Category Archives: General

Systems Thinking

Systems Thinking as taught by Ackoff:
[Via CDOQ-Chander’s Diary of Observations and Questions]

One of my heroes is Dr. Russell Ackoff. I have read a few books he has written and have learned Systems Thinking from him. I am surprised that the field of Systems Thinking is not well understood. Following is my attempt to share what I learned from one of Ackoff’s recent lectures.

Albert Einstein once said, “You can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it.” According to Dr. Russell Ackoff most managers agree with Einstein’s statement but not many know what it means. It is easy to agree with something whose meaning is vague.

In the Renaissance era, when the science as we know it today was born, a scientific inquiry method called Analysis was developed. Analysis comes naturally to us. Just watch kids breaking new things and being curious about the parts. The understanding of something follows a three step process in analytical thinking:

1. Take it apart
2. Understand (function, role, behavior) what the parts do
3. Assemble the understanding of the parts into understanding of the whole

Thus begins a very nice discussion of what systems thinking is and how it affects business. These approaches will have to be brought to bear on many of the complex problems we now face.

This is because we have pretty much solved all the problems where analysis and reductionism can be used. We are now left with multifunctional, highly linked problems.

For example, many of the drugs we have developed worked against relatively simple diseases. a single drug affects a single receptor that was the major cause for the defect is one example. But things like weight, heart disease, etc, will not have single points of fault and thus are unlikely to have a single cure. Multi-pronged cures may well be necessary and a complete (or nearly complete) understanding of the relevant biological systems will be necessary.

If an organization can not bring synthetic, multidisciplinary approaches to bear, then it will most likely be ineffectual in finding a solution to these types of problems. That is why systems thinking will be important.

Technorati Tags: ,

A resilient company

coinsby Joe Geranio
Social People and The Big Conversation:
[Via A Journey In Social Media]

Sometimes you get things right. Whether you’re smart, or lucky, or a bit of both — it should be a moment for rejoicing since it doesn’t happen as often as you’d like :-)

It’s struck me that when we put our overall corporate social media strategy together, there were two big themes: encouraging social media skills and applying them to ever-wider conversations.

Looks like that was the right thing to do …

The Germ Of An Idea

David Spencer offered up a telling comment to my last post that confirmed my thinking here.

“At EMC we didn’t tell people where to go, what to play with or what not to play with.

We have smart, social people who feel empowered to represent our brand and themselves at the same time all over the place, and the payoff is nearly automatic.

There are certainly other approaches to take, but I really enjoy the organic growth that our approach has led to.”

He’s absolutely spot-on. That’s exactly what we did.


By empowering its employees, by letting them volunteer rather than be chosen, this company has positioned itself to be able to rapidly deal with the unexpected forces the world throws at a community. Because their online social networks so effectively map real-life social networks (something rarely seen in corporate organizations), they have an added ability other companies lack.

Humans evolved social networks to help them cope with a complex world. The most successful cultures are those with resilience, that allow the entire community to help solve problems. The most fragile are those with a leader at the top, who controls all actions, but who is unable to cope with a changing world.

We have had many years of calm, a Pax Financialis. That is breaking down now, just like the Pax Romana eventually did. We will see more companies like this because they will be the ones who flourish in the coming years. Those following the older models will break and fall away.

Technorati Tags: , ,

INTJ for me also

animal animus by even.
Typealyzer says my blog is INTJ:
[Via Knowledge Jolt with Jack]

Typealyzer says that this blog appears to be of the Myer-Briggs type INTJ.

The analysis indicates that the author of is of the type:

Myers-Briggs is a useful tool for demonstrating that different people have different strategies for solving life’s problems. It is based on Jungian archetypes that, while sometimes simplistic, can offer insights that may be useful. The danger is that people make the analysis definitive, much like some people make genes the final arbiter of all behavior. People are not archetypes and can easily change depending on circumstances.

The truth is that each of us use different parts of the Myer-Briggs types depending on the circumstances. Much like different environments can alter the physical effects of the same genetic sequence, different milieus can alter which MB type we use.

I have taken MB tests several times. What I find interesting is that, for me, there often seems to be only one reasonable answer. I figure everyone feels this way. I am usually an ENFP (Extraverted iNtuitive Feeling Perceiving).

While ignoring some of the astrological vagueness of the description, it does come pretty close to describing some important traits of mine. But all of us can act in a different fashion of we need to. We can adapt our ‘style’ for the particular venue we find ourselves.

For instance, this blog, when run through Typelyzer, gives an INTJ type. Now this could just be real hokem, but this does come closer to the style I have tried to apply to this site – a little more grounded and focused on specifics.

But care must be given. Daily Kos, the largest progressive political site, comes out as ISTP – the mechanics

The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.

while RedState, one of the largest conservative, comes out as INTP – the thinkers

The logical and analytical type. They are espescially attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.

I am sure there would be some disagreement in these designations but it sure would make for an interesting discussion.

Technorati Tags: , ,

Openness for doctors

doctor by bobster1985
Clinic to Reveal All Doctor-Drug Industry Ties on the Web:
[Via Discover Magazine | RSS]

Doctors and drug company money have gone together like peas and carrots …

Researchers in many peer-reviewed journals have had to declare their conflicts of interest for several years now. It will be good to see physicians do the same sort of things.

The Cleveland Clinic is to be commended for this. More openness in pharma/doctor relationships should be useful, eventually.

I expect there may be a a tricky transition period when real education efforts need to take place. Not many doctors can remain ‘clean’ when it comes to drug companies. One example would be free samples. Doctors get these all the time and they have been really useful because we have been able to determine if a type of medication has side effects without having to get an entire prescription.

Often the binders used by different drug companies result in odd skin rashes, etc. So we have used the free samples to narrow down to ones that actually work. Is it a conflict of interest for a doctor to use free samples from a drug company he has a relationship with?

My answer would be no but I would like to know what the relationship was and talk to him about it. Most doctors are not going to go too far down the primrose path with a drug company because there are dangers aplenty.

and details of these interactions would eventually also serve as a check on those doctors who might be tempted to take a long journey down the path.

Magazine covers and social networks

Your Turn: Annie Leibovitz Turns Tina Fey Into New American Sweetheart … Or So She Exclaims:
[Via BAGnewsNotes]


Annie’s going to photograph my soul, right?”

As perhaps the biggest star (after Obama) to emerge out of Campaign ’08, I’m curious about your take on the new Tina Fey Vanity Fair cover. (I’m sure VF was thrilled to have her, by the way, after telegraphing — through a sour grapes set of parody covers — how they missed the boat with Barack.)

The scene is photographed by Annie Leibovitz, known for her commercial mastery in playing to and with the intersection of politics and entertainment. Besides my interest in just about every element on the page, I’m curious — just like Annie’s Vogue LaBron James cover was born out of a World War I propaganda poster — what the historical references and implications of this image are.

And then, what’s with that quote, and the situation of Tina between AL and Maureen Dowd? And exactly where is that flag planted?

What Tina Wants (VF Modo Cover Story)

(image: Annie Leibovitz. Vanity Fair. January 2009)

Most people would see just a cover photo but read the comments from BAGnewsNotes and you will find that this is a remake of a very specific pinup from 1945 called ‘The Winning Combination” by Rolf Armstrong.


Both hold a 48 star flag (a subtle dig at Alaska?). The flags are both flowing from right to left. The angle of the flag pole is almost exactly the same in both. The flag is planted in the Northern Hemisphere in both.

To me, the dead giveaway – notice where the only real color is on both lady’s outfits. They are wearing the same color panties. And the interior lining of their skirt is the same color. Well, Armstrong was a pinup artist. And Leibovitz is obviously recreating his work.

Of course, we are 60 years past 1945, and this cover has to sell magazines, so there is a little more burlesque in the cover pose than in the pinup. But it is very obvious, especially when you include the LeBron James cover (which is a remake of a WWI poster) that Leibovitz is doing a series based on older posters.

So, I would say that Leibovitz is not attempting to get to Fey’s soul with this picture as much as updating America’s past images with newer remixes.

But I never would have been informed about this without having access to the Internet and the many eyes model of information gathering. Only Leibovitz and a select few would probably have known what was going on. But the social connections found on the Internet allow those small few to educate others.

Today, this education is just about a WW2 poster. However, it could just as easily be about the activity of a novel protein or a unique catalyst for generating electricity.

In some technologies, the trivial is expressed first. But the substantial is not far behind.

Revealing inabilities

cars by freeparking
Tough Issues Make for Tougher Leaders:

Three issues that executives of the Detroit 3 should have considered before asking Congress for a bridge loan.

How we will spend taxpayers’ money.

What changes we will make to our business model to ensure that the loans will be repaid.

Why the domestic industry is important to the health and welfare of our nation.

So many CEOs speak only in the specialized jargon of MBAspeak. One of the things that made Iacocca a good CEO. He could speak pretty plainly.

So how can an executive avoid appearing like a deer caught in the headlights? The answer is straightforward: create a culture of questioning. Here are some suggestions.

Set the tone. The reason that senior leaders sometimes appear to be so out of touch is because well, they are. Too many of them are cocooned in bubbles that insulate them from the real world. Remember years ago when George H.W. Bush running for president in 1988 was awed by a checkout scanner? Well, Mr. Bush had an excuse; he was a sitting Vice President surrounded by Secret Service for the previous seven years. Too many CEOs impose a similar level of insulation (more for comfort than security) and as a result lose touch with the reality their customers and their competitors are experiencing. Genuine leaders regularly meet with their employees, customers, and key stakeholders and make certain to have open and honest conversations with each.

They have no easy path that provides them to links outside the bubble. Even kings had a jester to remind them they were mortal. Not so many CEOs. As I’ve discussed before, a good use of Web 2.0 tools, such as wikis and blogs can provide such a path, not only for CEOs but for everyone at the organizations.

Ask to be challenged. In tough times, execution needs to be done with urgency. Yet only a foolish executive would allow his initiatives to go unquestioned. But how often have we seen companies pursue courses of action that seem so wrong from the outside yet appear so right from the inside? It is because no one inside the company is allowed to ask hard questions that challenge the status quo.

Few leaders really want to be challenged on their initiatives. That is really hard for someone to do when their position relies on the CEO’s perception. But some of the best ideas came out of a simple question: “Why are we doing this?” Because you can bet that if you are not asking these questions, your competitors are.

Map consequences. Pursuing a course of action requires a consideration of consequences. To a degree, companies do “war game” outcomes but typically within a given set of parameters. Too few executives are expected to ask the “game changing” questions that will alter the playing field. Not only do those questions need to be asked; their solutions need to be mapped to the nth degree so that alternatives can be considered and planned for.

The problem here is that most of the executives on a team are in the same bubble. There is not enough of a diversity of viewpoint for them to really map consequences well.

And the response of a group to some of these consequences is to ignore them. An example is how the military responded to the innovative approach Paul Van Riper brought to the Millennium Challenge 02 wargames. He challenged the US forces with a plan that was devastating in its consequences (i.e. he sunk the American fleet).

The response was to ignore his challenge and to change the rules of the war games. Not a very useful response to innovative challenges but one seen all too often with manny leaders.

We will see during these hard times, which leaders seek out the path of General Paul Van Riper and which seek the path of the Detroit automakers.

It seems pretty obvious which is more successful during time of chaos such as these.

Technorati Tags: , ,

The last four lessons from

leader2 by Hamed Saber
Obama’s Seven Lessons for Radical Innovators:
See the discussion of the first three lessons here. To review, they are:

1. Have a self-organization design.

2. Seek elasticity of resilience.

3. Minimize strategy.

The discussion regards the innovative nature of Obama’s campaign organization – how it was able to create a community that pushed innovation to the edges.

4. Maximize purpose. Change the game? That’s 20th century thinking at its finest – and narrowest. The 21st century is about changing the world. What does “yes we can” really mean? Obama’s goal wasn’t simply to win an election, garner votes, or run a great campaign. It was larger and more urgent: to change the world.

Bigness of purpose is what separates 20th century and 21st century organizations: yesterday, we built huge corporations to do tiny, incremental things – tomorrow, we must build small organizations that can do tremendously massive things.

And to do that, you must strive to change the world radically for the better – and always believe that yes, you can. You must maximize, stretch, and utterly explode your sense of purpose.

Not every organization needs to follow this model. These sorts of transformational organizations, with their decentralized approaches, work best in areas where simple stick/carrot approaches are not needed. If people are going to change the world, they will be motivated without needed other sorts of reinforcement.

Small companies and entrepreneurial organizations may be best suited for this approach. The feeling of working on something big, creating something that never existed before to fight problems that face the whole world can inspire tremendous innovations. Obama was not the first to use this. He was just able to use new tools in an innovative fashion to create something novel, just as many successful entrepreneurs do.

5. Broaden unity. What do marketers traditionally do? Segment and target, slice and dice. We’ve become great at dividing markets into tinier and tinier bits. But we’re terrible at unifying them. Yet Obama succeeded not through division, but through unification: we are, he contended, “not a collection of Red States and Blue States — We are the United States of America”.

Obama intuitively understands a larger truth of next-generation economics. Unified markets are what a world driven to collapse by hyperconsumption is desperately going to need. We’re going to need not a hundred different kinds of razors – and their spiralling costs of complexity and waste – but a single razor that everybody, from the slums of Rio to the lofts of Tribeca, is overjoyed to use.

Transformational leadership is all about asking people to become part of something greater than themselves, part of a community with a greater purpose than just survival. Again, not every sort of company or leader needs this but for certain industries it can be very potent. And it can attract a large number of innovators because they are usually drawn to exactly these sorts of problems. Much in the way writers have to write, innovators have to innovate. Creative talent is very important for a decentralized organization.

6. Thicken power. The power many corporations wield is thin power: the power to instill fear and inculcate greed. True power is what Obama has learned wield: the power to inspire, lead, and engender belief. You can beat people into subjugation – but you can never command their loyalty, creativity, or passion. Thick power is true power: it’s radically more durable, less costly, and more intense.

Many companies are based on transactional leadership, where fear or other base emotions are instilled in workers and used to control their behavior. Whether a follower gets rewarded or punished is usually dependent on successfully following a process. Not failing becomes more important than possibly succeeding. Stasis is often better than making a wrong decision.

Generally in transactional leadership, the process is always correct. If there is failure, it is the employee’s fault not the process. So either the employee must be properly trained or fired. Assigning blame is paramount. Not really a good place for innovation.

Transformational power is not based on performance as much as trust. Followers are trusted to do their work, not threatened to do so. If something or someone fails, the assumption is not that a trusted individual did not do their job. It is that something must have prevented them from doing what they wanted to do. Finding a way to remove the obstacle is more important than assigning blame.

Again, this sort of leadership is not for every organization but it results in the follower/worker driven to complete the task for internal reasons rather than because of external threats or promises. This can be very powerful motivation if attained. It is what will keep employees at all levels working long and hard hours. something painpunishment forms of leadership often fail to maintain.

It will foster innovation at all levels and will in fact reward someone who finds a way around the obstacle.

7. Remember that there is nothing more asymmetrical than an ideal. Obama ended his last speech before the election by saying: “let’s go change the world.” Why are those words important? Because the world needs changing. A world riven by economic meltdown, religious conflict, resource scarcity, and intractable poverty and violence – such a world demands fresh ideals. We must mold and shape a better world – or we will surely all suffer together. As Obama said: “we rise or fall … as one people.”

In such a world, forget about a short-lived, often meaningless “competitive advantage”. It’s a concept built for the 20th century. In the 21st century, there is nothing more asymmetrical – more disruptive, more revolutionary, or more innovative — than the world-changing power of an ideal.

This is the rallying cry of the entrepreneur. They are often their own transformational leader, able to make themselves give up everything for the ideal. Good ones are able to inculcate this in others, especially people with capital, to begin what can eventually become a huge corporation.

Few of these large corporations, however, seek the transformative leadership of the entrepreneur, favoring more transactional. Thus the entrepreneur often leaves to do it all over again. and the organization begins to lose its innovative spirit.

For the entrepreneur, it is the transformation of nothing into something, not the process, that creates the power. Most of these 7 lessons are very useful and important for entrepreneurial organizations.

But new technologies can now help many organizations maintain this transformative spirit as they get quite large. Obama’s campaign demonstrates that this is possible. We just need to begin recognizing the appropriate places to utilize such organizations.

Because we are going to need a lot of them in the coming years.

Technorati Tags: ,