a student's perspective LO7147

Rol Fessenden (76234.3636@CompuServe.COM)
02 May 96 23:05:54 EDT

Replying to LO7090 --

RE: a student's perspective LO7090 -Reply

Stephen said, "I'm not terribly moved by your reflections as to whether
business, government, or the family is more dysfunctional. Actually,
contemplating which of the three is the most "dysfunctional" is kind of

Well, of course you are right. What was not clear from my letter was the
context in which other voices were implying a difference and perhaps a
hierarchy of 'goodness' whatever that is. I was really intending to point
out that such statements need some backing from the data, and it appears
to be unavailable. In fact, the data contradicts this.

"However, setting up the "family" and "government" against "business" in
the march of progress for the LO is a strawman. First, families are not
"organizations." They are, well, families "qua" families. There is not an
organic comparison to be made. They aren't churches, non-profits,
companies, nor are they automobiles or deck chairs. Senge's Fifth
Disclipline was not written for the benefit of the family, but for the
benefit, first, of the profit making company. Of course the five
disciplines cross organizational boundries and are useful for educational
institutions, health care instututions, community planning organizations,
charities, government (more below) and so on and so on. But at its core,
LO is a management theory applicable most to business."

Well, this is certainly open to debate. There is nothing inherent in the
5 disciplines that makes them unattractive or unuseful to families. My
wife -- a therapist -- uses systems thinking in understanding family
dynamics. What I have seen of families is that they share many
similarities with other organizations, and therefore, I wonder if they
might benefit from having some tools available to help them work through
their struggles. There have been people on this forum who have described
using these tools in their families. Certainly the dysfunctional families
need some tools.

Senge would disagree with you that the 5 disciplines are primarily for
profit-making companies. Of course, he is not always right, but in this
case I tend to agree with him. His examples include many
non-profit-making companies. The fundamental need is that the organization
desire to achieve high-performance. Defining what that means may fall
outside the 5 disciplines, but once that is achieved, working toward the
goal is within the 5 disciplines to help.

Stephen goes on to lament my comments about government and to point out
that many people have equally low opinions of business as they do of
government. In this he is right. He also points out that most people
feel their local governments are fine, and that only big government is
bad. Ditto businesses. Local is good, big (and distant) is bad. I can
add that we feel that way about education as well. Local is good, distant
is bad. Interestingly, there was even a time in the early 90's when every
single state claimed that their education scores were above average!

This local vs distant tension is in fact a symptom of a systems thinking
void. Part of the issue here is that the more we know about government,
companies, educational establishments, and so forth, the more comfortable,
trusting, and respectful we are. The less we know -- the more distant the
organization -- the more we are dependent on news media for data. News is
a very poor data source because of course there is no value in being

What we don't know or understand is more likely to be judged ill. We used
to practice this same kind of parochialism on cultures we did not
understand. Fortunately we have moved beyond that. By the way, I did not
say -- nor do I believe -- that government _is_ evil or corrupt. I was
reporting a general perception. I should also have referred to elected
officials which is where I believe most suspicion is directed.
Personally, I doubt whether elected officials are any better or worse than
the rest of us. They just get more scrutiny. For example, we worry a
great deal about the sexual habits of our leaders, but there is massive
data that says -- I believe -- that a large fraction of the population has
been unfaithful to their spouses.

Finally, Stephen says, "I and others living near concentrations of
dedicated public servants believe there is a great deal more dysfunction
and corruption among tobacco companies, firms that merge where employees
are the casualties, CEO's who make millions when the stock plummets or is
sold, corporations that pollute the rivers and the air, savings and loans
that fail due to extortion and embezzlement, and automobile manufacturers
who fail to recall dangerous cars and trucks, etc, etc."

Yep -- a common perception. Not to defend tobacco companies or any
particular companies, because in the values you express, primarily I agree
with you. But you are strongly implying that there are self-evident
truths against which all companies can measure themselves, and against
which other people do in fact measure them. This has been implied before
on this forum, but my quest for self-evident truths has not to-date
yielded the kind of unanimity implied by the phrase "self-evident". If
these truths are so obvious as to be self-evident, why can't we enunciate
them and agree on them? Maybe we will eventually, but my point here is
that they are considerably less obvious than we at times wish them to be.
They are equally unobvious for government officials as they are for

For example, if we are actually so worried about pollution, why is it that
the largest 'corporate body' polluting the atmosphere is the American
individual driver? Frankly, it is hard to square this behavior with the
values you express above. After all, we have the votes. Why can't we do
something about it? In part, the answer is that there is not actually a
lot of agreement that we want to do something about it. There is not a
majority of Americans willing to force this issue.

The final point I wish to make here is that we do ourselves a disservice
when we point at corporations or 'government' or schools because
fundamentally, the problem is individual people. S&Ls do not commit
extortion -- people do. Companies do not pollute. People make those
decisions. The sooner we get down to recognizing that personal
responsibility -- beginning with you and me and including everyone else --
is the key to improving situations, the sooner we stop pointing at
institutions and start pointing at people, the sooner we will begin to
make headway on some of these difficult, complex issues.


Rol Fessenden LL Bean, Inc. 76234.3636@compuserve.com

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <rkarash@karash.com> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>