What can Social Systems Theory bring to the VSM?

In 2015, when the Metaphorum was in Hull, I tried to kick off a discussion about potential contributions from cognitive science, and particularly from the Enactive school. I shared some insights and hinted at other possibilities. This year the Metaphorum conference was in Germany for the first time. It was organised by Mark Lambertz and hosted by Sipgate in Düsseldorf. I saw in the fact that the Metaphorum was in Germany a good opportunity to suggest another combination, this time with the Social Systems Theory of Niklas Luhmann.

These are the slides from my talk and here you can also watch them with all animations.

Related posts:

The Mind Of Enterprise

Redrawing the Viable System Model diagram

Productive Paradoxes in Projects

SASSY Architecture

Human Resources?

People are valuable. That’s why they have an established status as human resources in organizations. When they are more valuable, they are even called assets.

Assets

“People are our greatest asset!” You’ve probably heard that a lot. If not, try “People are our * asset” in Google, and you’ll get over 300 million results. “Greatest” is sometimes replaced by “biggest”, “most important”, and “most valuable”. The results are mainly of two types. The first is people praising narratives, and that’s by far the bigger group. The second is criticism of the statement being hypocritical. Probably most of the authors of the first type are well-meaning and most of the second type have good reasons. But I find this aphorism neither people-praising nor hypocritical. I find it downgrading and offensive.

Can we see people as assets? An asset is “anything tangible or intangible that is capable of being owned or controlled to produce value”. Continue reading

Notes on Stability-Diversity

To be healthy, organisations – like human beings – have to operate in balance. Going temporarily out of balance is OK, but if this goes on for too long, it’s dangerous. Just like riding a bike, the balance is the minimum organisations need to be able to move forward.

What kinds of things need to be balanced? There are three essential balances. The first one is between autonomy and cohesion, the second is about maintaining both stability and diversity, and the third is balancing between exploration and exploitation. The important thing to recognise here is that the nature of each balance will differ between organisations. And what needs to be done to restore balance will change over time. So we can’t be prescriptive or learn “best practice” from others. We can only give people the glasses to see what is going on and the knowledge that will help them maintain the balances in their organisations.

I’ve been doing the Essential Balances workshop for four years now. During the workshop, all three of them seem relatively easy to get, yet a bit more difficult to work with as a matter of habit.  Based on the feedback I received from people actually using these glasses for organisational diagnosis and design, the first and the third balance, Autonomy-Cohesion and Exploitation-Exploration, come more naturally, while the second one, Stability-Diversity, creates some problems. All three of them and a few more will be explained in detail in the forthcoming book “Essential Balances in Organisations”, but until then, I’ll make some clarifications here. I hope it will be of use also for people who are not familiar with this practice.

Stability and Diversity. At first glance, it might be difficult to see it as a balance. In fact, it covers four dynamics. So, it might be easier to see it as four different balances. Different, yet somehow the same. And the key to it is exactly in these two words: different and same. Continue reading

The Art of Form as a Form of Art

In Brussels, at the southeastern end of the Mont des Arts garden, there are stairs leading to Rue de Musée. Climbing up one of the stairways, there is a wall on your right. A few months ago, a form of art started spreading on that wall. I don’t know if it was spontaneous or organized.  In fact, it doesn’t matter. Every organization was at some point spontaneous and everything spontaneous is worth talking about if it has led to some organization.

When approaching it, all you see is just frames.

Getting closer, they (actually, you) start to make sense, but the name, given by the artist, accelerates the process. The name and the image enter into a loop, the name confirming the image, and the image confirming the name. Continue reading

SASSY Architecture

SASSY Architecture is a practice of combining two seemingly incompatible worldviews. The first one is based on non-contradiction and supports the vision for an ACE enterprise (Agile, Coherent, Efficient), through 3E enterprise descriptions (Expressive, Extensible, Executable), achieving “3 for the price of 1”: Enterprise Architecture, Governance, and Data Integration.

The second is based on self-reference and is a way of seeing enterprises as topologies of paradoxical decisions. Such a way of thinking helps deconstruct constraints to unleash innovation, reveal hidden dependencies in the decisions network, and avoid patterns of decisions limiting future options.

As a short overview, here are the slides from my talk at the Enterprise Architecture Summer School in Copenhagen last week.

Continue reading

QUTE: Enterprise Space and Time

Here’s another pair of glasses with which to look at organisations. It can be used either together with the Essential Balances or with the Productive Paradoxes, or on its own. For those new to my “glasses” metaphor, here’s a quick intro.

The Glasses Metaphor

As I’m sceptical about the usefulness of methodologies, frameworks and best practices when it comes to social species, my preference is to work with habits and instead of using models, to use organisations directly as the best model of themselves.

The best material model of a cat is another, or preferably the same, cat.

N. Wiener, A. Rosenblueth, Philosophy of Science (1945)

What I find important in working with organisations is to break free from some old habits, by changing them with new ones. And most of all, cultivating the habit of being conscious about the dual nature of habits: that they are both enabling and constraining; that while you create them they influence the way you create them. Along with recipes and best practices, I’m also sceptical about KPIs, evidence-based policies, and all methods claiming objectivity.

Objectivity is a subject’s delusion that observing can be done without him. Involving objectivity is abrogating responsibility – hence its popularity.

Heinz von Foerster

Instead of “this is how things are”,  my claim is that “it’s potentially useful to create certain observational habits”. Or – and here comes the metaphor – the habit of observation using different pairs of glasses. “Different” implies two things. One is that you are always wearing some pair of glasses, regardless of whether you realise it or not. And the other is, that offering a new pair is less important than creating the habit of changing the glasses from time to time. I prefer “glasses” to “lens” metaphor and here’s why. Glasses have indeed lenses and lenses are meant to improve the vision or, at any rate, they change it.  Quite often, the glasses I offer bring surprises. Where you trust your intuition, you might see things that are counter-intuitive, and where you’d rather use logic, they might appear illogical. It’s not intentional. It just often happens to be the case. The first reason I prefer glasses metaphor to just lens is that glasses have frames. That should be a constant reminder that every perspective has limitations, creates a bias, and leaves a blind spot. Using the same glasses might be problematic in some situations or in all situations, if you wear them for too long. And the second reason is that glasses are made to fit, they are something designed for our bodies. For example, they wouldn’t fit a mouse or even another person. This has far-reaching implications, which I’ll not go into now.

QUTE

QUTE stands for “Quantum Theory of Enterprise”. Continue reading

Wikipedia “Knows” more than it “Tells”

When pointing out the benefits of Linked Data, I’m usually talking about integrating data from heterogeneous sources in a way that’s quite independent of the local schemas and not fixed to past integration requirements. But even if we take a single data source, and a very popular one, Wikipedia, it’s easy to demonstrate what the web of data can bring that the web of documents can’t.

In fact, you can do it yourself in less than two minutes. Go to the page of Ludwig Wittgenstein. At the bottom of the infobox on the right of the page, you’ll find the sections “Influences” and “Influenced”. The first one contains the list (of links to the Wikipedia pages) of people that influenced Wittgenstein, and the second – those that he influenced. Expand the sections and count the people. Depending on when you are doing this, you might get a different number, but if you are reading this text by the end of 2017, you are likely to find out that, according to Wikipedia, Wittgenstein was influenced by 18 and influenced 32 people, respectively.

Now, if you look at the same data source, Wikipedia, but viewed as Linked Data, you’ll get a different result. Try it yourself by clicking here or use this link:

http://bit.ly/wittgenstein_influenced.

The influencers are 19 and the influenced are 95 at the moment of writing this post, or these numbers if you click now. Continue reading

Productive Paradoxes in Projects

In 2011, when I started this blog, I wanted it to be a place for reading and as such the initial theme was just a bit busier than this one. I didn’t go that far, but you still don’t see categories, tag clouds, my Twitter feed and so on. It was only recently that I added sharing buttons and started putting more images. And because of me keeping it minimal, you might have been reading this blog for some time without knowing about its tagline, as it is simply not visible in the blog. But it’s been there and when the blog appears in search results, you can see it.

The theme about paradoxes appeared only a few times, for example in  From Distinction to Value and Back and previously in Language and Meta-Language for EA. I haven’t focused on it in a post so far. It was even more difficult to start talking about it to an audience of project managers. First, claiming that projects are produced and full of paradoxes might appear a bit radical. And second, project managers are solution-oriented people, while in paradoxes there is nothing to solve. There is a problem there, but its solution is a problem itself, the solution of which is the initial problem. And third, talking about paradoxes is one thing, but convincing that understanding them is useful is another. Continue reading

How I use Evernote, Part 3 – Classification and Wishlist

This is the third and final instalment about Evernote. You may want to check out the previous ones first:

How I use Evernote, Part 1 – Note Creation,

How I use Evernote, Part 2 – Kanban Boards

What is left for this post, is to go over the way I look at and use tags and notebooks and to share the top seven features I miss in Evernote.

Classification

Currently I have over six thousand notes in Evernote. To manage them I classify them. This means I apply certain criteria to make a note a member of a set of notes. The capabilities of Evernote supporting this are tags, notebooks and search. There are other ways to think about them, not as just being different means for classification, but I find this perspective particularly useful.

The nice thing about tags is that they can be combined. I see a note tagged #A as belonging to set {A}, and a note with tag #{B} as belonging to set {B}. I can find both the intersection, {A} AND {B} and the union, {A} OR {B}, by selecting as search principle “Any” or “All”. Continue reading

How I use Evernote, Part 2 – Kanban Boards

This is the second part of the sequel on my way of using Evernote. The first one was about the creation of notes and the third will be about notebooks and tags and my overall approach for organising the content inside Evernote. In this part, I’ll describe how I use Evernote for task management.

My tool of choice for task management had been Trello. It still is for collaborative work on projects and for strategic flows, but I “migrated” my personal task management entirely to Evernote.

How? I simply use the way reminders appear on top of all notes with the ability to rearrange them by dragging, as Kanban board. Continue reading

How I use Evernote, Part 1 – Note Creation

I’ve been using Evernote a lot in the past few years. My membership started in January 2010. I had been using Zim for note-taking before that and I kept using both in parallel for a while. It was the synchronisation capability that made me move entirely to Evernote.

After using Evernote for a few years  I decided to “migrate” more content and workflows to it. One trigger was the trouble of managing information on several platforms and failed attempts to link them. Another was the inspiration from the Luhmann’s Zettelkasten. I had no intention to imitate the latter and no illusion that I could solve the former, and yet there was a considerable improvement in my personal information management. Now I can quickly find what I’m looking for and what it is related with. More importantly, I can be surprised with new relations and discoveries, the important difference between using and working with.

I haven’t read any of the Evernote books, nor I participate in the fora. Yet, it seems that the way I use the tool is worth sharing, at least this was the feedback from people that had a glimpse of my note-taking practice.

I was using Trello for managing tasks, various note-taking apps – mainly Zim and Google Keep, Adobe Cloud for PDFs, shortly also Mendeley for research, and Pocket for reading articles. For website bookmarking and highlights I used Diigo, and Dropbox and Drive –  for storing and syncing documents. My main requirements were two: to quickly retrieve information from all these places and link resources within and across. That included the need to consolidate and link my notes and highlights from Kindle books and PDFs.

Evernote completely replaced Zim, Keep, Adobe Cloud, Mendeley and Diigo and partially – Trello, Dropbox and Google Drive. I miss many of the capabilities of these tools, but I don’t regret leaving them. When consulting enterprises, I always support diversity and demonstrate ways to experience a landscape of heterogeneous applications as a single system. However, a corporate approach to information management is not fully applicable for a personal one.

Most of what I do is probably common for regular Evernote users, or likely to be only related to my specific needs, but I guess there are a few tweaks that some might find useful, either to apply or as insights for a better solution. Continue reading

Do We Still Worship The Knowledge Pyramid?

There are not many models that have enjoyed such a long life and wide acceptance as the Knowledge Pyramid. Also known as the DIKW pyramid, it features data as the basis and shows how information is built on it, then knowledge, and finally wisdom. Each layer refers to the lower one, using it but adding something more. It tells the story of how data is transformed into information and information into knowledge. And being a pyramid, it implies that the higher you go the better things get, that there is more value but less quantity. There are variations. In some it is not actually shown as a pyramid, in others, wisdom is skipped and in at least one popular version enlightenment is put on top of wisdom or added in another way.

The model goes together with a set of conventions about the meaning of each concept and their relations. There is quite some variation of these definitions but the logical sequence is rarely questioned. What I’ve found as the most popular narrative in business is the following: Data are individual facts that need to be processed to generate information. When data are categorised, or interpreted, or put in context or better all of that, they turn into information. There is greater divergence what knowledge is, but most sources seem to suggest that if what is done to data, is done once again to information, you’ll get knowledge. It all sounds like a recipe for a delicious cake. What’s not to like?

Well, just about everything. Continue reading