Frederick Edmund Emery, nick Fred, (August 27, 1925 – April 10, 1997) was an Australian psychologist, and one of the pioneers in the field of Organizational Development (OD), particularly in the development of theory around participative work design structures such as self-managing teams.
- In the selection of papers for this volume, two problems have arisen, namely what constitutes systems thinking and what systems thinking is relevant to the thinking required for organizational management. The first problem is obviously critical. Unless there were a meaningful answer there would be no sense in producing a volume of readings in systems thinking in any subject. A great many writers have manifestly believed that there is a way of considering phenomena which is sufficiently different from the well-established modes of scientific analysis to deserve the particular title of systems thinking.
- Frederick Edmund Emery (ed.) (1969) Systems thinking: selected readings Penguin, p. 7: Beginning of editorial by Fred Emery.
- The basic managerial idea introduced by systems thinking, is that to manage a system effectively, you might focus on the interactions of the parts rather than their behavior taken separately.
- Russell L. Ackoff and Fred Emery (1972) On purposeful systems, cited in: Lloyd Dobyns, Clare Crawford-Mason (1994) Thinking about quality: progress, wisdom, and the Deming philosophy. p.40
- The further development of the open system thinking propounded by von Bertalanffy and Prigogine requires us to characterize the environments within which open systems are functioning. Four levels of environmental organization can be distinguished in terms of their causal texturing...
Coming out from an academic cocoon to work at the Tavistock Institute in London I found myself trying to comprehend the behavior of very large organizations in the face of very devastating winds of change... The conceptual developments in that paper have continued to play a considerable role in my subsequent thinking.
- There are reasons to believe that the world economy is once again in the throes of a phase change. There are also reasons to believe that this phase change, like the preceding ones, will involve a paradigmatic shift in the organization of people around their work. If this is so, then our perceptions of what has happened in the past decade or more in the world of work may need to be modified; likewise our perceptions of where those changes are leading us
- Fred Emery (1982) "Socio-Technical Foundations for a New Social Order?" in Human Relations, Vol 35: p. 1095-1122
- I am inclined to agree with Max Bom, the German physicist, who reckoned that the acceptance of a new quantum theory would occur only with the passing away of the old physics professors... the acceptance will await a new generation that starts off with a question mark on the old paradigm
- Fred Emery (1992) in: Business review weekly Vol 14, Nr. 34-37. p. 64
The Causal Texture of Organizational Environments (1963)
- Fred Emery and Eric Trist (1963) "The Causal Texture of Organizational Environments". In: Human Relations, 18: p. 21-32, 1965
- A main problem in the study of organizational change is that the environmental contexts in which organizations exist are themselves changing, at an increasing rate and towards increasing complexity. This point, in itself, scarcely needs laboring. Nevertheless, characteristics of organizational environments demand consideration for their own sake if there is to be an advancement of understanding in the behavioral sciences of a great deal that is taking place under the impact of technological change, especially at the present time
- p. 21
- In a general way it may be said that to think in terms of systems seems the most appropriate conceptual response so far available when the phenomena under study--at any level and in any domain--display the character of being organized, and when understanding the nature of the interdependencies constitutes the research task. In the behavioral sciences, the first steps in building a systems theory were taken in connection with the analysis of internal processes in organisms, or organizations, when the parts had to be related to the whole.
- p. 21
- A great deal of the thinking here has been influenced by cybernetics and information theory, though this has been used as much to extend the scope of closed-system as to improve the sophistication of open system formulations. It was von Bertalanffy (1950) who, in terms of the general transport equation which he introduced, first fully disclosed the importance of openness or closedness to the environment as a means of distinguishing living organisms from inanimate objects.
- p. 22
- We have now isolated four "ideal types" of causal texture, approximations to which may be thought of as existing simultaneously in the "real world" of most organizations--though, of course, their weighting will vary enormously from case to case.
- p. 27
- The simplest type of environmental texture is that in which goals and noxiants ("goods" and "bads") are relatively unchanging in themselves and randomly distributed. This may be called the placid, randomized environment.
- p. 28
- More complicated, but still a placid environment, is that which can be characterized in terms of clustering: goals and noxiants are not randomly distributed but band together in certain ways. This may be called the placid, clustered environment.
- p. 28-29
- The next level of causal texturing we have called the disturbed reactive environment. It may be compared with Ashby's ultra-stable system or the economists' oligopolic market.
- p. 29
- Yet more complex are the environments we have called turbulent fields. In these, dynamic processes, which create significant variances for the component organizations, arise from the field itself.
- p. 30
About Fred Emery
- Fred Emery, who died at his home in Cook on April 10, was widely regarded as one of the finest social scientists of his generation... A psychologist by training, his initial academic appointment was at Melbourne University, where he made significant contributions to rural sociology, and the effects of film and television viewing.
Constantly drawn towards testing social science theory in field settings, in 1958 he joined Eric Trist, one of his closest intellectual collaborators, at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in London. Over the next 10 years, he, with Trist and other colleagues, established "open socio-technical systems theory" as an alternative paradigm for organisational design — field-tested on a national scale in Norway, in partnership with Einar Thorsrud.
- Alastair Crombie "Emery, Frederick Edmund (Fred) (1925–1997)" in ANU Reporter, 21 May 1997, p 7