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Organizations as Brains chapter summary.......
             Chapter Four, “Organizations as Brains,” focuses on the metaphor of organizations as “living brains.” Morgan raises two issues that he says are important when exploring this model of organizational structure: “Is it possible to design ‘learning organizations’ that have the capacity to be as flexible, resilient, and inventive as the functioning of the brain? Is it possible to distribute capacities for intelligence and control throughout an enterprise so that the system as a whole can self-organize and evolve along with the emerging challenges?” The answers to both questions appear to be yes –with some reservations, of course. The issue itself is complicated by the fact that there are so many different and competing theories about exactly how the brain functions and operates. Still, most see the brain as an incredibly complex organ that seems, at times, to have an almost limitless ability to process vast amounts of information in a seemingly infinite number of ways. And, while there are areas of the brain that perform specialized functions, the entire brain seems to be involved, in some small way, in most actions that we take.  The chapter focuses on the brain metaphor by looking at an organization in what Morgan calls “three interconnected ways: as information processing brains; as complex learning systems; and as holographic systems combining centralized and decentralized characteristics.”
       The chapter spends a great deal of time on the interdisciplinary science of cybernetics, which focuses on the study of information, communication, and control. Morgan argues that cybernetics leads to a theory of communication and learning that has four key tenets:
1.                  Systems must have the capacity to sense, monitor, and scan significant aspects of their environment.
2.                  They must be able to relate this information to the operating norms that guide system behavior.
3.                  They must be able to detect significant deviations from these norms.
4.                  They must be able to initiate corrective action when discrepancies are detected.
Quality organizations go one step beyond these principles, employing a type of learning that is called “double-loop” learning – where an organization takes a “double look” at the situation by constantly questioning the relevance of the operating norms. This is a difficult process, where people need to do a mind-shift, or paradigm shift, where they see the current mental model, but also are able to see and develop new approaches to old problems. For this to occur, organizations need to foster a culture that encourages risk taking and supports change as a normal process.
          Morgan refers to the brain as being holographic and thus the organization as a brain being comprised of many "whole" pictures of the organization yet from differing perspectives.  Depending on the activity or issue, various parts of the holographic organization will function in a manner that facillitates that activity.  Morgan describes the holographic working: "(this) holographic evidence favors a (more) decentralized , distributed form of intelligence.  When it comes to the brain functioning it seems that there is no center or point of control.  The brain seems to store and process data in many parts simultaneously.  Pattern and order emerge from the process; it is not imposed.  Holographic explanations stress the 'all over the place' character of brain functioning.  Different elements are involved in systems of 'parallel processing,' generating signals, impulses, and tendencies that make contributions to the functioning and character of the whole...despite this distributed character ther is also a strong measure of system specialization.  The brain , it seems, is both holographic and specialized!"  (pg. 73)  An organization, then, can be composed of many diverse people with a unified sense of purpose and it is possible for each, diverse individual to represent the whole.


        At the end of the chapter, Morgan outlines the strengths and limitations of the brain metaphor. Most importantly, he says, are the contributions made to our understanding of “learning organizations.” We understand how the learning process works and we understand how to make organizational learning a reality. The brain metaphor also has huge implications for leadership in an organization. It questions the effectiveness of strong, central leadership imposed from the top down. It questions the importance of setting specific goals and objectives. It questions the role and importance of hierarchy in an organization. Morgan sums up the chapter’s arguments like this: “Leadership need to be diffused rather than centralized; even though goals, objectives, and targets may be helpful managerial tools, they must be used in a way that avoids the pathologies of single-loop learning; goal seeking must be accompanied by an awareness of the “limits” needed to avoid noxious outcomes; and hierarchy, design, and strategic development must be approached and understood as self-organizing, emergent phenomena.” (pg. 113)
            There are weaknesses too. As stated before, no one really agrees on exactly how the brain works.   Thus, making an argument to pattern an organization after the brain can become a bit messy. And, there is a bias to model the “rational” part of the brain only, ignoring the intuitive, non rational part of the brain. Also, moving toward a more chaotic framework, where goals and objectives emerge from that chaos, can have a significant impact on leadership and the distribution of power. Most people are not used to this looser structure and will have difficulty simply trying to effectively participate in such an organization. An organization based on the brain metaphor, according to Morgan, requires both a “power shift” and a “mind shift.” Both are difficult shifts for people to make.
Applying Handy’s Six Concepts for Understanding Organizations:
If an organization is viewed as a brain, particularly the concept of the brain as a holographic system, then the collective perspectives of all the organization’s individuals drive innovation and change. Using the double looped process of learning, where you monitor an environment, compare the information against operating norms, ask yourself if the norms are appropriate, and then take appropriate action, can be a powerful process that helps involve people and makes them committed. Involving everyone in the process, and making everyone’s voice count, becomes a powerful self- motivator for those who work in this type of organization. In the best scenarios, what the employees say and do contributes to the evolution of the organization. The workers drive policy – not top down management. Such an approach motivates employees to contribute in this type of organization.
In this type of an organization, the roles of all individuals seem to take on greater importance than they do in many other types of organizations. Power, for the most part, is decentralized, and workers are responsible for having an overall knowledge of all aspects of an organization so that they can contribute to the constant evolution of the organization. Each worker may play a specific role, but those roles often overlap, and each worker should have an overall concept of the workings of the entire organization, beyond just their area of expertise. This type of distribution, where all workers contribute to the whole, empowers the entire organization, strengthening collective contributions, while weakening individual ones. When a leader or other employees leave a place of employment, the organization should be able to carry on, since those who remain are fully aware of all aspects of the organization, including its norms and values and method of operating.  Employees in this type of organization should be prepared to take on roles where they dialogue with others and are open to reflection and self criticism. 
Leadership can be tricky in an organization that attempts to operate, metaphorically, like the workings of the human brain.  Top down management is frowned upon here since it is a process that often stifles dialogue, openness and creativity.  Because this type of open, inclusive approach encourages the collecting, analyzing and processing of information by many in the organization, the role of the leader becomes mostly a facilitator.  Cultures that support change and risk taking must be allowed to develop.  Leaders need to promote and foster a culture that is open and inclusive – where dialogue is the norm and where changes are not only allowed, but also expected.  The goal is to increase the variety of views and perspectives, instead of simply maintaining a consensus by silencing divergent opinions.
This type of culture places the leadership in the difficult role of embracing change, conflict and uncertainty since they are the paths to progress. But this embracing of change is challenging for the leaders, since no one know exactly what type of direction will emerge from the collective efforts of individuals within the organization. How does one lead with confidence without setting goals and objectives for the organization to reach? In this view, leaders must, instead, work on developing an organization’s vision, norms and values so that some types of guiding principles are in place and so there is not total chaos. Still, Morgan points out the paradox for leaders here – since one of the organization’s goals is to constantly review the norms of the organization itself. 



Power & Influence

Power is highly decentralized in this organizational model.  Hierarchy and control have an "emergent quality" and "cannot be pre-designed or imposed".  This means that at any given moment there is a heirarchy which emerges and changes as different areas of the organization take the lead in making contributions to the organization.  Power and influence are shared and fluid.  Networks of people posessing of a variety of strengths and intelligences actively participate in double loop learning and devising solutions within the organization.  This theory conflicts with top-down management styles and threatens the status quo.  


Groups: "The whole as parts" Holistic teams and diversified roles (pg. 103)

Groups in this type of organization utilize the concepts of cybergenics for they self-orgainize and change in order to effectively deal with situaitons. Individual member's strengths and interests are called upon, utilized and nurtured in order for the organization to not only function but grow. This approach is very "organic" in that it treats organizations as living, evolving organisms.  Organizational evolution takes into account the experiences, observations and adaptations of the individual as well as the interactions and learning as various groups.  Similar to evolution, variation is to be expected and valued for unique contributing perspectives.  Also, the practice of learning and re-learning (double loop learning) are key to the flexibility of members of this type of organization.  This type of organization values and seeks out the contribution of diverse mental models (Senge) and member experience. 



This culture may appear as chaos to some and is counter to Fredrich Taylor's philosophy of scientific management.  Solutions are allowed to emerge and there is no set way of reaching objectives.  In holistic terms, the organization is made up of networked intelligences serving diversified roles.  This means that while each situation may be similar, the holographic structure will create a unique, best solution as the members see fit.  Sometimes an individual is a contributor to the process while at other times assuming a leadership role would be more appropriate.  However, it is not the role which is important, it is the unified sense of purpose each member brings to the whole.  Again, open communication, self and group reflection, and double-loop learning are key to the workings of this culture.  It is in this open and ongoing "learning to learn" (pg. 111) which makes the organization as a brain function.





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