Goethe, the Study of Organisations and Henri Bortoft”

organisations are ecosystems.

They exist through interdependence. …most organisations these days are mired in a paradigm of  command and control, fear, competition and a constant cartesian dilemma and dualism


Can Goethe teach us something?


..”Another aspect of Goethe’s way of seeing is the ability to resolve contradiction.  The way this is done is by going into the act-of-seeing, and placing your attention not on what is seen, the objects that are out there, but by going into a much deeper dimension of seeing before these final objects have come into being.  This may sound a bit abstract, but what Goethe was able to perceive in his intuition (and not his rational verbal mind) was the livingness of the plant. We are talking about organic and not mechanistic phenomena here.  So in this next section Johnson is likening Goethe’s ability to see in a much more profound way to that of workers from Toyota, who can then resolve resolve “contradictions” that others can’t because they lack this more organic way of thinking.

..Bortoft is more explicit. He talks about the counterfeit whole versus the authentic whole. I struggled for a long time trying to figure out what he meant, but I think those differences are very meaningful and get at what you’re talking about here. Were they to be understood by business people, they could trigger a profound change in thinking that would lead to quite different actions. It gets back to all the things I’ve been talking about. You can see the universe as objects that are there because they embody a pattern that in effect bodies itself forth uniquely every moment. I think there is a generative process at work throughout the entire universe which follows certain principles or a pattern that we are aware of in this bodying forth in what we see around us. The parts are everything you see. Anything is mirroring these patterns and principles, mirroring the whole. I’m not sure Bortoft would agree with that interpretation, but I think that’s what he’s saying and what he’s drawing from Goethe. That’s nature. If you look at a machine, created by the human mind, the parts don’t mirror the whole. The parts–

OS: Are outside of the whole.

Tom Johnson: Yes. They’re outside of the whole. The machine, if it works, is obviously well designed by a mind that sees how to make parts interrelate so they’ll do a certain function, as long as properly lubricated and given enough fuel or whatever. But by definition the parts stand alone and don’t in any way mirror the whole. They are like Newton saw the whole universe: independent particles which react only to external force or impact according to external laws and principles. That’s the way we design machines, that’s the way we see the whole thing working. But in nature there’s no such thing. Nature, absent the human, has got no such thing. In nature everything has bodied forth from the process of this universal pattern manifesting itself again and again and again, trillions and trillions of times.”

“Henri’s (Bortoft) work is powerful because when truly understood, it changes our way of seeing, and takes us into an understanding of meaning and being. These are not just questions for science and philosophy, but for helping us understand our relationship to other people, to nature, to design, to the development of new organisational structures – the implications are endless.”

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