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Mike C Jackson and Postmodern systems thinking by Mohammad Ali Jaafar


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Postmodern systems approach aims to help managers improve organizations by promoting diversity. Postmodernists would classify all of the various systems approaches considered so far, whether their aim is to improve goal seeking and viability, to explore purposes, or to ensure fairness, as being ‘modernist’ in character.

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Mike C Jackson and Postmodern systems thinking by Mohammad Ali Jaafar

  1. 1. Michael C. Jackson and Postmodern Systems Thinking By Mohammad Ali Jaafar PhD. Mgmt. Systems & Complexity Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt.
  2. 2. Part one: Professor Mike C Jackson Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt.
  3. 3. Biography • Michael C. Jackson, born 1951, is Professor of Management Systems and former Dean of Hull University Business School. After studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford University, he spent 4 years in the civil service before returning to academic life. He has since studied and taught at Lancaster, Warwick, Lincoln and Hull Universities, being appointed a full professor in 1989. Professor Jackson is a past President of the UK Systems Society, the International Federation for Systems Research and the International Society for the Systems Sciences. He has also served on the Council of the Operational Research Society. He is a Fellow of the British Computer Society, the Chartered Management Institute, The Cybernetic Society and the Operational Research Society. He is a Visiting Professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (New Delhi) and an Honorary Professor at the Universidad Ricardo Palma, Lima, Peru. Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt.
  4. 4. Research • Professor Jackson is pre-eminent as a researcher in systems and management science, having written 4 highly regarded books and edited 6 others. He has published over 70 articles in refereed journals including Journal of Management Studies, Omega, Journal of the Operational Research Society, Systems Research, Systems Practice, Journal of Information Systems, International Journal of General Systems, International Journal of Information Management, Cybernetics, System Dynamics Review, Organization. Professor Jackson edits Systems Research and Behavioral Science, John Wiley, and is on the editorial board of 5 other journals. He has, over the past 3 years, delivered plenary addresses at 18 international conferences. Professor Jackson has undertaken many consultancy engagements with outside organisations, both profit and non-profit. Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt.
  5. 5. Research • Professor Jackson has received research grants from many councils, as Leverhulme Trust, British Council, The European Union and from organisations in the private and public sector, etc. He has been referee of research grant applications for the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and South Africa Foundation for Research Development. He has refereed book proposals for Wiley, Plenum, Pitman, Sage and Routledge, and papers for numerous journals. • Professor Jackson's most recent book is entitled Systems Thinking: Creative Holism for Managers (Wiley), 2003. Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt.
  6. 6. Postmodern Systems Thinking Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt. Chapter 13 of the Book:
  7. 7. Introduction • Postmodern systems approach aims to help managers improve organizations by promoting diversity. • In sociological terms postmodernism stands opposite to the other modernist paradigms. • Postmodernists would classify all of the various systems approaches considered so far: • whether their aim is to improve goal seeking and viability, • to explore purposes • or to ensure fairness, as being ‘modernist’ in character. Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt.
  8. 8. Postmodern Condition • The Postmodern Condition according to (Lyotard, 1984) and followed by following (Cooper and Burrell, 1988), recognizes two major aspects of modernism that can be labelled, Systemic modernism and Critical modernism. Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt.
  9. 9.  Systemic modernism is concerned with increasing the performance of systems, in terms of (input – output) measures, and with handling environmental uncertainty. • It relies on science to discover what is logical about the world, and it is expressed in classical accounts of hard systems thinking, system dynamics, organizational cybernetics and complexity theory.  Critical modernism depends on language being ‘transparent’ (Clear) so that it can act as a mean whereby humans arrive at agreement about the purposes they wish to pursue. • This form of modernism can be recognized in soft systems thinking. Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt.
  10. 10. • Postmodernists attack the assumptions of both systemic and critical modernism. Therefore they  reject particularly the belief in rationality, truth and progress.  deny that science can provide access to objective knowledge and so assist with steering organizations and societies in the face of complexity. Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt.
  11. 11. Philosophy and Theory • To show the relevance of postmodernism to organizational research, (Alvesson and Deetz,1996) highlight seven common themes that they pursue. 1. The loss of power of the ‘grand narratives’: 2. The centrality of discourse 3. The power/knowledge connections 4. Research aimed at revealing indeterminacy and encouraging resistance rather than at maintaining rationality, predictability and order 5. The discursive production of natural objects rather than language as a mirror of reality 6. The discursive production of the individual 7. Hyper-reality - simulations replace the real world in the current world order Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt.
  12. 12. Methodology • It would be inconsistent with the philosophy of postmodernism to offer a structured methodology for turning theory into practice. • (Taket and White, 2000) give the name PANDA (Participatory Appraisal of Needs and the Development of Action) to the approach to intervention that they endorse. • PANDA is an attempt to work holistically and pragmatically to address the diversity and uncertainty found in multi agency settings and, increasingly, in modern organizations. Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt.
  13. 13.  PANDA has four phases and nine tasks to be addressed during the phases: • Deliberation I  Selecting participants  Defining purpose/objectives  Exploring the situation • Debate  Identifying options  Researching options (which could include consulting on options)  Comparing options • Decision  Deciding action  Recording decisions • Deliberation II  Monitoring/Evaluating Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt.
  14. 14. • This may look very much like a classical methodology, but (Taket and White, 2000) insist that its application is more an art than a science. • In particular, in order to remain true to the spirit of postmodernism, it is essential to recognize and respond to pluralism in each of four areas:  the nature of the client;  the use of specific methods;  the modes of representation employed;  the facilitation process. Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt.
  15. 15. • Pluralism in the nature of the client refers to the diverse viewpoints held by various stakeholders, all of which must be acknowledged and respected. • This demands attention to the three Cs:  Critical: ensuring the widest possible range of viewpoints and values are heard and any that are being suppressed are brought to the fore;  Consent: acknowledging that consensus may be impossible and that we might have to be satisfied with a ‘system of consent’;  Contingent: accepting that the only ‘truths’ are those relevant to the local circumstances at the moment. Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt.
  16. 16. • Pluralism in the use of specific methods requires that we ‘mix and match’ methods, adopting a flexible stance according to ‘what feels good’ in the situation we are confronting. • To do this well we should bear in mind the four Ms:  Mixing: using whole methods, or parts of different methodologies, together and at different times during an intervention;  Modify: being aware of the need to change and adapt methods to particular circumstances;  Multiply: trying out different methods for the same task;  Match: choosing an appropriate mix of methods according to the preferences of the stakeholders and facilitators, and the nature of the situation addressed. Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt.
  17. 17. • Pluralism in the modes of representation employed acknowledges the shift, signaled in postmodernism, from the idea of ‘representation’ as picturing objects ‘out there’ to representation as capturing only other impressions of the world. • This implies that we need to develop modes of representation that allow participants the freedom to express themselves naturally. • Remembering the three Vs will help:  Verbal: making use of traditional verbal forms of representation;  Visual: employing also visual modes of representation, such as rich pictures  Vital: encouraging participation and learning through techniques such as sociodrama. Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt.
  18. 18. • Pluralism in the facilitation process requires facilitators to mix and match different roles and guises at different times during an intervention and in relation to the different individuals/groups involved. This is encapsulated in the four Fs:  Flexibility: responding and adapting to the dynamics of the situation;  Forthrightness: challenging and intervening when appropriate;  Focus: keeping a sense of purpose, progress and place;  Fairness: engaging in critical reflection about whether equitable participation is being achieved and about the facilitator’s own role and ethical position. Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt.
  19. 19. Methods • We now turn to another way in which systems thinking and postmodernism can work together. • This involves the appropriation of certain postmodern ideas and their conversion into postmodern methods that can be used in the course of a systems intervention. • This systems intervention might itself be in the spirit of postmodernism (e.g., follow the PANDA guidelines) or it might be guided by a methodology serving another paradigm (e.g., functionalist, interpretive or emancipatory). Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt.
  20. 20. • Knowledge systems diagnostics is a method, developed by (Topp , 1999), based on Foucault’s early work on the ‘archaeology of knowledge’. • It seeks to uncover and inquire into the ‘formative system’ operating in an organization. The formative systems is a system of ‘second-order’ knowledge production that enables and regulates what it is possible for organizational actors to think and express at any point in time. • This system is not usually understood by people in the organization. • Organizational change, therefore, becomes a matter not of shifting individual perspectives, but of altering the knowledge matrix governing the organization that is determining what it is possible for individuals to say. • Understanding the formative system is achieved by asking a series of critical questions derived from the work of Foucault. Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt.
  21. 21. • These questions inquire into matters such as the following:  How is new knowledge created or adopted by the organization?  What are the sources of the generation or regulation of knowledge?  What rules underlie such generative or regulative processes?  Why are some concepts and systems ideas adopted and circulated within conversation while others are discounted and never established as guides for action? • Once a map of the formative system has been completed, it becomes possible to examine it and aim organizational interventions at the points of leverage likely to have the greatest impact in transforming the first-order knowledge of organizational actors. • If this works, individuals will be able to think and discuss new things relevant to their business context. Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt.
  22. 22. • Taket and White have found Derrida’s ‘deconstruction’ a powerful device in a number of interventions using their pragmatic pluralism. • Deconstruction is aimed at exploring the values or deep structure of a ‘text’ in order to expose the biases inherent in it • (Topp , 1999) proposes ‘generative conversation’ as a postmodern method that can lead to the emergence of new concepts, systems ideas and themes that may guide future action in organizations. • The strategy in generative conversation is to replace one ‘language game’ with another in order to create new knowledge. • The only rule is that any new phrase brought forth in the conversation must always link to the previous phrase. • This prevents the recurrence of phrases that take the conversation back to some ‘higher regulatory business stake’. Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt.
  23. 23. • Beyond that, certain ‘guides’ can be provided:  generative conversation is a game in which we play with ideas, not against each other;  appoint a facilitator at the start to monitor the application of the linking rule;  watch the pull of habit and pattern and be aware of the tension to link in a certain way;  keep a notebook to jot down ideas so that they are not forgotten;  questions can form part of the conversation, but must obey the linking rule;  make use of creative misunderstanding;  listen, take a few breaths, think, link;  remember, silence is a phrase;  try to link multiple previous phrases. Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt.
  24. 24. Recent developments • The acceptance of postmodern approaches in systems thinking is a relatively new phenomenon. • Those persuaded by postmodernism continue to experiment and so learn about how the idea can best be used to facilitate interventions. • They also seek to refine the postmodern methods they employ (e.g., Taket, 2002). • More traditional management scientists have started to look at some of the postmodern methods to see if they can be incorporated as tools in more orthodox interventions Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt.
  25. 25. POSTMODERN SYSTEMS THINKING IN ACTION • According to (Taket and White , 2000) we are entering ‘new times’ in which new organizational forms are coming into being based on fragmentation, decentralization and networks. • In these postmodern times, individuals have more choices available to them, there is a greater diversity of stakeholders involved in decision- making and the turbulence of the organizational environment demands greater levels of co-operation between different enterprises. • We seem to be entering an age in which participation and partnership, and decision-making in ‘multi agency settings’ will be crucial. Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt.
  26. 26. POSTMODERN SYSTEMS THINKING IN ACTION • The great strength of postmodernism/post structuralism, therefore, is that it seems appropriate to the new times in which we live. • What have become crucial to the success of postindustrial businesses, however, are creating new knowledge and using existing knowledge more productively. • The flexibility provided for the employment of methods, the redirection of attention to ‘local improvement’ and the emphasis on the ethical responsibilities of facilitators are all to be welcomed. Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt.
  27. 27. THE VALUE OF POSTMODERN SYSTEMS THINKING TO MANAGERS • It emphasizes a number of things, such as having fun at work, engaging emotions, etc., which may appear ‘superficial’, but are very significant (and are ignored in many more traditional systems approaches). • It recognizes the importance of encouraging diversity and creativity if we want to maximize learning and so be successful in modern organizations as well as in the increasingly common multi agency situations we confront. • Postmodernism challenges the notion that there are universal solutions to management problems, deriving from expertise, or universal ways of arriving at them, perhaps thorough appropriately designed participative processes. • It encourages managers to experiment with and learn from a whole variety of forms of pluralism (i.e., of client, methods, modes of representation and facilitative processes). • Postmodernism has given rise to some highly original postmodern systems methods (e.g., deconstruction) that can be employed in the spirit of postmodernism or in the service of some other systems approach. Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt.
  28. 28. CONCLUSION • It is worth concluding by referring to a series of 12 lectures by Habermas (1987) in which he seeks to respond to the postmodern attack on his own modernist position. • In the process he develops a critique of postmodernists, such as Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida and Foucault. • In each case he shows that the theorist he is critiquing has something valid to say, but exaggerates it out of all proportion. • Foucault, for example, focuses on certain dysfunctions associated with rationalization processes in society. • He ignores the undeniable achievements of those same forces. • Derrida concentrates on certain defects that arise in argumentation. • In short, Habermas recognizes that the postmodernists have something to say, but believes that rather than abandoning the Enlightenment vision we need to renew and revitalize it. • To do this requires more reason to overcome the difficulties on which the postmodernists focus rather than less. Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt.
  29. 29. Reference Systems Thinking: Creative Holism for Managers (Wiley), 2003. Mohammad Ali Jaafar, PhD. Systems Mgmt.