Northern Clean: 2017

There was a lot happening at “A Northern Taste of Clean”. This is what I learned:

I build models to feel in control. This means  I sometimes need to stop building models and get into the real world, and this may feel hard.

I’ve found a path, and I’m following it. I don’t know the destination, and that’s fine, since I trust myself to make good decisions where to go next. I also have great friends who help me.

What I do to find new things to learn is different from what I need to do to learn them. I need to develop a machine like process for learning specific things. This will stop me ‘spinning my wheels’ when I should be getting on with things.

My tapping foot is telling me I need to move to have ideas. I work best on the move, or when I am ‘somewhere’. (I did 3hrs reading/writing on the train home…)

I need to know when I’m on the Drama Triangle, were other people are, and understand what I can do.

I build models feel in control, and compensate for my lack of short term memory. I can feel really out of control when I don’t have an understanding of what is going on. (So I should get to places /events early,  have phone numbers / directions sorted, get written timetables.)

Learning and teaching Clean Language and Modelling enables anti-fragility.  Learning to model means you can grow, understand your patterns, be anti-fragile.

You can’t have outcomes faster than the speed of trust.

You may have multiple allegiances or reasons for questioning. Know why you are asking each question.

I make expensive decisions sometimes because for me, the alternative is to do nothing, not to plan how to do things cheaper.

I’ve got power and control, it can be used, and wasted.

I’m a novice at this.

The clean community are lovely. I’m happy to be a part. Thanks to everyone who made Northern Clean possible.

Thanks to David Grove for creating something amazing.

DevOps Metaphors in a Nutshell.

Image from ribbonfarm.com showing Gareth Morgan’s 8 Organisational Metaphors

This is the first DevOps post on make10louder. DevOps is a way to develop and run software that removes organisational boundaries and shares tools and culture.

DevOps is similar to a marketing and sales department working closely with factory operations to make sure the factory can build and deliver what the customer wants.

TL;DR

This post looks at the different types of work in building and running software. I’ll suggest organisational metaphors reveal useful insight into DevOps; removing the boundaries between development and operations, and delivering value to customers. We can work better from understanding all the perspectives these metaphors give us.

Gareth Morgan’s Organisational Metaphors

The organisational metaphors I’m using are from Gareth Morgan’s Images of Organisation. (This book referenced by Microservices Architecture , coachesOpen University MSc courses, and ribbonfarm.com).

There are eight metaphors; Machine, Organism, Brain, Culture, Political System, Psychic Prison, Change and Flux and Instrument of Domination. All the metaphors can be true at the same time. People are likely to favour a dominant metaphor in their understanding of the organisation. This means the organisation will be working in ways they cannot see.

The metaphors that I think Devs Ops uses are:

  • Organisations as Machines
    • with known input they should produce identical output
    • ideally ‘well oiled’
    • People as interchangeable cogs, once trained or certified
    • Input, process, output.
    • reducing variation
    • A leads to B leads to C.
  • Organisations as Brains
    • Who knows what
    • How information spreads
    • Constant learning through feedback, and learning to learn
    • Viable Systems and management cybernetics
  • Organisations as Organisms
    • Adapting to the variety of a changing environment
    • Evolving an organisational DNA
    • Having a survival strategy
    • the best fit with the environment survives
  • Organisations as Cultures
    • The way we do things here
    • Value Systems
    • Norms and Patterns of Behaviour
    • Dominant cultures and sub-cultures

I don’t see DevOps best practices covering:

  • Organisations as Political Systems
  • Organisations as Psychic Prisons
  • Organisations as Instruments of Domination

There are some useful lessons looking at real world problems through these lenses, that I will leave to another post.

Metaphors in a DevOps World

#1 Computers are actually Machines

This is not even metaphorical. Don’t configure computers by hand. Person A should not configure a computer better than person B. Computers are often still treated like they need configuration by a wizard.

DevOps insists we treat computers like machines, configured accurately by other computers by running code.

This gives us to easily replicate systems, and have reassurances that if something is wrong it’s not because the wrong wizard configured them.

We treat monitoring metrics in the same way. Automate and get data on all the things.

#2 Processes are machine-like, but controlled by Brains influenced by Culture, in a complex unknowable future environment.

We design our process to run smoothly and they’re automated where possible. We have a strong culture of doing the right thing when things go wrong and we learn from our mistakes. With double loop learning we also ask ‘is this still the right thing to do?’

#3 People are not Machines

People are a complex combination of all eight metaphors.

In a DevOps people are give time to learn and apply their knowledge safely. They are given the tools they need and trust to know how to best use them without involving centralised experts. We encourage a culture of experimentation, honesty, shared ownership of problems and customer focus. Machines cannot do these things.

#4 The value created by software can be seen as the output of a machine

The output as seen by the customer is the number one priority. Customers don’t care how parts of the value stream are working. They care about the output of the entire system, and internal optimizations can have negative consequences. Systems Thinking 101.

#5 Working Software is a machine, used by People, in a changing environment

Software, like the computers it runs on is literally a complicated machine. Although software may behave in ways we don’t understand, without AI, it’s knowable and predictable. It may still be incredibly complicated, but it’s theoretically understandable in advance if the starting point, context and inputs are known.

Problems arise when people use the software. We can start to understood people using the metaphors of brains, culture, organisms and a healthy dose of biases via psychic prisons.

We should automate as much of the machine part of software as we can, in the knowledge that the needs of the people using it will take all of our attention.

We can’t automate software development, but using Agile methodologies to move bits of functionality from customers heads into predictable code, we’re riding a flux and change metaphor.

DevOps Metaphors in a Nutshell

Computers are machines. Build them with code, don’t craft them by hand.

Processes are designed and improved like machines, but in the knowledge that bad stuff will happen. Culture will help you do the right thing when it does, and brains will help your organisation improve. As an organism you need to adapt to a changing environment. Today’s solutions are tomorrows problems.

People and Teams can learn and adapt, but can also follow anti patterns. All the Organisation Metaphors help here. Metaphors of Political Systems and Psychic Prisons (think Cognitive biases) may also help diagnose issues where you’re following good practice, but things still are not working.

Software works like a machine in a complex environment including people, and all of their metaphorical ways of seeing and acting. Crossing this chasm is the work of developers often aligned to the agile manifesto. The use a dominant metaphor of flux and change, but produce software that has a repeatable output.

Conclusion, and So What?

Organisation metaphors reassure us we’re looking at the right things and show us how we can more fully understand situations.

DevOps is a mixture of theory and sound practical experience. Metaphorical insight can help us.

Clean Scoping and Seeing Systems

instagram.com/bogdandadaOverview

In the post  ‘Listen carefully, it’s the System talking I wrote about Barry Oshry’s Seeing Systems model. This describes the conditions we are in when working with other people, and how we can choose to behave in the relationship. I called these choices balcony or basement behaviours. Barry has an excellent book too.

I recently heard Caitlin Walker describe her method of Clean Scoping at the Metaphorum 2017 conference. This is an approach to understand or scope potential work to see if a Clean Language approach is suitable and is likely to work. The rest of this post discusses how I see these two approaches adding value to each other. I recommend Caitlin’s book ‘From Contempt to Curiosity‘ for more details.


Seeing Systems

In the Seeing Systems model, if we are trying to build a relationship with someone in the CUSTOMER condition, we’d like balcony customers, rather than basement customers. As someone responsible for the overall delivery of whatever a customer needs, we can choose to act as balcony TOPS.  A quick overview is:

Balcony TOP’s want to create a systems that can meet the challenges that they face. They empower people in the system to use their unique knowledge to improve the outcomes.

Balcony CUSTOMER’s engage in the details of what they need, provide feedback on the delivery progress, suitability and timing. Reading a bit more into Barry’s work I feel balcony CUSTOMER’s also see the power they have in using and developing the solution. They are not just asking for the answer provided to them.

Clean Scoping

Clean Scoping is part of Caitlin Walkers Clean Language and Systemic Modelling ™ approach, that i feel is a practical way of seeing if the necessary balcony conditions exist. In Caitlins case Clean Scoping is used to decide if she wants to work with the client or not. If we can’t choose our customers then we may try to influence them to behave in a BALCONY way.

Using the two models together allows us to understand what we are trying to do, and have a practical guide to having the conversations.

Caitlin is explicitly trying to create a system that is able to solve the problems it is trying to face. This is done by ensuring she is working at a sufficiently high level in the organisation to make sure the changes stick, ensuring that balcony customer behaviour exists, and transferring the skills to the customer so they are self sufficient.

Customer Behaviour

At my work organisation there is a group interested in how to develop and encourage balcony CUSTOMER behaviour from CUSTOMERs we work with. Catilin looks for this behaviour in potential clients at a high level in the organisation before agreeing to work. Described in her book, ‘From Contempt to Curiosity‘ Caitlin looks to encourage this behaviour – called Quadrant 3 behaviour – at different hierarchical levels of the organisation once there’s buy in. At my work we don’t get to choose our customers.

Using Clean Scoping questions, the organisational behaviour we want to have happen are balcony TOP, Balcony BOTTOM, balcony CUSTOMER.

Clean Scoping Questions

The help achieve this organisational behaviour, Clean Scoping questions would be:

  • And what do we see and hear when <balcony behaviour>?
  • When do you naturally get the <balcony behaviour> you’re hoping to get more of?
  • What is happening at the moment?
  • What is working well?
  • What is not working well?
  • What needs to happen, so what you would like to have happen is automatic?
  • What would need to be true for people to naturally behave like this?
  • What is happening at the moment?
    • Often Uncomfortable patterns are happening. This is often the difference between what we ask of others and what we do ourselves.
    • For example when we behave as a basement TOP with heirarchy, and expect others to behave as balconies. Behaviours are coupled.
    • Acknowledge what is true is true
      • Worldviews and perspectives are important here, and metaphor models can help
    • What would need to be be true for people to naturally behave like this? – People working to their strengths and acknowledging others strengths and contribution.

Biased and basement Behaviour

Behaviour from biases ensure that the patterns from the past continue. These are often confirmation biases that form part of the coupled relations in the Seeing Systems model. The blind reflex response is precisely why the relationships are here, and not in a better place. If we expect or behave with basement behaviour from another, we’ll get it in return – especially if there is organisational hierarchy.

Why and how

This post has covered some of the how questions for the why questions in the previous “It’s the system talking” post. There is a bit more to this…

 

Listen carefully, it’s the System talking.

I’ve been interested in conversations, relationships and working together. How can we relate better at work and home. How is our behaviour affected by those around us, hierarchy, and our willingness to do emotional work – managing feelings and expressions to help a situation progress.

We often react to people  instinctively, pairing our response to their behaviour. Sometimes we choose to break a pattern of conversation, either with empathy for the other persons condition at the time, or to sabotage ourselves and the situation.

Barry Oshry has developed an incredibly useful model to discuss these situations, allowing us to see beyond the people, and to see the system talking. Of course all models are wrong , but some are useful (quote from George Box), and we’ve found Barry’s Seeing Systems model provides brilliant insights. There is a great introduction written by Barry, called Total Power Systems. Ignore the red cover and the words “total” and “power”. It’s not like that.

I worked with colleagues to develop and run workshops, asking ” could you work better with colleagues who had taken this workshop” and ” could you work better with colleagues who have not taken this workshop”. Responses are 100% positive for working better with others who have done the workshop. It seems to resonate.

Barry Oshry’s Seeing Systems Model

Barry’s Model has four conditions that we find ourselves in, in conversations and relationships

  • The conditions change regularly
  • They affect how we behave
  • They affect how others relate to us
  • The conditions are not roles, and do not imply hierarchy
  • But hierarchy is an ever preset overlay

None of the conditions is better or worse. They just are. And they are

  • Topoften overburdened and held accountable
    • Can create a system that thrives, where members are knowledgeable about the system and can use their full potential working in the system
    • When we are TOPS we often sabotage the situation by keeping responsibility to ourselves, away from others including BOTTOMS who can help
  • BottomHard done to
    • Are uniquely placed to see the problems that occur, and to identify and help correct issues
    • When we are BOTTOMS we sabotage the situation when we see problems we hold tops responsible. We don’t feedback suggestions. End of Story.
  • Middle stretched or torn 
    • Able to function as the organisations web, connecting parts and co-coordinating
    • We sabotage ourselves as MIDDLES by connecting primarily with one side or the other to the detriment  the relationship
  • Customerusually righteously screwed
    • Are in the best position to evaluate the delivery process and quality
    • We sabotage ourselves as CUSTOMERS when we hold delivery system solely responsible for delivery. We take no responsibility.

Each condition has two types of behaviour, we’ve called these balcony and basement. Balcony behaviours are positive, appropriate and “Using Yours Powers For Good”. Whereas, basement is the stuff we don’t like in others:  disruptive, argumentative, disengaged.

We move between the conditions often in conversations, and employ balcony or basement responses, usually re-actively without thinking. I’ll give examples later.

We do not act alone

The way we choose to communicate affects how people communicate with us. Hierarchy at work affects this, but we are not our role. Our unthinking reaction – called the “dance of the blind reflex” by Barry, is reinforced by  hierarchy.

  • Anyone who is responsible in a situation is a TOP in interactions
  • Anyone tasked with doing something is a BOTTOM in interactions
  • Negotiating between TOPs and BOTTOMS we are MIDDLES
  • Anyone getting something done for them is in the CUSTOMER condition

We can move between roles in the course of a conversation, meeting or day, often when walking down the corridor between conversations. The model helps us to have empathy for others in their condition. We can choose how to respond. It won’t always be easy or appropriate to respond with balcony response when we choose.


Example Situations

A tidy room.

As a parent you’d like your young child’s room tidying. You’re got hierarchy here. You can approach the conversation a number of ways.

You can tidy the room yourself. Your child is a CUSTOMER. If engaged to be a BALCONY CUSTOMER they could help, and tell you where everything goes, so all the toys are in the right place. You’re kind of both happy, but as a parent you’ve created yourself a job. If they’re not engaged, parental hierarchy may mean they don’t give you feedback, they could just wait until you’re finished, and then constantly ask where things are. If they can’t find anything, it’s your fault. Forever.

At worst, basement TOP behaviour, with hierarchy may have induced BASEMENT customer. At best it created work.

You can ask your child to tidy the room, giving instructions and guidance as the room gets tidier. You’re CUSTOMER/TOP, child is BOTTOM. They ask where things should go, and you’re there to tell them. You tell them what to keep, what to throw away and everything. They may learn after a few times to tidy the way you like it, assuming there is not too much new stuff. If anything changes they expect you to tell then what to do. Years later they may still expect to be told how to tidy their room.

By giving detailed instructions you’ve not created an autonomous system for keeping the room clean. You’ve helped  create a dependent basement BOTTOM behaviour.

As CUSTOMER/TOP you could create a system for keeping the room clean. You could encourage your child to be a BALCONY BOTTOM, by letting them tell you how the room works. What gets used the most, what they don’t like, and letting them work out how to tidy it all up, what to throw away etc. You’d need to check together  that everything looks OK, and check whats thrown out, but this feedback builds a better system, for example they learn they can’t throw out Christmas presents from Dad, no matter how uncool they are.

 


Example Holiday Advice from a Travel Agent

You want to go on holiday. Booking through an all inclusive agent you’re the CUSTOMER. You could walk in and just say “Here’s £1000. We want a family holiday where we’re all happy. Over to you. It better be good, or I’ll give you a terrible online review.” This sounds like basement CUSTOMER behaviour.

Or you could have a list of what your family like, for travel options, activities, temperature, food. You could work with the travel agent to get what you want. This may take more time, but you’ll probably get a better holiday.

From the travel agents perspective, they could behave as a basement TOP, and hold onto responsibility, or build a system that gets people the best holidays.

The travel agent may specialise in holidays for the over 50’s. When a group of young adults come in to book a wild holiday they could hold onto responsibility, and start figuring putting something together from scratch that they’re not familiar with. After all, they’re TOP and responsible. Or they could refer the group next door to the Student Travel Center. If the Student Travel Center refers groups of over 50’s back, then they’ve just created a system to get people the best holidays.

Interestingly, once on holiday, the agent is often a MIDDLE. Customers may complain about the standard of the food and accommodation. Hotels may complain about the lager louts that the travel agency send to the hotel, and the Travel agent is torn between the needs of both. Basement behaviour of reflexively siding with one or the other may not be good long term business sense. Balcony behaviour is a balance.

 


Example of Chief X Officer, working at boardroom level

A CxO is not always a TOP, despite being far up a companies hierarchical structure. For example the part of the organisation the CxO heads will provide service to the rest of the organisation. In meetings with the rest of the organisation, there could be two strategies.

When in meetings responsible for the delivery of their part of the organisation, a CxO would be BOTTOM. They need to deliver, and there is a choice of BALCONY or BASEMENT BOTTOM behaviour, that would have a different strategic outcome.

They can just do as they are told, and hold the next level up to be responsible for the outcome. This behaviour may be induced to be reflexive.

Or they may accept they are in the best place to recognise, diagnose, and get the resources to tackle the issues and work to rectify them using the knowledge and insights they have. If they are allowed. This behaviour is coupled with those in the TOP condition.

The CxO would soon leave the BOTTOM condition when making things happen, but may regularly be MIDDLE or CUSTOMER as well as TOP.


Example of calls to IT Service Desk

IT service desks staff receive calls from CUSTOMERS who often need things fixing. In the initial discussion they are TOPS responsible to the CUSTOMER. They can encourage BALCONY customer behavior where the CUSTOMER helps get their problem fixed, by providing information, feeding back on progress and being involved in the solution where required.

The service desk staff, in the TOP condition can hold responsibility for fixing the issue to themselves, when they need to involve others in the resolution. Involving others may involve moving into the MIDDLE condition to talk to others to get the problematic situation fixed, and be between the CUSTOMER, and the new BOTTOM.

The situation gets interesting if it turns out a 3rd party is involved. After being involved in a complicated problem, isn’t it just great when you can give the lot to someone else and say ‘you just fix this’. We’re in the basement CUSTOMER role here holding the 3rd party to be responsible, end of story. We’d act as MIDDLES between the Service Desk customer and the 3rd party. This is understandable, but maybe not helpful for getting the real customers problems fixed.

Silo Working

The above Service Desk shows an extreme example of Silo working – When we pass things between organisation silos we’re in the CUSTOMER condition, and it’s easy to fall into the basement. It’s often expected to behave as a basement CUSTOMER and hold the delivery system totally responsible. Helping them is not a good use of our limited time.

However we’ve all worked closely with others, times when we’ve temporarily removed barriers and worked together, as balcony CUSTOMERS, working with balcony TOPS, MIDDLES and BOTTOMS. It’s how we get important things done.


This is the goal of Barry Oshrys lifetime work, to help people understand how they relate to each other, and how their reactions can be conscious choices to work in a way that has the potential to induce positive behaviour in the people they are working with.

When we talk to other we should listen carefully, it’s often the system talking.


What can this help us with? When we hear “culture must come from the top”, we can understand “top” to mean hierarchy. ANY of the conditions that people at the hierarchical top of an organisation find themselves in, will be the basis of induced behaviour – effectively setting culture.

In this sense culture does come from the top. HOWEVER, if we apply Barry’s model to itself we find that if someone in the TOP condition and top in the hierarchy sets a direction, and “has the answer” then they may induce the basement BOTTOM behaviour of “I’ll just do what you say – and you’re responsible for the results.”

Any cultural change ideas, applied from the top/TOP down in a basement way are not likely to produce the desired change.

This induced behaviour has echos in the Theory X / Theory Y management styles. Barry Oshry’s work shows how we may induce Theory X behaviour reflexively when we may be wanting to develop relationships and create systems that utilise the resources and intelligence of the people in the system.

IT From Common Resource to Strategic Partner

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This blog post is about IT in large organisations, including public organisations like councils and businesses where new Tech competitors are changing the environment of business. The environment is changing, or more accurately, being changed by the strategies of competitors.

Organisations are looking for a digital strategy to combat this threat, moving digital to the heart of what they do. IT for it’s part is keen to become a Strategic Partner to the business. So what is stopping it?

Where did IT departments come from?

It’s worth looking at how IT departments may have been created. They traditionally exist as a cost on the balance sheet, providing common resource to other areas of the business, often underpinning other parts that are necessary, but may not directly exchange value with the environment, like accounting, marketing or HR. The may also run internal and external websites, but they are unlikely to be the core value propositions.

If not managed,  common resources can suffer from the “tragedy of the commons”. The popular example is common grazing land is so overburdened by people wanting to graze their animals that loses it’s initial value. People are assumed to want to maximise the number of animals on the common land.

Common IT Resources

Many people in IT departments will recognise this, with many unrelated customers in the business wanting their work to be prioritised by the limited IT resource. Like in the tragedy they want to get value from the resource. There is now no such thing as an IT project – they are business projects central to strategy. But with a common IT resource each may be another cow on the  metaphorical field.

The big issue is ‘Who would strategically partner with an unmanaged commons?”. It’s a very risky proposition.

From an Unmanaged Commons to Strategic Partner

Managed commons can and do exist. Elinor Ostrom studied working, managed commons, and found that there are 8 organising principals common to functional commons. Applying these to IT could provide the step towards being seen as a potential Strategic Partner.

Eleonor’s rules applied to IT may look like

  • Define clear group boundaries
    • This is perhaps the easy part, but it’s vital to understand where the boundaries are, so you can understand and manage the work and relationships across them
  • Match rules governing use of common goods to local needs and conditions.
    • Your rules will differ from other commons, best practices won’t work. You need to look at what is required by the people who use the resources.
  • Ensure that those affected by the rules can participate in modifying the rules.
    • For natural commons like an inland fishery the fish don’t get a say. For IT departments there is likely to be internal work that needs be done, for example upgrades, patching and audit requirements.  So the IT department itself, alongside Project Managers, Service Managers, Marketing and Finance should discuss the rules for using the common resoure.
    • Users of IT resources need a way of getting work done
    • They need a way of getting progress reports out
    • They need a way of getting ad-hoc questions answered by subject matter experts.
  • Make sure the rule-making rights of community members are respected by outside authorities.
    • We need to sell the idea that IT will work better for everyone as a managed common resource
    • We should have rule for getting urgent business requirements discussed and done appropriately – so that there is not a requirement for the use of higher authority to get work done
  • Develop a system, carried out by community members, for monitoring members’ behaviour.
    • Monitoring should be done bu users of the commons. It is in their interests that the rules they helped create are followed.
  • Use graduated sanctions for rule violators
    • Starting small, and agree. What sort of sanctions would you like to see?
  • Provide accessible, low-cost means for dispute resolution.
    • Anticipate things may go wrong, and we know how issues will be resolved quickly and easily
  • Build responsibility for governing the common resource in nested tiers from the lowest level up to the entire interconnected system.
    • Create systems within systems, with each level being viable. The Viable Systems Model would be ideal for creating, or diagnosing this organisational structure.

There are many other areas of organisations, or entire organisations that are Common Pool Resources. Strategically some may aim to be well managed commons, others may need to use this framework to be seen as a potential strategic partner by other areas of the organisation or environment.

Thinking like a dyslexic, metaphorical surgeon

math-problemsI’m dyslexic. Or at least I failed the exam to not be dyslexic. I can have a haphazard approach to thinking that is sometimes amazing, other times a bad way to approach problems. Thirty years ago I chose to study Maths and Physics at University. I couldn’t have chosen subjects I was less suited to. When I was recently diagnosed the specialist couldn’t believe I’d managed a Hard Science degree with my skills in symbol manipulation, speed and accuracy. I was in the bottom 1% for these skills. In the tests I thought I was killing it and I was doing what I was good at.

At University I was keen, and I thought everyone had to work super hard. I did feel a bit different and approach problems differently. I now know I was using well known dyslexic coping strategies.

Recently I’ve used Metaphor Modelling with Clean Language to understand how I work at my best, and the two are linked in a way that has helped me understand.

The Clean Question I asked myself were; (abridged, from memory & better asked by someone else)

“When you are working at your best, you are like what?”

“I’m like a surgeon, precise, measured, skillful. With knowledge, skills and a purpose.”

“Is there anything else about a surgeon?”

“A nice white coat. Wait, A surgeon works accurately, knows the purpose of his work, and has honed the skills to do it. As a surgeon I’d have all the tools I may need prepared in advance. I wouldn’t start work without knowing where the tools are and how they are used. A surgeon also may do exploration work to find things out, but this is also precise. There is a plan, but also an understanding of complexity and the need for feedback about things are going. Machines that go ping.”

“Is there anything else about that surgeon?”

A surgeon reads the patient notes, and would specialise in what he’s is good at. And a surgeon has a team to do all the things that need to be done, and they are just as organised, trained and professional. A surgeon cannot do it all.”

“Whereabouts is that surgeon”

“Physically, usually in an operating theatre, but could be anywhere in an emergency. Mentally in the zone, concentrating, and knowing that everything that could be thought of, has been thought of. Surgeon is a feeling in my chest, and in my head. It’s a special type of focus, and a special type of precision, and a flow of thinking, like running through a maze, but knowing instinctively where to go.”

“What happens before a surgeon”

“I can’t just turn it on. It either needs interest, and a problem to solve, or it needs pressure. A deadline, or some decision. Maybe something that I know hasn’t been thought through and will cause a problem. Or input from someone – new insights or perspectives.

Afterwards there is a feeling of closure or completeness, like something has been resolved, or understood in sufficient detail. ” 

How I studied before Clean Language

To contrast with the surgeon metaphor, how did I approach problems when studying Physics and Maths? It could be seen as a coping strategy, but at the time I didn’t anything required a  strategy. It was just what I did to get the right results. I wasn’t different. I was getting the same answers as everyone else.

Science and Thinking for Dyslexics

With science I needed to see the big picture, then the details, and then figure out what to do. I couldn’t memorise solutions or particular types of problem very well to just reproduce what I’d done before. This was partly what we were being taught to do.

For Science and Maths problems I’d;

  • Write down the full problem, copying the question including the context. Copying forces careful reading, and not skipping parts. I remember showing this technique to teachers and friends. They thought I was mad.
  • Copy out all the variables from the question, including units (they may be odd). Include both known variables, and unknown and implied variables.
  • Write down every formulae I can remember that has anything to do with the variables noted previously. I was bad at remembering formulae, but I’d just do a brain dump, and remember more as I wrote.
  • Include formulae where only partial information is known, we may need to combine partial knowledge to get where we need to go.
  • I’d often taken up half a page by now.
  • Now fill in the formulae to see what extra things we can find out. Stare at the formulae to see if I can get the value I need from the information I have.

Do the things above sound a bit “Surgeon”? A way of maintaining an orderly approach that means nothing gets forgotten, that I don’t misunderstand or misread. A way to be precise and accurate when my brain wanted to do the opposite.

I now understand that not everyone needed to do this. They didn’t just do it in their head, they remembered practise questions and answers. My symbol manipulation accuracy and speed skills are in the bottom 1%. But my figuring things out skills make up for it.

I used the practise questions to sharpen my ‘figuring out’ skills, not to remember how to do stuff.

Can I apply these ideas now?

So I’d like to improve my sometimes haphazard thinking. It’s often a bit more haphazard than I’d like, and having kids seems to have made it worse. Can I  be a bit more like a surgeon, or more like the young me, who didn’t notice he was different…

The following is a ‘be like a surgeon’  / ‘be like a dyslexic scientist’ approach to problems

  1. Name, date and title on all my work and diagrams.
  2. Review everything I know about a situation before I start. Write it down and use diagrams.
  3. Understand the options for looking for a solution
    1. These may not be just approaches, but looking for different perspectives. All the Systems Thinking stuff.
    2. This includes getting a 2nd and 3rd opinion.
    3. I need to create (and keep updating) an approach that I can use to make sure I’ve thought of everything. Like (somehow) being able to write down all the formualas I knew.
  4. Make sure I care about the problem. If I don’t it won’t work.
  5. Make sure there is pressure. This doesn’t always mean last minute, but it needs to be important to do this now.
  6. Have a team, and do what we’re each good at.

Maybe to keep in surgeon mode it could be useful to note that most successful surgeons don’t check Facebook during surgery.

I’m sure I can take this a lot further, and improve my approach using metaphors, and the way that I naturally seem to be able to figure out ways to look at things.

Any comments on other approaches that may work much appreciated.

 

 

 

 

A Strategy needs to change your environment

One of the most interesting things about organisations is that they affect the environment they are in, and the environment affects them whether they know it or not. This co-evolution, is not just two systems, but a huge number of interconnected complex systems. I’ll stick to discussing a smaller number of interactions for obvious reasons.

New Strategies of an Economic Hit Man

To discuss this I’ll use the examples from a post called ‘51i0a1xtubl-_sx321_bo1204203200_New Strategies of an Economic Hit Man” by John Perkins as it describes various strategies – or lack of – for changing the environment that an organisation operates in. Ideally designed to work in the organisations favour. I’ll also use ideas from the Viable Systems Model. This should make the ideas clearer, and show why an approach that models this behaviour is useful. An understanding of your environment is not something you hope to have, if you want to stay viable.

Reality is what you think it is

I’ll start by suggesting the reality is what you think it is. If someone can change what you think reality is, then that is what it is. So by defining success, or desirability, or the right way to do something then it becomes reality. Part of changing your environment may involve changing what people think as much as changing their material reality.

The article gives examples of The World Bank, Ford, Nike and the USA/Iran relationship, so I’ll cover each of these.

#1 The World Bank

Firstly the World Bank’s strategy is described, and it’s bleak. It’s job is to

  • get developing countries with natural resources to accept loans for infrastructure to be build by western engineering and construction companies
  • if the country struggled with the loans (if they did not become developed) then the IMF would restructure the loan
  • This restructuring would involve the country selling it’s resources to the corporations

We can use ‘The purpose of a system is what it does‘ to infer the strategy of the World Bank and developed nations here.

  • Getting countries to invest in infrastructure supplied by corporations from developed nations. I’ll call this Goal 1.
    • This is done by persuading the developing country that development happens by having roads, airports and infrastructure. By creating a top down plan of how development happens, in a simple non-complex way, Goal 1 is attained. It doesn’t matter if it works, in fact Goal 2 and 3 require that it doesn’t. This is a High Modernist approach to development as discussed in Seeing Like a State, and is recognised as failing, but because it is a legible and much simplified it appeals to humans looking for certainly, and an explanation and understanding of the future.
    • This is how the World Bank changes the their environment to one that is suited to their goals.
  • Get the countries to take out loans to get the loan interest repayments. Goal 2.
    • This needs the infrastructure provided in Goal 1 to fail to produce the predicted economic growth.
  • Get the natural resources of the country as a demand of restructuring the loans. Goal 3.
    • The purpose of a system is what it does. POSIWD.

We can model this with the VSM, using just the they systems that add value, to see if it is potentially Viable. We can see that the plans would not create a viable system.

The viability of the developing country was never a concern of the World Bank. All of the infrastructure projects are required for a developed economy. A postroom, admin staff, car park and canteen are vital for a business, but they do not exchange value with their environment and generate wealth.

Infrastructure projects are similar, roads and airports do not exchange value with the environment, and so are can only support viable systems.

They are a Potekmin Developed Economy, they just look like the real thing. We can use the VSM to show that the infrastructure would not make the country economically viable. The infrastructure is a by product of economic viability. This viability often comes from a country being able to exploit it’s own natural resources. That would not allow the World Banks Goal 3 to be attained.

Clearly the VSM shows that the developments are not System1’s that exchange value with the environment, so are not viable. This could have been known in advance, and probably was.

In this case the environment of developed countries was altered to the benefit of developed countries, banks and corporations, at the expense of developing countries.

#2 Ford 

After implementing Taylorism / scientific management, Ford is often used as a byword for old school management failure. I’ll argue that strategically, they deliberately changed their environment to make the company more viable. They did this by turning their staff into potential customers, this changed the environment they were in, for an entire class of Americans.

Ford’s reality was that his Taylorist production approach created a massive turnover of staff. He also needed a much larger market to sell the increasing numbers of cars he could produce.

To do this he doubled the wages of his staff. This increased retention, and also created customers for his business. He changed the enviromnent his business was working in, so that it suited his business model. Ford would have struggled to make or sell 308,000 Model Ts in 1914 if he hadn’t have done both of these things.

He changed his environment by creating a well off working class who were consumers for his product, and allowed continued success for both his company and American manufacturing.

#3 Nike, Adidas etc

Nike, Adidas and other high end brands make expensive sports clothing, but outsource the manufacture to the cheapest tolerable manufacturer. This lowers their costs, maximising the profit margins they can get. They don’t however pay enough to create customers from the people who manufacture their shoes.  Someone else need to provide employment and income here.

They sponsor athletes, sporting events, and pay for product placement that makes their products desirable in their environment. They pay to change the perception of reality. Unlike Ford they do nothing to change the economic reality of their customers. In the country where their products are manufactured they destroy opportunities for economic growth that they would be able to benefit from.

The long term viability of these High end brands concerns their ability to maintain the perception that their products are desirable, and the ability of other organisations to ensure that customers have sufficient money. They are connected to their customers ability to buy their product, but do not help to create potential customers.

Without viable high end customers perceptions the organisations may use their perceived high worth status in reputation mining via low cost suppliers. But they are no longer a viable high worth organisation.

Three Examples

The three examples show how an organisation needs to exist in a viable environment. In the case of the Developing Nations, Developed Nations acted to create large scale government customers for it’s Corporations, and then acted to get access to resources to help it stay viable in markets that already existed. The environment, in this case entire countries, were used without improvement or development.

Ford on the other hand actively changed and improved his environment to make his product more viable by creating customers, fuelling economic growth. Of course this was based on consumption, and petrochemicals, so there are downsides here.

The evonomics article has some suggestions for how we can improve our situation. I’d like to argue for the use of the Viable Systems Modelling to understand how proposed changes may create viability.

If we cannot see how viability is created by building infrastructure, or by manufacturing high value items at the lowest prices outside of the intended market then this should inform us as to how desirable these things are, and gives an idea of the strategy of the organisation pushing for the changes.