True scope of our system LO6884

Dave Birren, MB-5, 608-267-2442 (
Mon, 22 Apr 1996 09:54 CST

Replying to LO6840 --

In the spirit of learning, I'm going to try out on this list a perception
that's been germinating in my head for about a week. The immediate link
to our spiderweb conversation on the LO list is Tobin Quereau's comment to
Keith Cowan in Abiguity and Action LO6840.

Tobin said:

>I am not experienced in the business world, Keith, but I wonder if your
>statement about the goals of a business being to "make profit, and
>generate acceptable ROI and Cashflows" isn't something like saying the
>goal of a person is to "survive".

I was in Florida recently (Ft. Lauderdale and Miami) and was struck by the
density of the development and the incredible variety of the people. My
first impression was of utter chaos, and I voiced this to my travelling
companion (who is well-versed in quality and learning concepts, and is a
reader of the learning-org archives). As I spoke, several insights hit

- At any moment every person is doing something with a specific purpose.
- Everyone's behavior is linked in that moment to at least one other person.
- The relationships among people's purposes and behaviors form a complex web
of intention, action, feedback and response (PDCA, if you will).
- This interrelatedness includes everyone - millions, billions - at once.

This awareness of utter and complete interconnectedness gave me a taste -
the merest hint - of the complexity of the system within which we live.
It is beyond the scope of anyone to comprehend, but it puts the lie to the
idea of chaos. There is no such thing as chaos; rather, our minds are not
capable of understanding the order that exists around what we call chaos
(order doesn't exist within chaos, but the other way around - our
perception of chaos exists within a larger order).

So what does this have to do with the goal of a business? Just that any
business exists for as many reasons as the connections it has with the
system. A few (in no particular order) might be: to enable the owner(s)
to live well; to enable the owner(s) to do what they enjoy; to provide a
means to economic and social welfare of the employees; to meet the needs
of the customers; to limit the growth of competitors; etc......

As Tobin implies, ROI and cashflow are just a couple of *measures* of one
or two purposes of a company. We lose sight of the system when we focus
on what we can measure. It's no wonder the idea of chaos is all the rage
now; we have our blinders narrowed down as far as they'll go! It's an
awe-ful big system, and we are awfully limited.

I feel that there's a connection here with LO concepts and leave it to my
highly esteemed colleagues around the world (mmm, what a comforting
thought) to build on it.



David E. Birren Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources Phone 608-267-2442 Fax 608-267-3579

* ** *** There is no excuse for being uncivilized. ( D.H.Birren) *** ** *

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