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Flux and transformation

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Flux and Transformation

" Around 500 BC the Greek philosopher Heraclitus noted that, you can not step into the same river , for other waters are continually flowing on." " Everything flows and nothing abides; everything gives way and nothing stays fixed...cool things become warm, the warm grows cool; the moist dries, the parched becomes moist....It is in changing that things find repose." (Morgan, pg.241)



Gareth Morgan, author of “Images of Organization (2006) discusses four theories of change or “logics of change.”

Summary: Autopoiesis

Autopoiesis, according to Morgan, is a consideration of how organizations manage change based on how organizations see and think about ourselves.  Traditionally, organizational theory has analyzed the organization as an open system with constant interaction with their environment and transforming inputs into outputs as a way to survive.  Two scientists, Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, have challenged this traditional model.  They consider organizations (all living systems) as having three principal features: autonomy, circularity, and self-reference. In saying that living systems are autonomous they are saying that living systems close in on themselves to maintain patterns of relations that distinguish a system as a system. According to Maturana and Varela, changes in a system do not arise as a result of external influences but variations within the overall system (which the organization is part of ) that modify the basic mode of the organization. Organizations fail to comprehend that they are always more than themselves. Indeed, typically there is a poor understanding of how organizations and environment are part of the same broad pattern of systems that evolve over time.


Under the theory of autopoiesis, it is possible for organizations to have capacities for self-reflection that allow them to develop new identities that are more aware of their systemic relationship.  Eventually, organizations must come to understand that they are not competing against the system for survival.  Instead, they must view themselves as related to the many systems that exist if they are to survive.  If they are able to move their understanding in this manner they will develop new mind-sets that redefine their understanding of customers, competitors and the environment in which they exist.  Indeed, it is critical that organization come to see themselves as part of their environment rather than an entity being bombarded by it.  As Morgan tells us, the fundamental challenge is to think in terms of gestalt patterns, not just in terms of immediate organization-environment relations (288).


The role of the members of the organization is to consider their organization as a member of the environment in which they operate.  This requires these members to think about the external environment in a new manner. They see their organization as an entity that is being bombarded by an external environment (e.g. new competitors, new/difficult clients, new markets) and their job is to respond to these changes in a way that ensures their survival.  Their concern is to react, as quickly and effectively as possible, to these external factors impacting them.

Autopoiesis requires the organization to reconsider this model and to consider their organization as one system interacting within a larger environment.  Morgan uses the example of the fishing industry.  The current model requires the fisherman to view their job in a manner that will ultimately harm them by depleting the fish resources available.  If they viewed their role as part of a larger system (e.g. environmental, economic) they would change the way they do business to ensure the long-term survival of their business.


Leadership needs to stop thinking of their organization as a lone entity.  The survival of their organizations will require them to understand that they are always more than themselves and survival can only be with, not against, the environment in which they operate(287). 


Power and influence in the organizations tends to operate with a very narrow view of the place of the organization in the context of its environment.  Typically the organization only considers its practice by looking inward at itself.  Organizational responses to the environment they operate are typically based on very limited “picture” of what is happening and focused on how they view themselves rather than considering the entire environment in which they operate.  Power and influence is not typically viewed in the context of the larger systems that the organization operates within.


In autopoiesis groups are seen as part of many systems.  When considered using the autopoiesis model, groups are all part of a larger environment, which is connected. 


The organizational culture would be significantly changed if an autopoiesis model for organizations were adopted.  There would be significantly less egocentric behaviors resulting in an attitude of solitary.  The organizational membership would have to consider the impact their policies and decisions were having on their organization’s well being.  Similarly, the members would have to look outside their organization to more carefully consider how outside factors might cause them to change the way they do business.

Summary: Chaos and Complexity

Like autopoiesis, Chaos and complexity requires us to consider organizations and the way they interact with their environments differently.  Specifically, rather than considering our organizations as being separate from the environment in which it operates, we are required to consider the relationships between the organization and the environment it acts in.

Chaos theory tells us that organizations are quite complex and there is no way to consistently predict how the countless interactions that occur daily will impact the organizations.  It is because of this complexity that disturbances, even random ones, can create unique patterns of change (251).   Despite these complex interactions however, the end result of change will always be order.

In chaos theory, there can be some types of behaviors that will be influenced by “attractors”  These attractors can become multiple and offset each h other so that the result is equilibrium.  Conversely, some attractors such as the Lorenz attractor can destabilize patterns and result in new systems.  Bifurcation points always exist as potentials in any complex system and can cause seemingly small changes to have large effects(255).


The managing of organizations in this model can be overwhelming because of the complexity of the organizations.  There complexity of the organization and the environment in which it operates means that it is difficult to analyze and know when and where to intervene to cause change. 


Managers should consider their roles from a perspective that every initiative is a systemic “probe” (262) and will result in a learning activity.  Also, the managers must be aware of the various boundary issues; both those that will allow outside attractors to maintain the status quo and when to break those old boundaries to achieve new results.  In the end the effective manager will be open ambiguity, paradox, pressures, and uncertainties that come with this complexity.


In Chaos theory it is possible for the effective manager to use small, incremental changes to create large, meaningful changes.  The capable manager will find a way to make small changes at critical times, moving the organization to the edge of chaos, to get a result that is significant. The leader must also be able to live with continuous transformation and emergent order as a natural state of affairs in this model. The leadership challenge is to nudge the system into small, appropriate change without creating undesired results.

Power and Influence:

The skilled manager can wield significant power and influence if they are able to learn the art of managing and leading in the context of constant change.  The capable leader will be able to yield significant power and influence amidst the chaos when they realize that change is constant and inevitable.  They must be able to effectively lead in this environment.


In Chaos/Complexity theory we need to reconsider what we mean by organizations.  We must eliminate many old models that reflect a command/hierarchy and control mode of operation.


Organizations and their relationships with their environments are part of an “attractor” pattern.  Key rules in the organizational structure, culture, information, policies, mind-set, beliefs, etc. will hold the organization/environment in a particular configuration.  It is when the organization is pushed into chaos that the organization will change.



Loops Not lines: The logic of Mutual Causality:

Looking at organizations through the lens of mutual causality continues to encourage us to review how change occurs through circular patterns of organization as opposed to linear changes.  Positive and negative feedback can make changes to powerful organizations.  We have to look at the organizations and the impact of all of these dynamics. All the elements in this system influence each other much like the butterfly effect. Small change can lead to entire organizational change.

A simple example of mutual causality is the current housing market.  The economy was poor causing interest rates to decline.  Individuals took the opportunity to buy bigger houses. The lenders began encouraging individuals to look at interest only loans that where not fixed and looking at the here and now individuals bought bigger houses. Then the economy did its loop with its improving interest rates went up. Now the housing market is flooded with homes that are in foreclosure that individuals have lost. A simple circular example of mutual causality, with the leaders of the system the people looking at the short term goals and not reflecting on the possible long term effects. 


Leaders of the system see the positive gains that are running out of the control.  Systems look to make money or succeed. They make changes in practices; develop mind sets for short term gain.


The circular changes in success and positive feed back has to eventually circular back with negative effects.  Every positive has a negative. Every element affects another.


Leaders must find ways to predict the changes and history of the total system. They must predict the negatives and slow the positive that are out of control in order for the system to not fail.

Power and Influence;

The skilled leader can help the organizational system to look at the long term goals and not jump at the short. The can help the negative aspect of the organization without losing perspective of the circular nature of the system.


All parts of the system must understand that every change every piece affects another piece of the system.


The organization must readily realize its history and function. They must be ready for change and the systemic wisdom instead of looking for causes and effects.

Contradiction and Crisis: The logic of Dialectical change: \

Dialectical change is an exchange of propositions.  One can think of a hypothesis that leads to a change of truth or belief.  Again this change process requires individuals to think in circular motions. What ever is hot will eventually be cold…..what ever comes up with eventually come down and so on….This principal coincides with the Ancient Chinese belief of Yin and Yang.  Everything is changes it grows and fails,,,, everything in an organization is changing to be something else.


As organizations look to better profits and success chaos occurs spiraling the organization out of control.


Dialectical change must be understood to find a response to interpret the positive change and the counter change that will occur.  Every positive action has a negative reaction.


Leaders must stay aware and keep their head above the chaos. They must look at both sides of the pendulum and look at how to balance the relationship. The human element of the organization must be understood.


All members or parts of the system must find their value added.  All pieces of the system or organization must have decision making power. 


Must understand what is to be produced and look more for quality and not quantity. Must understand for every reaction there is a negative side and find the positive in every reaction.

Transformation and Flux :

Transformation and flux theories help us to understand that we must look at the logic of all changes in the system. We must problem solve why what is happening and understand the factors that are causing the situation not just respond to the immediate changes. There is a reaction to systems and their surroundings. The empowering parts of these changes are the pieces of the organizations that reflect upon these changes and understand the cycles that are produced. There is an order to transformation and flux, leaders and systems must realize this and understand the circular relationships.

















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