02 Jun 2014

David Bella—Plenary Speaker Abstract for the 144th AFS Annual Meeting

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Systemic Distortion
David Bella, Oregon State University, Corvallis

Photo of David Bella

David Bella, AFS Plenary Speaker

I have been asked to succinctly convey some lessons involving two related problems not well addressed in your educations. First, distortion of information emerges on vast scales. Second, reductionism—reducing the character of wholes to the character of their parts—misperceives such distortions. Together, these two failures combine to produce the proliferation of blame that dumbs down our minds, polarizes our discourse, and allows systemic problems to continue. Of course there are “bad people,” but that is not the issue that concerns me. The real issue is this: Systemic distortions are emergent outcomes, properties of wholes (organizational systems) that cannot be merely reduced to the properties of parts (people, individuals). Systemic distortions emerge through the behaviors of competent and well-intended people (like you and me), busy at countless tasks within the contexts of organizational systems. I will show how this occurs with a simple sketch. And I will discuss some radical implications of this view.

Plenary Speaker Abstracts for the 144th Annual Meeting