Jun 11, 2010

complex, fluid, collective

Confusion as an indicator of validity is a crucial nuance [if organizations are conceived of] as superimposed structures. This imagery implies that there is not an underlying "reality" waiting to be discovered. Rather, organizations are viewed as the inventions of people, inventions superimposed on flows of experience and momentarily imposing some order on these streams. Notice, however, that many portions of the streams of experience will remain unorganized, and those portions being temporarily organized by imposed ideologies will remain equivocal. These enduring equivocalities should be detected by scrupulous observers, but since that which is noticed is partially indescribable and partially incomprehensible, the efforts at description will appear flawed. Such are the dilemmas that face those who choose as their topic of interest phenomena that are complex, fluid, collective.
from this, and from many other bits of weick's writing i've read, i get the sense that he would agree that form, the shape an organization takes, while itself complex is only the tangible instantiation of processes that are much more complex, interesting, and organizational.

the analogy i've recently taken to using is this: studying organizations identified through recognizable organizational forms as analogous to studying a bunch of concrete objects or fixed points (using the formal mathematical definition), while studying organizational processes is analogous to studying the fixed point combinators—higher order functions or processes—that give rise to those fixed points. why does organizational analysis (whether at the micro or macro levels) remain so rooted in studying organization as a noun/object and resistant to studying organization as a verb/process?

weick's book prompted that question by acknowledging that organizations are complex accumulations of processes of sensemaking. but the hat tip to complex, non-deterministic models of social behaviour also reminded me of some thoughts about social theory and model robustness i had after going to a SALT lecture nassim nicholas taleb gave in san francisco a few years ago.

i ended then with the question of whether we might develop a theory of organization that is essentially scale-invariant and which therefore describes behaviors and processes that exist within and between groups of entities generally, rather than those that exist for particular types of entities (e.g. individuals, small groups, firms, and the like). the field of organization studies seems to think this is a bootless inquiry, but then you run across weick and suddenly everything seems possible again.

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