Appreciating Systems

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Motivating novices through positive feedback and experts through negative feedback (a #SolutionFocus paper mentioned by Coert Visser @DoingWhatworks)

I would like to comment on the paper mentioned above (thanks Coert!). This is interesting, and I find that there’s commonality behind what’s appear as opposites (positive & negative feedback).

Indeed, my first shot was that there is a difference between someone who feels Competent with respect to some learning and someone who doesn’t. I’m using here Competent as in Self-Determination Theory that basically says that intrinsic motivation comes out of promoting Autonomy, Competence and Relatedness (thanks to @Coert for bring it to my radar, BTW).

So, if you’re pointing problems to a beginner, you’re just undermining both their sense of competence and autonomy.

It then seems to me that it all depends on whether someone thinks he’s competent (or autonomous) with respect to some knowledge or skill, or not. So, before feeling competent, you’d need to grow their intrinsic motivation (by praising their hard acquired competence and autonomy), and when they think they’ve come to some kind of expertise, then bringing that kind of positive feedback is just acknowledging the obvious to them and thus not working anymore.

And then for experts (or people who think they are), pointing to problems (gaps between perfection and where they stand) make the unobvious obvious. And if these people are willing to close the gap, then they might want to work on that gap.

I told in the beginning that there was a common principle. Here it is IMHO: it’s about what Gregory Bateson called Information. If you don’t bring information to someone, he won’t act (of course). But if you do, he might react to it.

And what did Bateson called Information? He called Information “a difference that makes a difference”.

So, to someone who thinks he’s a beginner, you point the difference with the beginner: that he’s better than that. To an expert that knows already he’s not a beginner anymore, talking of where he is doesn’t bring information. You’re not stating a difference in his mental model. But if you’re pointing to an unseen difference between his perceived expertise level and some kind of objective/better expertise level, then that is information to him, and he might work on it.

Now the problem is: how can we know where someone think he is on that scale of expertise? Well maybe that Solution Focus scale might come to help here. But then we would need another discussion about how to move up the scale: root cause analyse the gap (no way!) or find times where the gap’s sometimes smaller, and what is done at these times, and do more of it (yes).

Also, furthering the Solution Focus approach to help that expert improve, it might help to ask him about what does he wants more of. Because one can think that although he might be considered an expert when it comes to generalities about some field, he might himself doesn’t agree with that and/or think that inside the field there are some areas where he feels like a beginner.

So in the end, the difference that can make a difference mostly comes out right to someone when the person is giving hints as to where it might be.

Only when someone’s expertise claim to be encompassing might we bring to the table other mental models or situation that the so-called expert might have problems to solve. Indeed, who said one mind has the requisite variety (Wikipedia) to handle two (or more)? No one, for sure as 1 never equaled 1+1.

 

#Video about Overcoming #Change #Resistance :: TOC.tv

November 22nd, 2012 Posted in Change Tags: , , , , ,

Someone (Franck V.)  sent me this nice cartoon about Overcoming Resistance :: TOC.tv. Check it out, it’s nice!

It’s the classical 4 elements of change:

  • what are the positive aspects of changing (need to have a lot)
  • what are the negative aspects of changing (as few as possible)
  • what are the positive aspects of staying the same (as few as possible)
  • and what are the negative aspects of staying the same (need to have a lot)

If all these variables are right, then people will most probably change.

Of course, this is the logical side of change, and it needs to be right.

But there are other aspects not evoked in this video that others (including myself) have found important for a change. Here’s an example why logic only isn’t enough of a motivation to change that I wrote some time ago about: Change or Die.

For instance, Self-Determination Theory explains that what’s motivating people ought to be intrinsic to them to be the most effective (surely, a motivation to change follows the same pattern). And intrinsic motivation mostly comes out of:

  • Autonomy: the decision has to be theirs
  • Competence: they need to feel competent to achieve the change
  • Relatedness: they need to feel being part of a group

I have other hints as to what needs to be true for the change to be accepted and done, and it has to do with the cybernetics of mental models (or that the mind needs the requisite variety to understand the change and its consequences). The less a mind is “adapted” to a change, the more it will find discrepancies between how it is now and how the change would have it then. And since that’s discrepancies against a (supposedly) good state, these are most probably seen as bad. And thus not wanted.

I have a paper in writing on this, so I’m not going to explain this in details here, I need to lay down my ideas properly first. Stay tuned!

 

Finding the perfect #systemsthinking method: is that what you really want?

There’s this discussion on LinkedIn about finding a Systems Thinking “Theory of Everything”.

I don’t know why, but it triggered something in myself that I would like to share here as well.

Let me again come back to constructivism: all these approaches and methods reflect the mental models of their conceptors. As such, they’re perfectly adapted to whoever created them along with the context in which they were primarily intended for.

Biomatrix seems the more systeMAtic of all those I’ve encountered, with this respect.

Now, I question the practicality of such highly sophisticated approaches. How do you teach them to people?

I don’t question their usefulness in bringing further understanding of a situation and consequently improving if with less unintended consequences than if no approach would have been used instead. But the more sophisticated an approach is, the more difficult it will me, IMO to “sell” it to some organization, either externally from a consultancy perspective or internally.

All these approaches try to do is help creating a model of a problem or situation in order to improve it. From basic principles (causal loops diagrams, DSRP…) to more sophisticated ones (Biomatrix, SoSM (System of Systems Methodology), etc.) they try to be as close as possible to reality, yet without fully embracing it (for it would be reality itself, not a map of it!) So, here again, we’re in constructivism: that of the creators of the aforementioned methods, and that of the people making up a system we would like to study/improve using one of those methods.

I have two personal convictions.

  1. The first one is that a system is its best map and that the (future) solution to its problems is already embedded i it, even if invisible for now.
  2. The second one is that you have to make a tradeoff somewhere between having a very good (ie matching the variety of the system) method to help a system see what solution would work for it, and a simple enough method that can be taught and explain to people making up the system. Too simple, it might not bring any insight, too complicated, it will be dismissed before even using it.

I personally turned to strength-based approaches to change such as Appreciative Inquiry (part of the “whole-system” change methods) or Solution Focus where the system itself is helped deliver what would work for itself.

If really needed, I can revert to some very simple models (that I use as a checklist) to help ensure some basic elements of an organization have been considered. For instance, McKinsey’s 7S might be helpful sometimes (and I don’t go further than what Wikipedia).

The fact is that a system is what it is, composed of most importantly (to me) its autonomous (sub)parts: humans. And humans construct their own reality, so instead of trying to box them into some different reality, I think we need to help them see their own boxes and help them connect them all so that they do something that matters and makes sense to themselves.

Don’t try to understand in too much details what they mean of what they want. Trust them to know better than you’d ever could. Lead them in the trouble waters of where they are to the clarity of where they would like to be. Let them identify the impediments on the way. Let them identify their strengths. Let them identify their own solutions (most of them they have *already* experimented to some extent – solution focus!). Then let them decide what path would work best for them and help them maintain the direction they chose. And then help them identify when they arrived at their destination so they can congratulate themselves.

And don’t even get me into change resistance, because that’s what a sophisticated method will probably trigger anyway!

 

What is Ross Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety? (#systemsthinking background material)

This is a concept that I’m using since quite some time now and that I seemed to understand rather intuitively though, necessarily at a general level.

What it basically says is that for a controller to remove noise from a signal, it needs to have a minimum variety that depends on the signal it needs to remove noise from and the variety of the result that it deems Good. Which Ross Ashby summarized as “only variety can kill variety“, where the killing part was about killing the variety of noise. Read more »

Thinking about Rio+20: who owns the Green Economy? | Opinion | Whitsunday Times

I read the paper here: Rio+20: who owns the Green Economy? | Opinion | Whitsunday Times and I’m worried (also see the other document from the parallel People Summit at Rio “Another Future is Possible” which is referenced from that “Tragedy of the Commons” blog post of the School of Commoning).

I’m worried because, like so many expert advices in organizations and governments, it’s unheard by those in a position to lead the change. To the best case, it will end on presidential desks and maybe will be read by them. To the worst, it will be forgot or even fuel that “tragedy of the commons” we’re experiencing regarding ecology on a global level where the more pressing the situation is, the more pushy ecologically aware people will become, thereby making leaders resist.

To me, the problem is two-fold: 1) experts having a non systemic perspective and 2) experts  pushing leaders to change using fear.

Let’s look at these. Read more »

#SolutionFocus responses to “What You Can Say To Kill Ideas” | Productivity Improvement (#Lean)

There’s this article I’ve just read here: What You Can Say To Kill Ideas | Productivity Improvement. I haven’t been in the Lean business for long, but I feel like I’ve already encountered all of them. Sigh.

I think I can give it a try at Solution-focusing it. Let’s go!

  1. Don’t be ridiculous. So you think some of these things won’t work. What part of it can you think we can start with that will work?
  2. We tried that before. Great! What worked that we could put back in place? What have you learned so we do it differently this time?
  3. It costs too much. Of course I don’t have your expertise on the operational stuff. What part can you think could be done cheaper?
  4. It can’t be done. What part can’t be done? What part can be done? When can we start?
  5. What’s beyond our/your responsibility. What part is under your responsibility? What are the smaller parts that cna be started right now? How have you succeeded to get management approval for other things? How could we apply the same solutions here?
  6. It’s too radical a change. Agreed, you can’t make such a big leap in one time. What small part do you want to start with?
  7. We don’t have the time. What have you the time for, currently? What can we temporarily drop and replace with some small parts of this?
  8. That will make other equipment obsolete. Great, I haven’t think of this: further improvements. What other improvements do you see?
  9. We’re too small/big for it. Surely. What needs to be adapted to our size? How would you change it?
  10. That’s not our problem. Ok. Who’s problem is this? How have you succeded in the past in bringing similar problems to their knowledge and get both os us to work them out? How could we repeat the same process here?
  11. We’ve never done it before. That’s true. Let’s do it, where do you want to start?
  12. Let’s get back to reality. What part do you feel don’t fit into current reality? What could be changed to make them fit? What about other parts, can we give them a try? 
  13. Why change it; it’s still working OK. Of course things are working already (indeed, the company’s still in business). I guess there are probably part of the organization already doing this future state map. Can you see them? How can we make more of them?
  14. You’re two years ahead of your time. So are some of our competitors. What in this plan is already (maybe partly) being done that we could build on?
  15. We’re not ready for that. You’re already doing part of that. Let’s get figure and ask the people.
  16. It isn’t in the budget. That’s fine, we’re going to self-finance this anyway. Where can we start today?
  17. Can’t teach old dogs new tricks. This is not necessary. Look closer, what have you already been doing? What have you noticed in this plan that you always dreamt to be able to do? Let’s go!
  18. Do the best you can with what you’ve got. That’s my motto too and probably your people’s too. What best to they want for them, the customers and the company? What have you noticed they’re doing superbely despite current work conditions? How can we remove these barriers?
  19. Too hard to sell. What part is to hard to sell? What about cutting this in pieces and going progressively? Where do we start? Have you sold similar challenging things in the past? How did you do it? How could we adapt that here?
  20. Top management would never go for it. What are we already doing that works? Could we show that to management as a proof of concept? What small experiment can we try on our own to demonstrate it’s viable?
  21. We’ll be the laughing stock. And a model for all others. How can we present this differently, then?
  22. Let’s shelve it for the time being. I understand some of it to be too big a leap for you. What specific part can start with? Maybe cut this into smaller pieces to begin with?
  23. We did all right without it. Great! On seeing this plan, what part do you see having done already? What further improvement do you notice in the plan could further improve your already good performance?
  24. Has anyone else ever tried it? Probably, and I think the people in your department have for some part of it. Can you help us point which part is already in place (albeit maybe only partly)? For the other parts, it’s currently done in other places. Would you like me to arrange an appointment with one of our competitors to show us how they’re doing better?
  25. It won’t work in our industry. What part do you see not doable in our industry? What would make it doable?
  26. Will you guarantee it will work? I guarantee you that if we try these things, we’ll learn something that will help your people improve their process.
  27. That’s the way we’ve always done it. Fantastic! What part have you always done already? What other part can we start working on, then? What prevents you from doing it absolutely all the time with 100% success? Can we start working on providing more of this better working conditions to you and your people?
  28. What we have is good enough. What do you have? How is it good? You’re the one to decide in the end, but can we just imagine what would happen if this plan were to be implemented? How would that further improve your current situation?
  29. But we would also have to change the___________. cf. 8
  30. It’s in our future plans. Excellent! What part have you planned already? What small tasks can we do to start now?
  31. We’ll have somebody study that problem. You’re taking this very seriously, that’s great. We’ll arrange to work through it with someone of your department for the details. What parts would you like to start with? Who are we going to see?
  32. It’s against our policy. Which policy? This policy’s here for some good reasons. Glad you noticed. What part is against the policy? What other parts can we start already? What would need to change to make that part conform to the policy? Have you got policy changed in the past because they hindered change? How have you achieved it? Can we do it again for this stuff?
  33. The supplier would never do that. You’d be surprised how much they’re probably doing this already. Let’s go and see them!
  34. The customer wouldn’t accept that. I may have missed something on the customer part: can you tell me which one and what need to change? What acceptable other parts of this plan can we start working on now?
  35. When did you become the expert? I’m not: you and your people are the experts, this is just a theoretical roadmap that needs to be worked with your people. Where do we start now?

My main focus points during these rewording was to keep in mind:

  • resistance surely is because I don’t have requisite variety when proposing a plan to change: so I need to let the people / managers adapt it
  • keep being oriented toward solutions: people are very probably already doing some parts of the future state map: find out which and build on it

I assumed a top managers wanting to move fast forward, so my reframing always has been somewhat pushy. Another approach could have been to be not to push at all and let the manager whether he wants to change or not. See my Solution Focus / Motivational Interviewing Series for such an approach.

Comments welcomed!

 

 

Reblog: Seth’s Blog: Cities don’t die (but corporations do)

So long for command & control: Seth’s Blog: Cities don’t die (but corporations do).

One ruler cannot have the requisite variety to manage a system entirely on its own, except for chance.

Give up control and adopt direction. Better yet, share direction setting with your collaborators. Co-create. Help them rather than direct them. Use Appreciative Inquiry!

Probably something to do with Servant Leadership

Also, when people participate and build something, they learn and can adapt to changing setting. Like building resilience in. When you’re in charge, they don’t learn. Or they don’t learn what could save you all later. The less they learn, the more reluctant you’ll be to give them the reins. That’s shifting the burden… You’re setting up yourself for failure…

#Lean is hard on processes in order to be soft on people

October 11th, 2011 Posted in Lean, Uncategorized Tags: , , , ,

After yesterday diatribe on the people side of improvement, it occurred to me this morning that when doing Lean management, what we work with are mainly processes, not people; at least not directly.

“Hard on problems, soft on people” is indeed an often cited quote in Lean culture.

Lean is based on a coaching culture where the coaches are the managers (“teach, don’t tell” is another Lean quote). Yet, you can’t coach someone who doesn’t want to (whatever his/her [good or bad] reason).

So, the process is used as a pretext for that coaching. In an organization that needs to make benefits, improving efficiency is something well understood from employees. Yet, it’s hard (if not impossible) to come toward people and tell them how they should work better, because:

  • it’s disrespectful (and Lean is based on Respect for People!)
  • it’s presumptuous unless you did their job before and preferably not long time ago
  • and even if not long ago, you’d be served a well-merited “why didn’t you do it yourself when on the job”?
  • you don’t have requisite variety, meaning a manager can’t know the details of how to do each and every job he’s supposed to manage
  • and finally, it goes against what Lean management teaches us: having employees learn. If you tell, they don’t learn. Period.

So, even if you know how to do it better, you shouldn’t say it. And so you focus on the processes instead. Because by improving processes, you squeeze problems out of them, which means food for thought for your employees, which they will solve because it’s their job (not yours as a manager!), which will improve further the process and make it all the more sensitive to more subtle problems.

So is the virtuous circle of Lean.

(The vicious circle of traditional management is all too common: no problem solving, thus more problems, more firefighting, less time to solve anything, and more problems, leading to people leaving the company, new hires, less experience of the current situation and so further less problem solving). I wrote about it here: Nobody Ever Gets Credit for Fixing Problems that Never Happened (Creating & Sustaining Process Improvement).

How often do you focus on the processes instead of only the results of them?

#Change resistance in others is proportional to our own resistance to change one’s mental model (#stwg #systemsthinking)

Most Change Management activities are geared toward informing, explaining and training people into the change that ought to be done. It’s more or less Coercion Management to me (they conveniently share the same initials by the way).

There’s also the saying that goes “People don’t resist change, they resist being changed“. How true!

It occurred to me that the change resistance we most often sense in others may indeed be the reflection of our own resistance to change our mental models with regard to the situation that needs to be changed.

Which comes down to the assumption (a mental model as well) that there is a reality “out there” and that some view of it may be right when that of others may be wrong (the changer here supposing to have the right – or a righter – view of the situation and thus being allowed and empowered to force the change onto others).

Indeed, the more we push our (unilaterally designed) change, the more people resist. How come? I see two main reasons for that:

  • lack of people involvement in designing the change, with various consequences
  • personal belief to one view of reality only, violating the Law of Requisite Variety (Ross Ashby). Read more »

#Lean management & #Complexity: what does it mean and why it works

Cynefin framework

Cynefin framework

Simple times

In the good ol’ days of manufacturing (or service industry), the world was seen as rather simple: you had clients that wanted widgets that you built. For different needs you built different widgets. That’s the simple domain of the Cynefin framework as pictured on the right: you Sensed what the client wanted, you Categorized his need and then Responded to it.

Craft industry was at best for this kind of environment. Few thinking was necessary at that time in order to best serve clients.

Complicated times

Then, progress made clients wanting more (in quality and in diversity). In that realm of Complicated environment, the clients’ requests had to be Sensed, then Analyzed before being Responded to.

In an effort to optimize costs, it’s been decided that making “lots of brainpower” was the way to go and that was the gold days of Taylor: some people were paid to think while others were paid to build the widgets. The best way to build was being thought by brains dedicated to that purpose.

See how thinking is included in the Cynefin framework through the “Analyze” step? Brain power was necessary to efficiently design the methods of work, yet, having it all in one place was enough (in Lean, we would say that there were batches of brainpower, instead of an on-demand usage of brainpower…)

Today: complex times

Today, with such variety in the wild, the world has become Complex because clients can easily connect to a world of other opportunities and their needs reflect that complexity of the world (indeed, they’re trying to match their environment variety to survive, just like our companies). From a Systems Thinking point of view, it means that each client contact is different and there’s so much variation in it that one brain power only cannot feature the requisite variety to properly serve the client. To survive in a Complex world, one has to probe the client’s environment to be able to Sense what’s really needed and only then Respond to the (hopefully correctly understood) need.

One can see here that the thinking has disappeared of the framework, being replaced by a probe and a sense (isn’t it what genchi genbutsu is all about?). That’s where Lean came as a force because:

  • the client needs are really taken seriously, further than just analysis, by being probed and sensed by going to the client’s gemba.
  • to respond to that richly “analysis” of the client needs, the organization needs to be able to quickly respond to it, and that means to be able to quickly adapt to the requisite variety of the client’s environment.

How to you achieve that fast-moving organization? By removing all that is either unnecessary or hindering it from performing as requested by the variety of the client demands. In Lean terms, we speak of removing muda from processes.

Connecting also to Complexity principles, it means making the organization more of an opened system (Lean talks of “extended company”) than a closed one. Closed systems fail prey of the 2nd law of thermodynamics which postulates an increase of entropy, which means more disorder hence less efficiency.

A corollary to the preceding is also that if one wants to maintain order (or even further organize / increase efficiency) and to adapt to the client’s requisite variety, one needs to bring energy to the system, thus reducing entropy.

Continuous improvement doesn’t occur by chance, one has to constantly dedicate resources to it. In a finite world of resources, that means deciding upon which resources are allocated to “work as usual” and resources allocated to improvement (fight against entropy to keep it low).