Bas Reus' quest on self-organization and online collaborative spaces

Self-organization defined

Posted in self-organization by Bas Reus on July 27, 2009

In the previous post I ended with saying I have to define the term self-organization very well in the context of this quest. This post tries to do that. I’m very curious to find out your vision on self-organization, all comments are much appreciated. If we take a look at Wikipedia, we see the following definition:

Self-organization is a process of attraction and repulsion in which the internal organization of a system, normally an open system, increases in complexity without being guided or managed by an outside source. Self-organizing systems typically (but not always) display emergent properties.

plm-bottom-upThe above is a pretty complex definition, not useful for this quest. The context that is important for me is an organization, hence the part how to support self-organization in organizations in the problem statement, and I’m also interested in how to empower employees for self-organization. Therefore I have to construct a workable definition. The most important elements that are important in this context are people. After reading some scientific material, I think the definition of Francis Heylighen is better:

Self-organization is a process where the organization (constraint, redundancy) of a system spontaneously increases, i.e. without this increase being controlled by the environment or an encompassing or otherwise external system.

Again, this definition lacks an important element, which are people. My definition should be more concrete because of the specific context. But lets elaborate on the above definition first, because in general it is very useful. Self-organization can occur because of changes or triggers in the common environment. It is also spontaneous, because the system or environment doesn’t control this organization. It is completely a bottom-up type of organizing.

Let’s look at self-organization in the context of an existing organization. Traditionally, people are assigned tasks by their management. They are assigned the task because it fits their job function and have the resources available to accomplish this task. This can be very effective in some circumstances, but not always. People mostly have more competences than they use on their daily job, which can really be less effective in other circumstances. So my thesis is that people can be of more value to the organization by organizing differently, more bottom-up by letting the employees assigning tasks to themselves.

So self-organization in an organization is a process where people can self-select themselves when assigning tasks. Self-selecting can occur because of various reasons, for example because people have interest in the task, are familiar with it, or aren’t familiar with it at all but see it as a challenge. Whatever the reason is, it is always a valid one because it is self-selected.  Self-organization doesn’t have to be individual, on the contrary, it works better with many people involved. Forming groups which pursue collective goals is also a form of organization which can occur rather spontaneous. This leads to the first, and probably not final, definition of self-organizing in the context of this research:

Self-organization is a process where people form groups and assign tasks to themselves or the group, by responding to triggers in the environment or system, that spontaneously increases the organization of the environment or system.

Now that we have an initial definition of self-organization, this can give direction to problem statement. How to support it and how to empower employees? But also very important is how we can measure self-organization. How do we know in what circumstances self-organization is more efficient or beneficial compared to existing types of organizing? Other important questions. I will save them for another time.

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  1. Tim Hoogenboom said, on August 1, 2009 at 12:33

    Hi Bas,

    Nice to see that you’ve updated your site, with really interesting articles. I believe that, to uncover modes of self-organization, looking (back) to Wenger might be interesting. He describes how groups form because of having a joing enterprise etc. I believe furthermore that looking at self-organization is looking at a concept, what might be of even more interest is understanding the mechanisms that make people join a certain quest. Again Wenger might come in handy. Furthermore, to understand self-organization from a more theoretical perspective, perhaps looking into functionalist system theoreticans might be of help, for example Luhmann writes extensively on autopoiesis as a way to cope with ever increasing complexity of the outside, as a way to adapt to changing circumstances… But I would really would like to hear your ideas on the mechanisms of self-organization. Because then we really come close to what actually enables individuals to act social, or engage in sociality (being the tendency to form or associate in groups).

    Perhaps this sparks some fires! Kind Regards!

  2. Bas Reus said, on August 2, 2009 at 17:25

    Thanks for your comment Tim!

    Good point to mention Wenger. That might give some directions to find modes of self-organization. Luhmann is interesting as well. Autopoiesis is very much related to self-organization and stigmergy. Both researchers’ theories were actually of value and inspiration to begin with this quest in the first place.

    Finding modes or levels of self-organization is definitely one of my challenges during this research. I have to find some metrics to measure it. In the following posts I will try to address this.

    Thanks again for the sparks!

  3. John Tropea said, on August 18, 2009 at 03:47

    Hi Bas,

    Love the investigative nature of your blog.

    These too are questions on my mind. I’m a casual researcher in this area based on blog reading, so am ignorant to alot of the literature. My interest in libraries, led me to km, then communities and networks, and now complex adaptive systems…the blogosphere as the new distributed university.

    I made some notes while reading the book “Emergence” and realised that human systems like organisations can only self-organise to an extent…

    NOTE: I have not read any other books on this topic, but have lots saved in Library Thing
    http://www.librarything.com/catalog/johnt

    In relation to organisations….

    what goal are they self organising to? this goal is not determined by the people doing the self-organisation

    when we all try to achieve our goals together, are we self organising in a positive way?

    ie. what happens if the emergence is negative?

    Unlike ants, humans have self-gain, greed, self aware, power, politics, that gets in the way…for some reason competition is practiced more than cohesiveness as our drivers are selfish or self preservation, sometimes at the expense of others…whereas we could say that ants are successful as they are dumb reactionary creatures (in their world this behaviour is not dumb as we know the word dumb)

    In an organisation what is our negative feedback that adapts us to our desired state, just like a thermostat
    http://johntropea.tumblr.com/post/67864862/emergence-steven-johnson-p137-9
    http://johntropea.tumblr.com/post/68036531/emergence-steven-johnson-p138-40

    Is this desired state strategy/goals set by the board
    – they crowdsource to achieve these goals, and perhaps welcome emergent outcomes to alter these goals

    This is outside intereference, ie. the managers dampening and attracting for adaptation
    http://johntropea.tumblr.com/post/68070042/thoughts-on-cas-and-people

    Therefore this still has two levels: frontline workers and goal setters (people who own the company)
    I asked this of Dave Snowden in my post Post-KM : enterprise 2.0, facilitation and complexity
    http://libraryclips.blogsome.com/2008/10/30/post-km-enterprise-20-facilitation-and-complexity/

    Here I say that we can self organise, and even further to that have emergence, but if that emergence is negative we need an external body (like leadership people) to steward the ship back on track with using indirect intervention (dampeners and attractors).
    http://johntropea.tumblr.com/post/68209799/emergence-steven-johnson-p222-3

    But then negaitve feedback is just one way of adpating, is it not…what are others?

    Self-awareness is our feedback loop to adapting, how is this different to ants?
    http://johntropea.tumblr.com/post/157519615/the-key-to-collective-intelligence-or-any
    Our bodies adapt on a cellular level, rather than a conscious level
    http://johntropea.tumblr.com/post/66835103/emergence-steven-johnson-p103-4

    As I see it management is like the negative feedback of a thermostat, whereas ants don’t have an outside thing in order to adapt, what do you think?

    Here is a good excerpt on the difference on stigmergic based life compared to humans
    http://johntropea.tumblr.com/post/66695900/emergence-steven-johnson-p97-99

    “the decision-making of an ant exists on a minute-by-minute scale: counting foragers, following pheromone gradients. The sum of all those isolated decisions creates the far longer lifetime of the colony, but the ants themselves are utterly ignorant of that macrolevel. Human behaviour works at two comparable scales…driving a car has short-term and long-term consequences.
    The short term influences whether we make it to soccer practice on time; the long term alters the shape of the city itself.
    We interact directly with, take account of-and would seem to control-the former. We are woefully unaware of the latter”

    “those decisions we make consciously, but they also contribute to a macrodevelopment that we have almost no way of comprehending, despite our advanced forebrains”

    BTW-have you read this amazing paper on nature as a complex adaptive system (and systems within systems…concentric intertwined adaptive systems)
    http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6008

    I may ask a few people on Twitter what they think about this
    – Paula Thornton, Dave Snowden, Chris Rodgers, Steve Billing…

    The diff between ants and organisations in running like a complex adaptive systems
    – ants are more programmed (survival-based), whereas we are creators of our own illusion

  4. Bas Reus said, on August 18, 2009 at 11:36

    Thanks John. And what a links to read!

    To what goal are organizations self-organizing? Interesting question. Many reasons can be in favor of doing so. However, many companies try to be as efficient as possible, lacking employee satisfaction. In the short term, this can have effect. But what if your employees walk away? If they do not think for the company? If they have no responsibilities? Maybe self-organization can be a starting point.

    Management is an interesting subject as well. So many books are written about that, and there is no one best way to manage a company. Should ‘managers’ manage a company that have no idea about what is really happening on the workfloor, or should the ‘workers’ be more empowered to make desicions? Who can adapt faster, the people on the floor or managers on the top?

  5. John Tropea said, on August 19, 2009 at 02:27

    That’s a great point about management, the hole that needs to be bridged between frontline and senior management. Both need to know more about each other, kind of like yin and yang.

    Frontline need to be involved in more decision making and what the business is about, and senior management need to know how the hell work gets done.

    I actually read two articles today on this point
    http://www.smartpeoplemagazine.com/2009/08/part-i-saving-the-company/
    http://bhc3.wordpress.com/2009/08/18/gary-hamel-on-enterprise-2-0-and-the-post-establishment-age/

    Dave Snowden’s point on disintermediation also comes in here, due to putting senior management in touch with raw facts, so they can mix/match pattens, rather than middle management summarize the situation
    http://www.cognitive-edge.com/blogs/dave/2008/10/the_dogmas_of_the_quiet_past_1.php

  6. John Tropea said, on August 19, 2009 at 02:46

    The end of my first comment mentioned that humans are not stigmergic, but as in your post and Joe Gregorio’s post we actually do see when we interact online we are stigmergic.
    https://basreus.nl/2009/07/16/the-internet-and-stigmergy/
    http://bitworking.org/Stigmergy.html

    Our tweets, blog posts, comments are all traces we leave behind, they conjure up conversation, trigger parallel thoughts, and manifest into new things…what was a blog post about one thing, led to a comment conversation about a totally new idea…thankgod for that blog post (trace) to act indirectly as the springboard. So it’s all about participation (and interaction.)

    Social computing in the organisation is no different, this is indeed self-organisation in a stigmergic way…BUT ants have a programmed goal (do they not), whereas the organisational goal is not programmed in us.

    Or is that what org value and vision is about http://www.changingorganisations.com/2009/07/not-on-board-the-vision-bandwagon/

    Well, each department has it’s own goals, so do teams, and so do individuals, so this makes it hard for immaculate cohesiveness…is this like not only adapting within your own system, but inter-system adaptation.

    And is an organisation a system anyway
    http://www.changingorganisations.com/2009/07/systems-thinking-about-change/#more-1894

    Yes we too can self organise, display stigmergic effects, display self regulating feedback loops (if you blog about crap no-one will leave comments).

    But is their a parallel feedback loop done by senior management?
    They decide whether the emergence is of positive quality…do they do the adapting, rather than the adapting happening as part of the frontline system.

  7. Bas Reus said, on August 19, 2009 at 21:08

    Thanks for your stigmergic behavior John. These are all interesting links. It pointed me indirectly to the blog of Gary Hamel which I put in my RSS reader now.

    The most recent post reads “if you empower people but don’t give them information, they just fumble in the dark”, which is in line with the experiences of Ricardo Semler. When you can really empower employees, they will act more like a small business owner or an entrepreneur. The post ends with “we trust you, and we’re serious about empowering you”. Trust is really important but how do you get employees to trust their managers and managers to trust their employees?

  8. Stephen Billing said, on August 20, 2009 at 13:27

    Hi there,

    This is a very interesting topic of discussion, as shown by the number of comments. I like that you are enquiring into the nature of self organisation. This is a very misunderstood topic when it comes to applying it to organisations.

    The important thing about self-organisation is that the ordering of society (or people in organisations) occurs through local interaction in the absence of an overall blueprint or plan. As any top manager will tell you, they can’t just make a plan, tell others and then confidently expect that the plan will be followed. Instead, all sorts of unexpected things happen – people interpret things differently, they react to things in surprising ways and there are unintended consequences. This is what is meant by saying there is no overall blueprint or plan.

    Therefore it doesn’t make much sense to talk about “How can we empower employees to be self-organising?” because they already always are self organising, even with top down management approaches. They are self organising, with a given mix of constraints, power relations and so on. Top down or highly directive management approaches give a certain combination of constraints and power relations. Your question is actually asking “How can we change the constraints and power relating so that different patterns will emerge from the self-organisation?”

    I love that you are showing the development of your thinking about self organisation and I am very appreciative of that. The challenge with a definition of self organisation for people in organisations is to avoid falling into the trap of thinking that self organisation means random – in other words, that just anything can happen. It doesn’t make much sense to me for a manager to allow people just to do anything to respond to the environment – the chances of achieving management goals would be very low.

    The challenge for managers that is presented by the concept of self-organisation is not “how can I empower my people to be self organising?” They are already self organising. The challenge is “How can I influence the constraints and power relationships so that different (more desirable) patterns of social interaction emerge.” Along with those different patterns of social interaction will come innovation and different results – the actions of the manager will play a big part in whether those results are more desirable or less desirable – so we cannot just say “anything goes.”

  9. […] Reus is exploring what it means to say that humans are self-organising, over at https://basreus.nl/2009/07/27/self-organization-defined/#comment-51. His post outlines the development of his thinking in attempting to define […]

  10. Tom Gibbons said, on August 20, 2009 at 16:57

    Great topic!

    I would like to share an experience with a client group last week that perhaps illustrates this topic even though we did not actually talk about the concept of self organization during our time with them. Our assumption about self organization would be similar to how I understand Stephen above, that it happens as part of the normal day to day process of work and is influenced by the context which includes the power dynamics of the various interactions occuring during the process of self organization.

    This was a support group in a large, fairly top down organization and they wanted to become more strategic… a pretty common topic with support groups. Given our assumption above we helped them focus on what ‘strategic’ might look like for them in the immediate interactions they would be having with their client groups. We called these intentions and discussed how they might inform these upcoming interactions, how they would fold back into the present. We then did some improvisational role playing for practice. Overall this may sound like a fairly typical learning day for this topic.

    What we then had them plan for was to meet in sub groups on a regular basis to discuss their interactions together and focus on the process of those interactions, not the outcomes. For process we talked about power dynamics, context and of course the intentions they had articulated. The assumption that self organization will occur means that we think this extended process, without the need for us being there, will occur and change as they take their experiences seriously and discuss them. We provided a little structure (the concept of ongoing discussions and some process factors noted above) but that was it. They will self organize in various ways within this focus of being more strategic but how that happens and what it will look like is unknown.

    For us, if the assumption that self organization could be, or needed to be controlled then the session would have been quite different and I imagine we would still be directly involved in their discussions somehow.

    I would like to emphasize a point made by Stephen in this story. This was a pretty small initiative but when we talked to leader of this group she was a little uncomfortable with the ongoing meetings in that she thought ‘nothing of value might come of them’. To me this is an example of this concern that if you don’t control the future, (or self organization) then anything can happen. Why this leap of abstraction occurs so often is a bit of a mystery to me but it does seem to happen a lot. We talked with this leader about why she thought nothing of value might happen and basically talked about the constraints which occur in any situation and that we thought there was enough structure in the ongoing meetings to get things started well, then it had to be let go. She was ok with this but for larger initiatives this can really be problematic.

    Hope this story adds to the discussion!

  11. Bas Reus said, on August 20, 2009 at 21:11

    @Stephen: I like your way of reasoning. If employees are already self-organizing, it is not needed to empower them, but it is needed to change constraints and power relationships so that different (more desirable) patterns of social interaction can emerge. I think you’re right about that. My problem statement can benefit from this way of thinking. Maybe an increase in social interaction is more important.

    @Tom: you confirm this way of thinking by giving the example of the leader of that group. And discussing about their interactions and group dynamic instead of outcome can be really an eye opener.

    Am I right that you both say that decontrol is important instead of control?

  12. sbilling said, on August 21, 2009 at 08:35

    Bas, I really support your enquiry, and I think you are doing something very fruitful here by sestting out your understanding and also showing the movement of your thought.

    With regard to control, I would not say that decontrol is important instead of control. Managers are still trying to control things and get the results that they want. The reality is that they cannot control things the way the management text books say, e.g. by having an 8 step process to control change, the way Kotter recommends.

    Instead it’s a kind of paradox with the manager being in control and not in control at the same time. The manager can control (to a degree) his or her own gestures, intentions, stories, symbols and so on. But cannot control how these will be taken up in the organisation. In an n-step model, the interactions are designed, it is assumed that managers CAN control the way change will unfold.

    So managers have to pay attention to how they are participating in conversations because that is how they can affect the power relationships. For example, who is gossiping to who, what parties would the manager like to support and so affect the balance of power, what conversations would the manager like to stimulate (e.g. through group meetings like Tom describes above.

  13. Chris Rodgers said, on August 21, 2009 at 12:48

    Hi Bas,

    A great discussion!

    In my book, Informal Coalitions, I describe organizations as dynamic networks of self-organizing conversations. Organizations exist because people can’t achieve alone what they need or want to achieve. So at the core of organization is the notion of people in interaction. And people use ‘talk’ (in the broadest sense of the word) as their medium of communication – both with others and with themselves (i.e. thinking). My view on self-organization is therefore closely aligned to those set out by Stephen Billing and Tom Gibbons, above. In particular, self-organization isn’t a strategy designed and implemented by managers (as opposed, say, to command and control), it is a natural dynamic of all organizations.

    Often we hear management writers and commentators advocating the principles of self-organization as an alternative way of managing organizations. Typically, they position it as a more enlightened view of leadership – more empowered, as you say, in contrast to command and control. What they overlook is that the unalloyed ‘commanders and controllers’ are themselves active participants in the self-organizing processes of interaction within their organizations and beyond. Their inputs to these interactions may well be conditioned by their command-and-control mindset and behaviours. But the outcomes that arise will be no less subject to the principles and processes of emergence, self-organization and co-creation than if they were unconditional disciples of complexity thinking.

    I’ve mentioned co-creation here and a similar confusion has arisen around this related concept. Many books, consultants and so on talk of co-creation as a deliberate act of collaboration and joint problem solving, in which decisions are worked out jointly rather than being imposed from above. But all outcomes are unavoidably co-created, as people come together to perceive, interpret, evaluate and act upon the events, issues, edicts and so on that make up their world. It is the self-organizing interplay of this myriad of local (i.e. one-to-one and small-group) conversations across the organization and beyond that leads to the global (e.g. organization-wide) outcomes. As Tom suggests, this does not imply a free-for-all. The dynamics of conversation and interaction are such that people are both enabled AND CONSTRAINED by their interactions with others.

    The critical thing for me, then, is that it is the conversational interactions that are self-organizing. And, the dynamics of these are affected by such things as power relations, the identities and self-interests of participants (which themselves emerge through interaction), the capacities of people for self-awareness and self-reflection, and so on. This also means that all interactions are necessarily political in nature. So it is misleading to talk of organizations as “living systems”, as is popular in many quarters today. None of the systems that are used as examples of organizational dynamics exhibit these uniquely human characteristics, which are played out through conversation.

    I would argue that it is also misleading to talk of organizations as Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) and to import lessons from the laboratory-researched behaviour of these directly into the organizational world. For example, the latter rely on an outside observer/controller (the programmer), who sets down a small number of rules governing the local behaviour of agents in the CAS. Research shows that global (system-wide) patterns emerge as a result of the local, rule-based interaction of these agents. This has led advocates of the CAS model of organization to call for managers to set a few rules, within which it is presumed people will self-organize into organizationally beneficial ways of working. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) people don’t tend to follow rules in the mechanistic way that this implies. Also, as suggested above, managers are active participants; that is, they are ‘on the pitch, playing’, they are not ‘sitting in the stands’, so to speak, objectively observing and controlling other people’s actions.

    Also, a CAS has, by definition, a system boundary. And, like Stephen Billing again, I do not view organizations in these terms. The dynamic network of conversations is as wide and unbounded as the ‘most distant’ conversations that it spawns and that impact upon it. In other words, no organizational ‘thing’ exists outside these conversations other than more conversations. Clearly, a whole host of physical artefacts come into being over time as a result of some of these conversations (such as structures, strategies, processes, information systems, procedures, value statements and so on). But, in terms of organizational dynamics, these just provide an imprint of past conversations, which continue to impact upon the ongoing conversational life of ‘the organization’. These artefacts often serve, by accident or design, to institutionalize certain power relationships and intended ways of acting. And they inevitably both enable and constrain ongoing interactions. But the ways in which they do so, and the outcomes that result from them, again depend wholly upon the nature and content of the conversations that they trigger. The physical artefacts may be very visible and tangible, but it is in the ongoing negotiation of their meaning that we find the essence of organization.

    One final point worth mentioning in the context of self-organization is how I conceptualize what I call the “deep culture” of organization. The more that people make sense of the world in particular ways, through their day-to-day conversations and interactions with others (both in their ‘immediate circle’ and beyond) the more likely it is that they will continue to make sense of things in similar ways going forward. That is, patterns of meaning emerge which tend to channel ongoing sense making down these same mental, emotional and behavioural ‘pathways’. And this deepens the metaphorical ‘channels of meaning’ still further.

    Here again then, meaning cannot be handed down by ‘management’. It is determined in the moment of interaction whilst, at the same time, tending to be imperceptibly self-organized by the patterns of past sense making. This means that, whilst the possibility always exists for novelty to emerge, the dynamics of self-organization make it more likely that existing patterns of meaning will be reinforced.

    The consequence of all of this for leadership is that managers can act with intention but with no certainty of outcome. If meaning, action and outcomes arise in the moment of people’s interaction, it means that it is on these day-to-day interactions that managers need to focus their attention.

  14. Tom Gibbons said, on August 21, 2009 at 15:10

    I find your question…. ‘Am I right that you both say that decontrol is important instead of control?’… an interesting one and one that I somewhat hesitate to answer on one side or the other. So maybe I’ll just say both are important in different contexts.

    Decontrol (neat word!) when managing within an organization I would say is important however it is more just the way things are I think than a real choice managers make. Many managers work extremely hard to produce an illusion of control since it has been drilled into them from the cradle that this is how you must manage. There is no other ideology on which they have to act from. So if I define decontrol more as letting go of traditional ideas of control in organizations then yes I would say it is very important.

    Control when managing oneself, to me, is important. By this I do not mean self control or control of ones emotions etc. I mean that the one thing, the only thing we really have control of is our own choices about how to act. This is a fuzzy concept however since I too, think Mead’s idea of gesture and response together creating meaning affects the choices we make in our actions so our choices to act are socially and interactively generated. Nevertheless without the concept of control of our choices to act it is easy to slip down the slope that nothing matters, all is unconstrained and we are all at the whims of some mystical force.

    In terms of self organization then for me, both decontrol and control are at play at the same time as Stephen notes above and there is no magical answer about how this works. You simply are there in the middle of it, doing your best to keep your intentions clear and open to change and moving along with others.

    I would say however that a couple of things that help when ‘you are in the middle of it’, is a sense that you will be ‘ok’ and also an orientation that being in the middle of it is an adventure.

  15. Rotkapchen said, on August 21, 2009 at 16:19

    Big thanks to Stephen for introducing the critical element of emergence.

    Bas, having studied this topic even admittedly ‘informally’ for over a decade, I’ve got over a dozen critical books — so you’re on a crash course to make sense of a lot in a short time. But celebrations all around for being here at all : )

    I only came to study the topic at all because of my interest in optimizing the human potential (which you’ve alluded to). Let me offer a quick short context.

    Organizations are entities that allow for economic efficiencies in the use of capital. The problem is that human capital is not properly accounted for in the ‘machine theory’ upon which management principles evolved. Humans were ‘devolved’ into controllable machine parts that fit into machine processes. Technology now enables the human potential to break the bonds of the machine — not to mention blows up the original economic context in which huge sums of capital had to be pooled for entry to markets. For example, Amazon allows for me as an individual to be a book seller — the ‘machine’ is now a ‘brokerage device’ that individuals can tap into and leverage as a collective (but in the case of Amazon, there is no need for individuals to interact at all : ).

    I hadn’t really considered this until now, but it would appear that the highest need for humans to interact is in the maintenance of the machine! Kevin Kelly’s “Out of Control” would be relevant here. Highlights from just 2 pages: “Hidden in the Net is the mystery of the Invisible Hand — control without authority…A network nurtures small failures in order that large failures don’t happen as often…A distributed, decentralized network is more a process than a thing. In the logic of the Net there is a shift from nouns to verbs…Flows become more important than resources.”

    Indeed, the issues you speak of are all related to flows (or lack thereof). Most businesses are so oblivious to their own machineness that they have no resources responsible for the overall health of the machine (shoving food into your mouth — ala. a stream of financial capital — just to keep you alive is hardly a well-rounded life). Then there’s the whole dimension of the psyche — for which many organizations are schizophrenic (due to the competing nature of the ‘parts’).

    Business suffers from over-yang-ness. It’s out of balance. The challenge is, the beast is a voracious creature. It’s very difficult to tame it. Example: MCI was ‘fed’ by call centers, adding new accounts. The incentive model didn’t address ‘stability’ or ‘persistence’ — just foraging for new food. So cannibalism ensued. There were switching wars between MCI and AT&T — all incented by the models in place. But changing those models was not easy. Because of the volumes of dollars involved, even a small change immediately decreased the financials by hundreds of thousands of dollars…but, as living science models might teach us, this might have been a ‘necessary evil’ to get to a healthier state. But no one was thinking about it in this way.

    You wanna talk self-organizing? I can walk into business after business and do one simple check to suggest if they can even ‘start’ down that path: is there a mechanism (a rich one) for people to find each other and leverage their potential? Typically, not.

    All of this is the vision I see in the promise of what we can achieve via Enterprise 2.0. Or if Enterprise 2.0 is the answer, what was the question? Self-organization.

  16. Bas Reus said, on August 21, 2009 at 21:28

    Thanks so much for explaining your reasoning on the subject so thoroughly. All of you. Your experiences, visions and theories really helps me in getting a little more familiar with the subject. Self-organizing is a difficult subject to grasp, and that’s proved by you all.

    This input will definitely lead to changes in how I will (re)define self-organization and the same is true for the problem statement. And that’s great. I’m glad that I get valuable input on this post that helps me think in other directions as well.

    I still believe a definition, albeit only useful for this quest and at this time, helps me during this journey. I have to agree with the most of you that perhaps I have to let go of the ’empower’ element in my current problem statement.

    The idea of managers have to let go of the idea that the future can be predicted, or at least they think they can, is something we all agree on. And there are many outcomes that can be desired, as well as undesired outcomes. People in enterprises, in whatever role they have there, are trying to accomplish desired outcomes. Managing that isn’t necessary. And sometimes the outcome is just not desired for whatever reason. Just because (that’s sometimes all there is ;)).

    Outcome is not important, social interactions are. That’s indeed not systems thinking but participation thinking (and acting). And the interplay or duality between control and decontrol can be needed in organizations, more than in other social experiences because outcome is less important in many non-organizational situations. But now I’m staying away from the subject…..

  17. sbilling said, on August 22, 2009 at 12:53

    Rotkapchen, In your second to last paragraph you say say you can do a check to see whether the organisation can even think about self-organising, which is whether or not they have a mechanism for people to find each other and leverage their potential. I have no idea what kind of mechanism you have in mind, but that is not very relevant to my response to what you have written, which is:

    If I read you correctly, you are implying here that some organisations can consider self-organisation and some not. Those that can consider heading down the path of self-organisation are those that have this mechanism you speak of.

    What Chris Rodgers in his very well-stated post is saying, and what I am also trying to say, is that managers and other people in organisations do not have a choice about being self-organising. Bas, I think you are also saying this in your last comment when you say that you will have to let go of the “empower” element of your current problem statement. In other words, all people working in organisations, including managers, are interacting in a way that is self-organising, whether or not they intend to be self-organising, or whether they even know the concept exists, or whether they are intending to use control and command techniques.

    Bas, in relation to your comment that managing isn’t necessary to accomplish desired outcomes, and your subsequent comment that outcome is not important, I would not be able to agree with either of these statements. Managers do have to “manage” towards their desired outcomes or else they have no more than a random chance of being successful. Outcomes are certainly important as well.

    I think that the realisation that all human beings are involved in interaction with a relativelly small number of others from which the ultimate patterns that emerge are self-organising, i.e. they don’t have an overall blueprint, means that managers must pay even more attention to how they are interacting, as Chris says at the end of his comment.

    Bas, you have certainly generated a lot of discussion here!

  18. jofr said, on August 22, 2009 at 23:22

    The definition of self-organization is not the problem. The problem is that nothing organizes itself (usually). This is the reason why self-organization is interesting in the first place: it is the exception. If you want something to be organized, you have to make someone responsible for it.

  19. Rotkapchen said, on August 23, 2009 at 05:26

    Jofr: Things do self-organize. Granted there are ‘perturbations’ that typically are procuring cause, but self-organization is an emergent property. You’ve jumped into a conversation…have you researched the relevant topics at all?

    Sbilling: Ditto my last comment to you, as well. “Managers do have to “manage” towards their desired outcomes” Sounds like you’ve been reading Meyer and Davis. There are NO managers in emergent systems. There are managing elements, but they’re part of the system itself — ants follow a series of pheromones that are laid down by others.

    From “Changing Conversations in Organizations” by Patricia Shaw:
    “…how did organization, or pattern, emerge in such networks, how did they self-organize?…depends on the number and strength of connections between agents, the diversity of agents and the intensity of information flows between them, or, in other words, the intensity of interaction due to the mutual sensitivity or responsiveness of the agents.”

    The agents? Resources. If resources cannot find one another…they cannot be leveraged. End of story. End of emergence.

    Sure stuff can occur…but it will all be sub-optimal to the true potential. Companies are FAILING because they do not know how to leverage their resources…they’ve been sailing on good luck. Their luck has run out. The ‘zero cost’ of the internet is squeezing the opportunity for waste out of the model. They now HAVE to capitalize on the fundamental principles of ‘energy for free’ (truly capitalize on their resources and leverage them to their fullest natural potential — not by abusing them).

    In “The Complexity Advantage” (Kelly and Allison)
    “You business comprises self-organizing systems whether you know it or like it. You can cut costs and improve profits dramatically by learning to work with these systems rather than against them. So, what is self-organization and how does it work?

    Self-organization is a fundamental principle of the universe in which we live and work. Open, self-organizing systems use energy, material, and feedback (information) from their internal and external environments to organize themselves. Because energy is used up — or dissipated — in the course of the organization, self-organizing systems are also called dissipative systems. This process is not directed or controlled by a conscious entity, but rather emerges through the interrelationships of the system’s parts. Self-organization takes place only under certain conditions in a state called bounded instability. This state is often described by complexity theorists as being at the edge of chaos.

    Every self-organizing system is unique. Each emerges from a specific history and interacts with an environment that — while it may seem similar to — is never exactly the same as that for another system. A self-organizing system produces results that are different and more powerful than those that could be produced by the parts of the system working independently.” [or as I’d add…’managed’ to be so]

    From “ReWiring the Corporate Brain” by Danah Zohar:
    “Like neural networks, everything and everyone seems to be connected to everything else. The connections within the networks are informal and pretty much organic — they grow in response to conditions, opportunities, and local constraints, much as neural network connections grow in response to experience. In this sense, both are flexible and adaptive. Both can learn.”

    From the ‘father’ of the topic, Stuart Kauffman “At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity”

    “…the origin of life itself, comes because of what I call ‘order for free’ — self-organization that arises naturally. But I believe that this order for free, which has undergirded the origin of life itself, has also undergirded the order in organisms as they have evolved and has even undergirded the very capacity to evolve itself.

    Living systems…must have networks that behave stably, that exhibit homeostasis and graceful minor modifications…but…not be too rigid in their behavior if they are to cope with a complex environment.

    How do cell networks achieve both stability and flexibility? The new and very interesting hypothesis is that networks may accomplish this by achieving a kind of poised state balance on the edge of chaos.

    …a sharp change in behavior, some kind of phase transition from order to chaos…occurs…Just between, just near this phase transition, just at the edge of chaos, the most complex behaviors can occur–orderly enough to ensure stability, yet full of flexibility and surprise. Indeed, this is what we mean by complexity.”

    Clearly in this regard I disagree with Chris and suggest that if he doesn’t embrace it all — he’s not really ‘sold’ on the concept of self-organization…it’s fundamentally a ‘living system’ principle and yes, organizations already exhibit them. It’s all the the artificial ‘controls’ that turns them in to Frankensteinien mutations. It’s attempt to artificially ‘manage’ things are have inherent living principles that causes problems and eventually loses out to the natural order (ask anyone in the Corps of Engineers how well they can engineer around Mother Nature).

    What have you got?

  20. sbilling said, on August 23, 2009 at 14:04

    Hi Rotkapchen, I am delighted that you have been reading Patricia Shaw. You say that there are no managers in emergent systems, and I would agree in one sense only. Which is that because organisations are not systems, there are no managers in emergent systems because there are no people in emergent systems. Patricia would agree with this.

    I disagree with Kelly and Allison if they say that “You business comprises self-organizing systems whether you know it or like it.” I don’t think the business is self-organising systems. It is myriad interactions amongst people, that are self-organising, but are not systems. This is in accordance with the complex responsive processes point of view that Patricia helped to develop.

    Your comments about systems may well apply to systems, but not to organisations. Complexity offers only a relatively small number of useful analogies for organisational life.

    Jofr, your comment seems to make no sense whatsoever in this conversation.

  21. Tom Gibbons said, on August 23, 2009 at 14:11

    I find it a little hard to follow the post above since it seems to mix up adaptionist, formative and rational causality and ignores transformative causality… see Stacey Strategic Management and Organisational Dynamics: The Challenge of Complexity.

    In reading and listening to many people on this topic I find this happens quite often. They will take, usually, formative or adaptionist causality and add elements of complextiy theory which make these types of causality very complicated and then transfer this thinking directly to human interaction without considering the possibility that human interaction is grounded in a different type of causality, transformative, which alters an understanding of our experience in very significant ways.

    When it is said that organizations are ‘living systems’ I would agree, although I would use the word process rather than system, but it is a human, living process which as noted in the post above will be unique, with its own properties and causality, different than other living systems. It would therefore follow that self organization is different in human processes of interaction and thus emergence as well.

  22. Tom Gibbons said, on August 23, 2009 at 14:27

    Please note that my post above refers to Rotkapchen’s post above S. Billings’. It seems we posted our thoughts at almost the same time and mine was intended to be directly below Rotkapchen’s

  23. Rotkapchen said, on August 23, 2009 at 23:27

    Tom: There’s a good reason for not differentiating causality — it’s a principle of systems thinking that is not relevant in complexity theory. This was a discussion of self-organization…which is a principle of complexity theory. But if you’d like to change the topic…

    While discoveries made related to ‘causality’ are interesting, there is limited value in the linear pursuit of ‘root cause analysis’. I am interested in the significance of the distinctions and why you believe they are relevant (particularly to self-organization).

    Steve: No people in emergent systems? Wherein are they specifically ‘excluded’ as ‘agents’?

    Organizations not systems? Perhaps under an assumed definition you may have, this could be true. If your intent is to suggest that “there is no enterprise”, I’m with you on that — but that’s not likely as you also used the term “organizational life”. Which seems to contradict your argument in the first place [I’m clearly not following the tread of logic somewhere].

    Kevin Kelly “Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World” — “A system is anything that talks to itself. All living systems and organisms ultimately reduce to a bunch of regulators–chemical pathways and neuron circuits–having conversations as dump as “I want, I want, I want; no, you can’t, you can’t, you can’t.” “‘System’ means interconnected. Things in a system are intertwined, linked directly or indirectly into a common fate.”

    Fritjov Capra “The Turning Point”: “Living organisms, societies, and ecosystems are all systems….In a healthy system–an individual, a society, or an ecosystem–there is a balance between integration and self-assertion.”

    Steve said: “Complexity offers only a relatively small number of useful analogies for organisational life.” Sounds like the fish that says, “What water?” Such a view would truly account from the huge chasm in our perspectives.

    This may or may not be relevant…I’m having a tough time trying to put my finger on what principles Steve subscribes to. From “Surfing the Edge of Chaos”: “Complexity science represents three major steps beyond systems thinking:
    1. Theoretically, systems thinking can address nonlinear events…In practice, it is rarely used to do so. It tends to be applied in situations where linear dynamics obtain (that is, where effects are proportional to the cause)…
    2. Complexity science is not built on the assumption (or even the temptation) that one can proactively control what will happen…
    3. The living systems view does not focus only on the path of an organism as it maneuvers across the competitive landscape. Complexity also concerns itself with the way the landscape changes as the organism moves across it. System dynamics conceptualizes the challenge as mapping causal factors that move a system from point A to point B. Complexity regards the journey as walking on a trampoline. Each step alters the whole typography.”

    Gregory Bateson would likely call that a ‘dynamic context’…or reality.

    From the Systems Thinkers I’ve interacted with, I’ve gotten this impression…that they believe they’ve solved the linear vs. non-linear focus by adopting a recursion, but recursion is the opposite of ‘lineal’ not ‘linear’. I’m open to learning more about Systems Thinking but sadly in attempting to pull out an understanding, proponents seem to get too frustrated trying to explain themselves to me and can’t answer basic challenges. I’m truly not trying to attack them, just to understand foundations and justifications — test the model.

    It still seems to me that Systems Thinking is fundamentally grounded in epigenesis. From Gregory Bateson “Mind and Nature: A necessary unity”: “The essence of epigenesis is predictable repetition; the essence of learning and evolution is exploration and change.” The answers are in the middle. I do not see how Systems Thinking handles the paradox.

  24. John Tropea said, on August 24, 2009 at 08:30

    Bas,

    With my excitement of your post, I overlooked when you said

    “self-organization in an organization is a process where people can self-select themselves when assigning tasks. Self-selecting can occur because of various reasons, for example because people have interest in the task, are familiar with it, or aren’t familiar with it at all but see it as a challenge.”

    My comment on Stephen’s blog (comment 5) refers to this concept of a role-based organisation

    http://www.changingorganisations.com/2009/08/what-does-it-mean-to-be-self-organising/comment-page-1/#comment-2142

  25. Bas Reus said, on August 24, 2009 at 11:14

    Stephen, indeed, to empower for self-organization is probably something I have to let go of. The question is how we can align organization so that self-organization becomes more effective. I mean, how natural behavior of people can be more valuable in the daily activities. Setting constraints and letting others go could be a way, but I think that there are more options to make self-organizing behavior of people more effective.

    When I said that managing isn’t necessary to accomplish desired outcomes, I should rephrase that. Of course managing is still necessary to make sure the desired outcomes are being achieved. However, managing in the sense of telling which people what to do is something to rethink of. That just is not the most effective behavior, people are probably not doing what they are capable of. What I do think however, is that people should have different responsibilities now and then. Changing the environment of people will get them familiar with other responsibilities as well.

    Rotkapchen, when you say that there are no managers in emergent systems, this is a very interesting statement. This triggers the discussion whether we have to talk about systems here or not. I have mixed feelings about that. Thinking of systems, it helps me to grasp the subject better. Things emerge out of a system, and can dissolve back into it as well. But I’m not sure if we have to call this a system, as systems have a input-process-output structure. Thinking of dynamic network of conversations (Chris, Stephen) is something more useful I think, because it lets go of the boundaries set by classic systems. A network of conversations is more dynamic and participative, more emergent behavior can be expected here. So what are the boundaries here? Is it society? That would be a very interesting but philosophical discussion. Is everything we know part of the same system, but is it context, culture, meaning and the like that determines ones understanding of a system or environment? In that sense it is easier or more appropriate to talk about processes rather than systems, as Tom puts it.

    John, you seem to have the same questions as I have concerning the self-selecting when assigning tasks. These are questions that are not easily answered, and is one of the core elements of more effective organizations. Self-selecting or self-organizing, or self-management if you like still have many problems that arise compared to traditional top-down organizations where someone else assigns you tasks.

  26. Rotkapchen said, on August 24, 2009 at 17:30

    Bas: “there are more options to make self-organizing behavior of people more effective”
    Start with a classic example. Watch ALL of the first-hand experience of the workplace culture at Zappos http://twurl.nl/z74spu

    Managers? The CEO makes $35K and lets his people shine.

    I’m all for referencing a system (I spent a whole post defending it : ) I’m cautious of leveraging vestiges of Systems Thinking as a discipline due to its mechanistic/linear leanings.

    I’ve designed a system that’s flexible enough for such emergent behaviors (including self-assignment). It relies on a very flexible architecture, relying not on workflow for processes but “flow of work” via state management by tags. The only technology I’ve found with such flexibility is Traction TeamPage. Ask Jordan Frank (
    jfrank@tractionsoftware.com) for an immersive demo, including watching their own live data as to they manage their own production schedule, starting with input from customers in discussions.

  27. Rotkapchen said, on August 24, 2009 at 17:41

    While I’m at it, rather than the kitchen sink, I’m throwing the whole bathtub at it. I gravitated to complexity for all the great reasons we’re discussing but it is added upon from an ‘applied’ perspective via Design Thinking (see esp. the first quote) http://twurl.nl/lvlrry And a full collection (that grows) http://delicious.com/iknovate/DesignThinking

  28. Bas Reus said, on August 24, 2009 at 22:07

    Wow what an energy do you get from watching those Zappos video’s! Great work and thanks for sharing. This is one of the companies that believe in investing in your employees and customers. They show being as efficient as Henry Ford is not the only way to run a company.

    Thanks for mentioning the Traction software as well. Can you mention some more about the system you designed?

  29. Rotkapchen said, on August 25, 2009 at 01:00

    Here’s the short scenario on the Traction implementation. It was a ‘test’ case — validating the potential of a variety of tools before investing. A number of tools were assumed to be brought together to create an innovation ‘sandbox’ of sorts, at an Enterprise 2.0 level.

    In reality, I’ve learned that you can’t really separate the two. If you’re going to truly leverage the potential of Enterprise 2.0, you better be capitalizing on ways to ‘tap’ the energy of the exchanges. That’s a bit hard to do if content is in different application ‘stores’.

    The nonavailability of a designated Innovation Management System turned into a blessing in disguise. With some great deep discussions with Jordan, we ‘architected’ key elements critical to innovation. For example, Innovation Management Systems tend to focus on capturing ideas (flypaper for ideas) and either scoring them for promotion and/or moving them into a process for funding. This is one small portion of an innovation ecosystem. The true potential for innovation is ‘between the cracks’ — the random discoveries, or the issues and questions. Indeed, in a living system things need to change states — that not the way most Innovation Management Systems are architected.

    That’s the beauty of Traction…it’s a dream for true architects — you can turn it into things, leveraging formats, filters and metadata.

    Every paragraph is a separate element and as such can be ‘acted’ on (comments can be inserted or not, etc.). Like the promised architecture of Google Wave, the content can be repurposed in a variety of ways — it’s not locked into a blog, wiki or microblog format, but can be displayed with such ways, if needed.

    Coupled, currently, with the powerful FAST Search engine, finding content is easier, but their ‘filtering’ mechanism for display is also very powerful. Add on top of that the ability to plug in all sorts of open plug-ins — it’s a great architecture.

    Have camera will travel: I’ll be gathering a lot of video and stories at their national event in October.

  30. John Tropea said, on August 25, 2009 at 05:36

    Chris left an amazing comment (comment 6) on Stephen’s blog post, and I attempted a roundup on comment 7
    http://www.changingorganisations.com/2009/08/what-does-it-mean-to-be-self-organising/comment-page-1/#comment-2149

  31. […] Posted in self-organization by Bas Reus on August 25, 2009 The post ‘Self-organization defined‘ generated so much discussion, it has fed me with many new insights. Thanks so much. Your […]

  32. Tom Gibbons said, on August 25, 2009 at 19:44

    Rotkapchen – I would say that not differentialting causality is one of the major problems with much of the work done currently with complexity theory in organizations. Much of that work is founded on the same ideas of causality that systems thinking is, but it is not discussed.

    The concepts of Complex Responsive Processes, work done by Ralph Stacey and colleagues, including Patricia Shaw, point this out very clearly and is worth exploring in depth and is the ideology from which I am coming from. It is an ideology that resonates with my experiences over the past 20 years which include extensive work with systems thinking and complexity theory. It is also an ideology that translates very well into the work I do with clients, just as your ideology of how things work in organizations seems to work for you.

  33. Stephen Billing said, on August 27, 2009 at 13:34

    Rotkapchen, I am arguing that organisations are not systems at all -not living systems, not emergent systems, not soft systems or any other kind of system. This is because systems thinking has been developed for the natural world but does not apply to the social world. Unlike the parts of systems, humans have consciousness and will, and they do not act like the parts of systems because of that consciousness and free will.

    That’s why I say that complexity science offers little apart from some limited analogies when it comes to understanding social phenomena like organisations.

    We find ourselves talking about systems because much of the thinking about complexity in organisations simply adds complexity on top of systems thinking. I am arguing, along with Ralph Stacey, Patricia Shaw, Tom and Chris, that it makes sense to stop thinking of organisations as systems, because they do not behave like systems.

    People in organisations use systems and other tools to help them do their work. But the organisations themselves are not systems.

  34. Rotkapchen said, on August 27, 2009 at 23:48

    Stephen: Is it wave or particle? If there’s no receiver is there a signal?

    If you’re arguing against systems, then by definition you’d also have to be arguing against their existence at all (or you’d have a losing argument on your hands, at the core). An entity cannot participate with something and not become part of it, or validate its existence by the interaction.

  35. Jordan Frank said, on September 3, 2009 at 03:29

    Thanks to Rotkapchen for the kudos above on our conversations. And I really like the flypaper for ideas analogy!

    From what I’ve seen of discussions around emergent systems is they don’t allow for planning and coherence building. That is, self organizing often works better when there is some starting structure.

    My best analogy here is a city planner. Most cities would be a disaster without a plan that helps dictate where commercial, residential and other types of structures and communities may exist. They help define codes for architectural standards and plumbing. Within that set of plans and codes – self organization takes root and excels.

    We can’t plan for everything, and ideas + action + time force evolutionary and revolutionary changes with respect to the plan. So, the plans may change when the results of self-organization demand it – or present opportunities.

    I think this plays well in the E2.0 scenario and just about every deployment I’ve worked on confirms that theory. Offer structures but don’t force them, allow any entry to exist in any context, and you have all the flexibility that the self organizing, emergent needs of people doing their daily work demand.

  36. Bas Reus said, on September 3, 2009 at 11:18

    Jordan, thanks for your comment. I’m very curious for stories about clients that used and are using your software. How do they use it, what are the constraints and what’s the freedom to achieve what they want? Is the plan sufficient and if not, how do they deal with it? How and where does it make self-organization easier? What are their experiences and so on.

    Are you willing to tell me something about that some time?

  37. Jordan Frank said, on September 8, 2009 at 04:22

    We’ve posted about 18 customer stories here:
    http://traction.tractionsoftware.com/traction/permalink/Public421

    I have about 5 more in the queue that range from a top 5 pharma to the folks over at http://www.rustopedia.org where they are trying to tie together a scientific and activist community around solving a plant disease before it inflicts widespread famine.

    The ones that I think are most pertinent to our discussion here are NHS, ShoreBank, KUKA and “European Pharmaceutical Group.”

    A common theme I see is fear of the blank white page. With no structure and organizational cues, most folks have a hard time putting their collaboration-toe in the water. Give them a starting structure – a set of cues that suggest certain types of desired contribution, hopefully enhanced by management approval and preference for using the social software as a replacement for traditional communication approaches – and then folks will know just how to get started and can build and bend the system from there.

    Take a simple case at KUKA where they started off by using the platform to identify, track, comment on, and resolve issues. They found that they needed to balance issue reporting with benefit reporting. Modifying the sections in the interface and adding a tag for this was simple. Another case there was when an Auditor asked if he could easily find every issue which could have a financial impact. They added a tag, and it was done.

    At every turn, TeamPage offers the option for structure (tag and section templates, draft/publish moderation, control over who can edit articles or use tags) but never requires it outright. This allows it to serve the generally desired case where there is total freedom, but also means you can meet the universe of needs which inevitably come up (e.g. when an HR group has to suppress the ability for most people to read intermediate edits of a policy or a Customer Support group has to make an FAQ base that can’t be freely modified by any or all customers)

    Creating a medium where people can simply communicate without the rigidity of down-to-up corporate structures opens the barn doors to self-organization. Without this, the necessary lines of communication between self-organizers block the activity. Adding initial structure to the style of communication can give a baseline use case that prompts faster adoption and more wide-spread use, but does not imply that the structure can’t change.

    I think when talking about structure, the concept most people have is a process driven Lotus Notes DB or an Enterprise DB App like a CRM, both of which may be hard or impossible to change in a meaningful way – if you don’t follow a process, they break. The structure debate seems to focus on totally free form apps as the polar and ideal opposite. Based on all my experience, the deployments that do something in the middle – offering structural cues on “what to do” in a workspace but allowing all the freedoms you’d expect in any wiki/blog type system – is the happy medium where value is unlocked most effectively and quickly.

  38. Rotkapchen said, on September 9, 2009 at 00:38

    As Jordan suggests, the ‘blank page’ is problematic — as well it proves problematic when it ‘runs amok’.

    As a point of reference, emergence applies not only to the resulting environment but also to the process of facilitating the means to emerge. That is, technologists often err on not using emergent techniques to establish the non-blank possibilities. These are also not just 1-time techniques…they’re continuous.

    This goes then goes from the blank page to the non-blank page to the continuously morphing non-blank page. They’re all different.

  39. […] discussion on ‘Self-organization defined‘ where Jordan Frank from Traction Software commented on, triggered me to ask him some questions on the Teampage product in relation to self-organization. […]

  40. sbilling said, on September 16, 2009 at 14:46

    Rotakapchen, you ask if an organisation is a wave or a particle? I think neither, but then I don’t really understand your question here.

    You say that if I’m arguing against systems that I’m arguing against the existence of systems at all.

    Not so.

    I agree that systems exist. In the natural world, Weather patterns, for example are systems. As are termites, ants, bees, birds, fish and other phenomena in the natural world. I think that human beings can use tools and systems together, without becoming systems themselves.

    The problem is that we have come to think of organisations as sysems and then wonder why change management efforts don’t work – they don’t work because they assume organisations are systems and would respond to the kind of leverage and interventions a car would respond to – but they don’t.

    I hope that answers your question.

    However, what I am saying is that organisations and other social phenomena (i.e. where humans are interacting with each other) are not systems.

  41. Rotkapchen said, on September 17, 2009 at 19:47

    Steve: You’re right and I’m right. They’re both and neither. It’s all a matter of how/where/when you’re looking at it. The context is constantly changing. All observations are immediately invalidated by the movement of time and conditions. So yes, they are systems (http://managementhelp.org/org_thry/org_sytm.htm) and they’re not systems.

  42. […] very important in these systems. The relation between self-organization and CAS became apparent in the discussion on self-organization as well. But then we come to the differences between human beings with a mind of their own, and […]

  43. John Tropea said, on December 2, 2009 at 07:13

    Hi Bas,

    I’ve been pondering Self-selecting, Self-Management…kind of like we are all freelancers in the workplace. But what happens when you can’t find tasks yourself, is there a back-up plan to keep you working inbetween tasks

    Work group fatigue : level of effort vs funded, or transform the organisation!
    http://bit.ly/5Er21D

  44. […] Reus is exploring what it means to say that humans are self-organising, over at https://basreus.nl/2009/07/27/self-organization-defined/#comment-51.  His post outlines the development of his thinking in attempting to define […]

  45. wlfred said, on December 5, 2010 at 01:37

    Consider a big company having a standard hierarchy of employees. People form groups and assign tasks to themselves or the group and respond to triggers in the environment or company. So, any company would be considered self-organizing when considered as a whole. The problem is that a system can be seen as one or the other, depending on the viewpoint, see
    http://demesos.blogspot.com/2010/11/so-when-do-we-call-system-self.html
    for a longer discussion on this.

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