Biological metaphor LO5513

Michael McMaster (
Sun, 11 Feb 1996 09:39:41 +0000

Enrique sent a private follow-up to me. I've attempted to capture both
his original and my response in one. It deals with communication, vision
and trust from a biological perspective.

Enrique, thanks for your detailed response. I was most sincere about my
appreciation of the information you added with your knowledge of biology
and the challenge that it made for me. That appreciation is now increased
greatly by the added information, thoughtful response and that you are
participating at this level in English. I cannot do the same in any other

> I only joined the list very recently and was reluctant to post,
> specially the previous message as I felt I hadn't worked on it enough to
> clarify certain me this is very important as I am not a
> native speaker. I thought to clarify a bit on some points.
> 1.-<snip> I beleive the esence of man is concentrated in the self,
> he can only will himself to a perception of "belonging to" something and
> therefore excerting energy (work) to make that something into something
> better.

Heidegger (and others) suggest that we are socialised into "belonging" and
that later the challenge is to make choices which alter "what we belong
to" - which includes making better, or not, what we already belong to.
The choices and alteration take will and energy.

> This again brings the problem of perception of what is better,
> and there has to be some basic or fundamental premise that is shared by
> the explicit mission of the organisation he wishes to belong to.

There needs to be *something* around which the independent intelligence of
each agent can organise and which creates the basis of coordinated action
of the whole. I argue that it might be present in more natural intentions
(like for survival) and not require anything like vision or mission but
strongly supported by a few simple values or principles. The Swedish
company Stora has been around for 700 years. As far as I know, it has had
no common intention except that of being around for a very long time.

> In Mexico there is a very interesting fenomenon, possibly associated
> with the historical elements involved in the way it was colonized,
> whereby there is no feeling of belonging beyond the immediate economical
> transaction involved. I feel that this feeling of "possesing" a business
> goes beyond owning it, and it is easier for a new member to feel he
> "belongs" rather than being "owned".

Yes, I think this is different but also valid for American and other
countries. The term "ownership" is used a lot but it doesn't exist
because it's used. I think that "belonging" in the way I sense you use it
is better in the rest of the world. I equate "belonging" with community
which I think is a much more valid and powerful distinction for what is
wanted in corporations.

<snip some interesting biological material>

> 2.- The shared mission and vission in a living organism is to get it to
> survive <snip some more interesting biological material>

This, I think, is also true and sufficient about organisations. And, as
you point out about cancer cells, the case of individuals forgetting that
they are part of a larger whole is a death sentence to the individuals and
the whole.

> 3.- The equivalent of TRUST in a bilogical system would be something
> like a reflex action. Your heart may "not trust" your liver, but they
> both jump at a command from the nervous and endocrine systems when
> danger is perceived

As you say, it is important that people "trust" directive systems. I take
this to mean that it is important, when the agents of the system have
independent choice and intelligence that they empower the systems that
exist. (A fairly recent HBR article quotes the CEO's of Xerox and
SmithKline Beecham as saying "process gives more freedom".)

This is not the "trust" that most people are talking about when they say
we need trust. I suggest that the source of trust is communication and
that ability of dialogue and access to information (include "in process"
information) are at the heart of the matter.

<snipped some more>
> 4.- The point about being hard-wired is becoming a reality as technology
> advances. Even with the current level of information processing we can,
> in no time at all, be aware of the "whole" and if the terminology of the
> language is shared by all participating elemnts, in a way we could say
> that we are getting closer to being hard-wired to all subsistems of the
> organisation.

This is very important in my view - that we are more and more connected.
(I don't consider this the same as "hardwired" because I use that term to
mean that we also *must* receive information and act on it in prescribed
ways.) The places to focus for this increasing connection are, as you
imply; a common language (following Alexander I'd call it a design
language as well as more common useage of words); a design that
incorporates meaning into the whole so that a sense of what is happening,
of the state of the system is conveyed when only partial messages are
sent; a communication structure (like a nervous system) is created where
adequate connections make information accessible and only "force" the send
when urgent.

Thank you for your participation and being willing to make the extra
effort that a foreign langauge requires.


Michael McMaster

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