I was #2 on a list of 1 for admission into the doctoral program on information systems research, so my life took a different path).

The ties from organization development back into systems theory surfaced in a 2021 interview with Ed Schein.

— begin transcript of Rainey and Schein (2021) —

[35:30 Chris Rainey] Ed, I’ve seen you speak quite a few times, now, about diagnosis versus intervention. Could you share more of your thoughts on this, because I found it very interesting.

[35:42 Ed Schein] Well, I think, the thing that we haven’t yet come to terms with, is a phrase that important philosopher by the name of [Sir Geoffrey] Vickers stated, is the human systems are different.… Read more (in a new tab)

With recent invitations to mentor graduate students, I’ve had to more strongly assert my identity as a scholar-practitioner.  It’s now been over 10 years since I “graduated” from a career at IBM of 28 years.  University students are often amused to discover that, besides having spent a lot of time around universities, I first entered a Ph.D. program in 1982.  When I met my future spouse, I was a doctoral student.  Many years later, I’m still a doctoral student.

My colleagues in the Systems Changes Learning Circle have surfaced an interest in humility.  This reminds me that in spring 1982, I met with Edgar Schein in his office at the MIT Sloan School of Management.  (In the end, I was #2 on a list of 1 for admission into the doctoral program on information systems research, so my life took a different path).

The ties from organization development back into systems theory surfaced in a 2021 interview with Ed Schein.

— begin transcript of Rainey and Schein (2021) —

[35:30 Chris Rainey] Ed, I’ve seen you speak quite a few times, now, about diagnosis versus intervention. Could you share more of your thoughts on this, because I found it very interesting.

[35:42 Ed Schein] Well, I think, the thing that we haven’t yet come to terms with, is a phrase that important philosopher by the name of [Sir Geoffrey] Vickers stated, is the human systems are different.… Read more (in a new tab)

Progress on Systems Changes Learning | CSRP Institute | 2022-11-07

The Systems Changes Learning Circle, formed in January 1999, has since been meeting at least once every 3 weeks.  In many respects, the core group has exhibited great patience in our mutual learning towards an agenda of Rethinking Systems Thinking, from talks given in 2012, and published in 2013.

In anticipation of a journal article due in the new year, an outline of work-in-progress was shared at the CSRP Institute Symposium 2021, in Brussels, Belgium. (CSRP is the Creative Systemic Research Platform).

This video has been archived on the Internet Archive .

Video H.264 MP4
November 7
(26m42s)
[20211107_1200_CsrpInstitute_Ing_1050p.m4v]
(WSXGA+ 383kbps 98MB) [on the Internet Archive]

Audio downloadable onto mobile devices was transcoded from the video into MP3.

Audio
November 7
(26m42s)
[20211107_1200_CsrpInstitute_Ing_AAC.m4a]
(M4A 24MB)

The 30-minute presentation was well-received by symposium attendees.  We didn’t cover the full slide deck, with details that would later be revised for the written text for publication.

The scope of rethinking has been described as ambitious. In November 2021, we were approaching the end of the third year of an espoused 10-year journey, so there’s still much to be learned!

CSPR Institute Symposium 2021

The Systems Changes Learning Circle, formed in January 1999, has since been meeting at least once every 3 weeks.  In many respects, the core group has exhibited great patience in our mutual learning towards an agenda of Rethinking Systems Thinking, from talks given in 2012, and published in 2013.

In anticipation of a journal article due in the new year, an outline of work-in-progress was shared at the CSRP Institute Symposium 2021, in Brussels, Belgium. (CSRP is the Creative Systemic Research Platform).

This video has been archived on the Internet Archive .

Video H.264 MP4
November 7
(26m42s)
[20211107_1200_CsrpInstitute_Ing_1050p.m4v]
(WSXGA+ 383kbps 98MB) [on the Internet Archive]

Audio downloadable onto mobile devices was transcoded from the video into MP3.

Audio
November 7
(26m42s)
[20211107_1200_CsrpInstitute_Ing_AAC.m4a]
(M4A 24MB)

The 30-minute presentation was well-received by symposium attendees.  We didn’t cover the full slide deck, with details that would later be revised for the written text for publication.

The scope of rethinking has been described as ambitious. In November 2021, we were approaching the end of the third year of an espoused 10-year journey, so there’s still much to be learned!

CSPR Institute Symposium 2021

Learning With Humility: Systems Thinking and Reordering Priorities (Global Change Days, 2020/10/22)

For the third of three workshops by the Systems Changes Learning Circle in October 2020, Kelly Okamura, Dan Eng and Joanne Dong led a Beacon Event for Global Change Days.

This session was one in a series for global changemakers.  Our expectation was that they would be hands-on practitioners, with relatively low familiarity with systems thinking methods and theory.

The workshop orientations were relatively short, with most of the time dedicated to two breakout periods.   In the web video, the plenary discussions and group readouts are included, with the parallel breakout conversations omitted.

The video file is accessible on the Internet Archive, should viewers want a downloadable version.

Video H.264 MP4
October 22
(58m20s)
[20201022_GCD_LearningWithHumilityReorderingOurPriorities.m4v]
(FWVGA 515kbps 298MB) [on the Internet Archive]

The digital audio is available as MP3 for those with mobile players.

Audio
October 22
(58m20s)
[20201022_GCD_LearningWithHumilityReorderingOurPriorities.mp3]
(54MB)

Here is the original description for the session.

— begin paste —

This interactive beacon session will engage change makers to think differently, to explore their relationship to learning.

The breakout sessions will provide participants an opportunity to explore the Systems Thinking questions: the urgent vs the important, the local vs. the distant, problem solving vs history-making. Finally the audience will be invited to review their self-reflections and the potential re-ordering of their priorities, to make a difference.

— end paste —

Workshop attendees were quite engaged with the challenge of making distinctions that we’ve been discussing within the Systems Changes Learning Circle. … Read more (in a new tab)

For the third of three workshops by the Systems Changes Learning Circle in October 2020, Kelly Okamura, Dan Eng and Joanne Dong led a Beacon Event for Global Change Days.

This session was one in a series for global changemakers.  Our expectation was that they would be hands-on practitioners, with relatively low familiarity with systems thinking methods and theory.

The workshop orientations were relatively short, with most of the time dedicated to two breakout periods.   In the web video, the plenary discussions and group readouts are included, with the parallel breakout conversations omitted.

The video file is accessible on the Internet Archive, should viewers want a downloadable version.

Video H.264 MP4
October 22
(58m20s)
[20201022_GCD_LearningWithHumilityReorderingOurPriorities.m4v]
(FWVGA 515kbps 298MB) [on the Internet Archive]

The digital audio is available as MP3 for those with mobile players.

Audio
October 22
(58m20s)
[20201022_GCD_LearningWithHumilityReorderingOurPriorities.mp3]
(54MB)

Here is the original description for the session.

— begin paste —

This interactive beacon session will engage change makers to think differently, to explore their relationship to learning.

The breakout sessions will provide participants an opportunity to explore the Systems Thinking questions: the urgent vs the important, the local vs. the distant, problem solving vs history-making. Finally the audience will be invited to review their self-reflections and the potential re-ordering of their priorities, to make a difference.

— end paste —

Workshop attendees were quite engaged with the challenge of making distinctions that we’ve been discussing within the Systems Changes Learning Circle. … Read more (in a new tab)

Using logic for productive presentations and reports | Mark Buckwell | Jan. 31 2013 | buckwem.wordpress.com

The style of reports in the original IBM Consulting Group style is explained well by @buckwem, with presentation slides in landscape format following Minto’s pyramid principle structured with horizontal logic and vertical logic.  I never met Mark Buckwell during my IBM career, but he’s been there since 1993, so we “went to the same school”.  If I’m not using this style in a presentations, it’s for a conscious reason, as this way of writing and presenting is always in the back of my mind.

On Slideshare, Mark has shared Using logic for productive presentations and reports 31-jan-2013 – speakerdeck in the series http://www.slideshare.net/markbuckwell

Mark first surfaced Using Logic for Productive Presentations and Reports while teaching a chemical engineering course at Birmingham University, on a blog post at http://buckwem.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/using-logic-for-productivepresentations-and-reports/.

The Pyramid Principle from Barbara Minto was first written over forty years ago and defines a logical way of writing reports and presentations. The technique first came from McKinsey and Company but it is now used by many management consulting companies including IBM Global Business Services.

On a subsequent blog post, he provides a rigourous “Checklist for Presentation Logic” at http://buckwem.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/checklist-for-presentation-logic/ .  This knowledge is normally imparted situationally by experienced engagement managers, so the checklist could seem intimidating for individuals coming up the learning curve.

The style of reports in the original IBM Consulting Group style is explained well by @buckwem, with presentation slides in landscape format following Minto’s pyramid principle structured with horizontal logic and vertical logic.  I never met Mark Buckwell during my IBM career, but he’s been there since 1993, so we “went to the same school”.  If I’m not using this style in a presentations, it’s for a conscious reason, as this way of writing and presenting is always in the back of my mind.

On Slideshare, Mark has shared Using logic for productive presentations and reports 31-jan-2013 – speakerdeck in the series http://www.slideshare.net/markbuckwell

Mark first surfaced Using Logic for Productive Presentations and Reports while teaching a chemical engineering course at Birmingham University, on a blog post at http://buckwem.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/using-logic-for-productivepresentations-and-reports/.

The Pyramid Principle from Barbara Minto was first written over forty years ago and defines a logical way of writing reports and presentations. The technique first came from McKinsey and Company but it is now used by many management consulting companies including IBM Global Business Services.

On a subsequent blog post, he provides a rigourous “Checklist for Presentation Logic” at http://buckwem.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/checklist-for-presentation-logic/ .  This knowledge is normally imparted situationally by experienced engagement managers, so the checklist could seem intimidating for individuals coming up the learning curve.

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    • Introduction, “Systems Thinking: Selected Readings, volume 2”, edited by F. E. Emery (1981)
      The selection of readings in the “Introduction” to Systems Thinking: Selected Readings, volume 2, Penguin (1981), edited by Fred E. Emery, reflects a turn from 1969 when a general systems theory was more fully entertained, towards an urgency towards changes in the world that were present in 1981. Systems thinking was again emphasized in contrast […]
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      In reviewing the original introduction for Systems Thinking: Selected Readings in the 1969 Penguin paperback, there’s a few threads that I only recognize, many years later. The tables of contents (disambiguating various editions) were previously listed as 1969, 1981 Emery, System Thinking: Selected Readings. — begin paste — Introduction In the selection of papers for this […]
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