Working with the paradox of theory and practice

In this post I will discuss some of the similarities and differences between scientific method in the natural and social sciences and question what it might mean to be scientific about the social. I will focus particularly on the nexus of theory and practice. This is important in the field of management where theories proliferate but where much less work is done to understand how these theories play out and evolve in organisational life, no matter what the strength of the prior claim that they have been empirically tested.

I doubt that anyone would want to make the case that what we are lacking in management is enough theories. Just to take the domain of leadership as an example, we are assailed with contradictory and competing theories, such as trait theories, behavioural theories, theories of transformational leadership, servant leadership, distributed leadership, and more latterly agile and sustainable leadership. An enormous amount of work goes into elaborating theories which are supposed to be ‘applied’ to organisations, accepting implicitly the dualism between theory, assumed to be the most important work, and practice, a lesser activity which has to be brought into line with theory. This distinction reaches back to the dispute between Plato and Aristotle, who disagreed as to the relative importance of each, with Aristotle arguing that in the field of human action, theories are necessary but insufficient:

[phronesis]is not concerned with universals only; it must also take cognizance of particulars, because it is concerned with conduct, and conduct has its sphere in particular circumstances. That is why some people who do not possess theoretical knowledge are more effective in action (especially if they are experienced) than others who do possess it.[1]

For Aristotle phronesis, or practical judgement, will always involve the interplay of the particular and the general, a broad idea about what one is engaged in tempered by the particular circumstances of the forum in which one is acting.

In the Academy, however, the majority side with Plato about the importance of universals, and much greater esteem is accorded to theorising about management. Doctoral researchers in organisational studies who embark on traditional PhDs are expected to make a contribution to knowledge, which can be narrowly understood as the development and testing of a new theory. This is considered to be a close parallel to the methods used in the natural sciences – anything else would be ‘unscientific’. However, scientific method and insights are not monolithic and there are specific differences between the natural and social worlds. In the next section I will rehearse how the analogies from the complexity sciences, which have informed the perspective of complex responsive processes, come to problematize the idea of theory-generation about the social.

In describing the interactions between people trying to get things done together in organisations as complex responsive processes of relating we are raising a number of difficulties for the idea of theory-generation in management and organisation studies. If we argue, after Aristotle, that context, history and particular practices taken up by particular people shape what happens in social interaction, then this has serious implications for the idea that management concepts can be applied universally with the expectation of similar outcomes. If we call into question the notion of linear cause and effect, that a given intervention will necessarily bring about an expected and proportional outcome, then the usefulness of many tools and techniques of management is immediately made more problematic. If we are arguing that organisations are never in a state of equilibrium, and nor should they be, this immediately raises doubts about the panoply of approaches invoking ideas of alignment, harmony and group positivity. If we are saying that the interweaving of intentions between groups of people trying to implement their plans makes organisational and social life unpredictable over the long term, then we can’t know how our adopting certain ways of managing are going to play out over time. Finally if we argue that global patterning arises simply and only because of what actors are doing in local situations, and that this global patterning constrains what local actors can do, then developing theories is only one pole of what we are dealing with.

All of the five assumptions above drawn by analogy from the complexity sciences, provide a challenge to a more positivist understanding of what is important in organisational research. If one were convinced that the social world is characterised by flux and change, it would be hard to accept the positivist assumption that social research is usefully directed towards empirically testing theories against reality, and steadily and cumulatively building up a repository of useful knowledge. This is an idea that is borrowed from an idealised understanding of the way that natural scientists work. There is a great deal of contestation in the social sciences about what we might take reality to be, let alone how we might test theories against it. And, as I tried to demonstrate in the last post, this is no different in the natural sciences, which I am claiming are also a social practice. Natural scientists are far from immune from the hurly burly of ordinary life, including rivalries, jealousies and political, sometimes ad hominem, attacks.

Both natural and social scientists are concerned to be systematic, rigorous and methodical in their work, but when the characteristics of their research domain are so very different, then it behoves them to do some things differently.

Two philosophers who were keen to demonstrate the link between the natural and social sciences but to point to differences and clarifications were the pragmatic philosophers Charles Sanders Peirce and John Dewey. Both, in their own ways, threw doubt on the idea that theory was separable from practice, and both were concerned to demonstrate how theorising is driven by and rooted in human activity, rather than the other way round. Both sought to overcome Descartes’ mind/body dualism.

Peirce observed that we are using theory morning noon and night. Most of the theories we are using about our involvement in the world we simply take for granted and inherit them from other people unquestioned. And when we have a cause for calling them into question we use abduction:

The truth is that the whole fabric of our knowledge is one matted felt of pure hypothesis.. Not the smallest advance can be made in knowledge beyond the stage of vacant staring, without making an abduction at every step.[2]

By abduction Peirce meant inference to the best explanation – a good enough working hypothesis for now. ‘Abduction [means] observing a fact and professing to say what idea gave rise to the fact.’[3]

The first starting of a hypothesis and the entertaining of it, whether as a simple interrogation or with any degree of confidence is an inferential step which I propose to call abduction.[4]

Although Peirce was reluctant to use the word intuition, he did think that inspiration, luck, judgement and imagination all had a role to play in the process of scientific work through abduction, just as he thought that it was possible to cultivate this as a skill. Doubt is also a prerequisite for forming theories, although Peirce disagreed with Descartes that we could manufacture doubt – we can’t call into question everything all of the time. We are provoked into doubt about particular problems that we are encountering in our activities, which drives us to research into their causes and solutions. He also understood scientific enquiry to be a social activity: one of the ways of testing our theories is to explore them with a community of enquirers[5] a group of people as concerned as we are about what we are researching who will test and probe our research.

In his book The Quest for Certainty[6] Dewey argued in the same vein for reuniting theory and practice, and claimed that theory had come to predominate because it was assumed to be immutable, unlike bodily experience. Preference for the supposedly unchangeable was for Dewey an example of an older metaphysics which presumed that there is an unchanging foundation underpinning all things. Dewey wanted to demonstrate that systematic methods could be brought to bear on human experience, although natural scientific methods were not necessarily the best ones. He argued that the nature of the enquiry determined the best way of enquiring: ‘There is no a priori test or rule for the determination of the operations which define ideas’. It is possible to research our experience, with a view to improving our lives, but to attempt more than this, to believe that we could discover reality ‘as it really is’, was a fruitless quest for certainty. Like Peirce he was convinced of the practicality of doubt as a motor of scientific research, and the scientist is constantly guided by an ‘animating question’:

A disciplined mind takes delight in the problematic and cherishes it until a way out is found that approves itself upon examination. The questioning becomes an active questioning, a search. The scientific attitude may almost be defined as that which is capable of enjoying the doubtful; scientific method is, in one aspect, a technique for making a productive use of doubt by converting it into operations of definite inquiry. (Op. cit: 182)

We have to proceed with good enough theories but to trip ourselves up constantly, exposed as we are to the flux of experience, in questioning how useful our theories are proving to us. As far as human activity was concerned, for Dewey the idea of a spectator theory of knowledge, with humans standing somehow outside the domain of action which they were researching, was not helpful. We have to progress: ‘from knowing as an outside beholding to knowing as an active participant in the drama of an on-moving world’ (Op. cit: 232).

It is not that we think first and then act, but thinking is a form of action informed by previous actions. Thinking and acting are paradoxically forming and being formed by each other, both at the same time and the flux of experience constantly disrupts our views about the world.

One way of proceeding to study human action in organisations with this insight is to use micro-studies, sometimes referred to as case-studies, or case-of-one studies. This is what we encourage our researchers on the Doctorate of Management to do, and to proceed from the perspective of their own experience of organising with others. The point of doing this is to try to work with the paradox of theory and practice in exactly the way that Peirce and Dewey were recommending. The object of researchers on the DMan programme of research is to enquire into how particular theories of managing are taken up in particular contexts with particular others, and how they are contributing to this process and being formed by it. After Tsoukas[7] they are obliged to ask themselves what they think is going on in the particular case they are studying, and what this might be a case of, referring to broader theories of organising.

The examples students describe in their research give an opportunity to enquire into particular theories of management taken up in particular circumstances, and in doing so, further to refine and challenge them. This kind of work, as Tsoukas points out, is not so much to think about concepts, but to think with them trying to render our ideas about organisational life more productive and useful. It is a way of demonstrating that theories that are used in conceptualising the social are never a tight calculus, but are porous and partially indeterminate. After Dewey and Peirce it is based on the assumption that concrete reality is an inexhaustible source of new knowledge which constantly obliges us to question and revise our theories. The particular and the general are in generative, sometimes disruptive, tension.

On the Doctor of Management we are constantly encouraging our students to iterate and reiterate their reflections, to think further about how they are thinking and acting. And one method of encouragement for doing so is for them to find their voice within the community of enquirers on the DMan, and more broadly in the wider research community. It is here that their research encounters more vigorous contestation, and perhaps counter arguments. Struggles over meaning are the ways in which thinking and acting moves.

[1] Nichomachean Ethics  (1141b8–27).

[2] The quote comes from one of Peirce’s unpublished articles written in 1901 and found in the Houghton Library, Harvard University. MS 692, quoted in Swedberg, R. (2012) Theorizing in Social Science and Sociology: turning to the context of discovery, Theory and Society, 41: 1-40.

[3] Peirce, C.S. (1957) Essays in the Philosophy of Science, New York: Bobbs-Merrill, p244

[4]  Ibid: 236.

[5] Peirce, C.S. (1984) Writings of Charles Sanders Peirce: A Chronological Edition, vol. 1,Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

[6] Dewey, J. (2005) The Quest for Certainty: A Study of the Relation of Knowledge and Action , New York: Kessinger.

[7] Tsoukas, H. 2009. Craving for Generality and Small-n Studies: A Wittgensteinian Approach towards the Epistemology of the Particular in Organization and Management Studies. In The Sage Handbook of Organizational Research Methods, ed. D.A. Buchanan and A. Bryman, 285–301. London: Sage.

13 thoughts on “Working with the paradox of theory and practice

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  4. Bill Mullins

    It may seem a trivial point to note that Peirce uses the term “hypothesis” not “theory.” In the natural sciences experimentation proceeds by hypotheses which are either falsified or left standing (not generally proven to be “truth” in the sense of natural law). A collection of hypothesis testing generally is related in the physical sciences then to a theory – a generalization alleging predictive power.

    Sometimes theory anticipates the results of hypothesis testing (Pierces abduction at work), on other occasions it follows inductively from analysis of experimental work. Between theory and law of nature – in physical sciences – stand the test of time and a persistent inability to falsify the predictions of laws.

    Throughout much of the 19th Century – and well into the 20th Century – the efforts of many social behavior observers were directed at the adducing of theories and hoped for laws of human performance. For many reasons, including the principles of complementarity, indeterminacy, and Godel’s theorem regarding the inconsistency of closed rule systems (which doomed the endless reductionism of physical science), the social observers Program was rendered hopeless by 1905.

    Sadly, no one has explained that to the many practitioners of psychology, and sociology. What are called management theories are none such – “theory” here is only used metaphorically. These are typically models that attempt to account for some subsets of the agency that unfolds in human enterprise.

    It is intellectually dubious to refer to statistical inferences about non-linear causality as theory in the physical science sense. There would seem to be ample evidence that such “theorizing” while good for graduate school enrollments, generally muddles the minds of novice systemizers in Complex, High-Consequence Circumstance enterprises.

    With the recent discoveries in neuroscience, the highly contingent, massively parallel, multilevel functionality that assembles into sense and decision-making in human craft and relational agency (i.e. enterprise) reflects the power law distributions of consequence in relation to periodicity that can be observed in the cosmological, physical, chemical, and biological orders.

    The character of emergence from complexification is at the foundation of all systemizing (patterning), but there does seem to be an unprecedented order of intentional influence in human agency that is not evident in those other domains. At least on some scales of endeavor it would seem that human agency can change the slope of a power law to reduce the likelihood of significant unwelcome outcomes.

    I suspect that Peirce and Dewey would be quite please to find such justification for their anticipations.

      1. Bill Mullins


        Let me draw my comment a little further as I’ve been pondering these matters quite a lot since my original comment.

        The term “theory” appears frequently in the original post – I was suggesting, perhaps not explicitly enough that as a cognitive object (i.e. presumably a cultural artifact) theory is a profoundly misleading term in any field where non-linear agent relationships are being studied.

        This would be the case in far-from-equilibrium chemical systems (e.g. blood), biological systems (e.g. ecologies), and biological systems with some degree of cognition. Clearly in these circumstances where some degree of species agency is observable co-evolution under complexity attractors is the prevailing explanation for systemizing.

        Very little of this systemizing results in inference or abduction of explanations that qualify as rigorous enough to be termed theory – when that term is used in the social sciences is might better be acknowledged as metaphorical.

        From there its would be a short leap to acknowledge that hypothesis formation, such as from case study examinations as suggested above, and field testing for utility – in the specific context – would satisfy the test of rigor and formality, without the pretense that “theory formation and validation” are what is taking place.

        Tom Agar speaks of Abductive Ethnography, describes some criteria for assessing “authenticity” (i.e. utility as translating knowledge). There is plenty of rigor, but instead of “Doing the Already Learned” – the work of
        engaging in performance improvement initiatives is understandable as “Do by Learning.”

        If we were to focus less on naming artifacts (e.g. leadership – which amounts to a theoretical postulation of some explicit existence just in the act of naming) and turn instead to the domain of transitive verbs (note how often they appear later in original article) such as “leading” we would find our thinking much more in the relational agency space that is natural to complex systemizing.

        My sense is that there is going to have to be some letting go if the social sciences are to move beyond endless, largely unmindful, creation of generalizations of dubious actual utility.

  5. Chris Mowles Post author

    Thanks for your comments in full, Bill.

    Firstly I would agree with you that the idea of ‘theory’ in the social sciences in general and in management literature in particular is greatly inflated. Like you I would prefer that it tried to cover less and illuminate more. As Stanley Fish observed, there is lots of ‘theory talk’ in academia, which is often merely a claim for status and the importance of what is being offered. What generally happens in social life is that we are using what he terms ‘heuristic questions’, rules of thumb, which give us good enough predictions so that we can live our lives. Both in management (Flyvbjorg, 2012) and education (Thomas, 2011) a minority of scholars are making the case that what we should be looking for is not theory, but phronetic knowledge. This is exactly the case that Dewey was making that I refer to in the post above.

    Nonetheless, this does not prevent a wide variety of management scholars and institutions calling again and again for what they term ‘evidence-based management’ and for robust theories, which I understand to mean theory in the way that it would be understood in the natural sciences: proven hypotheses underpinned by the ‘gold standard’ of evidence, the randomised control trial. Denise Rousseau, past president of the American Academy of Management, made such an appeal in her inaugural address.

    The word and concept ‘theory’ is part of the doxa, the way that people talk about management and their expectations of what it can be and do, and to a certain extent one is obliged to speak into this discourse and respond to it. The theory/practice nexus is a trope widely recognised in the management discourse, and I think is worth addressing, even if to destabilise it.

    Nonetheless, and as you say, developing a deeper understanding of what we are engaged in socially calls for a different kind of rigour, not ‘theory-based’ learning but ‘problem-driven’ learning, as far as social phenomena can ever be thought of as being problems (which suggest solutions). In being problem-driven I still think it important to draw parallels, noting similarities and differences, between the way a social scientist tries to be systematic and the way that a natural scientist would. In Dewey and Peirce’s terms this is about assuming that experience, what Peirce referred to as ‘brute reality’, will constantly disrupt our generalisations.

    I want to pick up the paragraph in your first post where you refer to theorising about non-linear causality as ‘intellectually dubious’, which I guess is what Ben wanted me to respond to. I suppose it would be intellectually dubious if we were to make the claim, as some scholars in the complexity tradition do, that organisations ‘are complex adaptive systems’, or even that we could somehow ‘harness’, ‘unleash’ or ’embrace’ complexity, which is to suggest that we can get on top of it. Instead what I think we are doing is arguing by analogy. Analogies are widely, and unthinkingly taken up from the natural sciences in what we refer to as the dominant theories of management, where organisations are presented unproblematically as systems. In drawing on some of the insights from the complexity sciences we are offering alternative analogies for thinking about how organisations might be working which do not depend on assuming that we can predict with much accuracy or control what is going on to the nth degree.

    I notice that in her book Meeting the Universe Half Way (2009), Karen Barad argues that analogy is inadequate for her purposes. Instead she argues for diffraction, ie explaining in detail how, in her case, quantum physics experiments are put together and then generalising about experience through this, ie diffracting one area of reality through another.

    Nonetheless, arguing from the known to the unknown, is generally accepted as a legitimate way of generalising and producing insights.

    I think we are, on the one hand, trying to keep a link with the natural sciences by noticing that mathematicians, biologists, meteorologists make every day use of non-linear calculations to develop generalisations about the world, and on the other we are quick to point out the limitations of doing so in theorising about the social, where we are much more likely to be drawing on sociologists and philosophers who have developed a complex understanding of the social.


    Barad, K. (2007) Meeting the Universe Half Way: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning, Duke University Press.

    Flyvbjerg, B., Landman, T. and Schram, S. (2012) Real Social Science: Applied Phronesis, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Thomas, G. (2011) Changing Our Landscape of Inquiry for a New Science of Education, Harvard Educational Review Vol. 82 No. 1, 26-51.

  6. Bill Mullins

    Thanks Chris for the added discussion and the further references.

    In reflecting on you comments I found much, as before, to agree with about the older wisdom of heuristics and practical discovery of “what works.” You did have a couple of items that I did want to poke at though.

    You observed: “In being problem-driven I still think it important to draw parallels, noting similarities and differences, between the way a social scientist tries to be systematic and the way that a natural scientist would.”

    It seems to me that we might parse (you know Peirce) the scientific landscape in way that keeps us closer to the distinction between analogy and metaphor.

    If we take the practice of scientific inquiry as systemizing then there are challenges that turn out to be problems – they have definitive and confirmable solutions; in other circumstances the scientist encounters a predicament – situations that display some patterns but reflect non-linear dynamics (e.g. the weather, or crowd behavior at a football game) and lack singular outcomes that can be measured with great precision and predicted with high confidence.

    In the case of the weekend encounters with American football, there is lots of programmed preparation, development of game plans, contingency plans, and such, but the game itself is expeditionary systemizing through and through. All the planning gives way to the actual play of the game.

    I would certainly be comfortable saying that a well rehearsed football team is a complex adaptive enterprise – that the play of the game is co-evolution between two such enterprises. As I understand complexity science there is no reason to say that the observed play of the game is metaphorically similar to other known examples of CAS; it is formally analogous.

    Later you note: “I suppose it would be intellectually dubious if we were to make the claim, as some scholars in the complexity tradition do, that organizations ‘are complex adaptive systems’, or even that we could somehow ‘harness’, ‘unleash’ or ‘embrace’ complexity, which is to suggest that we can get on top of it. Instead what I think we are doing is arguing by analogy.”

    I’m ready to discern between enterprises that must become proficient in complex adaptive responses to significant emergent challenges in their circumstances and those (more common) organizations that may do complicated things but don’t encounter much demand for adaption in dynamically non-linear situations. The latter steer toward problems and exist to solve those – they avoid complexity.

    The typical urban drive to work is complex from the overall macro perspective; but also sufficiently well known that for any given driver it’s more complicated than demanding in a complex adaptive sense. The stance within the circumstance and the extent of information in the line of sight guides our modeling of “what works.”

    But, for the professional systematic inquirer it is not obvious where there is a difference that is situationally, or even scientifically meaningful between the traffic engineer and the social scientist looking at driver behavior.

    Where these professions differ is in the type of inquiry challenges they frame as constrained by what is observable in the circumstance of interest. A difference emerges in whether the hypothesis or the heuristic being applied in sense-making warrants non-linear modeling or modeling with a linear system.

    I guess I’m concluding that the “dualism” of social and natural science doesn’t make a lot of sense from the systemizing about reality perspective (a legacy of Descartes?). The systematic method of inquiry (what we’ve call the scientific method since Newton) doesn’t vary, it’s the manner of sense-making that does – deductive, inductive, or abductive – as warranted by the phenomenon of interest, not the preference of the inquirer.

    It seems that where the phronesis come’s in.

  7. Chris Mowles Post author

    Hi Bill,
    Yes, mostly I agree with you, although there are a number of points where I don’t.

    So on this question of complicated and complex, I suppose it depends on the unit of analysis. One of the things that we are claiming, drawing on Dewey’s colleague and friend GH Mead, is that interaction between human beings is always complex. Humans are able to take themselves as objects to themselves and to call out similar responsiveness in themselves that they aim to call out in others as they gesture and respond. They are gesturing and responding to themselves in the immediacy of their engagement with others and the meaning of the gesture is only apparent in the cycles of gesture and response. And in the process, we sometimes surprise ourselves. Without a sense of a ‘generalised other’ we would not know how to ac and nor would our action be recognised; however, and at the same time we are still capable of improvising on generalised ways of behaving and producing novel gestures and responses.

    Because of our interest in micro-interaction, then, I am less accommodating of the idea that some social activity is complicated rather than complex, or that some institutions don’t need to adapt very much, and are thus more amenable to linear modelling. This is partly because it is never the ‘organisation’ that is adapting, but the people within it, who I would claim are always interacting in complex ways. Even stability is a dynamic state and takes a lot of effort and improvisation to sustain, and ‘avoiding complexity’ is a complex business.

    As far as problem-solving is concerned, the solution of one problem quite often creates a different problem to be solved because life is constantly disruptive and the boundaries of the problem we are solving are often porous.

    One explanation for why linear modelling is the default for making sense of the social is it’s a very powerful way of reducing and schematising a complex world, and it allows senior managers, or institutions sitting at a distance to ‘see like a state’ (Scott, 1990). So it is likely to continue to be the preferred way that bureaucracies strive to maintain control on the complex hinterland for which they are responsible. Linear modelling isn’t just helpful because it simplifies, it helps to sustain particular configurations of power. This might be why linear modelling continues to be so popular in management literature because in its current manifestation it is predicated on notions of predictability and control.

    The football analogy is a good one and the idea of the game has been widely taken up by sociologists (I’m thinking in particular of Bourdieu, Elias and Mead) as a way of describing complex adaptive/responsive social activity. But, even driving involves a lot of responsiveness/adaptiveness to others and to oneself, no matter how well known the route is and how routinised the activity of driving.

    Bill, I like the way that you are trying to maintain the parity of systematising between the natural and social sciences.

    Scott, J. C. (1999) Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, New Haven: Yale University Press.

  8. Bill Mullins

    Chris we may be getting closer to the way our specific cognitive perspective preferences are framing our respective observations. Lots of complementary notions and some potential for innovation from diverse interaction.

    In the first decade of my professional career I was a Naval Officer in nuclear submarines. A modern nuclear submarine is a vastly complicated artifact. Whether tied quietly to the pier or underway in fleet maneuvers the ship remains systematically complicated in precisely the same way.

    Underway more sub-systems are in the active rather than standby or shutdown state, as the Chief Engineer I have my entire department available compared to half a dozen people on the ship in port. My direct responsibility circumstance is equally complicated every day of my tour.

    The (fully forward-engineered) systems my department tended are marvels of linear deterministic design and construction – the human knowledge capital embedded in a nuclear submarine when it leaves the building yard for the first time is enormous and in the construction period we “swabbies” spent thousands of man-days training ourselves on how to operate those systems – concisely as intended by the designers.

    The circumstance of the shipyard that builds such ships is even more complicated than the process of assembling and preparing to test and operate the ship. During my tour, the first in a class of nuclear powered aircraft carriers (USS NIimitz) was being assembled – by the same shipyard enterprise – not 300 feet away.

    Every bit of that shipyard work is custom craft and professional contribution – much same from the last time we did that (e.g. install a pump motor) but different in ways builders and designers need to discern and attended to. Building a new nuclear submarine takes place in a situation with complication at many different scales of activity.

    The integration of all the necessary shipbuilding functional process takes place in circumstances that have lots of relational variability – there is a constant demand for tuning and tailoring the flow of work in a confined space, all-the-while meeting very detailed and complicated specifications that are under rigorous, linear configuration change control. You don’t improvise with the hardware!

    My architectural governance convention would be to characterizes shipbuilding as “Systemizing in Thirdness;” the circumstances in the yard present mostly problems (outcomes with well-scripted and generally well-mannered solutions) and some recurring predicaments (e.g. logistics bottlenecks such as two different crafts needed access to the same small space).

    Mostly the emergent fitness landscape for the waterfront managers (line of sight to sense-making horizon) consists of anticipated situations, with some unanticipated, but rarely unprecedented ones (the occasional “trash can fire or loss of fluid control – aka leaky system). Controlled adaptability is the order of the day for managers integrating shipbuilding work – undue haste makes for expensive rework.

    Professional or craft life in one shipyard can be a rewarding; a manageable uphill climb at a sustainable pace to a foreseeable product; in another shipyard, the same core processes and work tasks can unfold in near chaotic, frequently brute force management conditions.

    I know from first hand experience that the degree of Agency (a Figure of Merit measure of Systemizing (CAS) Robustness) at the first shipyard is demonstrably higher than at the latter one. The difference is not in the area of individual craft or professional competence – is it an emergent feature of the respective Enterprises?

    As a working hypothesis I’m going to say yes; it will be up to someone else to more workably explain the differences in performance in a thoroughly reductionist fashion. In my architectural systemizing each shipyard occupies a comparably complex, high-consequence circumstance – one enterprise routinely functions more effectively than the other.

    That is acquirable competence. In such a frame, I’m interested in how complex adaptive behaviors of an organization promote higher stability and reliability over the long haul.

    There is a second chapter to this story which is “Systemizing in Fourthness” – what Agency looks like in a ship underway maneuvering in an aircraft carrier protective screen with a foreign navy submarine trying to penetrate the screen.

    In Fourthness, performance integration is less scripted (more rehearsed) and definitely less management-paced than in the shipyard. The ship as artifact retains all its complicated aspects but now genuine non-linear tactical complexity has moved into the foreground of Agency attending for sense and decision-making purposes.

    Enough for now perhaps.

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