Maturana, Language and Organizations LO12997

Claudio Marinho (
Mon, 24 Mar 1997 14:45:57 -0300

Replying to LO12903 --

In reply to LO12887, LO12896 and LO12903 --

Dear learning-org folks,

I used to be a 'lurker' on this mailing list some time ago, signed off for
vacations and just came back, missing your kind availability as dialog
builders. The day I came back, I was pleasantly surprised by Rick's lovely
(in Maturana's way of distinguishing love) posting of his seminar notes.
Thank you, Rick, for the rich weekend I spent reading your notes and
re-reading other related materials. And for the indirect encouragement to
my first posting.

To begin with: my mood (M. again, 'languaging AND emotioniong'...) now is
one from which I would like to invite you to share some thoughts on what
Rick kindly brought to us.

Rick said, in LO12887:

>MY NOTE: Most of the audience is interested in what this has to say about
>social systems -- are they autopoietic? And, if so, what can we say about
>them. I'm much more interested in a different aspect... I think that an
>essential element of what we teach in the organizational learning
>disciplines, something that is common in Flores, Werner Erhard, Senge,
>Argyris and my own work, is an element of personal transformation that is
>moving from Maturana's left hand column (objectivity, an external reality,
>truth, someone knows, being right, being in control) to the right hand
>column (distinctions made collectively in language, reality is dependent on
>uniqueness of and actions by the observer, different realities for
>different observers, individual freedom and responsiblity, impossible and
>unethical to control another person, don't sell, seek structural changes,
>learning occurs in an action/reflection cycle). I'm more interested in
>learning from Maturana the foundations of that right hand column and the
>effect it has on how people carry themselves throughtout life. What would
>our organizations be like if more people thought that way?

I think this passage synthesizes what, I.M.H.O, we should concentrate on
to draw the most from M.'s contribution to our learning org endeavor.
First, Rick succesfully summed up the backbone (the evolving structure, to
be coherent with M.) of his proposition of an 'objectivity in parenthesis'
(for those of you who want more details, I refer M.'s work "Ontology of
Observing" at

Second, when Rick makes the what-if question about more people in our
organizations thinking that way [i.e, in 'the right hand domain'], I think
he points correctly to the territory where our dialog should preferably
(from the L.O. standpoint) be -- the territory of the OBSERVER. That's to
say: if we want to push (pull?) forward a learning initiative in our orgs,
we should better be questioning the observer WE are, to understand and
finally respect as a 'legitimate other' the observer THEY (our partners or
potential associates in the initiative) are. Changing the observer, then,
should be the goal, but in the territory of self-respect and respect for
the other.

Problems? A lot. But nothing that you couldn't deal with from within the
right hand column. Specially when we refer to the theoretical and
practical developments M. and some other have done in the field of
LANGUAGE, maybe the easiest way-in, way-out to the question. Let's quote
from Rick's notes for M.'s words in LO12896:

>Recursion is the coupling of a linear dynamic with a circular dynamic. From
>it something new emerges, a new domain.
>Language is the coordination of behavior applied on the consequences of
>coordination of behavior.
>Language is not about symbols, not about telling information,
>communication, etc.
>Once in language, there is the possibility of an observer.
>Observing is the next recursion. Observing is coordinating the coordination
>of the coordination of behaviors.
>Objects arise in language. Each recursion creates a new domain of objects.
>Language is not unique to humans.
>But, to *live* in language is human.
>Language is not abstract, even though it sometimes seems so. Language has
>to do with doing. It's a flow of coordinations of coordinations of

I emphasize: LANGUAGE HAS TO DO WITH DOING. To further advance my
argument for language as a starter, I should refer now to the
complimentary (as for M.'s) works, both in theory and practice, done by
two other Chilean people in this field -- they are Rafael Echeverria and
Julio Olalla. The first one has published a book in
Spanish, named "Ontologia del Lenguaje" (ISBN 956-201-226-3 D-LNB 216),
basic for a course on 'ontological coaching' by "The Newfield Group"
consulting, owned by them. In I have the notes I
myself have put down in the course as a guide for presentations of the
distinctions (remember M.?). You folks can use them as you please
(sorry, they are in Portuguese...). As a way of introduction of the
themes we have studied, and so that you could have I hint on the
usability (or not!) of the distinctions for our learning org milieu, I
translate the titles of the notes below:

Ontology of Language
Basic distinctions
1/ Language and human beings
2/ Concern, requests, offers and promises
3/ Distinguishing between affirmations and judgments; founding judgments
4/ The act of listening
5/ Transparency, breakdowns and action
6/ Breakdowns and the design of conversations
7/ Reconstructing social practices as linguistic games
8/ What is power? Power and language
9/ Moods and emotions
10/ Four basic moods
11/ The self as a linguistic phenomenon

For those of you who have immediately seen similarities with Fernando
Flores: yes, they worked together until the beginning of the 90's. And
Echeverria is right now giving more emphasis to the business aspects of
the profesional coaching, dealing with conversations in the organizations
-- the way-in I referred to as a structured approaching point to look at
the org observers we are, following the lines summarized above. [In fact,
he and Robert Putnam have devised a workshop for CEOs through CQM, at
Harvard, named "Conversational Competences".]

Before it becomes too long a posting for now: I've been reflecting and
doing some consulting work with this approach (although only recently)
and I think it's valuable. And I would like to share my concerns and
findings with all of you interested, once I believe these Chileans' works
are really breakthroughs in our organizational planning fields (I wonder
what happened there in that 'strip' of land along the Andes -- Varela,
Flores, Carlos Matus [the man who proposed the strategic-situational
approach to planning] come also from Chile...hhmmm...).

And you know what, to finish? I think the REAL challenge for us all is to
build-in the "fundamental emotion" LOVE as an operational (M.'s)
distinction in our learning org work. Do you remember Rick's declaration
(basic linguistic act...:) that he feared his notes did not justice to
Maturana's comments on this? I've seen his presentation on this theme: it
is simply fascinating and challenging. Hard to put down notes, isn't,

[Host's Note: Yes, Claudio, that's exactly what I was thinking. ...Rick]

With the best wishes of a pleasant learning week for all of you,
Claudio Marinho
Recife, Brazil


Claudio Marinho <>

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