Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Change Discourse: An Aside on Planning and Evaluation

In large organizations, in the accepted practices of planning and evaluation, we are hampered by our inability to acknowledge unanticipated benefits, i.e., the creativity of what is proposed. We seem to be unable to value options that we haven't anticipated in advance or even to accommodate valuations of unanticipated options. What would count as legitimation in these instances?  The unanticipated benefit cannot be considered relevant, based on pre-established criteria.

Why do we deprive ourselves of anything more than our presupposed potential?  The standard (ontological and meta-ethical) notions of objectivity and fairness in evaluation are in need of a major rethink, especially in a complex, rapidly changing world where future potentiality becomes at least as important as present actualities. Adaptability and responsiveness are more important than adhering to artificial and outdated notions of objectivity, which for at least two millennia, have been more about projecting our conceptual filing cabinets on events than on encouraging openness to new an novel ideas and approaches. To add irony to insult, in today's variant, to mimic the successful model of reductionist science, it is assumed that the ability to assign a number to some evaluative criterion makes that criterion objective. 

The difference between living and mechanical linear/reductionist notions of objectivity needs to be emphasized. In the linear/reductionist model, the relevant determinants of an event  are isolated and identified in a rigorous way, such that they can be arranged and used in planning experiments and building machines. As successful as this method has been, however, according to scientists such as Eugene Wigner, the approach legitimately applies to only a small set of relatively easily manipulable things (which is why basic physics is about necessary laws and anything more complex is statistical at best at the lowest level of granularity.)  The attempt to apply it to a large open-ended organization occasions the kinds of issues described by Burt Perrin (Paragraph 103). 

Stuart Kauffman shows that a living system is one where the boundary conditions are intrinsic to the phenomena under investigation, which are not "placed by hand" as they are in a more mechanistic model. He further argues(cf. pp. 131-143) that there is "no way to pick out the relevant collective variables that will play a causal role in the further evolution" of living systems.  (p.140-1) Nevertheless, we put our methodological carts before our ontological horses, and worse, we justify our aims based on our methods, rather than the reverse. This is not only reductionist. It reduces us.

Our model of measurement needs to change from a mechanical one to one that respects that we work in living systems. We need to use something a bit less pedantic than a pre-established list of specific criteria for evaluation and learn how to acknowledge context, the context being our actual overall aims in relation to what is being evaluated both now, and as they change, with learning, over time.  We need to look at a higher level of granularity if we're really serious about innovation or getting beyond a nihilistic means-focused outlook (a hamster wheel).  This will require a sea change at every juncture. Responsiveness and resiliency will be key.

1 comment:

  1. Its an important point you make here, narrow perspectives, no mater how successful are dangerous. Also reminded me that we must have the will to act on our personal responsibility to the collective of living things.