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Archive for April, 2017

Overlap (poem)

Petervan Astract Nr 364

Een snapshot van oranje over groen
Lente-veld over zomerse zindering
Een verploegde voor tussenin
Overlap van ophitsend en verzengend vuur
Verenigde staten van koud en warm
Verenigd verkoold vloeiende warmte
Vervreemd versteend ijzige vrieskou
Vertederd weelderig stoeien
Contreien, vleien, vrijen
In een huis van stoffen plannen en marijnblauwe inkt
Wervelend in de wind
En happend naar lucht

(Rough translation)

Snapshot of green over orange
Spring-field over shimmer summer
A plowed furrow in between
Overlap of steamy torrid fire
United states of cold and warmth
United fluid hot and carbon
Alien fossils of freezing cold
Tender lushes frolicking
Flattering vicinities of love
In a house of clothy plans and blue-marine ink
Whirling winds
And gasping for air

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roozegaarde

Roozegaarde architecture studio – picture via Dezeen

Some time ago, I initiated a conversation with some folks on “deep change”. What is it? What are the leverage points in organisations to make it happen? What are accelerators for deep change etc? One of my questions was “Can organisations change?

I received plenty of interesting feedback, including some challenging insights by Robert Fritz himself. As I am a big fan of Robert’s work, I was very eager to listen.

quote-if-you-limit-your-choices-only-to-what-seems-possible-or-reasonable-you-disconnect-yourself-robert-fritz-53-36-62

Robert and I had some contacts back and forward over mail, and this blog post is a summary of our conversations. Italic paragraphs are direct quotes from Robert’s mails. Highlights, emphasis, non-italics and picture/video curation by myself.

“I don’t like the notion of “deep” change.  It’s the word “deep” that seems incorrect as an accurate description of what it takes to change and organization or a person’s life.

Of course organizations can change if, and it seems to me only if, there is a change in the underlying structure.  Without a change of structure, the organization will reject change the same way the body rejects an implanted organ.  With a change of underlying structure, change is not only possible but probable.

In my new edition of The Path of Least Resistance for Managers (2011 edition) I updated the book, putting more focus on the leadership dimension.  Over the years, we have seen that without the support and even demand of leadership, change will not be sustainable. Change within the organisation is not a grass roots movement.

Why would people change?  People say that change is hard.  But when it is well motivated it is not hard. That is why people moved from mechanical typewriters to word processors.  Why people now are more likely to listen to music from streaming sties than CDs.  Why people use email rather than write old fashion letters – snail mail.  Etc.  

So, the question of why would people change is critical.  Even before we ask that question, we need to understand why people act the ways they do in the current situation.  We then to have the predisposition of trying to change things before we understand what gives rise to the current behaviour.  Also, too often, change is motivated by a problem orientation rather than an outcome orientation that would lead to a true creative process….”

There are a lot of management theories that suggest a kind of grass roots movement within organizations. Sounds very nice. But, in my experience, if leadership is not behind any endeavor, it is not going to happen. There may be a few exceptions to this, but none that are major.

Among the many things it is, leadership is a position. Like the drummer in a band, it is a job within a group. Now there are good drummers and bad drummers and all those on the continuum between great and terrible. All of them are authentic drummers. I’ve never heard someone say, “Hey, I see you’ve gotten an authentic drummer in the band tonight.”

The same holds true for leadership. Good, bad, all the degrees in-between. All of them leaders. If you mean to separate the good ones from the not so good ones, don’t use the term “authentic leadership.” Call it what it is: good or bad or whatever describes it.

And recently, a group of folks have been writing their ideas about “deep change.” Lots of theories, opinions, etc. What makes a change “deep?” When we understand the structural dynamics involved, this is the key:

THE UNDERLYING STRUCTURE OF ANYTHING WILL DETERMINE ITS BEHAVIOUR

Most of the theories have no idea about this. They are thinking in terms of situations and circumstances.

They come up with tortured proposals that have the subtext that change is hard.

Change, when it is well motivated structurally, is easy for people.

Of course in our society, there is the tendency to try to glorify things we like. This reflects a social trend to express things in the extreme. The best or the worst. It was the best of times; the worst of times. 

So, the next time you find yourself saying things like, “this is an authentic hamburger,” or, “this hamburger is really deep,” know that the modern world has slipped into your subconscious without you being aware of it.

I buy that. Let’s call it what it is, without glorified terms like “authentic”, or “meaningful”, or “deep”.

Let’s call it “good” or “bad” change, and what is in between.

Bad change is the opposite good change. It does not include progress. I found quite some inspiration in Jeff Bezos’ latest letter to Amazon shareholders.

jeff_bezos-e1398439038826

Jeff Bezos - picture via Forbes

“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”

“I’m interested in the question, how do you fend off Day 2? What are the techniques and tactics? How do you keep the vitality of Day 1, even inside a large organisation?”

“Here’s a starter pack of essentials for Day 1 defence: Customer obsession, a skeptical view of proxies, the eager adoption of external trends, and high-velocity decision making.”

The Bezos starter pack is about structure. Structure that drives behaviour.

“Bad” change is not about advancement, but degradation. Like a building (see my post “Can organisations change?” No maintenance, no refurbishment, no respect for patrimony.

abandonded asylum

Abandoned asylum – Matt Vandervelde – via Dezeen

Neglecting: Keep the windows open, so the wind and rain get in, and kill the building from within. A structure of neglecting that drives behaviour.

Other “bad” change is just plain “fake” change. Many organisations get new boards, new executive teams, have re-orgs. Some satisfy themselves (mostly unconsciously) with innovation theatre and the tactics of startup challenges, innovation sandboxes, accelerators, incubators and what have you. Below yet another list of 10 types of corporate innovation programs. The real question is: do they work, do they deliver structural change?

top 10 innovation

Some are champions at designing and getting excited by the illusion of change. Most of this change is motivated by problem solving rather than what organisations and people really want. Like pimping your house, car, etc. This bad/fake change leads to the oscillating patterns so well described by Robert Fritz. Because of the wrong structure, the organisation oscillates back to its initial state.

What we are after is “good” change, which is related to “progress” and “advancement”.

For Robert Fritz it is about advancement towards the desired “outcome”, and filtering all the noise that distracts from this outcome. In my opinion, “good”, “progress” and “advancement” also have to do with high quality connections for something else than speed and noise-free. As indicated in my post “Cogs in networks”, there should be some dimension/ambition/alignment of “spiritual, moral and aesthetical advancement”.

People in organisations can work with Mother Nature or Mother Structure on behalf of their goals.  The question is what is the overall structure of the organisation?   

"Heroes" and others by Ozark Henry and National Orchestra of Belgium

In an orchestra, it is not the conductor or individual musicians who control this. It is the composer.  The composer’s job is to make sure that the parts fit together. Too often, no one is actually composing the organisation, and it leaves one of two bad choices: command and control or organising systems. Much has been made in the last 20 years, glorifying organising systems, but, what happens over time is that these systems self-organise into structural conflicts, which lead to oscillating patterns.

That’s why a “composed” system can lead to advancement and forward movement toward building the company but the other alternatives do not live up to their promise.

As an accomplished composer, filmmaker, and writer, Robert Fritz likes the orchestra metaphor and the role of the composer. Given my background, I like the building-metaphor and the role of the architect.

Bofill living room La Fabrica

Ricardo Bofill – La Fabrica – Living room – Old cement factory

But structure is not a metaphor, it is a dynamic.

The cause of it, as part of physics, has to do with how structure works.  A tension, any tension, will lead to a dynamic, which is to move toward resolution.  We call this a structural tendency.  The reason it does has to do with the principle of equilibrium.  Nature strives for equilibrium.  It wants to end all tensions, all differences.  A state of “non-equilibrium” (purists would say “degrees removed from equilibrium because it is a perfect state) generates movement.  Sometimes this can be accomplished, such as in the design of airplanes wings, sometimes not, as in an oscillating structure in which, as you move toward resolution of one tension resolution system, generates more tension in its contrasting system.

We can use this principle to our advantage through structural tension in which we set up a state of non-equilibrium to resolve on behalf of a specific goal.  

That is the reason that the two data points of structural tension need to be clear: desired state in relationship to the actual state.  Once formed, that tension strives to resolve.  

Like an archer’s bow, aiming an arrow.  In the arts, tension resolution system cause movement.  In music, in screenplays, in painting, etc.  Most artists, and all composers (the most technical of the arts) understand this principle and use it quite consciously. 

When will you revisit the structure and dynamics of your innovation efforts? When will you go beyond the role of change agent, and create good change as a composer or architect? When will you design a structure that leads to good change?

petervan-signature_transparent_black_version2

I am in the business of cultivating high quality connections and flows to create immersive learning experiences and structural change. Check out: https://petervanproductions.com/

With plenty of acknowledgement to Robert Fritz. More about Robert’s structural change in his book “The Path of Least Resistance for Managers”.

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Petervan Astract Nr 364

Artschool 2017 > "Overlap" 
Acryl on canvas stitched on wooden panel 125 x 85 cm

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Tokoma Art installation - Petervan Productions 2017
With soundscape

 

Snijden zoals Fontana

Berekend, bere-sterk, een-malig

De kommer van het zwaard

Vervelt haar tot een paardekop

Geslagen en verslagen, moe

Moe ligt ze daar te verwezen

Wringend haar haar in nat

Mat

Patstelling van verwijten en verlangen

Toka haar platform

Ma haar ledigheid, lenigheid

Leeg-heid, licht-heid, of volledig

Haar canvas draait in eeuwigheid

 

Tokoma (rough translation)

 

Carving like Fontana

Calculated, bear-strong, one-time

Wistful sword

Molting hair to horse-head

Beaten, defeaten, dead

Lingering, languishing

Wringing her hair wet

Weary

Stalemate between blame and desire

Toka her platform

Ma her empty-ness, lithe-ness

Lite-ness, Light-ness, Full-less

Her canvas spins into infinity

 

tokoma

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morning-light-window

De lome ochtendsluimer
Kijkt in mij binnen
En raakt een snaar van stilte
Welzijn, wel te zijn, zijn
De irissen sissen fluisterend weg
Verdacht
Tussen de stenen
Glimmende kikkers
Kwakend van verstand

Morning (rough translation)

The lazy morning slumber
Looks inside me
And touches a chord of silence
Well-being, be well, be
The irises sizzle away in whispers
Suspicious
Between the boulders
Shiny frogs
Quaking minds

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We use models and metaphors to make sense of our organisational structures, understand them, make predictions, apply change.

Blog_beehive

Bee hive - via Bridging the Gap

Some well known models are:

  • Ants in colonies
  • Bees in hives
  • Apes in jungles
  • Humans in neural networks
  • Organisations as machines
  • Hierarchies, wierarchies, holocracies

Models are not reality. Models are an abstraction of reality. Same for metaphors. They help us tell and understand a narrative.

We are not apes, ants, or bees. We are humans. As Jonathan Haidt explains at length in his book “The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom”, I am struck by all the noise humans put on the system: “We are all hypocrites” and “We are the rider (the conscious/the ratio) ànd the elephant (the unconscious, feelings, instincts, genes). Most models assume the rider is in charge. The rider is not in charge.”

Structural change leads to structural behaviour change. Structural change needs high quality connections and flows.

“A high quality connection is one where information transfer is rapid, reliable, and noise free” says Tom LaForge.

But in real life, this information transfer is NOT noise free. Maybe in some nirvana love relation, but usually not at/for/within work.

Noise comes from the motivations of the elephant (the unconscious), some examples:

  • Reciprocity
  • Prestige
  • Self serving biases
  • Power
  • Hypocrisy
  • Arrogance and entitlement

In most re-orgs, people look at the motivations and incentives for the ratio, the rider. They ignore the elephant. They forget the rider is not in charge.

High quality connections need something else than speed, reliability of noise-freedom.

There should be some dimension/ambition/alignment of “Spiritual, moral and aesthetical advancement”.

In this category, we find standards and appreciation for:

  • Care
  • Tradition
  • Craftsmanship
  • Beauty
  • Proportion
  • Sacredness
  • Infinite games

See also my own post about Kevin Kelly’s qualities created at the transaction, which is more about qualities of resulting products and services than qualities of structure: https://petervan.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/sine-parole-19-apr-2017/

And then there is governance

hierarchies

Simple Google search on organisational hierarchy

The simplicity of the hierarchy works well on a slide or a hand-out. You can document it in a spreadsheet, or box-diagram and so on. But all these representations do is framing the conversation in an illusion of simplistic 2-dimensional structures. It’s the specialty of management consultants to think and present in two dimensions. It’s making it easy for executives to understand.

But if you are used to a 3-dimensional view of reality, you can’t understand why the flatlanders don’t see what you see. As long as you are primed in 2D you won’t see what the other dimension sees.

A better picture/metaphor for an organisational structure would be something like this.

escher

Relativity – 1953 Lithograph by M.C. Escher – 294mm x 282mm

Ricardo_Bofill_Taller_de_Arquitectura_Barcelona_Spain_The_Gardens_24-1440x968

Ricardo Bofill – La Fabrica – Old cement factory – Barcelona, Spain

It’s messy. At many moments you don’t know anymore where you stand. The perspective changes all the time. You get disoriented.

There is somewhere a general definition for Robots:

Robot = sensors + mind/computer/algorithm + body (hardware).

But humans are not just: senses + brains + body.

Computers are not like brains. Brains are not like computers. Our human models are different from machine models. Machine understanding is different from human understanding.

Humans are not just nodes on a network/grid that can be governed by coded social contracts, blockchains and AI. If you do that, humans are just cogs in another machine. Humans become cogs in a network.

The obvious case is of course Uber, which is an economy of extracting value vs. the so-called sharing economy. For Uber, all the drivers are already cogs in a network for the sole benefit of the monopoly.

Being cogs in networks is an insult for humans. But we are just getting started:

But does it still matter at all these days? We already are in a new world of “Alien knowledge, when machines justify knowledge”. Check out this fantastic long read by David Weinberger

Alien Knowledge

Via David Weinberger - Illustrations by Todd Proctor / YouWorkForThem

“The paradigmatic failures seem to be ones in which the machine justification has not escaped its human origins enough.”

Organisations are not models/buildings/boxes. They are like rivers with information flows. Building skeletons, where the structure of the building guides traffic and connections.

David Weinberger talks about models created by machines. Models that machines can understand and we don’t. It is very much as he concludes:

“It has taken a network of machines that we ourselves created to let us see that we are the aliens.”

If we don’t want to end up as cogs in networks, we need to aim for structural advancement at a spiritual, moral, and aesthetical dimension.

petervan-signature_transparent_black_version2

 

I am in the business of cultivating high quality connections and flows to create immersive learning experiences and structural change. Check out: https://petervanproductions.com/

 

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I ask myself often whether organisations can change – really change – at all. I recently spoke to an HR person of a big worldwide corporation, and her answer was a strong “yes”. I am not so sure. Or maybe I am confused.

As organisations are made of people (humans), would you have the change the people in order to change the organisation? Is there another way? Some people say “you can’t change people, but you can change their behaviour”. Are we fooling ourselves with such statements?

I am seduced by the Robert Fritz’ premise that structure drives behaviour. Or Leandro Herrero‘s thesis that behaviour drives culture. And Jean Russell’s “Cultivating Flows“.

Robert Fritz for managers

There are plenty of metaphors to illustrate the relationship between structure and behaviour. From race cars, the team and the driver, to heroes hacking their way through forests (My friend Leda Glyptis wrote this excellent piece on the oscillating patterns – “Acts” in her post – that innovation heroes have to go through).

I am starting to think about a metaphor based on architecture, and the notion of “patrimony” of a building, which has to do a lot with knowledge stored as inheritance material in physical objects (Thanks, Tom Laforge for the insight).

kanaal solos

Kanaal Site – Axel Vervoordt – Old malt factory - Wijnegem, Belgium

Ricardo_Bofill_Taller_de_Arquitectura_La_Catedral_Barcelona_Spain_1-1440x592

Ricardo Bofill – The Cathedral – Old cement factory – Barcelona, Spain

 

“Patrimony” is an interesting term. The Dutch word “Erfgoed” maybe captures it better. “Erf” means inheritance, value that can be transmitted across generations. “Goed” stand for “good”, both as 1) something tangible, an art-i-fact and 2) something good, of value/worth/wealth/culture/DNA to be carried forward.

Both sites above are a good illustration: Ricardo Bofill’s “La Fabrica” and Axel Vervoordt’s “Kanaal”.

The architects decided to respect the patrimony, strip it to its essence – its skeleton – and create new perspectives and flows. They did not decide for “disruption”, aka breaking down the building and creating something completely new. They combine old and new, they combine tradition/patrimony/erfgoed with new flows, new structures.

The structure is not only the brick and mortar building itself, but includes the whole site, the landscape, the empty spaces, the social contracts, the tacit and non-tacit agreements of flow.

The structure comes alive when people live in it, add furniture, decoration, color, organise their areas for work, for creativity, for reflection.

What is the skeleton structure of the building, what do we need to keep, where do we need to create new perspectives to cultivate new flows of water, traffic, connections?

The metaphor building/organisation – like any metaphor – works only to a certain extent.

Haidt happiness

What’s missing is what makes us human and our motivations. I am reading Jonathan Haidt’s “The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom”, and am struck by all the noise humans put on the system. Some salient wisdom:

  • “We are all hypocrites”
  • “The rider (ratio) is not in charge”
  • “The elephant (the unconscious) is not motivated by happiness but by prestige.
  • “Most stories/narratives are confabulated after the facts”

So back to my initial question: can organisations change? Maybe the better question is: what quality of change are we aiming for? Or the more critical question may be: why would people change?”

Fritz’ suggestion is that if you have the right structure, people will naturally change their behaviour and the flows of information.

What are your thoughts?

petervan-signature_transparent_black_version2

I am in the business of cultivating high quality connections and flows to create immersive learning experiences and structural change. Check out: https://petervanproductions.com/

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