Archiv der Kategorie: Interconnected thinking

In this area it is all about systemic thinking, chaos and complexity.

One-sided reasoning

Just as things go wrong on a large scale, for example, the Berlin Airport or the Elbe Philharmonic Hall, every project runs into the danger of overshooting the set conditions. The control of projects is always a gamble on the shoulders of the project leaders due to the many influencers, the rarely defined power structures, and the vague specifications. They may have the mandate to hold the steering wheel in their hands, but the steering angle is severely limited by the stakeholders’ diverse and even conflicting concerns. In the end, project managers are the executing, extended arm of the contracting parties, who micromanage vital decisions. The most significant burden is primarily the fuzzy requirements that keep changing over time. However, to simplify the management of the initiative, leaders do not try to identify and consider the essential factors. They conclude based on simple-minded contingency*.

*”Contingent is something that is neither necessary nor impossible; what can be as it is (was, will be), but is also possible in other ways. The term thus denotes what is given (what is to be experienced, expected, thought, fantasized) with regard to possible otherness; it designates objects in the horizon of possible modifications.”
(see Social Systems, Niklas Luhmann)

The description of the situation becomes one-sided when only one cause and one consequence are considered. While it is impossible to identify ALL influences and effects, the blinkered shielding of adjacent possibilities inevitably leads to delays and other disadvantages. In overcoming the limited viewpoints, the following aspects will help.

  • Overcoming Maslow’s hammer
    With the growing labor division, the law of the instrument has emerged – i.e., if someone has a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When looking at a project, the financier sees only the monetary, the buyer the procurement, and the HR people the personnel aspects. The decision-makers have the whole picture in mind. However, they are also driven by their priorities – e.g., to generate savings, build reputation, and get through the week without stress. For overcoming one’s bias, the mindset supports Anything is possible. To find the given possibilities, it helps to let go of what is taken for granted, question existing structures, and think without limits.
  • Describing the focal point
    The starting point for the treatment is the printable situation description. It is always good to focus on one issue, otherwise, the solution will be diluted or even impossible. If, for example, the focus is on a project delay, then the generalized discussion of the deficits in the project work is of no use.
    In addition to the factual points (i.e., where happens, what, when, how, and who is involved), we recognize by the stakeholders’ intentions, who have different influences on what is happening what needs to be monitored. With their description, the project leaders show their mental states through the formulations and emphases – e.g., what is important to them; what they dislike; what they need.
  • Understanding, not analyzing causes
    The likelihood that a concrete situation will result from a single cause is low. Usually, several circumstances are involved. However, the law of the instrument dictates that causes are sought only within one’s domain. Although these limitations are clear to unbiased observers, decision-makers are driven by the need to take care of situations. This is best done by assuming a monocausal case. Solving one cause does not eliminate the problem.
    Even if not all causes will be identifiable, it is crucial to take the risk to look beyond one’s nose since neighboring causes contribute to the issues. On the one hand, the look through the functional glasses is recommended: e.g., development, procurement, production, and selling and, e.g., personnel, accounting, and IT. On the other hand, considering the influences of technology, culture, organization, and economy provide additional leverage points for clarification. In any case, you must not analyze the particular areas, i.e., putting them in-depth under the microscope. It is enough to understand the causes.
  • Anticipate consequences instead of elaborating in detail
    Due to the affected areas and the various stakeholders, several consequences are always to be expected. However, since the actual effects do not appear until the future, we can only guess the effects. Here again, Maslow’s hammer impacts, which leads to the fact that we only see developments in our sphere of influence – e.g., the financier only finds monetary (dis)advantages.
    Since the future is only manifesting later, you should not cross your bridges before coming to them. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to anticipate the neighboring consequences. To be able to react to significant futures, we develop scenarios with possible upcoming circumstances. These alternative designs of the future make statements, for example, about companies, people, business development, available technologies, the development of the economy, society, and the environment. Again, the aim is not to provide detailed descriptions but to anticipate adjacent consequences so that they are not ignored.

Bottom line: The key message of this article is to respond to a difficult case with multi-causal solutions that take advantage of existing possibilities. We never deal with simple cause-and-effect relationships. Our perception is an additional burden due to the Maslow hammer that prevents from seeing more than we usually master. A tricky situation always has multiple causes and generates many consequences that we do not have in mind. To conclude unilaterally does not offer approaches but creates trigger for follow-up problems.

The price of the isolated stand-alone solution

One consequence of the information age is the unbelievable amount of data on the Internet of more than 33 zettabytes –

33 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 Bytes.

With about 20 e-mails per employee, the responsible people are trying to reduce their costs. For storage it takes the right hardware and software, infrastructure and electricity, as well as the right personnel. A common remedy is limiting the size of individual mailboxes and to transfer the management of this bottleneck to the employees. That way, the hitherto experienced specialists are being replaced by a flood of “amateur administrators”, i.e. in total all employees of the company. This isolated stand-alone solution of the IT department costs the companies many times more than the savings in IT.

Based on this example, we consider the consequences of a reductionist approach, which prefers the uncoordinated execution of units and must lead predictably to unintended consequences that harm the company as a whole. As simple as the reasons are, they are easily overlooked.

  • The individual part does not supply any sign of the Big Picture
    By examining a Lego brick we obtain data about its color, size and the number of connections. However, the individual brick tells nothing about its function at the point of use or the purpose, size or complexity of the assembly. Companies try to remedy the deficit of their division of labor by proper strategic and cultural measures, which are set by the management. In the above example, the pure costs of running the email are offset by the consequences for the company – overflowing email accounts; time taken to sporadically manage each email inbox by all users; time delays due to blocked inboxes; dissatisfied counterparts.
  • The measures are limited to the subject matter
    The activity limited to the individual stone reduces the complexity and simplifies the processing due to the missing consideration of the affected environment. The result is checked with appropriate test cases. However, the wide variety of use cases can only be reproduced to a certain extent. At the end is the fragment that is assumed to fulfil its purpose on its own. In companies, procedures based on the division of labor succeeded over the years. The interfaces to other areas are assumed to be known and are accordingly considered in business processes and projects. When supplying the downstream areas, one department pursues the goal of delivering as little as possible. At the same time, it expects more than is actually needed for individual processes, just in case. The lack of an overall view prevents a meaningful exchange. In our example, it leads to delayed, incomplete or simply incorrect backups of the email contents, which generates immense additional expenses for searching and restoring the data for all employees.
  • The possible synergies are invisible determined by the system
    An area defines its scope of action and the necessary interfaces based on its function. Within this framework, its own goals are the top priority. Engagement for goals that go beyond this increases one’s own efforts without foreseeable appreciation. There are even noticeable disadvantages if the own goals are missed later. Out of understandable self-interest, the departments therefore concentrate only on their own matters. The unintended consequences for the company resulting from the interaction are suppressed, as they are outside of their own scope. The overall result of the company is getting therefore worse. In the end, the reduced IT costs for e-mails are offset by the lower productivity of the employees. On the one hand because they cannot perform their actual tasks during this time. On the other hand, they cannot develop a routine due to the sporadic obligation. Not to mention the disadvantages that arise after the mailbox overflowed – the sending of e-mails is delayed; incoming e-mails are no longer accepted and have to be resent.

The whole is more than the sum of its parts does not mean that isolated outcomes automatically result in added value. The units produce results that either contradict different interests or override one’s own contributions or those of others. Only when working holistically, there is a chance for more. Even if the disadvantages of silo thinking have already been recognized and are being replaced by comprehensive process management, the transfer points between the tunnel tubes, even if much less, still need to be operated. New ways of synergy are needed to prevent the blind spots that still exist between the responsibilities. The liberated company that hands over control to the employees based on a positive human image, is a conceivable approach to mastering the ever-increasing complexity.

Bottom line: A company is nowadays a tightly woven network of activities that reacts sensitively to the smallest changes. At the same time, companies have not yet managed to break away from traditional structures. The result is a conflict of goals between the company’s intentions and its “sub-companies”, divisions, departments and teams. Silo and tunnel walls no longer fit into this fast-moving era. The price of the encapsulated individual solutions, which lack the connection to the whole, which only take care of their own construction sites and do not take into account possible synergies, are consequential disadvantages, which increase the risk and damage the whole, as well as missed advantages, which would result from a joined approach.