Appreciating Systems

Appreciating Systems for Genuine Efficiency
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Rio+20, #sustainability & the commons: tragedy of the commons at 3 levels (#systemsthinking #stwg)

As my readers may know, I’m a member of the Systems Thinking World LinkedIn discussion group and there’s a running thread regarding that United Nations call from Secretary General Ban Ki Moon about some revolutionary thinking to get the global economy out of the marsh it is now.

Thanks to that (long) thread, I’ve been acquainted with various initiatives, one of them being that of The School of Commoning. One of their home page blog article is about a Tragedy of the Commons identified following the Rio+20 UN world conference recently.

Indeed, I identified not one, not two, but three Tragedy of the Commons happening regarding these sustainability issues, though not all at the same level, but probably reinforcing the whole problem at a bigger level (haven’t modelled that from a higher level, though, someone ought to do it. Volunteers, somewhere?). They are:

  1. Fight for usage of non renewable resources (or commons)
  2. Fight for monetization of non renewable resources (or commons)
  3. Fight for control over the non renewable resources (or commons)

Let’s review them each in turn…

Read more »

Could it be that the SEE system is self-sustaining the current global mess? (#systemsthinking)

Reading about a draft report created out of contributions by Systems Thinkers on the LinkedIn group “Systems Thinking World“, in a discussion aimed at replying to UN’s General Secretary Ban Ki Moon call for revolutionary thinking regarding the current economic crisis, the following considerations occurred to me:

“Could it be that the current Social, Economical and Ecological interplay (system) is indeed sustaining the current situation (a downward slope to future ecological, economic and hence social havoc?”

I tried to quickly summarized my view in the attached diagram (for those that don’t know how to read such a diagram: boxes are “stock” that accumulate (or decrease) over time. Arrows are “flows” between stocks. A + arrow means that both sides of it move in the same direction (if origin increases, so does the destination of it, and conversely when decreasing). A – arrow means the two ends of the arrow move in opposite directions (if origin increases, destination decreases and vice-versa)).

Systems Dynamics causal loop diagram of SEE sustaining an unsustainable future...

The corresponding explanation would go something as:

  • The Economy being in a downturn, it negatively impacts the Social capital of people (trust, willing to give to others [not in terms of money but more on the line of compassion and relationships]), which makes them less likely to contribute to improvements of the Economy (R1). 
  • A decreasing Economy is negatively impacting Ecology as well (R2 through Ecological capital and Survival Instinct back to Social Capital) which, along with all the fuss about Ecology in the medias (UN call including), stresses out our Survival instinct, thereby negatively impacting our Social capital as well. 
  • The less we have a Social capital, the less likely we are to contribute to Ecology (R4). 
  • The last loop is about our stressed out Survival instinct that negatively impacts our Social capital, reinforcing the downturn in Survival instinct (R3).

Please show me where I’m wrong?!

Of course, should that situation has an ounce of veracity, the question would be: out to get out of it. This is the whole purpose of the aforementioned thread to propose some systemic (revolutionary in itself, probably) answer.

Nobody Ever Gets Credit for Fixing Problems that Never Happened (Creating & Sustaining Process Improvement) #Lean paper #stwg

Here’s a fundamental paper that explains some of the difficulties of introducing and sustaining Lean in companies, from a Systems Thinking (Systems Dynamics to be more precise) point of view.

The paper has been authored by John Sterman and Nelson Repenning and is available here.

The paper’s very didactic and takes the reader by the hand into building the diagram step by step.

A curse anatomy: #Systems Dynamics view of Micro-management #systhnk

Systems dynamics diagram of micro-management addiction situations

Systems dynamics diagram of micro-management addiction situations

The (real) situation

A friend of mine (middle manager) himself is subjected to micro-management from it’s own manager. Given the high number of projects and subjects ongoing in his perimeter, it’s a pain for him to follow all of them at the level of details required by his own upper manager.

A tentative model

Upon analysis with a systemic diagram, I found a horrible picture where the more a manager would go into micro-management, the more it will feel the urge to go. Here’s the explanation why (click on diagram to open it in a new window to follow explanations)

At the beginning, there is a micro-management need, either from a personal inclination and/or from a high hierarchical position that naturally prevents someone from having detailed information about project.

Balancing loop B1: the manager being in micro-management need take on the micro-management of activities in need (from his point of view), which will, hopefully and again, from his point of view, fix any issues on these activities hence relieving the micro-management need.

This is the main reason which a micro-manager start micro-managing in the first place. Only that this triggers three different reinforcing loops that we will now describe, resulting in a classical “fixes that fail” systems archetype…

Reinforcing loop R1: out of that micro-management need, some activities are felt in need of being-micro-managed (because of perceived problems for instance). The more the manager thus focuses on these micro-managed activities, the less there’s a focus on other activies. As a consequence, issues on other activies start to raise (we’ll see why in the next paragraph). The more other activities have issues, the more they are felt as activities in need of micro-management, which increased the need for the manager to micro-manage activities.

Reinforcing loop R2: the more a manager increase his micro-management need, the less his direct reports are motivated. Which results in a decrease in management of their activities and further increase issues. Side note: an issue on an activity need to be considered from the point of view of the micro-managing manager. This further adds to the micro-management need in the first place.

Reinforcing loop R3: when the motivation of direct reports decreases (as seen in R2), so does the trust on the micro-manager in them, which further increases his micro-managing needs.

So, there we are in a situation where the consequences of micro-management further reinforce themselves.

The solutions?

So, where do we go from there?

Traditional way of dealing with “fixes that fail” archetypes is to try to anticipate the unexpected consequences (of micro-managing in this case). Here, that would mean informing the micro-managing manager of that systemic situation. As we’re talking of a personal inclination (whose psychologic causes may be diverse) it’s not sure that the person will change his behavior (further, pushing the model onto him may just raise it’s resistance to the much needed change, hence locking the situation even more).

It maybe the case that the current situation is one in which we’re dealing with a symptom instead of addressing the root cause. In that case, we’d be in a shifting the burden systems archetype situation with new possibilities arising. I’m for instance thinking of teaching people how to “properly” manage their activities such as not to trigger micro-management needs and teach the micro-manager that he needs to teach rather than do himself, just for his own sanity (hereby addressing the WIIFM: “what’s in it for me”).

It may be the time for some Solution Focus work with the micro-manager and/or the micro-managed people: what behavior worked for you in the past? How can you do more?

Or some coaching, maybe using Motivational Interviewing style where the micro-managed manager is brought peacefully to recognizing that he needs to change (for his own and his people sanity) and then coach him to change?

Have you ever been face with a micro-manager? How did you manage that situation without flying away?

 

A #systemsthinking explanation of lack of respect for people (fundamental #lean pillar)

I have recently finished reading this excellent paper from Raul Espejo regarding the law of requisite variety: “Giving Requisite Variety to Strategic and Implementation Processes: Theory and Practice“. Espejo is a person to read if you’re interested in the Viable System Model (see corresponding articles on this blog and my delicious bookmarks on VSM) as created by Stafford Beer.

In this paper, Espejo make the stunning comment that (I quote, emphasis mine, excerpted from page 3):

“[…] many organisations are still driven by the hierarchical paradigm that assumes the distinctions made at the top are the only relevant ones, which implies that people at lower levels are there only to implement them, but not to make distinctions of their own. Therefore the assumption is that the complexity of a senior manager is much greater than that of a professional in the production line. Somehow it is assumed that people at the top have much bigger brains than those working at ‘lower’ levels. Since they don’t, the space of creative action at ‘lower levels has had to be reduced. The assumption becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. This becomes manifest when power is exercised by enforcing distinctions made at corporate levels to construct a limited context of action for the majority in the organisation.”

The last emphasized sentence is insightful for me: “The assumption becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy”. What is meant is that with top management having a mental model of having bigger brains than people at lower hierarchical levels, they take on more decisions than people below them. This mental model then hinders learning from the very people that top management would probably want to have bigger brain but that they prevent them from developing… Management complains about employees being cogs in the machine, but, because they think they are, they remove every opportunity for them to turn back to being human and use their brain, which makes them further into cogs.

Another case of espoused-theory vs. theory-in-use, I guess.

In Lean, we say that management should act as coaches to their reporting collaborators and don’t give them answers (we even encourage management to let their employees fail in order to learn). It may be slower on the short-term, but probably the best way to grow them and increase productivity and morale in the longer term.

How many times today have you solved someone else’s problem?

I hope you’ll solve less tomorrow…

Autonomy dynamic model (#systemsthinking from @doingwhatworks article)

SD Analysis of Autonomy

SD Analysis of Autonomy

Reading Coert Visser’s blog post “People prefer to choose for themselves what they initiate and they want to control as much as possible what they do“, I decided to give it a shot at modelling what comes to my mind using my preferred tool of choice: Vensim.

The first analytical thinking through a problematic autonomy situation would be that people’s desire and actions to increase their autonomy is motivated by Others’ action. “Their faulty behavior against me motivates and authorizes my reacting to it“.

Of course, from the view point of others, the same thing happen with us (‘A‘ in the attached diagram).

So, although each actions from A or other tend to reach an equilibrium toward one’s own autonomy desired level (loops B1 and B2), the connection between actions (center of picture, R1) creates an overall reinforcing dynamical structure where A and Others are competing for their autonomy levels. In the end, it’s more than probable that all will loose: a typical loose-loose situation resulting from a “win-loose” mental model.

So, I added, as a proposed solution, that an overall external loop (in dotted lines on the diagram) be added where A and Others exchange on their similar desire to achieve some autonomy, and do listen to and respect the corresponding desire of the partner. In doing so, they might lower their desired autonomy level but in the mean time counter balance the negative and reinforcing loop of their action and we could hope that they reach some form of win-win equilibrium.

That solution can only exist if Dialogue is possible between A and Others.

How are you communicating about problematic situations in your organization? Do you talk them through or do you complain, finger point to one another and stick to phone and mail to fire reactive actions to one another?


 

#Change Resistance as viewed from a #systemsthinking point of view

Thinking to that well talked about subject (232,000 results in google for “Chance Resistance” – quoted included), I decided to give it a shot… The result if the image below (click on it to zoom it).

Systems Dynamics view of Change resistance

Systems Dynamics view of Change resistance

You start in the upper right corner: there a change needed and a suspected resistance to change from the system that needs to be changed. So, the change plan is devised without too much involving the soon-to-be impacted people, to avoid raising their resistance to change. The result, once the change plan is rolled on, is double: a lack of requisite variety of the plan to the impacted people and their local situation and a feeling that everything’s been already decided. Both feelings generate some form of resistance (active in the first case, passive in the second, a form of hopelessness). They add up to form an actual change resistance. This actual resistance then confirms the supposed change resistance and also the measures taken to prevent further resistance.

In the end, this is a nice reinforcing loop or self-fulfilling prophecy.

What can be done to it? Well, a short answer could be to kill the loop by not assuming that there is resistance to change AND do whatever is necessary not to raise this resistance:

  • involve soon-to-be impacted people as early as possible so they can own the process
  • and involve them so they can adapt the required change to their specific variety so that the change is assured to be will fitted to the system to be change

Don’t be afraid of change resistance: just don’t awake it yourself!

 

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