Lean? I’d rather be Healthy!

I was talking to a friend the other day about Lean and Six Sigma and all that – and I felt I did not know the word “lean” – so I looked it up on synonym.com and this is what I found for the adjective:

Synonyms (Grouped by Similarity of Meaning) of adj lean
4 senses of lean

Sense 1:

thin (vs. fat), lean
anorexic, anorecticbony, cadaverous, emaciated, gaunt, haggard, pinched, skeletal, wasteddeep-eyed, hollow-eyed, sunken-eyedgangling, gangly, lankylank, spindlyrawbonedreedy, reedliketwiggy, twiglikescarecrowishscraggy, boney, scrawny, skinny, underweight, weedyshriveled, shrivelled, shrunken, withered, wizen, wizenedslender, slight, slim, svelteslender-waisted, slim-waisted, wasp-waistedspare, trimspindle-legged, spindle-shankedstringy, wirywisplike, wispy

Also See: ectomorphic; thin

Sense 2:

lean (vs. rich)

Sense 3:

lean, skimpy
insufficient (vs. sufficient), deficient

Sense 4:
unprofitable (vs. profitable)

And this got me thinking….How is it that we ascribe so many negative connotations to a single idea – anorexic, anorecticbony, cadaverous, emaciated, gaunt, haggard, pinched, skeletal, wasteddeep-eyed, hollow-eyed, sunken-eyedgangling, gangly, unprofitable……etc. etc.
Isn’t it time for a new word to describe what is, essentially, keeping an organisation healthy?  All better ideas for words and terms gratefully received!

Resolutions and Revolutions

It is the time of year that many of us make New Year’s Resolutions.  As the snows have melted and the weather has warmed, tiny spears of spring-green shoots from the bulbs that I planted in the Autumn are now starting to appear in the garden.

It is a time of the year to reflect on some of the natural cycles as we (in the Northern Hemisphere) move from shorter, darker days to longer, brighter days.  We also have the confluence of a New Political Cycle, a New Decade, a New Earth Year as well as many companies having New Financial Years.  The beginning of the current cycle is also probably one the most fundamental shifts that we have seen in a while – exacerbated by the very cold winter spells and financial crisis.  Some would see it as a the start of a revolution with the new coalition government (in the UK) which is set on decentralisation and localisation.

It is strange that the term “revolution” has become to be associated more with revolt than with revolving.  Yet the two ideas of revolution and resolution are inextricably linked.  Yet there is only one letter that is different in each word and that one letter changes everything:

From my own point of view, I have one New Year’s Resolution: I have resolved to reduce my body weight.  Nothing new there, you might say!  After the excessive eating I have done over the holiday period, I now weigh more than I have ever done.  The position is  unsustainable and I have now decided to go on a diet.  But a diet with a difference.  Actually, I prefer to call it conscious living, rather than dieting.

I have downloaded this great application onto my i-Phone called My Fitness Pal (www.myfitnesspal.com) and I am already shedding pounds – just by being conscious about (and recording) everything I eat in the day.

So by becoming conscious of the food we eat (and where it comes from), we can really make a difference – one letter at a time.

In a sense, mankind weighs more on the planet than it has ever done:

  • More people on the planet than history has ever seen
  • More consumption of raw materials (especially oil)
  • More overweight people than we have ever seen
  • More pressures of financial debt than we have seen in several ifetimes

Perhaps it is time for us all to start living more consciously…

Perhaps this is the start of the real revolution….

Anyway, the good thing about the beginning (and end) of any new year is that it makes you think…


Assange, Argyris and Aristotle

At the end of the week where Julian Assange was locked up and everyone has been commenting on the value (or threat) of Wikileaks, I thought I would reflect on what I see is going on here.

Assange is a deep thinker – perhaps even an Autistic Savant.

In researching the subject I came across a quote which summarises what Assange is trying to do with Wikileaks (from piece of writing (via) (via):

“To radically shift regime behavior we must think clearly and boldly for if we have learned anything, it is that regimes do not want to be changed. We must think beyond those who have gone before us, and discover technological changes that embolden us with ways to act in which our forebears could not. Firstly we must understand what aspect of government or neocorporatist behavior we wish to change or remove. Secondly we must develop a way of thinking about this behavior that is strong enough carry us through the mire of politically distorted language, and into a position of clarity. Finally must use these insights to inspire within us and others a course of ennobling, and effective action.”

Julian Assange, “State and Terrorist Conspiracies”

It struck me that Julian Assange’s reasoning above was very similar to some of the ideas of another great thinker of our time – Chris Argyris.

I often use Argyris’ ideas (particularly single loop and double loop learning) in the work that I do – and I know that they have helped many others in creating effective change over the past fifty or so years.

For those who are interested, there is a good summary of Argyris’ work HERE.

Basically, Argyris outlines two two models – Model I (Single Loop Learning Organisation) and Model II (Double Loop Learning Organisation) to highlight the potential for organisational learning:

The governing Values of Model I (Single Loop Learning) are:

Achieve the purpose as the actor (or boss) defines it

Win, do not lose

Suppress negative feelings

Emphasise rationality

Primary Strategies are:

Control environment and task unilaterally

Protect self and others unilaterally

Usually operationalised by:

Unillustrated attributions and evaluations e.g.. “You seem unmotivated”

Advocating courses of action which discourage inquiry e.g.. “Lets not talk about the past, that’s over.”

Treating ones’ own views as obviously correct

Making covert attributions and evaluations

Face-saving moves such as leaving potentially embarrassing facts unstated

Consequences include:

Defensive relationships

Low freedom of choice

Reduced production of valid information

Little public testing of ideas

Most of the larger organisations that I consult with exhibit many, if not most of these Model I  characteristics and I am sure that most governments around the world are not that much different.  It is not unsurprising, therefore, that the current concerns over the latest Wikileaks are clouded in language that is imprecise and have overtones of Julian Assange being a “traitor” as well as the actions of Wikileaks being seen to be threatening to existing command and control establishments.

Aristotle had a similar set of ideas in his ethics.

He differentiated between technical thinking and practical thinking and the similarities with Argyris and Schön are striking…

In the article (Aristotle’s Etihcs) the two types of thinking are described:

“The former (technical thinking) involves following routines and some sort of preset plan – and is both less risky for the individual and the organization, and affords greater control.

The latter (practical thinking) is more creative and reflexive, and involves consideration notions of the good. Reflection here is more fundamental: the basic assumptions behind ideas or policies are confronted… hypotheses are publicly tested… processes are disconfirmable not self-seeking….”

So, in one sense, the Wikileaks drama is acting-out an age-old problem: How can we rise above the inadequacies of what Aristotle called technical thinking within an organisational system and encourage more “practical (or ethical) thinking”.  This is what Argyris called the attributes of Model I organisations and what Assange calls the aspect(s) of government or neocorporatist behavior we wish to change or remove”.

Aristotle’s view was that the development of “practical wisdom” cannot be acquired solely by learning general rules.  We must also acquire, through practice, those deliberative, emotional, and social skills that enable us to put our general understanding of well-being into practice in ways that are suitable to each occasion.

Interesting.  Try and explain those ideas to someone with autism…

So enough of the analysis.  What makes an effective learning organisation?

Argyris cites the following attributes for a Model II organisation:

The governing values of Model II (Double Loop Learning) include:

Valid information

Free and informed choice

Internal commitment

Strategies include:

Sharing control

Participation in design and implementation of action

Operationalised by:

Attribution and evaluation illustrated with relatively directly observable data

Surfacing conflicting view

Encouraging public testing of evaluations

Consequences should include:

Minimally defensive relationships

High freedom of choice

Increased likelihood of double-loop learning

Which brings us back to Julian Assange and Wikileaks.  It is clear, for me, that Assange’s has developed a reasoned approach to changing the attributes of what might be called Big Government and Big Business.  The main question for me, is, could he be more effective?  Has he created his own Model I organisation to effect the changes he outlines he wants to achieve?  Or is Wikileaks a new model II organisation for journalism that uses the internet to help change the belief  system of the organisations that information is leaked about?

Argyris & Schön (Argyris, C., & Schön, D. (1978) Organizational learning: A theory of action perspective, Reading, Mass: Addison Wesley) say that change only comes through a collaboration between the change agent or interventionist and the Model 1 organisation.  They suggests moving through six phases of work:

Phase 1 Mapping the problem as clients see it. This includes the factors and relationships that define the problem, and the relationship with the living systems of the organisation.
Phase 2 The internalization of the map by clients. Through inquiry and confrontation the interventionists work with clients to develop a map for which clients can accept responsibility. However, it also needs to be comprehensive.
Phase 3 Test the model. This involves looking at what ‘testable predictions’ can be derived from the map – and looking to practice and history to see if the predictions stand up. If they do not, the map has to be modified.
Phase 4 Invent solutions to the problem and simulate them to explore their possible impact.
Phase 5 Produce the intervention.
Phase 6 Study the impact. This allows for the correction of errors as well as generating knowledge for future designs. If things work well under the conditions specified by the model, then the map is not disconfirmed.


Given that most of the work that I do is, in one way or another, trying to deliver  effective (and collaborative) change, I wonder whether the latest developments in the Wikileaks drama will become the most effective way to use modern internet technology to bring about the changes so vitally needed in this world to challenge the corruption, waste and continuation of so many Model I organisations…..

…….or whether there is another, better, more effective internet-based Type II model which creates a collaboration between the change agents and the Model I organisations to make the change happen more quickly and effectively….

I suppose only time (and more thinking and action) will tell……

Makes you think, anyway!


The Power of Systems Thinking

I spent yesterday at Vanguard Consulting’s Leaders Summit on Systems Thinking.  John Seddon chaired the day brilliantly, with eight case studies on Systems Thinking.  It is not really systems thinking the way that Peter Senge created – it is more a method for improving service organisations – with roots in Demming and Taichi Ohno (the master behind the Toyota Production System).

It is difficult to describe each of the cases in such a small space, but one animated video was shown to everyone by Advice UK that is fun to watch and gives a real-life example of Systems Thinking as applied to the public sector.  Enjoy!

It is so important that we get more organisations both understanding and using these ideas and I will be digging deeper into John Seddon’s work in later posts.