Re: Individuals & Systems Thinking LO1262

Wed, 17 May 1995 08:17:31 EST

Responding to Doug Seeley, who states in LO1234:
> When We leave out the role of participation, do We not ensure that: i) We
> will use a purely descriptive approach to decisions, interventions and
> advice...leading to ii) an objectivication of all the individuals of the
> system, which can then be abstracted... iii) leading to decision-making
> and board level strategies which are not moral and ethical... iv) and
> reinforce a commercial culture which pursues its "objectivied missions"
> independent of the individual lives which must be lived... and hence, v)
> independent of what sustains the lives of individuals and the planet ??
> In other words, by leaving out the role of individuals in our roles as
> systems thinkers and actors, are we not co-conspirators in ensuring the
> survival of some abstract system based upon virtual ideas at the expense
> of actual human fulfillment??

I think this discussion needs to clarify the concepts of purpose and
viewpoint in this discussion. One cannot have a system without an
observer. A system is not inherently out there waiting to be
discovered. Thus, there is no clear distinction for the boundary of
a system for which everyone can agree on. Additionally, there is
always a purpose to defining a system. It is very possible that one
person's system will lead to morally sound decisions while someone
else characterizing the same system will state emphatically the
opposite. For instance, in the middle of the above paragraph, Doug

> iii) leading to decision-making
> and board level strategies which are not moral and ethical...

Do you define the participants in an organization as simply those who
use the inputs to produce the outputs, or do you include management.
Is it just management, or can you include the Board of Directors? Do
you stop there or do you include the stock holders? Should we always
define a consultant as a non-participant? If an organization is
closely tied to its suppliers would you include them as well? If you
include the suppliers, should they have a role in making moral

The question must be asked, "From whose perspective?" In most cases,
a board level strategy is not inherently immoral or unethical. I
think what you are getting at is that the board level strategy (from
my perspective, I would include board members as participating in the
system) should dovetail with the personal interests of the employees.
This, I think, gets to the foundations of a learning organization;
one which the participants are aligned in its goals and behaviors.

Additionally, Doug seems to be stating that an outsider's (someone
who does not participate in the system) viewpoint inherently
leads to both abstract and immoral decisions. The field of
anthropology has, I think, proved the utility of an outsider's
perspective. Most would not characterize the field of anthropology
as immoral or unethical (although there have certainly been instances
where this applies). In fact, I think one of the great benefits an
outside consultant brings to the table is that they are an outsider.

> If this is so, then how can We ensure that individual participation is
> acknowledged in all systems levels in an organization??

One concept floating around in systems thinking that when making
decisions, those who are affected by the decision should have a role
in making it. This should probably be looked at as an ideal which
should be sought after. For the reasons stated above, it may be
difficult to include all affected participants.

Noel Dickover