Vol. 5, No. 8
Then, Isaac Newton constructed his mechanics on the view that the material world could be understood as a multitude of different objects assembled into a huge machine (Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics, Boston: Shambala Publications, Inc., 1991). Scientific method, derived from the work of these men, was popularized by W. Edwards Deming as the Shewhart cycle: Plan, do, study, act (PDSA). Dozens of 7-Step processes for problem-solving have made scientific method the default mode of getting almost anything done. In general, the idea is to take things apart, find the "root" of the problem, fix it, put it back together. The Six Sigma DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control) process is but one derivation of this 400-year old approach to learning and improvement.
This kind of thinking is also the basis for how organizations and institutions are designed and operated. They look like pyramids, with all the power and knowledge concentrated at the top. Detailed rules and instructions for how things are done are also created at the top, and then passed down through the "chain of command." Using a biological metaphor the "head" of the organization or the "brains" of the outfit represent this order, while the workers are the helping hands.
The "new" science, however, operates from an entirely different set of beliefs and assumptions. Its ideas are referred to in the business press as "systems thinking." More and more, even popular literature will refer to some aspect of the new science ° chaos, complexity, self-organization or emergence. These ideas turn scientific method on its head. Rather than focusing on separate and distinct parts, the new science focuses on whole systems, which are a result of the interactions of the parts. And for its lessons, it turns to what we know about how nature works, how it creates newness and novelty. It doesn't force things into being; it evolves and grows them, slowly over time ° and sometimes with great leaps of creativity.
In organizations that are designed from these assumptions ° admittedly, these organizations are few and far between ° knowledge is widely distributed throughout the system, people closest to the work get together to agree on how they'll operate and get things done, and cooperation, rather than command and control, is the order of the day. They create conditions that bring forth the best in people, that allow for innovation and inspiration. The organizations can still thrive and adapt in rapidly changing environments.
So, the question is: Given the "new" science, do PDSA and DMAIC still have a role in learning and improvement? Of course they do. It would be hard to get along without ways of finding, diagnosing, and fixing problems in repetitive, mechanical processes. Even human systems would be in deep trouble if scientists weren't able to diagnose ailments, detect the miniscule and mysterious bacteria that cause disease, and find solutions to combat them in our bodies.
The point, though, is that these "take it apart and fix it" processes are not the only way. And when we try to use these same methods when they are not appropriate we get into trouble. The most damaging example of this is in trying to change the culture or character of an organization or institution, which is more than anything a process of changing people's hearts and minds. Sorry to say, you can't change people's minds through command and control. Is that what we've been trying to do in the quality movement and with Six Sigma efforts? Trying to get participative, democratic organizations using coercive methods?
If so ° and you don't need to agree with my judgment here ° is there a better way? What beliefs and assumptions would be a good place to start with? And what might a 7-Step process look like if we were trying for cultural or social change in our organizations based on different beliefs and assumptions? Here's one for you to consider, offered by my wife Carole to help people start social change movements.
1: Set your intentions in motion
2: Build simple things first
3: Replicate what's working
4: Make what you're learning explicit
Create the opportunity for the people involved to form "communities of practice," a social form invented by sociologist Etienne Wenger, for the purpose of generating and distributing new knowledge. These communities demonstrate that it is natural for people to seek out those who have knowledge and experience that they need. As people find each other and exchange ideas, good relationships develop and a community forms. This community becomes a rich marketplace where knowledge and experience are shared. It also becomes an incubator where new knowledge, skills, and competencies develop.
5: Leap across boundaries
So figure out how to get out there and share what you're doing and what you're learning. Opportunities abound. Write an article, create a website, make a weblog, take out an ad in the newspaper, write a letter to the editor, join an association, make a presentation at a conference, write a book, go on the speaking circuit, add your story to one of a growing number of websites and portals where social change activists and practitioners are making online "coworlds."
Ride the wave
Keep the faith
If we believe that aspects of our culture are killing us, then we humans can make up a new set of beliefs, assumptions and values that will produce a different cultureĐin the organization or in the world.
Think about it. As always, I'd love to hear from you.I’m at email@example.com
Copyright 2003 PQ Systems.
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