Story Structure of Systems LO2190

Doug Seeley (
23 Jul 95 00:17:08 EDT

Responding to Kent Myers in LO 2141 "story structure of experience"

>> The word "knowledgebase" is evidence of an assumption, rapant in the
>> computer community, that everything in life can be equalled or bettered if
>> repackaged in an existing computing environment.

Having taught computer science for over 20 years, I could not agree more
with your pithy remark. It always amazed me, how the vast majority of my
colleagues could not or would not recognize this.

>>.... " A true story is one that reliably reproduces the experience, and
creates the knowledge, in one who is prepared to hear it. Gadamer and
many others refer to the "story structure of experience". Jerome Bruner
argues against the turn in cognitive science that misses the story
structure as the basis of human >> knowledge. "

I am really glad that You introduced this idea into our discussions. It
has triggered a wide range of insights and connections for me. When we
have been looking at the systems thinking (or lack of it) in our client
organizations, I have often focused on specific fixed attitudes and
rigidity in their culture and watched out for the dynamic mental models
which key players held. Michael McMaster has raised a number of issues
with respect to the use of mental models in earlier threads, suggesting
instead the embedded conversational model of business culture. This
notion of a "story structure" provides for me a kind of synthesis of these
two positions. The necessary follow-ons in the story can capture the
causal thinking within a domain, and the existence of loops in these
stories would underpin the fixidities which can be detected. At the same
time, the story "flow" completes a conversation within cultural knowledge.

In turn this has echos in Goldratt's "thinking process" which he applies
to his Jonah training programmes (cf. the Goal). Moreover, it seems
possible to look at information (flows) mapping from a similar
perspective. In our discrete simulation software, we capture concurrency
in organizations by superimposing causal flows, which I can now regard and
communicate about, with this notion of "story structure". Recently De
Bono has introduced an interesting communications model based upon
"flowscapes" which follow a similar structure.

There has also been a recent notion in the family therapy field which has
moved the "systems approach to family therapy" to one based on stories. I
had always resisted this notion because its adherents seemed to have the
view that the linguistic construction of such stories was the >sole< basis
upon which our realities were constructed. This notion of story structure
and its analogue, at least in my mind, with concurrent causal threads in
systems behaviour, has bridged a gap for me, and I can now see a
commonality I share with them, without having to accept their brand of

>> "A conclusion one could reach from this is that knowlege is embodied
but not stored. Similarly, if information is data with a meaning, and if
it always take 'a someone' for meaning to exist, then information isn't
stored either, although it can be "explicated", and the explication >>
stored. Perhaps, then, knowledge can be explicated as well as

I also really like the notion of a story "re-creating" the experience as
being the original intention of language which has been lost because
phonetic-based languages, in contrast to iconographic ones, brings in a
level of indirection which, especially when intellectual abstraction is
also considered, makes the possibility of such re-creation remote. [Except
for the efforts of poets] This notion appears to be generating some rather
transformative new spins in my mind which I am excited by. Thank You.

Has anyone else got a similar or different take on this notion of story
structure being applied to systems?


Doug Seeley: Compuserve 100433.133 somewhere on the road in Canada