Appreciating Systems

Appreciating Systems for Genuine Efficiency
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Viable Systems Model useful for Change Management

It just occurs to me that Ross Ashby’s law of requisite variety as operationally described in the Viable System Model (Checkland – See my delicious links about VSM here) might be a very good model for what consultants refer to as “Change Management”.

I’m talking here of “big changes”, the kind of which that mandates communication plans, sponsor involvement, a full blown CM toolbox… and of which it is usually expected a high resistance in reaction.

The fact is that most (if not all) organizations are both hierarchical and, well, big. By big, I refer to the capacity of anyone to devise ways of implementing the change in all of the impacted parts of the organization: if no one can hold that in their mind, then it’s “big”.

Now, I can see that most Change Management approaches (try Googling it to see for yourself!) try to deploy heavy guns for big changes. That encompasses talking and listening deeply to impacted people as well as driving out fear, devising very precise and specific agendas for change adapted to the part of the organization undergoing change, etc.

My question is: what’s the point of exhausting (paying) some consultants to imagine (necessarily incomplete and unadapted) actions plans for all impacted parts of the organization, when the very same work can be better done from these parts themselves? And with more engagement since they will be involved in the work and everybody knows that we’re more willing to engage with what we’ve helped design?

Now, when one’s looking at the VSM model (open up some external picture from these links), we can imagine the purpose of the change initiative being System 5 (policy), which informs relations between System 4 (external monitoring of change conditions for instance) and system 3 (management). Then system 3, management, has the role of taking care of relations between Operational Units (Systems 1) through information brought up by System 2 (conflict management).

Using the preceding model, one can envision Management (S3) being informed of the change to be done and then “configuring” dashboards (S2) to follow attainment of the change outcome as defined in S5. The way the outcome needs to be attained is then let up to each and every  OU (all of impacted S1s). As autonomous entities (as per the VSM model), they are the ones to know best what needs to be done and how it could be best done to achieve the expected outcome.

I understand that what I’m describing above is related to “complexity management” and post-modern approaches to change. It’s mentioned in a back issue of the AI Practitioner (Appreciative Inquiry online magazine): see november 2008 introduction. You can buy that issue on the AI Practitioner web site. Now, AI is a way to involve the whole system further than what can probably be done using more traditional “policy deployement” as suggested by the VSM. But that’s another story (I’ll write on this soon).

Do you have some stories to share of “cascading change management” as described here (probably without the VSM reference!) ?

AI Design phase is like setting objectives

October 27th, 2010 Posted in Appreciative Inquiry Tags: ,

Being new to AI and from a technical problem solving area (IT engineering), I’ve been struggling a bit around the Design phase. After reading some back issue of the AI Practitioner magazine (wonderful in the high quality of the articles it features!), it stroke me that the Design phase of an AI intervention might be explained as an objectives definition phase.

Of course, it’s far more powerful as any other objectives definition, because it builds on the previous Discovery and Dream steps. I do see them as steps on a stairway, because it allows participants in the AI workshop to be higher than what some other approach would have brought them, in terms of vision and positive hopes.

I’ve feared that when trying to introduce AI to people around me (especially management), they’d see it as some sort of utopian approach. Indeed, there is a logical progression from Discovery of current reality (as appreciatively inquired into its best moments) to Dream of a better future and then a stake in the ground is done of that Dream in the form of the bold and provocative propositions (what needs to be true for the Dream to occur). Then of course, the Destiny/Deliver phase is an action plan to achieve these propositions.

I see AI as a way to reverse cause and effect relationships. One usually live in a world where past and present causes effect a (planned, anticipated) future. Now with AI, envisionned future is not just mental imagery, it’s firmly grounded and, like a lighthouse, attracting us to it. Indeed, the (dreamed of) effect is creating the necessary causes for it to exist.

I might have  summarized too much of the intrinsic magic of the 4D process, but I was not trying to explain the whole AI approach in this article (maybe some other day, and in french as it’s not quite well know here…)

What’s your comments on this?

Change method: Vision, Dialogue, Results

In this very first article, I would like to introduce you to some change methodology that I have encountered while researching the topic on Internet. I find it blissfully simple, yet powerful and embedding concepts that root into strength-based approaches such as Appreciative Inquiry or The World Café.

That “change method”, should we give it a name is based on a simple approach:

  1. Establish a Vision of where you would like the organization to be
  2. Foster a Dialogue of what needs to be done to get to that vision
  3. Promote quick Results to sustain enthusiasm


By Vision, it is meant a powerful description of a highly desired state to be in. That vision should be given in the present tense, as if it were already attained. I’m not sure the original work I drew this mentioned it (I’ve lost the link), but I must add that a co-created vision seems to be a must. Indeed, a vision decided by top management only can only get you so far: people rarely feel motivated by others’ vision, unless maybe the vision holder is skilled enough to articulate it in vivid language. But the most effective way to transmit a vision is to let people co-build it themselves in their mind.

There are plenty of ways you can find on Internet which may help you co-build a vision. These methods usually also take the next point into consideration by involving the whole system (organization) in the co-design of it and have it emerge from the complexity of all stakeholders being present at the same time. The World Café, Theory U, Appreciative Inquiry just to name a few seem interesting to me!


By Dialogue, we’re referring to an exchange of ideas in the style of David Bohm. That way of exchanging with each others is also mentioned in Peter Senge seminal work on Systems Thinking “The Fifth Discipline”. That kind of Dialogue needs two conditions to occur:

  • deeply listening to others’ ideas to understand them ;
  • suspending one’s own judgement as one could suspend something to a rope, for others to consider and analyse

That way, people are able to non-judmentally consider each others’ opinions and enrich their own by them. There’s respect and humility in this, for sure.


By praising quick results, one encourages the continuation of the work that would lead to realization of the vision. I’d personally link this strength-based approaches (such as Appreciative Inquiry of which I’ll talk more on this blog) which tries to inquire into what works and ways of doing more of it. To prevent exhaustion of people working toward the vision, it is necessary to maintain their enthusiasm, and Vision associated with results is a must for this. Plus, it requires personal involvement of top management for this, which is a motivation in itself for employees.

Welcome !

October 23rd, 2010 Posted in Uncategorized


It’s been a long time since I had a blog (computer security it was about).

In this blog, I’ll try to give my thoughts on the subject of organizations as Systems and ways to improve them (Appreciate them). I’ve recently discovered systems thinking and been trained in fundamentals of Appreciative Inquiry. I hope to speak on all of that and hope not to say too much errors 🙂

For the rest, I’m a big proponent of Lean as a way to manage organization to improve it for the benefits of its employees, customers and other stakeholders. I’ll very probably blog about that too.

Feel free to leave a comment should you agree, disagree of just want to say hi!

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