Sunday, February 3, 2013

Are we making progress?

In a great post, @JohnQShift explains how to build a culture of learning in your business. He calls this A Matter of Life or Death (Feb 2013)

In the post, John reports one of his clients observing that they had made some progress in their business over the year.  By progress, the client meant that
  • people were beginning to take up more responsibility and initiative without having to wait for the boss to tell them what to do
  • there was more discussion amongst the staff as to how to manage some of the day-to-day challenges they meet and less referring to the boss for the “answer”
  • mistakes were being used as entry points to examining business processes and working out how they could be improved
  • they had a clearer idea of their collective purpose and how important relationship is to achieving that purpose
  • the leaders were devoting more of their time to ensuring the conditions and structures of the business were optimised so that people could get on with their jobs (and less time micro-managing operational tasks).

John comments

"My client also reflected on how shifting the focus away from “behavioural problems” as isolated events and onto the business as a whole living system seemed to have injected some new life (his words, not mine) into the business: that they were actually going somewhere.  Here was an example of the practical benefits of applying systems thinking to overcoming business “stuckness”.  They started the year stagnating, with things getting worse, they injected some new learning into the system, they are now moving to another level of effectiveness."

 The lesson John draws from this story is about entropy. He suggests

"Closed systems that spend their energy simply on maintaining themselves in survival mode eventually spend themselves out.  If a business is spending too much of its time on hunting for food, and not enough on learning new ways to hunt for food, it will succumb to entropy.  Vibrant and open living systems naturally tend to greater complexity, experiment often, are driven to what is possible and seek new opportunities which destabilise them until they restablise in a renewed way.  They look for more stuff to put into the system to renew it."

This is a good point, but I drew a couple of other important conclusions from his story as well.  Firstly, that it is possible to shift from "stuckness" to "progress". Secondly, that it is possible to make small progressive changes that may build towards larger progressive change.

Possible but clearly not inevitable. Where we must focus (and what we need to understand better) is how to encourage and foster this kind of progressive change.

... to be continued ...

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