2007/08/10 11:00 Gary Metcalf, "Rigor and Relevance in Systems Work", ISSS Tokyo 2007

2007/08/10 11:00 Gary Metcalf, "Rigor and Relevance in Systems Work", ISSS Tokyo 2007

This digest was created in real-time during the meeting, based on the speaker's presentation(s) and comments from the audience. The content should not be viewed as an official transcript of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. The digest has been made available for purposes of scholarship, posted on the ISSS web site by David Ing.

Gary S. Metcalf, President, InterConnections LLC, Ashland, KY, USA

Gary S. Metcalf

If the goal is to build a unitary tower of knowledge, we have a challenge

Four of five founders of the society came from a mathematical background

  • Terms stretching across disciplines, not leaving us with much clarity

They found something different in this society

We see something different from those who people who work in the disciplines

  • Something that creates value, year after year, in diversity


  • A difference that makes a difference
  • The pattern that connects

Dilemma: live between worlds of rigour, and the ambiguity of the real world

Schon: highly professional organizations rely on the rigour of a science, but they experience the dilemma of "rigor or relevance"

  • People live in a swampy lowland, to see if systems can help them

Have been working with a multinational furniture retailer, developing marketing plans

  • Marketing people want textbook plan
  • People in stores want something that works in their locales

Problems of greater human concerns lie out in the swamps

Came into systems by learning family therapy

  • You can't effect a teenager, unless you take into account the community, family, school, friends
  • All of our worlds are complex, we just choose to think that we can connect them
  • Bateson:  analogy, or does he mean something?

Similar dilemmas working management:  there's lots of theories that have no base

  • It's good to read about Jack Welch, but you can't be Jack Welch, and Jack Welch couldn't articulate

Peter Senge, Fifth Discipline, sold a million copies

Leadership in the Federal Executive Institute

  • These people live in complexity
  • They rely on science, e.g. EPA
  • They use the science
  • Dilemma: they assume good science should carry some weight, but it's not so simple
  • Taking science to a politician who worries about votes in his area
  • Current administration means need to be able to tell a story about value

If we do rigorous work, does the rigorous science define what we do?

  • Rigor dictates relevance?

Is there science, and is everything outside of science metaphysics?

  • But this leaves us as only the experts that understand
  • Outside of the swamp

More specialization, more fragmentation:  nothing new to us

  • e.g. medicine, want to go to specialist
  • Dilemma, if the specialist knows you're problem, it's the right choice; otherwise, they don't know
  • Sub-specializations in mathematics range from 1500 to 7000

If we revive the spirituality SIG in this society, do we require them to be scientific

  • Luhmann built on autopoesis in social systems

Robert Rosen was very much a mathematician, but understood the greater context

  • We live in the subsystems of viewpoints
  • Models are all different, and depend on our opinion

Fundamentalism: as problematic an issues in a global society as we can face:  demanding that there's only one way

  • Only one understanding of rigor means falling into a type of fundamentalism

Maybe the world is creating a search for us

  • Google doesn't provide the most scientific answer, it provides the most linked / used
  • A shift away from the expert-only view

Looking across the divides, makes a difference

Also a dilemma:  if only people understood systems science, and put it into universities, enlightenment

  • World continues to evolve and fragment
  • What is, versus what should be

What does system have to teach?

  • David Bohm, physicist, got into dialogue
  • All serious arguments are about different views of what is absolutely necessary:  that's what is inside the boundaries
  • Freedom names possible a creative perception of new orders of necessity:  some others are threatened
  • Some able to let go of boundaries, while others aren't

Bateson:  Think in terms of stories

  • May be able to bring down to rigor of math, but that's not the language of most people

Finding or creating differences requires rigor

  • Differences only make a difference when they are relevant, and connect to the larger world
  • To continue to get resources to continue to do good work, we need to find ways to span
  • Need to connect to the swampy world

Invitation to create next year's conference of systems that make a difference

Home | Disclaimer | Contact Webmaster
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.

International Society for the Systems Sciences Business Office, 47 Southfield Road, Pocklington, York YO42 2XE, United Kingdom
Telephone/fax: +44 (0)1759 302718 | E-mail: isssoffice@dsl.pipex.com