Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Metaphor on the Move--Organization as Brain

The reason that I call this a metaphor on the move is that our knowledge of what the brain is and how it works is increasing exponentially. Humans have long known that the brain is an information processing center. We have tried to understand the way the brain learns for nearly as long. Recently, however, we have been able to use increasingly powerful equipment (like MRIs and such) to develop a much more sophisticated sense of how the brain actually works. The brain metaphor has challenged our understanding of organizations as it has developed. From information processing, to learning, to holographic design and beyond the metaphor continues to challenge how we see organizations.

26 comments:

jennad said...

The metaphors are getting more difficult for me to grasp onto. This is probably because it's all new information that we are learning now. I'm a little confused by the holograph comparison to the brain. I guess it would help if I knew a little bit more about holographs, but this is the first that I think I've heard of them. I think that I get the connection to the brain in that the whole can be included in all the parts...where each and every part represents the whole. I think an example of this might be the different states in the United States...they can all be just individual states...but they can also represent the whole United States...I'm not sure if that fits...I do see how the holographic idea underplays the idea of the brain though...in that it doesn't incorporate system specialization...that each system itself is unique and performs some specialized function.

BrookeM said...

When I first read this chapter I had trouble grasping the entire concept of organizations as brains, but after the first class discussion I felt like I had a better grasp on the material. Breaking down the metaphor into three sections helped me to see how an organization could be an actual brain. The three parts of brain function that are most like organizations that make the most sense to me are the information processing (the earliest studied), learning (how human beings learn things and how organizations can learn things), and the holographic design (complexity of the brain, the shifting of function). Once we broke it down I felt more comfortable and I was able to apply this information to an organization.

mbb724 said...

I like what Rodrick said about how organizations are like brains in that as time passes, we learn more and more about brains and thus our understandings of brains change. I think this aligns with organizations in that as time passes we understand organizations on different levels and are constantly learning new things. I think the whole basis of what we are doing in class - studied metaphors used to describe organizations - is to understand that our understanding of organizations are constantly changing and there are always other ways of looking at it.

mtn4105 said...

This is a hard concept for anyone to truely grasp. New aspects are discovered everyday about the brain which makes this a hard metaphor. An individual needs to be knowledgable about the brain to truely make this metaphor work. Its easy to make statements about how an organization is like a brain at a simple level, but harder one looks the more confusing it actually becomes to make this connection. With time this will be an easier metaphor for people to understand.

LizC said...

Like many others, the organization as brain metaphor is a lot harder for me to understand than the past metaphors that we have been working on. Much of what I read did not make a lot of sense to me. What did make sense to me was that an organization, much like the brain is an information processing center. This made much more sense after the case study that we read last Wednesday on Product X. Seeing that particular organization fail as an information processing center simply because information was not being transmitted effectively, made me see how an organization could be considered an information processing center if it is done correctly. In that case, important information was not getting to who it needed to get to and the organization as a whole suffered. This activity, as well as linking direct sentences from the case to direct sentences from the chapter to help explain the metaphor made things a little clearer for me. Hopefully as we talk about it more in class today, it will make even more sense. I also thought it was really interesting about how Rodrick explained the metaphor as one on the move because we are learning more about the brain everyday.

kelsey k said...

This metaphor of an organization being like a brain is a very difficult concept to grasp. I felt that I understood what the book was discussing much better after we had our class discussion of it, but looking at such a complex organism makes the metaphor that much more complex as well. Just the fact that the brain is something we are still researching and still haven't reached our limits of understanding says something in itself. The overall concept is an interesting idea and way to view organizations, but there are so many questions left unanswered about the brain and the metaphor itself. I think the holograph concept was a good way to put it into perspective.

jessie S said...

Since our knowledge of the brain is always evolving it seems fitting to compare this to an organization. This metaphor was harder for me to grasp because of its complexity, but the principles from the holographic design made the most sense. For example, the corporate DNA of a company very important because it is the basis for setting goals and vision. In my summer internship, everyone knows what the goals are of the company and each individual. I think this really helps the continued development of an organization because everyone is on the same page. I also liked the emphasize on the environment in this approach because businesses that are static with no variety will not keep up. This relates to the brain because the chemical reactions are always in motion.

Teri said...

Like many of the people who have already posted, I had a hard time grasping this metaphor at first read. However, after reading in more depth and having two class periods to discuss the information, I feel that I have a better understaing of just how applicable it really is. In reading and talking I tried to examine the place that I work at in terms of this metaphor. I was able to come up with a few connections between the brain and Maurices. However, because I do not know a ton of information about the workings of the organization as a whole, I found these connections within our individual store in the mall. I think that the portion of the chapter that we began to discuss today of holographic design is very well-suited to looking at the Maurices team. The store works hard to make sure that all employees know as much as they possibly can about the workings of the store and are therefore equipped with all the knowledge we need in virtually every situation. For example, although there are people who hold the titles of managers and therefore take care of much of the "paper-worky" things that much happen, we have all been shown how to complete these activities as well so that we could all take care of it if that was ever needed. I think that this aligns with the holograph model because we are all equipped with a complete knowledge base instead of just knowing our specific roles.

JGrab said...

I'm glad I'm not alone on the idea that these concepts were a bit more challenging than the previous ones. I think that today's class helped me a lot in trying to understand some of the finer points, but there is still a large amount I haven't gotten a good grasp on yet. I do think that this metaphor has a lot of unexplored potential however. Because we do not yet know everything about the brain I find it a little fascinating to think about how this metaphor could change and adapt as we learn more about ourselves. I also felt that this metaphor might be a good base for many future ideas because it seems that new technology fits very well into it and as we saw today with Al Gore, can really help illistrate some finer points.

Liz E. said...

The case study "Product X" that was discussed in class helped me to better understand the metaphor, organizations as brains. By looking at how the company in the case should become more brain-like I was able to see the comparisons of an organization to a brain. The product X company could probably improve the most if they included double-loop learning into the organization. Top management needs to explain and re-assure middle and lower management to sometimes question whether the companies operating norms are correct in different situations. As we know from most of the metaphors we have looked at, the organizational environment is always changing. Managers need to incorporate this double-loop learning in order to challenge and question the norms, because the norms may need to change with the environment or situation. It is interesting to realize that as more information becomes available about the brain we are going to see more comparisons to organizations. This ever changing metaphor proves to challenge our views of organizations and just like the brain, new and relevant information will always be discovered about organizational communication.

dkieck said...

Before todays discussion I thought the topic of a organization as a brain was pretty tough. Our conversation cleared some things up today with some good topics such as the single and double loop as well as solving the problem from the product x case. While sitting in class I was thinking to myself how many times I have possibly done the single loop and not question different things at my workplace because I did not wwant to make anybody mad or go against them. The double loop was also pretty interesting because sometimes you need to question authority or others when the "norm" just isn't going to cut it.
Overall I thought the classroom discussion was very interesting today. Learning about the single and double loop was cool becuase it is something that happens everyday.

amandamc said...

I like the metaphor of organizations as a brain because I can understand how it makes a lot of sense. It was harder for me to understand the material before we went through the text and actually picked out sentences that matched with the case study of Product X. I really think that the concepts we studied in this chapter are very realistic and can apply to real life organizations. I especially liked the holograph comparison, because it shows that when certain parts of the brain (or the organization) fail, the rest of the brain/organization picks up the pieces and makes sure that things are still running smoothly as usual.

heathstip said...

Not to be repetitive to previous posts- but I also found the concept of organizations as brains a bit difficult at first. Now however, when we take a closer look at the three parts of the chapter, and begin applying them to real situations...it is all making a bit more sense. One of the things that stood out to me was organizations as holographic brains. At my current job, we have recently been experiencing a great deal of employee turnover. Many of our veteran, strong employees are picking up and leaving the company, many with the mindset of "this company will not survive without me." However, I beg to differ. After reading this chapter, I realize that our company will in fact survive without these employees - even though we are going through a sort of "plane crash" - we will pool our knowledge and reconstruct the functions performed by those people who "perished." Just like a brain works to locate a problem and recover. I guess it makes a little more sense now.

Molly S said...

When we first started working on this chapter we were trying to find an exact sentence from Product X to go along with an exact concept from the text. At first I found this exercize was king of difficult to do, but during our discussion today I thought it was much eaiser to find parts from the Product X situation to pair up with the book. Once you understand exactly what part of the book you think is important then its much eaiser to find which part of the Product X will go along with it. When we discuss and talk about what we are doing as a class, its much eaiser to grasp the concept of these metaphors and then think about how they are applied to your own life. This chapter was long and after class today I think it makes more sence to see how an organization can fuction like a brain.

courtneyb said...

This chapter was definitely harder to understand than the last two. . I really don't understand where the hologram videos we saw today fit in with the brain, but I guess I can kinda see where it fits in. Our discussion about the product x case was really helpful in sorting through the information in the chapter. This picking apart of the chapter also helped me apply the brain metaphor to an everyday workplace situation. It was also interesting to discuss new technology for a little bit today and see YouTube videos. We should watch more of those.

lsenz said...

I feel like understanding the brain as an org metaphor was challenging at first. Once we applied it to Product X I was definitely feeling more confident though. I think the one thing that I understood best was the "Creating Learning Organizations." This was easy to apply to an organization. It made sense that a double loop would obviously be the ideal org. It's easy to understand why it is important to support and embrace change. Problems and crisis will always arise so if you can accept it and grow from it, you be a stronger organization in the end.

johnd said...

It was truly harder to grasp onto while reading the text. I think that out class discussions on the brain metaphor have helped greatly in my understanding of how the brain acts as a metaphor for an organization. For example, just going through today and picking out the different ways that the brain metaphor could/couldn't be applied to the Product X helped a lot. I really thought that it was neat how the theory in the book showed one thing and the actual scenario in the Product X example showed the theory being played out. There is a lot of complexity to the brain, so I think that we could probably analyze this for years and still be coming up with ways that this metaphor works. I think that we got a good overview, and I feel comfortable with the metaphor now.

TracyMachtan said...

The attendance question today had something to do with flexible organizations. I see a flexible organization as one that is good at scanning its environment and adapting to survive. The answer I wrote for attendance was "yahoo."

However, the more I thought about it, other organizations came to mind. One organization I view as very flexible is facebook. I remember the night I found out about facebook. One of my friends called me up and told me I had to get a facebook account, so I did. Now I'm addicted! Facebook does an excellent job of keeping up with and surpassing the competition - mainly, Myspace.com. I forgot who said it, but one day in class someone said "Myspace is the poorman's facebook." I agree!

Facebook is an organization that does a good job of operating like a brain. More particularly, facebook.com is a learning organization. This organization is capable of scanning environmental needs and demands, and finding a way to meet them. For example, facebook has recently come out with several "applications" for users. On the other hand, and this is just my personal opinion, Myspace.com has done a poor job of keeping up. I have a myspace account, but never check it as it just feels like a disorganized mess to me. Another way in which facebook.com acts like a learning organization is in feedback. Negative feedback occurs when the system strays too far from the norm and needs to return. Facebook is good about responding to customer complaints (which occur when they are unsatisfied - the system isn't stable) by sending out announcements or just making changes.

Am I on the right track????

dano said...

I agree that the metaphor about the brain was more clearly defined when Rodrick talked about how just now after thousands of years of science we are just scratching the surface about what we actually know about it. Just like organizations change we become more accustomed to what they are all about. Yet just like the brain, this metaphor is hard to just take at face value. I think as we learn more about how the metaphors come about, we will begin to see the connection a little more clearly.

Nick T said...

I actually got a hold of some of this material pretty easily. I've been learning a lot about how the brain works, or more accurately how we think the brain works, in my society and drugs class. And as we understand it, certain places in the brain are responsible for certain functions. However, if sections of the brain are removed other sections make up for the lost functionality. This makes sense in the metaphor in that a more mechanistic organization would have trouble if problems would arise or if there were an increased workload in a section of the organization whereas a brain-like organization would more easily cope with the difficulties.

The organization I worked for this summer was much more like a brain than the other metaphors we have looked at. While there were bureaucratic divisions of responsibilities, many times individuals would find that they have fewer responsibilities and would help an entirely different part of the organization with their workload.

I found the learning to learn section sort of difficult to grasp as a concept even though I get the specific example of learning to learn in the Product X case study. The holograph section also is proving to be difficult.

Sorry for the late post, I totally spaced yesterday after class and I was having trouble logging into blogger until now.

colep said...

Wow.......had to change my password again.....aparently I am an idiot!

I love this chapter....it took me forever to get this blog posted but it's gettn there.....

The crayons and the suckers was a great idea and very helpful in applying concepts....plus it got our butts out of our chairs.......

The videos were cool too! a nice change of pace

cstmajor08 said...

I feel this metaphor may be ahead of the times. The holositic approach comes off as a futuristic, Big Brother type of metaphor for organizations. I think this metaphor is right on key for what our organizations will look like and how they will opperate years from now. I think because it is ahead of the times that it is so difficult to grasp right now; parts of the metaphor are there but parts aren't, making it vague and ambiguous. This will be exciting to watch over the years.

MelissaF said...

Even after discussing this chapter in class and reading the chapter, I am having the hardest time making the connection between organizations and brains. I didn't quite catch the lyrics of the "Mandlebrot Set" though and maybe they would help clarify things for me. I feel this concept is ahead of its time. When you have someone else it explain it out loud it definitely helps you grasp the concept.

KimB said...

I can definitely see the text getting more complicated, this was one of those chapters where I had to read it a few times, and then I still didn't quite follow all of it. The exercise with Product X really helped... not so much us doing it, I found a couple obvious answers, but listening to others sharing in class really opened up new ways of thinking about this chapter. I like the fact that we are able to read and understand a background, but then look at a potential real life situation and look for correlations. I still don't quite understand the Hollogram part, but hopefully we will be able to expand on that in class. Once we talk about these things in class, it is getting more interesting to see the same thing through many different metaphors. Some obviously work better than others, but we talked about whole new ideas this week when refering to the brain and how it is like an organization.

jen c said...

This chapter was more complex than the last few. The holograph section was a little 'out there' and was difficult to understand, but I could appreciate the example of Gore in his presentation. The holograph that he used to appear was much different than how our brain works, yet so similar. Focusing on the brain and an organization being an information p[rocessing center was the easiest part to understand. Both, the brain and an organization, process information in their own, complicated, structured ways. Class discussion did help with a better understanding of this chapter, but some concepts were much to abstract for me to fully understand and relate to.

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