If you want to change an organization, mix it up. Just a little. And let the tensions leak away.

Art Kleiner

If you want to change an organization, you start by changing the patterns in which people talk together, the things they talk about, the frequency of their contact and the makeup of those who overhear them.” –Art Kleiner, Who Really Matters

Yesterday, thanks to Steve Roesler of All Things Workplace, I discovered Art Kleiner.  My, he writes well.

When you thought there was nothing left to do but grind your teeth

If you have ever been situation where you are helpless, oh, what am I talking about, you feel that every day when you are stuck in traffic, when you call you bank’s call center and when you sit through interminable ineffectual meetings.

Every time you feel helpless, mix it up a little.  Not loudly or aggressively or even mischievously.  Just talk to someone else. Shift the pattern of interactions.  That’s all.

And watch the stifling atmosphere dissipate.

If you are in traffic, let some one in or if you are always letting people in, indicate that you want to go next and let people help you.  Bank call centre’s defeat me, I must admit, but try beginning the call by sincerely asking about their day – that is a lousy, lousy job.

If the meeting is dull, actually listen to the bore and look at them.  OK, not for too long but try half a second?  If you usually speak, try taking notes.

Mix it up.  Just a little.  And let the tensions leak away.

UPDATE: Wow, I didn’t preview the format.  Mixed up for sure.




Enhanced by Zemanta

Tell me about the people in your life and I will show you a successful business and a blossoming career

Our strengths are our connections to the environment

Our strengths are not in ourselves.  They are in our connections with our environment.  So says Ralph Stacey, complexity theorist at University of Hertfordshire.

What on earth does he mean?  Is this just some abstruse idea that I can safely ignore?  Is it some pop idea that it is not what you know, it is who you know?

Use systems theory to understand your business and take action!

I am going to explain this idea using ideas from MGMT101: very basic systems theory.

Imagine the world as set of concentric circles. Go on.  Draw them.  Draw three.

Outer circle : macro-environment ~ the cloud

The very outer circle is the big bad world ~ the macro environment ~ the cloud. This is where you do your PEST analysis. This is where we worry about Politics, Economics, Social Trends like birth rates and Gen Y and Technological Change like Social Media.  What is happening in the stratosphere of our lives?  It is important to know this stuff.  In the slow moving world of the 1950’s, it was possible to look up and do this once a year.  In this day and age, you should have a set of Google Alerts just for this purpose. If you are a large organization, you should have part of your intranet reserved for articles on these topics written by your own staff in their areas of expertise.

Outer circle but one : micro-environment ~ your pond

The next circle are your competitors ~ your micro-environment ~ your pond.  Who is in your pond?  This is where we use Porter’s Five Forces.  We think about what your customers actually want.  What are the benefits of our products and services (rather than our features).  We think about what it takes to get into this business (barriers to entry).  We think about the suppliers on whom we depend (and how much they or we call the shots).  We think about who else ‘wants in’ to the business ~ who are our competitors.  We think about what our customers could use as a substitute for our service our product.

The ecosytem of our pond is quite complicated and we are sometimes overwhelmed by thinking it out.  I’ve found two concepts really help.

  • Think of your lunch.  Who wants your lunch? The answer is often very surprising. After all, if scientists depend on government for their money, then they are in the businesses of public administration, government or politics.  This is usually an aha moment.
  • Think of the food chain.  We are often make jokes about being at the bottom of the food chain. Actually you want to be at the bottom of the food chain. If you are nobody’s lunch, then there is no reason for your existence.   Who dies if you die?  Often your existence is rather diffuse.  So let’s phrase that a little.  Who would be inconvenienced if you closed down? You can see why businesses try to create monopolies. They are safe if they are indispensable.  Here is another aha moment when you see clearly who are your allies in the great game of  commerce.

When we have our competitors (they want our lunch) and our customers (they eat us), we are on the way to describing the ecosystem of our pond.

Defining your micro-environment ~ your pond ~ is work that you have to do yourself

Both these questions about ‘lunch in the eco-system’ are hard to answer.  They are not like PEST which is common to huge swathes of people and answered in The Economist and other general sources like that.

These are questions you must answer.  I can suggest ideas. We can borrow ideas and insights from other people in the trade.  Occasionally we find a really good book on our business like Michael Riley’s Human Resource Management in the Hospitality Industry.  Mostly we have to sit down and answer

  • Who wants my lunch?
  • Who thinks I am their lunch?  Who depends upon me?

We need concrete answers.  Take photos for me.  Tell me what they had for breakfast and where they are are 2.17 in the morning.  Why that time?  Because you know them so well.

The third circle – who are you and what is your agenda?

With those concrete and specific answers we can define the next circle.  Who are you and what are your strengths?

Now we do the SWOT analysis.  What are your strengths ~ your internal capacity, or things that you do every day, that allow you to be who you are.  Your weaknesses ~ those things you wish you weren’t (but might just be the flip side of your strengths).  The opportunities ~ those things coming up that you really want to do.  Threats ~ those things upcoming that you want to get out of.  You SWOT analysis is just a fancy ‘to do’ list.

Your strengths are the things you like to do and that you probably did yesterday too.  That’s what makes us thing they are us.

But they are really a story that we tell ourselves about us.  That’s why we look partly at our inner talk. We have a story of who we are, who we secretly fear that we are, we we secretly want to be.   We will always have our secret fears and aspirations, but our happiest times are when most of our story is out in the open.

And what is our story?  It is the story of what we do with other people for other people while we are up against a threat (those who want our lunch!).  It is a playful story about people who are in this game ~ with us and against us.  Cheering us on and getting in the way!

We cannot tell this story with the story of the outer two circles.  We cannot tell this story with the story of our times – the PEST analysis. We cannot tell the story without the story of our pond – Porter’s Five Forces.

Our story is a story about real people.  You must tell me who those people are.

Your strengths are your participation in the game of life. Everything you say and everything you do, with real live people.

Tell me that story and I will show you a successful business and blossoming career.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Relieve your stress. Live outside your tunnel vision

Undivided Wholeness in Flowing Motion

David Bohm‘s concept of “Undivided Wholeness in Flowing Motion.” is so hard to understand for we western-raised psychologists.

David Bohm was a American quantum physicist who got himself into trouble by refusing to testify to the Non-American Activities (McCarthy) hearings.  After that he came to live and work in London.

Implicate Order

Bohm emphasized that nothing exists in this world except when we pay attention to it.

Did you get that? Touch your computer screen. It doesn’t exist unless you see it and touch it.

No, that’s not what it means, though that’s often what people say it means. He doesn’t mean that it is “all in our mind”. He doesn’t mean that what is in our mind is selective either.

Think of the thought as real. And then think that we are its host, so to speak. The thought is not ours. Nor is it make believe. Nor are things make believe.

But we only see, or perceive the thoughts that arrive, and not everything arrives.

Everything is connected

When a thought arrives, it is not us. Yet is in us. The world has arrived in us. The thought and the world are not separate. And nor are we separate from the world!

We are all interconnected and nothing, not any one of us, or anything, can be interpreted out of its context. Every thing is as much part of is context as it is apart.

Separating the whole into the parts is not universal

Other cultures get this. We are very proud that we don’t. Our science is based on separating things from their context.

Listen outside your tunnel vision

But I want you to try it.

When you are feeling stressed, which is right now, close your eyes and think outside the tunnel vision of your will. Listen. Listen for the furthest sound that you can hear.

I did that this morning for the first time in long time. I heard the birds. I heard the industrial din of the telephone exchange two houses away.

And I felt relaxed.

Imagine as David Bohm the physicist says. Imagine as Alan Watts the philosopher said. Imagine that you are one with the world.

Does the world suddenly seem more possible because you are working with the implicate order rather than against it?

Try it. Try the physical exercise (from author Paolo Coelho btw who is on Twitter with the same name).

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

The greatest leaders spark curiosity about the system

Our goal had gone walkabout

On my travels, I found myself teaching systems thinking in a university which broke a large course into 25 student groups. A few people determined the curriculum and an army of people taught students who wrote a common examination.

I was shocked by the examination papers. Students rambled on tossing in whatever thoughts came to mind.

We sensibly had an interim examiners meeting and I voiced my concerns. Well, it seems that I was the one to have misunderstood the curriculum.  The curriculum designers were trying to convey the idea that there are many perspectives on any issue. They didn’t see a common goal or direction as an essential part of any system.

I am cursed with an “open mind” so I hastened to the internet to double-check and the idea has hung around my mind ever since as unfinished business does.

3 misunderstandings about system goals

I’m afraid that systems do have common goals. That is entirely the point. But it seems that this is a point that is often misunderstood.

Some people think the system’s goal is their goal

No! There are still multiple perspectives. We can add the system as a virtual person and ask what is the system’s goal! We have the boss’ goal, we have the system, goal and we have each of our goals.

Some people think there is no common goal

It is true that the organization does not have a goal. An organization cannot think! When we say that the organization’s goal is X, we must ask who says that?

But we not only want to understand the multiplicity of goals but we also want to understand how the many goals come together and how the system goal morphs in response. We cannot ignore the system goal ~ or we do as a sailor might ignore the weather ~ at our peril.

Some people think goals are constant

They are ~ for a second. Goals morph as situations change. When we ignore the dynamic quality of goals, then we get mission creep. Conditions change and if we don’t stop to think about what we want, what we all want, we find ourselves doing too much of one thing and too little of another. A mess in other words. Goals are infinitely variable.

Articulating the morphing of goals in any group is what makes a leader

A leader understand the multiplicity of goals in a community and sees how are contradictions and conflicts, agreements and alliances come together to make us what we are – how the whole comes from the parts and affects them in turn.

A leader is a person who is able to articulate this dynamic mix so that we feel supported by the whole and essential to its well being. This is a tough call when a group is determined to quarrel or terrified by its destiny. The hall mark of a leader is that he or she looks for the common ground where we all belong and keeps looking.

Facilitating the agreement is the hallmark of the greatest leaders

Helping us find that common ground is the hallmark of the greatest leaders. We often doff our caps to leaders who were in the right place at the right time. They represent what is the best about ourselves and we throw them into the limelight to remind us of who we are and where we are going. In time, we choose a new leader because our direction has changed and we need new icon on our bows.

We remember these leaders because these were times that we felt great. The greatest leaders, though, help us identify the right questions. They know how to “bound” the group. They know how to focus our attention on the question that we must answer if we are to find the way forward and the place where we feel great.

That’s why it seems as if great leaders set goals. They set a boundary which focuses our attention on question-asking.

It is not the goal that is important, but our compulsion to find out how we should reach the goal.

Colin Powell once said “Leadership is about ‘Follow Me!. Even if it is only out of curiosity.”

Leadership is the art of engaging the imagination in the search for collective answers.

The system is important. With good leadership, we accept the system as a virtual person ~ a popular virtual person who we all want to look after and please.

5 ways to tell a winning organization from an organization on a losing track

Select your organization well!  Your well being depends upon it.

We all want to see ahead.  I am going to tell you that we cannot.

Yet we as surely as we court disaster when we get behind the wheel of the car when we have been drinking, we can run our organizations recklessly. You will get out of a car that is driven by a drunk, and you should aim to stay away from badly run organizations or at least to replace its management!

Let’s assume for a moment that you are one step back and you are choosing an organization.  Yes, choose. Even in a wicked recession, we choose. We choose which jobs we look at.  We choose which companies we research and approach.

Even as outsiders, there are 5 things to look out for to check the health of the organization.

These ideas are based on “systems theory”.  I hope any systems theorists reading this will comment.

One: We are continuously mindful of how well we are doing as a team and what it takes for the whole team to win

In plain language: Do people say “we” and do they talk about real things.  Do they say things like “In December, the market is slow for us.”

Do they talk in terms of taking everyone with them?  Do they make sure all the stragglers keep up and do they all cross the finishing line together?

Two: Everything matters, everything is connected to everything and connections get stronger with use!

In plain language: When you first approached the organization, did they start to “dance” with you?  Or were they stiff and rigid?  At the other extreme, were they hopelessly muddled?

Do they treat you like “white water”?  Do they work with the river and paddle gently or do they, at one extreme, fight the river [you] or at the other, not guide their canoe efficiently [be too relaxed and out-of-it]?

Is there feeling “give and take” or is the a feeling of force and rigidity or the opposite, no order at all?

Three: History happens once.  Nothing will ever happen again

In plain language: Do people in the organization tell a story of where the company came from and where they are going to?  Or is the company a skeleton of procedures without any flesh?

When they  talk to you about your story, do they attend to relevant parts or are they distracted by inconsequential details?

When something surprises them, do they ask questions or do they dismiss what they don’t understand?

Do they ask you how you would do things out of curiosity (and not as a test of right and wrong)?

Four: Birds fly in a flock without anyone giving orders!

In plain language: Are there 2 or 3 principles that govern this organization and are those sufficient to coordinate team work?  Do people point to the team work with evident pleasure?  Do they marvel that so much gets done with so little bossing around?

If you ask them what it would take to succeed on the job or fail on the job, can they give you 1 or 2 points or do they point you to manual that they haven’t read?

Five: Has the organization made unusual discoveries about what is good, true, better and possible?

In plain language: Do people talk about times when they were working as usual and then they stumbled over a new solution that was much better than they had done before?

Are they slightly mystified about how that happened?  That’s a good sign.  Mutation is healthy and it is only mutation when it is a surprise!

Qualify the organization

In sales, we only spend a lot of time on customers who need our products and services, who have the money to buy, and who intend to buy.  We “qualify” our customers.

We also have to qualify our organizations and move towards those who are healthy!

Rating an organization

When you talk to someone about a job, rate the organization on each of the five points.  How do they stack up on a scale of  0 to 25?  Try it and rate organizations that are right under your nose.  See if you haven’t got far healthier organizations right under your nose where you live!

Join up with people who will last the recession!

An inflexible organization will not last the recession.  And nor will one who is not organized at all.

Look for a healthy firm.  They will have the internal flexibility and mindfulness to adapt to the chaos in the environment. They will organize their affairs so you can grow. They will enjoy what they do and you will too.

Happy hunting and happy choosing!

Where are the system specialists in UK? The amber light for UK today

EPS

If you are an accountant or financier, EPS means earnings per share. If you are a staff manager or systems designer, EPS means events, patterns, systems.

Events, patterns, systems

Here we are in November 2009, a good year after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and two years after the run on Northern Rock.

Events

Each of those is an event. People on the front line had to respond. They stood in the queue to get their money out of Northern Rock. They carried their belongings in a forlorn cardboard box out of the Lehman building.

Events are about doing. What we do brings them about. What we do deals with their consequences, good or bad.

Patterns

Two banks going under (and later more) may or may not be part of a pattern. In this case, we have a pattern.

As soon as people made a “run” on Northern Rock, many of us will have asked, is the ea pattern? And if so, what shall we do about it?

Many of us sat down immediately to review the stability of our own banks. We checked out all the rules and moved our money about so all our eggs weren’t in one basket.

Patterns are about asking questions. Is a pattern emerging? If so, what are the forces behind the pattern? How will the pattern effect us? What does knowledge of the pattern allow us to turn it into an event ~ to do.

Systems

And as soon as we had moved our own assets to safety, we asked the next question: why? Why and how did we run our affairs so they led us to this peril? How was it that we missed earlier patterns and did not take evasive action earlier?

For ordinary people, systems are about pondering. And for some ranting and raving. Professional systems designers and staff managers review the information systems alert the people who “do” that something needs “doing”. We review the information systems that trigger, or failed to trigger, question. And we review the information we used to look for patterns.

Events, patterns and systems correspond to the three circles of managers.

Do-ers

On the front line are those that do. They need information to warn them of events and to manage events as they unfold.

Managers

One step back are managers. Their job is not to ask whether the doing is getting done ~ that is the job of doers. Their job is to look at patterns.

They might compile the information on whether the job is getting done and feed it to the frontline. But if the job is not getting done, they should ask whether the right information is being delivered at the right time.

System designers

A second step back are system designers ~ managers of managers. They neither control events nor deliver information directly.

They ask another question: will the system of doing, pattern detection and information give us the patten of events that we are able to manage?

Many people start to glaze over at this point.

What kind of work do you like to do?

Doing is busy and immediate

Most people work on the front line. They like it there. It is busy, active, sociable and very very immediate.

Good management works ahead of the action using information from days gone by

The old saying, though, is that without good governance, life is nasty, brutish and short.

Let me illustrate in everyday terms with the smallest act of good management. An irritation shared is usually quartered. When someone is carrying a heavy load, we stop to help. It takes us a few seconds and it makes a huge difference to easing their day.

When we have the right information at the right time and the right place, everyone is able to do more, more quickly. Manager might not carry the heavy loads themselves, but they will have alerted people that someone needs help, or found out whether the heavy load could have been broken into parts, or worked out whether it would be cost effective to get in some machinery.

Managers work ahead of the action by using information from days gone by. They still see what is happening. They see results and often dramatic results. But they are not doers.

Managers miss doing

In many organizations, managers come from the ranks of doers and they resent not being part of the old team. And they resent no longer having the thrill of immediacy. In some organizations, like universities, they resent the sharp loss of status because doers – those who do research – know that managers are unable to do.

In most organizations, managers also have the power to order, rather than advise, doers. Managers are also paid more.

Higher status & greater authority makes sense when we are unable to manage without first having been doers.

Increasingly though, it makes no sense at all for managers to be paid more than the people they manage. Take air traffic controllers, for example. They are unlikely to have been jet pilots. Air traffic controlling and flying planes are two different career paths which are learned and maintained separately. For very limited periods, air traffic controllers are able to give orders to pilots, but this is only a pragmatic arrangement. A system has been worked out where you “take a number and wait your turn”. Air traffic controllers are announcing the pilot’s turn ~ not telling them how to do their jobs.

We see instantly from this example that more people prefer to do ~ fly the plane ~ than control. That is how it should be. Nonetheless controlling is an important job for those who have the temperament to do it.

System designers are removed from the action but think up the system

And now you walk away, a little bored but satisfied that you understand it all. You’ve forgotten the system designers. Who thought up the system of air traffic control? Who investigates when something goes wrong?

Well, the third tier are widely despised! We don’t do. We don’t control. We are rarely seen until after the action and then only when things have gone wrong. We are the system designers and we come in two forms: the forensic – the after the event crew ~ and the designers.

Either way, our job is look at the system and ask whether it delivers a range of situations that are doable and controllable.

Obviously there are few of us. We aren’t needed every day.

The ongoing work of systems designers is seen more obviously in process plants. Highly qualified engineers design the plant and are on hand to advise when the process limps. When the system becomes luggable, or otherwise incomprehensible, the engineers are called in to reveal the more obscure ways of getting things to run smoothly again.

Design work is even more interesting because it is done ahead of time. Design work in human systems often attracts people who have a lot to say about the world. They don’t necessarily fit in well to systems work simply because the world rarely obliges us by doing what it is told!

Good systems designers are savvy. They leave plenty of room for the system to wrap itself round people and the way they do things. System designers have a good sense of side-effects, they have a sense of how long things take, and they understand the stop-and-go nature of human affairs.

But note, systems designers exist!  They’ve designed every thing you use. Banks. Post offices. Roads.

They check everything you use. There are engineers out there right now checking that the bridges are safe. There are doctors running medical “seeing ahead” to possibilities you cannot imagine. There are auditors checking businesses and banks to make sure your money is safe.

Where are the people who designed our systems?

What has puzzled me during the scandals of the last two years is that we haven’t heard much about the system designers – both designers and forensic investigators. I am not sure why we have this silence.

We are left with the impression that system specialists have been taken out of the system and the top level managers who are responsible for overseeing them haven’t being doing their job.

An amber light for the great system of the UK

For me, that is the greatest “system” amber light in UK today.

Why aren’t the system designers more visible?

Why don’t we point clearly to work units, to degree courses, to professions whose very job is to make sure life is doable and controllable?

Isn’t the lack of trust that people have in UK politicians precisely because they cannot see where decisions are made?

Who designs the system? Who checks that it is running? Point me to their offices!

Are we doomed to repeat subprime crises – or could we manage better?

{{es|Esta imagen ilustra la ventaja mecánica d...
Image via Wikipedia

Subprime crises ~ again?

Umair Haque‘s article in the Harvard Business blog of yesterday nudged me to think through Donella Meadows 12 levers to change a system.

Umair thinks a lot of activity in Web2.0, or social media, is little more than a “sub-prime crisis”.  And implicitly, he argues that we will continue to have sub-prime crises until we improve our moral and ethic act.

I think we will continue to have sub-prime crises because it is possible for sub-prime crises to happen. What is possible is possible. We don’t control everything!

But we also don’t have to lurch from crisis to crisis.

Managing systems is a little more than just managing

My argument though is that we have to think more clearly.

  • We can think about systems as systems.
  • We can watch that we don’t confuse our individual behavior with system behavior.
  • We can understand the linkages between our individual behavior and system behavior ~ and work clearly on the linkages without confusing these with our emotional reactions to changes in system behavior.

Sadly, few of us are educated in systems thinking. Even fewer are fluent.

In the management world, we have long separated the work of the line (the people who do work) – from managers (the people who make the system) – from staff (the people who manage the managers).

  • It is very necessary for managers to think clearly about systems without  muddle the overall effect with what any one of us does. The art of management is also leveraging without exaggerating or underestimating any of levers.
  • And the staff – the managers of the managers – have their role in training managers and holding up a mirror of their behavior so they have accurate and timely feedback.

Next step in clarifying my thinking about systems

My next step is to review my current think with what Donella Meadows wrote on managing systems.

The subprime crisis is a good impetus to check the quality of our systems thinking!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Not make toxic junk – not enough – nurture the polity

Toxic junk

“The great challenge of the 21st century isn’t churning out more toxic junk – it’s learning to make stuff that’s not toxic junk.” So said Umair Haque in today’s Harvard Business Blog.

Pointless work

Umair’s challenge reminds me a science fiction book that I read years ago.  Some bright young man, working in a high rise building slowly worked out that the papers in his in basket, and every one else’s in basket, never left the building. They were working on a closed make-work system and the papers were designed to circulate endlessly without achieving anything in particular.

Most people know that they work in non-jobs. I’ve even asked people commuting on trains into London what they do.  Some people laugh outright and say nothing.  Others will tell me some detail – like how to maintain the railway tracks.  Few people refer to the bigger picture though.  They know where the water cooler is.  They know when they get paid.  They haven’t much of a clue about what their organizations do.  More importantly, they don’t care ~

  • They assume it is normal not care.
  • Feedback loops are very slow so they don’t see any consequences.

Provided money is paid into their bank accounts, they assume it’s fine not to care too much.

Empty lives ~ lives we cannot call our own

Sadly, most of us do not feel that we are able to live full lives.   And even if we wanted to care, do we have the understanding or the competence to manage systems?

Systems surprise us

Lets take the example of Facebook that Umair uses in his example.  Facebook grew out of a college-student prank.  I am sure many people think it is evil. Without knowing the facts, I am sure College Adminstrators thought that at first. Now they just send requests for donations!  Simply, Facebook is a good example of how good things come out of laziness or mischievousness.   Our drive to take short cuts can innovate.

The converse is also true.  Many of the people who are sleep-walking through non-jobs believe they are doing good.

Very simply, the interaction between the system as a whole and our individual actions is too complex for the one to be reducible to the other.

Systems must be managed as systems

We have to watch the system itself.  We need metrics for a system, and we have to understand its possible trajectories.

We have to understand the complex way individual actions interact with the system and the slowness of the feedback loop connecting the two.  Because of that slowness, individuals need feedback about their individual actions over and above the trajectory of the system itself and their effect on the system.  All three sets of information must be available.

Let’s use an example uncluttered with the emotion of who-did-what

Let’s take the weather.

Weather systems vary world over and predicting the weather varies.   In some countries, the weather is very predictable.  In others it is quite changeable.

I lived in a place where it only rained from November to March. In that time, we needed to

  • Grow all the food we needed
  • Collect all the water we needed for the dry months
  • Protect ourselves against too much rain (floods, in other words).

It was well known that in the north of the country, that the rains would fail in 1 year out of 3.  We would never know which year the rains would fail and if we were wise, we kept enough food and water for three years (1/27 or about 3% chance of running out).  There was still the possibility of a drought four years in a row.  So we needed a plan for that too.

Managing at system level

In the south, rains failed on average, every 2nd year – so they had to plan harder.  In the north, we knew the basic parameters and we knew we had to

  • build enough dams
  • move water around
  • store food
  • and build big drains because when it rained, it rained!  It came down in buckets.  The drains had to be massive.

We could mismanage this system easily.  A full dam looks like excess.  Why not use the water?  Why be so prudent?

We could blame shortage of water on climate change.  It could be true, but if we haven’t stored enough water for what we knew already, which was the average frequency of droughts ~ well what can anyone say?  Recklessness is recklessness.

The system can be managed at system level.  And should be.

Managing at individual level

Now let’s look at the actions we needed to take at individual level.  My individual actions will not affect the presence or absence of a drought!  It won’t affect the presence or absence of dams or drains either.  If I judge my individual actions by the state of the system, I will get confused and become helpless and inactive.

But if I know that the dams are insufficient and the price of water will be high during a drought, I can store water for gardening and non-drinking purposes like flush toilets.  That is a judgment I make as an individual. I can ask myself will I have enough water and what am I going to do about it?

Actually, the house I lived in was plumbed to use a reservoir of water collected from the roof, but the reservoir had been removed when adequate dams had been built.  So my decisions work both ways.  Sometimes the munificence in the system allows me to take no action.

The general rule is that I had a multiplicity of choices to make at individual level to ensure that I had sufficient water for my needs and i made my decisions by taking into account all the factors at the system level.

Managing at the collective level

We can also manage our collective response at system level by voting for more dams, or by cooperating or not cooperating with rules prohibiting sinking boreholes to use underground water, for example.

My individual action alone won’t influence the system but some of my individual actions have some influence on the system!

Acting effectively

Now that I understand the system and the actions available to me, I can decide what I am going to do to maximize my interests.  These are steps that I take.

  1. I learn the basic parameters of the system to be managed (enough water for three years).
  2. I judge the health of the system for myself (shall I keep my reservoir to collect rain water or not).
  3. I judge the state of the polity and figure out whether to engage to improve the system or not, as the case may be.
  4. I judge whether I will act against public interest and use underground water (for example).

Those are my choices.  Similar choices will exist for any system.

If I were to pick on any one feature that can be influenced to change the state of the system, it is the state of the polity.  If I cannot pull people together, I have to wonder what will happen to the systems.  Will they spin out of control, as they did with the banks, and if that happens what will I do then?

I think what Umair was trying to get across was that many people have already opted for 4. They don’t care and are cashing in and running ~ though it is not quite clear where. But then when we are deranged, do we need a ‘where’?  If that is what he meant, then I agree, and I think we should turn our attention to engaging effectively – to pulling people together.  That won’t stop disasters. After all, even in a healthy polity, we might still have 4 droughts in a row.  But we can be certain that in an unhealthy polity, we withdraw, we become apathetic, we don’t even try.

Managing systems

Time to cross reference with the work Donna Meadows has done on managing systems and the work Karl Weick has done on systems.  Enough for tonight while I look those up!

My three points are this

  • The systems as a whole must be monitored at system level
  • Our individual actions will be judged against a simple criteria of fulfilling our own needs
  • We also have some individual actions that affect the system.
  • Because our individual influence is weak, we should put our energies into building involvement in the polity.  The more people are engaged, they less they will behave cynically.

But nothing will insure against bad things happening.  The system happens at another level.  Paradoxically, when we understand that, we are more likely to manage our affairs in ways that system events don’t destroy us.

Complicated is horrible. Complexity is beautiful.

Oh, I am so irritated.  I’ve been doing tax returns all day.  They have to be one of the most irritating things in life, and not because someone is taking money off us.  They are irritating because they are convoluted, fiddly, and complicated.

There are plenty of other complicated things in life too.  Airports with signs that send you anywhere except where you want to go.  Bosses who change their minds quicker than change their socks.  And road signs!  Zemanta, the Firefox Addon which searches the web while you write your blog, found this humbdinger of signage from Toronto, dubbed ‘The Audacity of Nope‘.

The opposite of complicated is complex

Instead of the stop-start sensation we get when details are allowed to disrupt the flow of the whole, complexity is when the parts come together to make something bigger themselves – like the mexican wave in a home crowd.

Is eliminating complicatedness and creating complexity the essence of professional life?

Do architects create buildings where we flow, never having to stop and scratch our heads, or to backtrack?

Do brilliant writers grab attention our attention in the first line and take us with them into a world where we follow the story without distraction from out of place detail?

Do leaders describe our group accomplishment, and draw us into a collective adventure, to play our part without constant prodding and cajoling?

How do you create complexity in your work?

In what ways do you help us experience the whole where parts fit in without discord?

  • What is the ‘whole’ thing that you make?  If you can’t name it, can you visualize it, or hear it?
  • What are the essential parts of the whole, and the linkages between the parts that are essential to form the whole?
  • What are the signs that you look out for that the whole is ‘forming’, or ‘not forming’, as it should?
  • What are the extra bits of help that from time-to-time you add for the whole to come to fruition?

I’m interested in the complexity you manage, and the beautiful and satisfying experiences you add to the world.

Come with me

Share your experiences with us?

Enhanced by Zemanta