Self Organizing systems LO3811

Rol Fessenden (
22 Nov 95 16:54:21 EST

Replying to LO3772 --

>Isn't the "intention" of a system built into the system itself? In
living organisms DNA is the intention to build itself and the sex drive to
continue the species.

Even living organisms practice destructive behavior. Rats take drugs
until they die of hunger. People over eat until they are non-functionally
obese. The way we execute life actically may overcome our ability to carry
out our 'higher' functions. Therefore, haaving the intention built in is
a necessary, but not nearly ufficient condition for success.

>A well organized business structure has its vision and goals which
constitutes a statement of intent. The leader's role is to obtain
consensus for the vision and goals. Extending this role to include
general acceptance of some guiding values could establish a foundation for
productive self-organizing systems (problem solving teams). Certainly, the
good intentions of the individuals involved to a large degree mimic the
organizations intentions.

In any reasonably complex situation, the values and goals can be
universally agreed, and even admired, but different groups can 'see'
different solutions or approaaches to achieving objectives.

>Isn't this one of the principal goals of a learning organization, to
share objectives? However difficult it may be to obtain, shared goals and
values is one factor critical to the sustained success of every
organization. To the extent that the leadership words and actions
support, visibly, their dedication to shared goals and values the
enterprise will be willing to follow. To the extent that each member
accepts the values and goals personably, the enterprise can expect self
organizing teams to form and add value.

I agree with everything until the last sentence. Again, in any reasonably
complex situation, naturally self-organizing teams will each do what seems
right in their microcosm of the organization. However, that does not,
ipso facto, require that the sum total of all the micro self-organizing
teams will, in fact, be good for the organization. For example, in my
business of mail order, the cost of being out of stock when a customer
calls to place an order is very high, in the neighborhood of $15/unit. In
an environment where high customer service is prized, it is easy to
justify a position that says it pays to not be out of stock. In a buying
department, the only short term way to achieve that is to buy lots of
safety stock, and at the micro level, the liquidation costs would not make
that prohibitive as a strategy. However, I have 25 teams of buyers, and
if every team takes that approach in a 'naturally self-organizing' world,
then I will have enough inventory to carpet the free world. QED, micro
self-organizing teams, do not necessarily result in macro best results for

You will say that my model is wrong, and I would agree with you. The
point is, _all_ models are wrong, even Newton's was wrong, and eventually,
Einstein's will be proven incorrect. All of today's models will
eventually be supplanted with better models. In nature, naturally
self-organizing organisms would evolve into lots of different
environmental niches (according to Darwin), and most would die out as
their evolution led into a blind alley. That's not a particularly
attractive approach when peoples' lives and jobs are at stake, so
leadership must have some role that minimizes the cruel down-side of
natural processes. Ironically, 'naturally self-organizing' may be the most
effective approach to experiment hundreds of times, pick the best
approach, and cut the losses on those that didn't work. Unfortunately, no
one in management is particularly enthused about the pruning process that
occurs in the natural world. If we are going to avoid the pruning
process, then we have to avoid all the 'natural' experiments, and develop
a better approach that minimizes the pruning, but still results in some
learning and some forward movement. So the key question is, how does
management add critical value to the experiments that are chosen to
facilitate our learning?

 Rol Fessenden