Posts in Category: Strategy perspective

Managing complex structures – how complex?

Since many years I have been working in and with organizations which is suffering from increasing complexity. The problem is usually not the complexity in itself but the inability of the top management to acknowledge the current level and understand that this particular degree of complexity require a different set of methods and skills. It is most likely so that it is meaningless to talk about management as one area of expertise for all these levels of complexity, uncertainty and self regulation we see in organizations today.

One of my problems have been to find a way to talk about different levels of complexity in organizations in a way that a management team understand. Sometime around 1996-97 I had the idea of mapping all mail conversations to provide us with a pretty good view of what was happening in the company at a certain time. I didn’t succeed in convincing anyone that this was a good idea and since I had a limited budget the idea was scrapped.

From a completely different area comes images the call structure from a Linux system in comparison to the call structure from a Windows system as an argument Windows being much harder to secure than Linux:
» Why Windows is less secure than Linux | Threat Chaos |

The Linux system looked like this:


and the Windows system looked like this:


Talking about images tell more than a thousand words! If you connect this concept to what is going on in the area of developing sociograms for different organizations you maybe could get an understanding for the complexity in the organization in a different way than before. Of course you could make a mathematical complexity analysis and find out a lot more of the system, but what I feel is needed is a social science theory and a taxonomy that says something about which methods and approaches are valid for different levels of complexity. I am talking pedagogy like e g

Another issue is of course tracking how complexity changes over time and how individuals manage to reduce the complexity in their immediate work situation and how the system emerges.

From a futurist perspective it would be interesting to assess in what state different organizational structures are. Which are in fact able to formulate a direction and move in that direction and which are not? Since I believe that horizontal organizing step by step becomes more effective and traditional vertical organization suffer from a flattening capability this could be another way of looking at the development over time.

This is probably connected to Dr Ichak Adizes ideas of organizational life cycles as well.

Where are the horizontal thinkers going? To the quality departments!!

There have been an interesting low intensity conversation about horizontal or complex thinking. (See e g Zenpundit post 1 and post 2, Enterprise Resilience blog post, Mapping Strategy blog post, Eide Neurolearning blog post as well as deeper analysis by Thomas P.M. Barnett. I believe this touch on a terribly important issue for the future: how do we allow people with these abilities to have an impact on the agenda of governments and big corporations

When deep technological change is making traditional hierarchical structures more of a rucksack hindering development, some people (including me) is arguing that the way forward is to reinvent the way we organize our society. Fundamental changes in prerequisites have happened before and we clearly see this happening again. If we are following the “organization instincts” as e g the Maya-culture have done before us, centralization, more efficient control and securing vertical borders seems to be the solution. This way leaders think they have a better control of the events, better be able to rearrange internal resources to places where they are most needed, and focus on solving the crucial problems. This strategy is known to work when the changes are limited and solvable by internal resources, but when the change is too big and the problems is inherent in the systems, which I argue, is the case, this strategy historically has been shown to be fatal. Instead of leading forward it will lead to rapid crystallization of existing structures which will most likely lead to a sever crash rather than a smooth transition. What you gain is a leader-imposed period of illusory stability in the period before the crash.

To avoid such a development we have to stepwise rearrange the internal of the organizations as well as changing direction and aspiration. I would argue that the key to that is to allow horizontally or complex thinking people reinvent the value creating processes around which the organization is built.

But where are these people today? What I suddenly realized the other week was that most of the horizontal thinkers in my vicinity, who are still employed by large organizations, have stepped away from their former paths. They are not even having positions in the top management teams which I would have suspected they should have reached by now. They are not even in places concerned with strategy, business intelligence or finance anymore. To my surprise they are all flocking in the QUALITY departments!

After thinking about it for a while the reasons are evident. A person working in a quality function is usually encouraged to

  • have a horizontal view of cross-functional processes and analyze these in order to improve the quality
  • engage in educating and talking to people all over the organization and make them understand the wider picture
  • define and improve structures rather than just following the existing ones in order to increase the quality
  • look outside the organization to find best practices on how to improve quality

In short: he or she is almost given a carte blanche to improve the inner structure of the organization, which if successful will render a lot of positive feedback, but he or she are not in a position to question the overall agenda. The quality function is sometimes called a strategic resource, but is by definition an operative function
Of course! They all are horizontal or complex (pattern matching) thinkers, which makes them very difficult to cope with in an increasingly vertically organized world. Don’t even think of allowing them into the board room. They would certainly wreak havoc by asking difficult questions and have new and innovative ideas about new directions, threatening to rock the boat and crash the illusion of stability.

I am afraid that the quality departments have turned out to be the perfect appendix for the horizontal crowd – the people who is the organization’s best hope of survival the next 10-20 years. We can only hope that these people will thrive and develop in order to in due course return to functions in the organization where they will provide the necessary horizontal and pattern matching capability to make a difference in the long term strategic thinking processes.

Maslow turned upside down?

Sometimes I feel like we all live in an upside down world. When preparing a lecture I suddenly saw something that could illustrate this. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs have been important for how social scientists and others have been looking at our society. If things really are upside down, why not try to turn the hierarchy of needs upside down as well and see what’s happening? (No, I do not have any deeper knowledge about the ideas behind the hierarchy or its current status in psychology…)
Somehow it sounds right to me that more and more people actually see the world this way. Mostly young people I believe, but it have been spreading for some time. Here we can refer to e g Anthony Giddens discussion about modernity…

Even if I saw this mostly as a fun experiment, it really made me think about how modern western societies are organized. They are built to support the lower levels of the Maslow hierarchy of needs (not the upside down version) which are believed to be the basic needs of the citizens.

Can it be so that the basic needs logic of the modern citizen in the western world have changed when the whole society have moved up the hierarchy?

I wonder if one of the major problems we have in our society today is that the largest group of the population have the needs of the two top levels of Maslow’s hierarchy? I am not saying that there doesn’t exist needs belonging to the lower levels as well, but the reasons for that may include that the democratic system fails to support the now basic needs of self-esteem and actualization? Instead the society’s most active, energetic and competent people search fulfillments of these needs elsewhere and most commonly in different activist groups or in spiritual or religious communities. Communities which in some cases are in harmony with the rest of the society, but sometimes in conflict with it. Regardless of which they are separate communities defining new visions, values and norms in parallel to the visions, values and norms which the democratic systems promote.

Google Trends – to search a search engine

Google have released a new fascinating and probably controversial tool onto the world: Google Trends. By simply letting users search directly in the meta-data some of the higher level patterns of what people search for is out of the box. If you e g search for “united states”, you get a list of regions from where this particular search is being done from. In this case most of the searches for “united states” have by far being done from inside US. Surprise!

It becomes more interesting when you get surprised over the answer. It took me just a couple of minutes to find results which made me wonder what Google Trends really shows. When searching for “sweden”, Nigeria surprisingly comes up first on the list. Why do Nigerians search that much for Sweden? I tried with countries like Norway, Denmark and Finland, and they themselves show up first on the lists of search origins.

Another peculiar thing that came up was when I searched for “system dynamics”, the greatest inquiring region by far was Iran. Why is that? Do Iranians have some special relation to system dynamics or are they just inclined to search the Internet about it?

The discussions about what search engine statistics really can tell you have now started. Especially since a tool like this sounds like it could be extremely valuable for different kinds of business and military intelligence.

To me as a forecaster the value of a tool like this is huge. The development of how people search for certain words can tell a lot, even if you have to be careful on how you interpret the results. Look for instance on the rise for interest in Wikipedia and compare it to the rise of the word blog. It becomes quite obvious that the word “wikipedia” since the middle of 2005 catches on faster than the word “blog”.

Easter Island history revised?

After having read Jared Diamond’s book Collapse, one of the stories of civilization collapse that sticks is the one about the people on Easter Island. I wrote about the book in futuramb blog in March last year (in Swedish). It is both puzzling and intriguing to ponder about what the people on Easter Island were thinking when they were cutting down the last tree throwing their civilization into starvation, civil war and cannibalism.

Two scientists are now presenting another theory on what actually happened. It is a far less dramatic and less long one and where rats were responsible for the deforestation and not the people.

[Carl] Lipo thinks the story of Easter Island’s civilization being responsible for its own demise might better reflect the psychological baggage of our own society than the archeological evidence.

Read the short article in LiveScience

Regardless if their theory holds, they really have a good point about how our own perspective and our own problems are ordering the way we look at the history.

CEO:s plans signals turbulence ahead?

Article in NetworkWorld says:

In an IBM survey of 765 CEOs and top executives, 65% said they plan to radically change their companies in the next two years in response to growing competitive and market pressures. But it won’t be easy: More than 80% stated that their organizations have not been very successful at managing change in the past.

When asked where the news ideas usually are coming from only 14% refers to internal R&D and 35% say that the greatest obstacles are the company culture and climate.

Two years ago the survey showed that cost cuts were in focus, now it is time to adapt to change and increase revenues.

What does this mean? To me this signals that there will be a lot of turbulence and maybe drastic structural changes coming on. Most of the companies will probably not be chopped in smaller pieces, which maybe would be the most effective way, but sewn together in new and more spectacular strategic partnerships. All for the purpose of change company culture and find new ideas from other organizations.

During this transition period (how long it will be…) the involved companies will probably be even more hesitant to hire new people. Increasing or maintained unemployment rates will follow.

Outsourcing will pick up speed, and not die since it is a managable way to change the company drastically from a strategic, or structural level i e the board level.

The gap between the strategic levels and the operational levels will increase even more because some people on the strategic level will in their frustration set up even more far fetched and disconnected visions and plans, which will be even more furiously thrown down the elevator shaft. All while people on the operational level will try to keep the company together. Those who are wiser than that will take the problem into their own hands and change the company on the level where they have power, at the structural level – read outsourcing and strategic partnerships.

All this because the companies in the western world are not capable of downsizing, or at least reframe the reality from being growth industries in a pretty stable and expanding world to become mature industries in a volatile world, which in many areas are not expanding at all any more. A world in which strategies of growth are applicable for only a few, and strategies of survival probably will be the new norm.

Worldchanging through images is getting focus again, and this time by using catchy videos.

I am usually teaching, talking and consulting around scenarios, and how they have the potential of changing the world. Go to the campaign site and look at the film! I think of the film Koyaanisqatsi and sequels directly…

From a methodological stand point I think it is interesting to compare these kinds of media arguments in the debate to the scenarios we usually produce as a result of an analytical process. Most of these scenarios doesn’t reach their audience since they don’t get the right shape and form. Media can be both suggestive and convincing. Why not meld these two forms together more?

Cartoon protests mirrored in the digital domain

As expected muslim hackers are active and mirroring the protest in the digital world. Roberto Preatoni from reports about and lists hundreds of sites been attacked, and the attacks seems to be continuing.

This is just a confirmation that the digital world is just another plattform for our social activities. I commented about this in my blog post The future of Internet is social re-organization where I also noted that wide spread catastrophs caused Internet connected people to organize and collaborate in new ways creating new adaptive and long lasting connections and structures. The enabling tools and platforms was the new social software like, wikis, wikipedia, blogs and rss.

The learning effect which could be seen from the catastrophs last year was that the learning from previous ad hoc efforts was that people were much faster in reacting and organizing the next time. The structures of wikis, blogs and people just re-awakened and slightly readjusted to support the next global rescue mission. The network shows that it is adaptive and learns all the time.

Regardless what the effects from these digital and analog protests from the Muslim world will be, we can be sure that the Muslim digital network of wikis, blogs and people will be better organized next time. In the digital connected society few activites can be repeated, they are instead dress rehearsals for the next event which is different but will be handled better of the learning network.

The nature of the Muhammed cartoon protests

It is scary to see the rapid upscaling of the Muhammed cartoon conflict. Especially since I commented on it in my blog the other day as a possible sign of an ongoing mental shift in the Middle East. My concern then was searching for the uncertainties affecting the future oil price. Now the mentality shift almost seems as a reality – and it seems that it could affect the world on a different level than the oil price.

There are questions suggesting there are invisible structures beneath the protests. How did people in the Middle East in surprisingly short time become so knowledgeable about Denmark that they know which flag to burn in public, but also apparently can produce Danish flags to burn? We could be seeing a reaction initiated by fundamentalistic muslims, but gradually turned into a smart mobs phenomenon where the communication channels between groups and individuals are instrumental in a spontaneous collective action. Different fundementalist groups are of course part of this but are by no means leading or controlling it any more. It is then a movement with a similar structure to e g the Anti-Globalization-movement but on a much bigger scale.

There are small signs that technology is playing a role in the events. The burning of the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus is said to have occured because of a rumour from Copenhagen saying that there have been circulating SMS-messages urging people to burn the Koran. Small, probably false, pieces of information, travels almost instantly from Copenhagen to Damascus which indirect ignited the embassy fire.

If we are seeing a smart mobs movement which don’t have one leader we will not be able to stop by just call somebody and say: “We surrender!”. It is then in essence a collectively orchestrated manifestation of feelings and beliefs on grass root level. The problem then is that there is a risk that whatever action you take the protests will increase in strength and attract more followers unless somebody pushes exactly the right button. This is highly unlikely since the problem is to know which button that is and there is a significant risk that you will fuel the protests rather than calming them down. If you look at these kind of self reinforcing systemic movements there are two basic ways of handling them:

  • Apologize (“make a poodle”) and lie down and do nothing until the movement runs out of steam
  • Disturb the communications between the different reinforcing factors

The sharp diplomatic protests from the Scandinavian governments against that Syria did let the burning of the embassy happen is exactly that kind of institutional reflex reactions that could fuel the protests rather than calming them down. It is however not the first time reactions on a diplomatic level causes unintentional and unexpexted harm to the public reactions.

Most organisations and institutions are usually very bad in managing these kind of public reactions, and it is especially difficult when the reactions cross national borders, i e outside of the infrastructural control of one governing organization.

Judging from the current situation it is very hard to understand how much potential energy the protest could gather, but they seems to spread extremely fast and are still growing.

Regardless of outcome this situation have already cause an irreversible shift in perspective when talking about the relations between the West and especially Europe and the Muslim world in the Middle East and South East Asia. Carl Bildt asks “Is the clash of civilizations here?” and I think it is really a valid question. Especially since the institutions and organizations involved in the crisis seems slow in understanding the nature of the protests.

How the West is reacting to the Muhammed cartoon protests

After reading articles and blogs about the protests I would argue that the West’s greatest enemy here is not the Islamic fundementalist movement but our own fundamental inability to understand that “common sense” is also a biased perspective. If you think common sense is a better, higher or more fundamental way of reasoning you are completely lost when confronted by a person or a group which thinks are claiming to have a more fundamental and true belief. A common sense and pragmatic down-to-earth perspective is very often blind when it comes to perceiving more symbolic or collective values.

Futurist Eamonn Kelly puts it like this when he write about weaknesses in the secular model in his new book Powerful Times: Rising to the Challenge of Our Uncertain World:

The complexity, connectedness and volatility of the world today require us to amplify our comfort with ambiguity, tolerance of difference, and openness to alternative interpretations.Yet our embedded forms of secular reasoning sometimes stand in the way of this. The secular world-view is built upon reason and “truth” discovered through scientific methods and debate. This rationalist model has little tolerance for ambiquity or doubt; indeed it tends to be structured around a crisp “either/or” logic through which ambiguities can be conclusively resolved one way or another.