system design

»If you think of purpose, you must also think of coincidence and folly.«

Besides coincidences and errors, purposes are the essential designing factors of a system. Everything that exists is also supported by its environment, otherwise something else would have prevailed. This support is usually based on local utility considerations, but not infrequently also simply on disinformation: Unknown alternatives can be used only by chance.

Stafford Beer coined the acronym POSIWID in this context („the purpose of a system is, what it does“): „It stands for bald fact, which makes a better starting point in seeking understanding than the familiar attributions of good intention, prejudices about expectations, moral judgment or sheer ignorance of circumstances.“

While true coincidence can hardly be controlled, the organizational knowledge base has considerable influence on purposes, other coincidences and last but not least on “organizational intelligence”:
The basic problem of a more intelligent organisational design cannot be solved in a targeted manner without a pragmatic treatment of organisational knowledge quality. But as long as the organisation is not acutely at risk, however, there is regularly no compelling need for this.

On the contrary, it is usually in the best interest of organizational structures not to question their own performance: the own area of responsibility should normally always be regarded as efficient, otherwise it would not live up to its responsibility (this is an essential difference between project and process organization: operation thrives on stability, projects on change; they rarely get along really  well).

However, avoiding real improvement can also be beneficial from an overall perspective: The liability risk in decisions is based on market conventions which are not absolutely fixed. It is only reasonable (“system-rational” acc. to Luhmann) to follow the corridor of common practice in order to avoid sanctions. Exceeding this area can unfavourably increase the pressure on the overall system (not to mention individually driven hindrances through injelitance etc.):

If the range of common practice is exceeded on a sustained basis, this can even trigger “arms races” and destabilise long-established dynamic balances, which is a regular side effect of successful disruptive competition:

In the absence of acute disruptive threats, the path of least resistance is therefore regularly to remain calm and to adapt as well as possible to one’s system environment. Therefore, the demand for truly fundamental transformations is generally low. In the meantime, however, the exponential development of information technology offers fundamentally new organizational transformation possibilities, which regularly fall far short of their actual use due to the usual resistance to change.

This represents a major advantage for the disruptors: the new competition has fewer system-rational legacy problems and can therefore simply focus on the most efficient solution from the outset.

Effectively closing this competitive gap ultimately requires a consensual break with system rationality, which means a fundamental problematization of areas that could not or should not have been addressed as problems so far.
Here, the phenomenon of Passive (or Qualitative) Disinformation provides the simplest possible access
and thus new, pragmatic and empirically valid opportunities for treating the corresponding challenges in system design.

© 2021 Dr. Thomas R. Glueck, Munich, Germany. All rights reserved.