Life in Organizations LO9687

Rol Fessenden (76234.3636@CompuServe.COM)
02 Sep 96 15:45:04 EDT

Replying to LO9663 --

Michael says, regarding the existence of an 'evil' or dysfunctional

Surely it could only have been brought into existence and survived if
there was a larger evil system for an environment. Then did that one
"start" evil?

I think that a strong case can be made for the corporations that we have
to deal with that they have evolved and that the "evil" that we see is a
result of not keeping up with the times for various fairly natural reasons
and then beginning a downward spiral.

This interpretation gives a lot more to work with, a lot more acceptance,
and a lot less invalidation and judgement than the opposite.

== end quote ===

This feels right on target to me. There are actually two ways that
systems come to be perceived to be dysfunctional. The first is that it
ages, and the pressing needs of the organization change. The old system
does not meet the new pressing needs.

The second one is -- ironically -- a result of learning from the new
system. Once the new system is in place, we begin to use it, and we begin
to 'see' ways of doing things that we could not see prior to the existence
of the system. In a sense the system plants the seeds of its own

A good example of the latter is the development of so-called expert
systems. Historically, the first job of systems was to manage masses of
'accounting' data. Take care of all the details that need to be
organized, maintained, updated, and purged on a regular basis. However,
once that need had been met, people were freed up to look deeper into the
possibilities. They began to see that the system had all that info at its
disposal, and it could be trained to use heuristics -- rules of thumb --
that experts who used the same data would use. Thus, the machine could be
trained to make at least some decisions. As we gained experience letting
the machine make decisions, we learned how to extend the capabilities, and
allow the machine to make more complex decisions. Each round of new
systems increased the abilities of the system to make decisions, and in
turn allowed us to 'see' even more possibilities, ultimately obsoleting
the prior system.

It's like the old saying about making progress by "standing on the
shoulders of giants..."

[Host's Note: It was Isaac Newton, a real giant himself, who said, "If I
have been able to see farther than others, it is because I have stood on
the shoulders of giants."]


Rol Fessenden LL Bean, Inc.

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