… In this book I will explore many of society's most pressing meta-questions by examining some of the closed system assumptions that we as a society simply endorse, especially in the domains of management, economics and politics and justice. I will look at how we use closed system theory to reduce the problems in order to find simple linear solutions and how we would be better served to loosen up the open system realities and consequently develop access to a myriad of new possibilities. But beware, this journey will not come without cost because we must be prepared to look at the questions about what the world must really be like in order for us to live and function. Especially in the brave new world that we must embrace as we encounter the realities of the Post Knowledge Revolution.
And once we have taken that look we may be unable to return. Green or Blue Spectacles – the Search for Reality, I have tried to read Kant. Especially his 'Critique of Pure Reason', in a good English translation of the original Gothic German, but in this form it remains completely opaque to me as it seems to for so many others. I have a reasonable understanding that the transcendental argument is one in which we have to ask 'what the world would be like in order for us to experience the things we do experience'? A metaphor has been created to help us understand this concept, which Kant, who was a wonderful thinker and a terrible communicator of his own thinking, was never able to conceptualise. I could find no references to coloured spectacles in the Critique so I tried to find out who first developed the metaphor. Bertrand Russell used blue spectacles and there may have been an interpretation written in German in the 19th Century before Russell, in which green glasses supplied the metaphor.
The idea seems to be that we are only able to see the real world through a filter created by our own minds. The metaphor suggests that through the filter of blue spectacles every thing we see will be cast in the light of blue. But we are unable to take the glasses off. We have no choice but to perceive everything through this blue filter. Kant's ideas of the transcendental argument are significantly more sophisticated and they constitute his version of the filter. I cannot take my Kantian 'non-linear' glasses off and my non-linear glasses have a wide range of non-linear seeking lenses which provide different filters. Probably the most important filter is that I see everything through the construct of the isomorphic laws of systems. Leadership is an isomorphic law of closed systems. How does leadership fit in to an open system reality? The fairly horrifying answer to this simple question is that it does not. Open system theory denies an isomorphic law of leadership. Closed systems theory contains the isomorphic law of control but control is unavailable in an open system reality. How do we deal with these issues, are they real? What if we can't have control, what if control is unavailable to us? Have we developed our theories to reflect our capacity to deal with an underlying reality or only with a reality that we are prepared to accept because we wear an inappropriate pair of glasses.
Social systems are open systems, our theories of those systems are all closed system theories, that is my thesis.
We are deluding ourselves when we apply closed system solutions to open system problems and so I will try to take a Critical approach, a Frankfurt School position especially one espoused by Max Horkheimer and meet his three criteria for a Critical Theory: (1) It must explain what is wrong with current social reality (2) It must identify the actors to change it and; (3) It must provide both clear norms for criticism and achievable practical goals for social transformation. Three elements applied to the two core problems but no ideology, no party politics, no Management Guru Witchdoctors here! No cultists need apply. This is a book about praxis; rational, justified theory making and then action. I will make the claim that the foundations of organisational management, economics and political/legal theory have never been grounded. No one questions anymore the core assumptions that underpin these three domains of knowledge. We have built our theories on a foundation of sand and consequently the structures that we have placed upon them are very shaky, glued together by the self-interest of the power elites for whom the systems supply handsome rewards. These foundational assumptions were created: >500 years ago for politics and law, >200 years ago for economics and >100 years ago for management. No one has looked at these foundational assumptions and re-examined them in the light of the new rational understanding that we have acquired as a result of the Knowledge Revolution, particularly our ability to explore and rationalise non-linear open system concepts.
Our society and all its subsystems are headed to equilibrium, at least that is what our current theories imply and what our power elites desire, because equilibrium is the point where the system is in maximum control. This is because these systems are assumed to operate under the conditions of linear system theory and linear systems operate at their most efficient when they are at or close to equilibrium. They follow the rules of closed systems. But there is a fatal flaw in the assumptions that underpin these ideas. A closed system in equilibrium is at its most efficient but an open system in equilibrium is dead.
As a society we have been negligent because we have had the capacity to understand some of the behavior of non-linear open systems since the advent of the Knowledge Revolution, but we haven't done so because our power elites have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and with my glasses on there is the ever present spectre of the 'leader'. Our society is headed for some mighty big problems because our societal system theories are equilibrium theories that are closed, but the equilibrium assumptions are wrong. We could do something about these problems if only we were not locked-in to fallacious arguments, but the power elites who control society lock us in to their failed rationality. It has failed for 99% of the population but it is very successful for the other 1%, but only for the short term. The real system contains a terrible secret, it will self-adapt as it has done before many times through history, because society and its sub-systems are types of open systems called Complex Self-adapting Systems (CAS). Whether the power elites understand it or not, whether it is what they want or not, the system will absorb a great deal of energy but then there will be a non-linear phase transition, misunderstood by many as a linear “tipping point”, and the system itself will adapt. One of the processes that is driving that adaptation is 'emergence'. It would be much better for the whole of society including the current power elites if we better understood how CAS's work and how we might influence the emergent properties that drive the adaptation process and seek to harness its power. Instead we focus on a moribund classical economic concept 'growth' because a fallacious theory tells us that the economy will move to an equilibrium position where incomes and costs balance and no profits are available without growth and this is a blatant untruth that I will expose.
But beware, this book carries a serious ‘health warning’. If you take this journey of exploration with me and if you buy into the arguments I will postulate, you’ll be unable to return. Like the Romans before you, you will have crossed your Rubicon. What I hope you will have acquired instead is a new deep understanding, a better way to explain what happens in many intellectual and practical domains and the ‘truths’ that you may have held dear forever, will have been shattered. The problem is our reliance on linear system theory for the foundational theories that underpin western society. While we now know or should know that these societal systems are not linear. They are non-linear open systems. This problem is fundamental because the laws that govern each type of system are mutually exclusive. We call them the isomorphic laws of systems. The laws that drive systems are isomorphic to a specific type of system. Closed system isomorphic laws drive the behavior of closed systems but do not work in open systems. Open system isomorphic laws drive the behaviour of open systems but do not work for closed systems. This is the big issue that I see everywhere. We understand a great deal about closed systems and very little about open systems and so we apply our energies to develop closed system theories for our open societal systems and this is a fatal error.
Systems So in his book I will delve into the mysteries of systems. How systems relate to one another, how systems behave, how for the sake of this argument we can classify systems into two types, how systems have rules and how we will be 'stupid' and fail if we apply the rules of one type of system incorrectly to the other. I will argue that we do this all the time, that there are reasons why we do this all the time and that there are barriers to changing our behaviour. I will call the first classification; linear, closed, simple systems and the second classification non-linear, open, complex systems. I will try to provide a consistent, rational argument to explain what the problems are that are related to systems thinking errors and the focus will always remain on our societal problems in management, economics and politics and justice..