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

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