Sunday, May 18, 2008

Human elements and systems

We can theoretically create the most "perfect" and well-designed "system", having thought through every detail and with clearly laid plans for balancing efficiency and equity, for fair process, for measuring goals and targets, for ensuring accountability, and for clear and transparent budgeting.

Such a mechanical "system", however, misses two important points: (a) that it is impossible to predict what new opportunities and threats might "emerge" and that an ordered sytstem often lacks the nimbleness and flexibility to respond to such emergence; and (b) that no system, involving human beings, ever works without some powerful element of human nature - survival instinct, curiousity, greed, altruism, passion, vested interest, fear, hope, love, hate; system designers don't often take this into account as most of the science of system development originates from the study of machines.

"Systems" to deal with complex dynamic human situations need to: (a) embrace continuous, ongoing, adaptive planning and not predefined "plans"; (b) build in incentives and processes to tap the powerful human elements in a constructive manner; (c) be flexible to accomodate differing interests and to suit a variety of circumstances and situations, even if that means lack of uniformity; (d) promote productivity as the ultimate measure of accountability; and (e) promote emotional maturity within teams so that people can align self-interests to larger goals, and learn to give and take, very largely avoiding uncompromising "zero-sum" situations.

To believe that we can plan, predict, and control the future means that we are still in the realm of static mechanistic systems. To believe that there is nothing we can plan, predict, or control about the future is falling back to the fatalism of primordial civilization. To accept that some realities are unchangeable or undefathomable, but that it is possible to change much at the margins by paying attention to emergence and timing is what leadership in complex dynamics systems is all about.

Leadership in complex adaptive systems requires the resilience and emotional intelligence to accept the 'chaos' and elements inherent in human endeavours and to harness its enormous powers in a constructive way. Ultimately, it is all about non-zero-sum dynamics - where one person's win need not be another person's loss, at least in the long-run.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Intuition vs rationality

"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." - Albert Einstein

Enhancing creativity in organizations

Creativity is a counter-intutive and disruptive process, and the environment and processes that promote it are often at odds with organizational thinking. At its heart, creativity is not about efficiency, and not about order and stability. Creativity is a process that leads to unidentified new ideas and/or new processes, and is about continuously challenging norms.

Creativity thrives when the environment is permissive and supportive of the following:

1. Free unihibited thinking, continuous exhange of information and ideas, vigorous interactions of ideas among people, and a feeling of "safe space" for idea generation.

2. Ideas are allowed to be generated without fear of being wrong or being judged as good or bad. There are no "Sacred Cows" and everything is fair game.

3. The process of ideas generation is separate from the process of decision-making.

4. The idea generation phase is not overly structured or institutionalized.

5. A sense of child-like fun is promoted.

6. When connections across seemingly unrelated issues and disciplines are faciliated.

7. When it is perfectly acceptable to allow "failures". In fact, failures should be actively rewarded, if creativity is to be promoted.

The bottom-line is that the best predictor of high quality ideas is high quantity of ideas. Besides, we have no clue about what great idea is going to emerge and how.

"Systems" that desire to plan and control are suitable for implemention and for gradualism. If organizations wish to "leap frog" into the future and/or desire to find new counter-intutive ways of confronting the future, they need to actively recruit disruptive innovators and create a permissive and less-rule-bound environment that encourages and supports these rare free spirits.

In general, free spirits have no agenda other than to be free spirits and to enjoy ideas, and to see them grow and thrive.