Reconceptualising organisations: from complicated machines to flowing streams – Sonja Blignaut

Excellent cybernetic thinking from Sonja Blignaut, as usual.

Source: Reconceptualising organisations: from complicated machines to flowing streams.

 

Reconceptualising organisations: from complicated machines to flowing streams.

I’ve often wondered about the seeming detour my life took when I chose to study meteorology. Looking at the work I do now, something like industrial psychology or business sciences seems more appropriate. Recently though, a new penny has dropped: weather systems are flow systems. As I’ve come to see flow as one of the primary lenses to use to understand and structure a system, I’ve realised that studying the dynamics of weather (and other natural) systems were, in a way, the perfect preparation for the emerging trajectory of my work.

Over the last few years, I have come to realise that the interplay between flow, constraints and options is key to understanding how to navigate and thrive in complexity. With “flow”, I mean flow in the broadest sense of the word. There are some flows that we are very familiar with: workflow, process flow, cash flow, data flow, information flow … however, we need to broaden our thinking.

In machines, there is a specific ‘inflow’ and a specific ‘outflow’. In organisms, everything flows. (Nicolson, 2018)

Too often we still view organisations through a mechanistic lens and this impacts on the flows we pay attention to. If we see them instead as living systems, organisms or ecosystems, it soon becomes clear that flow is central to every aspect of the organisation.

Whatever else they may be, living systems are highly stabilised flows of energy and matter. Machines may take part in various processes, but organisms are themselves processes. (Nicolson, 2018)

If we look at organisations not as machines, but as living entities — ecosystems or organisms, we have to look at them as flow systems. Flow, therefore, becomes a beneficial lens to help us think about new ways of working, new organisational structures and new forms of management.

continues in source: Reconceptualising organisations: from complicated machines to flowing streams.