Prior Quotes of the Week

April 6, 1997

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1997.03.30

The Pattern of the Network

"Having appreciated the importance of pattern for the understanding of life, we can now ask: Is there a common pattern of organization that can be identified in all living systems? We shall see that this is indeed the case.... Its most important property is that it is a network pattern. Whenever we encounter living systems--organisms, parts of organisms, or communities of organisms--we can observe that their components are arranged in network fashion. Whenever we look at life, we look at networks....

"The first and most obvious property of any network is its non-linearity--it goes in all directions. Thus the relationships in a network pattern are nonlinear relationships. In particular, an influence, or message, may travel along a cyclical path, which may become a feedback loop. The concept of feedback is intimately connected with the network pattern.

"Because networks of communication may generate feedback loops, they may acquire the ability to regulate themselves. For example, a community that maintains an active network of communication will learn from its mistakes, because the consequences of a mistake will spread through the network and return to the source along feedback loops. Thus the community can correct its mistakes, regulate itself, and organize itself. Indeed, self-organization has emerged as perhaps the central concept in the systems view of life, and like the concepts of feedback and self-regulation, it is linked closely to networks. The pattern of life, we might say, is a network pattern capable of self-organization. This is a simple definition, yet it is based on recent discoveries at the very forefront of science."

Fritjof Capra
The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems
pp. 82, Anchor Books, Doubleday, 1996

 


1997.03.23

The Invisible College

"But beyond formal organizational structures there are "invisible colleges"—the loose aggregates of individuals scattered throughout the nation and the world who periodically communicate with one another. They are sociologists, architects, lawyers, doctors, teachers, and others whose avocation is "change" and how it might be effected. All are intimately involved in reality—some participate quite actively in the affairs of an organization; others have removed themselves from decision-making by becoming advisers, consultants, or assistants.

"Their communications are via the telephone, the Xerox machine, and the jet. They meet, exchange information, ideas, theories, and concepts. Tied neither to time, place, nor position, they operate on many different levels at the same time. They are a link between industry and government, between the public and private sectors, between the federal, state, and city governments, between the governments and neighbor-hoods, between the money receivers, between the theorists and activists. Their value lies both in their access to information from many sources and their rapid dissemination and utilization of that data. Differing combinations of these agents of change may assemble for many purposes: to explore the possibilities of and to launch a New Town, to discuss a Watts and its implications for planning, or even to weigh the impact of systems technology upon forecasting. The long-range planner must connect informally with one or another level of these "invisible colleges" for the information developed and passed on in them is not of the typical census type, but part and parcel of the day-by-day reality of social systems and the people functioning within them.

"These planners are not dreamers. They have cultivated what Sir Geoffrey Vickers has called "the art of judgment"—the process of making decisions in the present that dramatically affect the future. They are experts in combining and reforming data and information, in redefining the problem, and, most importantly, in causing others to feel they must do likewise. They achieve this by presenting additional information relative to the issues at hand in a way that convinces others. They are experienced in working imaginatively with performance standards that are not potentially multi-applicable. They have the ability to "feel" data. They have an appreciation of the implications of decisions and how they might affect a staff as well as tangential activities."

Leonard J. Duhl
General Systems Theory and Psychiatry
1969

1997.03.16

The Creative Moment

"The creative moment is when we know that we know and what it is that we have to do. In many cultures of all ages the appearance of that moment is described in terms of light and of energy linked to light...

"The characteristics of this moment are the different ordering of consciousness apparent through enhanced awareness of the present, a sense of unity and, very often, the experience of impersonal joy, together with an alteration in the experience of time...

"What is that different time world, that set of other dimensions out of which we receive instructions and help in a way that coordinates our minds and emotions into an experience of unity? One of its characteristics is that it is a state of great simplicity: the problem that seemed so confused and so chaotic, so immalleable to reason or form, is resolved into clarity. We know what to do. Another characteristic is that the state brings together parts of our memories and experience that never to that moment we would have dreamed of putting together and associating. In other words, it brings about the leaps of thought that create metaphor and the discovery of new forms of knowledge."

William Anderson
The Face of Glory:
Creativity, Consciousness and Civilization

University Press of New England, 1996
ISBN: 0-87451-804-0


1997.03.09

Navigating Rapid Change

"Transitions are tough--predictably so. You need good vision and sharp intelligence to navigate rapid change. You also need good models. Here are some 21st-century trends that appear when you tune in to the frequencies of the future using the network model, grouped according to the five teamnet principles [three shown here]:

"SHIFTS IN PURPOSE

  • Radical change will prevail for the foreseeable future. Organizations will either create their own futures or find themselves reacting to the future that is controlling them.
  • Emphasis is shifting from managing 'costs' to focusing on real business growth.
  • Creating breakthrough products, entering new markets, and achieving high-performance operations will be tougher than ever.
  • As organizations reach optimal size, they will seek qualitative development rather than quantitative growth.
  • Organizations will regard purpose as their richest natural resource. They will mine it with new tools, techniques, methods, and models.

"MEMBERS NEED A NEW LOOK

  • Team implementations will continue to fail at alarming rates.
  • Companies will need to reinstill loyalty and motivate their people anew to do extremely innovative work.
  • Individuals will rebel against the unending, ever-increasing demand for higher levels of performance.
  • Independence will spread as cooperation increases.

"GETTING LINKS IN SYNCH

  • Physical links will continue to explode--from one to one to many to many--into digital convergence in the year 2001.
  • Companies will have to learn how to share important information with all employees.
  • Just catching up to the learning organization? Rev it up; we'll be moving on to the 'fast learning' organization.
  • The backlash will mushroom against purely high-tech approaches to resolving problems and meeting challenges.
  • Social capital will be seen as a new source of wealth. This recognition will develop slowly, then suddenly catch on as success stories accumulate, reaching critical mass at the century's turn.

Jessica Lipnack & Jeffrey Stamps
The Age of the Network:
Organizing Principles for the 21st Century

John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1994
ISBN: 0-471-14740-0


1997.03.03

A Post Transition Cautionary Tale

"Mars is free now. We're on our own. No one tells us what to do.

"Ann stood at the front of the train as she said this.

"But it's so easy to backslide into old patterns of behavior. Break one hierarchy and another springs up to take its place. We will have to be on guard for that, because there will always be people trying to make another Earth. The areophany will have to be ceaseless, an eternal struggle. We will have to think harder than ever before what it means to be Martian.

"Her listeners sat slumped in chairs, looking out the windows at the terrain flowing by. They were tired, their eyes were scoured. Red-eyed Reds. In the harsh dawn light everything looked new, the windswept land outside bare except for a khaki scree of lichen and scrub. They had kicked all Earthly power off Mars, it had been a long campaign,... and they were tired.

"We came from Earth to Mars, and in that passage there was a certain purification. Things were easier to see, there was a freedom of action that we had not had before. A chance to express the best part of ourselves. So we acted. We are making a better way to live."

Kim Stanley Robinson
Blue Mars
Bantam Books, 1996
ISBN: 0-553-10144-7

 


1997.02.23

Questioning Central Control in Project Management and Process Facilitation

"The centralized mindset is deeply entrenched. When people see patterns and structures, they instinctively assume centralized causes or centralized control. They often see leaders and seeds where none exist. When something happens, they assume that one individual agent must be responsible.

"But the centralized mindset is neither unchanging nor unchangeable. As decentralized ideas infiltrate the culture--through new technologies, new organizational structures, new scientific ideas--people will undoubtedly begin to think in new ways. People will become familiar with new models and new metaphors of decentralization. They will begin to see the world through new eyes. They will gradually recraft and expand their ways of thinking about causality. At times, they will still appeal to the traditional centralized explanations. But when those explanations don't work, they will have other models and metaphors to draw upon....

"Through those struggles, certain ideas emerged as very useful in making sense of decentralized phenomena. They served as 'guiding heuristics' for thinking about decentralized worlds.

  • "Positive Feedback Isn't Always Negative. Positive feedback often plays an important role in creating and extending patterns and structures.
  • "Randomness Can Help Create Order. Most people view randomness as destructive, but in some cases it actually helps make systems more orderly.
  • "A Flock Isn't a Big Bird. It is important not to confuse levels. Often, people confuse the behaviors of individuals and the behaviors of groups.
  • "A Traffic Jam Isn't Just a Collection of Cars. It is important to realize that some objects ('emergent objects') have an ever-changing composition.
  • "The Hills Are Alive. People often focus on the behaviors of individual objects, overlooking the environment that surrounds the objects."

Mitchel Resnick
Turtles, Termites, and Traffic Jams: Explorations in Massively Parallel Microworlds
The MIT Press, 1995
ISBN: 0-262-18162-2

 


1997.02.23

Domain Four: "All Great Architecture is true to its Architects' immediate present"-- Rameses the Great

"The difference, to the Architect and his fellow Artists, between our era and others, lies simply enough in the substitution of automatic machinery for tools, and (more confusing), instead of hereditary aristocracy for patron, the Artist now relies upon automatic industrialism, conditioned upon the automatic acquiescence of Men, and conditioned not at all upon their individual handicraftsmanship....

"There is not thrift in any craft until the tools are mastered; nor will there be a worthy social order in America until the elements by which America does its work are mastered by American society. Nor can there be an Art worth the man or the name until these elements are grasped and truthfully idealized in whatever we as a people try to make. Although these elemental truths should be commonplace enough by now, as a people we do not understand them nor do we see the way to apply them. We are probably richer in raw materials for our use as workmen, citizens or artists than any other nation,--but outside mechanical genius for mere contrivance we are not good workmen, nor, beyond adventitious or propitious respect for property, are we as good citizens as we should be, nor are we artists at all. We are one and all, consciously or unconsciously, mastered by our fascinating automatic 'implements,' using them as substitutes for tools....

"Aside from your sense of quantitative ownership, do you perceive in them [suburban houses and their contents] some fine fitness in form, line and color to the purposes which they serve? Are the chairs to sit in, the tables to use, the couch comfortable, and are all harmoniously related to each other and to your own life? Do many of the furnishings... serve any purpose at all of which you can think? Do you enjoy in 'things' the least appreciation of truth in beautiful guise? If not, you are a victim of habit, a habit evidence enough of the stagnation of an outgrown Art....

"Of all conditions, this one at home is most deplorable, for to the homes of this country we must look for any beginning of the awakening of an artistic conscience which will change this parasitic condition to independent growth. The homes of the people will change before public buildings can possibly change."

Frank Lloyd Wright
Modern Architecture: Being the Kahn Lectures for 1930
Princeton University Press, 1931
ISBN: 0809313987


1997.02.16

Domain Two: Process Facilitation in Transition Management

"It was just as [Vannevar] Bush had feared: merely coming up with a... technology did not ensure its effective application. The engineer was an astute observer of people, power, and processes. He knew that a period of ineffective use always accompanied the introduction of a new device; it took time to overcome training difficulties and superstitions. But he also knew that the problems ran much deeper. The quagmire of military conservatism, interservice rivalry, and lack of political leadership on both sides of the Atlantic had so gummed up the works that even the deployment of microwave radar for purely defensive purposes was being dramatically slowed.

"Bush could do little about Britain. Similar divisions, however, permeated the U.S. command... The Navy remained a formidable stumbling block. Not only did Admiral King view [submarine] hunter-killer groups with disdain, he also did not rank the Battle of the Atlantic on a par with the Pacific campaign... Vannevar Bush decided he might be able to do something about King."

What unfolds next is too long to print here, but if you choose to read the rest of the story, do so with a copy of Sun Tzu's Art of Strategy (R.L Wing translation).

Robert Buderi
The Invention That Changed the World: How a small group of radar pioneers won the Second World War and launched a technological revolution
Simon & Schuster, 1996


1997.02.02

Domain Six: A Collaborative Approach to Project Management

"Specifically, we believe that the process of building and planning in a community will create an environment which meets human needs only if it follows six principles of implementation:...

"1. The principle of organic order.
Planning and construction will be guided by a process which allows the whole to emerge gradually from local acts.

"2. The principle of participation.
All decisions about what to build, and how to build it, will be in the hands of the users.

"3. The principle of piecemeal growth.
The construction undertaken in each budgetary period will be weighed overwhelmingly towards small projects.

"4. The principle of patterns.
All design and construction will be guided by a collection of communally adopted planning principles called patterns.

"5. The principle of diagnosis.
The well being of the whole will be protected by an annual diagnosis which explains, in detail, which spaces are alive and which ones dead, at any given moment in the history of the community.

"6. The principle of coordination.
Finally, the slow emergence of organic order in the whole will be assured by a funding process which regulates the stream of individual projects put forward by users."

Christopher Alexander, et.al
The Oregon Experiment
Oxford University Press, 1975

 


1997.01.26

A Weak Signal for Education

"The designers of the first electronic computers deliberately designed them to carry out the same numerocentric operations of algebra and calculus that had been developed back when all computers were people and when available computing capacity was minuscule. These equational maths came to prominence in the Renaissance, replacing the circles and diagrams of geometry. Their entry into the schools almost three hundred years ago was the last substantial change in the secondary mathematics curriculum.

"In an age when computing power is abundant, these maths are obsolete. At a minimum, it is time to transfer responsibility for teaching geometry to the history department. If students should be introduced to the maths of the ancient Greeks, it should be in the same way they are introduced to the political theories and the art of the Greeks. The problems for which geometry originally entered the schools have been either solved or taken over by other methods.

"Reassigning responsibility for geometry opens up room in the curriculum for new evolutionary intermaths, maths with still-unfamiliar names like cellular automata, genetic algorithms, artificial life, classifier systems, and neural networks. These are maths that would have made no sense in previous centuries because they are maths that no people in their right minds would ever try to carry out 'by hand' They are maths that flourish in an environment where all information is uniformly encoded as bits. These are the maths with which electronic computers will evolve their own versions of scientific theories and formulations."

James Bailey
After Thought: The Computer Challenge to Human Intelligence
HarperCollins, 1996

 


1997.01.19

Assembling Weak Signal Research Teams

"It is these boundary regions of science which offer the richest opportunities to the qualified investigator. They are at the same time the most refractory to the accepted techniques of mass attack and the division of labor. If the difficulty of a physiological problem is mathematical in essence, ten physiologists ignorant of mathematics will get precisely as far as one physiologist ignorant of mathematics and no further.

"...a proper exploration of these blank spaces on the map of science could only be made by a team of scientists, each a specialist in his own field but each possessing a thoroughly sound and trained acquaintance with the fields of his neighbors; all in the habit of working together, of knowing one another's intellectual customs, and of recognizing the significance of a colleague's new suggestion before it has taken on a full formal expression. The mathematician need not have the skill to conduct a physiological experiment, but he must have the skill to understand one, to criticize one, and to suggest one....

"We had dreamed for years of an institution of independent scientists, working together in one of these backwoods of science, not as subordinates of some great executive officer, but joined by the desire, indeed by the spiritual necessity, to understand the region as a whole, and to lend one another the strength of that understanding."

Norbert Wiener
Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine
The M.I.T. Press, 1994

 


1997.01.12

Creating and Solving Systemic Problems

"The more we study the major problems of our time, the more we come to realize that they cannot be understood in isolation. They are systemic problems, which means that they are interconnected and interdependent.

"...Ultimately these problems must be seen as just different facets of one single crisis, which is largely a crisis of perception. It derives from the fact that most of us, and especially our large social institutions, subscribe to the concepts of an outdated worldview, a perception of reality for dealing with our overpopulated, globally interconnected world.

...Not only do our leaders fail to see how different problems are interrelated; they also refuse to recognize how their so-called solutions affect future generations. From the systemic point of view, the only viable solutions are those that are 'sustainable'... This, in a nutshell, is the great challenge of our time: to create sustainable communities--that is to say, social and cultural environments in which we can satisfy our needs and aspirations without diminishing the chances of future generations."

Fritjof Capra
The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems
Anchor Books, Doubleday, 1996

 


1997.01.05

The Creative Process

"...in the process of invention at least four important moments arise, some of them early and some of them late. Before any new idea can arise in theory or in practice, some person or persons must have introduced it in their own minds, and this change must have come to be preserved in accessible records, thereby causing a change in the intellectual climate.

"The second element favoring invention is the existence of proper materials or techniques.

"However, before a new technique can pass from the intellectual to the artisan, these two very different types of men must have an adequate means of communication with each other within the social system in which they live.

"After these three stages of intellectual climate, technical climate, and social climate, there comes a further stage in which invention depends upon economic climate. Before inventions are made available to mankind at large, there must be a way to promote them."

Norbert Wiener
Invention: The Care and Feeding of Ideas
The MIT Press, 1993

 


Other Prior Quotes:

November 3, 1996--December 29, 1996


copyright 1997, MG Taylor Corporation. All rights reserved
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iteration 3.5