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The Form of Organization, or Was It Organizing?

March 12, 2012

The first catject I ever modeled was a form of organization. Back in 2004 and ten years after my habilitation on Die Form des Unternehmens I reconsidered what I wanted to contribute to scientific discourse. Inspired by Heinz von Foerster’s ideas on computing computings and by Harrison C. White’s urge to parameterize sociology I resumed my work with George Spencer-Brown’s Laws of Form and set out to develop a model designed to extend on the usual and already very useful business modeling proposed by Michael Porter and others. The extension is considered to bring in strategies on network and society and to focus better on organizational culture aspects of the very product, material and immaterial, any organization is bringing to the market.

The model is a communicational model in that all of the distinctions used are understood to be distinctions used by observers observing other observers and constantly negotiating the values they try to bring to any one of the variables. The interdependence of the variables thus is equally a communicational one, not a causal or technical one. It describes a complex semantics bringing forth and reproducing a complex organization within a complex environment.

Note that the catject I here reproduce is the ideal type in Max Weber’s sense. Any one real organization differs not only in the values it brings to the variables but also in the subtlety and completeness of the re-entry levels it relies on to subvert itself and thus to evolve. Just the constants, the distinctions themselves, are always the same. This is the hypothesis I bring to the field and which makes explicit my own observer’s position.

Added back then was the idea of modeling the transformation from the classical organization considered to work on definite tasks more or less explicitly given by its societal environment to the post-classical organization described by Herbert A. Simon, James G. March, Karl E. Weick, Niklas Luhmann, Nils Brunsson, and others considered to have to find, define, and rework on its purpose on its own and in situations not only of uncertainty but also of rather critical supervision by its societal environments. The classical organization is at issue in much of management sciences, the post-classical in much of organization theory.

As with any catject, this one as well is considered to model the eigen-value or even eigen-function of a recursive function reproducing the organization. It does not exclude but include chaotic deviations of all kinds.

I used the model in several very productive student research and consulting projects with several organizations back at Witten/Herdecke University and I am grateful for the discussion and work the students in these projects did invest.

This is the model:




The communication model of organization and organizing formalizes the correlation of the distinction of 6 constants (giving us the arithmetics of product/procedure, organization/network, network/society, society/individual, and individual/outside of the form), 6 variables (giving us an algebra of product, procedure, organization, network, society, individual, and the unmarked outside of the form), and 6 re-entry-crosses (giving us an understanding of the subversion of the form), which either classically (task, work, administration, strategy, authority, and philosophy) or post-classically (uncertainty, decision, management, leadership, organizational culture, consulting) and competing among each other close and thereby enfold the form of organization

And these are the notes and the bibliography I added:


Information: The significant aspect is that the actual message is one selected  from a set of possible messages. (Claude E. Shannon)

Form: Knowledge Let a state distinguished by the distinction be marked with a mark ⎤ of distinction. Let the state be known by the mark. Call the state the marked state. Form Call the space cloven by any distinction, together with the entire content of the space, the form of the distinction. Call the form of the first distinction the form. Name Let there be a form distinct from the form. Let any mark of distinction be copied out of the form into such another form. Call any such copy of the mark a token of the mark. Let any token of the mark be called as a name of the marked state. Let the name indicate the state. Arrangement Call the form of a number of tokens considered with regard to one another (that is to say, considered in the same form) an arrangement. Expression Call any arrangement intended as an indication an expression. (G. Spencer-Brown)

Calculus: Arithmetic is about constants, algebra is about variables. In reentrant forms we shall call a partial destruction of the distinctive properties of constants a subversion. (G. Spencer-Brown)

Observer: #1 Anything said is said by an observer. (Humberto R. Maturana)

#2 Anything said is said to an observer. (Heinz von Foerster)

Communication: A formalism necessary and sufficient for a theory of communication must not contain primary symbols representing communicabilia (e.g., symbols, words, messages, etc.).

This is so, for if a ‘theory’ of communication were to contain primary communicabilia, it would not be a theory but a technology of communication, taking communication for granted.

The nervous activity of one organism cannot be shared by another organism.

This suggests that indeed nothing is (can be) ‘communicated’.

Communication is an observer’s interpretation of the interaction between two organisms. (Heinz von Foerster)

Organization: Organization is communication about work. (Niklas Luhmann)

Management: Mindful management consists in complicating attention inside a learning organization. (Karl E. Weick/Kathleen M. Sutcliffe)

Consulting: (…) to experience the world clearly, we must abandon existence to truth, truth to indication, indication to form, and form to void (…). (G. Spencer-Brown, Laws of Form)


Form: G. Spencer-Brown, Gesetze der Form. Dt. Lübeck: Bohmeier, 1997; Tatjana Schönwälder, Katrin Wille und Thomas Hölscher,  George Spencer Brown: Eine Einführung in die “Laws of Form”. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozial-wissenschaften, 2004

Communication: Claude E. Shannon, A Mathematical Theory of Communication. Bell System Technical Journal 27 (July und October 1948), 379-423 und 623-656; und Heinz von Foerster, Notes on an Epistemology for Living Things, in: ders., Understanding Understanding: Essays on Cybernetics and Cognition. New York: Springer, 2003, S. 247-259

Product: Peter Heintel, Motivforschung und Forschungsorganisation – ein neuer integrativer Ansatz. In: Heinz Fischer (Hrsg.), Forschungspolitik für die 90er Jahre. Wien: Springer, 1985, S. 373-414

Procedure: Erich Gutenberg, Grundlagen der Betriebswirtschaftslehre, Bd 1: Die Produktion [1951]. 24. Aufl. Berlin: Springer, 1983

Organization: James G. March und Herbert A. Simon, Organizations [1958]. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1993

Network: Harrison C. White, Identity and Control: A Structural Theory of Action. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1992

Society: Niklas Luhmann, Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1997

Individual: Jean Paul, Vorschule der Ästhetik [1804]. Hamburg: Meiner, 1990

World: Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity. New York: Dutton, 1979

Classically/Post-Classically: Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics. Lakeville, Conn.: Institute of General Semantics, 1933; Tom Burns und George M. Stalker, The Management of Innovation. London: Tavistock, 1961

Task/Uncertainty: Niklas Luhmann, Organisation und Entscheidung. Opladen: Westdeutscher Verl., 2000

Work/Decision: Niklas Luhmann, Funktion und Folgen formaler Organisation [1964]. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot. 1994

Administration/Management: Dirk Baecker, Organisation und Management: Aufsätze. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2003

Strategy/Leadership: Chester I. Barnard, The Nature of Leadership. In: ders., Organization and Management. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1948, S. 80-110

Authority/Organizational Culture: Thomas J. Peters, Robert H. Waterman, In Search of Excellence. New York: Harper & Row, 1982

Philosophy/Consulting: François Jullien, Über die Wirksamkeit. Dt. Berlin: Merve, 1999

Model: Dirk Baecker, The Form of the Firm, in: Organization 13 (2006) 109-142; ders., Welchen Unterschied macht das Management? in: ders., Organisation und Störung: Aufsätze, Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2011, S. 26-54; ders., Die Form des Unternehmens. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1993

From → Catjects, Form, Organizing

  1. Arnd Kulow permalink

    I like to comment on your comments:

    I am feeling uneasy with the definition of information in the sense of Shannon. I cling to Batesons famous formular as “difference which makes a difference.” As a matter of fact I believe the Shannon model of communication does not help very much for non trivial living systems. Taken the concept of autopoiesis serious, we perhaps have to reframe communication within a non-cognitive more limbic orientated approach. Neurobiology tells us, that the limbic system guides and frames the cognitive, because it is quicker and more powerful. Knowing that, can we really uphold the concept of a “selection of a message” by the “recipient”? For me the answer is no and so I totally agree with the sentence “nothing can be communicated”.

    The “noisy sender” (verbally and nonverbally i.e. digital and analogue) only stimulates the autonomous construction (on all levels of the central nervous system) of reality of the recipient. The question therefore is, what kind of “noise” increases the chances of a work related (i.e.organisational) reality construction of the recipients?

    From clinical hypnotherapy we know how strong non conscious processes can be influenced by suggestions. Further studies e.g. from Gunther Schmidt show, that suggestions and trance are daily and normal comunicational phenomena. Schmidt therefore stresses the importance of “pictures” and “movements”, because the limbic system is in a pre-language state, only able to process pictures.

    To turn back to the subject, I ask me the following: could it be, that the six re-entry-crosses in the model are a kind of “noise” guiding pictures/patterns? Which by guiding the “noise-production” try to induce the construction of a organisational reality in the recipients also on a limbic level?

    • I am completely with you concerning fine distinctions between different systems references actually doing any kind of selection. I would like to envision mind, body, culture, let alone more differentiated subsystems as different ‘observers’ living in their own ecology together with others. But this is precisely why I would like to retain Shannon’s definition of information together with Bateson’s wording of it.

      In my book Form und Formen der Kommunikation I proposed to go with Shannon but to drop his assumption of sets of possible messages being technically and exogeneously given. I we drop that then Bateson’s wording becomes a starting point for a look at messages working their difference within differences maintained by observers of different kind, all of them once again living in their ecology, which now, however, is an ecology as much to be explored as to be defined and changed.

      And, yes, re-entry-levels may present noise providers as they re-symmetrize the asymmetry presented by the respective distinctions.

      I am not exactly sure about what to say about any limbic system. I am perfectly happy to be able to watch bodies, emotions, intellects, all of them, as I would like to say, ‘constructed’ (as far as their plasticity allows for that) by, and constructing, the social demands they are presented with.

  2. execz permalink

    Reblogged this on now projects.

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