Quote #3 - I was thrown out of N.Y.U. my freshman year for cheating on my metaphysics final, you know. I looked within the soul of the boy sitting next to me. When I was thrown out, my mother, who was an emotionally high-strung woman, locked herself in the bathroom and took an overdose of Mah-Jongg tiles. I was depressed at that time. I was in analysis. I was suicidal as a matter of fact and would have killed myself, but I was in analysis with a strict Freudian, and, if you kill yourself, they make you pay for the sessions you miss.
What? You think that’s big? Basically for this one, I could quote all of Annie Hall. It’d be a 110 page title.
There’s another scene in the film where Woody Allen’s character approaches a happy looking couple and asks them, basically “why are you so happy, what is your secret to success?” The woman says, “I'm very shallow and empty and I have no ideas and nothing interesting to say.” The man says “I’m exactly the same.”
It seems that creativity and innovation require at least some bit of inner turmoil. Systems thinking allows us to make sense of this turmoil and create structures to both harness and liberate our knowledge workers. However, it can have some side-effects.
Systems Thinking is Awesome and a Trap Because It Can Smooth Out the Rough Edges
Human beings are chaotic. The more we think, the more we learn. The more we learn, the more we grow. The more we grow, the more we change.
Imagine, if you will, a large company with 30,000 employees. Now imagine a small company with 5 employees. Which one feels the impact of its constantly changing population?
They both do.
But large companies can spread the impact of those changing people over a large surface area, if you will. Large companies also excel at instituting dehumanizing processes that devalue individual change.
They hire systems thinkers to help create these dehumanized systems by figuring out what the best methods of production are and enforcing these methods. This Calvanistic approach worked well in the industrial era when people could do to work, execute their mechanistic commands, watch a car, bread or a box-spring mattress pop out the end of the assembly line, and then go home.
There are some in the Agile software community who have dismissed kanban and systems thinking as “Tayloristic”. Taylorism sought to use performance measures to manage, predict, and enforce assumptions about product execution and completion. In its execution, Taylorism became quite dehumanizing.
The kanban for software community has in-turn dismissed this accusation a scurrilous lie. But the aspects of Taylorism that are mentioned are real possibilities, and the kanban community is showing its own bias by not even discussing the possibility of Taylorism.
We have already seen where visual controls like kanban have been used to control groups and enforce process, rather than lead to patterns of continuous improvement. Would we as good systems thinkers like to see such misuse stopped? Yes. Does that mean it does not happen?
While Taylorism may work well for the creation of a predictable thing like a car or a fork, it is horrible for knowledge work and the modern endeavors that rest upon the labor of knowledge workers. The problem here is, those that control companies and many self-appointed systems thinkers do not understand the difference. Also, artifacts like the PMBOK enforce notions of measurable outcomes over adaptive systems.
For the assembly line wolrd, work-life balance was real, because people had bifurcated their lives. The worked at work and lived at home.
That was a huge trap.
But … this was a horrible (though predictable in hindsight) unintended consequence of systems thinking, which was always supposed to be about the people. There were some systems thinkers who were good at making the drudgery of the assembly line merely suck less - they were not interested in creating systems that actively promoted worker well-being (even if Deming was interested in worker well-being).
One thing though:
We are no longer in the industrial era.
The information age relies on a very different machine – the human brain. We’ve learned that happy knowledge workers create more product, make less mistakes, and innovate more. Here, we have some serious systems thinking potential awesome.
Systems thinking can look into knowledge work with an eye much less focused on productivity, and much more focused on happy workers. This systems thinking is very interested in the change of individuals - in their well being as parts of the overall system. This systems thinking knows that team mood directly impacts the bottom line.
Here, systems thinking also knows that Quotes 1 and 2 are important. We want to know where we are building assumptions about the systems and about ourselves. We want to understand how the individuals involved in our enterprise combine to create wonderful innovation and dangerous dogma. We also want to incorporate Quote 3 and understand that knowledge work is all about relationships and introspection. We know that the realities of our co-workers impact the whole system.
Tomorrow’s Quote: Well, Clarise, have the lambs stopped screaming?
Photo by Tonianne
Post Collaborators: Tonianne and Jabe Bloom