WHY THEORY IS USEFUL AND INESCAPABLE
UNDERSTANDING THEORY GENERATION USING
MAX BOISOT’S E-SPACE
PETER BOND
LEARNING FUTURE...
Sensible?
Desirable?
Realistic?
THEORY GENERATING MACHINES
2

C
E=M

motivation
theory

stru
c
foll ture
o
stra ws
teg
y
spa
n
of
con
trol

positive
feedb...
Benefits of Theory
Enables practice—gives you the foundation for practice
Allows you to stand on the shoulders of other, g...
PRACTICE —
BUT WITH A MODEL OF SUPERIOR
PRACTICE IN MIND
A model of learning by doing and thinking about doing.
An iterative double cycle
doing/acting

doing/
acting

accumulating...
Embrace
a model
Where do

models
come
from?
Max Boisot’s Epistomological Space
increasing information richness

increasing codification

Figure 10
LEARNING TOOLS
mode...
Max Boisot’s Epistomological Space
explanations

E=MC2

codification

language
Learning tools
models

solutions Models of
...
Max Boisot’s Cultural Space

Personal
Knowledge

Figure 9

knowledge flow through
cultural space

Public
Knowledge
knowled...
The developing
solution

Accumulating
Individual problem
Owners
(forming a
Market)

The developing
organisation
(solution ...
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Why theory is useful. A perspective from E-Space.

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There are some who have an almost pathological objection to theory, and then there are some who believe there’s nothing more useful than a good theory. I fall into the latter camp. What I want to show here is that theory is a natural consequence of living, and that we Homo sapiens, are theory generating and using ‘machines’ and there’s nothing we can do about it. Theory making is natural, so if even if your first reaction is to reject theorising, and the people who you think create it, you too are a theorist. Don’t throw theory overboard, one day it might be just what you need. To illustrate my position I use two 'theories' from Max Boisot, E-space and C-space

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  • There are some who have an almost pathological reaction to theory, and then there are some who believe there’s nothing more useful than a good theory. I fall into the latter camp. What I want to show here is that theory is a natural consequence of living, and that we Homo sapiens, are theory generating and using ‘machines’ and there’s nothing we can do about it. Theory making is natural, so if even if your first reaction is to reject theorising, and the people who you think create it, you too are a theorist. Don’t throw theory overboard, one day it might be just what you need.
  • In whichever field of human endeavour you look, you will find theories, which are models, which are explanations of results, of behaviours, of phenomenon. Plans are theories. Business Plans are theories
  • All these people are top in their sports. OK they might have some natural talent but was that enough to get them to the top? NO. How did they get to the top? Practice? Practice with what? How did they develop their natural talent? Practice with their instruments, bow, ball, hurdles? They also rehearsed what they intend to practice, but in the mind.
  • Most theories of learning do not take into account the boundary between organism and environment. In this cause-effect/stock-flow model it is. Doing and achieving a result take place in the environment outside of the body-mind combination. We Homo sapiens, have the ability to reflect on what happens outside of the body and repeat it again and again, and rehearse a version of the action/result that it is believed will improve the result. The result is a vision of what the learner believes can be achieved. This technique is used more and more by high-level sports people. It is also a process that is easily understood by those who use their hands to craft.
    In the case of sports actions, such as archery for example, the mental model of the perfect arrow release is perfected through doing. The mental action and the ‘real’ action come closer together through learning by doing across the human organism-environment system boundary. A crafter improves her ability to control by learning to overcome problems revealed by her continuous monitoring and critical reflection on the flow of significant results of crafting actions. Only a result that produces positive or negative emotioning will trigger reflection on the process of productio or actionn. Reflection on performance is triggered by negative or positive emotioning experienced by an actor-learner as, either, a constituent part of, or beneficiary of, a system. When we say we have a problem, or we have discovered a problem, what we imply is that we are disatisfied or discontent with the experience with, or performance of, a system. If we are unhappy with something, we try to explain why. An explanation is a theory or a model of why a problem occurs. This is where the famous idea of the ‘mental model’ comes from. It’s an informal explanation of why how something goes right or goes wrong. This is where models come from.
  • E-space or epistomological space is bounded by two axes labelled Codification and Abstraction. Codification produces two results. The grouping of data, e.g., the classification of any phenomenon being studied, together with a reduction of the information necessary to communicate a description of it to another person. Abstraction further reduces the need to process data by reducing the number of categories we need to describe a phenomenon or communicate a task or behaviour. Boisot says: ‘Abstraction then works by teasing out the underlying structure of phenomena relevant to our purpose. It requires an appreciation of cause-and-effect relationships to an extent that simple acts of codification do not.’ Codification is also articulation, the capturing of a phenomenon in a description.
    I’m about to begin a discussion by naming an object. If I’m to discuss this object I have no choice but to name it, so I am calling it a disc. Let’s say I distinguish, in the far distance, something I name disc and started to walk towards it. The first thing to note is I have used an English word to designate the distinction that a non-English speaker might not recognise. In doing so I am limiting the people with whom I can share. In the act of distinguishing the object to which I have given the name disc, I have, automatically and simultaneously, created a background, which I name ‘background.’ Let’s imagine that I distinguish this disc in a background I later named ’field’ or grassed area. As I get closer to the disc, I distinguish it is about the size of my hand. As I get nearer still, I distinguish that it is blue, and very quickly thereafter I distinguish a pattern of light reflection that suggests to me this disc is not a disc, but is rounded. It’s ball shaped. When I get near enough, I pick it up. Through a mix of touch and vision I distinguish smoothness and warmth. When I press it, it flexes. When I drop it, it bounces back. Very soon I distinguish this object is a ball made of rubber. I’ve made distinctions and used those distinctions to discover more distinctions which I can bring together in a description of what I now call a bouncy ball. In this example I have distinguished the following properties of the object: round, blue, rubbery, and bounces.
    In the question, ‘Hey do you want to play ball?’ the word ball becomes a token for all the attributes or properties my new found ball has. Similarly, the word play is a token for the complex mix of exhilaration, excitement, frustration, and the success of learning to control one’s actions, that playing can involve. So, the word-sound playing becomes the name or token of a system of enjoyment. Let’s say someone accepts my invitation to play ball and they agree on a game of throw and catch. Now imagine someone else enters the field of play and observes the two people involved from a distance. She wonders what they are doing, and gives herself the task of explaining their behaviour. This is the thinking process she goes through. First she will distinguish results according to the emotions her observing triggers in her. She will go through the intertwined process of codifying and abstracting, and distinguishes, simultaneously naming, the following: the outcomes (object launched into the air, catch, drop, fumble); the components (people and ball); and the actions or processes (throwing, catching, running, stooping, dropping); and the roles or functions of thrower and catcher. She will go on simultaneously codifying and abstracting to the point at which she comes to name, and therefore categorise, a system. In this particular case, she might simply say, by way of describing what she observes to be happening, that the pair were playing, or playing ball. She will perhaps choose the latter if the ball aspect is significant in the context in which she is observing. For example, if ball games were prohibited in the area of a municipal parkland she might feel inclined to communicate the event to the ‘park police’. Note that she cannot do any of this processing without the capacity for language. Someone with a small English vocabulary, such as a child, would also have greater difficulty with the task of describing than someone with a larger vocabulary and more experience of its manipulation.
    With respect to E-space, playing or playing ball are tokens for descriptions or concepts of systems of playing which by their nature emerge in the north east corner diagonally opposite the concrete experience of playing which occurs in the south west. The reduction in information processing capacity required to communicate a particular activity is taking place is plain, but what is also happening is the decontextualisation of the phenomenon being articulated. The words playing or playing ball become generic in their applicability. This same process exactly occurs when anyone attempts to articulate what they observe, or what they experience, including scientists, business analysts, or organization development experts, and, if you are a manager, the people who work for you. So, it also applies to problem solving.
    Fundamentally, what appears in the north east of E-space are explanations of experiences we have as observers of systems, or as observer-as-participants in a system. When scientists seek to explain the occurrence of natural phenomena, and business analysts and organization developers try to explain why one enterprise outperforms another, they produce theories or models and these are what populate the north east of e-space. Their validity as models has to be tested by experimentation and this takes place in the real and concrete south west of E-space. In other words, to be tested, theories, models and formulae have to be recontextualised. Information has to be added, the opposite of codification. In effect, shifting from the north east of E-space to the south-west is to move from a generic to one specific system which is grounded in a single context, a single concrete situation. As was mentioned earlier, problems are situated and are experienced by individual actors. To solve them first requires them to be articulated and this leads to decontextualisation and the north east of E-space. Testing solutions involves contextualisation and leads to the south west of E-space. Testing out our ideas, rehearsing ideas for solutions, as we know very well, is a process of learning. It follows that theories and models are tools to learn with. Moving to and fro in a kind of circular process between the south west, which is where all experiences begin, and the north east, is a learning journey. The north east is populated by Learning Tools, which all theories, models, and all kinds of scientific explanations can be.
  • This slide is an attempt to capture my example of how theories and models are created in the NE corner of e-space, and tested in the concrete world in the SW.
  • Boisot’s E-space is a model or the embodiment of a theory of how theory is created. Boisot’s c-s[ace represents a model or theory of how personal tacit knowledge is transformed into a more explicit forms. Cultural space is a result of the circular flow of knowledge from creation to application to re-creation. Boisot approaches the creation of cultural space from several angles but here we will focus on how problem solving affects the characteristics of human socio-technical). The process of cultural space development applies equally to teams, communities of practice, small and large organizations, and even countries and civilisations, and it all begins with individual actor-learners.
    To illustrate the application of the model it is once again useful to recall the crafter’s experience. To repeat. A crafter improves her ability to control by learning to overcome problems revealed by her continuous monitoring and critical reflection on the flow of significant results of crafting actions. In chapter two (p4 para 2) it was suggested that only a result that produces positive or negative emotioning will trigger reflection on the process of production. It has also been stressed throughout that acting creates a system. Thus reflection on performance is triggered by negative or positive emotioning experienced by an actor-learner as, either, a constituent part of, or beneficiary of, a system. When we say we have a problem, or we have discovered a problem, what we imply is that we are disatisfied or discontent with the experience with, or performance of, a system.
    The crafter’s acts of monitoring and critical reflection are implied in Boisot’s idea of Scanning. Scanning produces Personal Knowledge, which is essentially tacit in nature. It equates to a feeling of knowing that something is right or wrong, expected or unexpected, satisfying or unsatisfying. Such feelings arise from a mental comparison of what is expected and what is actually experienced, or between what exists and what is desirable. If a problem is felt to exist the next step is to put it into words, to describe or define it. It is only after articulating a problem that it can be reflected on, and from there one is able to discover or create a solution. Articulating an experience is a process that Boisot refers to as codifying or codification (see figure 9). More will be said about codifying later in this chapter, but for now it is sufficient to say that it is an integral aspect of bringing a problem or solution to light, and it helps us to share learning with others.
    Within an individual mind, reflecting is comparable to sharing the problem with one’s self as the first step to defining the nature of the problem, which will be associated with flawed components and/or the flawed nature of the relations between them. The next stage is to compare the problem definition or description with our remembered or actual experience of it. The description of crafting exemplifies the latter. The crafter/actor-learner is trying to understand and define the problem as he or she practices. Reflecting and comparing (and acting) proceed in a circular manner until one is satisfied that the problem definition is useful, at which point solution making (system modification or substitution) can begin. Solution making will continue at an individual level in a cyclical but personal learning process until such time as the knowledge so created is deemed, by the individual actor-learner, to be valuable enough to share with others in expectation of mutual benefit. At this point it becomes Proprietary Knowledge, knowledge with a potential social value and worth sharing with others. It is important to understand that a problem definition is as valuable as a solution specification, and arguably more so, because without an accurate problem definition, an appropriate solution will never be created.
  • Individual learning in organisations. Organisation development in response to internal and external problems. The knowledge of problems and solutions are developed in a cycle of shared individual learning and when they are put into practice, a cultural space is modified and an organisation changes in the direction of improved perfoermances, individually and collectively.
  • Why theory is useful. A perspective from E-Space.

    1. 1. WHY THEORY IS USEFUL AND INESCAPABLE UNDERSTANDING THEORY GENERATION USING MAX BOISOT’S E-SPACE PETER BOND LEARNING FUTURES CONSULTING
    2. 2. Sensible? Desirable? Realistic?
    3. 3. THEORY GENERATING MACHINES 2 C E=M motivation theory stru c foll ture o stra ws teg y spa n of con trol positive feedback orga nisa tio are ns mac hine s y anc ct xpe ry of e e o the rmanc fo per blac k hole s big bang
    4. 4. Benefits of Theory Enables practice—gives you the foundation for practice Allows you to stand on the shoulders of other, greater, practitioners Greater acceleration toward good practice and higher standards of professionalism Teaches you the language of a profession Opens up membership to a profession A quicker way to a style of your own and a unique trademark or professional identity
    5. 5. PRACTICE — BUT WITH A MODEL OF SUPERIOR PRACTICE IN MIND
    6. 6. A model of learning by doing and thinking about doing. An iterative double cycle doing/acting doing/ acting accumulating result of acting Rehearsal growing accumulating loop personal result of acting knowledge reflecting on result reflecting on result
    7. 7. Embrace a model Where do models come from?
    8. 8. Max Boisot’s Epistomological Space increasing information richness increasing codification Figure 10 LEARNING TOOLS models (mathematical and non-mathematical) algorithms and formulae generic solutions theory Epistomological space concrete experience and application increasing abstraction
    9. 9. Max Boisot’s Epistomological Space explanations E=MC2 codification language Learning tools models solutions Models of good practice g in of rn ing s lea us on ena d i an nt by at om els ime lan en d p mo xper ex r ph g g tin by e in es o t da ra nc ali e V en ie G per ex concrete reality abstraction
    10. 10. Max Boisot’s Cultural Space Personal Knowledge Figure 9 knowledge flow through cultural space Public Knowledge knowledge assimilation or embodiment problem and solution defining increasing codification Proprietary knowledge sharing/diffusion Knowledge localised start of K flow scanning for problems and solutions Common Knowledge
    11. 11. The developing solution Accumulating Individual problem Owners (forming a Market) The developing organisation (solution delivery and support solution

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