Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies

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)

Entropy: The Second Law of Thermodynamics | David L. Hawk | ST-ON 2021-03-14

For espoused systems thinkers who are predisposed towards towards finding an equilibrium (or maybe one amongst multiple equilibria), a discussion about entropy can raise discomfort.  In the systems sciences, the second law of thermodynamics — as an entropic process — is often cited by the learned as a universal law applicable across physics, chemistry, biology … as well as social systems.

In economics, Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen drew attention to the inconvenience that “perpetual motion of the third kind is impossible“.  Thus, “a closed system that does work forever at a steady rate” violates the second law of thermodynamics.  Towards unpacking the implications of this universal law, we drew on David L. Hawk for expertise.

This video has been archived on the Internet Archive .

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Developing and appreciation for entropy — let alone the controversies within correct scientific use of the second law of thermodynamics — is challenging, at best.  If we really wanted to get serious about understand living systems, we might look into the thermodynamics and ecology writings of James Kay, or read Eric D. Schneider and Dorion Sagan (2005) Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics, and Life.

Whenever I get into a discussion about entropy, it’s a toss-up whether I’m become less confused after the conversation, or more confused. … Read more (in a new tab)

Systems Thinking through Changes: An action learning guide | Canadian Digital Service | 2022-03-04

In the 4th year of an espoused 10-year journey, the Systems Changes Learning Circle reached a major milestone.  With Code for Canada, the team conducted its first educational workshop based on the contextural action learning approach currently under review for publication.  The client was the Canadian Digital Service .

The presentation outlining the basic ideas and guiding questions was scheduled for a quick 60 minutes. After lunch, the participants convened for 3 hours in three parallel breakout groups, discussions guided by templates provided in the workbook.

This video has been archived on the Internet Archive .

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Here is a description of the session.

There are a variety of approaches to systems thinking in practice.

Systems Changes Learning takes a view of living systems over time. As individuals, groups and organizations, we are lines (lifelines) co-responding alongside each other. Our lines have rhythms. Sometimes, the lines weave together in synchrony. At other times, the lines might clash, or get tangled up.

Interest in systems thinking arises when people feel “stuck”. A system could be trapped in a rut, or struggling through an abrupt transformational change. We look into dysfunctions as rhythmic shifts in the primary system of interest, and/or in co-related systems of influence.… Read more (in a new tab)

Schizophrenia, Alcoholism, Double Binds: From Practice to System Theory | Gary S. Metcalf | ST-ON 2021-02-21

Many might sequence systems thinking as (i) systems theory preceding (ii) systems practice.  This is not always the case.  There are situations where (i) systems practice has preceded (ii) systems theory, or the two advance in a tight learning loop.  Jack Ring once pointed out that applied science (engineering) precedes science, because human beings often have systems working before we understand why they work.

Gregory Bateson was consulting on questions associated with schizophrenia and communications, that expanded into a broader theory of double binds.  Along the way, he developed an appreciation for techniques amongst alcoholics where the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous were leading to a more correct epistemology.

Before pursuing studies in systems sciences, Gary Metcalf was in practice with an earlier career in family therapy.  He explained how techniques and frameworks that he had previously applied became enriched with the deeper understanding of systems thinking, and a history of science associated with the double bind.

This video has been archived on the Internet Archive .

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Gary provided some slides to guide the discussion.

Here is the original Systems Thinking Ontario session description.

Is there a pattern where you see a system is stuck? In the 1960s-1970s, anthropologist Gregory Bateson was working with cases of schizophrenia and alcoholism, leading to the development of systems theories on double-binds.… Read more (in a new tab)

Living, Becoming, Process Philosophy: Systems Thinking in Time (ST-ON 2022-01-10)

System thinking, coming from roots in mainstream Western philosophy, tends to orient towards (i) thinking in space,  before (ii) thinking in time.  Structure is an arrangement in space.  Process is an arrangement in time.  A critical systems perspective leads us to think about inclusion within boundaries.  Does this lead us to overlook boundaries in time?

Living systems are a subtype of systems in general.  The capability for autonomous movement might lead us towards a philosophy of “becoming with” as “becoming alongside”.  This can lead us towards a challenging shift towards process philosophy.

Participants in Systems Thinking Ontario session were invited to discuss, and potentially reframe their view of systems.

This video has been archived on the Internet Archive .

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A short presentation provided some shared context for discussion.

Agenda:

  • A. Some Systems Thinking Basics
  • B. Hawk (1999):  Change of state vs. State of change
  • C. Ingold (2000): Temporality of the Landscape
  • D. Nayak & Chia (2011):  Process Philosophy
  • E. Discussion

Some who attended the session have read Process and Reality, by Alfred North Whitehead.  I haven’t. (It’s difficult!)  I’m leaning more on readings theorizing living systems.

Here is the content from the original announcement.

Structure is an arrangement in space.… 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 .

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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

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