WHY do we need holons?
- to provide a way of thinking consistently in layers at any scale. (see Axiom: A1 of impelling purpose and A2 of appropriate layers)
- to help us to describe complex problems simply
- to combine ‘hard’ physical systems with ‘soft’ systems involving people
- to simplify our understanding of the interdependencies between processes (Axiom A3 of complex interdependencies)
- to enable us to clarify relationships and accountability
- to map the paths of change (Axiom A4 of the ubiquity of change, processes) from where we are now to where we want to be
- to help identify added value as an emergent property (Axiom A5 of evolutionary learning)
- to manage cooperative systems.
WHAT are holons?
Anything considered at the same time to be both a part and a whole. A holon has emergent properties that derive from the cooperation of the parts. For example, a beam is both a whole (with properties of size, strength and hardness that derive from the molecules of which it is made) and a part (as it contributes to the structure in which it is embedded). A soft system example would be yourself. You are a part (of your family, your neighbourhood, your country, etc.); yet you are also a whole, made up of parts or subsystems (your skeleton, the bones and muscle that make up your structural subsystem, your nervous subsystem, etc.) – and though these are hard systems, we can only understand them through soft systems: us. For more on this see here. The attributes that are you (e.g. a good sportsman or a happy person with a positive attitude) emerge from the cooperation of your subsystems. Holons are processes articulated for a purpose (Axiom A1 of impelling purpose).
WHAT are the attributes of holons?
- Holons occur in layers (Axiom A2)
- A given holon is connected to related holons at the same layer to which it sends and receives messages
- A holon is connected to higher layer holons. It may have a role (i.e. a set of delegated responsibilities) in the processes of those higher layer holons and be accountable in a recognisable way (e.g. through objectives or performance parameters)
- Likewise a holon may be connected to holons at a lower layer to which it has delegated roles and from which it requires accountability
- Process holons have attributes of why, how, who, what, where and when
- The emergent properties of a process holon are part of the state of the attribute of what. They ‘emerge’ from interactions between holons which may not exhibit these properties
- The product of a process holon is an output (part of the what attribute) and is itself a new process.
Chains of Holons: Value chains are the connected holons that interact to generate value. Supply chains are the value chains of supplier process holons that interact to generate a product or service for the customer.
These chains are not linearly connected links, rather they are networks of process holons that interact for a common purpose. Every successful process holon delivers value. Only some process holons are suppliers of goods – the supply chain is a subset of the layers of holons which define a systems hierarchy. In this wider sense, all process holons send outputs to other processes and are suppliers.
A high-level description of the value chain of processes for a contractor may be: identifying the customer, tendering, preparing a contract, planning, executing a contract, finishing the contract, evaluating the contract and supporting the contract.
A key to improving emergent properties of value is to improve the quality of interactions between holons.
There are no fundamental holons – only appropriate holons. The issue is not whether a holon is fundamental but whether it is appropriate – but appropriate for what? The answer must be ‘For helping us to do what we want to meet our purpose.’ If we want to understand the behaviour of subatomic particles then we use holons at that level, or if we want to build a bridge we use engineering mechanics – both are appropriate for different problems or answering different needs.