Simple Ideas, Complex Organizations

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CHAPTER 2. SIMPLE IDEAS, COMPLEX ORGANIZATIONS
CHAPTER 2 OVERVIEW
Chapter 2 Summary ____________________________________________________ In Chapter 2, the authors explore how properties of modern organizations and of human nature interact to create problems and pressures in everyday managerial life. The authors see organizations as:

1. Complex—People are hard to understand and predict. Interactions among individuals and groups within organizations multiply human complexities, and connections among different organizations add still another level of complexity. 2. Surprising—Human nature is unpredictable, making it impossible to anticipate all the ramifications of any decision, and many of today’s solutions create tomorrow’s problems.

3. Deceptive—Organizations defy expectations and often cover up mistakes. Individuals feel unable to confront others, especially superiors, and see camouflage as their only option.
4. Ambiguous—information is incomplete or vague and can be interpreted in different ways. Camouflage magnifies the uncertainty. Complexity and organizational size make it hard for anyone to fully understand what is happening, what it means, or what really needs to be done.

Learning becomes both more important and more problematic in complex, surprising, deceptive, and ambiguous environments. Bolman and Deal discuss several perspectives on organizational learning. One perspective, represented in the work of Senge and Oshry, emphasizes that the mental models people use to understand systems are incomplete or misleading. Consequently, people misinterpret what is happening and learn the wrong lessons. Senge’s learning paradox is that we don’t learn from experience because we don’t see the consequences of our actions. He recommends systems maps as a way to enhance understanding. Argyris and Schön offer another perspective on organizational learning. They emphasize a different paradox: things we do to promote learning actually make it more difficult for...
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