Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Fritjof Capra: The Hidden Connections

Yesterday, I blogged about swarm intelligence. If you want to know more about the principles of living systems, this might be of interest to you. I had blogged about Fritjof Capra three weeks ago. I have just completed reading his last book (which was published already 4 years ago):

Fritjof Capra: The Hidden Connections. A Science for Sustainable Living.

Like all books of Capra, this is mindblowing. This is such a good summary of the findings of systems sciences of the last 20 years. With examples from Biology, the author describes the main characteristics of living systems, mind and consciousness, and self-organization. From there departs to describe systems dynamics in organizations. If you are a systems thinker, lot of his ideas will sound familiar for you, but then the book serves as a good repository of examples that you can use when you try to explain these things to others. If you are relatively new to the field, you will get an A to Z introduction to all philosophical and scientific background of the discipline.

I liked a lot the way Capra leads us to a certain understanding of dynamics in organizations. After having described the origins of life and the basics of consciousness, he revisits Luhman, and Maturana and Varela:

"Social systems use communication as their particular mode of autopoietic reproduction. Their elements are communications...reproduced by a network of communications and that cannot exist outside of such a network. These networks of communication are self-generating. Each communication creates thoughts and meaning, which give rise to further communication, and thus the entire network generates itself - it is autopoietic. As communications recur in multiple feedback loops, they produce a shared system of beliefes, explanantions and values - a common context of meaning - that is continuously sustained by further communications. Through this shared context of meaning individuals acquire identities as members of the social network, and in this way the network creates its own boundary. It is not a physical boundary but a boundary of expectations, of confidentiality and loyalty, which is continually maintained and renegotiated by the network itself." (F. Capra)

This is what Appreciative Inquiry is about. Organizations are nothing else than a body of shared meaning. If you succeed to change that body of meaning and perception, the organization will change.

Unfortunately, the last three chapters of the book do not read as well as the first four. Here, Capra leaves his own scientific discipline and goes politics. He advocates against global capitalism, genetically modified crops and for ecological production. Although I would follow him in many of the points he makes, this part of the book is somehow disturbing because it is not linked to the first one. It is has he uses the stage he has created for his political advocacy. However, the first four chapters including the description of the social reality in organizations are worth buying the book.

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