Creating Organizational Relevance

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“It is the very uncertainty, unpredictability, and uncontrollability of organizational processes that signal the adaptive capability of complex systems; their capacity for the emergence of novel practices, processes, and routines is at the heart of an ecology of innovation.”  -Goldstein, Hazy, Lichtenstein Complexity and the Nexus of Leadership: Leveraging Nonlinear Science to Create Ecologies of Innovation

Learning lies at the very heart of any complex, adaptive and innovative system.  Especially those organizational systems that are able to continually grow and evolve.  And while we can let that statement linger, it is not enough.  It requires more, much more.

It requires…

A diversity of learning

Curation and creation of new knowledge

Environments of experimentation where novel and innovative ideas and thinking can emerge

Spaces where ideas can collide to create new thinking and ideas

Engaging learning networks and idea flows, both internally and externally

Ongoing reflection of mental models, assumptions and cognitive biases

Ability to adapt and change in response to the ongoing emergence of the new

Unfortunately, in the midst of today’s organizational complexity and chaos that encompasses today’s accelerated and turbulent change cycles, leaders look to insulate and simplify, instead of embracing the opportunity and/or opportunities that begins to emerge from this complexity and chaos.

When change is needed most for an organization, it is often the status quo and stasis that is sought out and exemplified (both consciously and unconsciously).

In the face of change, whether incremental and/or disruptive, the comfort of the known is often held up as a model to stave off the fear of the unknown, even when the current model is proving to be ineffective.  There is safety in the known.  Unless the emergence of the novel and new can provide a strong promise of future success it is squeezed out in favor of the familiar and known.

Which is why the above “requirements” are necessary for any organization to be able to continually adapt and maintain innovative ecologies, environments, and ecosystems.  

Or as the old adage puts forth, “you don’t know what you don’t know” remains true for our organizations, as well as individuals.  For much of what happens in an organization is based on a “we’ve always done it this way” approach to working that has seldom been considered or questioned.  Which then begets the question, are the individuals and the organization itself on a journey to continually seek out “what it doesn’t know?”  Or is it happy to remain in the comfort of the known, often at its own peril and relevance.

For which Goldstein, Hazy, Lichtenstein add, “Since ecologies are driven by all of the exchanges, interchanges, interactions, and connectivities existing between its subsystems, whatever is essential takes place at these interfaces.”

Which reminds us that if individuals and organizations are not searching out and creating new learning and knowledge, engaged in internal and external learning flows and networks, seeking out and allowing for experimentation and the emergence of the novel and new, and constantly reflecting on their mental models as they collide with a diversity of learning and ideas, those “exchanges, interchanges, interactions, and connectivities” will do little to move individuals and organizations beyond and amplification of what is already known.

Or as Goldstein, Hazy, Lichtenstein share, “At the core of ecosystems are patterns of interactions – the vital exchanges – that connect all the subsystems together.”  For which they continue, “Because a complex system is composed of interdependent, interacting subsystems, information about the functioning of the system is distributed throughout the networks of connection.  This nexus of relations is the source of influence, the driver of innovation, and the regulator of change.”

Which reminds us that all individuals and organizations have their own borders, their own space where the known and the unknown intersect.

It is at this intersection, that the future relevance of our organizations is often determined and discovered.

 

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Beyond Reverse Engineering: In Consideration Of Continuous Improvement (Part 3)

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“But why are you so interested in the solutions we develop for our specific problems?  Why do you never study how we go about developing those solutions?  Since the future lies beyond what we can see, the solutions we employ today may not continue to be effective.  The competitive advantage of an organization lies not so much in the solutions themselves – but in the ability of the organization to understand conditions and create fitting, smart solutions.”  -Mike Rother Toyota Kata: Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness, and Superior Results

Years and years of leadership and organizational indoctrination has done very little to prepare today’s leaders and organizations for a future world that has shifted and a past world that no longer exists.  Leadership and organizational frameworks and structures that have often touted…

Answers over Questions

Control over Autonomy

Technical over Adaptive

Structure over Process

Bureaucracy over Agility

Standardization over Differentiation

Compliance over Creativity

Implementation over Innovation

Short-term over Long-term

Reform over Transform

In a world that has doggedly determined to accelerate the pace of change, linear mindsets and linear ways of thinking are often lulling leaders and their organizations into stasis and status quo ways of operating and responding to this turbulent manner of change.

Instead of responding with an “abundance” mentality of determining the opportunity that exists and arises from this chaos, most leaders and organizations rather choose to apply a “scarcity” mindset and look more towards finding ways to safely insulate themselves from the volatility that surrounds them and their organization.

In many instances, they choose to recoil and then reform…rather than adapt and move to transform.

So, rather than moving towards gaining the ability to adapt and transform, many of our leaders and organizations choose instead to try and “reverse engineer” their way forward.  For which Mike Rother shares as the process of “taking an object apart to see how it works in order to replicate it.”  

Which has been a continual problem plaguing our educational organizations for a plethora of years.  This idea that we can take something apart, see how it works, and then easily replicate it in our own organization.  Just like putting a new overhead on the projector.  Easy.  Right?

Only it’s not right and it’s not working…

Or as Mike Rother adds in Toyota Kata, “We have been trying to copy the wrong things.”

Rother provides us with 3 reasons in Toyota Kata as to why “reverse engineering” isn’t working:

  1. Critical Aspects Are Not Visible: Which means that you can’t employ the things you see without being able to understand the things that you can’t see.  The underlying  processes that led to the visible changes.  Or as Rother purports, “We have been trying to add practices and principles on top of our existing management thinking and practice without adjusting that thinking and practice.”  For which he adds, “techniques will not work properly, will not generate continuous improvement and adaptation, without the underlying logic, which lies beyond our view.”  Too often we try and change behaviors without attending to the thinking and mindset that enables those behaviors.  Without attending to the mindset, this approach to change will always be veneer at best.
  2. Reverse Engineering Does Not Make An Organization Adaptive and Continuously Improving: Organizations have this tendency to jump right to solutions without determining if they are even solving the right problem.  And if they are solving the right problem, are they really gathering a divergence and diversity of thinking towards solving that problem.  Too often, as we look towards this “reverse engineering” way of working, we try to save time by moving right to implementing solutions that worked well for other leaders or organizations, without considering the context, time and a culture in which those solutions were created…and then seem perplexed when they fall flat in our own organizations.  As Mike Rother adds, “Focusing on solutions does not make an organization adaptive.”  Instead of focusing on solutions, look to create the environment and processes that lead to the thinking and doing that provides the ability and capacity of the organization to continuously improve and adapt.
  3. Trying To Reverse Engineer Puts Us In An Implementing Mode: Focusing on solutions over engaging better problem-solving processes leads to an organization, “having an implementation orientation” which “actually impedes our organization’s progress and the development of people’s capabilities.”  Which takes us back to linear mindsets and linear thinking, which is based in trying to create certainty, which is very much in alliance with an organization being in implementing mode.  Whereas, a problem-solving orientation allows leaders and organizations to become much more comfortable with the uncertainty that is required of being more adaptive and focused on continuous improvement.  If we are going to move from where we are to where we want to be, it will require taking a path that is often filled with uncertainty and unknowns.  Or as Rother shares, “If we believe the way ahead is set and clear, then we tend to blindly carry out a preconceived implementation plan rather than being sensitive to, learning from, and dealing adequately with what arises along the way.  As a result, we do not reach the desired destination at all, despite our best intentions.”

We fail to adapt and continuously improve as leaders and organizations when we try to “reverse engineer” our way forward into a very uncertain and unknown future.  We have to understand that there is a large chasm of this uncertainty and unknown that lies between where an organization is and where they eventually want to be…and inability to deal effectively with that chasm of uncertainty and unknown that stands before us will impede progress towards that preferred future that stands waiting beyond.

“If someone claims certainty about the steps that will be implemented to reach a desired destination, that should be a red flag to us.  Uncertainty is normal – the path cannot be accurately predicted – and so how we deal with that is of paramount importance, and where we can derive our certainty and confidence.” -Mike Rother Toyota Kata: Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness, and Superior Results

Facilitating Transformation

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“The more complex and unfamiliar the challenge we’re facing, the more important it becomes to test and adjust the underlying ladders of inference, beliefs, and filters we’re using to tackle it.”  -Craig Weber Conversational Capacity: The Secret To Building Successful Teams That Perform When The Pressure is On

No matter how many great ideas, strategies and levers that we can string together towards organizational transformation, if leaders are unable to facilitate their teams through and towards the conversations, processes, structures, and environments that actually lead to that transformation…not much has or will change.

Which means that today’s leaders have to be willing to push their teams into much more uncertain and uncomfortable terrain, where our mental models, maps and bias’ are placed on reflective display.  Where diversity of thinking and candor are natural and positive elements of the teams they engage and lead.

As Craig Weber adds, “The capacity to transform conflicting perspectives into learning gives a team an additional advantage that is invaluable in challenging situations where our old ways of thinking no longer fit the bill.  People with different perspectives are able to generate not just more learning, but a deeper, more powerful kind of learning.  They’re more agile, astute, and adaptive because they can deliberately double-loop learn.”

However, before we can get to what double-loop learning is, we should begin with defining both single- and double- loop learning.

According to Google,

Single-loop learning seems to be present when goals, values frameworks and, to a significant extent, strategies are taken for granted.

Whereas,

Double-loop learning occurs when error is detected and corrected in ways that involve the modification of an organization’s underlying norms, policies and objectives.

To add to that definition, Craig Weber shares, “Whenever there’s a gap between the consequences we intend and the results we achieve, learning is required.  There are two very different kinds of learning we can employ.  When things don’t work out as expected, the easy path is to simply circle back and adjust our actions (our strategy, behavior, or plan).  This is called single-loop learning.”

Which means that single-loop learning is best suited to the routine, technical problems that are stretched across our organizational landscape.  The issue with single-loop learning is that today’s leaders are seeing a big shift…from a decrease in the technical, routine problems to a heightening and growth of the adaptive challenges that are coming at them and their organizations in today’s turbulent and changing world.

To make matters worse, not only are teams and organizations struggling to engage and embrace more double-loop learning in their processes, they actually continue to engage single-loop learning as their go to response to these growing adaptive challenges they are now facing.  Which is a concern, especially in a time when organizational transformation is often vital for the future and the mere survival and relevance of many, if not most organizations.

Or as Weber adds, “In adaptive circumstances, where the problem is poorly defined, no proven solution exists, and our old habits of thought no longer fit the predicament we’re facing, single-loop learning is grossly inadequate.”

In the turbulent times we are now living in, one of accelerated change that is unleashing a densely growing number of adaptive challenges, double-loop learning will be vital to our ability to question our assumptions, reflect upon our mental maps and models, as well as test our often unconscious confirmation bias’.  Double-loop learning serves as a lens for ongoing review of, rather than blind acceptance of the assumptions of what we determine to be true.

Which means today’s leaders have to facilitate the spaces and environments where positive conflict and candor can be incorporated into engaging a variety and diversity of thinking and ideas that lead to greater capacity, especially in response to the adaptive challenges that now face our teams and organizations.

As Weber purports, “Holding our ideas, views, and perspectives more like hypotheses that need to be tested – a hallmark of more disciplined mindset – is conducive to double-loop learning.  When we hold a view like a truth it makes it much harder to question it, much less correct it.  But when we treat our thoughts, assumptions, and beliefs as suspect, it makes it easier to adjust or change them when they don’t pass muster.”

Our world has and is changing, often in a rapid and volatile manner.  It is not enough for our behaviors to change in response, so must our thinking and the lens’ that drive that thinking, both individually and organizationally.

“Trapped on the hamster wheel of their outdated thinking, unable to adapt to the novel predicaments they face, a team that can’t deliberately double-loop learn grows increasingly ineffective in a dynamic environment.”  -Craig Weber Conversational Capacity: The Secret To Building Successful Teams That Perform When The Pressure is On