Self-referral implies referring information that arises in a system or its outer or inner environment back to the self and ethos of the system.
Self-referral is a self-directed activity system (depicted by the orange arrow). It involves tapping external or internal information and integrating it with itself.
More specifically, some of the information contributed by the outer and inner environment (depicted by the black arrows) is tapped by the system (depicted by the lager grey tapping arrows and red tapping bars) to be integrated and reflected on against the ethos of the system (depicted by the orange ethos dot). Information could also be tapped from the self (depicted by the small grey arrow and red tapping bar). Examples of self-tapping are accessing memory, reasoning or brainstorming. In an organisational context it could involve planning or accessing knowledge repositories.
Self-referral explores, monitors, analyses, evaluates and questions information in the light of the self and its ethos and aims. Thereby the system develops and maintains itself consciously as a coherent whole.
Self-referral prompts the system to maintain or change its ideas and behaviour. It facilitates conscious self-governance. It can also lead to a fundamental change in ethos, changing the identity of the system and effecting a system transformation.
One can view self-referral from a spatial or temporal context. The former integrates the self with the current outer and inner context and itself, while the latter looks at the changing context from past to future. Self-fulfilling prophecies, anticipatory learning (Botkin et al.) and planning as learning (de Geus) are associated with the temporal perspective.
Self-referral (i.e. having a “self” that refers to itself) is associated with consciousness. We propose that all entity systems have consciousness, however rudimentary. Some are also aware of themselves (i.e. are self-conscious), as for example human systems are or can be.
Self-reflection is the hallmark of learning and self-development. It also provides meaning (Socrates: “an unexamined life is not worth living”) and creates destiny (Epictetus: “as you think, so you become”).
relevance for the change manager
A learning organisation builds self-reflection into planning at all levels of the organisation (i.e. the personal, team, functional and organisational self).