Doing it to Each Other or Doing it to Ourselves
Kenneth Boulding, in The World as a Total System (1985), described
five modes of interaction which I have personally found very helpful
in understanding what's going on in situations. There are actually
eight modes described below because Michael McMaster (1995) added
a sixth on during a conversation on the Learning Org List and
in Dec 1999 Dan Freeman offered two additional interaction modes.
- Parasitic - the parasite feeds on its host for its
survival, to the detriment of the host, and eventually to the
detriment of itself, for once it kills the host it must find
another host to survive.
- Prey/Predator - the predator feeds on the prey to
the detriment of the individual prey and to the detriment of
its own species, yet this is beneficial to the prey species overall
as it limits the prey population.
- Mutualistic - two (or more) members benefit from the
association (I get what I want and you get what you want - they
may or may not be the same). [Freeman '99]
- Commensal - two or more organisms may have a prolonged
association between themselves, but they may or may not benefit
each member. More specifically, a relationship may be commensal
when an organism derives some benefit while the other is unaffected.
- Threat - if you do (or don't do) something I want
(or don't want) you to do then I won't do something you don't
want me to do.
- Exchange - if you do something I want you to do then
I will do something you want me to do.
- Integrative - where you and I come together to accomplish
something we both want.
- Generative - where you and I come together and accomplish
something neither of us had any idea of before we came together.
- Play - There is a sixth interaction model which is
of the nature of "PLAY". Mutualistic, Integrative and
Generative all signify an accomplishment, a goal. The sixth interaction
"PLAY" in its essences is the affirmation of the existence
of all the other Interaction Model. [Krishnaswamy,
This list is written in an order which is considered to represent
more and more evolved levels of interaction as one works their
way down the list.
What amazed me about the different categories is how certain situations
seem to be initiated in one mode and then transform into another
mode. Consider what happens in a couple situations:
- When you buy a car you exchange, with the car dealer, a promise
to pay for the car. The car dealer then exchanges, with a financial
institution, the promise to pay for real money. The financial
institution then converts this into a threat interaction by essentially
saying that as long as you make your payments you can keep the
- When an employer hires an employee it begins as an exchange
interaction where the employer agrees to pay the individual for
accomplishing work that needs to be done. This then transforms
into a threat interaction wherein the employer says that as long
as you do what I tell you do do I will let you keep your job
and not fire you.
What seems to be most beneficial to all parties involved, and
in terms of the results produced, is operating at the Integrative
or Generative modes. I think groups that really become teams operate
in an Integrative or Generative fashion.
theWay of Systems
Copyright © 2004 Gene Bellinger