Yes, second-order cybernetics developed an antidote to the simplistic thinking of early cybernetics, by modelling a second order feedback loop that correlates to the observer, giving us an impression that the observer was re-inserted back into the system. But the models all treat the observer-system from a third-person objective perspective, which means that there is yet another (third order) subjective observer that is somehow outside the system, investigating and reporting “on it.” This led to an infinite regress, so other types of systemic causality were invented, in order to achieve some kind of “work around” this problem. It is, we might say, a problem of “immersion” — of the subjective perspective being immersed in the object of inquiry. Whole systems dynamics came up with the notion of formative causation, whereby the system includes two explanatory levels — the structural system which is constituted as global structures construed as deep habits or holding patterns of the population-wide agents, and a second level, the dynamic, local agents whose actions/behaviors give rise to these global patterns/structures. The problem here is not so much in the causal explanation, but in the claim that agents can somehow “step outside” and “act upon” the global structures themselves, that somehow there is a privileged position where a free agent “outside the system” can act upon the “global structure” in such a way as to render the agents “inside the system” not-free, but merely capable of cybernetic responses in predictable ways. For any one interested in democratic, participatory or ethical principles, not to mention emancipation from oppressive workplaces, this idea of the free acts of the few being able to control the unfree acts of the many is highly problematic. Finally, we have recently been “sold” the idea of the learning organization, where in this case the structures that are binding the individual, are not somehow “in the objective system” but inside us. Which on the one hand is true from a developmental perspective. But from the perspective of complex participatory processes in people, it is impossible to claim that the responses of any individual are “maladaptive” while the responses of other individuals (those at the “higher levels”) are adaptive to the real and actual happenings in the organization. Rather, what we see is the case, is that the higher levels represent escalating complexity through second and third order abstractions such that cognitive skill outcompetes the kind of raw intuitions people have to remain autonomous, even in the face of extremely unequal power distribution. Whereas once knowledge was power (a la Foucault) now cognitive complexity becomes power, now that knowledge is almost everywhere all at once. There are still more choices to make with respect to systems thinking in organizational life. But the point holds true in all types of systems thinking. On the other hand, when we talk about complexity (which is not a system, but an orientation to change), there is no where to draw a boundary and point to “the system”, since it is everywhere at all levels and scale open to complex processes. This doesn’t mean that we cannot trace patterns as they emerge. But something that has a pattern isn’t the same as something that is predictable — for example, the weather; neither is something that has a strong probabilistic factor at the global level the same as being able to predict something at the local level — for example, a coin toss. The probability at the global level is simple arithmetic. What happens at the local level is complex. These are the kinds of distinctions I will be making in the first part of the certification course. I encourage anyone who is interested in learning about participatory organizations, at a deep transformative understanding, to take a look.

(Note: the details of the course are not yet finalized, but you get a sense of where it is going from this link)

Releasing complexity, source code solutions, training post-formal actors, next generation leadership, sensemaking, open participatory organizations

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