Thursday, August 16, 2012

Achievement as avoidance

One of the most delightful moments for me at the recent ASC/BIG conference (which I blogged about earlier) was the acceptance speech of Susan Rose Parenti when awarded the ASC's Warren McCulloch Achievement Award.  In her acceptance speech, which she cannot have had long to compose, Susan reframed achievement as avoidance taking a very cybernetic spin on the subject.  I commend her speech to viewing.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Puritan Gift

The late Russ Ackoff wrote a foreward to the paperback version of 'The Puritan Gift' (published 2009),  written by the Hopper Brothers.   The book, which first appeared in 2007 as 'The Puritan Gift: Triumph, Collapse and Revival of an American Dream' was named by the Financial Times one of that year’s Top Ten Business Books. Whilst recommended to me, I have yet to read it.  I wonder to what extent it could be claimed that the Hopper Brothers take a systemic perspective?

I note in this review it is claimed that the Hopper brothers argue that: 'As for the bad kind [of capitalism], the brothers blame post-war American business schools, particularly after the 1970s. As curricula became dominated by “financial engineering,” profit and performance were prioritized before all else.'

ASC produces new resources

Ranulph Glanville,  ASC President writes to advise that:

'at Asilomar the ASC  celebrated Klaus Krippendorff's 80th birthday by publishing a linked  directory to his most significant publications that you can download .
You can find an online video of Klaus' Asilomar keynote presentation  (including the cutting of his birthday cake towards the end). 
We also posted a scan of Klaus's dictionary of cybernetics.

Claudia Westermann made high quality scans of the few issues of  Cybernetic that we published in the 1980s. This was an experimental  journal that attempted to work (30 years early and in print) as if it  were an online journal!

Finally, we asked each member of the ASC to try to introduce at least  one new member each year.'

Howard Silverman - reflections on ISSS

Just prior to the ASC/BIG and ISSS conferences I became aware of Howard Silverman's excellent blog called Solving for Pattern.   My awareness came from feedback Howard provided on some of my own work.  Then we had the chance to meet and chat at the two Californian conferences. 

In a reflection on these, Howard writes:

'I appreciate your call at the [ASC] cybernetics conference for greater attention to authentic conversation. That's a high bar -- and by that standard, both conferences fell short. Yet at the same time, i did really enjoy them both, and found them both very welcoming.

ISSS seems kind of quirky to me. Can't quite escape the shadow of its founding giants. Somewhat burdened and exasperated by the ambition to develop a system of systems. Missing a process for incorporating fields -- like, say, network theory -- that have emerged since the Bertalanffy/Boulding era. Split between the positivist-leaning system engineering folks and the more interpretive/critical folks. Yet, despite it all, the power of the original vision attracts new participants, and the opportunity to share a space in that shadow seems to offer ongoing value. It was certainly valuable for me.

By the way, i posted the slides from my talk. One of the main themes i'm exploring is how context shifting -- across organizational, social, and ecosystem contexts -- affects the application of systems approaches.'

Monday, August 13, 2012

Positive media stories: towards 'tipping points'?

I was somewhat taken aback over the weekend when I read in The Weekend Australian an excellent article by Paul Cleary entitled 'One law for the mines...'.  It is neither the type of story or perspective I associate with Murdoch's main Australian paper.  Cleary's central argument is a good one that goes to the core of on-going systemic failure in governance that, in particular, relates to the biophysical environment. He says:

'As governments have begun approving mega-mines and risky coal-seam gas [CSG] developments, the number of conditions attached to each project has risen inexorably.

Extensive lists of conditions make for impressive press releases from ministers approving projects. Interestingly, though, the mining companies don't complain about the conditions, largely because they know governments rarely enforce them. The reality of Australia's "world's best-practice regulation" is that both state and federal governments lack the willingness and capacity to enforce the environmental limits set out in their approval criteria.'

Regulation is easy to put in place - as are many other traditional policy prescriptions - but as we have shown in our decade or more of research on social learning (an alternative form of governance to that of regulation, education/information and fiscal or market mechanisms) these are hard to monitor, police and enforce.  This is why Australians, or citizens of any country where a coal seam or shale gas rush is breaking out,  would be well-advised to heed Cleary's arguments. Cleary is a writer for the Australian and author of the new book Mine-Field which 'plots the dubious networks created and greased by mining companies to get their projects through, and exposes regulatory gaps that must be addressed to prevent enormous and irreversible harm to our society and environment.'  As he notes in his article, which draws from his latest book: 

'In a race to the bottom, mining regulation in Australia is a case of one rule for the miners and gas companies, and another for everyone else.'  ......'Drug disasters like thalidomide were quick in their impact, and governments responded, but the potentially damaging effects of CSG projects on groundwater may take decades to show up.   In the meantime, state governments will be cashing in on their share of the production revenue via royalty agreements.    And, at present, they can't authorise new projects fast enough.'

The assault on the Earth through CSG, the accumulation of toxic wastes, fracking of shale deposits and the like constitute a 'theatre of war' in the Anthropocene. The irony is that it is war with ourselves and one in which all of us humans will ultimately be losers.

In London does the success of Ten Billion – a scientist's one-man show on environmental woes – which has has been an unexpected sell-out hit augur well for a tipping-point breakthrough, or is it yet just another performance in the theatre of the resistance?