Dealing with Complexity LO7358
Fri, 10 May 1996 09:31:56 -0400

Replying to LO7344 -- was Conspiritorial LO teams
[Subject line changed by your host. ...Rick]

In a message dated 96-05-10 03:08:07 EDT, Augustine said:

>However, you'll have to elaborate on why it's important to you that he
>be categorized as a describer and analyst. I agree that Argyris is
>what I would called a master of Model II type learning, which involves
>generating valid information on many levels (especially about our the
>attributions behind our observations), but my understanding of his
>approach would also put him strongly in the "situation-changer" camp
>as well. In fact, how else would you describe his life-long effort to
>promote Model II learning if not "situation-changer?"

After studying complexity for almost 30 years, I have arrived at a four by
four matrix that I use as a framework for most discussions about
complexity. Basic to this framework is the idea that complexity and
organizations go together, being necessarily coupled by the inability of
individuals to deal with complexity by themselves.

One side of this matrix is called The Work Program of Complexity. It
involves these four activities:

o Description of a Situation
o Diagnosis of that Situation
o Design for Change in that Situation
o Implementation of the Design

To be effective in any one of these four activity groups, one must have
certain capacities. Particularly important are the linguistic capacities
that form the foundation underneath what goes on. The linguistic
capacities required to work effectively with complexity go well beyond
linear prose. The implications of this show up most strongly in the design

Very few people are graphically literate. Social scientists, with very
few exceptions, have no idea how to use graphics effectively to
communicate about complexity. Engineers think they do, and do so
frequently, but this is probably even worse than social scientists,
because most of the graphics contribute negative value because of the lack
of quality control on the graphics.

Of course graphics is merely necessary, not sufficient.

Turning to the argument that Argyris can be described as a
"situation-changer", I certainly agree. However that has little to do
with knowing how to design systems, but it can have a lot to do with
knowing how to make people improve their behavior.

Here is a point to ponder: is it possible that our organizations are so
bad when it comes to dealing with complexity that almost anyone who thinks
carefully about ways to improve them can find success? Think of what is
going on now among all of the management gurus as teaching people to drive
Model T Fords. Model T's, compared with today's cars, are pretty sad.
You went slowly. You had to go up steep hills in reverse because the
forward gears were weaker. It rained inside the car. You froze. You
broke your arm cranking it. Yet things were a lot better than the horse,
in many ways.

If that appraisal is accurate, here is what can happen. You can take work
like that of Argyris and Senge and apply it and things get better. Now
you still have no idea though of where they stand relative to the
possible. For that you need a lot more than analysis. You need to apply
design science.


John N. Warfield


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