Considering Our Organizational And Systems Narrative

Whether we are aware or not, our organizations and systems are continually writing and rewriting a continuous and ongoing narrative. A saga of who we are, where we’ve been, and very often, where we are going. A constant creation of us.

So the question becomes…

How often do we take a deep dive look at this narrative that we have or are creating? How often do we look for the ‘signal in the noise’ that is arising from this narrative that we are weaving and reweaving throughout our organizational culture and systems?

How often do we consider what Debra Kaye refers to in Red Thread Thinking as our “conditioned knowledge?” Which she adds as “a set of beliefs on the order of ‘that’s the way it is; that’s the way it’s always been done’ that often keeps us from questioning beliefs, processes, or methods.”

How often do we consider our ‘narrative’ of and for change?

Too often we view innovation from a slim perspective or a limited lens, but innovation can be seen in the ‘narrative’ that ultimately drives and forms the culture we work to create in our organization and systems.

Interrupting and innovating that narrative allows us to disrupt the current state of things…

Inability to do this, lays our organizations and systems open to what Nassim Taleb terms “narrative fallacy” or for which Debra Kaye shares as “the idea that imperfect stories about the past form our present perceptions and future outlook.”

Our narrative can serve as the foundation from which the bricks of status quo thinking and doing are lain…

The ability to look at the past and the present in deeper, even more critical ways, will allow us to not only understand, but better perceive the narrative that our organizations have created, which will eventually enable us to be better prepared for the narrative that we need to write.

The one which will lead us more effectively into the future.

“Look at what exists in the world with fresh and deliberate eyes, and you gain a remarkable advantage…”  -Debra Kaye Red Thread Thinking 


Cognitive Bias, Functional Fixedness, And Connecting Creatively Into The Future

In one of his famous quotes, Steve Jobs said “you can’t connect the dots looking forward…” But in times of turbulence, chaos and great change, it may be exactly what we need to do…

Especially when we live in a time when looking back for extended periods of time can be devastating. Leading to longer and longer lapses and eventual paralysis of action as uncertainty overwhelms like a wet, heavy blanket. Often leaving us vulnerable to the velocity and impact of the unforeseen. One which is incessantly hurtling out at us from the turbulence and chaos of an unknown future.

Often leaving us blind to the dots and connections that are necessary for us to push forward into this future in a relevant and significant manner…

The problem facing us and our organizations is that these dots are neither easily accessed nor seen. And the less we engage in divergent, creative and innovative thinking, the more inclined we are to find ourselves enveloped in the “functional fixedness” that pull us farther and farther away from the connections and thinking we will need to lead us more effectively forward into and through today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world.

According to Wikipedia, “functional fixedness is a cognitive bias that limits a person to using an object only in the way it is traditionally used.” For which Wikipedia adds that “Karl Duncker defined functional fixedness as being a “mental block against using an object in a new way that is required to solve a problem.” “This “block” limits the ability of an individual to use components given to them to complete a task, as they cannot move past the original purpose of those components.”

The interesting point that Wikipedia provides in concern to “functional fixedness” is that “when tested, 5 year old children show no signs of functional fixedness.  However, by age 7, children have acquired the tendency to treat the originally intended purpose of an object as special.” (Which makes one wonder, much like the decrease in creativity that has been on the rise since 1990 in elementary school children, if “functional fixedness” is a result of that same system)

However, the more we engage in creative endeavors that extend our thinking beyond conventional considerations, the more we push ourselves past the cognitive bias’ associated with “functional fixedness” and the more we extend ourselves into this kind of thinking on a consistent basis, the more able and attuned we will become to connecting disparate dots. And the more creative and innovative we will become as both individuals, and then eventually as organizations.

However, creating the space and time to actually engage in these divergent and creative thinking opportunities must be an intentional part of today’s professional learning. Skills that must be reengaged and brought back to the surface. Otherwise, in the end, we will continue to falter and fail towards becoming more creative and innovative as both individuals and organizations, if we never create an environment where this learning can actually be engaged.

And there is no better time to start than now…

If you don’t believe me, then just go ask a 5 year old.

Committed To Irrelevance

“We experience the pain associated with a loss much more vividly than we do the joy of experiencing a gain.”  -Ori and Ram Brafman Sway

Daniel Kahneman, Amos Tversky, and Dan Ariely, amongst many others, have discussed the idea of what is referred to as loss aversion, which Wikipedia defines as…

In economics and decision theory, loss aversion refers to people’s tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains.  Most studies suggest that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains.

Which can ultimately lead to the making of irrational decisions, especially when we find ourselves caught up in what is often called “chasing a loss.” Think of the gambler, blinded by loss, who continues to place (often irrationally) bet after bet in the hopes of recouping their losses, often taking them deeper and deeper down this hole they’ve created. Or as Ori and Rom Brafman share in Sway, “to make up for a loss…become oblivious to the risks being taken.” 

But it is when loss aversion meets commitment that things get really interesting (or really irrational).  Or as the Brafman Brother’s share, “Independently, each of these two forces – commitment and aversion to loss – has a powerful effect on us.  But when the two forces combine, it becomes that much harder to break free and do something different.”

It is this combination, that keeps us devoted to an idea, a strategy, a way of operating that is no longer working. But much like the gambler “chasing a loss” we find ourselves unable to pull away from the path that we’ve committed ourselves, too. The Brafman’s share, “Our natural tendency to avoid the pain of loss is most likely to distort our thinking when we place too much importance on short-term goals.” For which they add, “The deeper the hole they dig themselves into, the more they continue to dig.”

Awareness of the combination of loss aversion and commitment is vital to today’s leaders and organizations. Too often we stay committed to strategies, processes and initiatives that are just not working. However, instead of a willingness to cut our losses in favor of long-term success, we keep “chasing the loss” in hopes of recouping the time and effort that we’ve put into the path that we’ve chosen to take, often taking us deeper and deeper down a hole that we continue to dig and dig.

To avoid current losses, we actually continue to make more and more irrational decisions that lead to bigger and bigger losses. For which Kahneman and Tversky add, when considering the idea of cutting our losses, we tend to find, “that option is deeply unattractive” for which they say leads to the line of thinking, “the option of hanging on will therefore be relatively attractive, even if the chances of success are small and the cost of delaying failure is high.”  

If we are not careful as leaders and organizations of the decisions and commitments that we are ultimately making for ourselves and those we lead…

We can quickly find ourselves not only committed to loss aversion, but ultimately to irrelevance.

“When things go wrong, we can either apply a short-term, Band-Aid solution or remember that in the grand scheme of things, it’s only a minor misstep. Having a long-term plan – and not casting it aside – is the key to dealing with our fear of loss.”  -Ori and Rom Brafman Sway 

Quotes and references from…

Brafman, Ori and Rom.  Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior.  2008.  Broadway Books.  New York.

The Canvas Or The Checklist?

“One and one may well make two, but to really understand two we must know both about the nature of “one” and the meaning of “and.” –Miller and Page Complex Adaptive Systems

Take a minute to allow that quote to sink in…

It may very well be one of major challenges and obstacles facing our leadership in today’s modern world. We are so focused on layering on the linear and predictable to produce simple and safe answers, we have failed to understand that the questions and the complexity of our situation and organizations have completely changed.

In other words, very often one and one, no longer make two.

We are coming into this realization that our current mental models are often inadequate to effectively face this cascading shift from [technical] to [adaptive] challenges. And for these reasons, we are going to have to learn to work more effectively from this immense and turbulent chasm that lies between inertia and chaos.

Or as Otto Scharmer shares in his work Theory U, “In order to deal with emerging complexity, we have to learn to drop our old tools in order to attend to and operate from the perspective of the “blank canvas” – that is, the source where organizational value is created.”

As we allow our thinking and boundaries of our organizations to expand and evolve more fluidly into the future, new models and ideas of how the world works will begin to emerge and take shape. We will learn to outgrow the boxes that we have created towards solving the problems and challenges that we will face in this exponentially shifting future. We will begin to push past ingrained ideas and perspectives that hold us back from Scharmer’s “blank canvas” thinking.

Otherwise, as we have seen in the past, we will find ourselves pushing and confining the very creativity and innovation that we seek, into more checklists, more manuals, and more binders that do little to prepare us for the adaptive challenges that lie ahead.

“For high performance organizations to evolve, leaders have to extend their focus of attention from processes to using the ‘blank canvas’ dimensions of leadership. They must help people access their sources of inspiration, intuition, and imagination.” –Otto Scharmer Theory U