Enlightened Conflict

do you ever lose wanting the fairy tale?

August 14th, 2017

 

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graffitti talent

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“Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.”

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

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“We cling to our fairy tales until the price for believing in them becomes too high.”

 

Ransom Riggs

 

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So.

 

hope i want the fairy taleI came across this “I want the fairy tale” gif on a tumblr site <from the mediocre movie Notting Hill with a fabulous British cast> while looking for an image and I ignored it for awhile … and then kept coming back to it.

 

 

I kept thinking … “wanting the fairy tale”.

 

Now.

 

I didn’t mean a ‘love fairy tale.’

Nor, as I have written before, am I discussing the importance of fairytales, the stories, themselves.

 

I am thinking more as in ‘your fairy tale.’ As in “doing something that matters” or “be anyone you want” or “being important” or “being on the front cover of Time magazine” or … well … whatever fairy tale you believed was possible when you were young.

Maybe we could call it “your dream.”

 

I guess I don’t care what you call it … but … do we ever really lose wanting the fairy tale?

 

I tend to believe somewhere within us … well … maybe the 90% of us every day schmucks who never really reached the ‘fairy tale’ we may have envisioned in youth … that we haven’t really completely given up 100% of the desire for “it all” … or “the fairy tale.”

 

Now.

 

That said.

 

I don’t really agree with good ole Ransom when he says we cling to our fairy tales until the price.fight for the fairy tale does exist

 

I don’t agree because I actually believe we don’t cling to them … we more often let them slip away under the guise of “Life.”

 

 

I say slip away despite the fact it may seem like we have given it up.

 

 

In fact … I would guess the majority of us have shoved that ‘fairy tale’ deep back into some dusty corner of our mind because … well … we have shit to do and shit to deal with.

But I don’t think we should confuse that as “not wanting our fairy tale.”

 

To me.

 

This is simply reality shouting so loud that our fairy tale cannot be heard.  Its there. It just loses its voice the older and older we get.

 

But here’s what I think I know <and I could be wrong>.

 

  • Your fairy tale is always there

 

I truly believe if you had a real dream, kind of the ‘fairy tale you wanted’, not some silly childish dream … it never goes away. In fact … I think it actually whispers n your ear more often than you are most likely to admit. What I mean life whispers listen closelyby that is it whispers … and we purposefully ignore it as “silly”, unrealistic, ‘that was then’, ‘when I was young and naïve’ and … well … pick your silencing mechanism. We have a zillion different ways to muzzle our fairy tale.

 

On occasion … maybe in a moment of reflection … we actually pull it off some dusty shelf, dust it off, wonder if it still represents the fairy tale we thought it could be <and we could be> and maybe even listen to its whisper for a while.

 

Regardless.

 

Even if you do not hear it … it is still there.

 

Even if you only hear a whisper … it is still there.

 

Even if you believe you have moved on and its voice is not worth listening to anymore … it is there.

 

Which leads me to …

 

  • A fairy tale has no expiration date

 

Fairy tales do not really die. They can live forever. I think we confuse death with “we have quit on it.” now. “Quitting on it” can take on a number of extremely viable good looking high quality t-shirts.

 

Everyday life.

 

My existing career.

 

I am too old to change direction.

 

Its too late.

 

I have too many responsibilities for what I think is a ‘just me’ decision.

 

All of these t-shirts look frickin’ good on you when you look in the mirror.

 

But none of the t-shirts represent the death of your fairy tale … just something that can cover it over. A fairy tale has no expiration date.

And with that said … the only thing stopping you from pursuing your fairy tale is time <depending on your existing starting point and what you may need to do to attain your fairy tale>.

 

Uhm.

 

I think my point today is I am fairly sure most of us had some fairy tale which means that we actually still have a fairy tale.

 

I think my point today is that I am fairly sure most of us believe Life has persecuted us by persecuting our dreams and fairy tales.

 

I think my point today is that I am fairly sure most of us are making a vulgar mistake.

 

Fairy tales don’t go away, we don’t really stop wanting them and they really have no expiration date. You may find yourself at 30 going “time to go for my fairy tale” … or maybe you do so at 50 or at any age.

 

I think we forget that we really do want ‘the fairy tale’ because … well … ‘fairy tale’ sounds so “what kids think.”  fairy tales are more than true

 

That is a mistake … a vulgar mistake of not dreaming simply because you feel like Life is contradicting, and contradictory, to your fairy tale.

 

Personally I think it does no harm to sit down and say “I want the fairy tale” … and then see if it is the time to get your fairy tale. It does no harm because … uhm … what happens if you actually do make the pivot and get the fairy tale?

Sounds like it would be worth it.

disconnected and decision making

August 8th, 2017

think courage work ideas question curious

 

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“Developing our abilities to think more clearly, richly, fully — individually and collectively — is absolutely crucial [to solving world problems].”

 

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Adrian West, research director at the Edward de Bono Foundation U.K.

 

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So.

 

I was asked the other day about what I believed the internet, and connectivity’s, brain connection peoplegreatest impact on business was.

 

After chuckling that there was no one thing and we didn’t have enough time to talk about all the aspects that have impacted us … I did suggest one thing we don’t talk about which has a larger ripple effect on the future of business – connectivity’s impact on decision making and how we teach decision making.

 

Simplistically, technological connectivity has killed maybe 90% of the delegation of critical thinking & decision making.

 

Yeah.

 

There are a couple of other sociological insidious things seeping into organizational culture – discouragement of risk taking, particularly among younger employees, ‘flat’ organizations which tend to only put the senior decision makers closer to actual tactical decisions and things like that.

But what connectivity has done is make the most experienced decision makers more available 24/7 and younger people more likely to “send them a quick text asking them what to do” or an email with the question at hand … so that the younger person doesn’t have to make the decision. This translates into less decision making experience, less real ‘outcome of decision experience’ as well as all the critical thinking that gets crammed into one’s head when forced to make some decision <which always takes on some extraordinary size & significance when younger and less experienced>.

 

I believe this is a real issue.

 

In fact … I believed it was so important I googled it to do some research for this post.

 

  • ‘how connectivity has killed decision making’0 results.

 

 

zero none zilch

  • how the internet has killed decision making’ … 0 results on the topic … most on ‘overthinking’ or ‘Information overload is killing our ability to make decisions’

 

 

I even tried ‘how the smartphone has killed decision making’ and got zilch other than some crap about how ‘smartphones are destroying a generation’ and shit like that.

 

Lets be clear.

 

This isn’t about ‘distractions’ or ‘short attention span’ this is about circumventing critical decision making skills through easy connectivity to someone who can make the decision <instead of you>.

 

And I found it extremely odd that there is nothing obvious in terms of the discussion online because society views technology through an extremely critical eye on perceptions of how it forms, or doesn’t form, critical thinking skills. And nowhere is the conflict more apparent than in the business world where in a seemingly non-stop 24/7 world where we deem “speed” as having some absurd value above anything else we force more and more decisions ‘up’ in an organization.

 

Let me tell you how it worked in a disconnected world.

 

As an old guy we had no smartphones and computers weren’t chugging out hundreds of emails between employees all the time.

 

My bosses sat with other bosses in some high falutin’ section of the office space <most often with doors and big desks> and I didn’t have easy access to my bosses because … well … they were not within shouting distance and they had their own shit to do.

 

I had team members, clients and other departments who always needed answers so they could do shit and make some progress <to meet deadlines that I had inevitably placed on them> and, when they needed a decision, 90+% of the time they didn’t want me hanging up the phone saying “I will get back to you after I speak to ‘x’ person.”

And many times I was out of town in meetings and … well … decisions had to be made.

 

In this disconnected world 25 year old Bruce had to make some decisions … the fuck question fucking stupidhopefully some good ones.

 

 

This didn’t mean that afterwards I didn’t sit there going … “fuck me, was that the right thing to do?” … because I did.

 

 

So in that disconnected world I would have to get up when I had a free minute and track down my boss and walk them through what was going to happen because I had made some decision.

 

I could go to Pat, who would sometimes be laying on his back under his desk looking at a world map he had taped under his desk thinking <claiming it gave him a different view of the world>, who would 99% of the time asking me why I thought it was the right decision, what other things we could have considered and start tearing apart the decision to better understand it.manager good

 

I could go to Charlie who would 99% of the time go ‘okay’ … and then in a burst of energy start talking about what we could do now, a kind of “what’s next attitude” now that the decision had been made.

 

I could go to Beth who would always, always, just listen … and then start talking about how we could follow up with some research, or data, or support so that <in her words> “the decision doesn’t get killed by someone else’s opinions.”

 

I could go to any number of other bosses throughout my younger years and discuss a decision that I had made after the fact.

 

In a disconnected world a less experienced person was demanded to assume some responsibility.

 

The bottom line it was my decision and I had to live with it. I didn’t have a shitload of bosses who tried to kill the decision but rather seemed to accept it, warts & all, and figure out how to move forward from it.

 

Now.

 

A shitload of people may argue that in a connected world better decisions are made <slightly> faster <assuming you can reach the decision maker in some timely fashion> therefore business has benefited.

 

They may be partially right.

 

But I would argue 3 things:

 

pivot-mistake-awkward-learn-manage<1> Most decisions made at a lower more tactical, or less strategically influential, level are not really business killers nor are they even ‘not fixable’,

 

<2> by delegating responsibility for a decision ‘upwards’ … someone never learns the critical thinking necessary, sometimes under time duress, nor the burden of responsibility,

 

<3> and ability to bear burden of responsibility is actually an indicator of future leadership skills.

 

I have gone on ad nausea over the years with regard to our short term paranoia within the business world and how it is killing us … and this ‘delegate decisions upwards because connectivity permits it’ is just one additional example.

 

Look.

 

The people who have the most confidence in their decision making skills, unless they are narcissistic asshats, are the ones with most experience in making decisions. And examining decisions made by someone else <which is what a younger person does if a more senior person makes a decision> is not even close to the actual experience of running the mental gauntlet of making the decision yourself … and understanding he burden of responsibility you assume by doing so.

 

By outsourcing our decisions to more experienced people, or even the false ‘certainty’ in data, we cheat ourselves.

We are left responding rather than thinking creatively, critically and autonomously.

And maybe worse we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to unlearn what we believe we have learned <which truly can only happen through trial & error>.

 

Gut feelings, and instincts, or even data … are not the best tools for an ignorance unlearn untrueuncertain world … they only offer the illusion of certainty.  The business world is a complex world with thousands of decisions and a relentless onslaught of uncertainty.

 

About the only thing to maneuver your way through all of this complexity & uncertainty is by using the skill of critical thinking.

 

When we deny people the challenge of thinking critically, evaluating situations, making your own decisions and bearing the burden of responsibility we are heading towards a future where future manager will lack the cognitive ability, and critical thinking skills, to effectively think and make good decisions.

 

While I have several worries with regard to what technology and connectivity is doing to our business world … this is one we do not discuss enough if we are truly interested in the next generation of business people to be better than us.

If you’re stationary, you’ll die

May 31st, 2017

 

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“Stagnation is self-abdication.”

 

Ryan Talbot

 

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stand still but moving 3

 

“The moment we stand still, we begin to decay.”

 

Erich Fromm

 

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If you’re stationary, you’ll die.”

 

—-

Gen. Mark Milley, current Army Chief of Staff

 

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Ok.

 

I tend to believe any reasonable business person recognizes that stagnancy leads to inevitable death <although at the same time many reasonable normalizing behavior light matches flame fire dangerbusiness people also have an unhealthy relationship with tried & true systems & processes, mitigate risk taking to such an extreme level that change almost seems indiscernible and views any change as something that needs to be analyzed from every view imaginable before undertaking it>.

 

I thought about that the other day when I scanned a fantastic article on WarontheRocks discussing the army strategy of the future.

 

Within it was a phrase that caught my eye – “disciplined disobedience.”

 

It first and foremost reminded me that businesses can view stagnancy in a variety of ways in their attempt to “not change what works” while seeking “change what needs to be changed” <ll of which simply means “something within your business is not dynamic and there are scraps of stagnancy slowing you down>.

 

It secondly reminded me that back in august 2010 I wrote something called ‘discontinuity for successful company continuity’  in which I shared an organizational idea called “controlled autonomy” <others may call it a version of a self organized organization or a decentralized organization or a variety of ‘decentralized-like employee empowered’ terms> … and suggested that was the organization of the future.

 

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A continuous discontinuous organization?

Controlled autonomy.

Controlled in that there is a vision, a focus and a functional understanding of what is it we do well.

Autonomy in that outside the ‘control developers’ people can do different shit.

Controlled autonomy is certainly an organizational shift from the past.

But even IBM has looked at this concept.

A past IBM research report suggests that the best analogies for businesses in the future may no longer be the command structures of the military but the self-organizing networks found in nature: schools of fish, flocks of birds and swarms of insects.bee fly still

Well.

I don’t know about the birds & bees thing but I do understand they are suggesting some decentralization (or autonomy at the employee level).

The struggle with this is that this agility I am discussing is a process where the leadership is not omnipotent.

And further struggle continues with autonomy (and the ensuing agility) as there will be enablers and blockers within the organization therefore the leadership must factor in internal organization limitations (and possibilities) when judging the best plan of action.

What that really means is that no matter how you slice it … organizations are ‘tense anxiety-driven’ structures.

Employees typically oppose new ideas because they perceive they are unworkable (and sometimes they are if the ivory tower doesn’t have their shit together) and bad for profits (or it appears to on the ground people they aren’t making as much money).

And yet we also know that employees always have a large stake in the future success of any organization. Some hesitancy is due to fear or laziness but it can also be due to good judgment.

This is where autonomy comes into play.

It’s not just about diverse views in planning (which obviously highlights opportunities and obstacles) but also some permission of diversity in on the ground decision making.

And autonomy in an organization helps address the truth that is there is a difference between ‘intended’ strategy at the corporate level and ‘realized’ strategy on the business level, i.e., what management wishes to occur, and what is in fact carried out.

That is also the dynamic portion of businesses that permits change to meet changing markets.

Sounds awful difficult to control? (or manage) Sure it is.

But that is why a leader should be paid the big bucks.

———————-

 

 

Uhm.

 

I still believe that.

 

At the most simplistic level any business faces two basic demands — it must execute its current activities to survive today’s challenges and adapt those activities to survive tomorrow’s.

This means executing and adapting at exactly the same time.

 

This also means, within your business, there is a constant competition for outcome results beeresources, money & time in order to meet executional demands and adaptation opportunities <therein lies a significant portion of the ‘tense-anxiety’ dynamic of a dynamic organization.

 

I am not making this up.

Peters and Waterman <In Search of Excellence> argued that organizations must simultaneously be “tight” in executing and “loose” in adapting.

 

I believe they also pointed out that very few do both well.

 

I have had many discussions with many businesses trying to convince them that an organization can be very good at both executing an adapting and how to be good at both.

 

It seems that many business leaders sometimes forget that the organization can sometimes forget they can actually be an organization from an aligned ‘doing’ perspective <because we put such an emphasis n vision and strategy>.

 

What I mean is that most good businesses have naturally incorporated a sense of autonomy and over time the organizational alignment aspects fade into a subconscious background space and individual departments and groups coalesce around the autonomous aspects <it gives them a sense of pride, empowerment & self-actualization as part of the whole>.

 

Everyone should note that while this is an incredibly powerful engine in a company it can become challenging with employee turnover <because there has to be some plan to assimilate new people into a subconsciously acting organization>.

 

Look.

 

I believe, and vocally espouse, great alignment in an organization more often than not is actually “purposeful fragmentation.” This is the type of alignment which permits the parts of the organization <departments, divisions, etc.> to maintain some autonomy yet always be grounded in what is ultimately important to the organization.

 

Sure.

 

I do believe there are things you want an organization to do fairly commonly and certainly can do if you ask the organization to swing into action. And I do believe it is imperative to get these things down and established as ‘rote behavior’ in the midst of an organizational shift/transformation.

 

But organizations have a nasty habit of falling back on less-than-autonomy type leadership and thinking. This nasty habit occurs as we gain experience because our ‘rules & guidelines’ hierarchies fill up based on a larger collection of specific experiences and more feedback on what has and hasn’t worked.order chaos consistent hugh

 

Someone articulated the outcome of this as “our mental models grow into complex structures of categories, interlinked rules, and weightings. We become less likely to perceive experiences as totally new and instead try to relate them to previous ones, which we group into existing categories. As mental models become more complex over time, major rearrangements become more difficult.”

 

Basically, as an organization’s size and complexity increase its degrees of freedom & autonomy decrease. and while I just made a sweeping generalization I would point out something that Scott Page, University of Michigan, who studied why some organizations are complex and hierarchical while others are simple and flat concluded — organizations evolve in response to the problems they have to solve.

 

All of this leads me back to what the Army Chief of Staff said in the warontherocks article. Two thoughts for any business person who embraces the uncomfortable truth that stagnancy is the path to irrelevant death:

 

  • If you’re stationary, you’ll die.”

 

Consolidated bases and logistics hubs will be untenable, presenting lucrative targets for an enemy with precision firepower. He noted we must “untether

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

ourselves from this umbilical cord of logistics and supply that American forces have enjoyed for a very lengthy period of time.” Army units will have to move, set up, move, and move again — “maybe every two, three, four hours just to survive.” Fixed sites of any kind will be lethal magnets for destruction by enemies who will have a rich diet of targeting information — especially since smart phones will be even more ubiquitous. As he bluntly stated, “If you’re stationary, you’ll die.”

 

 

  • Disobey Orders — Smartly

 

He called this …  “disciplined disobedience.” I believe this idea was floated by a past Army Chief of Staff back in the 1970’s but called “selective disobedience.” This suggests that disobeying orders can be justified to achieve the larger purpose of the mission.

 

[A] subordinate needs to understand that they have the freedom and they are empowered to disobey a specific order, a specified task, in order to accomplish a purpose. Now, that takes a lot of judgment … it can’t just be willy-nilly disobedience. This has got to be disciplined disobedience to achieve the higher purpose.

 

Milley added:

“disobedience, when done, must be done with trust and integrity, and you must be morally and ethically correct.”

 

A business competitive field has always been one of chaos and unpredictability <although we have always tried to communicate it as more static in SWOT analysis and crap like that>.

 

And if you accept it is more chaotic and unpredictable it will become easier to understand why far too many organizations frequently lack reliable communications up and down the chain of command.

 

As the Army recognizes, and businesses more often should, junior leaders may have to independently make quick decisions upon which battles may be decided and which may have strategic consequences.reason why unreasonble

 

In a controlled autonomy the leaders must become more comfortable with some ambiguity and accepting the fact that employees closer to the point of action/decision will be making unsupervised decisions to achieve the organization’s, and leader’s, intent.

 

Simplistically, as the Army suggests is mission command — empowering leaders with the “why” of their task, but leaving the “how” to their imagination.

 

Well.

 

Suffice it to say … while people like me love that thought & concept most business leaders are scared shitless of it.

 

Frankly, most senior leaders <centralists by management nature> who seek to implement some autonomous aspects don’t set out to deceive anybody. In their heads they know that high degrees of involvement, participation, and autonomy are key elements in high organization performance. But in their hearts, they still crave orderliness, predictability, and control.

 

They get trapped in the wretched in-between because a central “plan” cannot dictate and bring order to a haphazard, chaotic, unpredictable, and rapidly changing business world – no matter how much we wish it would.

 

And. It gets more difficult.

 

With a continuing stress on “bottom line” or making margins as high as possible leaders fall into the financial analysis trap which encourages anything but autonomy.

Financial analysis can clearly show that consolidating and centralizing support services and functions saves money and increases efficiency <in huge PowerPoint graph slides in the conference room> therefore suggesting autonomy is less than efficient.

 

What doesn’t show up in these analysis are two things:

 

<1> consolidating & centralizing is most effective & efficient in servicing a static

imagination rules napoleon

<2> the inherent alienation, helplessness, and lack of ability to connect with real time customer & market needs or organizational purpose that centralized bureaucracy often brings

 

I could argue for controlled autonomy for years. And I could begin with the simplest thought that efficiencies may save gobs of money but the processes to do so can be cost you the intangible people energy and passion engine within the organization <and then add in at least 5 additional powerful reasons you, as a business leader, need to suck it up and embrace some ambiguity>.

 

But now I will argue for controlled autonomy by using the Army as an example and start using disciplined disobedience” every chance I get.

 

 

 

 

construction, deconstruction & reconstruction (part 1 future business thinking)

October 7th, 2015
change speed market

Hugh McLeod

 

 

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“The only certain thing about the future is that it will surprise even those who have seen furthest into it.”

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Eric Hobsbawm

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“Too many people spend too much time trying to perfect something before they actually do it.

Instead of waiting for perfection, run with what you’ve got, and fix it along the way. “

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Paul Arden

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“Chance favors the connected mind.”

Steven Johnson

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So.

beginning to change

 

Let me state the obvious.

The business world is changing.

 

How we think, what we think, the business models to implement the new thinking and all the while … the arduous back & forth conflict between the way it was done versus the way it will be.

 

 

Overall … one of the biggest challenges the business world is facing is that the entire approach to thinking about how to conduct business is changing which ultimately means the biggest challenge is not the new model itself … it is the fact that the current leadership management thinks one way and emerging management generation thinks another.

 

This creates issues not only in how the generations interact in the workplace but also impacts the effectiveness, or ineffectiveness, in actually training the emerging management employees to be successful.

 

 

Regardless.

 

 

I call the change … ‘construction thinking’ to ‘deconstruction thinking’ <or “reconstruction thinking”>.

 

 

Here is where we are today.

 

 

– The existing business world view

 

 

The traditional business world <and existing management way of thinking> is based on a construction thinking model.

 

 

Think of this as Lego blocks.

 

business deconstruction

You were given <taught> all the Lego building blocks one by one and taught <trained> the different ways to use them and build something solid from the ground up. Doesn’t really take into consideration what TopModels suggest are the black boxes of thinking <see later in ‘Deconstruction Thinking’> … or the Lego blocks you need to insert based on faith <or intuition> … which invariably we always use <but don’t – can’t – train for>.

 

 

Now.

 

Business thinking is always about balancing real knowledge, faith knowledge and intuition.

 

 

But in traditional thinking we tend to make the formula weighted toward real knowledge … and construct solutions aiming toward a cause an effect <stimulus response> relationship.
Business training still seems to continue to serve up this linear cause-and-effect thinking as if, by doing so, we’ll understand the person, predict behavior and results … and be able to make sense of everything we do.

 

 

An unfortunate truth?

 

 

Causing effect is not linear.

 

 

Never was … never will be.

 

directional unidirectional link deconstruction

And this is true even more so in today’s more fragmented stimulus world.

 

 

What you share as an initial stimulus is so often re-purposed in ways you cannot even envision it inevitably creates multiple effects … sometimes derivatives of the desired effect and more often an unenvisioned effect.

 

 

The reality is that the future success of a strategy is so hard to predict. This also means that … well … Big Ideas <in general> is useless <and not worth the effort to try and construct>. In today’s consumer business world it simply pays to do more things, try more things and … well … simply give yourself more chances that at least one idea takes off now … and you have other ideas which could take off ‘then.’

 

 

Note:

I’ve been saying for a long time the big idea is crap … in 2010: http://brucemctague.com/the-myth-of-the-big-idea-big-ideas-are-crap >

 

 

Suffice it to say big ideas will largely be replaced by ideas many of which will take on a life of their own. Or maybe the business seeks an initial idea that sparks interaction and thought and action/behavior and a business adapts to the resulting behavior.

 

The business, and the idea, is ultimately defined by what happens next.

 

But it isn’t just ideas … while the world isn’t stagnant or linear … thinking is exactly the same.

 

 

It’s constantly evolving and alive and fragmented into beautifully imperfect shapes and sizes.

 

 

The problem with a static brand proposition and a static strategy – or anything static other than a vision or character statement – is that the business landscape, brands and their competition, are anything but static. Business, like people, are evolving entities that live and die by the success of their actions.

 

 

Basically, construction is based on predicting behavior before implementation.

 

 

– The new business landscape

 

 

Simplistically the old way is to methodically construct solutions and ideas and then commit.

 

retrain thought building deconstructThe new way is more about committing <smartly> and then deconstructing as information is received and adapting until it reaches a shape that could be sustainable.

 

Oddly … it is actually an older leader who embraced the new way.

 

 

<Napoleon>: “On s’engage, et puis – on voit.” <you commit yourself, and then – you see.>

 

 

The traditional business cycle has always been one of “study, act, study.”

 

 

Information precedes decisions … then the impact of decisions is assessed before the next decisions are made. Each step of the way information, or earning, is the gate through which decisions must pass.

 

That much has not changed.

 

 

Well.

 

 

How about … with the rise of digital technologies & the internet the cycle times between the ‘act’ and the ‘study’ has been compressed. The old starting point of “study” has become a luxury few marketers can indulge. The new digital cycle is one of “act and react.”

“Act” not “study” is now the point on which everything else pivots. It becomes ‘learning on the go.’

 

 

The new landscape is based on answers needed in real time. that also means getting into market is not based on ‘perfecting before going’ but rather … well … “good enough” is, well, good enough. Businesses learn on the go, testing alternatives by doing not by asking, in the marketplace. The core of how a business operates is now more on how consumers behave than on what they think.

 

 

But.

 

 

This new landscape is only empowered by technology … it is the people, the compete connect smartemerging management generation, who are really driving the new business thinking model. This new generation of management has some specific features which benefit the new business landscape:

 

 

 

– Knowledge <or information about shit> is available to anyone with access to a computer

 

 

– There are an increasing amount of things which are ‘black boxes’ of inner workings <they work … but the majority of us have no clue how they work>which compress thinking & doing time

 

 

– Great decision making in today’s business world is more often defined by on how good you are at assessing what aspects should be accepted on ‘faith’ <the black box designated aspects> and what aspects need real knowledge & understanding

 

 

– It has never been possible to know everything … but in today’s world it is mind numbingly <and humbling so> obvious … and it has become more accepted to learn on the go

 

 

– Curiosity is not just a business characteristic but also a management tool <an openly curious leader embraces team dialogue & discussion – without relinquishing decision responsibilities>.

 

 

 

All these things tend to make me believe we are within a great transformation in business thinking.

 

 

Unfortunately, to the existing business world & existing senior management, this transformation is one led by the next generation thought-wise. A generation also characterized by:

 

 

– One more comfortable utilizing what is called ‘black box knowledge’ and driven by instinct <but willing to adapt from learnings if instinct proven wrong>.

 

 

– One where no part of a business, or department, is out of bounds.

 

 

– One where creativity in thinking and intuition are used to imagine the future.

 

 

– One where value is in information and not things.

 

 

– One where value is found in experiences <real knowledge not speculated knowledge>.

 

 

– One where value is found more in unfolding discovery and new opportunities rather than researched discovery.

 

 

– One where expectations are in the back seat and possibilities are in the front seat.

 

 

– One where every company is actually in the information business first and foremost.

 

 

– One where value has migrated from tangible to intangibles.

 deconstruction unlearn culture

 

The clashing of generational business thinking can almost be summed up by Douglas Adams:

 

—————-

Douglas Adams’ rules about technology:

1) Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.

2) Anything that’s invented between when you’re 15 and 35 is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

3) Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things.

===

 

 

 

And while I believe this is the new business thinking world model, the ‘deconstruction business world,’ it inherently contains an aspect which makes the younger generation thinking engine go.

 

 

Instincts & black boxes.

 

 

– Deconstruction thinking theory<the black boxes in business>

 

1940's faith

Which leads me deconstruction <or black box> thinking.

 

 

This is how I believe the next generation of business leaders … those who grew up in a more digital age <albeit it began with hand held computers> … will think and manage and make decisions.

 

 

We are increasingly surrounded by ‘black boxes.’ These are complex constructs that we do not understand even if they are explained to us. We cannot comprehend the inner processes of a ‘black box’, but none the less we integrate their inputs and outputs into our decision-making <just think of your computer as the everyday black box we trust>.

 

 

Oh.

 

Black box thinking … I cannot take credit for it … TopModels refer to it as “why faith is replacing knowledge.”

 

 

“… our world is getting more complicated all the time. Black and white, good and bad, right and wrong have been replaced with complicated constructs that leave most people in the dark.

As the world around us becomes increasingly fast paced and complex, the amount we REALLY know – what we can really grasp and understands – decreases all the time. Today it is more or less taken for granted that we do not understand many of the things that surround us, such as mobile phones and ipads. And even if somebody tried to explain the DNA code to us, we would probably be out of our depth.

We are increasingly surrounded by ‘black boxes’ … complex constructs that we do not understand even if they are explained to us. We cannot comprehend the inner processes of a black box but nonetheless we integrate their inputs and outputs into our decision making.

The amount that we simply HAVE to believe, without understanding it, is increasing all the time. As a result we are tending to assign more importance to those who can explain something than to their actual explanation.”

The Decision book: 50 models for strategic thinking

<Krogerus & Tschappeler>

=======

 

 

 

The new decision making world, one driven by technology and that ‘black box’ of knowledge computers offer in terms of knowledge, is ultimately a deconstructive thinking world. A world in which it is understood that a stimulus can create desired, and sometimes undesired, responses and success is often more based on reacting & adapting to an initial stimulus than perfecting the initial stimulus.

 

 

Going back to the Legos analogy … deconstruction identifies the tangible Legos as well as the intangible ‘black box’ Legos.

 

 

– Were they used appropriately?

 

– The appropriate mix?

 

– The appropriate place?

 

– Could a real Lego have been put in place of a black box Lego and I would have been better?

 

 

 

And over time the black box thinking <the intangible and vague ‘knowing’> becomes more tangible as well as we gain more faith in certain black box thinking application.

 

 

Now.

 

 

Some people may call deconstruction thinking/solutioning <because they say the deconstruction term is too negative> is simply a more contextual approach to thinking <and learning>.

 

 

At its core they would be correct … a contextual approach recognizes that learning is a complex and multifaceted process that goes far beyond drill-oriented, stimulus and response methodologies.

 

 

 

According to contextual learning theory learning occurs best when people process new information or knowledge in such a way that it makes sense to them in their own frames of reference <their own inner worlds of memory, experience, and response>. This theory assumes that the mind naturally seeks meaning in context that is in relation to the person’s current environment and that it does so by searching for relationships that make sense and appear useful.

 

 

I may suggest this is adaptive thinking <a term I made up>.

 

 

Stanford calls it “adaptive strategy.”

 

 

Adaptive strategy. We create a roadmap of the terrain that lies before an organization and develop a set of navigational tools, realizing that there will be many different options for reaching the destination. If necessary, the destination itself may shift based on what we learn along the way.

Creating strategies that are truly adaptive requires that we give up on many long-held assumptions. As the complexity of our physical and social systems make the world more unpredictable, we have to abandon our focus on predictions and shift into rapid prototyping and experimentation so that we learn quickly about what actually works. With data now ubiquitous, we have to give up our claim to expertise in data collection and move into pattern recognition so that we know what data is worth our attention. We also know that simple directives from the top are frequently neither necessary nor helpful. We instead find ways to delegate authority, get information directly from the front lines, and make decisions based on a real-time understanding of what’s happening on the ground. Instead of the old approach of “making a plan and sticking to it,” which led to centralized strategic planning around fixed time horizons, we believe in “setting a direction and testing to it,” treating the whole organization as a team that is experimenting its way to success.

 

 

And that is what the new digitally driven generation of business people will inevitably do.

 

They will confidently use black boxes more faithfully as well as seek relationships that make sense and appear useful … and adapt.

 

 

They will be driven more by looking at solutions and not saying “why does this make sense?” logic understanding but rather ‘this doesn’t look right <or it looks right>’ logic understanding.

 

 

This will translate into an adapting mentality on everything. And, yes, I mean everything. Not just tactics and execution but strategy … and sometimes some things which in the past have been considered inviolate with regard to change <like the archaic 5-year plan>.

 

 

Hey.

 

 

Black box thinking is not a new thing <but has ALWAYS made us feel uncomfortable>.

 

 

Albert Einstein received a Nobel Prize for recognizing that models and ‘logical’ systems are ultimately a matter of faith. And, yet, it is often difficult to let go of the tangible or ‘proof prior to acting’ model.

 

 

retrain deconstructIt is basic human nature to often believe so strongly in models that they take on the status of reality. But reality, in terms of business thinking and models, is … well … often not reality … and unimaginable can become reality.

 

 

Unimaginable is difficult in today’s business world because nowadays almost everything we do leaves behind some trace therefore companies can monitor how their business is running, where customers are, what they are doing and how they are doing it. And in knowing these things they know the nuances of what makes <or breaks> a business.
Practically speaking future decision makers will tend to work with prognosis tools rather than with predictive models. That doesn’t mean the formulas & models will all be thrown away … instead the formulas and models that try and predictively define iterative behavior are in ‘black boxes’ understood by only a few experts. Therefore, the typical decision maker needs to trust, or have faith, in the system without actually understanding it. Yet, even without understanding the black box <or boxes> understanding, or the ultimate proof, occurs in test and measure and watch behavior and assess attitudes and refine with real data <reactive actions>.

 

 

That, my friends, is black box thinking in a nutshell.

 

 

To be clear.

 

Models will not be discarded.

 

In an increasingly confusing and chaotic and black box world the models provide some order and assist in providing focus on what is important and to believe in what we see.

 

However … the ‘building models’ will be relegated to a lower priority <therefore we can invest less time and rigor> and instead we will more often assess by understanding what doesn’t look right rather than developing something with the intent of building it to look right.

 

 

I believe this is the new operating business thinking model.

 

 

I also believe, as stated initially, this will be a painful arduous transition

 

 

Companies with managers who manage and think like this <mostly the younger emerging managers> will look like frickin’ aliens to many of the existing companies with older ‘model first thinkers.’

 

 

I imagine my real point here is that there are companies with young employees who embrace black box thinking who can help those companies be better and do better … but those companies are still solidly stuck in old school logical ‘rationalize before its done’ attitude.

 

 

The future

 

 

Here’s the good news for black box companies … the business is coming to them.

 

Not today … but tomorrow.

 

 

And while we may try and make the transition move faster … we cannot. Most good companies will knock themselves out trying to deconstruct a black box into some logical explained system or thing. But a black box … is … well … a black box. It isn’t meant, and it really cannot, be explained in any way that an older manager who doesn’t trust or like black boxes can ever be explained.

 

Trying to do so defeats the real value of the black box.

 

 

This is like discussing business apples and oranges.

 

 

There is an entire tier of existing business leaders and managers that are baffled by black boxes.

 

 

Maybe worse?

 

 

They don’t trust black boxes.

 

 

Maybe even worse?
They don’t embrace deconstruction business thinking. Every bone in their body is driven toward constructing optimal solutions from day one.

 

 

Here is the interesting dilemma.

 

 

Older existing management would actually be quite capable … and most likely … quite good at deconstruction thinking.

 

 

It just makes them uncomfortable.

 

 

Uncomfortable in that it wasn’t the way they were taught & trained and therefore a younger generation shouldn’t make the ‘leap’ to deconstructive thinking without having learned the constructive principle.

 

 

What a bunch of bullhockey.

 

hugh 50 something same old thinking

Training needs to adapt to the thinking and thinking capabilities <some would call that technology> rather than adapt the new business thinking models to archaic training/thinking models <see my site for a number of articles on how older 50somethings should adapt their organizations and thinking to be effective in the future>.

 

 

The gap between construction and deconstruction is so far apart philosophically it is crazy to try and bridge it.

 

Of course business thinking is always about balancing real knowledge, black box knowledge and intuition. It has always. The ‘formula’ is simply different now.

 

We need to adapt training to accommodate the new formula.

 

 

Lastly.

 

The people.

 

 

– The emerging managers <next generation of managers>

 

 

Emerging managers in a company will go nuts <for a while>.

 

 

Emerging managers instinctually think about deconstruction thinking methodology and get excited and think … “let’s go … let’s do it” only to have their more methodical front loading leaders say “whoa … slow down … lets be sure we get it right from the beginning.”

 

Look.

 

 

I’m <and I imagine any good deconstruction thinking type company> not opposed to getting it right straight out of the box … having things as perfect and researched and nuanced as possible when you introduce it. But if you invest too much time trying to get it right the market has passed you by.

 

I’d rather be ‘close to being right’ in the beginning and adapt quickly as it enters the market.

 

 

Well.

 

That last sentence will send older leaders into convulsions.

 

 

Conclusion:

meeting the construction versus deconstruction gap

 

 

Let me be clear about ‘black boxes.’

 

 

We still need people. For all the black boxes, the stealing of sound, sight, smell through data, and all the satellites and technological garners of intelligence gathering … it still boils down to humans in the end.

 

 

No matter how advanced the technology … it is people who have to make the final assessments. People who can give access to the minds and ‘future thinking’ of thinking could bethose who we are trying to gain insight into.

 

 

Black box intelligence still needs people.

 

 

Past experience, benchmarking, good to great skill management and construction thinking isn’t enough to be successful in the new business landscape.

 

 

Deconstruction thinking is a complex combination of effectively using quickly assembled solid building blocks and implementing only to deconstruct <and reassemble> on the move. The military would suggest it is adapting the battle as you engage.

 

 

I suggest that in order to weave your way through business issues, organizational issues, people issues and real knowledge issues takes a daunting combination of strength of character, curiosity, strength of self and real leadership <of which confidence … not arrogance is embraced>.

 

 

Deconstruction is not for the faint of heart. Nor is this type of thinking conducive, nor easily compatible, to the existing style of traditional management thinking.

 

 

But.

 

It is the future model of business thinking and operating.

construction, deconstruction & reconstruction (part 2 the future business model)

October 7th, 2015

business young man deconstruction

 

====

“… find ways to delegate authority, get information directly from the front lines, and make decisions based on a real-time understanding of what’s happening on the ground. Instead of the old approach of “making a plan and sticking to it,” which led to centralized strategic planning around fixed time horizons, we believe in “setting a direction and testing to it,” treating the whole organization as a team that is experimenting its way to success.”

Stanford

====

 

 

As a follow up on construction/deconstruction thinking Part 1 I will address its impact on the actual structure & operations of businesses.

 

 

First.

 

I tend to believe everyone in business understands that the traditional structural organization is changing. And it is doing so … well … painfully … and expensively <at a cost>.
The change is most typically associated with the transformation associated with infrastructure and technology.

 

 

Second.

 

ideas crazy light

This organizational structural change is tied to the wrong thing. Currently it is being tied to changes as dictated by technology … and it SHOULD be tied to thinking construct.

 

 

The good news is that, regardless of the reason, … the change will be a long arduous shift in the business world as part of a long transition in how business thinks about itself and the best model for conducting a successful business.
The bad news is that the businesses that do not adapt are unlikely to survive in the longer term.

 

 

This comes down to one basic thought as I discuss the new business model for businesses … however great the costs of this construct change … the costs of not changing is much higher.

 

 

Anyway.

 

 

I described this new business model and thinking back in august 2010 as a more agile organization culture, controlled autonomy, the company has an ability to blend into the marketplace <versus rigid institutions unable to flex>.

 

 

<http://brucemctague.com/discontinuity-for-successful-company-continuity>

 

 

Today’s more rigid ‘construction model’ is already outdated. And even by ‘updating’ thru accommodating technology … what is being built is more a Frankenstein <let’s insert new thinking & new technology within existing company model> rather than a concept built from scratch <and having a plan of how we ‘get from here to there’>.

 

 

The future deconstruction model, let’s say it’s a hybrid of a ‘controlled autonomy’ model, is being built in ‘fits & starts’ in today’s business world.

 

 

To be clear.

palm man sit think control

In my eyes the new model incorporates both autonomy & control, therefore, is not a flat organization nor is it purely ‘instinctually based’ <which someone could conclude from my Deconstruction 1 post>.

 

 

Autonomy in any organization is a combination of control <as in guidelines and behavior culture> and trust <in that people are intrinsically interested in making a contribution and learning>.

 

This more agile organization essentially believes, and trusts, employees want to do well and to do good things therefore incorporating a strong value/integrity base into the everyday behavioral attitude.

 

By the way … this freaks out an older management generation <who tend to believe everyone is out for themselves and throughout their business lives have fostered a ‘kill or be killed’ mentality>.

 

 

But the smarter more adaptable management have used this ‘ethical core’ philosophy as a way to move from input-driven work models to structures which focus more on evaluating outcomes and acting upon outcomes.

 

This shift in reflects an organization culture driven by rules to being driven by values and guiding principles.

 

Inevitably this permits more autonomy, better strategic tactics and more fluid responses to customer input … without compromising the culture of the business.

 

 

This Deconstruction Business Model is more  a … well … porous business model.

 

It is free thinking, adaptable <constantly shifting resources toward opportunities and away from non-opportunities>, emergent, diverse & interpretive based … where the organizational actions rhythm is created by external stimuli … not internally.

 

 

Conversely … a Construction Business Model is all about the system.

 

All about rigid systems with space built within for ‘innovation and flexibility.’ In actuality in today’s world the systems cramp and are confined <or confining>.

 

The construction model dictates the organizational rhythm and hopes it can match the behavior patterns of the outside world.

 

 

damage-controlIn effect a Construction Model was developed with the intent for ‘predictability’ with the overall approach intended to stabilize demand and make it more predictable.

Internally it focused on ensuring managers at all levels had enough information to manage their part of the business.

 

 

It is basically a centralized administration/management and decentralized operations where the ‘center’ measures, monitors and directs.

 

Most companies still do this <albeit they argue they have ‘empowered the customer face units’>.

 

 

What makes the Construction Model even worse for agility & adaptability is that the Center maintains the setting and control of budgets and ultimately measures performance against this.

 

 

If the market, and the world, were stable and reasonably predictable this could <notice I say ‘could’ > work but with unstable and often shifting markets <increasing & decreasing quickly> this model is not only inefficient … it is ineffective.

 

<note: this could possibly explain why so many existing larger businesses struggle>

 

 

On the other hand.
The Deconstruction Model is all about the people and utilizing their minds and reactive attitude <regardless of their particular skills>. This means the dialogic dialectic deconstruction businessDeconstruction Model is naturally adaptive as it is more built upon ‘see & do’ <I see information and respond this way>.

 

 

The conflict between these two extremely disparate models is in process.

 

Pretty much all existing successful businesses with any heritage <company Life> face deep challenges because of this conflict. And most businesses are not handling the conflict well.

 

They are being reconstructed with technology, and technology attributes, driving the reconstruction.in other words … the ‘system’ hasn’t changed but the tools within are being updated.

 

This is ass backwards.

 

The model should be constructed with the people and necessary thinking in mind … and THEN offer the tools necessary to make that organization successful.

 

 

Ok.

 

 

Getting back to the people aspect.

 

 

The Deconstruction business Model is driven by its people where the employees guide the strategic choices, or the tactical strategy, rather than strategic tactics that need to be made in real time.

 

This premise also drives older management crazy.

 

How can something be effective without strategy first and foremost?

 

 

Well.

 

Research certainly suggests if you were to choose between organizational culture and ‘strategy’ with ‘creating a productive and profitable organization’ … organizational culture is significantly more effective than any amount of strategy <note: even Drucker has suggested this>.

 

This bears out even more so in turbulent business environments.

 

=

Businesses with engaged work forces outperform those without by a significant margin.

And when employees are enabled and energized, as well as engaged, profit margins are three times as high as those of companies with low levels of engagement.

=

 

 

To conclude.

 

 

 

My thinking on new business modeling represents a fairly significant disruption to the way most businesses operate today.

 

I imagine it feels even more disruptive because so many older business people business young people deconstructare hoping business goes ‘back to the way it was’ <or some version of it> in terms of economic conditions <believing once economic conditions improve habits will return to old ways of doing & buying things>.

 

 

This old school thought process misses the real issue in that the base business model is changing <not consumer behavior or habits> … changing to meet the strengths and ways of conducting business & Life of a new young generation.

 

 

The people who are missing this are most likely the same ones who bought into the “customer is king/queen” thought process and that “the customer is always right.”

 

 

The Deconstruction Business Model works because it builds upon a culture where the employee is always right <being fed the most up to date information, have the ability to strategically adapt more nimbly, work within company integrity/values construct> therefore the customer isn’t always given what they asked for … but rather … what they really need.

discontinuity for successful company continuity

August 30th, 2010

(warning to reader: I don’t have a printer and this is one of these articles that could be a white paper but I have found that white papers are best written by printing out stuff and rearranging so that it makes some logical sense in flow.

No printer? Whew. This maybe is a little … well … ‘discontinuous’ in its flow and logic … but … in the end you will get the point one would hope.)

 

 

 

So.

 

This is about managing companies. Organizational behavior and developing a company structure for success today and in the future.

I presented this idea in a business consulting/brand strategy environment maybe 3 years ago (although I have used portions in business discussion for years). Interestingly in that presentation there was not a lot of discussion on a organize fishrelatively controversial strategy/value proposition underpinning but rather the discussion focused on the organizational structure/behavior idea we shared. I call the idea “controlled autonomy” (others may call it a version of a self organized organization or a decentralized organization or a variety of ‘decentralized-like employee empowered’ terms).

 

Regardless.

 

Here you go. The idea of ‘controlled autonomy’ for a company and the challenges and pluses.

“It is a wise person that adapts themselves to all contingencies; it’s the fool who always struggles like a swimmer against the current.

unknown

Managing companies these days seems to have become even more complicated than it has in the past.

 

Everyone wants to streamline streamline streamline.

 

And simplify simplify simplify.

 

And often that means stripping away the “discontinuous” portions of the company with the intent to keep things moving smoothly  and focus on the ongoing “continuous” activity (efficiency seems to translate to ‘speed to market’ for some reason and certainly translates into ‘higher margins’).

 

Well.

 

That’s the challenge.

 

Because it’s that discontinuous part that feeds innovation and some autonomy and friction/conflict to spur growth and responsiveness and the type of stuff that makes customers (and employees for that matter) happy (and you have just stripped it away in the interest of ‘maximizing efficiencies).

 

Anyway.

In order to continue to maintain excellence and remain competitive companies really must adopt some dynamic strategies of discontinuity and creative destruction (and yet maintain continuous efficiencies).

 

Yikes.

 

How the hell do you do that?

 

Well.

You better learn to be able to do it.

 

 

Because companies that operate with management philosophies based on the assumption of continuity cannot change or create value at the pace and scale of the markets in the longer term. The company’s processes (which control actions) that have enabled them to survive over the long haul deaden innovation, day to day flexibility and constant need for change.

 

Here is a fact.

 

Organizations are tough to manage.

 

And align. And lead.

 

No matter how you decide to go (centralized, decentralized, a hybrid, or something some business book has suggested) there will always be pluses and minuses and challenges in managing an organization.

 

To make it more difficult? …. there is no one path to success.

 

 

But.

 

While there is no one right path … organizations must learn to incorporate aspects of ‘dynamic and responsive’ to meet the market itself (assuming they are to sustain superior returns and thrive over the long term).

 

In a sense I am talking about some business agility.

 

The ability of a business to adapt rapidly and cost efficiently in response to changes in the business environment (and customer/market needs). Business agility can be maintained by maintaining and adapting goods and services to meet customer demands or adjusting to the changes in a business environment.

 

Controlled ‘agility’ (an aspect of autonomy) is a concept that incorporates the ideas of flexibility, balance, adaptability, and coordination all within some construct.

 

Look.

It actually can be done. And it isn’t that difficult.

 

Well.

Let me say it isn’t difficult if you trust your people (the employees).

 

So.

 

What do I believe is the way to create the continuous discontinuous organization?

 

Controlled autonomy.

 

The phrase of the day (or at least this article).

 

 

Controlled in that there is a vision, a focus and a functional understanding of what the company actually does (what is it we do well).

 

Autonomy in that outside the ‘control developers’ people can do different shit.

(note: As a side note – global franchise organizations have a tendency to be very very good at this)

 

 

outcome results beeControlled autonomy is certainly an organizational shift from the past.

 

But even IBM has looked at this concept.

 

A past IBM research report suggests that the best analogies for businesses in the future may no longer be the command structures of the military but the self-organizing networks found in nature: schools of fish, flocks of birds and swarms of insects.

 

Well.

I don’t know about the birds & bees thing but I do understand they are suggesting some decentralization (or autonomy at the employee level).

 

The struggle with this is that this agility I am discussing is a process where the leadership is not omnipotent.

 

And further struggle continues with autonomy (and the ensuing agility) as there will be enablers and blockers within the organization therefore the leadership must factor in internal organization limitations (and possibilities) when judging the best plan of action.

 

What that really means is that no matter how you slice it organizations are ‘tense anxiety-driven’ structures.

 

 

Employees typically oppose new ideas because they perceive they are unworkable (and sometimes they are if the ivory tower doesn’t have their shit together) and bad for profits (or it appears to on the ground people they aren’t making as much money).

 

And yet we also know that employees always have a large stake in the future success of any organization. Some hesitancy is due to fear or laziness but it can also be due to good judgment.

 

This is where autonomy comes into play.

 

It’s not just about diverse views in planning (which obviously highlights opportunities and obstacles) but also some permission of diversity in on the ground decision making.

And autonomy in an organization helps address the truth that is there is a difference between ‘intended’ strategy at the corporate level and ‘realized’ strategy on the business level, i.e., what management wishes to occur, and what is in fact carried out.

 

That is also part of life in an organization.

 

And, oh by the way, that is the dynamic portion of businesses that permits change to meet changing markets.

 

Sounds awful difficult to control? (or manage) Sure it is.

 

But that is why a leader should be paid the big bucks.

 

 

How about this as a leader?

 

The chairman of IBM during the 1930s once described the most important factor in his success as doubling the number of failures.

 

 

Or this?

 

“When I talk of this company, I am not thinking just of a legal or business entity. I am using the word in the older sense, as in a company of scholars, as a company of adventurers, or a company of voyagers. I think our companionship partakes of all these things. We are a permanently dissatisfied company and so far as I can see, we shall not run out of things to be dissatisfied about. I think our work, in most instances, is the best of its kind in the world – and yet not good enough. Not as good as it is going to be. There has not been and there should never be a year when it is not better than the year before. We must be dynamic for purposes bigger than ourselves.”

CEO of JWT

 

 

Look.

 

When I was younger I thought hierarchy was the only way to run organizations.

I always believed that an organization couldn’t exist without a hierarchical chain of authority. Now I understand there are a variety of ways to run an organization (I am simply focusing on the autonomy aspect here).

I have always had a sense that empowering employees in some form or fashion is an effective management (organizational behavior) direction.

And then I saw this in maybe the late 90’s:

 

 

The maintenance of organization in nature is not-and cannot be-achieved by central management; order can only be maintained by self-organization. Self organizing systems allow adaptation to the prevailing environment, i.e., they react to changes in the environment with a thermodynamic response which makes the systems extraordinarily flexible and robust against perturbations from outside conditions.

Biebracher, Nicolis and Schuster in their address to the European Communities (1995)

 

 

That thought didn’t really rock my world but it seemed to articulate something I had lurking in my management portion of my brain (they also had a variety of whizbang charts to go along with it).

 

Oh.

 

I know I am tossing around several terms (controlled autonomy, self organization, responsible autonomy, controlled business agility) but they are all degrees of the same thing.

 

So.

 

Regardless of the nomenclature (I will stick with controlled autonomy) it is all about clear organizational direction and focus, alignment and agreement on that focus/core and autonomy to implement.

 

The ‘clear organizational direction and focus is important because:

 

 

“To be in a state of self-control, a person must know: what he/she is supposed to do, what he [or she] is actually doing, what choices he/she has to improve results wherever necessary. If any of these three conditions are not met, a person cannot be held responsible.”

(JM Juran)

 

 

Yes.

 

 

I am arguing for ‘some’ autonomy (organizations dictate amount of autonomy based on their market situation, organizational alignment and agreement on focus).

 

I do believe some autonomy helps organizations as business and industries start ‘blurring.’

 

Blurring? Yeah.

Nowadays there is often a  blurring of boundaries between shopping, learning and the experience of culture (its really no longer sales versus marketing versus operations and if an organization is ‘stuck’ in that mindset they should be prepared to go the way of the dinosaur very very soon).

 

So.

 

As a more agile organization culture (of which is exactly what I am talking about with a controlled autonomy) the company has an ability to blend into the marketplace (versus rigid institutions unable to flex).

 

Yes.

Technology has certainly affected my own believe in effective organizational structures (and I don’t believe I am alone if I read Harvard Business Review or use that European Commission report I cited).

 

Technology has changed the way organizations should act because it has changed how the world interacts – the way we shop and consume. It creates new opportunities and destroys businesses that are unable to adapt to a sudden discontinuity with our past.

 

 

Quoting Susan Baker, a Cranfield School of Management researcher “The Internet aggregates the actual brand experience, it discloses and amplifies the mismatch between companies and their customers, which can be seriously disrupted”.

 

 

(by the way … she also suggests we are moving from a production driven society to a consumption driven society and I don’t agree with that … I believe we have always been a consumption driven society … uh … if no one consumed your crap it died on the shelf … how is that not consumption driven?)

 

 

Ok.

 

Circling back to something else I have written this is a version of Creative Destruction where the underlying theory is that businesses are built on the assumption of continuity to be most effective/efficient yet the markets the businesses perform in are built on the assumption of discontinuity (constantly seeking new creation and destruction of old).

 

(The assumption of continuity is dangerous, leading to hubris, and a loss of focus on the market. Joseph Alois Schumpeter, economist, called the process of creation and removal the gales of creative destruction.)

 

 

All that said?

 

It is true that enhanced innovations (thru technology) have impacted businesses in that businesses are faced with a tougher job when innovation and flexibility are the markers for competition, rather than efficiency being the fundamental driver of value.

 

And this is a fact for all businesses and industries (b2b, service, CPG, technology, whatever).

 

Oh.

And back to the blurring thing.

 

 

Convergence of these technologies means that businesses are beginning to blur with other industries (and there will be new cannibalization which a business has never seen before).

 

I mention that because if an organization doesn’t maintain some agility they won’t be able to swing resources around to meet unexpected forays into their business space.

 

Anyway.

The way to stay ahead of this is this controlled autonomy thing I suggest.

 

 

So.

 

Why the heck haven’t companies made more strides in this direction?

 

 

Well.

Change, particularly among experience senior people, is very difficult.

 

Despite all the evidence, we keep self directing organizations into many variations on the centralization themes.

 

(to me)

What makes things even worse is how senior managers in many dysfunctional organizations (of which I have been in several) proclaim empowerment, participation, collaboration, teams, leadership, trust, and all that stuff. But they ‘dip their toes’ into self organization/autonomy and often take partial measures while expecting total success. They liberate parts of their organizations while limiting other parts. They liberate some decisions and limit others. They push hard with one foot on the accelerator while also pushing hard with their other one on the brake.

 

Their words say, “You are empowered”.

Their actions say, “You are empowered as long as you get approval first.”

 

That said.

 

Maybe because the controlled autonomy is a contradiction it is tough. And it creates dysfunction. And it needs a powerful strong charismatic (however you define charismatic in that people will listen and follow) leader. Because dysfunctional organizations end up trying to go in two opposing directions at once and it gets frustrating and the rest of the organization feels the ripples.

Frankly, most senior leaders (centralists by management nature) don’t set out to deceive anybody. In their heads they know that high degrees of involvement, participation, and autonomy are key elements in high organization performance. But in their hearts, they still crave orderliness, predictability, and control. But most fail for one really simple reason. A central “plan” cannot dictate and bring order to a haphazard, unpredictable, and rapidly changing world.
And.

It gets more difficult.

 

With a continuing stress on “bottom line” or making margins as high as possible leaders fall into the financial analysis trap.

 

Financial analysis can clearly show that consolidating and centralizing support services and functions saves money and increases efficiency (in huge PowerPoint graph slides in the conference room).

 

What doesn’t show up is the alienation, helplessness, and lack of connections to customers or organizational purpose that centralized bureaucracy often brings.

Efficiencies may save hundreds of thousands of dollars but the processes to do so can be energy draining and passion destroying to the people within the organization. Bottom line is traditional accounting systems can’t show the hundreds of millions of dollars lost because of lackluster innovation, mediocre customer service, uninspired internal employees and financially driven outside partnerships.

“The weather-cock on the church spire, though made of iron, would soon be broken by the storm-wind if it did not understand the noble art of turning to every wind.”

Heinrich Heine

 

And, of course, the biggest concern is the inevitable loss of agility and ability to adapt quickly (I added quickly because visionary leaders can certainly lead change/adaptation but often not as quickly as ‘down-to-up’ adapt input).

 

 

So.

The idea here is giving people a good degree of autonomy surrounding a clear vision.

 

Sure. There are risks. But huge benefits (if you have the right leadership):

 

–          Everyone can see and manage their work as part of a whole organism not a bunch of manufacturing “Borg-like” parts and pieces.

 

 

–          Employees (and often outside partners/alliances) are trusted and treated as responsible, caring, and committed decision makers (often creating behavior not unlike “part owners” of the business). Ultimately the sense of ownership, commitment, energy, and passion levels are much higher.

 

 

–          It is a fact that small self-contained teams or business units are more flexible and responsive at meeting threats and capitalizing on opportunities.

 

 

–          Everyone focuses on meeting customer/partner, not internal bureaucracy/process needs WHILE doing so within a strong sense of organizational culture.

 

 

–          People have more control over what they are doing replacing the helplessness of working within an inflexible construct (this also has the added benefit of eliminating, or limiting, the transference of anxiety up toward leadership).

 

 

–          Feedback and response mechanisms are much shorter and closer to the customer and markets.

 

 

Once again.

 

 

Highly decentralized structures are not for the management faint of heart. Management is giving up a significant amount of control of people so that employees (or the organization itself) can control their own and the organization’s destiny.

 

Ah.

This means you have some inherent trust in your people to ‘do their job.’

 

But when it works the employees and organization is happier and more positively dynamic.

 

 

Anyway.

 

Here is what I do know.

 

Organizations always carry with it a thread of anxiety or stress within it.

 

Some days very little and some days a whole shitload.

 

In general organizations are tense, uncomfortable and stressful places. In a centralized organization the stress gets compounded by aspects of organizational practices, processes and structures which serve not only to enable task completion, but also unconsciously serve as defense mechanisms to cope with anxiety in that it permits employees to transfer feelings of anxiety toward leadership (or the leader).

 

In other words, “I am not empowered it is because of the process and the stupid process was developed by the leader.”

 

Why did I add this at the end?

 

 

Well.

 

To point out to any senior leadership you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

 

Pick your poison. Ah. But remember this thought:

 

 

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.”

E. F. Schumacher, 20th century German economist and conservationist

 

 

I would argue controlled autonomy may increase your purchase of Pepto/Maalox/any antacid but only until your organization falls into a rhythm (that you can actually manage if you are crafty and a herder).

 

 

In a centralized organization your own stress doubles (ok. maybe exponential) because you are stressing the organization with inflexibility and handling organizational anxiety/stress as it is being handed back up to you in their frustration).

 

Me? (as a quasi senior leader)

 

responsible leaderI am all about stimulating self organization encouraging some autonomy where leaders manage system not people.

 

I guess what this means is that leaders in controlled autonomous organizations set the “core compass point” so whenever anyone tends to stray they can find the path back and then leaders manage boundaries (say … well … they insure that as people stray they don’t stray too far).

 

I guess I am a border collie at my core.

 

And I imagine many senior leaders could learn some good lessons from a border collie.

Enlightened Conflict