Martin’s Musings: Emergence

eccentric interests!


Darwin, DNA, Chaos and Meaning

This and other thoughts from Martin Hall

We hear about values in values in many contexts – and we will go into some historical contexts in the next chapter. However, we hear about values: family values, organizational values, societal values, religious, moral values, etc.. But many times they are hard to understand because the context is not understood. Values are personal and but they also need to be accessible. They need to be meaningful. The challenge is create meaning for the individual while also providing meaning for others to understand and interact.

The closer that we can come to discussing personal values in a universal context the more effective it can be. Looking at values from the perspective of the pursuit of science can be effective at looking at values in a more universal, more accessible context. The more we can agree on what something means (even if we disagree on its importance) the better possibility that we will have better communication, better relationships and more meaningful organizations.

If we begin to understand values, and at least agree on the definitions of values, then we can measure. Measure values! Can you really do that! Well, in the proper context you can. We will go more into the idea of measurement later, but the idea of identifying something and being able to see if it changes is very important in the pursuit of science. While there are some areas such as axiology (Hartman, etc.) which are trying to turn values into a science, we are going to explore the strong contexts in a more metaphorical context. As you will see these contexts are very powerful in creating a language for the effectiveness of values in organizations.

While we will talk about Aristotle and others in a historical context later, it can be good in setting a context of how a Darwinian view of values is important to getting the proper context of how values play an ongoing and changing role in our lives and the organizations within which we work and interact. Aristotle may have had the first attempt to vocalize values concepts. He saw leaders as needing about half a dozen attributes for excellence. In many ways he was one of the first leadership development mentors. He was an advisor for Alexander the Great. His context was leadership development, but there were obviously other things that drove people’s decisions at that time, such as simple survival. In the intervening years, there have been more values as the way in which we have interacted with the world has become more complex.

Values have evolved in a manner that might be consistent with Darwinian concepts of evolution. Think of the Cave man – personal survival, family, relationships, power, etc. Moves to hunter/gatherer – created need for stronger relationships. Communities came together to deal with the increasing need for specialization so that duties did not have to be duplicated and more could be provided….this is where the valuing process starts to get more diverse. As groups come together to achieve common but diverse objectives there is more needs or aspirations involved.

Aristotle voiced some of these. Likely there are things that were valued historically, that are not valued now. Or they have evolved into something that is more significant to our time. But as religion, philosophy, science, politics, exploration, economics all grew so did those things that people would value or aspire to.

We have evolved from the cave man to the six to twelve values of Aristotle’s day to what be considered a number well over 100 (we will cover this idea later). Not only the did the development of values “frameworks” develop, but there is process of evolution and survival of the fittest that comes out of how the individual and organization grow and maintain themselves.
Let’s look at Darwin for a moment. Before Charles Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species (1859), he took a trip on The Beagle. It was here that he discovered many things that lead to his ideas and concepts such as the process of natural selection. In the Galápagos Islands, he found that similar creatures on different islands had developed differently apparently based on different environments even though they were only miles apart.

Values both for the individual and for the organization react the same way. We may be born into similar environments but a combination of our genetics and our environment shapes in very specific ways. We will be very much like those around us but we will also have things that drive us that are unique. We all have our own unique configuration. We are attracted to living and working with people with similar likes, dislikes and gifts. However, we are still unique and have our own contributions.

Organizational culture develops in the same way. Organizations are a lot like self-regenerating evolutionary organisms that evolve to meet new challenges or die off. If they have the requisite variety (Ashby) or diversity while maintaining a core they will continue to evolve and continue to be successful.

Organizations may start from the same environment such as the same marketplace but the internal code is different. There are different people in the different organizations. And while people from different organizations may come together for similar reasons, they are all a little different. It is dependent on this code or configuration that defines the culture. The minimal values that are in common give the basis for the culture, and it is the diversity and the clarity of purpose that give the organization capability for success. They still need to have good products and be competitive, but to do this they must evolve.


January 22, 2002 - Posted by | Random Thoughts

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