Saturday, August 1, 2020

486. Discovery and Yin/Yang

Previously, I presented a ‘cycle of discovery’: a cyclical process of the development of intelligence and cognition. Here, the question is whether that cycle is on the level of the individual, or on the level of the organisation, or both. Originally, it was a model for the individual development of inyelligence inspired by the work of the developmental psychologist Jean Piaget The arguments and evidence are discussed in Flavell (1963). The reasoning is largely qualitative, as it usually is in a process theory, because process is difficult to measure. It was mainly oriented at the development of intelligence in children, in different stages.

I developed and applied it on the level of the organisation. Here again, the evidence was casuistic, concerning the internationalisation of business firms. A central feature of the process is ‘generalisation’, which, in evolutionary terms, serves to subject a given idea, practice or product to a new ‘selection environment’, where it is subjected to unfamiliar challenges to its survival. For a firm, this can be export to a new market, with new demands and competitors. For science, it can be a new field of application. This forces adaptations to the product. First, as the easiest change, this can be a modification of the composition of familiar elements, in ‘assimilation’. When that does not work, one adopts elements from local practices that succeed where one’s own  does not, in what is called ‘reciprocation’, in hybrids of familiar and new elements. This often yields inefficiencies, complications, duplications and bottlenecks or inconsistencies that need to be circumvented in ‘workarounds’ which crea tan incentive for a new structure of the whole, in ‘accommodation’. This stage gives the opportunity to find out where the ‘real strength’ of new and old elements and design prrinciples lies, and hints of in what direction one might do things differently. This then leads to trials with new designs that may yield something more radically ‘architecturally’ new. In the beginning that is still hesitant and tentative, with the trial of alternative forms, to settle in a new ‘dominant design’. Then we are back at the beginning of the cycle.

On both the individual and the organisational level, learning is here seen as an alternation of ‘assimilation’, absorbtion of perceptions in existing mind frames, and in the process, when that fails, ‘accommodation’ of the framework. This is consistent with the idea, of Thomas Kuhn in the philosophy of science, and the economic principle, that one does not surrender something until the weight of anomalies becomes ‘excessive’. It is also consistent with the principle of ‘allopatric speciation’ in evolutionary theory, that a novel ‘species’ develops in a new ‘selection environment’. It is also reminiscent of the idea from the philosopher Hegel, that one learns by one’s failure.

Initially, the move to a new market was intended to escape from the saturation of a home market, to find new sales in an export market, but later it is used as a deliberate innovation strategy. This was confirmed in a conversation with a former CEO of Shell. This recognition is important, because the adaptation to a new market disturbs the economies of scale of familiar practice, and the home office of the multinational may block that, until the procedure is recognised as an innovation strategy.  

The point I now want to make is that this procedure has similarities to the ancient cycle of ‘Yin and Yang’ from Taoism. That also is circular, with an alternation of the two priciples of Yin and Yang. The ‘feminine’ principle of Yin is associated with softness and darkness, the defensive, yielding to the present order, and the second, ‘male’ principle of ‘Yang’ is associated with hardness and light, the aggressive, enterprising. In the cycle of discovery we find the subjection to the novel order, in the new environment, in assimilation, and the action of renewal, in acommodation to a new order. Can we legitimately compare assimilation to Yin, and accommodation to Yang? I intend to investigate that further, in a study of the ‘I Ching’, the ‘book of changes’, in which Yin and Yang are developed and applied.

Flavell, J.H., The developpmental psychology of Jean Piaget, 1963, Van Nostrand

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