Everybody will make their own path

The title is a cite taken from a comment to a post today at LinkedIn. The post was by one of my connections and was about various things he didn’t like too much about LinkedIn and which he suggested them to change.

Quite a lot of comments came in on that one – like so often on “meta”-topics: those topics witch are about how we live our lives rather than about the actual living of it. And one of the comments simply stated this, that you cannot dictate how people should use a social medium like LinkedIn. Maybe the post-writer would prefer it to be different, but others probably liked it this way – and “everybody will make their own path”. Whatever structure and whatever features are available will be used or not used by each individual according to their own decisions and probably also partly by coincidence. You cannot control it.

After taking a long walk, having a nice dinner (well, a TV-dinner, actually) and doing different things at home, I now must admit that this about individual paths made some understandings meet in my mind.

You cannot control change

The point is, that when doing process improvement activities in a company, you always expect people to change their behavior. If they will just make these small changes, then everything will get better. And you set up various formulas and theories and tools and documentation, so that everybody will know why they must change. And then they don’t!

It is so annoying to work with process improvement. We can, of course, jump from methodology X to theory Y and continue with ideology Z. And we can spend years and more years on it, and earn money on it, if all this attempted process improvement happens to be our job. Bu we cannot make people change. People will, of course, change, but they will do it along the path they set themselves. Then you can try to replace some of the people with others who are already moving along the path that you have set… think about it, your path. Not theirs!

What a lot of theorizing about change and improvement in companies tend to forget is that people are not bees, not ants, not any of such creatures who seem to function as one big organism. People are individuals, and all attempts to find a common social behavior will fail – or at least it will lead to approximations only.

You might be ably to coach each individual and by that guide their development. But it is very unlikely that you can guide them all into the same development, mainly because they have different starting points and all in all different lives, different interests in life, and different capabilities.

You should not try to control change

My suggestion is a different one than trying to control the change. I suggest that you instead make sure that you have people in place who do understand the reason why they are in the company.

I have always wondered who people  in larger companies can walk around doing only damage, like it so wonderfully is illustrated by the Dilbert strips. Why is it accepted that a middle manager is hiring 20 people, doing a lot of internal reorganization, closing down old activities, starting and closing down new activities, then firing the same or some other 20 people and all in all ending up with a ruin of a department? Without new products to sell, without the expertise that made the old setup valuable to the customers, and without the proud and happy staff that would be willing to walk through fire for the company.

If you want improvement, start with what you have and then add all the ingredients – of which the most important ones are trust, support, and an open mind – and then see what will happen, especially looking for what is good in what is happening. But get rid of those people who do not participate or who have an agenda, that has nothing to do with making the company work. Just make sure that you give time before concluding anything, as our perception of other people’s motives and thoughts tend to be wrong.

You should assist change

And most of all, accept that things will not go your way. You will be part of it all, but it will get its own life. If you are the manager, you can help solve specific problems and you can help get the resources and the recognition that makes the engine spin. That’s your job, nothing else.

Then people will make each their own path which, in a company populated with people who understand that they are, in fact, part of a company, will also be more or less a common path.

An example from nature

If you take a quick glance at the cover photo of this site, the one with the geese, you will see that this is exactly what is happening there. The geese are moving from the pond, hidden to the right, to the lake, hidden to the left. They always spend the days in the pond and the nights in the lake. The younger geese are not following a straight path, to say the least, but the older geese are guiding them a bit and patiently waiting for them to follow troop.

At the end of the day, literally, all geese will be in the lake – but how exactly they got there and at which point at the beach they entered it is left to each individual goose and coincidence to decide.

Those old geese are perfect leaders who do this organizational change twice a day during all summer. When winter arrives, they know that it is time to go south. And how they manage things down there, I suppose that some local observers will know better than I do.

This all looks very systemic, but think about what goes on in the mind of each of the younger geese – they no doubt feel that they themselves decide what to do and where to go. They take advice, they get inspired, they seek the goal that happens to be the same as the other geese’s goal, but they feel themselves that they are thinking, planning and acting as individuals. That they are making their own path.

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Trying hard to look like a success – about women’s rights, gold-trousers, and real values

It was a late evening, I was zapping around on the TV and found by accident a program about women’s equal rights (or the lack of them) in the USA.

Lack of social equality

It is, to me, quite ironical that the world’s self-proclaimed biggest democracy still, after having been ahead with so many other social developments, cannot find out how to give women equal rights. Along with tons of other social problems that mainly arise from the deeply rooted belief in survival of the strongest, or, in American language, the freedom to make your own happiness.

I am not against freedom or liberalism. It certainly is important also to me that it is possible for everybody to create something, rather than just being locked into the existing social and economical patterns. It just has to be possible for real, not as a fantasy. And it looks like if many women in the USA can only fantasize about creating something big, simply because they are locked up in such patterns that keep them from doing big things.

According to a woman speaking in the TV program, men are either making a career or are considered losers. There is no middle way. Men cannot have just the same job for a longer period, being happy about it – and they certainly cannot put the career on hold while going at home, taking care of the house and the children. But this is exactly what is expected from women. Hence, the lack of equality in society.

But a remarkable consequence has developed from this inequality: women dare to say to their boss that he can have it, now they are leaving and do not care about what that means for their future career options. And they do that, often, according to the TV program. They quit their job if it becomes too much of a burden, while men accept much more of what makes work life miserable. Because men must go through a career and be careful not to ruin any options, not to burn any bridges.

Being a success

We are not locked up in the same way in Denmark and Sweden, where I work and live. But as the USA has had (and still have) a huge influence on our way of living, we are to a high degree driven by the same values – money, things, promotions, pension savings, etc. for the men, less of it all for most women who then instead have a focus partly on home and a secured economy and status in life, partly on enjoying that life as much as possible – now! Children, if any, are being taken care of by the kindergarten.

But in both worlds, the USA and Denmark/Sweden, we all want a lot. And it requires at least some of us to be successful in an economical way. We need money. So we are selling a lot of life for the possibility to buy even more smart phones, TVs and other things. And we try really hard to look successful to others, because if we do not look that way, we aren’t! It is not common to try to look a bit deeper – when evaluating others, we simply look at the size of their car, their house, and their level of job. Then we know if they are successful.

Everything comes at a price

When I was a small child there was a children’s movie on TV, I think it was a Swedish one: The Boy with the Gold-Trousers. About a boy who discovered that he could just put his hand deep down in the pockets of his trousers, and there would be money. And he could do this again and again, until having filled his room with money. What he didn’t know at first, however, but which he did find out later, was that the money actually came from somewhere – the bank! So each time he pulled money out of his pocket, a corresponding amount vanished from the bank. And that, in the end, lead to a lot of trouble.

The morale of such a story is, of course, that wealth is not for free. That a high standard of living would need to be payed somehow, by some. That the hunt for gold-trousers and the wish to use them for more than the necessary leads to serious problems.

Which way does the inequality turn?

So maybe the apparently bad situation for women in the USA has brought something really good with it: the ability for at least half of the population to say no to the career race, to the abuse of the gold-trousers. The ability for women to say no and focus on real values, while men are still running around like headless chicken, unable to sit still long enough to feel and find out if it was true what the fantasy said to them, when they still believed in it: that money can buy happiness.

Instead the men in the USA – and we in Denmark/Sweden – must look like successes all the time, look like if we are without any trouble, without fear, without the need for a helping hand, and, as a consequence, without showing any understanding of the fact that others could face trouble, feel fear, and need a helping hand.

And in the mean time, women figured it all out and reached some values that are closer to their true wishes and needs, closer to the idea of actually getting something out of the economical success.

(And pardon for all the stereotyping).

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Welcome to the World Pendulum blog! | World Pendulum

May I introduce – a new blog!

Welcome to the World Pendulum blog! | World Pendulum.

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Seeing everything clearly from a moment of observation | The No Crisis Blog

Seeing everything clearly from a moment of observation | The No Crisis Blog.

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Respect the individual

Groups don't think - people do

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Seeing everything clearly from a moment of observation

Many years ago, a great book was written: “The Fifth Discipline”, by Peter Senge. I didn’t read it then – have read it only recently – but I understand how important this book and its thoughts have been for the development of a better understanding of certain things in companies.

Systems Thinking

“Certain things” is – as an afterthought – easily boiled down to the concept of systems thinking, which is an understanding that there is “more than meet the eyes” and that consequences can be found far away from the causes, in time and space. Actually, an assumed consequence might not be the consequence of anything in particular – but rather the effect of a system of objects and attributes that to a large degree is subject to “autopoiesis”; a self-maintainability, a solidity as a system, where even large changes in details still makes the system as a whole easily recognisable. An example is a human being, a person, where loosing a leg or a kidney doesn’t change the perception that it is still the same person. Or a company, where adding a new product or changing a work procedure is still done by the perceived same company.

Idea lost in companies

When I look around and try to understand how companies work, I do see activities done on the basic understanding of systems thinking. But I do not see results. Probably the abstract concept of “company” is in itself systemized to a degree where it also is subject to autopoiesis.

Companies are sharing knowledge – or at least, they try to. But most of the time that knowledge is not being used. Each employee, no matter the level, seems to have an idea of knowing something themselves that is more important in the situation than the combined and accumulated knowledge of the whole company collected over time. A moment of observation seems to give a person the confidence in seeing everything clearly and the ability to make the right solution, be it acting, advising or just drawing conclusions.

Companies also create new artificial problems, for instance by reorganizing, in order to ensure that nothing can be done solely by routine. This is expected to keep everyone in the company fit and establish a culture of innovation and problem solving. What it does is simply to ruin what works and make people frustrated over having to spend time on dragging everything back (or twisting and cheating the “new system”) in order to do what they did before. The only thing that is kept fit by this concept is stress and frustration – always being at a high level.

And companies are coaching, apparently in order to make sure that everyone can learn from others and get inspired to learn from themselves as well. But more often than not, the “coaching” is in reality being used as part of a control and incentive mechanism, where both the coach and the coachee must play certain roles and say certain things in order to not get punished by the system. They are not learning anything – and they are certainly not part of a learning culture – but are instead developing good faking skills.

Idea lost in life

Just now I am involved with a situation where someone close to me is spending a lot of time in hospitals and with seing doctors, nurses and people supposed to assist and advice in various ways.

And every single day I see how a moment’s observation can lead to what appears to be a full understanding of the “facts”. Doctors do this a lot. They conclude on everything from the need for a certain mineral to the quality of life for the patient. Nurses advice on taking medicine, simply because that medicine seems to work on other patients. Family members advice on whether the patient should live a valuable life with the risk of dying earlier – or to lie down in a hospital bed forever without really living, simply because that might prolong what technically can be called life.

And all of these people – and many more – often draw their conclusions and give advice on the basis of a moment of observation. On the basis of single events og a few words, they happened to hear from a longer conversation. It doesn’t appear to them that there might be more they need to know about before understanding the patient, the person system, well enough to give advice. As soon as they start talking, they feel confident that what sounds like a good advice really is. Without knowing. Because they feel that they can see everything clearly.

The future for systems thinking

It seems to me that the idea of systems thinking is living only in the thoughts of a few philosophically minded people. In real life, it has no chance since human beings are so dedicated to the positivist idea of cause and consequence, and the idea of simply finding the problem, and then (with the right experience), the cure is given and indisputable.

Did systems thinking ever have a real chance? Were people always like this? Do people in general care at all about understanding the situation – or are they more interested in being “right” in the eyes and ears of the people who listen to them?

Or, more philosophically – is life simply a matter of winning and loosing, not about understanding and improving?

Posted in Coaching, Knowledge Management, Learning Organization, Organization, Philosophy, Systems Thinking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

One World – Everybody Likes Projects and Change

Visitor distribution at nocrisis.net - all times

While excluding all the specifics, I thought that I would share with you how the statistics for The No Crisis Blog looks like at present – this is an all-time-count.

There are some surprises – for instance, can’t Chineses read my blog or are they not interested? Why are people from Norway and Iceland less interested than Swedes and Danes? Why are the British more interested than the Irish?

Some is less surprising – not the least that USA has hit the highscore. I have written a lot about Lean IT, which has a better foothold there. And then, the Americans are probably the most active on a lot of blogs – being an outgoing and participating people. Another less surprising fact is that Svalbard, with its population of about 2,600 people, never found its way to this blog.

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Are you Prey or Predator?

screen-shot-2013-06-11-at-9-44-40-amIt’s a lazy afternoon at the savannah. The sun is baking, it is tremendiously hot but luckily there is still a bit of water left in the waterhole. The lions are relaxing – cats of any kind and size really know how to look relaxed. They have found a slightly cooler place in the shadow of a tree. They have been eating recently and need nothing more from life right now. Life is a bliss, they feel comfortable. They are in their comfort zone.

lions relaxed

At the same time, a flock of antilopes are nerveously trying to eat from the abundance of grass, not far away. Every second one of them is looking up and around. Antilopes really know how to look alert and I guess you’ll never see any of them relaxing like the lions do. Antilopes will never just find a shadowful place and rest. They do not have a comfort zone.

antilopes nerveous

All the animals at the savannah are doing what they have always been doing. They are what they are, a photo of them now would look like a photo a hundred years ago. Or a thousand. They never change, some know how to feel comfortable, others do not.

When we humans, modern creatures who have changed a lot and still do, are trying to teach each other how to live and how to be, we usually end up with recommending each other to “get out of the comfort zone” and to change even more. We teach each others to be like the antilopes, to always be moving and always be nerveous. We teach each other to be prey.

As a social creature, it seems reasonable: afterall, when you can make all the others look nervously around to spot any danger, you can allow yourself to be away from the stress for at least a few seconds at a time – just focusing on eating the grass, nothing else; just for a short moment, but what a bliss! How great it is to feel a touch of being in your comfort zone, despite being just one of a flock of preys.

So we actually like to feel comfortable. Surprising? Hardly – we all know that we do. But why do we feel that we have to be alert all the time, that we have to be moving, never staying in one place, especially not if it was a comfortable one? Why do we not allow ourselves and each other to be more like the predators?

I could imagine that a biologist would claim that humans are not really prey – we at at the top of the food chain. We actually are predators. But behaving like pray have made us capable of adapting to new situations and survive when other species didn’t. We can live in cold places, warm places, places with or without a lot of rain. We can change. We are flexible.

So when a predator behaves like prey, when it rushes around, never finding rest, never feeling comfortable, it is flexible.

But how much flexibility is really needed? How much change do we have to do – and how much of what we impose to others is really not for the good but rather for allowing ourselves to feel comfortable for a moment? Is is possible, that if we would allow each other to find a comfort zone and spend more time there, we would become better – as a species – to enjoy life and look relaxed, to be relaxed and be happy about it? And then, from time to time, to eat an antilope…

1920px-Rousseau-Hungry-Lion

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Easy Collaboration and Successful Projects

Why Projects Fail

It is quite funny, actually, how almost all talking around project management is focused on methods and frameworks like Prince2, PMBoK, and IPMA. But when you ask project managers why their project failed they almost always mention the lack of communication as the main reason, often along with a lack of support from their superiors.

And what is the result of a failed project? Either someone (the project manager) will be fired or demoted or nothing will happen – “we just need to try harder the next time”, someone will say. And then, again, the talking will start developing around methods and frameworks and how to get certified and how to hire project managers with more experience with one or the other such method.

A good example, I think, of how not to solve the problem!

How to solve the problem

As I have mentioned in some of my other posts, I am not against methods and certification. I am, however, against solving a different problem than the one you have! And many organizations are not sufficiently mature to really get anything out of a solid methodology focus when it comes to project management. They are instead at a level where they need to learn how to talk to each other. Advanced methods can be attached later, but the initial approach to improving the project management success rate should be based on arranging for the communication to work better.

The technology issue

We live in a world where technologies are changing all the time – I guess that today many young people have never seen a video tape recorder even though it was a must for everybody to own such a thing just a few years ago. And emails are being used but in a different way now. It is my impression that most people do not read all their emails – they throw a quick glance on the long list of today’s emails and click on the few of them that look important or interesting. The rest just keeps rolling further down the list of unread mails.

Telephone calls and SMS’es are also means of communication but without structure. They can help changing direction but rarely help preserving the info that was the basis of the change. Meaning that they do not participate much in the team learning process, as they do not permanently improve how things are done.

Meetings are great for getting to know the views of your team mates but meetings take time and if people are not all at the same location at the same time it might be very diffficult to even arrange the meeting. Video conferences comes in as a good second – will definitely be a better choise than emails in most cases but should be supplemented with someting written, memos or minutes, to make sure that the conference is not just a workless break in time, soon to be forgotten.

The Solution

Communication

So how can we fix this communication problem that ruins so many projects in real life?

Well, technologies change, as mentioned above, and today there are great tools that will help establish a platform for communication.

We have seen a number of years with unused or even useless intranet solutions. They were meant to gather information and make it available as an effort in line with the ideas of knowledge sharing and the learning organization. But since they were not really part of the daily routines for anyone, they were often seen by the team as an annoyance rather than a help.

bitrix24A tool like Bitrix24 has changed this. The tool is being used through the day by all team members because they get their tasks from there, they register their time there, and they have facilities for organizing their work – also in Bitrix24. It is quite obvious for them to also use the platform’s rich set of communication features to keep in touch with the team and to share knowledge. Now, with this tool, it is actually seen as a great help to gather and share information and to maintain a good level of communication around both the individual tasks and the whole project.

As Bitrix24 even makes it possible to work on several projects at the same time in the same environment and to do all the company communication along with this, the team members rightfully feel that the tool is a great help.

And so Bitrix24 becomes an important part of the solution on the communication problem.

Management support

The support from the project manager’s superior then?

Well, first of all an organization should not initiate any projects that do not have a solid support from management. If the project isn’t important to anyone, the project will not be able to attract the needed attention all along its life time – and in the end, this will make it difficult to complete it successfully.

Secondly, if there is some initial sense of importance, it must be maintained. An all-the-time up-to-date overview of the project, based on real data from the team members, will help keeping the project hot in the minds of management who will then more likely keep the support level high. So Bitrix24 helps here as well.

The bottom line

Bitrix24 is not a silver bullet that will take away all problems and run the project for you, but it certainly does offer a solution on some of the main problems of real life projects.

Posted in Change Management, IT, Knowledge Management, Learning Organization, Organizational Maturity, Portfolio Management, Program Management, Project Management, Teams | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Mythical Specialist

Apple_theory2_FritsALAs a consultant I often hear people tell about their needs for “a specialist” in one or another topic. They might need a specialist in Windows or in Project Management, but no matter what they are looking for, they are almost in panic over the risk of getting a generalist instead.

Quite interestingly they often do, at a closer examination, appreciate that the specialist has experience from different uses of his/her specialism. And that the specialist has been a specialist for some time and undergone a development as a specialist. Both actually broadening the specialist knowledge into something that could just as well have been described as generalism.

In other words, if someone is a specialist or a generalist is often just a matter of words – of which story you decide to tell about the one. As an example, Gandhi was a great specialist in non-violent opposition but he equally well could be described as a generalist of politics and country administration.

No specialist knows only one thing and no generalist knows all about everything.

But why are some people then so much focused on getting only specialist consultants?

For one, because they lack a sense of systems thinking. They do not see that every task involves multiple aspects of problem solving. When a plumber – in the eyes of some, being a specialist in plumbing – is installing something, like a new water tap, he/she needs to use spatial thinking for imaging the best way of drawing the tubes, temporal thinking in order to understand how to plan the work, material knowledge in order to know which kinds of metals can be combined and how, and lots of other skills and qualifications. It can easily end up with the fact that knowledge about water taps is the least of it all.

The plumber needs tons of skills, not just one. So a plumber is not by all standards a specialist. And even if this particular plumber in question is really just installing the same kind of water tap in the same kind of buildings, etc., maybe as part of a huge, life long building project, the plumber probably learned something more when being an apprentice. And for the major part of time, off-work, there are loads of things that the plumber could be doing, making him/her an expert in a thousand things.

In a modern work environment for most trades it is paramount that each and everyone involved can adapt to changes, as these are occurring on a permanent basis. Nothing will be done exactly like the last time, everything will need to be considered for the specific situation – and experience from different situations will come in handy, making a smooth transition from the old procedure to a new one possible.

We all know that, I assume, we just do not know that this requires a generalist. Because we do not think about it. I wrote earlier about how sharing thoughts requires thinking, and I can add to it that understanding and knowledge requires thinking too. Sticking to old dogmas will most likely help you find a specialist – which in your imagination immediately will be promoted to expert – and you might even believe for the rest of your life that no one else could have done the job.

You like such confidence in your own ability to find the right person for a job, and the more explicit you make the requirements for doing the job the easier it shows that you have found the exact right candidate – and should it turn out that the candidate fails to do the job in the way you wanted it, it was of course not due to you being too restrictive by demanding a too specialised person, no it was no doubt because the one was not the specialist he claimed to be.

This is one of those games we play – and one of the stories we like to tell each other – the one about being good at finding the right person, because we then obviously are being good at understanding our work and its needs. Hiring someone denoted as a generalist doesn’t give that same kind of satisfaction, since the one will do a lot of problem definition himself. So it will be his own earning that things go well – and then we are not able to take credit for it.

Another detail in this specialist vs. generalist consideration (a consideration many people do not have as they want only specialists for everything) is the question of how to even define a specialist: An example could be that Jane has 3 years of experience with Windows and is considered a Windows specialist. Joe also has 3 years of experience with Windows but then also 3 year of experience with Linux and 3 years of management experience. So Joe is not a Windows specialist? He might actually know more than Jane about the topic and has most likely been in situations where he needed to see Windows in a bigger context, maybe in relation to Linux and management.

The logic of wanting Jane instead of Joe for a Windows task is not quite easy to grasp but this is how many managers or recruiters prioritize. And so they do not get the best for the job.

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