Re: Proper Rate of Learning LO1302

Fri, 19 May 1995 07:48:26 -0400 (EDT)

Replying to Barry Clemson (LO1276 and LO1275),

I totally agree with Barry's staement that "if we are ever going to get
good at organizational learning, we have got to get past 'resistance to
change' and deal with the operational mechanism".

Along the same line, closely related, is Barry's comment about the need
to make the rate of change "APPROPRIATE"...In this respect, Stafford
Beer's comments concerning the issue of finding the right balance between
moving too fast and moving too slow are right on target.

I first encountered Beer's writings about 25 years ago. In one of his
books he made the (seemingly) outrageous statement that in all of the
universities in the United Kingdom, there was not one that was educating
people to function adequately in working with complex organizations.
About 10 years ago, I met him in the UK and asked him if anything had
changed in that respect. His answer was "no". [My own feeling is that
something now has changed, but this is 10 years later.]

In my own work, some years ago I set out to identify all of the barriers
to effective work of people in groups. As I recall, I found about 27 of
them, and virtually all were "operational", in Barry's sense of the term.

I have incorporated many of them into 17 "LAWS OF DESIGN". One of these
is called the "LAW OF REQUISITE PARSIMONY". This one speaks directly to
the rate issue mentioned in Barry and Stafford's thinking.

This one relates to another one called the "LAW OF TRIADIC
COMPATIBILITY", referring to the work of G. A. Miller and (later)
H. A. Simon, concerning the "magical number seven".


"Every individual's short-term brain activity lends itself to dealing
simultaneously with approximately seven items (a number that is reached
with three basic items and four of their joint interactions). Attempts
to go beyond this scope of reasoning are met with physiological and
psychological Limits that preclude sound reasoning. For a given
designer, there is some number K sub d that is characteristic of that
designer which typically is chosen from the set {5,6,7,8,9} that
represents the Limit of that designer's short-term idea-processing
capability. If a design methodology requires a designer to cope
intellectually at any one time with some number of concepts K sub c, thenh

(1) If K sub c is less than K sub d, the designer is underburdened
[here I "snip" some of the detail]

(2) If K sub c equals K sub d, then the designer is operating at the Limit...

(3) If K sub c exceeds K sub d, the designer is overburdened, and no
reliance can be placed on the designer's decisions.

This Law may be most meaningful to those who buy into
"constructivism",since they can interpret the word "design" to mean:
constructing a response in the mind that is accepting of the information
being received.

In the extended discussion of the interpretation of the Law, it is used
to require a definite limit to the rate of imposition of information on
the human being, in order to enable the person to "keep up" with what is
being promulgated at any given time.

Unfortunately, tekkies are constantly trying to "optimize" the rate of
information flow using technology, which can work heavily against this
law, and engender many things, including "resistance to change", and more
violent reactions.

Meanwhile, the people working at Bell Northern Research have conceived
the term "soak time" as a critical variable in organizational learning.