Date of Award

Summer 1996

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Engineering Management & Systems Engineering

Committee Director

Laurence D. Richards

Committee Member

Frederick Steier

Committee Member

Billie M. Reed

Committee Member

Ben I. Troutman


In the emerging knowledge society, the ability to make the experience and expertise of those involved in and affected by new technology unconditionally available to all members of an organization is becoming increasingly important. One of the problems in developing such knowledge processes for technology assimilation is that current social structures do not easily accommodate unconditional participation. Since the implementation of modern information technology is changing the workplace and the nature of work itself, alternative social structures are needed. This research takes as given that deep questions concerning knowledge processes and social transformation are in principle undecidable; and, only questions which are in principle undecidable, we can decide. Since most scientific research deals with decidable questions, an alternative research approach has been designed to deal with these deeper questions. The central research question is: "how do (or might) organizational personnel contribute to a knowledge process that facilitates the assimilation of new technologies?"

As an alternative to traditional research hypotheses, the research approach developed here to address undecidable questions formulates propositions as statements which are false, but whose truth would be desirable. The research design then explores the desirability of these propositions rather than their truth. This exploration was conducted at a major research university which was in the process of implmenting new distance education technology.

The propositions are based in ideas that come from cybernetic inquiry and draw specifically from Heinz von Foerster's distinction between trivial and non-trivial machines. A theoretical framework extends the concept of the non-trivial machine by identifying three types. This typing augments and complements the non-linear dynamic theory of leadership of Margaret Wheatley (Leadership and the New Science), the spiral of knowledge of Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi (The Knowledge-Creating Company), and the knowledge society of Peter Drucker (Post-Capitalist Society). The distinction between the 'closed world' and 'open development' paradigms of Peter Brodner proves valuable in explaining the results of the research. The primary conclusions of this research are: (1) members of current hierarchical organizations do not, for the most part, participate unconditionally in knowledge processes that affect their tasks, roles, and performance metrics; (2) many, if not most, organizational members recognize the significance, if not the necessity, of dialogue as an aspect of knowledge processes, although some are cynical about the possibility; and, (3) a hypothesis worth pursuing in future research is: organizational members participate in knowledge processes for technology assimilation when the propositions on cybernetics and social transformation are true. It is also suggested that other approaches to research on undecidable questions would be worth pursing.