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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.

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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.

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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?

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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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This post is about some of the myopic views on disruption in financial services (or any other vertical for that argument), and why I am getting a bit tired of FinTech, RegTech, InsurTech, or whatever AbcTech you may come up with.

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Disrupted - Petervan Artwork - Acryl on Paper format A1

 

Most of the discussions in FinTech are about the (by now outdated) “unbundling” of highly vertical integrated organizations like banks. Everybody recalls the famous CB-Insight slides on how all functions on the website of HSBC, Wells Fargo, or fill in your <Bank Name> here, will be replaced by better offerings of startups or scale-ups: “everything gets fragmented”, you know 😉

It even leads to a “Re-bundling” of financial services, as what was once unbundled needs now to be re-bundled by “banking-as-a-platform” or “Fintegration”, just to throw another buzzword into the mix.

This is in my opinion a highly simplistic view on disruption. It is a fragmented view on disruption. The disruption view is fragmented: each little function on its own is subject of a fragmented disruption debate. We are missing the holistic view of what is going on.

What I would like to bring into the conversation is the “inter-connectedness” of everything, or the “entanglement” of everything.

For payments, the conversation is usually about how many and which intermediaries are part of a payment transaction from the payer to the payee, and how they add value, friction and costs into the system: one can indeed draw disintermediation maps and articulate how the different new entrants attack the different pieces of the end-to-end transaction. But it is piecemealed view, as if the sum of the atomic transactions is an exact equation of the value created in those ecosystem value chains.

The same reflections can be made on the securities business, where many different players (exchanges, central counterparties (CCPs), central securities depositories (CSDs), brokers, custodians and investment managers) are part of the end-to-end flow of atomic transactions between the issuer of a security and the consumer of that security. See also recent comprehensive post by Let’s Talk Payments.

The point I am trying to make here is that what needs to be solved, re-thought and re-designed is a deep ecosystem entanglement. What are really needed are a fundamental process redesign and process innovation and that is not an easy undertaking with all the network effects that are inherent in these ecosystems.

The other point I am trying to make is nobody – not the incumbents, nor the startups/scale-ups – is in a position to solve this on their own.

I believe we have to evolve from platform capitalism to platform cooperation or even platform co-operativism.

  • Instead of talking about optimized correspondent banking, the conversation should be one of collaborative/cooperative banking.
  • Instead of talking about optimized securities lifecycles and settlement, the conversation should be one of collaborative/cooperative securities markets.

The system is not broken. It works very well for what it was designed for. It does not need to be fixed. It needs to be re-thought. What we are witnessing is the need for a fundamental re-thinking of our assumptions. The financial system is part of a broader system of capitalism based on neoliberalism. That system is broken.

Paul Mason – who wrote the book “Post-Capitalism” – was very clear in his recent keynote to the Glasgow Economic Forum: “Neoliberalism is broken”. And he goes on:

  • information technology has paralysed capitalism’s capacity to adapt
  • information technology creates a short-cut to abundance
  • the root cause of the boom-bust cycles, collapsing productivity, stagnation and policy paralysis is that the markets are sending us a signal that there’s not enough value in a high-tech economy to justify current valuations — of debt, equities or derivatives
  • we are in a long transition beyond capitalism, in which the state, the market and a non-market sector based on collaborative production will jostle and coexist
  • and that the only theory that can encompass all of these facts is the one originated by the man quoted on the poster behind me [Adam Smith] — a modernised form of the labour theory of value.

That is the first simplification in the current mainstream thinking about disruption.

As a start, one should start looking at the symptoms of that broken system (as very well articulated in Otto Scharmer’s work at the MIT U.Lab). These symptoms are:

  • An Ecological divide
  • A Social divide
  • A Spiritual divide

otto

The second simplification of the disruption discourse is the lack of inclusion of the macro-forces. Some of the macro-forces deeply driving what’s going on are:

  • Technology macro-force. Here is where inter-connectedness hits hardest. However, this is probably the easiest macro-force to deal with, as technology will take care of itself, as it always has. Open source and other collaborative models will only speed-up that self-care of technology: standards will emerge almost naturally, by natural selection, or my monopolistic interventions.
  • Regulatory macro-force. Regulation is still very high on the agenda of financial institutions, and one can only expect that more is to come, especially on the area of data capitalism, handling of personal and corporate data, and even data ethics. After having digested the regulatory impact of the 2008 financial crisis, many are tempted and seduced to jump back with relief into innovation. The blockchain hype is a great excuse for claiming one is busy with the future state of things. Nothing could be further from the truth
  • Geo-political macro-force: Grexit, Brexit, Terrorism, War, Surveillance, climate, and other crisis that can pop-up at any moment in time, with their potential of killing overnight all the innovation plans and ambitions.
  • Eco macro-force: the acknowledgement that our organizations don’t operate in isolation, that we have to evolve from ego-businesses to eco-businesses, not only extracting value out of the ecosystem for our sole and own benefit, but that we are part of a reciprocal non-zero-sum game with an unspoken desire to save humanity.

The third simplification is the omission of the time component of evolution. I strongly recommend you discovering the work of Simon Wardley and his “situational awareness maps”.

 

 

Different values are created by different versions of different technologies and value engines, each of them evolving at their own pace on the lifecycle of emerging to commodity/utility. For big organizations – like financial institutions – it is extremely difficult to map out the current state, let’s not even mention the ability to strategically decide where one wants to head for in different time horizons in the future.

The same situational awareness is not only needed for (existing) and new technologies, but also for existing and new regulations, geo- and eco- events and ambitions.

In the past many have been concerned with the “backward compatibility” of new services and solutions. Backwards compatibility with the existing footprint and practices in the market that is.

I believe there is room today to start thinking in terms of “Forward Compatibility”.

What is Forward Compatibility? It is a capability to plan ahead for gradual adoption by the ecosystem, taking into account the different barriers mentioned above. This is about knowing HOW to get at the new destination:

  • How you rally the main stakeholders of the ecosystem into a rigorous system and process innovation? Process innovation is different from process-, datamodel-, or messaging standardization. It is not about standardizing the existing and guaranteeing backwards compatibility with the existing. It is about co-creating a new reality.
  • How you promote the evolution from the current model to the future model? In the case of distributed ledger technologies for example, it is not about a tabula rasa that will eradicate the existing, but how one evolves from for example a messaging hub-and-spoke paradigm towards business objects and lifecycles in the cloud, initially probably in one central database (one node), and then evolve to a peer-to-peer networks of many distributed databases or nodes (remember the Digital Asset Grid?)
  • How to bootstrap this new reality taking into account the network effects to be created and promoted in the new P2P reality.

No disruption will happen without fundamental re-design – or better re-invention – of the end-to-end business processes:

  • Organizations knowing where they want to get and defining and leading that journey;
  • De-risking change throughout this journey;
  • Making trade-offs in the breadth ànd depth of the destination;
  • Moving beyond the atomic nature of the transaction. As mentioned an nausea in previous posts, it is not good enough anymore to enable (atomic) transactions, the challenge is to enable commerce, as an end-to-end process

Startups/Scale-ups who want to be part of this endeavor, will need to know how to “scale”: they will need to learn to appreciate the mechanics of growing a startup into a corporate. This growth process (and its associated growth pains) is very well described in the post “Go Corporate or go home” around the concept of legibility of on organization. The startup organizations – whether they like it or not – will need to become more legible, more predictable. The author makes a very solid argument why hierarchies are needed.

“The smaller a company is, the less they need to formalize anything, and the less the three levels — chain of command, business process, and culture — differ.”

 As they grow, they will have to synchronize how they transform these three levels (chain of command, business process, and culture). It’s not only from small self-sufficient team into hierarchies; it is also growing into professional business processes, and evolving the social fabric and conventions.

Although startups, scale-ups, and corporate innovation sandboxes mimicking the startup culture “love to have and keep the flexibility, the cost of growth is scale, integration, and profitability.”

In this context, it is probably worth having a look at the post about the Transferwise culture (I could have taken any other scale-up for that matter) “We inspire smart people and we trust them”, and especially the comment on that post that talks about KPIs, product-level empowerment, about focusing on growth more holistically, actually removing bottlenecks and silos, empowering teams at the product level, and instrumenting themselves to be able to actually get granular feedback.

If possible – assuming you want to spend some quality time – read that post and comment after you have read “Go corporate of go home”.

So next time, when you pitch about disruption, about the end of banks/banking, about collaboration/co-operation, or about any other technology solving world hunger, please make sure you have an answer on how to get to your new destination. I would suggest you keep forward compatibility in mind.

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I was invited at the 7th Banking Innovation Forum in Vienna to speak on Innovation. The title of my talk was “Innovation: from tactics to strategy”

I have posted the deck on Slideshare

It was an interesting audience, with most people coming from Central and Eastern Europe, with some interesting case studies from Paolo Barbesino from UniCredit in Italy, Carlos Gomez from Activo bank in Portugal, Marcel Gajdos from Visa Europe Czech Republic/Slovakia, Efigence in Poland, and Wojciech Bolanowski from PKO Bank Polski. I made quite some notes, and if i find the time to make a post on it, i will.

Luckily, my fans are out there to help me. I planned write something about my talk as well, but Wojciech Bolanowski already did that in his great LinkedIn Post here. I have cut and pasted his post in its entirety, as it captures well what i was trying to convey in that presentation. Thank you so much, Wojciech, much appreciated 😉

+++ Start post Wojciech

Inspire other people, think differently, create spaces where people come alive, ship to customers; as well as bravery, prototyping, events, capabilities and clarity – these are ingredients for successful innovation within big organization; at least according to excellent speaker and Innotribe Co-founder Peter Vander Auwera.

How to innovate in the shadow of behemoth?

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Peter spoke on the first day of 7th Annual Banking Innovation Forum by Uniglobal in Vienna Marriott Hotel (as pictured above). He was keeping the audience extremely focused and interested. The subject was complex and of great importance: how to make really BIG organization innovative. As Peter put it in an outstanding rethoric figure: “how to make babies”. I would like to add: how to make the babies when you are well-known, established, serious and successful one with huge legacy and obliging history.

The questions are (usually) much more important than particular answers, so there is not my goal to report Peters’s solution in details. What I would like to point out is the question itself. Today, in the fast-running world of fin-tech start-ups and quasi-banking innovators almost every bank is big enough to raise this question to itself. Is it enough to inspire other people with your disrutptive ideas? Is such inspiring even possible in organization too big to change itself spontaneously? What could possibly happen if you think differently from dominant thinking styles?

Obviously, being innovative within mammoth-size organization is a big challenge and requires specific attitude and social skills. As I understood one of the Peter’s suggestion is to create appropriate team which become the centre and engine of the process. The brave, capable team with clearly set culture of “rather be failing frequently than never trying new things” to quote Peter’s presentation. Some important tools to do so are special workspaces, integrating events and ways of building true alignment.

Bravery – the slide of the presentation. Source: Uniglobal

How to gain executives’ support?

The presentation was full of insider stories with some of them concerning interactions between innovators and the board members. Those were a great lesson of struggle which, I think, at least to some extend, any innovator should expect and be prepared for. The very useful take-out was about prototyping and commercial launching of innovative products. The prototype should be, according to Peter’s best practice, as vivid and identical with the final product as possible. No more “Power Point Prototypes” unless you would like to fail. What’s even more – prototyping is just a step to the real strategic goal – to deliver real, commercial product and give it to customers. “Go out of the sandbox” is another great statement I heard from the speaker. Indeed, today environment of fast growing and alternating product propositions demand being “on market”. The Grand Jury of customers has no time to screen through pilots or prototypes; every company should be ready to risk and show its innovation as soon as it is delivered. In my opinion this is extremely important to realize. Shipment to customers what is already prototyped is the crucial part of execution process in innovation. I feel it is striking and true, therefore I tweeted this immediately with hashtag #BAIF2015!

What about the reluctant middle-level-managers?

The next splendid remark is about mid-level managers’ attitude toward change. For them the main goal is “too keep any changes far away of the plan”. It is understandable and rational. For manager’s KPIs are target-related, they try to keep organization on the course to achieve them. However, any innovation process within organization creates the risk of change, which, possibly, could alternate plans and goals. This is the real challenge – to execute innovation in organization which mainly consists of medium-level managers. And execution itself is much more difficult and lasts much longer than whole creative process of gathering ideas, evangelization, internal promotion etc. What Peter stressed, and I agree fully, is thatin context of big organizations idea management process is easier and shorter than its incubation and implementation. In start-ups world there is exactly the opposite relation.

Start-ups as indicators

Start-ups in financial sector (dubbed fintech recently) occupied a lot of Peter’s presentation as he is involved in the well-known Innotribe@Sibos program. The event has attracted more than 340 participants this year. It is quite nice sample to show what’s going on in innovation. With four continental semi-finals (NYC, London, Cape Town and Singapore) it gives global overview and prime selection of activities. This could be a useful indicator for big companies to track the start-up trends and pick up something valuable from. For example in 2014 the leading areas of start-up activity were (despite a broad category of corporates/business services) investment management, lending, big data and personal financial management. It is a clear message to banks: there is innovation coming to your core businesses and it is technology-driven.

This post is inspired by presentation shown on of 7th Annual Banking Innovation Forum ; there is another one of this category, in case you are interested:

Collateral damage of 2008 – card revenues in CEE

Peter Vander Auwera on stage in Vienna. Source: Uniglobal

Linguistic disclaimer

I have written this text in English and I know my limitations. It is possible you find this post illogical, offending, unclear or too simplistic. It does not mean to be that way, so please blame it to my imperfect English skills. I am neither native nor perfect English speaking person . If you want to be helpful, do share your grammar, spelling, style and any other remarks with me. I would appreciate any contributing comment, especially if it came from native speakers.

+++ End post Wojciech

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