The other day, at the end of my seminar on “Solving Complex Engineering Problems” a delegate asked me as to whether the entire process of solving complex problems can be automated in some way by means of a software instead of relying on human creativity.
Such a response wasn’t unexpected. In the corporate world the word “creativity” is often looked at with suspicion. They would rather prefer structured and standard approaches like “brainstorming” at 10.00 am sharp or team work or collaborative effort, which in my opinion do little to help anyone solve complex problems or even address complex problems correctly.
That might be the single most important reason why “complex problems” remain unresolved for years affecting profitability and long term sustenance of an organization. Failing to resolve complex problems for years often earns such problems the sobriquet of “wicked problems”, which means that such problems are too tough for “any expert” to come to grips with.
What they sadly miss out is the role of creativity in solving complex problems, which no automation or technology can ever replicate. They miss this because most organizations systemically smother or mercilessly boot out any remnant of creativity in their people since they think that it is always easier to control and manage a regimented workforce devoid of even elementary traces of creativity.
So, is managing creativity and creative people a messy affair? On the surface it seems so. This is simply because we generally have a vague idea of what drives, inspires and really sustains creativity?
Creativity is not about wearing hair long or wearing weird clothes, singing strange tunes, coming to office late and being rude to bosses for no apparent reasons. These things hardly make anyone creative or help anyone become a more creative person.
Actually, things like “being attentive and aware”, “sensitive”, “passionate”, “concerned”, “committed” and above all “inventive” just might be the necessary ingredients to drive, inspire and sustain creativity.
Though there are many ways of describing and defining creativity what I like best is – “creativity is the expression of one’s understanding and expression of oneself” – deeper the understanding better the expression of creativity.
When we look at creativity in this manner it is obvious that we are all creative though the expression and its fidelity might vary to a great extent. Clearly, some are simply better than others.
Further, if creativity may be thought about as a process, then the inputs and the clarity of understanding of ourselves are more valuable elements of the system than the outputs that the process anyway consistently churns out (remember the uncountable hours we spent in organization meeting, discussing and brainstorming to solve complex problems).
In these days of economic depressions, organizations can really do themselves a huge favor if only they pay more attention to facilitating such inputs to people rather than get overtly worried about control and management by conformity.
As a student of Class III, my attention was more than riveted to a picture of a bird bath in my science book. I imagined: only if I could make one like that I would attract different birds to my bird bath. I would not only delight myself viewing a variety of birds but also help them in a way by offering them food to merrily feed on. During the mild winters of Kolkata, migratory birds flock to the city from distant lands making it a very colorful event. Only an insensitive person would care not to notice and enjoy such an event in the city.
So, I designed a simple bird bath made out of a discarded pan lying in my mother’s store. I fixed a sturdy base plate and filled it up with water. Then I planted some grass and kept in our courtyard. That evening I came back from school with great expectant excitement to see birds flocking to my ‘bird bath.’ Unfortunately, when I saw none, my heart sank.
Thinking that I haven’t quite rightly placed the bird bath; I placed the bird bath on the top of a water reservoir at the back yard of our house. But still no bird arrived. This time, however, I thought of enticing them by placing some grains on the base of the bath, for them to feed on. Rushing back from school, I ran to the backyard only to find that my bird bath wasn’t visited at all by any of my feathered friends. The food was left untouched.
Though disappointed, I did not give up. Thinking that my beautiful bird bath wasn’t quite visible to attract birds, I painted it with some bright yellow color from my paint box. Still no birds arrived.
Then I again re-located the bird bath. This time, I placed it on a wall that hedged our courtyard from that of our neighbors. Lo and behold! birds flocked the place and happily twitted and chirped as they plunged in my bird bath; picking on the grains. It was a loud flock and a grand delightful sight to sink in.
But fair to say, I did not have an inkling of why birds chose to visit that place in preference to other places I tried out, which I thought were safer places for them to play and rest for a while.
Yesterday, I visited a small restaurant in our locality. The owner, Ganesh, was a chef of a more well know chain of restaurants in the city. He was known to me since I often visited his place along with my friends for an occasional cup of coffee with delicious peppered mushroom and baby corn salad and sandwiches. He was an excellent chef and turned out terrific dishes to relish. But what I liked about him most was his insatiable desire to take feedback about his dishes once I have had a few nibbles. He would then stand by to explain how he made this sauce or that and what went into making the ‘garlic fish’ which is one of my favorites. One day, we just came across each other in the local fish market where after exchanging usual pleasantries he informed me that he has had opened a small ‘take out’ or ‘sit in’ shop in a corner of our locality. Before saying goodbye, Ganesh politely asked me to drop in some time.
As I savored the Chinese meal he dished out and enjoyed the company of a special friend who accompanied me, I noticed a glitzy eating joint, promising the most mouth-watering gourmet dishes, right across the busy road; just opposite to Ganesh’s small makeshift one. The shop was very well designed. Through its wide clear glasses I could feel the lights were just right for any romantic date and the place proudly flaunted a cosy ambience. However, for the two hours of the rather lazy afternoon I spent at Ganesh’s, I just did not see any customer step in the well designed shop; while all along, customers just kept pouring in Ganesh’s improvised family run shop; keeping it animated.
That reminded me of the story of my bird bath.
Even with the most well-intentioned designs, we are never quite sure whether birds or humans would drop by – or whether a desired exchange would take place or not.
We are never quite sure.
Nadella is the now the new CEO of Microsoft. He replaces Ballmer who would be on the board of Microsoft with around 4% of its shares. Gates would now play a more active role in Microsoft by giving one third of his time. From 2008 Gates wasn’t involved in the day to day operation of the company. But now he would be involved. So Microsoft has one new CEO and two former CEOs on the board. This effectively means that the new CEO Nadella, would not only manage the company but also manage two of his former bosses.
The question is whether Microsoft would be better off with this structure?
What might be the Nemetic point of view?
To understand this let us assume for the moment that five top executives would now report to Nadella. Few weeks back the same executives were reporting to Ballmer.
Let us assume Ballmer and his subordinates were connected by strings/springs having equal stiffness of say, k (spring constant).
Now with the new CEO coming in, the same executives would be connected to both the new CEO and the previous CEO.
Let us further assume that the loyalty of the executives to both Nadella and Ballmer would be divided equally.
This means that the springs that connected Ballmer to the executives would have to be cut into two halves to form two springs. One half would be connected to Ballmer while the other half would be connected to Nadella.
So, the new spring constant for each half would now be equal to 2K.
This means the stiffness of the organization would quadruple .
This also means that the resonant frequency of the organization would increase by a factor of 2 times. So it would be now be more difficult for the organization to come into resonance or vibrate with the least effort.
With the new structural arrangements it also means that the force required to move the organization to resonance would simply increase by two times. It simply means that more effort would be needed to move things around the organization. Seen another way it informs us that the organization would lose its agility to stay relevant in a fast changing market place.
On the whole, Microsoft would tend to become more rigid. It would take more effort to make things happen within the organization. Effectively the organization would compromise on agility and resilience.
Therefore, from the Nemetic analysis, the new management structural design is not a good one and might not help Microsoft to be better off, both in the short and long term.
However, only time would tell whether the analysis is correct or not. Possibly in the next six months trends would be clear.
This is a video conversation between John Hagel III and John Seely Brown talking about negotiating fast paced changes in today’s world that does not even blink to throw surprises at us on a daily basis. They suggest that we look at underlying structures, sense changes and respond as best as we may. Great advice.
However, the Nemetic perspective about this phenomenon is similar yet different.
In Nemetics, the ‘ripples’ are events both helpful and unhelpful, that happen spontaneously. Such events are called R waves. Leaders need not focus much on such events to fix them but it is necessary to take note of those since R waves are just symptoms of deeper truths waiting to be uncovered.
The underlying structure that creates such ripples of the R wave is the G wave that denotes ‘behavior’. Leaders also need not focus too attentively on the G wave but take note of that too. This is because it is the best place to capture ‘signals’ to detect incipient traces of R wave events taking birth.
And the underlying theme that modulates G wave is the B wave, which stands for things like intention, management consciousness and public consciousness manifested as design, policies, rules, guidelines, etc. It is the source of all the energy that flows through any system causing it to evolve over time within authentic and/or inauthentic constraints. So, it is the B wave that calls for intense leadership focus. It is here that dramatic and long lasting changes can be brought about through minimal and effortless design interventions.
RGB is the Nemetic view of leadership to negotiate complexity.
“Industrial production contracted for the second consecutive month, falling 2.1% in November, as manufacturing activity slumped, raising concerns of a prolonged slowdown. …
While mining and electricity managed to stay in positive territory a 3.5% decline in manufacturing output meant that the overall index of industrial production stayed in the red….
What will come as a bigger worry is that compared to October 2013, production across factories and power utilities was lower in November, resulting in a month-on-month decline in IIP. …
This reinforces the belief that fall in manufacturing growth has not yet bottomed out. Urgent and fresh thoughts are required to boost manufacturing, without which the jobs potential here will remain depressed — FICCI president Sidharth Birla said in a statement….”
Times of India, Kolkata edition, Saturday, January 11, 2014
However, as I see it, manufacturing in India and possibly in other countries too, would never be the same. No longer it would be about growth. No longer it would be about scaling up and mass scale automation. No longer it would be about maximizing production. It is quite clear that the earlier ways, models and management would no longer work well.
I guess it would be about:
– flexibility of meeting varying demands
– anticipation of demands to tune logistics and delivery
– simulation to frame strategies
– resilience to meet unpredictable circumstances with courage and fortitude
– innovation in every sphere of work extending to ‘daily management’.
– IT support to handle complexity
– higher discernment of management with regards to policies, rules and engaging people
– higher wages for workers
– easier but nuanced jobs that may only be done by people who are able to feel and ‘see’ their way through complex work.
The idea of Daily Management runs deep in any organization.
Most top managers believe that some amount of routine work must be performed to keep the organization running. At times, the attitude is ‘more the better’. And everyone must be loaded with some routine jobs to be done on a daily basis.
The belief is so strong that ‘Daily Management’ is institutionalized in forms of check sheets, various forms, ledgers, routines, repeated tasks, regular audits, etc.
Most managers take this way of working as equivalent of implementing a desired ‘system’.
Over time, such routines become so fossilized that bringing in desired changes appropriate to changed circumstances becomes difficult.
What is missed out is the essence of ‘Daily Management’.
Daily Management is not only about doing some prescribed tasks on a regular basis but also improving upon those every day.
And Daily Management must only be focused on core activities that produced desired long-term results that help build sustainability and resilience in an organization.
In this way change management, which most argue is extremely difficult to start and carry out, is easily embedded in the organizational culture enabling an organization to be sustainable and resilient.
The following forms part of the course notes for the workshop on Rapidinnovation I would conduct on 26th April 2013 at Indian Chamber of Commerce, Kolkata.
General Principles and Methods of Rapidinnovation:
A) Management Perspectives:
1. Follow your aspirations but check the facts (failures are all around) and re-purpose if need be.
2. Aspiration shapes strategy; Strategy provides vision; Failures stop us from arriving at vision; Improvisation/innovations to eliminate failures pave the way to arrive at the vision.
3. Take failures of any system as the starting point of learning and leadership. Learn to face failures and fears through improvisation and innovation to balance both efficiency and effectiveness.
4. Through inventions, innovations and improvisations we can release the untapped potential of any organization for higher Productivity, Performance and Profitability simply free of cost giving on-going benefits.
B) Read on-going organizational stories:
5. What is going on?
6. What does it mean?
7. What might we do about it?
C) The nature of failures: Catching the snake
8. All failures in organizations are stories of tiredness & unhappiness of the human spirit. However, no management would like to fail. The Loss to the society is irredeemable. What might we do about it?
9. Whatever is visible would fail; whatever is invisible drives all failures.
10. Whatever fails is never the cause or culprit of the failure.
11. All failures are stories of interdependence.
12. Problems only appear when the necessary conditions to solve or resolve them are present.
13. The solution/resolution of any problem lies in the ‘motion’ of the problem itself.
D) The underlying process: PLS3D Awareness
14. Pay attention to a failure or problem or issue, called a point (Point)
15. Connect other points (Line)
16. Connect the lines to form surfaces (Surface)
17. Create a 3 Dimensional view of the failures and problems (3D)
18. Transcend the 3D view (Beyond)
E) What we might do:
19. Achieve balance of forces and fields through re-design
20. Balance contradictions
21. Eliminate imperfections within the interactions
22. Change quantity to improve or change quality
23. Allow ‘negation of negation’ to its natural conclusions.
24. Optimize time between negations.
25. Recreate a new story by changing the stories that cause failures.
26. Learning is a personal responsibility. It is about personal mastery.
27. Collaboratively learn through self-study, observations, thoughts of others, interactions with peers and mentors and feedback from your own work since learning, understanding and gaining insights might not possibly happen in one stroke.
28. To learn continuously and deeply stop learning; do, think, reflect, experience deeply, bring your unique perspective into anything; be the discipline; arrive at wisdom
29. Use the stories of all failures in an organization to develop training and education within the organization.
30. Luckily, all of that happen in a blink through perseverance and patience, aided by the power of emergent complexity of our 800 MB human genome in a self-organizing way that can beat the best super computer of the world.
G) Measurement Criteria:
31. Productivity, Performance and Profitability (Effectiveness)
33. Health, Happiness, Creativity (Human Spirit)
The art of ‘noticing’ or ‘paying attention’ or ‘observation’ is the starting point for our Nemtical studies, Design Kata and Rapidinnovation.
Right observation is the basis of strategy formulation, innovation, decision making and possibly everything we do as humans. Much depends on our choice and power of discrimination of what to notice and what not to notice.
The following article brilliantly exposes the ‘Art of Observation’ in a very nuanced manner.
Indeed ‘Chance favors the connected mind’.
For instance, take baby diapers. Today, rural sales of baby diapers are in excess of Rs 200 crores. Over the last two years, rural category sales have grown by over 150%, with rural diaper sales accounting for 15% of total value sales of diapers, which is Rs 1300 crores.
“Pampers (P&G’s diaper) has the greatest share of the baby diaper market across India and has also been growing value share consistently. It is a clear sign that rural consumers are choosing to buy branded diapers for their babies”, said a P&G spokesperson.
On the other hand, sale of rural sanitary napkins grew by 74% over the last three years, with sales now at Rs 366 crores.
In this case too P&G’s ‘Whisper’, which is the market leader across India, including rural markets, has also been made available at the lowest priced SKU of Rs 25 for a pack of 8s, which turns out to be Rs 3/- per unit.
(source of all figures & quotes: The Times of India, Kolkata, Friday, March 29, 2013)
The important thing to notice here is the deep relationship between company’s strategy, product design, manufacturing practices and marketing. They are all in sync. Else market leadership isn’t possible.
It does not come as a big surprise when we understand strategy formulation process of P&G.
In the book Playing To Win the former Chairman and CEO of P&G, A. G. Lafley describes the strategy formulation process as answering five important questions, which are the following:
1. What is our aspiration?
2. Where do want to play?
3. How do we play to win?
4. What resources we must have?
5. What management systems must be in place?
Answering these questions did three things for P&G in India:
1. The company matched their aspiration to the aspiration of their consumers.
2. The different management functions that generally run in silos were aligned and were in sync.
3. Helped them to be a market leader in a very short time.
It possibly serves as a clear case where strategy and innovation work together.
While strategy provides the direction and the energy of a vision, innovative management paves the way for achieving the aspirations of both producer and their consumers. And these must be in sync with the aspiration of their customers. Else efforts meet with inauthentic constraints to make operation meaningless.
What do you think about it? Do you think this should be the way to go in such tough economic times?
1. Happiest People Pursue the most Difficult Problems: http://blogs.hbr.org/kanter/2013/04/to-find-happiness-at-work-tap.html
2. Playing to Win: A.G. Lafley, Roger L. Martin, Havard Business Review Press, 2013