It took me some time to figure out, but I’ve found the most important reason why organizations find it so difficult to improve: they tend to fix the wrong problems. And what’s even worse: they tend to think they are fixing the right problems. Ignorance is not always a blessing…
What’s the problem?
94% of problems in business are system driven and only 6% are people driven. So let’s assume for now the problem is in the system, okay?
The problems of today are caused by the solutions of yesterday. And the majority of yesterday’s solutions were based on yesterday’s organizational paradigms. We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
One of the most dominant organizational “solutions” of the previous century was scientific management a.k.a. Taylorism. It laid the foundation for mass production and fundamentally changed the way we produce stuff. Some typical aspects that became very common in all kinds of organizations (that we take for granted) are functional organization structures, organizational units based on specialization, division of labor, improving efficiency, focus on labor productivity, standardization of work processes – best practices, knowledge transfer via tools, processes and documentation.
So why do these organizational structures and practices limit our ability to solve problems?
It leads to fragmentation of the organization and decreases learning. It makes us focus on local problems and solve it with local solutions – quick fixes. Small changes can produce big results but the areas of highest leverage are often the least obvious. Cause and effect are not closely related in time and space. So we need to learn how to see system dynamics (highly recommended 15 minute introduction to the MIT course on System Dynamics). Realize that everything connects to everything else. And understand that your mental models limit your judgement. You might be wrong – and you probably are, at least a bit.
Changing your mental model starts by acknowledging that you might be wrong. Acknowledge that the complexity of dynamics in your organization is way too big to be understood by a few smart people. It’s about accessing the collective intelligence of your organization and discovering how your organization works, together. Learning, together. A good practice to make this actionable are causal loop diagrams.
The biggest problem is not to let people accept new ideas, but to let them forget the old ones. If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old. This goes all the way back to our educational systems. The proper education of the young does not consist in stuffing their heads with a mass of words, sentences, and ideas dragged together out of various authors, but in opening up their understanding to the outer world, so that a living stream may flow from their own minds, just as leaves, flowers, and fruit spring from the bud on a tree.
This post is my tribute to – subjectivity alert! – the great minds that have contributed to today’s organizational thinking and learning. I used their quotes to describe the influence they have on my view to organizations and problem solving. They’ve opened my eyes and have helped me create a sixth sense for system dynamics.
In chronological order:
- Leonardo da Vinci
- John Amos Comenius
- Albert Einstein
- John Maynard Keynes
- W. Edwards Deming
- Jay Wright Forrester
- Peter Drucker
- Dennis Meadows
- Peter Senge
- John David Sterman
Thanks a lot guys! But where are the women?