Heuristics: Organisational Entropy 002

A failure to successfully engage with the implicit (and arguably inevitable) uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity generated by organisational systems has become a pressing concern and Global elephant-in-the-room of unacknowledged heuristic requirements. Bureaucracy and administrative hierarchy seem at first glance peculiarly well-positioned to address these kinds of problems, existing as they do within the belly of the beast of (their own common) organisational inefficiencies, but these organisational systems are also peculiarly poorly-equipped to negotiate the entropy that their own assumptions, activity and processes generate.

What is uniquely interesting in an analysis of bureaucracy and administrative hierarchy is that beyond the unrecyclable or irreversibly lost entropy endemic to all ordered processes and systems, most such organisations develop practices and methods of not so much minimising organisational entropy as of purposefully generating, harnessing or exploiting it. Beyond an indeterminate variable threshhold of scale and complexity, bureaucracies and administrative hierarchies tend to cultivate inefficiencies in very specific ways, often unconscious or subliminal but always (in as far as is admissible under any organisational rendering of the law of diminishing returns) in ways useful to that organisation.

The question as to what is “useful” to any specific organisational system inevitably arises at this point. This is where it becomes important to differentiate and define the dual function of most (human) organisational systems. The overt reason for the existence of any contemporary organisational system is to solve some problem: to provide a service, to create a product, or to provide some combination of product and service, even to provide a second-order abstraction of managing the process of providing a service or creating a product, even of the management of management (and so on) in an endless Matryoshka-doll of entangled nesting of services and products.

The other purpose or reason for the continued existence of an organisation is that of naked self-interest and uncompromising self-propagation. Being that any organisational system is composed of the enlightened self-interests of those various human beings that populate it, it is in (at least) one sense inevitable that such a system should come to reflect or reflexively embody the selfish existential needs and wants of those people inhabiting its logical, symbolic and procedural spaces. There is also, in extension of this, the consideration that many complex emergent natural phenomena (of which human organisations are a logical sub-set) possess developmental biases towards evolutionary selection mechanisms favouring systemic continuity.

Individuals, systems and organisations which are successful in negotiating and navigating a complex labyrinth of environmental constraints and opportunities tend to be those that successfully support and renew those structures and processes with which they engage. The utility or “use” of any systemic sub-component is definable by the extent to which it supports that systemic context from which it emerges and within which it participates. The production of purposeful organisational entropy is in this sense a process where the continued existence of any particular organisational system becomes secured through the generation of problem-sets and descriptions that are only intelligible and resolvable from within the conceptual lexicon, vocabulary or methodological framework generated by that organisation itself. This is also an autonomous feature of complex adaptive systems which, in seeking continuity and a homeostatic equilibrium of process and information or energy exchanges with an environment, find that continuous imperfection is better than closed and resolved problems could ever be. While it is undoubtable that intelligent individuals within these organisations might glimpse the partial truths and ironies of such entropic self-propagation, it is also clear that as a matter of applied intellect they should very quickly become aware of their own vested interest in organisational continuity and the overt and covert methods by which it is achieved.

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