The story of teaching the horse to talk is one that is good to bear in mind in many situations. It runs like this.
Many years ago in a far away country a wise old teacher was in trouble with his King. The King sentenced the teacher to death, but listened to the teacher's appeal.
The teacher pleaded for the King to give him five years in which to teach the King's horse to talk. The King liked to own unusual things and a talking horse would certainly be unusual and after considerable thought said "yes".
A friend of the teacher said to the teacher "Why did you make such a rash promise? You know no one has ever taught a horse to talk." The teacher said in reply: "Sometime before the end of five years:
1. The King might change his mind and pardon me.
2. The King might forget that he sentenced me to death.
3. The King might die.
4. I might die.
5. I might teach the horse to talk.
In any event, I gain five years."
Reading 'A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines' by Janna Levin I'm struck by one of the characters noting that 'We wanted to construct complete worldviews, complete and consistent theories and philosophies, perfect solutions where everything could find its place. But we cannot. … We all prize a resolution, a gratifying ending, completeness and unity, but we are surrounded by incompleteness'.
Given that a great deal of my consulting work is about trying to help people in organizations break down/through the silos and talk with each other/run common processes and so on I was intrigued to read the sentence "The closer the connection between the parts, the more vulnerable the whole system becomes to any major wobbles."
The sentence appeared in the review of a book "Bound Together: How Traders, Preachers, Adventurers, and Warriors Shaped Globalisation", Nayan Chanda, Yale University Press; 391 pages; $27.50 and £16.99 (see Economist print edition July 28 – August 4 'The Early Pioneers'. http://www.economist.com/books/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9539888)
Reading this led me to wonder whether the current drive in many organizations to be boundaryless, silo free, and collaborative might have a range of downsides that lead to a weakening of the design: an image pops to mind of something on the lines of metal fatigue. It's a thought I'll bear in mind when I come to my next assignment where part of the design request is to become 'boundaryless'.
At the Future of Manufacturing Conference I was at today I was struck by the speaker from Subaru's South Indiana plant where they take 'lean and clean' extremely seriously. Over the last several years they've got to 0% landfill status with their waste, and have won several awards for their environmental work. Look at their website http://www.subaru-earth.com/
or at a short write up in Green Technology
We had a long discussion at work today about due diligence related to mergers and acquisitions. In our experience most of the due diligence is centred on the easily quantifiable and little on the less easily quantifiable e.g. behaviors around pay and reward, or attitudes to workforce development and training. However, when it comes to 'successful' merger or acquisition it is the less quantifiable stuff that is frequently the deciding factor in whether the merger or acquistion will deliver the promised value. So our challenge is to develop and apply rigor around making the qualitative organizational aspects quantifiable, and get these included in due diligence processes.
Someone gave me a copy of a delightful story called "Organizational Horseholding" http://www.sundance.ca/resources/documents/OrganizationalHorseHolding.April2006.pdf
It's a beautiful illustration of the types of sacred cows that organizations cling to and that can become real barriers to changing the design of the organization. The author of the piece, Chris Edgelow gives a couple of ideas on how to spot this type of sticking to an outdated practice: a) ask new hires to identify what they think might be a sacred cow b) watch for instances of trying to apply a solution that worked well in the past to a current problem.
Yesterday things went wrong (so no blog entry). My laptop was stolen. Following the fury and the frustration of the immediate event came some thinking about my personal responses to forced change: I could dwell on the event and curse myself for things like leaving on my desk, not password protecting the entry point, and so on. Or I could note that it could have been worse – at least I had backed up things, had insurance and so on. Or I could view it as an opportunity to change for the better the way I organize myself and my environment. Of course these options are not discrete and I am bouncing (iterating!?) from one to another and several along the route. It's a microcosm of the type of event that hits an organization that is going well and then has the workflow interrupted by something extraneous (although not totally unpredictable). I guess I had an adequate risk management strategy in place for computer loss but had not considered the risk that my front door (within an entry system building)could be smashed through.