The failure is the process

stairs by seier+seier+seier
Lessons Learned — Why the Failure of Systems Thinking Should Inform the Future of Design Thinking:
[Via Manage by Designing]

“You never learn by doing something right ‘cause you already know how to do it. You only learn from making mistakes and correcting them.”
Russell Ackoff
Design and “design thinking” is gaining recognition as an important integrative concept in management practice and education. But it will fail to have a lasting impact, unless we learn from the mistakes of earlier, related ideas. For instance, “system thinking”, which shares many of the conceptual foundations of “design thinking”, promised to be a powerful guide to management practice, but it has never achieved the success its proponents hoped for. If systems thinking had been successful in gaining a foothold in management education over the last half of the 20th century, there would be no manage by designing movement, or calls for integrative or design thinking.


This is a very interesting discussion. It seems to me the problem is not with systems thinking but with the attempt to create a defined process for it. Human nature includes trying to grasp innovation by naming it. In many cases, old fashioned hierarchical approaches are being use to try and fold systems thinking into them.

But hierarchy is really orthogonal to systems thinking. Systems approaches are bottom up. The group defines it. Processes are top down. The leader/teacher defines it. I am not surprised that people who go to meetings to be taught by leaders what systems thinking is and the process to implement it do not get it at all.

I recently spent two days at a workshop with around a dozen architects and managers. The facilitator was one of Russ Ackoff’s former colleagues at the Wharton School. It is a reflection of what has become of systems thinking that it took most of the two days for the facilitator to explicate all that he thought we needed to know before we could begin either critiquing or applying the ideas In addition to obvious material on the nature of systems, we learned about chaos theory, living systems theory, Santiago theories, the four foundations of systems methodology (holistic thinking, operational thinking, interactive design, and socio-cultural models), five systems principles (openness, emergent properties, multi-dimensionality, counter-intuitiveness, and purposefulness), the five interactive dimensions of social systems (wealth, beauty, power, value and knowledge) and the related five dimensions of an organization (throughput processes, membership, decision, conflict management, and measurement), the elements of a throughput system (time, cost flexibility, quality, measurement, diagnostic, improvement and redesign), the nature of holistic thinking and iteration, the laws of complexity, loops and feedback, and more.

All of this was presented as foundational knowledge that was necessary before we could get to what it was that brought most of us (or at least me) to this particular workshop — designing for human interaction. In addition to the number of frameworks and ideas, and the density of the interconnections among them, there was a strong normative quality to the material and its presentation. “If one hopes to make any progress at all,” we were told, “you need to both understand and accept these related ideas.”

Systems approaches are not a series of bullet points. They are approaches for using human social networks to solve complex problems. It may not be useful for accountants but it can be critical for researchers.

It is not a set of bullet points. People do not simply change to a new approach because someone else says to or has a bunch of fancy names. I’ve mentioned what is necessary. The post also recognizes this.

These requirements are at odds with how we tend to acquire new knowledge. Rather than accepting a new idea because we must, we like to try it out. A new skill is most likely to interest us if it contributes to both short-term and long-term learning objectives. And the easier it is to try out parts of a theory, the more likely we are to jump in.

Systems thinking works when people learn and adopt an approach, not when they are told the steps involved. And they have to recognize that it has short term benefits.

Use a bottom up approach. Find the early adopters and get them on board. Work the adoption curve and you will have much more success. That should be the lessoned learned.

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Communicating science

microphone by hiddedevries
A Climate (Communication) Crisis?:
[Via Dot Earth]

If experts change how they describe global warming, will people wake up?


Interesting points but trying to be more emotional and dramatic is not very effective when facts are trying to be exchanged. There has been a lot of research done that exposes the steps individuals and communities progress through as they adopt new idea and change their viewpoints. It might be better to be aware of this than to try framing exercises.

The five steps are awareness, interest, evaluation, trial and adoption. Different people move through these steps at different rate.This results in a differentiation of a population into different groups: innovators, early adopters, early majority,

Scientists are generally on the innovator/early adopter spectrum of things, especially compared to the entire population, which, by definition, is mostly the 68% in the middle.

Innovators and early adopters take their cues from outside influences and their own experiences. They are open to ideas that come from outside the community and move much faster through the five steps than others. They are not as dependent on community influences as the majority are.

So scientists are influenced by people who are outside their direct social network. We are trained to do that in order to examine data, converting it into useful knowledge that gains us understanding of the natural world. We have a lot of training that helps us have the sagacity to determine the usefulness of a new idea. even if the idea comes from someone ‘outside.’

But, for the majority of people in the middle, outside influences are suspect. They usually will only adopt an innovation or change their opinion when a respected member of their own community, of their social network, tells them to. They are generally influenced only by those close connections in their social network.

If the scientist is viewed as the other, as outside the group, many people will not listen to them. They seldom are influenced by anyone outside the group. This is why being liked can be such a big plus when trying to change someone’s mind.

When you are liked, you are more easily admitted to the group and will be listened to. Politicians know this. That is why likability is so important for them. Unlikeable politicians won’t get elected.

But few scientists are influential in the scientific community because they are liked. They are influential because they are good at making data into knowledge. But this is not something the majority will ever use to shape their opinions on the reliability of an outside researcher.

Thus, scientists can and do listen to others but the majority will only change when they and their connections are directly effected. This is probably why knowing someone who is gay has a much greater influence on someone’s opinion that anything GLBT groups can say. Becoming trusted by the group is more important than presenting facts, even if the facts are correct.

Most scientists think that the data should speak for itself. That is because they are really good at the evaluation step. They use their tacit and explicit information to make a decision and move quickly through the last two steps. IIn fact, scientists have to be pretty good at moving through all five steps rapidly or they will not be a very successful researcher.

Most everyone else is stuck at the interest stage. They await the opinions of influential members of their community to move beyond evaluation.

So to engage and educate, scientists must move out into the community. They must be seen as unbiased members who provide information for others to deal with. This can be quite difficult for many scientists. Part of this is because science attracts people with very health egos. You have to be very strong because in science, you fail a lot of the time. To keep on doing something, knowing it is unlikely to succeed, oftenrequires a monster ego.

So it is often hard for a scientist, who has made it through all 5 steps, to accept that someone else will not just listen to them, just trust them. ‘We are a scientist, after all! We know more about it. Why are you unable to understand the simplest things?’

All things that are not going to make the scientist liked in the community.

The majority of people only see someone from outside dealing them to do something.The first thing they often think is “What is he trying to sell? What is his angle?”

People like science because they enjoy understanding the world around them. But scientists do not have many useful organizations to help them engage with the public. They have very little training in how to deal with people that do not react to the world like they do. They often have to do it themselves. Perhaps if there was a more formal process to bring scientists into the community, we could get the majority convinced quicker.

The majority will move eventually and when they do, things can move rapidly. Facilitating this would be a worthwhile endeavor.

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Disengagement is necessary for innovation adoption

Eartly Adoption: Not Just For Tech?:
[Via Amy Sample Ward’s Version of NPTech]

There is a great post from Louis Gray that I’ve been thinking about lately with an interesting view of 5 Major Stages of early adopter behavior.
The Five Stages of Early Adopter Behavior include:
Discovery, QA and Spreading the Word
Promotion and Collaboration
Mainstream Use and Engagement
Sense of Entitlement, Nitpicking and Reduced Use
Migration to Something New, Call to Move Followers

You can read the full descriptions of the 5 Stages here.

I’ve discussed early adopter behavior before. The first few steps compress the normal 5 step process everyone goes through in adopting a new innovation – awareness, interest, evaluation, trial and adoption. Entitlement and migration describe something else – some of the early stages of adopting a new innovation require the rejection of the previous one.

This is also behavior seen by innovators. Innovators love something new and even after adopting a new innovation are often looking for the next best thing. But almost anyone who adopts a new innovation must break away from the old one.

It may well be a different process for the innovators/early adopters than for the rest of the group, the early and late majorities. Most people are informed about what choices to make by early adopters/innovators. These people do not generally discover new innovations and will adopt what others tell them to. They rely on key influential members of the community to inform them about new innovations.

Innovators and early adopters, on the other hand, rely on outside influences and their own personal knowledge to inform themselves about adopting an innovation. They do not simply change because someone told them to. So they may have more personally invested in an innovation and may have to do some emotional disengagement from a previous innovation in order to begin the process of adopting a new one. They essentially have to go through a re-evaluation process in order to move on.

Finding faults with the old makes it easier to move on to the joys of the new. I would expect that the initial stages of adopting, such as awareness, overlap with the latter stages of disengagement. I would also expect that innovators are more likely to cobble together problems with the old in order to justify moving on to the new, moving through the re-evaluation period as fast as they move through the other 5.

For early adopters, evaluation is their hallmark, so I would expect re-evaluation would also be important to them. They would spend some time on this ‘process, more carefully weighing the benefits of a new innovation with the disadvantages of the old.

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Systemic Leadership?

The Search For Leadership:
[Via Ackoff Center Weblog]

Dear Colleague, Even the most sophisticated Leadership Development programs in even the most forward-thinking organizations can seem like little more than glorified fish polishing. Systems Thinking (and our own experience) tell us that individual managers and leaders are like fish…


Systemic leadership can not accomplish much if the water is foul. That is, if the group to be led and the social environment are not conducive to effective leadership, none will occur. The post mentioned these points:

* a leader is only as good as the system he or she operates in

* leadership isn’t just about leaders or people, it’s about the whole organizations (its values, culture, policies, shadow-side, strategies, systems, etc.)

* ‘leader development’ [what Bill Tate calls ‘polishing fish before putting them back into the murky water of the fish tank’] is a fatally flawed solution

* a more distributed leadership culture is vital if organizations are to tap into front-line experience and generate energy for change

Unfortunately, the linked website appears to exist in order to sell the book. There are a few interesting links, including this one that describes systemic leadership. It does contain this interesting paragraph:

Displaying leadership – including moral leadership – isn’t easy in a quagmire. If we want to improve people’s behaviour in an organisation we need to examine the system and look at what people are surrounded with. Leaders often create their own mess, or fail to notice that entropy is doing it for them. And they often have to clean up the mess themselves. But most leaders are part of the system; they do not have the luxury of watching comfortably from the outside.

The organization has to permit effective leadership. Of course, in my experience it is easier to find an ethical organization to work with than to try and change an unethical one. I wonder if William Tate has a solution?

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Innovation in a time of abundance

by John-Morgan
The Role Of Abundance In Innovation:
[Via Techdirt]

A few weeks back, Dennis wrote about a recent Malcolm Gladwell article in the New Yorker about innovation, but I was just shown another article from the same issue, by Adam Gropnik, which may be even more interesting. Gopnik points to evidence challenging the idea that “necessity is the mother of invention,” by noting that more innovation seems to occur in times of abundance, rather than times of hardship. The idea is that in times of hardship you’re just focused on getting through the day. You don’t have time to experiment and try to improve things — you make do with what you have. It’s in times of plenty that people finally have time to mess around and experiment, invent and then innovate.


It takes free time to be innovative. If one is under a lot of time pressure, one’s focus is not on experimenting with new ways to do things. The focus is on completing the job. There is no time to waste on experimenting or dealing with the many failures that true innovation presents before success.

That is why the most innovative organizations permit a set amount of time to be spent on anything.

When I worked at Immunex, you could devote a set percentage of your time to a project of your own choosing. You did not even have to tell your boss what it was. You only had to justify it when you had spent a reasonable amount of time working on it. This helped foster a sense that you had spare time, even if you did not use it.

Now, often really innovative things come into being when there are constraints. That is, money or resources are limited so a new approach has to be used. But in these cases, time is not the real limiting step.

If you want to have a innovative organization, then there must be time allowed for innovation development, meaning a lot of things will fail. That means the time pressures must be abated somewhat. One way to help is to use online tools to enhance the workflow, permitting time to be rescued from inefficient processes.

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