Formal modelling of Peter Senges Fifth Discipline

An essay in JASSS attempts to apply formal modelling techniques to Peter Senges concept of the “Fifth discipline”. As if by synchronicity, George Por has a blog entry citing Senge and discussing the relationship between collective intelligence and modelling.

Lourival Paulino da Silvas essay, A Formal Model for the Fifth Discipline, in Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation vol. 8, no. 3, records an attempt to model Peter Senges system using a Multi Agent System specified in Z (“a state-based formal language that uses predicate logic, set theory and ordinary discrete mathematics in its notation.”). The effect of using a rigorous apporach can be to force precise definitions and expose assumptions.

This process seems to be what George Por is advocating when he says: “The more complexity we can open our thinking to, the more accurate those models can become, and vice versa, in an interlocking, positive feedback loop between better models and higher capacity to absorb complexity.”

Dr da Silva finds that the Fifth Discipline presupposes “that agents must be honest, cooperative, tenacious, and that trust is fundamental in the agents interactions.” It also finds that the large “learning organisation” must be broken down into teams (with an upper limit on size) and that these teams must remain constant – ie only limited staff turnover.

My experience of corporate would-be learning organisations is that this last requirement is increasingly failing, as staff turnover increases for economic reasons. Short-term contracts, rather than jobs for life, are more cost effective in the short run, but do they sabotage organisational learning? And the agency problem well known to students of corporate finance is, effectively, the difference between the corporate objectives and the honesty, cooperativeness, and shared vision of the agents within the corporation. Dr Da Silvas argument reinforces my own experience that organisations may pay lip service to organisational learning but they dont usually embody it completely, however much they may officially believe that they do.

Professor Por says:

“Complex thoughts are comprised of simpler ones that can be held and spoken only sequentially, one by one. When they are new, not coming from well-travelled neural pathways, simply watching them can nourish them.

Seeking to relate with their surrounding ecosystem of mental models, the new thoughts call for representation, for being expressed in forms comparable with what precedes and surrounds them. It is a race between the speed with which new thoughts and mental models emerge, on one hand, and can be recorded, accessed, compared and studied, on the other hand. Will the 21st century see the emergence of a new kind of “recording industry” ?”

Id say, yes, it is seeing one such recording industry already, and its called simulation. Professor Por might like to speculate on what would happen if different simulations could be linked together in the way that, say, military simulations can be distributed, so that a tank driver in Norfolk VA can already “fight” with an attack helicopter pilot in Florida? (Perhaps some version of the World Game, played on a distributed basis between different disciplines and capitals?)

Both Dr da Silva and Professor Por have academic/ business backgrounds and exist in that no-mans-land where academics with big ideas try to fire the enthusiasm of businessmen with big wallets (and find that the reason the wallets are so big is that they dont open very often). I dont know if they know each other but perhaps they should.

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