End of the Line

Posted by jlubans on October 18, 2016

Caption: What organizational entropy can look like.

I’m thinking of using this photo – one I took this month at Opal Creek* – for a Democratic Workplace class discussion on organizational theory.
The picture is what’s left of a lumber mill*. Dozens of people worked here. Given the wild, mountainous location, people likely lived here and may have had families along with them.
Probably there was a dining hall. There were loggers and supervisors and mechanics and other specialists to keep the mill and its gear running. And, there had to be drivers and trucks to haul in supplies and haul out the massive loads of lumber taken from old growth stands, some towering trees harkening back 1000 years.
For me, the scene suggests these folksy metaphors:
End of the road
The wheels coming off
Going off the rails
The end of the line
All done in
Terminal, as in Termination.
Out of Business (OOB)

Maybe the students will come up with similar metaphors, maybe something to do with applying steampunk theory to the workplace.
I’ll introduce the topic with a bit of organizational system’s theory; notions of equifinality, homeostasis equilibrium, and so on.
I hope they’ll consider an important aspect of an organization’s life: it’s imminent death and how to avoid it. The thermodynamic term of entropy is an important aspect of organizational theory. Entropy suggests, as does the picture, that there can be an end to it all, a flying apart of an organization (a nation, a business, a family) as it uses up its energy. I’d like for the students to think about what might delay a group’s demise. We know that the importation of energy (ideas, money, resources, customers) is essential to sustaining a system. What else might keep a system going?
Relate this photo to organizations you know. What comes to mind? What happened to the people (ancient and contemporary) that were on this land, who walked amongst these trees? What does this scene say to you? How does this apply to our class, the Democratic Workplace?

*The Merten Mill – the site of this photo - was a working lumber mill for a short span during America’s Depression, and came to grief (literally going off the rails) when two of the mill’s lumber trucks tumbled off the canyon road. Fortunately, tree huggers and lumberjacks compromised, sort of, so that this area is now protected as a 35,000-acre ancient forest watershed called the Opal Creek Wilderness and Scenic Recreation Area in the state of Oregon in America’s Pacific Northwest.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

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