The causal texture of organizational environments

[F. E. Emery]( and [E. L. Trist](, 'The causal texture of organizational environments', _Human Relations_, vol. 18 (1965), pp. 21-32. [[via Google Scholar](] Snippets of text (from the beginning, maybe the middle, and the end) appear below, to give a sense of the content for the chapter. For more depth, the original source is cited, above. ---

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 labouring. Nevertheless, the characteristics of organizational environments demand consideration for their own sake, if there is to be an advancement of understanding in the behavioural sciences of a great deal that is taking place under the impact of technological change, especially at the present time. This paper is offered as a brief attempt to open up some of the problems, and stems from a belief that progress will be quicker if a certain extension can be made to current thinking about systems. [p. 241] [....]

## The Development of Environmental Connectedness (Case 1) A case history, taken from the industrial field, may serve to illustrate what is meant by the environment becoming organized at the social level. It will show how a greater degree of system- connectedness, of crucial relevance to the organization, may develop in the environment, which is yet not directly a function either of the organization's own characteristics or of its immediate relations. Both of these, of course, once again become crucial when the response of the organization to what has been happening is considered. [p. 234] [....]

## Four Types of Causal Texture .... 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. 245-246] [....]

### Step one 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_. It corresponds to Simon's idea of a surface over which an organism can locomote : most of this is bare, but at isolated, widely scattered points there are little heaps of food (1957, p. 137). It also corresponds to Ashby's limiting case of no connexion between the environmental parts (1960, section 15/4); and to Schiitzenberger's random field (1954, p. 100). The economist's classical market also corresponds to this type. [p. 246] [....]

### Step two 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 hang together in certain ways. This may be called the _placid, clustered environment_, and is the case with which Tolman and Brunswik were concerned; it corresponds to Ashby's 'serial system' and to the economist's 'imperfect competition'. The clustering enables some parts to take on roles as signs of other parts or become means-objects with respect to approaching or avoiding. Survival, however, becomes precarious if an organization attempts to deal tactically with each environmental variance as it occurs. [p. 247] [....]

### Step three 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 economist's oligopolic market. It is a type 2 environment in which there is more than one organization of the same kind; indeed, the existence of a number of similar organizations now becomes the dominant characteristic of the environmental field. Each organization does not simply have to take account of the others when they meet at random, but has also to consider that what it knows can also be known by the others. The part of the environment to which it wishes to move itself in the long run is also the part to which the others seek to move. [pp. 247-248] [....]

### Step four 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. Like type 3 and unlike the static types 1 and 2, they are dynamic. Unlike type 3, the dynamic properties arise not simply from the interaction of the component organizations, but also from the field itself. The 'ground' is in motion. [....] [pp. 248-249] [....]

## The Salience of Type 4 Characteristics (Case II) ... The case now to be presented illustrates the combined operation of the three trends described above in an altogether larger environmental field involving a total industry and its relations with the wider society. [p. 249] The organization concerned is the National Farmers Union of Great Britain to which more than 200,000 of the 250,000 farmers of England and Wales belong. [pp. 249-250] [....]

## Values and Relevant Uncertainty What becomes precarious under type 4 conditions is how organizational stability can be achieved. In these environments individual organizations, however large, cannot expect to adapt successfully simply through their own direct actions - as is evident in the case of the N.F.U. Nevertheless, there are some indications of a solution that may have the same general signifi- cance for these environments as have strategy and operations for types 2 and 3. This is the emergence of _values that have overriding significance for all members of the field._ Social values are here regarded as coping mechanisms that make it possible to deal with persisting areas of relevant uncertainty. [pp. 251-252] [....]

## Matrix Organization and Institutional Success Nevertheless, turbulent fields demand some overall form of organization that is essentially different from the hierarchically structured forms to which we are accustomed. Whereas type 3 environments require one or other form of accommodation between like, but competitive, organizations whose fates are to a degree negatively correlated, turbulent environments require some relationship between dissimilar organizations whose fates are, basically, positively correlated. This means relationships that will maximize co-operation and which recognize that no one organization can take over the role of 'the other' and become paramount. We are inclined to speak of this type of relationship as an _organizational matrix_. [p. 253] [....]

## Summary 1\. 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, under the impact of technological change. This means that they demand consideration for their own sake. Towards this end a redefinition is offered, at a social level of analysis, of the causal texture of the environment, a concept introduced in 1935 by Tolman and Brunswik.

2\. This requires an extension of systems theory. The first steps in systems theory were taken in connexion with the analysis of internal processes in organisms, or organizations, which involved relating parts to the whole. Most of these problems could be dealt with through closed-system models. The next steps were taken when wholes had to be related to their environments. This led to open-system models, such as that introduced by von Bertalanffy, involving a general transport equation. Though this enables exchange processes between the organism, or organization, and elements in its environment to be dealt with, it does not deal with those processes in the environment itself which are the determining conditions of the exchanges. To analyse these an additional concept - the causal texture of the environment - is needed.

3\. The laws connecting parts of the environment to each other are often incommensurate with those connecting parts of the organization to each other, or even those which govern exchanges. Case history I illustrates this and shows the dangers and difficulties that arise when there is a rapid and gross increase in the area of relevant uncertainty, a characteristic feature of many contemporary environments. [p. 255]

4\. Organizational environments differ in their causal texture, both as regards degree of uncertainty and in many other important respects. A typology is suggested which identifies four 'ideal types', approximations to which exist simultaneously in the 'real world' of most organizations, though the weighting varies enormously .... [p. 256] [....]

5\. Case history II is presented to illustrate problems of the transition from type 3 to type 4. The perspective of the four environmental types is used to clarify the role of Theory X and Theory Y as representing a trend in value change. The establishment of a new set of values is a slow social process requiring something like a generation - unless new means can be developed.