Kategoriarkiv: Architecture

Organizing reflection 17

This is a post in my series on organizing ”between and beyond.” Other posts are here. The purpose of this post is to reflect on subjects occupying my mind. I make no claim to fully believe what I write. Neither do I pretend that others have not already thought or written about the same subject. More often than not, I take up, combine, and add to already existing thoughts and ideas.

What is on my mind?
In today’s reflection, I combine Petra Kuenkel‘s (@PetraKuenkel) thoughts about co-creation and collaborative spaces with Christopher Alexander’s insights into how to create built environments that have life, well-being, beauty. Actually, Petra Kuenkel refers to Christopher Alexander herself. I simply add to it. (Here and here are my reviews of Petra Kuenkel’s two books Mind and Heart and The Art of Leading Collectively. And here is my review of Christopher Alexander’s book The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth.)

Petra Kuenkel writes in this post on Co-creation, collaborative spaces and aliveness (my emphasis in bold):

Over my years of working in complex collaboration projects and institutional change management I noticed that certain elements consistently shift actors into more collaborative spaces. …

When I looked behind the scenes of collaboration initiatives … one insight emerged. It was simple and at the same time complex.

It reminded me of the writings of the American architect Christopher Alexander. … Christopher Alexander concluded that … [the] perception of a degree of “life” in an external structure … was not arbitrary. Nor was it simply a matter of taste.

So my (rather simple) conclusions is the following:

Co-creation works best in a collaborative space where there is “life”, a sense of vitality rather than superficial harmony. … There is usually a strong feeling of igniting each other’s vitality. You have fun. You feel alive. Your energy is boosted.1

Christopher Alexander says in this interview from 2011 that (my emphasis in bold):

Make sure, whatever you are deciding, or whatever you are doing, or whatever you are making—any action you are taking—make sure that it has inner beauty.

If you take that seriously, it will change everything. … When you come face-to-face with real beauty it changes you, and it changes the other people who are witnessing it, or who are thinking it, and they will take a different road. … Although this is so simple, it’s extremely powerful, because it only comes from the heart. … If you take this advice … it will change your own life.2

And, in this interview from 1994 Christopher Alexander says:

What you are looking for is the presence or absence of life. … It doesn’t imply that it’s lively, it could be very quiet. … But anyway, that it has its life. …

You can’t do this … without being willing, in effect, to make that judgment. …

Can one make such a judgment? Is it reasonably objective? Is there really such a thing? … Technocrats will not admit that there’s such a thing. So if you have a technically organized bureaucracy, they will either refuse to perform it, or perform it quite wrong by assigning arbitrary technical criteria. …

It wasn’t esoteric at all … to perform this thing. … The kinds of questions that people were asked to report on were very straightforward. … The only operative thing … necessary is people had to be willing to record their feelings. …

So much of rule bound society, in effect, makes it not okay to do that. Of course, people have feelings, but the question is: Is it alright to use it? … The general rule of thumb has been: No, it’s not okay to do that. …

They tend to twist it into bureaucratic forms. … Things that can be quantified very easily appear, therefore, to have some legitimacy that are actually no where as near as telling these larger, more global feelings.3

So, in other words, does it feel right?

Generative organizing looks for the presence of life/well-being/beauty, rather than superficial bureaucratized order. This requires a willingness to observe and feel.

1 Petra Kuenkel, Co-creation, collaborative spaces and aliveness | Petra Kuenkel—The Future of Leadership is Collective, 2017-09-08 (accessed 2018-08-09).
2 Interview with Christopher Alexander by Hiro Nakano | YouTube,  2011-09-05 (accessed 2018-08-09).
3 Interview with Christopher Alexander by Greg Bryant | YouTube, 1994-01-06 (accessed 2018-08-09).

Related posts:
Organizing in between and beyond posts

Bonnitta Roy on an open architecture for self-organization

Bonnitta Roy describes in An Open Architecture for Self-Organization how to ”to distribute management responsibilities into self-organizing teams, without losing strategic performance”. She calls this ”The Open Participatory Organization”, or OPO for short. The governance of an OPO is CriSP, or ”continually regenerating it’s starting position”. This means that the form of the organization ”takes on the shape that best fits the current conditions and contexts”.

The OPO is built on ”locations”, which are occupied by teams. Locations ”co-evolve with the teams and people that occupy them”. The locations are ”performance-objective-value” zones, where:

  • The performance ”is an emergent outcome of the collaborative interaction of its members”.
  • The objectives ”emerge from the role-identities of its members”.
  • The values ”are an emergent outcome of the intentional-motivational states of the members”.

Bonnitta Roy distinguishes between two types of ”performance-objective-value” zones, core and network.

  • All ”key operations of the company” take place in the core zones. The core zones are ”where the value of the company is generated”.
  • All other operations that are ”necessary and sufficient for the company to sustain itself, develop, improve, and thrive” take place in the network zones.  The network zones are ”responsible for the exchange of resources in the organization”. Network zones are delineated into four major classifications: ”Access, Adaptation, Support and Incubation”.

Locations exist at different scales in the organization:

  • Organization, e.g., ”Vision, Mission and Values”.
  • Core & Network Zones, where each zone has a ”performance-objective-value” set that is common to all teams in the zone.
  • Teams, where each team has its own ”performance-objective-value” set.
  • Individuals, where each team member specifies their individual ”performance-objective-value” set.

The OPO distributes ”disciplinary power throught the network through a participatory governance”. Strategic choices are based on ”involved participation with what is actually the case, not on conversations limited to official scripts … and irrelevant abstractions”.

Related post:
Bonnitta Roy on how self-organization happens

Japanese aesthetic ideals

Aesthetics in Japan is seen as an integral part of daily life and include ancient ideals like:

  • Yūgen (幽玄), an awareness of the Universe that triggers emotional responses too deep and powerful for words; 1
  • Wabi, transient and stark beauty;
  • Sabi, the beauty of natural aging.

In Zen philosophy there are seven principles for achieving wabi-sabi:

  • Fukinsei (不均整), asymmetry, irregularity;
  • Kanso (簡素), simplicity;
  • Koko, basic, weathered;
  • Shizen (自然), without pretense, natural;
  • Yugen (幽玄), subtly profound grace, not obvious;
  • Datsuzoku (脱俗), unbounded by convention, free;
  • Seijaku (静寂), tranquility, stillness.

Yūgen (幽玄) – Deep Awareness of the Universe

1 The exact translation depends on the context.

Christopher Alexander on living structure

Christopher Alexander, OOPSLA 1996, San Jose, California.

Here is a presentation on Patterns in Architecture by Christopher Alexander at the 1996 ACM Conference on Object-Oriented Programs, Systems, Languages and Applications (OOPSLA). And here is a full transcript of this talk.

Christopher Alexander says that there is something we objectively can call ‘living structure.’ We know it when we are in its presence. “It means that the objects that are most profound functionally are the ones which also promote the greatest feeling in us. This is a very peculiar thing. … The failure of that profound feeling to exist in the world around us is tragic. … The difficulty is that people don’t seem to know what to do about it.” The creation of ‘living structure’ cannot happen without intention.

I think what Christopher Alexander says about ‘living structure’ in architecture is profound. My hypothesis is that there is ‘living structure’ in organizations as well. We know when we are in its presence! How do we create it?