Fixing Organizational Problems

Every day, managers in different organizations face an array of problems. Usually, such problems keep repeating — either randomly or at regular intervals. After a while, it then becomes clear to the managers that such problems resist current ways of thinking and actions as practiced within the organization. 

The réponse to such problems is — “How this problem can be fixed permanently?” 

A manager would then try to apply known theories, methods, and tools to solve the problem. And in this process, the managers can also increase their skills. But the problem is that the problems simply don’t vanish. They have a bad habit of sneaking back through the backdoor. 

Why is that?

The short answer is — “No problem can be fixed, at least permanently.

This is because the nature of the problems keeps changing with time or the same problem comes back with different intensity or frequency. 

However, one can find and install new guiding ideas. And one can intently engage in redesigning an organization’s infrastructure, policies, rules, methods, and the tools presently used to find new ways of dealing with work and problems. 

The key is to closely observe what is going on in the present and then discover the organizational subconsciousness (mindset) that allows such events to happen with alarming regularity or randomly. Once that mindset is found, a manager can then find new ways of thinking and practices to replace the old governing mindset. 

If one keeps going in this way one can gradually evolve a new type of organizations that is responsive, agile and observant about the numerous interactions that go within an organizational environment to become a better and a fitter organization. 

It would then be able to deal with the problems and opportunities of today and invest in its capacity with the right resources and efforts to embrace a better future. This happens because its members are focused on enhancing and expanding their collective consciousness  — where individual members are able to observe, learn and change together.  

In other words, they collectively create, support and sustain a organization that continually learns from their present situation. 

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Attention — the Essential Energy to Achieve & Improve Anything.

Information enters our consciousness either because we intend to focus attention on it or as a result of attentional habits based on biological or social instructions.

For example, driving down the extremely busy and often chaotic streets of Kolkata, we pass by hundreds of cars without actually being aware of them. Their shape, size and colours might register for a fraction of a second, and then they are immediately forgotten the next moment.

But our primary objective is to reach from one place to another without an accident or suffering a scratch. But how do we achieve that goal?

So while driving, we occasionally notice a particular vehicle, perhaps because it is moving unsteadily between lanes or because it is moving too slowly or because it looks strange in some way.

The image of the unusual vehicle enters our focus of consciousness and we become intensely aware of it unusual behaviour.

In our minds, such visual information about the car (the abnormal behaviour) gets related to information about other errant cars stored in our memory, which helps us determine into which category the present instance fits. Is this an inexperienced driver, a rash driver, a drunken driver, a momentarily distracted (talking on a mobile phone) but competent driver?

As soon as the event is matched to an already known class of events, it is identified. Now it has to be evaluated: Is this something to worry about? If the answer is yes, then we must immediately decide on an appropriate course of action: Should we speed up, overtake, slow down, change lanes, stop?

All these complex mental operations must be completed quickly and in real time. But it doesn’t happen automatically. There seems to be a distinct process that makes such reactions possible. This process is called attention. It is attention that selects the relevant bits of information from a potential of thousands of bits available.

It takes attention to retrieve the appropriate references from memory, to evaluate the real-life event and then choose the right thing to do.

Despite its great powers, attention can’t step beyond the limits as already described. It can’t notice or hold in focus more information that can be processed simultaneously. Retrieving information from memory and bringing it into the focus of awareness, comparing information, evaluating, deciding — all make demands on the mind’s limited processing capacity. For instance, the driver who notices an errant car will have to stop talking on his cell phone if he wants to avoid an accident, which is, in fact, his goal.

Some people learn to use this priceless resource very efficiently while others simply waste it. The mark of a person who is in control of his/her consciousness is the ability to focus attention at will, to stay away from distractions, to concentrate as long as it takes to achieve a goal and not longer. The person who can do this effortlessly usually enjoys the normal course of everyday life and can effectively meet the challenges of everyday life.

Improving reliability of industrial equipment needs such keen attentional energy which Reliability Centred Maintenance helps one to achieve. It, of course, depends on how well a Reliability Centred Maintenance System is designed, developed and implemented.

But what is essential is the development of memory bank, which can be only developed through comprehensively designed training and education system run over a long period of time.

Computerised Maintenance systems, Condition Based Maintenance technology, rigorously developed Maintenance Planning, Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence can all help but without a broad-based deep memory bank of different types of failures, failure modes, interactions and mechanisms that create failures, methods to detect failures, interpretation and evaluation of relevant information and deciding the right course of action –improving reliability of industrial systems would remain as a desire only,

Attention is the key to achieving desired outcomes and improving any system. It can’t be ignored.

 

By Dibyendu De

Observing Complexity

To me, observing real life systems is something like this:

A real life System comprises of a meaningful set of objects, diverse in form, state and function but inter-related through multiple network of interdependencies through mutual feedbacks enclosed by variable space, operating far from its equilibrium conditions not only exchanging energy and matter with its environment but also generating internal entropy to undergo discrete transformation triggered by the Arrow of Time forcing it to behave in a dissipative but self organizing manner to either self destruct itself in a wide variety of ways or create new possibilities in performance and/or behaviour owing to presence of ‘attractors’ and ‘bifurcations’; thereby making it impossible to predict the future behaviour of the system in the long term or trace the previous states of the system with any high degree of accuracy other than express it in terms of probabilities since only the present state of the system might be observable to a certain extent and only a probabilistic understanding may be formulated as to how it has arrived at its present state and what would keep it going, thus triggering creative human responses to manage, maintain and enhance the system conditions, function and purpose and create superior systems of the future for the benefit of the society at large.

Such a representation of an observation looks quite involved. Perhaps it might be stated in a much simpler way. Most real life systems behave in a complex manner creating multitude of problems of performance and failures. But how do we get rid of complexity and uncertainty as exhibited by systems? We may do so by deeply observing the complex behaviour of the system to improve our perception to gain insights about the essence of the system; find out the underlying ‘imperfection’ that causes the apparent complexity and uncertainty and then find ways to improve the existing system or create new system and maintain them in the simplest possible manner. We do this by applying the principles of chaos, reliability and design. Surprisingly, the same process might be used to troubleshoot and solve problems we face on a daily basis. If done, we are no longer dominated or dictated by the ‘special whims’ of the system.

The crux of the matter is how we observe reality and understand it so as to make meaningful choices as responses to life and living.

Creative Technique of Joachim Schmid

photoThis is a creation of Joachim Schmid — Photogentic Draft #15, 1991

Problem solving and creativity go hand in hand. So it helps a problem solver to continually hone his creative skills.

Though there are many ways to hone one’s creativity we may always learn a new method to do so from Joachim Schmid.  He creates new images from ‘technically wrong’ images.

This is what he did to create this fine work of art. In this case, he came across a box of negatives, cut in half so they could not be used. Just like putting jigsaw puzzle pieces together – he positioned the different images in odd combinations that created a surprising new image with profound fluidity.

Potential for creative work can just be found anywhere. With this technique we learn how to put together seemingly unrelated images, ideas, thoughts to create a surprisingly new image, idea or thought.

You can see the potential anywhere.

Role of Critical Thinking in Solving Complex Problems

Within the next five years the ability to solve complex problems would be the number one skill people would be desperately looking for.

However, development of this skill rests on three fundamental pillars, which are:

  1. Critical Thinking 
  2. Creativity 
  3. Seeing” things differently

In this post, we focus on the skill of critical thinking. To do so, we draw inspiration from ten examples of critical thinking and critical thinkers that changed our world and our world views.

“Being bold enough to let your mind go where good arguments take you, even if it’s to places that make you feel uncomfortable, may lead you to discoveries about the world and yourself.”

(Critical Thinking: The Art of Argument, by George W. Rainbolt and Sandra L. Dwyer)

Read more

Creativity in Solving Complex Problems

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.

Why?

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.

The Secret of Everything.

image
The heart of all issues

This I think is the secret of solving or resolving any issue or creating anything worthwhile in the world, however difficult or hard that might appear to be.

It doesn’t matter whether it is a problem or issue of physics or a problem of engineering or a management problem or a personal problem.

So, taking time and patience to learn and master “connectedness” is worth spending a lifetime upon.

One can’t force it to happen. But when it happens consider it as a extremely rate and valuable gift, worth more than its weight in gold.

When one plays with this gift with perseverance it turns into the rarest of rare talent available to the world.

Possibly, we will never have a “Theory of Everything” but we certainly have a “Secret of Everything.”

So why wait to master that secret?

A baffling problem

Last week I was invited to engage with a baffling problem. It left engineers and managers of the power plant baffled for the last four months.

Instead of writing the technical details of the problem, which might not be of much interest to non-technical people I would instead write about my approach to solving baffling problems along with the principles involved. This is because we often wrongly interpret problems as technical, non technical, financial, social, etc. Essentially all problems are problems of the human mind. Invariably they always originate and live in the human mind. However, problems, as a rule, are always solved or resolved through enlightened (understanding, wisdom) consciousness.

The process, which I intend to highlight below, may be used to successfully solve both personal and professional problems or quickly adapt when a baffling problem (or a black swan) strikes.

The seven steps of the integrated process are as follows:

1. Look at the event as perceived in the present and the events that went before it.

Principles:
a) See all, sit still, breathe deep, care for the ill.
b) When drinking water think of its source.

2. Examine the responses of human beings to a problem. Spot the responses that emanated from stored memories (usually collective).

Principles:
a) Buddha is a toilet stick.
b) The gateway is found only after a long search and the long search is a spiral going inward.

3. Check implementation of the responses for assumptions, acceptance of imperfections, ignorance of facts and avoidance of details.

Principles:
a) See the whole universe in a glass of wine.
b) Can you see the cloud in the book?

4. Scan the various perspectives people have about a problem, i.e. how individuals feel about the problem. Identify the blind spots.

Principles:
a) No question; no answer
b) Cut the grass; pull the roots. 
c) Pine cones look at different directions but do they?

5. Listen intently to what they say and what they don’t say about the issue.

Principles:
a) Noise of the unsayable, unspeakable and unsaid is music.
b) Go up the mountain to meet the sage, know that it is you, come down to mix with the lakes and rivers.
c) A ruler and a worthy person who don’t connect, a musician and a listener who don’t find each other, or two potential friends who never meet; all lose.

6. Gain deep insight about the problem.

Principles:
a) Don’t catch the snake by its tail.                          
b) Birds are not afraid of directions.
c) Question, test and use every sense you have and believe that dawn would come.
d) Imaginary lines between stars guide us to new harbors.

7. Form understanding of the problem. Formulate viable solutions for minimal intervention. Exchange the understanding in the simplest possible terms as logically as possible to change collective consciousness. Leave it there.                                         

Principles:
a) No question; no answer.
b) Spirit is wrapped in reason and reason is wrapped in spirit.
c) One raindrop creates thousand ripples.
d) Don’t wish for spring; spring gives life to wish.

Chances are that baffling problems would no longer appear baffling and would soon be solved/resolved by people.

Feynman — on Connectedness

On this day in 1988 we lost Richard Feynman — the great explainer.

He saw the interconnectedness of all things more clearly than most.

Here is what he sees in a glass of wine:

A poet once said, “The whole universe is in a glass of wine.” We will probably never know in what sense he said that, for poets do not write to be understood. But it is true that if we look in glass of wine closely enough we see the entire universe. There are the things of physics: the twisting liquid which evaporates depending on the wind and weather, the reflections in the glass, and our imagination adds the atoms. The glass is a distillation of the earth’s rocks, and in its composition we see the secrets of the universe’s age, and the evolution of the stars. What strange array of chemicals are in the wine? How did they come to be? There are the ferments, the enzymes, the substrates, and the products. There in wine is found the great generalization: all life is fermentation. Nobody can discover the chemistry of wine without discovering the cause of much disease. How vivid is the claret, pressing its existence into the consciousness that watches it! If our small minds, for some convenience, divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts — physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology, and so on — remember that nature does not know it! So let us put it all back together, not forgetting ultimately what it is for. Let us give one more final pleasure: drink it and forget it all!

Seeing anything in this manner is incidentally the fundamental secret of:

1. Enlightened Learning

2. Enlightened Problem solving

3. Enlightened Living

Did I miss anything?

Science and Art of Problem Solving

Science and art are the head and tail of the same coin when it comes to solving real life problems.

With science, we search for similarities of things that appear different. We focus on linearities and direct connections between causes and effects.

With art, we search for differences among things that are apparently similar. We focus on non-linearities and intricate connections between causes and effects.

To solve real life problems we need to be skilled in both science and art. This is because situation governing every problem is unique. That is why most real life problems are complex in nature.

Seen realistically, solving real problems puts science and art together again. Actually, they were never born apart.

Taken together; they lead us to truth.

Something more on Science and Art:
http://www.artic.edu/aic/education/sciarttech/2a1.html