Posts Tagged "dynamic patterning"

on Dec 11, 2018 in Blog

Journeying into the unknown Organisational change is a journey into the unknown, along changing terrain. Finding your way in that changing terrain requires (i) new understanding about the dynamic patterning of change; (ii) new processing skills of sensemaking and learning; and (iii) new tools to help people in the midst of on-going change to notice and interpret what is changing in their organisation. Organisations wishing to get on the front foot in change can develop these new change capabilities in leaders at all levels to aid them in navigating into the unknown. Let’s imagine that you’re setting out to travel somewhere you’ve never been before. Actually, no one has ever been there before. So, what do you do? Do you gather together all the information you have about your destination and plan a route to get there? Do you set off in the general direction, and try to work out the detail as you go along? Or perhaps you don’t even worry too much about where you’re going, you just set off and then take whatever turn looks most interesting. Organisational change is much like travelling somewhere new. Every organisational change journey is unique. No one else will start from where you are, no one else will end up where you do, and no one else will take exactly the same route. So any maps or directions that you get from experienced travellers (best practice organisations) or guides (consultants) will never be exactly right for your organisational journey. Nonetheless, let’s imagine that you are embarking on a journey of intentional change in your organisation, setting off on a journey to greater organisational effectiveness. (This is rather different than simply being swept along, perhaps unwillingly, by the tides of change.) You might choose to be either more planned, or more exploratory and opportunistic in your approach. Your choices may be guided by your assumptions about change ‘management’, from past experience of ‘what works’, and from your personality preferences. No single approach is intrinsically ‘better’ than the others, although some might be a better fit. Yet, whichever approach you take, once you set off into the unknown, you need to be prepared to find your way in ever-changing terrain.   The...

Read More

on Sep 19, 2014 in Blog

  The morning after the Scottish referendum on independence and there seems to be a mad dash for constitutional change in the UK. That change has been called for is not in question. Some want greater self-determination. Some want a new system for social justice. Some want to grab greater personal and political power. Some want healing and unity. That change is underway is not in question. The seeds of change have already been sown in the multitude of public and private debates and deliberations around Scottish independence. Yes or No – simply asking the question about independence began the process of change. And, as many OD people well-know, the questions we ask often focus change in a particular direction. That change in one place affects another is not in question. The question of change for Scotland acts like a ripple on a pond, affecting the wider system of the UK (and beyond) and the people within it. The question of constitutional change in Scotland has already raised the possibility of change for England and prompted people to ask questions about greater powers for cities and regions. From a complex social systems perspective, you cannot change the constitution in one part of a system without affecting other interrelated parts. So, because Scotland is part of a complex social, economic and political system, change is not just under way for Scotland, it is inevitably under way for the wider system. What will actually change IS in question. The trouble with change in complex social systems is that it is impossible to know in advance how a system will actually change. And it is impossible to know in advance what unintended consequences may emerge in the short and the long term. However, we do know that unintended consequences are highly likely. That’s due to the sheer number of people involved, and their complex patterns of communicative interaction with one another. And we do know that constitutional change will enable and constrain some of those patterns of interaction, although we do not know what will emerge from changing the rules of engagement. So, from a complex social systems perspective, some really important questions are: How can we make space to learn what...

Read More

on Jun 25, 2014 in Blog

This is an important question for governments, businesses, organisations and individuals. Because when we make decisions today, we are often making bets on an unknown future e.g. about retirement or energy needs and provision. Some are sceptical, rightly so, about the limitations of prediction in a complex and uncertain world. [See new blog posts from Ralph Stacey and Chris Rogers]. Yet we often need to act amid uncertainty: be that in planning large infrastructure projects; developing health and social care policies; or making choices about our own retirement provision. So, how can we address the question: what does the future hold?   Mystics, statistics and learning There are statistical models and mystical models. Although polar opposites in their reliance on data, both statistical and mystical models assume that they can make predictions about the future with some significant degree of certainty. Learning models, on the other hand, offer ways of working with uncertainty. Statistical models assume the world is predictable, the future knowable, that ‘tomorrow’ will be largely like ‘today’ in all important aspects. They assume regularity and ignore uncertainty. They downplay the likelihood of unknowns and extreme events, although extreme events are more common in nature than you might expect (see long tails and power laws). They also downplay free-will, assuming that people will largely respond in ways that are similar to how they’ve responded in the past. And they assume that small differences in those responses won’t add up to anything much, even though there’s increasing understanding of butterfly effects (remember Gerald Ratner’s ill-advised comment?), ‘viral’ change and social movements. If data is king, then Big Data is emperor. Why do we like statistical models in business? Because they give the illusion of certainty and can reduce the anxiety of leadership and decision-making in an inherently uncertain world. Mystical models assume the world is preordained, that the future can be intuitively seen now, by a select few with special gifts or skills e.g. successful business leaders, tech entrepreneurs, or fortune tellers. In assuming an unfolding future, mystical models downplay human agency and free-will; the ability of human beings to act and react in ways that are imaginative, rebellious, constructive and destructive. Hindsight about successful predictions or interventions...

Read More

on May 15, 2014 in Blog

Although this blog post was borne out of frustration with a major telecoms ‘supplier’ who has consistently failed to supply – don’t get me started – there are important insights about the unintended consequences which can arise from complexity.     So here’s the scenario: We recently contacted a major telecoms company. Can we have broadband please, we asked. ‘You can’t have broadband without a phone line’, we were told. So we said, well OK, we’ll have a phone line and broadband then. And we arranged a start date. This is a very simple scenario – something that must happen every day. So you’d imagine that this very large telecoms company would be able to manage that.   Here’s what happened: We received an acknowledgement confirming everything was in order. This was followed by another message saying sorry they couldn’t supply and would explain why. We waited, no one called. So we called again to confirm our order (this takes some while). Yes, yes, yes, they said, everything is in order. We received a message to confirm our order was being despatched… followed by another which said sorry, they’d contact us to explain why we wouldn’t receive it. No one did. We called again. Someone would call us between 8am and 8pm the following day (yes, really) to explain why it wasn’t going to happen, we were told. No one did. We received our order – hooray! Followed by a message to say we had to return it. So we called yet again and said; you’ve sent us what we wanted, can we keep it? ‘No, you have to return it’. But it’s what we asked for. ‘And you have to send it back to us’. You get the picture: YES, you can have it. NO, you can’t have it. Or, the short version… YES – NO – YES – NO – YES – NO — Arrgh!!!!!!!   Unless there have been some saboteurs at work, no one designed this hugely dysfunctional socio-technical system. The company’s repeated inability to supply a very simple, straightforward order is an unintended consequence. But, almost unbelievably, it turns out that it’s not an isolated example – far from it. [Form an orderly queue,...

Read More

on Apr 15, 2014 in Blog

A recent article in McKinsey Quarterly highlighted the strength of ‘weak signals’. If you haven’t read it, the authors explain how snippets of information, often hidden in social-media streams, offer companies a valuable tool for staying ahead. Their focus is external scanning for potential opportunities by capitalising on weak signals hidden within a torrent of digital information. They argue that weak signals can be strategically important, and therefore worthy of top management time and attention. However, weak signals within organisations are also extremely valuable for leaders and decision-makers to understand. They can provide early warning signs of potential problems and opportunities which are being created as an organisation is changing and developing. Understanding these weak signals can help leaders act sooner – to take responsive action in live change to help seize opportunities and head off problems, while they are still small. For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the battle was lost. For want of a battle the Kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail. A well-known proverb describes events escalating until a Kingdom was lost, all for the want of a horseshoe nail. Here, the implications of responding later, rather than sooner, are clearly spelt out. We can also see this on a practical level in organisations. For example, one senior manager made it his business to tune into the ‘rumour index’, as he called it, to gauge people’s concerns during a particularly volatile period. This gave him clues about the unintended effects of managerial actions and also gave him the opportunity to target his communications to nip some of the more outlandish rumours in the bud. However another manager wrote off murmurs of resentment about new initiatives as an inevitable resistance to change, which is normally short-lived. So he failed to realise that they forewarned a serious deterioration of trust in senior management – to his cost. As these examples clearly show, weak signals within organisations are not just hidden in social media. We can find them in everyday actions and words. But they are also...

Read More