Article Index


A Digression: Trivial versus Non-Trivial 

When people speak about a company they often use the “machine” metaphor. Companies become “steamers”, managers “captains”, and how a company “ticks” says something about its “machinery” and its “works”  (into which a spanner may sometimes find its way).
 This metaphor can also be found in the language of PD/OD : This is where "programmes" are created through which the participants can be  "channelled". Change "designs" are developed, "work-flows" outlined, the search is on for the right “adjustment screw” for fine-tuning, and career opportunities are planned. 

It was Heinz von Förster who gave us the differentiation between the so-called "trivial machines" and "non-trivial machines". While trivial machines (e.g. a pocket calculator), given the same input, reliably and predictably provide us with the same output, it is not the case with “non-trivial machines”. Non-trivial machines function much like a machine-in-a-machine and their internal operations do not allow for predictions about the output. Heinz von Förster points out that people could function like non-trivial machines which would make it very difficult to predict the output resulting from a given input. Von Förster takes it a step further by saying: In his view we may well portray ourselves as “non-trivial”, but have no qualms about labelling others as “trivial machines”.