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Tag Archives: Understanding

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.

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Intertwingled in Plain Sight

Intertwingled

All Things Are Ultimately Intertwingled

I’m going to continue on a theme from my 4th of July entry, where I kind of resurrected an old post of mine from Content Management Connection. This time, however, it’s not a post of mine but that of a friend, Greg Lloyd – President and co-founder of Traction Software, Inc.

There are two terms I remember from when I first read Greg’s post – originally published on July 5, 2010 – which have helped me understand what I expect from the application of knowledge management and social business (formerly Enterprise 2.0 © ) design concepts and tools. These two terms also help me describe several of the most important attributes and indications of a well functioning, successful organization or group. They are “intertwingled” and “observable work”.

As a knowledge management professional (hemidemisemiretired) my long-standing and overarching goal has been to help people (and their organizations) improve on their ability to make sense of the huge amount of data that flows from their work. Doing so requires consideration of both macro-environmental factors and micro-environmental factors. For me, intertwingle describes the macro environment and observable work is what helps the micro environment to thrive. Let me very briefly explain why I believe this. Then I’ll send you off to Greg’s wonderful post where he explains it far better than I am capable of doing.

I frequently use the term “systems thinking” to describe what I see as an ongoing process of understanding that recognizes the interconnection, as well as the interdependency, of . . . well . . . everything. Useful systems thinking also requires the ability to see boundary conditions in pursuit of knowledge, but keeps the systemic nature of all things in mind when considering how they work. The word ‘intertwingle” seems to succinctly embody what I just spent a paragraph attempting to explain; probably not very well. 😦

“Observable work”, on the other hand, evokes a vision of people communicating with each other and the data and information essential to the smooth functioning of the work they do. It promises not necessarily the disappearance of silos, but does suggest making those silos – and the varying and very real relationships they have with each other – more transparent and discernible.

There’s much, much more that flows from these two concepts but, since I have no intention of rewriting that which has already been published, I urge you to read Greg’s post. If you have the time and the inclination, you may want to follow some of the numerous links he provides that serve to further define and illustrate these two concepts. Think of it as a quest to find the social business/knowledge management version of the Higgs Boson particle or, at least, the Gluon.  Here’s the link.


How Networked Science is Stretching Our Vision

Making Sense of it All

Making Sense of it All

My original intent for this blog was something far different than it’s become. I don’t think it’s a problem, as I seem to be morphing my approach into something that can easily accommodate that original intent. In case you aren’t aware of what I wanted to do when I began this little journey, I have described it somewhat here. I intend on updating that page periodically to keep up with the developments and changes as they occur (or, hopefully, shortly thereafter). This continues to be a work-in-process and I think that’s how I want it.

I have had a deep love and respect for the concept of Systems Thinking a good part of my adult life. As a young man I didn’t even know it was something people studied or wrote about; just that it seemed to be a useful way to look at the world and try to make sense of it. Recognizing the systemic nature of things and seeing the interrelationship (no matter how distant or tenuous) between them can, in my opinion, make them far more intelligible while increasing the odds of understanding consequences and why certain things happen.

Today I came across a wonderful article on Facebook from The Atlantic, through a post by John Hagel of the Deloitte Center for the Edge. I’m not “friends” with John, though I have sent him a request. In the meantime (and I assume he will likely ignore me) I do “subscribe” to his public updates. He shares some truly fascinating and interesting information.

The article is entitled “To Know, but Not Understand: David Weinberger on Science and Big Data” and he discusses and explains how the prolific growth of data, information, storage capabilities, and computing power is facilitating the understanding of large-scale or highly complex systems, despite their being beyond our ken as mere human beings. He points out that, despite our limitations as individuals to understand why some things work as they do, the growth of networked science is providing us with a capacity for making use of this data, information, and knowledge. I found it truly fascinating and want to share it here. If you have 10 – 15 minutes, I highly recommend you take the time to read it. Here’s the link.


The Hell It’s Not About The Tools!

Hand Axes

What Would Lizzie Borden Do?

I had lunch a while back with a former colleague from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. He is also a fellow cohort member from my Masters in KM program, from which we both graduated in late 2009. We have worked together extensively. After eating we were discussing the situation at my former (and his current) place of employment, which is a bit unclear at this point.

As I shared my thoughts about the value (as I see it) of using social media to increase the organization’s capabilities (you know, the innovative, collaborative, communicative ones), he said something he had said to me over and over while I was still a colleague . . . “It’s not about the tools!”

Now, essentially I agree with him – at least to a point. Tools are, by themselves, absolutely useless unless they’re used to get things done in the manner for which they were designed. Even better, if you can figure out how to use them creatively they can be even more powerful. Try pounding a nail into a stud with your bare fist, though, and then tell me it’s not about the tools.

Nevertheless, this argument is valid when taken in the context of an organization where people think that throwing tools at a problem will somehow, magically I guess, solve the problem confronting them. I have personally seen this happen quite a bit and, in fairness to my friend, it did seem to be a common occurrence at our place of employment.

On the other hand, we’re probably all aware of situations where the simplest of tools served an organization well in dealing with a particularly difficult situation. This can only happen, I think, when the people confronting the situation are open and honest about what they’re facing and how it’s affecting the processes and people who are tasked with dealing with it.

This means they have to be able to think both critically and creatively. Too often people get to thinking in predictable ways and they pigeonhole the problem, thereby confining their possible solutions to the things they’re familiar with and have previous knowledge of. This usually leads to failure.

The thing about tools, though, is that they frequently give us the ability to use a bit of lateral – or even sideways – thinking. In the case of social tools such as Jive or Socialcast or Yammer, we’re also given the possibility of working together and sharing our information and knowledge in ways not previously possible.

A perfect example of how not to do it is the way in which the company I used to work at shared their knowledge of rocket engine design and manufacture. It was always the case that younger Engineers would send email requests to their older counterparts, requesting information on design intent or material properties or manufacturing techniques, etc. The older colleague might spend days researching and crafting an answer, which would then be sent back to the requester in an email.

The problem with this was that access to all this wonderfully useful information was now confined to the two (sometimes a few more, depending on who was included initially) people engaged in the conversation. Usually, within a short while the information and knowledge so thoroughly and carefully created was lost; frequently even to the original person asking the question. This was because there was no useful method by which email could be easily searched.

Nowadays we can do much better. We have tools, applications, and systems available to us that provide functionality like instant broadcasting (micro-blogging), collaborative creation (wiki, even Google docs), and ubiquitous indexing and search. There is, in my opinion, no excuse for not taking advantage of as many of these tools as is reasonably affordable – taking into consideration the culture of an organization and its tolerance for experimentation and change. Frankly, from what I’ve experienced and from what I learn from friends and others who are engaged in community organization and leadership, there are ways to introduce, champion, and develop these kinds of tools in just about any organization.

So I would wish to characterize the use of tools just a bit differently. I would say it most definitely IS about the tools, but it’s just not entirely about the tools. Having functionality available that was not possible five or ten years ago can change things dramatically. However, it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a conscious effort and, sometimes, dramatic changes in the culture of an organization. Nevertheless, the pain associated with change is usually ameliorated by the newfound capabilities the change brings; the possibilities of developing innovative processes and organizational structures and of increasing both the efficiency and effectiveness of those things we engage in. If anyone tells you it’s not about the tools, as if to say they aren’t important, ask them when was the last time they combed their hair with a fork!


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.


So many places to “be” – I’m so cornfuzzled!

Copyright 2010 GoogleWith the release of Google’s Buzz yesterday I have added yet another platform/channel to my ever-growing arsenal of social tools with which to engage and, especially, to learn from a long list of wonderful and generous people who willingly offer their intelligence, passion, and wit by freely sharing what they know. I don’t know about others, but even with locations that federate, or aggregate (oh hell, I’m not sure which it is), many of the places I “am”, I still find it difficult to completely see the larger landscape of the social  network I’m entwined with. Dion Hinchcliffe hints at Buzz portending a change in the way the “knowledge” of who we are, what we like, who we know, etc. is treated in his “First impressions of Google Buzz: Smart, useful, long road ahead“, posted yesterday. If I understand him correctly, Google is using algorithms that can draw context from the web, associated specifically with what our (singular and collective) behavior, connections, and interests are evidence of, and serve up relevant and (one would hope) useful information for us.

I hope this turns out to be the case. I’m reserving judgement for now, as it took  me at least six months after signing up for Twitter before I could see any use for it that made sense to me. If Buzz is anything like Twitter (only better) I plan on being a bit more ahead of the curve than before. Only time will tell, but the thought of having some help in making sense of all the chatter (including my own) is pretty exciting to me. We may end up with a half-dozen different “suites” (which will, no doubt, find some overlap in the apps used) for us to choose from and I’m torn over whether or not I would prefer some sort of standardization. Nevertheless, the reality for now – for me – is that I’ve been using Gmail and other Google platforms for many years and am unlikely to pass up a chance to get (and put) most of my info into their hands.


Are We Failing to Fail?

Today I attended an hour and a half, lively, funny presentation by a man I had never heard of before, but who I intend on paying at least a little more attention to in the future. His name is Terry Paulson. He’s been described as the Will Rogers of Management Consultants and he pretty much lives up to that description. He was invited as part of a series of ongoing events put on at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne called Passport to Leadership. This series is always open to anyone who wants to attend. Due to space limitations there is online registration available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Most of the time, unfortunately, the room (generally it’s held in an auditorium that can seat about 150 people) isn’t quite full. Sometimes it’s overflowing; depends on the speaker, the time of year, and what’s going on in the company at the time.

I chose to attend this particular event not because I had any idea who Terry Paulson was, but because of the title of the event – “The Innovative Leader’s Challenge: Inventing the Future in a Cost-Containment World”. Intriguing. Surely, anyone paying attention nowadays knows just about everyone is paying attention to costs more so than usual. What I really liked about his approach was its level of (in the words of his website) optimism, resilience, and hope – not to mention a good dose of animated humor. He made it clear he wasn’t talking about being a Pollyanna,  full of false promise and glittering visions of the future, but of being a realist; of looking at things and seeing them for what they are and being willing to face them head on. Interestingly, though he didn’t say it, his home page talks about something I heard many years ago from a radio psychologist by the name of Dr. Toni Grant. I used to listen to her on KABC radio here in Los Angeles when I was driving a truck in my family’s wholesale food business back in the late 70’s. She talked about the propensity many people have to be perfectionists, and she said perfectionism was the beginning of what she called “The Three Ps” – Perfectionism, Procrastination, Paralysis. Many people who read this recognize how frequently this is the case. I know I’ve experienced it at times in my life.

Here’s a quote from his website that kind of sums up the presentation he gave: “Most get an ‘F’ where it counts the most. They fail to fail! Too many get stuck in the Three P’s: Perfection, Procrastination, and Paralysis. They are so worried about making a mistake that they end up doing nothing at all. Most mistakes are not terminal; they become stepping stones to success. Get moving!”

At any rate, here are some of the takeaways I have from this presentation:

  • Frequently ask people questions like “What are you doing differently” or “What have you learned lately?” or “What’s working for you?”
  • When you attend a conference or a presentation don’t sit with people you know (they’re “used”)
  • Don’t wait for direction; get busy inventing the future by capitalizing on emerging opportunities
  • Continually use your quality processes and innovation as a strategic advantage to create the new “good old days”

Here are a few other concepts he discussed . . . and passed out in a nice handout I can easily copy them from 🙂

  • Claim the optimism advantage by using setbacks as stepping stones to progress
  • Build a learning organization in support of strategic innovation
  • Use bridge building strategies to make collaborative innovation work

One of the things I found most amazing about his presentation was every slide he showed was a quote by someone else. Normally I would find this abhorrent but, in his case, he supplemented every one of them with his own stories and anecdotes and his spin on what the message of the quote was. Even the way he read them was entertaining. He was very animated, very funny, very entertaining, and pretty damn enlightening. Like many presentations I’ve attended, he didn’t necessarily tell me anything I didn’t already know. Nevertheless, his style – and his substance – reinforced many of these things, either reminding anew of those things I perhaps needed to strengthen my skill at or providing some positive reinforcement that I’m heading in the right direction.

One of my favorite quotes (at least a portion of one) comes from Barbara Waugh, a personnel manager and change agent at Hewlett-Packard. She has talked about “amplifying the positive deviants”. I like to think she was talking about me when she used that term.


We Lost Another of the Absolutely Best Minds in Management This Week

There are two Management thinkers who have influenced my life, and the lives of  many of my colleagues – even as we struggle to have their ideas embraced where I work (a titanic, long-standing struggle indeed). One of them, W. Edwards Deming,  has been gone for some time now, but the other – Russell Ackoff – just died this past Thursday.  Russ was a giant in the field of Systems Thinking. Russ proposed what I’ve seen referred to as the spectrum of learning. He believed the content of our minds could be classified into five basic catergories: Data; Information; Knowledge; Understanding, and; Wisdom.

Russ had been in the habit of visiting us here on the west coast to share his wisdom and wit at the beginning of every year. He would spend an entire day with, usually, a large group of interested people, sharing stories of his experiences over the years. One of those I remember the best is his experience with Bell Labs. He quite accidentally was involved in the design of a lot of today’s telephone system. From that experience he later would go on to develop his concept of idealized design – a method whereby one throws out everything that’s known about a product or system and attempts to design it based on what would be ideal, then work backward to where you currently are.

Another thing I loved to hear Russ say, which he would do frequently was his admonition that it was much harder for a large organization to stop something once it had started than to agree to supporting any activity that was outside their comfort zone. In other words, “It’s better to seek forgiveness than ask for permission”. Russ also pointed out that doing the wrong thing better only made what was being done “wronger”.  Russ was so full of wisdom one could easily spend days listening to his stories and the knowledge he gained from his experiences, which were many and varied. Russ spent a large part of his life helping Anheuser-Busch truly dominate their market . . . and become the “King of Beers.”

For the past two years Russ had decided no longer to travel out here to speak to us. He was having back and hip problems and dealing with the incessant screening and the long lines and waits in the airport had become too much for him. My colleague, Bill Bellows, who had for years organized monthly telecons with some of the best speakers and writers in the field of systems thinking and management, asked me each year to accompany him to Philadelphia to visit with Russ and our friend Johnny Pourdehnad, a professor of Organizational Dynamics at UPenn. I was fortunate enough to spend many hours with both Johnny and Russell. One of my last memories of Russ is spending a lovely evening with him and his wife, Helen when Bill and I took them out to dinner for Russ’s 90th birthday. At the time Russ was suffering greatly from the pain he was experiencing associated with what he called “a shredded hip”. It was late January and there was lots of ice on the ground. We had to walk to the restaurant from  where we parked and Russ was using a walker. I hovered over him like a brooding hen, scared silly he would slip and fall. He didn’t, thankfully (I had caught him once in his home office), and we had a great meal followed by a birthday dessert. I snapped a picture with my BlackBerry and now wish to share it with whoever may find themselves here.

My Last Visit With Russ

Russell Ackoff Celebrates His 90th

There are numerous posts and websites where you can learn more about Russ and his work. You found your way here; you know how to search. However, I would like to give mention to one that has been writing about Russell for some time. Ironically, because of one word in the name of this blog, my company’s web filter blocks access to it from inside our firewall. I am referring to “The Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog“, where I got the title for this post.

Russell will be sorely missed by many people. I am hopeful his ideas, his wisdom, his tremendous intellect, and his enthusiasm for understanding and application of systems thinking will find even greater voice now that he is no longer with us. It seems a sad irony of life that so many people only become truly influential after their deaths. Doesn’t say much for us . . . but that’s the way it’s been. I hope Russ’s life will be instructive to many so that we can slowly evolve away from the mundane things that seem to attract us and pay a little more attention to things that matter.

Rick


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