Tag Archives: organsations

Black Mirror: White Bear and Nosedive.

downloadSpoiler Alerts! This post is my analysis of two Black Mirror shows, available on Netflix. Written by Charlie Brooker.

Black Mirror is about the near future – what may happen if some trends go in particular directions. To be believable the writing needs a systemic understanding of how things may emerge and fit together, with story and twists that systemically fit the narrative.

I’m testing my analysis skills, writing about the context and bigger picture that we see in the episodes. The analysis here is general. I’d like to look at future episodes using particular systems approaches that are suitable for the situation.

White Bear
Voyeuristic punishment for an evil crime. The perpetrator is punished in the same way, over and over while being watched by members of the public for their enjoyment.
At the end of each punishment day the perpetrator is given a cocktail of drugs, and appears to forget what she has done. She then re-lives the day again not realising what is going on, finally being made aware of her crime in front of an audience there to witness the event.

Apparently she was an accomplice to the torture and killing of a child, and went along with her partner, for reasons not explained.

white-bear

A plus, ‘+’ on the arrow means that an increase or decrease in one leads to a similar increase or decrease in the other. A minus, ‘-‘ on the arrow means an increase leads to a decrease, and a decrease leads o an increase. I hope this makes sense.

White Bear shows the reoccurring punishment of someone who seemed to have no knowledge of the crime, or who and where she was. Her memory is erased by those punishing her, to make the punishment worse.
This was the purpose of the system, to cause the greatest amount of pain to someone guilty of a crime, and to have a theatre of punishment where people could pay to spectate and be part of the punishment. There was not an end to the punishment, although when it stopped attracting paying customers it may close, or if a more profitable punishment theatre opportunity arose it may be replaced.

If it lost popularity, and there was no one to be punished, then would the entertainment stop? Would hatred of a criminal be whipped up in the media to keep the entertainment going? A fake crime could be created, and actors used so that money can be made?

It wasn’t clear who was profiting financially from the punishment, or how the made sure that they always had a crime that it was profitable to punish? The people attending the punishment were enjoying seeing someone punished.

The woman being punished started each day not knowing who she was. Crimes are often contextual. People can do evil things if they are in the wrong environment, and manipulated with propaganda or controlled. From standing by while bad things happen to people who have been dehumanized by propaganda, to taking part in crimes without committing them (Eichmann) through to planning and committing crimes.

If someones identity is deliberately removed, they do not know who are where they are and have no context for their life, are they the same person who committed the crime? Without the context of their childhood, their experiences, and the influence of other people, someones life take a different path.

Removing someones knowledge about themselves and what they have done seems a cruel punishment designed to inflict pain on the person guilty of the crime, forcing them to relive (via videos and narrative) the situations that led to the crime, were another totally different outcome could have emerged in a different context. They learned of the crime they had committed but not the context that led up to it.

White Bear was a punishment whose occurrence is never-ending, while profitable for the organisation running it, provides continual suffering, with no end in sight.

 

Nosedive

Nosedive is about living in a society where  human interactions  are rated, as can posted videos and photos. There is  single 1-5 star scale, and each transaction goes towards someones total, from getting good service at a café, to cutting someone up in traffic, to a pleasant but insincere conversation in a lift.

Access to housing, jobs, and services including some medical services is dependent on your rating. There is a single rating for everything reducing the variety of life to a single 1-5 scale. This simplification massively reduces  complexity, and allows for simple judgements, analysis and action. Automation of access to services, events and jobs makes life in many ways quite fair (a conclusion from David Graebers Utopia of Rules).

The program mainly has “good-looking thin people” on it with high ratings and good jobs. People with lower ratings are seen doing more menial jobs. Rating are affected by things like being on the wrong side of a relationship breakup, leading to someone losing their job. – Their ‘friends’ could help their rating, but would risk being down voted by their peers – The interactions seem quite naïve given the Machiavellian power and influence struggles that would become a part of this society.

nosedive

In this world there is a massive reduction in variety. Judging people by 1 metric. It seems to have made people 1 dimensional in their interactions, with an emphasis on getting good feedback. There are feedback loops here – people who give 5 stars expect to get 5 back and complain if not. There is deeper thought – and it’s acknowledged that everything is about ratings, but this is expressed under duress, so any discussion of this is clearly dangerous.

When people accidentally bump into each other then the person responsible gets down rated to lose points. In reality though blame is not so straightforward. People rarely admit to being wrong while driving for example, so these interactions must be lose / lose for both parties. The developing story is about how someone falls from a high to low rating rapidly by simply being annoyed in an understandable human way.

There are at least 2 types of people in Nosedive, and different types of relationships.

  • There are those who care about ratings and whose relationships are about improving their ratings average. Getting rated highly by a higher individual is a goal, but can reflect badly on the higher rated person, and interactions are all about being rated highly.
  • There are those who don’t care about ratings. We only meet one of these people, who does appear to have a job, and was, once, highly rated.
  • Relationships can be not usually rated – like close friends and siblings. Conversations here can be much more real and deeper, but can still be rated.

There are interesting parts of the show where there are discussions with experts who will help people improve their rating – there is clearly a formulae about the network graph of your interactions, and if you’re rated by service workers, family, or people with lots of connections there are different weights applied. It’s not clear if these experts work for the company who does the ratings, or are independent. Or most likely some hybrid of independent with insider information.

It’s not clear who runs the rating software, or who implements the rules. The rules have a deep influence on how the society runs – what is valued and how conversation flows. I think it’s fair to say that saying you’re not OK, need help, or have done something wrong is not going to be rated well. Yet the society still appears to function. With certain jobs, houses and products only available to highly ranked people want to be rated highly.

Similar systems already exist for Facebook, where algorithms decide who sees your posts. More popular people and posts get more exposure. People often post in a way they hope to be popular, rather than be, say, true or real. And discounts are already available if you like a businesses page, and then  use that business.  Facebook has apologised for experimenting with users emotions already. There are many ways this could be used and misused, however as a human feedback mechanism there is no time for reflection. The feedback may be done quickly by Dr Steve Peters Chimp part off the brain, which is unlikely to react thoughtfully.

Would an alternative system appear? Would there be places where you could interact with people in mean and nasty ways? Would someone sell you this service? (of course they would:-).

Would there be parts of society with no ratings? Would this even be legal? Could you buy ratings, with cash or sex rather than fake niceness?

A real ‘nasty’ exchange does occur in  a police cell at the end of the show, with a cathartic exchange of insults between people with nothing to lose, which, although authentic is still chimp talk.

Comments welcome.

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Systems Thinkers need a Posse

 

obeyAndre the Giant has a posse. Public Enemy have the S1Ws. Radicals throughout history had a crew, an entourage, a crew. The Misfit Economy by Alexa Clay and Kyra Maya Phillips details types of people who did things differently, from pirates to gangsters and hackers. And they all had a posse.

It’s hard to stand on your own, against the grain. People carry hammers to knock in any nails that dare to stick up. Sometime this is just a put down, a career blip. Maybe what you say means you can’t walk the streets without watching your back.

Clay and Phillips don’t mention systems thinkers in their book, but they are out there, from a voice in a dysfunctional organisation, to revealing the structural racism inherent in a dysfunctional society.

Some run towards the danger, up for a fight. Others see the danger and wait or give up. Seeing systems can be a hard, lonely place full of compromise and disillusionment. We need friendly people to talk to, who have been there, who can see the patterns that may be too close for us to focus on.

For a group who are arguably all about they way things connect, the systems community are a fractured bunch. Academia values novel research. Just connecting other people works doesn’t carry much weight. What should be a strong backbone of theory is a silo factory. Consultancy is as bad. There are people who attack others work as a way of promoting their own. Of course they need to pay the rent. The problem is structural as much as human.

We need a community, for support when it goes wrong, to build ideas, to talk, laugh and develop. Ideas are free, but alone I’m useless. I need to talk, how else do I know what I think? And sharing means more ideas, not spending my time defending what I have. We need safe spaces to think, grow and change. Safe from attack and ridicule, and safe from being used as a step to make someone feel taller.

What would a systems thinking community value, and how would our current interactions compare to an ideal that we can all theorize about, but we sometimes work to destroy.

Are we too fractured to have an identity?

Why are people replacing robots?

Mercedes-Benz is replacing some of the robots in their factories with people.

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/feb/26/mercedes-benz-robots-people-assembly-lines

3127953038There had to be some passionate conversations between factory managers, and executives at Mercedes-Benz with this one. Replacing some robots with people has caused all sort of problems. If the factories are quite new, and were built for automation they probably don’t have many toilets near the factory floor. Or a large car park, or canteen. Robots don’t drive to work, and need to eat. Factory managers will take personal and professional pride in running efficient operations and automation has made cars affordable, reliable and available.

What is going on when the factories start employing people to replace robots? Wearing an efficiency hat this doesn’t make sense. Robotic factories have been the only future imaginable for years.  What has changed? Does the factory rulebook need to be rewritten?

Increasing pace of change and complexity 

From the Guardian article:

The robots cannot handle the pace of change and the complexity of the key customisation options available for the company’s S-Class saloon at the 101-year-old Sindelfingen plant, which produces 400, 000 vehicles a year from 1,500 tons of steel a day.

We need to be flexible. The variety is too much to take on for the machines. They can’t work with all the different options and keep pace with changes.”

Robots can’t currently mange the complexity of the customisation options. People are currently able to outperform robots at tasks requiring variety, at least until the robot manufacturers catch up.

Managing Variety 1: Making something you can sell

To find where this variety has come from, we can start in sales. Mercedes is in business to sell cars to customers. To do the sales folk need to offer what the customer environment wants, a…

… dizzying number of options for the cars – from heated or cooled cup holders, various wheels, carbon-fibre trims and decals, and even four types of caps for tire valves –

There may be customer demand for these, or marketing could have created the demand. Either way, with a lean, efficient production line, the sales folk are selling something the robotic factories can’t make.

Variety 2: Selling something you can make

Mercedes need to reduce the variety their customers demand to a level their factories can cope with. Balancing this equation is essential. Of course the ultimate offer would be a custom Mercedes for each customer, but this is not possible for the cost of a Mercedes.

To do this marketing and production have to work together to design and market cars that they can make in their factories. Mercedes-Benz are a luxury brand, so cost efficiency is not the sole purpose of the factory.

Marketing has to create and manage demand for the sort of customisation that their factories, restructured with people and robots, can produce. People can cope with the operational variety that robots, or people behaving like robots can’t.

Using robots, machines or computers increases efficiency, but reduces the ability of the system, in this case a factory, to cope with variety in an fast changing environment.

At every level we must ensure that the variety equations balance. If a car dealer can’t supply what the customer is asking for, they will buy elsewhere. If the factory can’t make what the car dealer is selling then the business won’t last long.

 

 

 

My Strengths vs Your Strengths. Pleased to meet you. Let’s build something amazing.

 

We all have strengths. Some people are fortunate enough to find their skills and use them in life and work. Or we may never recognise what we’re good at, or find our skills are not required or appreciated. We’re quick to label the behaviour of others as wrong or stupid. We may not understand what they are doing, and why.

How do we recognise each others abilities, and talk about how we can work together? Can we understand which strengths we don’t excel in, and when they’re more useful than our own skills?

How do we recognise that some behaviours are strengths at all? People may be too controlling, too keen on harmony, can avoid facts to concentrate on ambiguity, or seem to enjoy the complications. I annoy people by abandoning plans at the first sign of a better way. Colleagues see my critical views as criticising plans to destroy them,  when I want to test and improve the foundations.

Recently I took the Strength Finder 2.0 online analysis to find my strengths. I found this through one of Tobias Myers posts. Tobias says a lot of great things so I though I’d see what insights came with this.

Out of 32 possible strengths my top 5  fit me pretty well, describing someone systemic, interested in ideas and learning. it also suggested I was a people person, able to understand and design how people can do things better. My number 1 is Strategy. Which means I can figure out a way to make it work too.

The 5 strengths were Strategy, Learner, Individualization, Ideation and Arranger. There are many more details available online and on youtube about these strengths. I’ve also started to create some mind maps of the strengths videos. Available on git. But my strengths are not the point.

For a few weeks after the test moved on, content with having some great new phrases for my linkedin profile. Then I realised this was a sharable understanding of how I work at my best and a way I can understand, appreciate and work with others. Boom.

I have no affiliation with Strengths Finder, the basic test is $15. I prefer open tools and ideas, but this tool seems so powerful, and I’m not sure it would exist otherwise.

I hope to get some colleagues to take the test.

If we can

  • talk about out strengths using a common language
  • understand the wide range of skills people have
  • recognise how we can work together, on purpose,

Then we can build amazing things.

Modelling, not measurement makes things happen

 

Tom DeMarco  wrote  that “you can’t control what you can’t measure.”measure

It depends what you mean by manage. Often management is to have the situation understood with metrics, and improved with targets. That was a neat trick of this argument. It’s “my way or the highway”, and if you’re not measuring, you’re not managing. A highway is pretty measurable though, distances, speed limits, number of cars per hour. So measurement is really useful, but maybe not for managing complicated things.

If you’re not Modelling, you’re not Managing

I believe that you can’t manage what you haven’t modelled. This is much harder than collecting numbers to compare to baselines, standards and SLAs. What modelling means is not always straightforward. Your understanding of an organisation is a model. If you have a incomplete model you cannot understand. Your metaphors about your organisation and your relationships affect how you understand and respond. They restrict how you understand and respond.

toast

Calvin and his tiger have an incomplete model.

 

There are a few types of systems models, that provide different views. There are two I’m current interested in. Whole systems models, show how an organisation achieves its purpose. Some theory behind these models is the Viable Systems Model. Symbolic mental models reveal powerful insights into how people understand and act. Mental models using Clean Language, and use the language of metaphor reveal powerful understanding. I’ll be posting about how I use each of these in the future.

Are antifragile organisations possible?

noun_15977_ccAntifragility is an idea by Nassim Taleb, describing something that actually becomes stronger with stress. The most obvious things that are Antifragile are living organisms, such as people becoming stronger after experiening stressors at the gym. Other things can be robust, like a rock. Machines are fragile. Cars need maintenance as we use them, they do not usually get better, or more fit for their environment in use.

Some things need stress

Taleb suggests if we do not allow the stressors that make antifragile things stronger, we make it more likely that a big event will threaten the things existence. He uses examples of small forest fires preventing larger ones, and re phrases Nietzsche, changing “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” to “That which kills you, makes me stronger”. For example, failure of restaurants in a city make the restaurant population stronger. If restaurants were not allowed to fail, he suggests standards would fall to cafeteria levels, making the population unviable if compared to choices in another city.

Organisations are not Machines

I think this applies to our organisations in interesting ways. We often run our organisations as machines, seeking efficiencies, lowering risks, and seeing failure as something to be avoided, and covered up if possible. The average lifespan of an US company is 15 years.  Does the way we run companies misunderstand that, for long-term survival, they need to be antifragile?

The machine metaphor for organisations is seen in top down hierarchy and control. Often an organisation like this can only understand itself in terms this metaphor. Other metaphors are like a foreign language.

If you think of your organisation in inputs and outputs, single purpose, control, clockwork, standardisation and measurement you’re using machine metaphors.

What would an antifragile organisation look like?

There are other organisational metaphors and models based on antifragile systems. Language based on organic, cultural and transformational metaphors, and models based on viable systems are available.

Organic metaphors include environmental conditions, adaptation, life cycles, homeostasis, evolution, distributed control, mindsets, feedback, requisite variety and learning.

Thinking about larger organisations,  antifragility means the ability to learn and improve behaviour based on environment stressors. Parts of the organisation should be allowed to take  risks and fail to allow learning and improvement to occur. Organisations structure should allow learning from failure in any of the organisational units. Continuous small-scale risk and failure will avoid some big risks.

Note that this does not necessarily mean that the organisation will predict or survive a ‘black swan‘ event, but it will be better suited to a changing environment.

Many organisations managed on a machine metaphor have operational priorities focused on lean efficiency, essentially denying antifragility. Mistakes and failures may be punished and covered up, creating a fragile organisation that is wary of change, and exposed to more, not less risk. By focusing on the machine model and metaphor they are vulnerable to external events that will put them out of existence.