Learning about learning

Karl Weick has penned the 60th anniversary essay for the ASQ:

Jerry Davis’s (2015) question “What is organizational research for?” is ill-served by the narrow answer “settled science.” Constraints of comprehension may give the illusion that organizational research represents settled science. But the experience of inquiring actually comprises a greater variety of actions that increase the meaning of present research experience and the contributions it makes. I discuss acts of conjecture, differentiation, attachment, affirmation, complication, discernment, interruption, and representation to illustrate that meaningful contributions are generated by actions associated with connecting perceptions to concepts. ASQ’s 60th anniversary is an opportune time to make these interim contributions more explicit.

We’re rarely explicit about the nature of learning in PA. We are Bayesians, learning about a process that is itself moving in time. In classical inferential statistics, it’s thought that the parameters are fixed and the data are random. In Bayesian statistics, it’s reversed – the data are fixed and the parameters are unknown.

Sometimes we act as though everything that’s been done so far is wrong because our predecessors were dolts, used bad methods, were naive, etc. Maybe instead it’s because we are all operating inside a learning meta-process. We’re knitted together through time by our collective attempts (and misses) at learning about processes that change through time.

The upshot is that whatever we think is “truth” now will be revealed, at some later point, to be just as wrong as we think our predecessors were.

I’ve always been struck by the opposite – at the quality of many contributions from the 1950s or 1960s or even earlier time points given what they had to work with.

In any case, truth is far from settled and who knows what it will be ten years from now, but even so the Weick essay is a useful read for those trying to contribute to this body of knowledge.

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