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The qualitative difference between the Red Curve and the Green Curve is that the Red Curve shows ongoing, exponential improvement. The Green Curve shows continuous improvement towards some limit value.

I suspect that many folks do not realize the degree to which we are living in an exponential (and highly non-linear) world. My brother-in-law recently sent my wife a link to a video on You Tube that illustrates this point far better than I can.

The Red Curve is real folks. But hey, as W. Edwards Deming is said to have said:

It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.

Self-proclaimed “Geekdoctor” John Halamka has written about an IT dashboard his team has created to help forecast some of the costs associated with operating a data center. I had a quick look at it. It’s a nice web application. I left John a comment to see if it is open source. I expect many IT types could benefit from learning about it.

What I would urge John to do is to go a bit further. Identify the critical success factors for his department as a future reality tree and then provide a color-coding of each entity that shows the degree to which that entity is satisfied.

For example, assume that there is an entity that says “Our department is highly effective in meeting our cost targets.” To what degree is that entity valid? If it’s clearly valid based on observable data then color it solid green. On the other hand, if the entity is in dispute, color it yellow while you go look for data. If it’s clearly false, color it red.

When I can make the time I will craft an example of this. It won’t be a web app though. While I have a lot of experience in software engineering I just don’t have the time to knock something like this out right now.  I might also look at the tools from Flying Logic Software.  I think their tool may already provide something along these lines.

What would you have if you actually did this? I claim you’d have a useful tool for focusing on the issues that are blocking you from achieving your top level objectives. Then share it as a web app so that the entire organization can see not only what you see as logically necessary to succeed but also how well you are doing.

So where are the CIOs that have the courage to do something like this?

Almost certainly you have read Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point.” And like me you might have found it convincing.

Here’s an interesting article from Fast Company that suggests that the Tipping Point may be toast.

Jack Vinson has published a review of John Rickett’s book “Reaching The Goal: How Managers Improve a Service Business Using Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints“.

In reading the review I think I will order a copy of John’s book. As my business is a service business it is certainly on-topic for me.

That being said I still have a significant reservation with much of what is recommended for improving organizations.

My reservation is that we are too focused on canned solutions: “Just do exactly this and you’ll get great results.”

I think we have to focus more on helping the many people who make up our organizations to learn to be more effective at recognizing and resolving the many issues that will come up in implementing any significant change.

In past articles I have written about the Towers Perrin study that suggests that 4 out of 5 employees is “disengaged” from their work. I think we should be focused on building organizations where most employees are fully engaged in their work. Teaching people to recognize and resolve the many conflicts they face on a daily basis is a necessary first step.

ThinkingWinWinA few days ago I wrote a post asking why people might view “selfish altruism” as a contradiction in terms. I think this is an important topic. In this article I want to try to share a bit more of my thinking with you. I hope you will share your thinking with me — even if we disagree.

So why do most people seem to believe that selfish altruism is an oxymoron?

I think this is a result of the widespread belief that win-win is just happy talk. Something guys like Steven Covey espouse in order to sell books or something that the Pointy Haired Boss says to Dilbert.

I think I understand how reasonable people can come to this conclusion. There are a number of misconceptions about “Seeking Win-Win.” I thought I’d try to address a few of them in this post.

“You just can’t create win-win on demand.”

False. There are several procedures that you can use to create win-win solutions when we need them.

The one I use most often was created by Eli Goldratt. It is the so-called “Evaporating Cloud” method. Bill Dettmer has written about it at length in his books on the TOC Thinking Process tools. And TOC For Education has taught hundreds of thousands of children to do it.

TRIZ is another way to generate win-win solutions. It’s more complex than the Cloud but arguably more powerful for certain kinds of problems.

Note that crafting win-win is (mentally) more demanding than simply compromising on something important to you or demanding that someone else give up something important to them.

“If what you said was really possible, everyone would already be doing it.”

Not necessarily. Here is why.

First, the procedures I mentioned above are not widely known. Most people have never heard of the Evaporating Cloud, Eli Goldratt, TOC or TRIZ.

Second, even if everyone knew of the procedures, most people are not practiced in them. Just as the ability to sight-read music doesn’t confer the ability to play the piano, neither does knowing the mechanics of the Evaporating Cloud confer the ability to craft win-win when you need it. You really have to sweat and struggle with it until you master it. And most of us don’t like sweating and struggling.

I think there may be a biological basis for this aversion to sweating and struggling. I believe we seek to conserve our limited resources. I believe that over the course of our evolution those people who did not conserve their resources “selected out” of the population. After all, you never know when you’re going to need a burst of energy to survive, so don’t waste what you have.

Here’s the bottom line. You won’t make the necessary investment unless you believe that sweating and struggling to learn how to craft win-win is going to serve you. And if you don’t make the investment then for you win-win will be just happy talk. A self-fulfilling prophecy.

“There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

Learning how to craft win-win when you really need it doesn’t give you a free pass in life. It won’t put you on easy street. You will still have problems.

However some things will be very different. You will have the freedom to choose to deal with your problems in a much more effective manner. You will recognize that you have many options instead of only a few or none at all.

You will still find yourself suffering at some points in your life. Let me give a personal example.

I once had a good friend who I met when I hired her into my small business. She demonstrated her competence and personal concern for the business very quickly. We soon developed a deep and abiding respect for each other.

A few years after I hired her I learned that she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She died about two years later.

Of course her disease caused her to suffer. And those of us that loved her in one way or another also suffered and still suffer from time to time.

Having the ability to craft win-win didn’t grant me an exemption from this suffering. It did allow me to view suffering in a different way. And I ultimately came to see some value in that suffering.

So on the one hand I really had no choice in the matter — I was going to suffer. And yet, on the other hand, I had total freedom as to how I would understand and use that suffering.

I believe that suffering has (in some ways) served me. While I would much rather have my friend back that is not possible. So I did the best I could and found a different kind of value. And I know that that is what my friend would have wanted me to do.

“But other people won’t cooperate. They’ll just exploit you.”

I have not found this to be true. When you craft win-win, you’re bringing the other person a win too. People don’t usually cut their own wrists. They sometimes do, but it’s the exception and not the rule.

So what about the freaks? The psychopaths who still want to hurt or kill you even when you’re bringing them a real win?

The ability to craft win-win provides protection even when someone does something very bad to you. You might have to sweat and struggle, however.
When you crafting win-win over and over again (for a period of years) you become pretty good at finding novel ways to wriggle out of tight spots. Who knows, with work, maybe you could become the next “MacGyver” of the problem solving world.

I’ll end this too-long post here. As the old song goes “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!”

Over at Focused Performance Frank Patrick has posted an article called “Cost Cutting Nightmare.” It also references Circuit City as I did a few days ago.

Frank provided a link to this article about Circuit City and their actions. While there are many good insights in the article the one that caught my eye was this one:

By breeding an environment that doesn’t reward the knowledge or loyalty of its staff, then “why would workers have the incentive to put in any extra effort?” asks Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.

Exactly. And this ties in with the article I wrote last week regarding the global workforce study done by Towers Perrin that found that only one in five workers around the world was fully engaged in his/her work. (“Engaged” in this context means having a strong emotional connection to the success of the organization and thus being willing to, for example, sometimes invest discretionary time in an effort to improve the performance of the organization.)

I think Circuit City CEO Philip Schoonover is probably a bright-enough guy. What I suspect he is missing is a practical means for checking a contemplated action for likely bad outcomes — or “negative branches” in TOC speak. I expect that there were many people in his organization that thought that his plan for massive layoffs would have negative ramifications on the business. But without a way to reconcile their concerns with his concerns the outcome was never in doubt: He’s the boss and he’s going to do what he thinks he must do.

Can an organization work itself into such a hole that layoffs are required? Yes, it can. An organization can get to the point where the number of problems facing it are so large and so severe that there is no other credible choice.

But are most such layoffs required? I don’t think so. Rather, I think most organizations work themselves into these situations by managing poorly for an extended period of time. I know this because I have done it myself in the past.

One of the ways in which organizations can manage poorly is by not building a model — even a simple one — of the factors that they must achieve in order to achieve organizational success.

Doing this will help to ensure that people within the organization have only a partial picture of what is required for organizational success. This will in turn make it much easier for people to argue for their preferred course of action while ignoring the ramifications that their preferred course of action while have on the other conditions necessary for organizational success.

In a previous post I showed a very simple example of one such model. Building such a model by yourself is enlightening. Building such a model in collaboration with your top people is how you begin to secure the future of your organization.

Over at Running A Hospital Paul Levy has indicated that his theme this week seems to mostly involve “giving back” or “paying it forward.

Right on, Paul. It’s a tough world out there and it doesn’t hurt to be reminded that not everyone is out only for themselves.

This brought to mind a topic that I want to blog about, but a detailed explanation will have to wait. So, the following is just a bit of a teaser.

I try to live my life as a “selfish altruist.” This is a term that I first heard expressed by Alan Barnard at a recent TOC For Education conference.

I suspect that selfish altruism is for many people an oxymoron, or a contradiction in terms. Rather like like “jumbo shrimp” or “current history.”

Is this true for you? Do you find selfish altruism to be a contradiction in terms?

If so, may I ask why? What is it that causes us to have no other option? To be forced, presumably, to be either selfish, or altruistic, but not both?

I’ll follow up in the next day or two with my take on this issue. But honestly, I’d really rather hear your thoughts.

Best,

John

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