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Article
Publication date: 19 April 2022

Piero Mella

Stereotypes are simplified and widely shared visions held by a social group regarding a place, object, event or recognizable set of people united by certain…

1184

Abstract

Purpose

Stereotypes are simplified and widely shared visions held by a social group regarding a place, object, event or recognizable set of people united by certain characteristics or qualities. They are “dangerous” mental models because they are widely disseminated, devious and capable of acting even unconsciously in individuals, social groups and organizations altering the rationality of assessments and choices and producing discrimination and prejudice. Stereotypes acritically extend from a characteristic of a significant percentage of a category to the totality of individuals. The process of generalization triggered by a stereotype produces the error of discrimination and prejudice. There are numerous forms of stereotypes, but this study takes into account gender stereotypes because they act pervasively, often subtly, to reduce “productivity”. People who are aware of being discriminated perceive an unsatisfactory fulfillment of their motivations, which reduces their incentive to improve their performance. Since productivity measures the efficient use of energy from working in production processes, the author believes that wherever gender stereotypes are at play, there is a productive “waste of energy”, an inefficiency in work activity with harmful effects for organizations of all kinds, including families.

Design/methodology/approach

The work aims to demonstrate that wherever gender stereotypes are at play, a “waste of energy” manifests itself in terms of productivity, representing an inefficiency in work activity with harmful effects for organizations of all kinds, including families. To describe the negative effects stereotypes produce in organizations, some models are presented based on the methods and language of systems thinking. These models, although typically qualitative, are capable of exploring the most accepted theories in the literature: tournament theory, the Pygmalion effect, the Galatea effect, self-fulfilling prophecies, the Queen bee syndrome, the role congruency theory, the glass ceiling theory (“think manager, think male” and “family responsibilities wall”). The paper follows a predominantly organizational and corporate approach, although the copious literature on stereotypes belongs largely to the area of social psychology and organization studies.

Findings

The paper does not consider the psychological origin of stereotypes but highlights their use as routines-shortcuts for evaluations and decisions demonstrating that, when adopted in social systems and within organisations, stereotypes produce different forms of discrimination: in social rights, in work, in careers and in access to levels of education and public services, reducing performance and limit potential. The paper also examines some ways gender and culture stereotypes can be opposed, presenting a change management strategy and some concrete solutions proposed by the process–structure–culture model for social change (PSC model).

Research limitations/implications

The main limitation of the work is that it focuses on gender stereotypes, choosing not to consider the “intersection effect” of these with other stereotypes: racial stereotypes, religious stereotypes, color stereotypes, age stereotypes, sex and sexual orientation stereotypes, and many others, whose joint action can cause serious inefficiencies in organizational work.

Practical implications

As stereotypes are a component of social culture and are handed down, by use and example, from generation to generation, the maintenance over time of stereotypes used by individuals to evaluate, judge and act can be seen as an effect of the typical action of a combinatory system of diffusion, which can operate for a long time if not effectively opposed. Il PSC model indicates the strategy for carrying out this opposition.

Social implications

With regard to gender stereotypes, it should be emphasized that in organizations and social systems, “gender diversity” should be considered an opportunity and not as a discriminating factor and thus encouraged by avoiding harmful discrimination. In fact, this diversity, precisely because of the distinctive characteristics individuals possess regardless of gender, can benefit the organization and lead to an increase in organizational and social performance. The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2020) Goal 5: Achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls is examined in this context.

Originality/value

This study views the action of gender stereotypes as especially harmful “mental models”, highlighting the distortions they cause in the allocation of productive energy in society, groups and organizations. The paper follows a predominantly organizational and corporate approach, although the copious literature on stereotypes belongs largely to the area of social psychology. Using the “logic” and “language” of systems thinking, theories and models that describe and interpret the distorting effects of organizational choices based on stereotypes rather than rational analysis are highlighted. The action of stereotypes and their persistence over time can also be described using combinatory systems theory. With this paper, the author hopes that by acting on the three wheels of change highlighted by the PSC model, through legal provisions, control tools and actions on the culture operated by educational and social aggregative institutions, it should not be impossible to change the prevailing culture so that it becomes aware of the harmful influence of gender stereotypes and other discriminatory mental models and come to reject them. The author hopes this paper will help to understand the need to make this change.

Article
Publication date: 12 April 2018

Piero Mella and Patrizia Gazzola

Accepting the assumption that our intelligence depends on the ability to construct models which may allow us to acquire, update and transmit our knowledge, this paper aims…

Abstract

Purpose

Accepting the assumption that our intelligence depends on the ability to construct models which may allow us to acquire, update and transmit our knowledge, this paper aims to highlight the role of Systems Thinking in developing the “intelligence” of managers for all types and sizes of organization.

Design/methodology/approach

Four relevant contributions for improving the “intelligence” of managers will be examined: the ability to understand and model dynamic systems, the structure of Control Systems, the rules of the decision-making process and the identification of systems archetypes.

Findings

The paper will show that Systems Thinking, through the logic of Control Systems, offers managers a comprehensive representation of the problem-solving and decision-making processes, teaching them how to distinguish problems from symptoms and to acquire a leverage effect. Additionally, Senge’s system archetypes will be presented and new archetypes will be added to Senge’s list.

Practical implications

The viability of every organization and its effective resilience and survival make it more than ever necessary for managers to adopt Systems Thinking, not only as a technique but also primarily as a discipline for efficient and effective thinking, learning, communication and explanation with regard to the dynamics of the world.

Originality/value

The message of the paper is that by continually applying the rules and language of Systems Thinking, managers develop the capability to continually adapt their models to the dynamics of the world, increase their learning capacity and better gauge their consequent judgments, decisions and behavior, thereby removing the mental impediments to intelligence (inappropriate mental models, defensive routines, judgmental biases, rules, etc.).

Article
Publication date: 5 November 2018

Piero Mella

Any kind of production flow is obtained not from individual production organizations but from a more or less widespread Production Network of interconnected production…

Abstract

Purpose

Any kind of production flow is obtained not from individual production organizations but from a more or less widespread Production Network of interconnected production modules located in different places and times. All of these modules are, consciously or not, necessarily connected, interacting and cooperating in a coordinated way to combine and arrange, step by step, the factors, materials, components, manpower, machines and equipment to obtain flows of products’ final goods, in particular’ and to sell these where there is a demand for them. The purpose of this paper is to determine, in logical and formal terms, the minimum conditions that bring about the formation of production networks and to discover the laws that explain their dynamics over time.

Design/methodology/approach

At the global level, the continuous and accelerated economic progress of mankind is witnessed. There is an increase in the quantity and quality of satisfied and yet to be satisfied needs, of attained and yet to be attained aspirations. The increase in productivity and in quality has become unstoppable and appears to guide the other variables in the system. It is natural to ask who produces and governs these phenomena. It does indeed seem there is a Ghost in the “Production” machine whose invisible hand produces growing levels of productivity and quality, increases the quality and quantity of satisfied needs and aspirations and reduces the burden of work, thus producing increasingly higher levels of progress in the entire economic system. This conceptual framework gives a simple answer: there is nothing metaphysical about this evolution towards unstoppable and irreversible progress, and it is produced by the spontaneous genesis and activity of selfish nodes and governed by the rules and laws of the production networks.

Findings

The author has identified ten “rules of selfish behavior” on the part of the nodes, whose application necessarily and inevitably produces three evolutionary dynamic processes “which refer to the network as an entity” which the author has called the “rules of the production networks” to emphasize their cogency: continual expansion, elasticity-resiliency and continual improvement in performance. The cognitive and creative processes that characterize the nodes do not allow us to predict the actual evolution of production networks; nevertheless, if it is assumed that nodes “consciously or not” follow the 10 “rules of selfish behavior”, then several typical trends, or behavioural schema, can be deduced which the author has called as the “laws of networks”, to highlight their apparent inevitability and cogency.

Research limitations/implications

More than any other structure, Production Networks display Holland’s features and Arthur’s properties as their modules, viewed as autonomous entities with cognitive functions, represent a collectivity of agents that interact and exchange information with their environment to maintain over time their internal processes through adaptation, self-preservation, evolution and cognition, making individual and collective decisions as part of a network of micro behaviours.

Social implications

This new conception of production through production networks, which takes into account the “rules” and “laws” regulating their behaviour, also sheds new light on the development of networks and their natural tendency to become globalized.

Originality/value

Although the concept of a network is becoming more popular in economic and business studies, it is yet to see an interpretation of production as deriving exclusively from the actions of increasingly larger networks. This paper presents an integrated view of production that does not discard the notion that production is carried out by organizations and companies but introduces the broader concept of the integration among organizations, which must be interpreted as nodes of a broader network that produces the flows of all the components needed to obtain the flow of a specific product. This represents an innovative view that will help us in understanding the difficulties policymakers encounter in governing production and controlling the basic variables that characterize it, specifically productivity, quality, quantity, prices and value. This perspective also allows to derive rules and laws for the behaviour of production networks that appear to be cogent and unvarying over time.

Article
Publication date: 7 August 2017

Piero Mella

The purpose of this study is to show how simple “collectivities” of non-interconnected similar agents, which the author has termed “combinatory systems” and which produce…

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this study is to show how simple “collectivities” of non-interconnected similar agents, which the author has termed “combinatory systems” and which produce analogous micro behaviors, reveal very interesting forms of micro and macro behaviors and effects attributable to a cybernetic mechanism the author shall call “micro-macro feedback”. On the one hand, the macro behavior of the system as a whole derives from the “combination” of the analogous micro behaviors or effects of the agents, and on the other hand, the macro behavior determines, conditions or directs the subsequent micro behavior, thereby creating observable effects and patterns in the collectivity.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper proposes a new combinatory system theory (CSysT) by constructing a formal model that explains a vast group of phenomena produced by the cybernetic behavior of the collectivity as if an internal organizer were regulating the micro dynamics of agents, producing self-organization, synchronization, path dependence and chaos.

Findings

In addition to illustrating the CSysT, this study also proposes a new and powerful tool to simulate combinatory systems: the “combinatory automaton”. This is composed of a lattice, each of whose cells contains a variable representing the state of an agent. The value of each cell at each time depends on a synthetic global variable whose values derive from some operations carried out on the values of the cells and that represents the synthetic state of the automaton. The micro-macro feedback connects the analytical values of the cells and the synthetic state of the automaton.

Practical implications

The CSysT suggests how to control combinatory systems through external actions aimed at making the macro and micro behaviors conform to the desired behaviors. The control is carried out through suitable strengthening or weakening actions, which operate by acting directly on the macro behavior – the author will define this as macro or external control – or by influencing the micro behaviors; in this case, the control will be called micro or internal control. The macro-level control is achieved through strengthening or weakening actions aimed at modifying some recombining factor. Instead, the micro-level control acts on the necessitating factors.

Originality/value

The CSysT is original and represents an effective tool for observing collective behavior. Combinatory systems are not easily recognizable; nevertheless, they are widely diffused and produce most of the social and economic collective phenomena involving the accumulation of objects, the spread of features or information, the pursuit of a limit and the achievement of general progress as the consequence of the individual pursuit of particular interests.

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