Saturday, April 24, 2010

Open Systems

It's going to be short today, but nobody reads my posts, so I doubt anyone will even notice. The year is coming to a rapid conclusion, and we're just about ready to wrap up our fun-filled semester in this class. I'm kind of sad to see it go, to be perfectly honest. John is a good teacher who knows what he's talking about, and we've learned a lot about teamwork and organizational culture. The whole blogging system for doing homework (a system also utilized in his internet marketing class) was a really cool idea that made homework feel more communal with other classmates. In all, I had a good semester in this class. But enough of my nostalgic banter.

In doing the reading for this week, I came across something really important that feels like a great note to begin the fade to black. In chapter seventeen of the luminous tome, Organizational Behavior, by none other than the dynamic duo, Kreitner and Kinicki, there was something in chapter seventeen that really caught my eye. Of course, this was the Open System Perspective of Organizations.

An open system refers to an entity that constantly interacts with its environment in order to survive. It's not difficult to generalize with a topic like this. As human beings, for instance, we must interact with our environment in many ways, such as procuring food and going for long hikes on Mt. Tamalpais. But how does an organization adhere to the concept of an open system? In what ways does an organization such as a business lend itself to contextual environmental interaction? The answer is not quite as straightforward as you'd think, and this can be a very nuanced topic.

The book makes a good point when describing open systems. Every system in existence is partially closed and partially open, so the discussion about an open system is essentially taking a look at the nuanced parts of a system and coming to a conclusion about its openness. The book suggests looking at how great the role of the overall environment is in the functions of a system in order to make a determination.

But what does an open system look like?

If we go back to the 1950's and keep going backwards, business was not organized the way it is today. Businesses were mostly seen as a well-oiled machine that functioned off of a strict sense of discipline and had a tendency to be run like a military brigade. Fortunately for us in this day and age, most businesses are not run that way anymore. A different framework was needed to progress the organizational paradigm.

Essentially, there is a barrier between the organization and the outside environment as a whole. Inside this barrier are subsystems pertaining to each aspect of organizational functionality: goals and values, the technical aspects, psychosocial aspects, structural considerations, and the managerial processes of the company. In an open system, the barrier that protects these internal components of the organization needs to be a permeable membrane, capable of allowing inputs (money, materials, human capital, and information) into the organization freely. Equally important is the ability of the membrane to allow outputs (products, services, organizational growth, social benefits) to escape in order to fulfill their purpose, with the feedback from the outputs turning around and influencing the supply of necessary imports, starting the cycle over again.

In essence, an open organization is one that operates in the most logical fashion, with overlapping internal components, and a perforated outer shell that allows the free flow of necessary environmental components through the company. In this way, the company can move faster and make more money, due to the very nature of its design. The human body operates in a similar fashion. We have a semi-permeable membrane (our skin), which lets key environmental nutrients into our bodies (vitamins from the sun, moisture from the air). We also eat food, a necessary input, in order to function internally, and then export our outputs, which expend energy. So a company that takes a little lesson from biological processes can function at a much higher level than one that simply views its design as some kind of soulless cubicle farm with a rigid sense of 1950's-era discipline.

1 comment:

  1. Great blog post (and someone did read it). This is a good length for a blog post. Some of your other posts might work better as two or three posts.