Experience and environment shapes our attitudes, beliefs and knowledge base. So I need to share a wee bit about my background as it has everything to do with the following.
I’m a private sector / education hybrid, and I’ve been in diverse roles in both worlds. “People and process improvement practitioner” is a fitting byline. While I love playing around with cool theories, I’m proud that I’ve earned that last “p” in the eyes of my peers. And I’ve had a blast on this journey of many winding paths that have somehow merged into one big superhighway.
I died and went to heaven when Senge came out with the Fifth Discipline, especially Vol. II, the Fieldbook for practitioners. It expanded my world view as well as my personal purpose and goals. It’s been one gigantic “AHA” moment that I’ve tried to break down into digestible chunks here.
The AHA’s that follow are universally relevant Indisputable Truths. At least I think so.
After I finished writing this, another “AHA” came along…I make a big deal out of personal values—each of our non-negotiable beliefs. These AHA’s should be an important part of my personal beliefs system. Going back through them, that’s a correct assessment.
Learning new stuff is one of my long-time core values. I hope it’s not a personality disorder, but I am into a whole lot of different things. Thankfully, by finally understanding the systems view they are all part of one big story. I’ve been writing lately about education and social improvement, but the essays still have manufacturing roots. Sometimes I’ll call out those connections, but other times they must be discovered by you. But they’re there. Best practices come from unlikely sources. Benchmark everything and shamelessly steal what you can put to good use (another Universal Truth?)
Are You On the Bus, or Off the Bus?
This “on the bus” thing is not in the same context as Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters and their infamous adventures on Further the Magic Bus. Our bus has left the bus stop and those who are on board are having a ball. Others were just a little late, they’re running behind the bus trying desperately to catch the driver’s attention but to no avail. Still others are sitting patiently on the bus stop bench, waiting for another bus that may or may not come. A few folks are clueless there’s even a bus, they’re nose-down searching for Pokemon. Right off the cliff….
A Few of My Indisputable Truths—What Are Yours?
What’s the priority order? Not sure, because they’re part of one big system. Each impacts the others and point of entry is beside the point. Dig into the relationships and feel free to make up your own connections and add your own Indisputable Truths—that’s half the fun.
Profound Knowledge and Systems Thinking. From the Deming Institute: Dr. Deming ….defined a system as a network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish the aim of the system. The aim for any system should be that everybody gains, not one part of the system at the expense of any other. In a business context this includes shareholders, customers, suppliers, employees, the community and the environment. (Google “Deming Institute profound knowledge” for the Tolstoy version)
I was already a long-time Deming fan, but his System of Profound Knowledge struck a nerve with me. Then Peter Senge really got me going with his popularization of systems thinking in the Fifth Discipline. What really hooked me was that all that was so contrary to operations managers’ obsession over production-first starting with Taylor’s scientific management, which broke down a process into the most basic repetitive, mind-numbing tasks possible, all in the interest of high volume mass production.
The reinforcing loop diagram below is one example of a system where everything is connected, and all the seemingly isolated components impact one another. We must better understand the interrelationships and the nature of often-hidden impacts if we are to truly resolve our issues.
Process is Process– they all run (or don’t run) by the same basic rules and constraints. My output is someone’s input–my customer. Customer expectations rule. Customers reward suppliers that meet their needs and expectations, and punish those that do not. Basic market-driven economics.
Continuous Improvement is not an option. If you don’t continuously get better customers…and life…pass you by and doesn’t look back. No growth leads to stagnation > atrophy > death. This applies to work processes, meeting expectations, personal growth and lifelong learning.
To Understand It Break It Down, Put It Back Together. Soldiers’ lives depend on knowing their weapon. They learn very early to break it down and put it back together to understand each little component in the context of the entire weapon, and understand the larger, interrelated system. But that’s too much work, right? You have more important stuff to do, right?
If you don’t reach that deep level of understanding, you’ll be continuously putting out the same fires. You may think they’re out, but the embers will smolder and eventually burst back into flames.
Address Root Cause. My favorite “duh” expression: “I know how to fix this. I’ve dealt with it bunches of times before.” Really? You evidently haven’t really accomplished much, have you?
People are People. Young and old, we’re driven by the same basic needs and hold the same human values…at least we all start out at the same place until our unique environments start messing with our humanity. It stands to reason that since we’re all driven by the same things….
“People are People” Applies Globally. No religion, race, ethnicity or nationality is different enough that it’s worth shunning, hurting or killing each other. One race: Humanity. One citizenship: Planet Earth.
Engagement is Engagement. Engagement addresses human needs and appeals to basic human values, with a tweak: what engages me is driven by those values that are most important to me and by my purpose in life, whether I’m aware of them or they’re lurking in the shadows. So engagement works for those who have not been totally led astray from the basic needs and values package. Here’s the payback: emotional well-being -> reduced stress levels -> physical well-being -> a healthier, longer, more satisfying life. Solid enough WIIFM for you?
Have you taken the time and effort to identify and really understand your personal values? Do you have a clear purpose in life? What you don’t know can kill you before your time is up.
Engagement Theory is Universally Relevant. Why do we suboptimize its potential by limiting engagement to the workplace? Except for a few minor cultural differences, Rules of Engagement cross all geographic and demographic boundaries. See “Time to Re-think Engagement” especially the Universal Attributes section.
People Before Process. Well-adjusted, satisfied people perform better–young learners, adults, citizens. Ignore personal needs and you’ll never realize the highest possible achievement levels or resolve process issues and achieve those precious desired results. Not long-term. Well-adjusted young people and parents have stronger family relationships.
Well-adjusted students achieve higher academic goals. Well-adjusted workers give their employers maximum effort and deliver maximum results. Well-adjusted citizens freely give their all to community betterment.
Still, we’re obsessed with demanding that people do their stuff as efficiently as possible with little concern for the human issues. We’re really missing the boat on this one….
I Determine Social Norms, Shape Culture. Our individual values and beliefs systems are shaped by our environment and experiences. And social norms emerge from the collective of individual beliefs systems and individual values when they are shared by enough people. Notice the loop?
This means norms can be intentionally shaped, if a large enough group of individuals has common values and beliefs taught to them and continuously reinforced. Manipulative? Yes, if the wrong norms are promoted for the wrong reasons. Safeguard: people will resist a mismatch!
Current State: politely, our social norms, collective values and beliefs are anemic. We’ve had a systemic diluting of the influence held by the institutions that once drove norms: education, religion, family. Without some kind of central direction there is moral chaos and anarchy, with the strongest-willed person or power cartel taking control. We’re there right now.
Bullying is Bullying whether kids or adults, power corporations and governments. Grabbing all the power they can, picking on other allegedly weaker or inferior players…bullying is a finely honed weapon, a slimy art form, a highly destructive force. We will never effectively address bullying at any level until we attack the anemic norms and non-values that make it “OK” to bully.
Stewardship is Serious Business. “As a human being I acknowledge that my well-being depends on others, and caring for others’ well-being is a moral responsibility I take seriously.” If the Dalai Llama buys it, stewardship is good enough for me….
Stewardship used to be all that, the hippest of the hip leadership trends. But it’s faded from view. Stewardship must become a shared human value, and not just a trait owned by leaders. We must all be stewards first and foremost, taking guardianship of our future seriously.
I pledge allegiance to the earth and all the life which it supports. One planet, in our care, irreplaceable With sustenance and respect for all.
Stewardship of others and stewardship of this planet that is (so far) allowing us to exist is a survival issue of the highest order. Humanity is unsustainable without stewardship NOW. If we don’t kill each other off first, Mother Earth will eventually get tired of our crap and evict us. And it won’t be homelessness but extinction. Argue the point, please. It may help me feel better about our chances if we don’t take a radical course of action. But I doubt it.
A Few To-Do’s
Based on my values, beliefs system and these indisputable truths, here are a few things I am focused on. It’s tempting to stretch for that one silver bullet that encompasses all. My one all-consuming project right now is promising in that respect. But the hugeness is daunting, so I need to break it down and put it back together again, to understand all the moving parts. Then, find the engagement levers that will recruit champions to the cause. Working on it!
- Educators: understand and meet the needs of customers in the marketplace. Employers, communities, students, parents: what are their expectations? Don’t treat them like they are captive consumers of your product—graduates—just because they are.
- Flip priority from process / doing stuff to people. Proven over and over, if you don’t tend to people issues first, you’ll never achieve maximum performance and results. It starts with kids in school, continues to the workplace and community—all ages, all stakeholders.
- Leverage the power of engagement systemically. Engagement boosts performance. Piecemeal efforts suboptimize engagement’s potential. Applications: young students and adult employees—and not just in school and the workplace, but social and community engagement as well. And don’t forget seniors. This is a universal, global opportunity!
- We need systems thinkers. Understand process–what’s upstream and downstream, not just what you do. Understand how your process interacts with others (the diagram is an example). Systems thinking makes sense even for young learners.
- Rediscover Our Humanity. Stewardship, acceptance and inclusion, purpose and values must be ingrained across the board. It’s not so difficult because it’s human nature, the way it’s supposed to be. We must reconnect with our selves, others, our planet.
If you’re not familiar with NCIS Agent Gibbs’ Rules, here’s Rule #1: “there’s always more rules”. And Rule #2: “every rule has exceptions.” Enough for now, except for those you add.
Here’s an example of a reinforcing loop, one of the building blocks of systems thinking.
Remove “Young” from the top box to supercharge the loop