The Nature of Systems and Metaphors

  • What is your definition?
  • In System Thinking:

–A particular way of organizing our thoughts about the world/problem/situation we are facing

–It is an organizing concept

  • To better understand a system (the nature of the system and its environments)

–Machine Metaphor / Pre-Systems Metaphor

–Organic Metaphor

–Neuro-Cybernetic Metaphor

–Cultural Metaphor

–Political Metaphor

Machine Metaphor (Closed System) / Pre-Systems Metaphor View

  • Emphasis on the efficiency of the parts
  • It operates in a routine and repetitive fashion with a predefined set of activities, seeking efficiency to achieve goals
    • Useful if:

    –The tasks are straightforward & repetitive

    –Stable environment

    –E.g. armed forces, large franchise (fast food chains)

    • Consequence:

    –Lower adaptability of organization on volatile environment

Organic Metaphor (Open System) View

  • Emphasis the human aspect of organizations
  • Issues such as motivation (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs), leadership style, job enrichment, etc
  • Organization as an organism to survive
  • Useful if:

–Open relation to changing environment

–Responsiveness toward changes

–Complex environment (e.g. today turbulence environment)

  • Consequence:

–Passively adapt rather than proactively Assume harmonious relation among people

Neuro-Cybernetic Metaphor  (Viable System) View

  • Emphasis on Active Learning & control (organization as a brain)
  • Focus on information processing and viability
  • Depends on the ability to communicate and learn
  • Useful if:

–Promote self-enquiry, self-criticism & encourage creativity

–Dynamic goal seeking

–High degree of uncertainty

–E.g. autonomous workgroups, innovative firms

  • Consequence:

–Forget purpose of the parts (may not the same with the whole)

Cultural Metaphor

  • Emphasis the organization as a collectivity of employee
  • Assume employee has collaborative and community-like spirit
  • Culture is a shared characteristics at all level of organization
    • Useful if:

    –Cohesion of shared values have impact on organizational development (need to be managed)

    –E.g. Done initially by Japanese firms

    • Consequence:

    –Can lead to explicit ideological control (feeling of manipulation, resentment, mistrust)

    –Takes time (culture)

    –Have no structure

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