Organizations: Rational, Natural and Open Systems

This note is a collection of the quotations Richard W. Scott had used in beginning the various chapter in his book Organisations: Rational, Natural and Open Systems. (2003) The quotations are often concise and succintly summarizes the essence of each chapter, giving the reader a rough but good idea of what organizational studies is about.

The recurrent problem in sociology is to conceive of corporate organization, and to study it, in ways that do not anthropomorphize it and do not reduce it to the behavior of individuals or of human aggregates.

Chapter 1: The Subject is Organizations
Swanson, Guy E. (1976) “The Task of Sociology”, Science, 192: 665-667.

A well-designed machine is an instance of total organization, that is, a series of interrelated means contrived to achieve a single end. The machine consists always of particular parts that have no meaning and no function separate from the organized entity to which they contribute. A machine consists of a coherent bringing together of all parts toward the highest possible efficiency of the functioning whole, or interrelationships marshalled wholly toward a given result. In the ideal machine, there can be no extraneous part, no extraneous movement; all is set, part for part, motion for motion, toward the functioning of the whole. The machine is, then, a perfect instance of total rationalization of a field of action and of total organization. This is perhaps even more quickly evident in that larger machine, the assembly line.

Chapter 2: Organizations as Rational Systems
Ward, John W. (1964) “The Ideal of Individualism and the Reality of Organization,” in The Business Establishment, 37-76, ed. Earl F. Cheit.

To administer a social organization according to purely technical criteria of rationality is irrational because it ignores the nonrational aspects of social conduct.

Chapter 3: Organizations as Natural Systems
Blau, Peter M. (1956)

That a system is open means, not simply that it engages in interchanges with the environment, but that this interchange is an essential factor underlying the system’s validity.

Chapter 4: Organizations as Open Systems
Buckley, Walter (1967)

Political revolutions aim to change political institutions in ways that those institutions themselves prohibit. Their success therefore necessitates the partial relinquishment of one set of institutions in favor of another. Like the choice between competing political institutions, that between competing paradigms proves to be a choice between incompatible modes of community life. Because it has that character, the choice is not and cannot be determined merely by the evaluative procedures characteristic of normal science, for these depend in part upon a particular paradigm, and that paradigm is at issue. When paradigms enter, as they must into a debate about paradigm choice, their role is necessarily circular. Each group uses its own paradigm to argue in that paradigm’s defense.

Chapter 5: Combining the Perspectives
Kuhn, Thomas S. (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

For a given system, the environment is the set of all objects a change in whose attributes affect the system and also those objects whose attributes are changed by the behavior of the system.

The statement above invites the natural question of when an object belongs to a system and when it belongs to the environment, for if an object reacts with a system in the way described above should it not be considered a part of the system? The answer is by no means definite. In a sense, a system together with its environment makes up the universe of all things of interest in a given context. Subdivision of this universe into two sets, system and environment, can be done in many ways which are in fact quite arbitrary. Ultimately it depends on the intentions of the one who is studying the particular universe as to which of the possible configurations of objects is to be taken as the system.

Chapter 6: Conceptions of Environment
Hall, A. D.; Fagen R. E. (1956) “Definition of System,” General Systems: The Yearbook of the Society for the Advancement of General Systems Theory, vol. 1, 18-28.

Questions about the diversity of organizations in society might seem to have only academic interest. In fact, these issues bear directly on important social issues. Perhaps, the most important is the capacity of society to respond to uncertain future changes. Organizational diversity within any realm of activity, such as medical care, microelectronics production, or scientific research, constitutes a repository of alternative solutions to the problem of producing sets of collective outcomes. These solutions are embedded in organizational structures and strategies…

A stock of alternative forms has value for a society whenever the future is uncertain. A society that relies on a few organizational forms may thrive for a time; but once the environment changes, such a society faces serious problems until existing organizations are reshaped or new organizational forms are created.

Chapter 7: Creating Organizations
Hannan, Michael T.; Freeman, John (1989) Organizational Ecology.

The organizational world bubbles and seethes. Observed for a lengthy interval, the configuration of organizations within it changes like the pattern of a kaleidoscope. Organizations expand, contract, break up, fuse. Some surfaces become think and opaque, reducing exchanges between their interior contents and the external environment, while others etherealize and permit heavier traffic in one or both directions. Shapes are altered. Some processes are depressed, some intensified. Levels of activity rise and fall. Organizations disintegrate and vanish as others form in droves, and the birth and death rates vary over time and space. Nothing stays constant.

Chapter 8: Boundary Setting and Boundary Spanning
Kaufman, Herbert (1975) “The Natural History of Human Organizations,” Administration and Society, 7: 131-49.

Every organized human activity – from the making of pots to the placing of a man on the moon – gives rise to two fundamental and opposing requirements: the division of labor into various tasks to be performed, and the coordination of these tasks to accomplish the activity. The structure of an organization can be defined simply as the sum total of the ways in which it divides its labor into distinct tasks and then achieves coordination among them.

Chapter 9: Sources of Structural Complexity – The Technical Core
Mintzberg, Henry (1979) The Structure of Organizations.

The device by which an organism maintains itself stationary at a fairly high level of orderliness… really consists in continually sucking orderliness from its environment.

Chapter 10: Sources of Structural Complexity – The Peripheral Components
Schrodiner, Erwin (1945) What is Life?

Group decision making extends deeply into the business enterprise. Effective participation is not closely related to rank in the formal hierarchy of the organization. This takes an effort of mind to grasp. Everyone is influenced by the stereotyped organization chart of the business enterprise… Power is assumed to pass down from the pinnacle.Those at the top give orders; those below relay them on or respond.

This happens, but only in very simple organizations – the peacetime drill of the National Guard or a troop of Boy Scouts moving out on Saturday maneuvers. Elsewhere the decision will require information. If this knowledge is highly particular to themselves then their power becomes very great.

Chapter 11: Goals, Power, and Control
Galbraith, John K. (1967) The New Industrial State.

Bureaucracy has been and is a power instrument of the first order… The individual bureaucrat cannot squirm out of the apparatus in which he is harnessed… In the great majority of cases, he is only a single cog in an ever-moving mechanism which prescribes to him an essentially fixed route of march.

The ruled, for their part, cannot dispense with or replace the bureaucratic apparatus of authority once it exists. For this bureaucracy rests upon expert training, a functional specialization of work, and an attitude set for habitual and virtuoso-like mastery of single, yet methodically integrated functions… This holds for public administration as well as for private economic management. More and more the material fate of the masses depend upon the steady and correct functioning of the increasingly bureaucratic organizations of private capitalism. The idea of eliminating these organizations becomes more and more utopian.

Chapter 12: Organizational Pathologies
Weber, Max. (1947 trans.) The Theory of Social and Economic Organizations, ed. A. H. Henderson and Talcott Parsons.

There is no such thing as “good organization” in any absolute sense. Always it is relative; and an organization that is good in one context or under one condition may be bad under another.

Chapter 13: Organizational Effectiveness
Ashby, W. Ross (1968) “Principles of the Self-Organizing System,” in Modern Systems Research for the Behavioural Scientist, 108-118.

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