Recently, I have been writing about the differences of Systems Thinking and Reflexivity. I have come to a conclusion that all the tools that we use to affect our environment are inevitably in the areas of mechanistic / systems thinking. The problem is that our world is complex to the core. There are mechanistic and systemic things in the world, some of which are made by humans, some of which have evolved without human intervention, but our social world is always complex. Even if the tools we use to create contexts are systemic, how people respond to them isn’t governed by systemic laws. People are able to change the meaning of those tools and contexts with their responses. The real value of tools is determined in the responses, not in the tools themselves.
I have written that experts don’t follow guidelines or cybernetic tools, but instead rely on their ability to use practical judgment in their particular situations. They might also use cybernetic tools, but the real value of those tools is that they provide opportunities for reflexivity. Cybernetic tools can also be used to share abstract understanding between multiple people.
My attempt in this post is to provide a model, which is designed especially for the experts. The goal of this model is to provide framework which can enrichen the reflexive process and which can also be used as conversational tool to share abstract understanding of the particular situation. This model doesn’t try to capture the living reality inside concepts, but instead seeks to point towards certain aspects of it. The conceptualizing this model provides is valid only to the people who have been defining it and only in the particular situation at hand. As soon as things change, the conceptualizing has to be done again. I call this model “The Pentagram”.
Pentagram is an ancient symbol that has been used at least 5000 years. It has been used in mathematics as well as in religious and philosophical contexts. For example in Taoism and some western animistic traditions it represented the five elements of the world.
“The Pentagram” I present in this post represents the five common patterns in organizational environment. These are the patterns I have seen many times in my work with organizations. I call them Explicit, Equivocal, Cooperative, Evolving and Uncontrollable. These patterns can be e.g. tasks or social objects. By social objects I mean tendencies of large groups to act in similar ways in similar situations. Social object is thus the background required to be understood in order to follow the social rules of the situation. I have also described some common elements of these patterns, such as social complexity (i.e. the level of cooperation involved), responsive processes (usual responses involved to work with the pattern) and causality assumption (required assumption to understand the pattern).
Using the model of five organizational patterns
The idea of the pentagram is simple. A person is “standing” at the middle of pentagram and looking at the different elements of his particular environment in his particular situation. The person then tries to identify which of these five patterns best describes those elements. Not all the elements of a given situation can be mapped to a single pattern and that is fine. The goal of this model isn’t to create a generalized concept of the reality but instead form a framework that can be used in the reflexive processes. Some of the elements can probably be split in several pieces that could be placed in different spikes, some of the elements reside simultaneously on several spikes or between two spikes.
This model can be used individually or as an exercise of social constructionism. In a latter approach a group of people can gather together and look at the common elements of their particular situation and agree which of the different spikes of the pentagram describe them the best:
Whether done alone or in a group, this process of particularizing the elements of the situation can be valuable input for the process of reflexivity. The “social complexity” and the “responsive pattern” point towards what kind of cooperative processes are emerging and that might give some ideas on how to work with the pattern. The required “causality assumption” gives a hint of what kind of thinking is needed to better understand the pattern.
It is important to emphasize that this process of particularizing is valid only temporarily in a specific situation. It is probable that when things evolve, the elements of the situation move to another spikes: Something that seems easy at first might appear to be very difficult thing with a need for cooperation. Likewise, something that is initially cooperative process is later learned and thus becomes explicit instead.
The most important thing here is to remember that this model is just a finger pointing to the moon. It is not the moon itself. In reality our world has always countless possibilities to look at it from different angles. Thus it is not possible to fix that reality in any model or concepts. But that doesn’t mean any models can’t be helpful. For beginners and competent practitioners the models might give some ideas on how to proceed and for the experts they can give opportunities for reflexive processes. This model is specifically designed for experts, but might be useful for others too.
In following posts I plan to give some practical examples of how to use this model in different ways. In the meanwhile, I would appreciate any input and comments for this model. It is open source model so you can freely use it, but I would appreciate if you mention where you got the idea. For me the greatest inspiration for this model has come from the work of Ralph D. Stacey.