Why Environmental Context?
Posted by: daviding
Date: June 20, 2004 05:34AM
In my role as moderator, I've clustered these five papers into a discussion for the 120-minute session. The face-to-face discussion in Asilomar will probably be informed by the prior session on "Inside, Outside and Between", although anyone who doesn't attend the first session shouldn't be put at too much of a disadvantage.
One of the challenges I see with discussing systems with non-systems-science people, or teaching systems to students, is that the idea of adaptation seems to be secondary or harding concept to grasp. I am informed by Russ Ackoff's description where adaptation means that either the system changes itself, or it changes the environment. (If I find the room too warm, I can either put on a sweater -- changing myself -- or turn down the thermostat -- changing my environment.) We can also get into the discussion about how a system is or is not separate from its environment. (David Hawk cites the story: when I eat a banana, when does it cease to be part of the environment, and when is it a part of me? When it passes my lips? When I digest it?)
As a provocation to discussion, let me pose two positions that may (or may not) stimulate further discussion on papers contributed by authors:
(a) The "systems provide useful concepts, but are only abstract" position: for a business context, systems represent a constructive view of the world, and are applicable only as metaphors rather than models.
(b) The "the expansive aspect of open systems provides a way to get beyond reductive thinking" position: people often get trapped thinking only about their immediate issues, and can use a tools such as systems thinking to enlarge their understanding.
In our face-to-face meeting, in the interest of systemic thinking as synthesis -- i.e. trying to create something jointly that we can not produce alone -- I, in the role of moderator, will try to guide the authors to use their papers and background knowledge to address concurrence and issues with each of the above positions.
The intent isn't to be reductive, but to trying to stimulate conversation that draws on the deep knowledge within the group. Please make online comments on the papers that may help prime our discussion when we're all together, face-to-face.