Tag Archives: Wisdom

Serendipity Runs Circles Around Causality

Funny how some things seem — given enough time — to come full circle. Although I have always seen patterns and complexity, as well as the intricacies of their interplay, I wasn’t introduced to the concept of Systems Thinking until I worked on the Space Shuttle Main Engine program at (what was then) Rockwell International’s Rocketdyne division. That introduction included being exposed to the thinking of Dr. Russell Ackoff, a recognized authority in the field. I was fortunate enough to spend some time with him, twice in Philadelphia, prior to his death in October of 2009.

Shortly after retiring from Rocketdyne in 2010, I was introduced to Dr. Lorien Pratt of Quantellia, LLC, who showed me a tool her organization had developed called World Modeler. I was excited at what I saw and hopeful I could somehow become involved with Dr. Pratt and her team. However, that was not to be at the time. I was provided the opportunity to more thoroughly investigate the tool, but I had made a conscious choice to refamiliarize myself with Apple products (after over two decades of living in the PC, DOS, and Windows environment) and World Modeler was not written to be run on a Mac. Furthermore, the PC laptop I had wasn’t powerful enough to do the math and drive the graphics required for running models in real time. I was hosed.

Decision Intelligence Technologies

Decision Intelligence Technologies

Finally, about six months ago I was contacted by Dr. Pratt, who asked me if I wanted to assist in writing a paper that described an effort in which they were involved with the Carter Center. I enthusiastically said “Yes!” I’ve done a couple of other things with Quantellia since then but, beginning a few weeks ago, I took on an entirely new and (for me) exciting role as a referral partner.

Right now I’m spending a fair amount of time learning Decision Science in general, and the process and tools Quantellia uses to help organizations understand complex interrelationships and make better decisions based on that understanding. As I’m doing this I watch videos, read blogs and articles, look for original research, and work on presentations that will help me educate others in this important approach to business and organizational operations.

So . . . here’s the full circle part. As I’m looking for definitions, or explanations, of Decision Science and its origins, I Google the term. The first two hits I get are to The Decision Sciences Institute and to Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Social and Decision Sciences. The third link is to a Wikipedia article on that same Department. In that article, there’s a link to Decision Science, specifically. However, it redirects to an article on Operations Research, which is where Systems Thinking originated. At the bottom of the page is a list of researchers under the heading “See Also”. One of the researchers, unsurprisingly, is Russell L. Ackoff. To me, that’s a combination of serendipity and years of working on better understanding how an understanding of systems can work to the benefit of any organization; actually, anyone.

I’ll be writing a lot more about Decision Science, including my understanding of some of its constituent parts, Decision Intelligence, Decision Engineering, Decision Modeling, and the power and value of our tools, World Modeler and DEEPM (Decision Engineering for Enterprise Project Management). I hope I will be able to clearly explain what it is we have to offer and, more importantly, what everyone has to gain by understanding it. The value exists independently of me or even Quantellia. We’ve just been at it for a while and can apply and employ the discipline both efficiently and effectively. Stay tuned.


A Collection of Memorable (and Useful) Quotes

Air Quotes

"Thus Quoteth Zarathustra"

I’m always thinking of ways in which I can post things that are interesting and, hopefully, useful to those of you who take a little precious time out of your day to visit my blog. I’m a big fan of quotes and, rather than throwing a few out here and there – at least for right now – I just discovered my friend, Euan Semple has a nice collection of them on his website. So, I thought I would share them with you.

I find there is much wisdom to be gained from well-selected quotes of famous, and not-so-famous, people. Euan’s are really good. So, please take a moment and click on this link. You won’t regret it. My thanks to Euan for sharing his latest update of the page on Facebook.

Here’s one of my favorites: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker

Photo from All For Hymn


Some Weird Stumble Upon-Like Thing

I came across this while looking for information on the treatment of left-handers during medieval times. This isn’t from the page I found, which seems to be quite old and simplistically designed, but I thought the sentiment quite useful to memorialize.

Consider this a very public bookmarking; done so you might judge for yourself if the sentiment is worthy of a moment of your time . . . retrospectively, I realize but, well, what can I say? So sue me.

Amplify’d from www.csun.edu

… A Prayer by a 17th century Nun

“Lord — Thou knowest better than I know myself that I am
growing older and will someday be old.
Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on
every subject on every occasion.
Release me from craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs.
Make me thoughtful but not moody… helpful but not bossy.
With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all.
But Thou knowest, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.
Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details.
Give me wings to get to the point.
Seal my lips on my aches and pains…
They are increasing… and love of rehearsing them is
becoming gets sweeter as the time goes by.
I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of others pains…
but help me endure them with patience.
I dare not ask for improved memory,
but for a growing humility and a lessening cocksureness
when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others.
Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.
Keep me reasonable sweet.
I do not want to be a saint…
some of them are so hard to live with…
But a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the devil.
Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places
and talent in unexpected people.
And give me O Lord, the Grace to tell them so.”

Read more at www.csun.edu

 


Has Knowledge Management Been Bad For Us?

In the world of Knowledge Management, we frequently talk about at least two different types of knowledge we deal with. The first is explicit, or codified, knowledge (stuff that’s captured and, hopefully, readily accessible in some useful form); the second is tacit, or tribal, in-the-head, “between the ears” knowledge. For most of my nearly 15 years of knowledge management practice in the aerospace business I have noted we spend an incredible amount of time, energy, and money working on the former.

At the same time we have continually asserted the vast majority of useful knowledge was the latter. Here, for instance, is a graphic showing the ratio of explicit to tacit as 19 to 1.

For me, this is huge! In fact, where I come from we tended to use an adaptation of the Pareto principle, i.e. an 80-20 distribution, so this graphic helps make my point a fortiori. Now let me get to my point. Last Wednesday (12 May 2010), Rob Paterson published a wonderful post at the FASTforward blog entitled “Have books been bad for us?”, where he discusses the question of whether or not the web is making us stupid, as well as his belief the opposite is true. He argues that books have actually stunted our ability to innovate and create new knowledge. You really have to read the whole post, but here’s a sample I like:

But with the book comes authority. With the advent of the book, much of knowledge development stopped. Only the in group was allowed to play. What mattered was not observation. Not trial and error. Not experiment. Not sharing. But authority. Most of the accepted authority were texts that had no basis in observation or trial and error. Ptolemy, St Augustine and Galen ruled.

Rob goes on to argue, rather than making us stupid, the web is providing us with the kinds of information and knowledge connections we used to have before the book removed the more communal ways in which most of our collective knowledge was arrived at in the past.

So, here’s where I find an analogy to the work I’ve been doing for some time. Much of of what we call Knowledge Management (at least in my experience) seems to spend an inordinate amount of time and expense on dealing with the 20% (or 5%, depending on who you listen to) of an enterprise’s knowledge that is explicit. We work on organizing share drives, federating search capability, and scanning and rendering searchable (through OCR) much of our paper-based, historical information. I’m sure there are other ways in which explicit, recorded information is analyzed and organized as a function of a knowledge management activity.

But I think we’re missing the point about the real value of knowledge. If, in fact, the largest (by far) percentage of an enterprise’s useful knowledge is locked between the heads of its employees and, if (as we frequently say about tacit knowledge) much of it can’t be accessed until it’s required, why are we not spending more of our limited funds on facilitating the connection and communication, as well as the findability and collaborative capabilities of our employees?

I’m not suggesting there isn’t value to content management, smarter search capabilities, etc. I am saying, however, that I think most organizations are missing the boat by not spending more of their resources on the thing that offers to connect their people; to create organizational neural pathways that promise to be far more beneficial to the overall health of the company in terms of product innovation and design, manufacturing processes, customer relations, project management, etc. (or on and on). I am speaking of Enterprise 2.0, on which I will have a lot more to say in future posts.

The problems we face with acceptance are monumental. People in organizations that have traditionally been hierarchical and within which silos and fiefdoms emerge, turf wars and power struggles go on, and people are both kept in the dark and made afraid for their jobs hasn’t exactly set the stage for the trust required to do any kind of knowledge management effort. Nevertheless, if we’re going to participate in the struggle, we ought to be shooting for the things that are going to prove the most valuable – in both the short and the long run.

I’m a book lover myself. My reverence for books is almost stupid, actually, but I’ve worked hard on overcoming it. Unlike Rob, I no longer wonder. I see the web, and the enterprise and its internal network, as the future of our group intelligence and knowledge. What do you see?


Inclusion: Bad for Diamonds; Oxygen for Innovation

In a response to a tweet from @MartijnLinssen, I noted that inclusions are bad for diamonds, but good for innovation and business in general. I think Martijn posted that particular tweet in response to a question I had posted about the use of the terms “consultant” and “expert”. I think too much time is spent on figuring out ways to exclude people from anything other than the roles we’ve pigeon-holed them in. This seems to be the default mode of Human Resource departments, i.e. find a job title and wrap it around a “belly button”. Once you’ve accomplished that task, you have an employee ready to fit into the pre-ordained mold you’ve created; the cog in your machine, if you will.

This seems to miss the reality that all of us are far more complex than a title can contain expression for. In my over twenty years at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne I have seldom performed tasks that were directly in alignment with the title I held. Part of the reason for this is I was always looking for new and innovative ways of getting things done and, to their credit, my management never (or seldom) discouraged me from doing so. I don’t think I’m all that unique. I happen to believe everybody has hidden skills and talents an organization can – and should – tap in to. We should encourage, no, assist everyone to reach their fullest potential. We should create an environment where everyone can contribute to the growth and sustainability of their organization, whether their contribution is small or large. To do anything else is more than foolish. It’s wasteful and destructive. Our people are, indeed, our most valuable asset – especially in a knowledge-based economy. An asset we can ill afford to ignore.


Learning From Those who Know

I continually struggle with how best to share here on this blog. Guess I’m trying to find my voice, which is difficult when one’s personal life is so thoroughly enmeshed with one’s professional life and the company you work for needs to keep much of what it does close to the vest. So I need to work on separating those things that are mine (my thoughts, that is) and those things that are my company’s.

Credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

There are a couple of bloggers whose thoughts I really respect and I am learning a bit from them on how to go about doing this and growing my ability to share and connect. There are others as well, but the two I’m speaking of are Euan Semple and Gil Yehuda. Euan has a blog he calls “The Obvious“. Here’s what he says in the section “About this blog”: “This is my personal blog which I began in February 2001. I called it The Obvious? when I wrote anonymously and chose the name to reflect the fact I have to overcome my inhibitions about stating the obvious!” This resonates so strongly with me as I have always felt that anything I saw had to be obvious to everyone since it was so obvious to me. I’ve learned that’s not necessarily the case, but I have yet to fully convince myself it’s true. Reading Euan and, especially, the method he uses in his blog, is very instructive to me; might be to you as well.

Gil Yehuda’s blog is a bit different, as he writes a great deal about Enterprise 2.0. In fact, the title of his blog is “Gil Yehuda’s Enterprise 2.0 Blog“. Gil doesn’t write quite the same as Euan. Most of his posts are a bit longer, though short enough to not be tedious to anyone who’s used to the rapid-fire reality of today’s online world. Since my greatest interest – indeed, my job – is centered around Enterprise 2.0 capabilities and design principles, I appreciate Gil’s clarity and constancy of purpose in sharing his thoughts. His latest post, “What to Contribute: Thoughts of a Blogger“, is a great read on how to deal with the issues I find myself pondering each time I set out to write. I have to admit I have waaay more ideas than I manage to write about.

I intend on learning all I can from these two. I’m hopeful that time will find me opening up more and engaging with greater frequency and, hopefully, clarity as I follow how they do it. There are others – in fact Gil’s latest blog (link above) points to a lot of them, the majority of whom I follow on Twitter – and I will write about them as well as time goes on. Each has a voice worthy of listening to, even if your interest isn’t Enterprise 2.0, as they have firmly established themselves in the “blogosphere”. Check ‘em out.


Russ Ackoff, Systems Thinking, and Enterprise 2.0

I posted another “tribute” to Russ Ackoff in my blog at the 2.0 Adoption Council’s collaborative site and thought to share it outside the Council as well. Our site is enabled by Jive SBS and is private, so I’d like to share it with others. What follows, then, is the post as I wrote it the other day:

I am of the opinion it takes a certain kind of sensibility to understand how and why Enterprise 2.0 fits into an organization and, more importantly, how it can increase the effectiveness of everyone and everything with respect to how that organization realizes its goals. In my mind that sensibility was understood well (if not best) by people like W. Edwards Deming and the man I’d like to reflect on just a bit in this post, Russell Lincoln Ackoff. I am writing this because Russ just died last October 29 and the resonance of his passing has yet to settle amongst the community of people who knew him – either personally or through his writings and teachings. Just today I received an email from John Pourdehnad, Director of ACASA at UPenn, with a link to another tribute to Russ, which I urge you to read. I have written about his passing also, as Russ affected me profoundly. I was hoping to visit with him once again next month. Alas, that was not to be. You can read my feeble attempt here, and you can read the latest blog I received from Johnnie here. If you aren’t aware of who Russ was just Google his name and you’ll find plenty out there to inform you.

I raise this issue for several reasons. One is my feeling that, much like so many great people, the full impact of Russ’s influence will only be felt now that he is gone. Whle he was alive he was the spokesperson for his thoughts; nobody could convey what he had to say as well as he could and few tried. Absent his presence it now falls to those of us who stood at his feet to now stand upon his shoulders and try our best to carry on his work. Make no mistake about it, Russ was an important figure in contemporary thought. Not merely in business, but also in education and life in general. No less than Peter Drucker held Russ’s work in high esteem. Drucker once wrote a letter to Russell, which he proudly displayed on the wall of his office. In it, Peter had this to say:

“I was then, as you may recall, one of the early ones who applied Operations Research and the new methods of Quantitative Analysis to specific BUSINESS PROBLEMS — rather than, as they had been originally developed for, to military or scientific problems. I had led teams applying the new methodology in two of the world’s largest companies — GE and AT&T. We had successfully solved several major production and technical problems for these companies — and my clients were highly satisfied. But I was not–we had solved TECHNICAL problems but our work had no impact on the organizations and on their mindsets. On the contrary: we had all but convinced the managements of these two big companies that QUANTITATIVE MANIPULATION was a substitute for THINKING. And then your work and your example showed us–or at least, it showed me–that the QUANTITATIVE ANALYSIS comes AFTER the THINKING — it validates the thinking; it shows up intellectual sloppiness and uncritical reliance on precedent, on untested assumptions and on the seemingly “obvious.” But it does not substitute for hard, rigorous, intellectually challenging THINKING. It demands it, though — but does not replace it. This is, of course, what YOU mean BY system. And your work in those far-away days thus saved me — as it saved countless others — from either descending into mindless “model building” — the disease that all but destroyed so many of the Business Schools in the last decades — or from sloppiness parading as ‘insight.’” (I took this from a comment by Steve Brant – a friend – to Michael Trick’s Operations Research Blog. I have personally read the letter as well, in Russ’s office earlier this year)

Another reason I wish to point to Russ’s work is my belief it can – and should – play a significant role in our understanding the implications of Enterprise 2.0. As Andy points out so saliently in his book, and as I would hope most of us have already come to realize, our work is not merely to theorize about the efficacy and implications of adopting E2.0 principles, but rather to apply them to the conduct of our respective organizations such that they improve their day-to-day operations and assist them in achieving their strategic goals. I think that can best be done by also understanding the systemic nature of the organizations within which we operate, and Russ had unique understanding and insight into how this was so.

The intent I had for my personal blog, which I link to above, was to work on reconciling Systems Theory – as taught by Russ and others – to the philosophy of Dialectical Materialism; perhaps a bridge too far given the demands on my time and energy. I do, however, wish to continue understanding how the principles of E2.0 (here‘s a great overview Dion linked to in Twitter) can be best understood from the viewpoint of Systems Theory. To that end I will continue attempting to reconcile what Russ had to teach us with the work we are all engaged in with respect to this council. It is my hope many of you will asssist in this endeavor. I believe it is extremely important to our success. Actually, I believe it is a valuable component of the continuing development of human thought and organization – economically, politically, and socially. I welcome your comments.

Respectfully,

Rick


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