The environment as a multi-dimensional system:Taking off your rose coloured glasses___________________________________________________________________________________________Prof. Dr. Murray Hunter 515 2012Hunter, Murray; The environment as a multi-dimensional system: Taking off your rose coloured glasses;WiWi-Online.de, Hamburg, Deutschland, 2012; online im Internet unterhttp://www.wiwi-online.de/fachartikel.php?artikel=515; Stand*:
The environment as a multi-dimensional system: Taking off your rose coloured glasses Murray Hunter University Malaysia Perlis Cos everything is beautiful when youre lookin through Rose colored glasses. Everything seems amazin when you see the view in Rose colored glasses. Take em off’. Rose Coloured Glasses Lyrics -Kelly Rowland “It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with wormscrawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, sodifferent from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us”1. These were the words of Charles Darwin in the last paragraph of his book The origin of Species, giving us a perspective of his sense ofwonderment about the complexity and interrelationships within the biological system of life and evolution.The Pudong area of Shanghai where the World Financial centre and other spectacularbuildings reside on the East-side of the Huangpu River has transformed from what was littlemore than farmland and countryside before 1990. The long gone farmers have beenreplaced with office workers and residents who from their high-rise apartments can lookacross the river at the waterside historical Bund area of Shanghai where the British,Americans, French, Germans, Italians, Dutch, Belgium, Japanese, and Russians allconstructed buildings to signify their presence in a past era of hegemony and detente.The above scenes of a tangled bank and Shanghai reminds us of the complexity and changewe live within, layered upon the past, creating the base for the future, in someinterconnected way that Darwin contemplated. Change is continuous. Both the NaziGerman and Imperial Japanese empires were completely ravished during the Second WorldWar, just like the Roman Empire centuries before, only to regenerate into new forms ofsociety and economy in ways that could have never been foreseen at the time. LikewiseAustralia has transformed from a predominately white Anglo-Saxon to a rich multiculturalsociety, the demographics of Britain are now vastly different from a century ago, and Chinais re-emerging and India emerging to take dominant positions in the world economy wheretoday completely different sets of social values exist from what was a generation before.History always connects to the present and future but rarely how we envisage.Traditional approaches to management have been mechanistic, grounded in the belief thatone is in control within an environment that can be manipulated through a firm forming
objectives, strategies, and actions through organizations. In addition strategic planning hasviewed the environment in a very structured way, for example a situational audit and SWOTanalysis2 and it wasn’t until Porter developed the competitive forces model that theenvironment became the centre of strategy3. These kinetic metaphors portray anorganization as one embedded with a belief that it has an internal locus of control with theability to manipulate forces within the environment. The drive towards precision, certaintyand having the right answers is not just embedded within our Newtonian paradigmorganizations (taking a quantum metaphor), it is embedded within the expectations ofsociety and our educational system.Thinkers and scientists like Galileo, Newton, and Descartes can be considered to have laidthe foundations of much of our current management theory. Science very much shaped theway we thought of the world in the 20th Century, providing metaphors and instruments tohelp us see and control events within the environment. Since the end of the Europeanrenaissance the metaphor of science has been that of the machine with the universe beingdescribed as ‘grand clockwork’ where the planets spin around the sun in a predictablefashion, described by the precision of mathematics. Science reduced everything to thesmallest part in the belief that if one understood the parts one would understand the wholesystem. This thinking prevails in our views of management where organizational charts, jobdescription, policies, strategies, budgets, and operational plans are utilized as a means tocontrol of the organization and environment like a machine.This has been adequate where a stable equilibrium exists, but this itself is only a myth.Stable equilibrium or mechanistic based theories have been found drastically wanting andthere is a need for a means to provide a more thorough explanation of the workings andinterrelationships between the environment and organizations. Developing andimplementing strategy which creates change in the environment is undertaken underuncertainty where positive results for any organization are only probabilities. There aremany factors involved, some which a firm can control, some which a firm cannot control,and some where a firm may have some influence over.Seeing the environment as a living biological entity or universe may be more suitable forunderstanding the dynamics involved. Within these analogies a paradigm shift can widenthe view of the environment. For example a firm’s actions can be analogous to a wave whichhas precise effects to which precise results cannot be anticipated, although the generaldirection and affects in all probability can be anticipated with about the accuracy ofpredicting the weather4.A biological systems or quantum approach views the environment as a group of interrelatingentities – election, atom, molecule, crystal, or cell, virus, plant, animal, man, family, tribe,community, state, etc., where each exerts some form of behaviour influencing the otherswithin some form of relationship. In addition these paradigms show the transformationfrom homogeneity to diversity and sparseness, the basic path of our evolution. This could be
biological through natural selection, quantum through the emergence of galaxies, comets,and planets in the cosmos, social through the development of human society, or economicthrough the development of competitive fields and markets5. Systems approaches have novalue laden assumptions so widen the options for strategic action choices. In contrast,contemporary management theories are phenomenologically based and prescriptive in theirapproaches. They ignore an open environment and offer value laden in potential solutions.On the contrary the general systems and related theories assume an open environment. Anopen environment is where each component is bound to the others through exchange,dependency, and interrelationship, though this may not be visible. This can be betterunderstood through the systems paradigms rather than a phenomenological approach.Phenomenological approaches are value and goal based assuming product and markets andmarket expansion, growth, and innovation. Phenomenological approaches fail to explain allsituations and contexts.Systems perspectives may give a general picture of an environment with some cost of closedetail. The general assumption behind any systems perspective is that we cannotunderstand the environment through looking at the composition, we can only understandby seeing what the elements can do together6. This new thinking originates from researchabout complex adaptive systems by people like Murray Gell-Mann, Phillip Anderson,Kenneth Arrow, and IIya Prigogine in the disciples of physics, biology, chemistry, economics,engineering, and computer science.Observation and interaction within the environment using our current paradigms stillcannot tell us whether the economic disasters of late are cyclic or part of some fundamentalflaw in the system itself. Our level of knowledge about the ‘cause and effect’ within theenvironment still has a long way to go7. Thus our machine-like management and strategyparadigms like reengineering, downsizing, balanced score card, and lean production havemore often than not failed to achieve what was expected.Conversely, the more the environment is looked upon as a system, the greater thelikelihood that we begin to understand complexity and the more we realize what we don’tknow and learn to work with this. Understanding we don’t know can be a humblingexperience, a good basis for learning. Although we surround ourselves with information, weactually make most decisions with deficient information, requiring the utilization ofintuition. In contrast believing that we do know can turn our disposition into an arrogantone based on misguided overconfidence. Secondly we begin to see the dialectic existence ofthe environment. Reality is manifested as a product of our conception that modifies theenvironment. The environment at the same time is the source of our perceptions and thusinfluences our conception of products based on our view of reality. This is a continuouscircular relationship. The nexus between our inner self and outside environment provides alinkage for interpretation – the true reality for the firm.
On casually viewing the world we can see it as complex and chaotic, especially when wehave little or no focus on what to look for. This situation often brings feelings of anxiety topeople. Our cognitive system is both hardwired and inference through the schema wedevelop to assist us refer to a narrow area of content within the environment8. Wecategorize elements within the environment through the process of patterning whichsimplifies complexity. We categorize through the process of patterning which simplifies thecomplexities of the environment.Different animal species interact with the environment based on different sets of patternedclassifications. For example a girl and her little dog standing under a tree in the vicinity of alamppost would different sets of classifications. For the girl, there are four differentcategories, Human (herself), animal (the dog), plant (the tree), and an artefact (thelamppost). However the dog will most likely see three categories, animal (itself), human (thegirl), and artefact (the tree and the lamppost). The dog would not see any differencebetween the tree and the lamp-post. If there was a tiger from the wild nearby; it would seeboth the girl and dog as potential prey9. Thus our cognitive system enables us to see theworld through categorizations where gaps are filled through our imagination based uponour prior knowledge. Anything we cannot categorize is either missed or becomes a source offear and anxiety.Our cultural environment becomes the blueprint for the way we construct the environmentin a way that simplifies and reduces our uncertainty. However this channelling severelylimits our possibilities due to our attention to a limited set of stimuli from the environmentimposed by our self created boundaries10.Back to Kelly Rowland’s lyrics at the beginning of this article. Seeing things with rosecoloured glasses signals undue optimism, a delusion, a bias a person may have. L. FrankBaum’s character Dorothy in the Wonderful Wizard of Oz asked the guardian at the gateswhy everyone has to wear green glasses in the Emerald City. The guardian replied soeverything in the Emerald city would look green, so people would think it really is anEmerald City11. Uchasaran et. al. Postulated that the ability to manipulate or changepatterns (which are like lenses or glasses we look through), gives the person the ability tolook at perceived information in different ways12. Patterns thus guide our approaches toreasoning, decision making and problem solving that and are affected by bias, delusion,distortion, heuristics, and socio-cultural aspects that influence the structure of ourschemata.Taking off the glasses metaphorically opens up the possibility that there is no best way ofinventing something, innovating, managing, crafting strategy, and thus management cannottruthfully be called a science, although many scientific principles can be used in particulartasks and situations.
The usefulness of any paradigm should be judged by the types of insights into a situation itmay provide. Management has often worked with the fallacy that one theory can explaineverything which often leads to gross misinterpretations. For example in physics there hasbeen a quest to isolate every particle which misses the interconnections with other particlesthat provide them with a definable existence13. Without looking at the interaction betweensay a neutron and an electron in the form of an atom, each individual particle has only anabstract existence, missing meaning. This can be applied in the business environment. TheCoca Cola Company’s launch of New Coke in 1985 passed all focus group taste tests againstClassic Coke and Pepsi with flying colours, but research data didn’t indicate and firmexecutives failed to realize the strong emotional attachment consumers had to the originalproduct form, leading to one of the biggest new product launch disasters in modernmarketing history14. Although New Coke was shown up by one channel of enquiry, the tastetest to be a superior product, taste tests didn’t show the importance of the product’s iconicsymbolism with consumers. Changing the Coke recipe to many consumers was like changingthe US flag.Systems, complexity and chaos theories can still be considered as a paradigm in progresswithin the field of management. Consequently, it cannot be expected to be a completeprescriptive and instrumental metaphor with explanatory algorithms which provide any fullexplanations of the environment15 . However, seeing the environment as amultidimensional system, free of paradigm patterning is the best way for contemporarymanagement to see the changing opportunity-scape.References:1 Darwin, C. (1859). The Origin of Species by means of natural selection on the preservationof favoured species in the struggle for life, London, John Murray.2 Macmillan, H. & Tampoe, M. (2000). Strategic planning: Process, Content andImplementation, Oxford, Oxford University Press.3 Porter, M. E. (1985). Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining SuperiorPerformance, New York, Free Press.4 For example, a computer program can predict the precise output of a wave across the sea,but cannot take into account the numerous situational factors that influence the exactcourse. There are no algorithms powerful and complex enough to do this. We can onlypredict through heuristics.5 Smoot, G. & Davidson, K. (1993). Wrinkles in Time, New York, Avon.6 Margulis, L. & Sagan, D. (1995). What is Life? , New York, Simon & Schuster, P. 22.7 King, S. D. (2010). Losing Control: The Emerging threats to western prosperity, New haven,Yale University Press.8 Von Aufschnaiter, C. & Aufschnaiter, S. (2003). Theoretical framework and empiricalevidence of students’ cognitive processes in three dimensions of content, complexity, andtime, Journal of Research in Science of Teaching, Vol. 40, No. 7, pp. 616-648.
9 Boyer, P. (2001). The evolutionary Foundations of Religious Belief, New York, basic Books,pp. 114-115.10 Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). The Psychology of Optimal Experience, New York, HarperPerennial, P. 81.11 Baum, L. F. (1999). The Wonderful World of Oz (republished), Lawrence, University ofKansas Press.12 Ucbasaran, D., Westhead, P. and Wright, M. (2004). Human capital based determinants ofopportunity identification, In: Bygrave, W., Brush, D et. al (Eds.), Frontiers ofEntrepreneurship Research, Wellesley, MA, Babson College, pp. 430-444.13 Capra, F. (1996). The Web of Life, New York, Doubleday, P. 80.14 Gladwell, M. (2007). Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, New York, Littlebrown and Company.15 Broekstra, G. (1994). Problems of Chaotic Simplicity: Weaver revisited, In: Trappl, R. (Ed.).Cybernetics and System Research, Singapore, World Scientific, pp. 1099-1106.