What a dreadful title! However, it is of such conceptual distinctions that fortunes are made and lost.
At the Ergoship conference in Gothenburg last week, I asserted that the next stage in the ship design cycle is TRIZ dynamization, giving examples of robotics starting to appear on ships.
The other keynote speakers spoke of the coming of multi-function ships. Sounds much the same thing, perhaps. Wrong.
Dynamization is the use of re-configuration to extend the performance envelope, and perhaps increase the range of tasks the platform can perform. In aircraft this introduced retractable undercarriage, variable-geometry wings, and ‘droop snoots’.
A multi-function platform is designed with several specific roles from the outset. The history of this in military platform design is ‘mixed’ at best. Cross-over cars generally do several things badly. “A camel is a horse designed by committee” comes to mind as a warning. I wish the designers of multi-function platforms every success, but they should not underestimate their task. Dynamization sounds a much more promising conceptual starting point.

Update: a comment from a (different) Brian at EUReferendum points me to the wonderful multi-functionality proposed (and never used) for the VC10 aircraft.

Update: Yay! TRIZ life cycle rocks! A Materials KTN report on ‘Morphing in Marine Structures’ has  been published.  You need to join the Smart Materials Group before the download works.

“The opposite of top-down is outside-in” is more of a slogan than a business case.

John Seddon and Vanguard have made the case as regards ‘failure demand’ and its associated costs, but there is an (erroneous) “we don’t have failure demand” counter to that, and the argument is practical rather than philosophical (yes, I know …).

Recently, two outstanding posts have made the business case with brevity and clarity.

Confused of Calcutta’s post Musing about sharing and social in business starts out bang on the nail, and then drives it home. Do read it, it is short and the logic is unarguable.
The opening is:
“To paraphrase Peter Drucker, the primary purpose of a business is to create customers, people who are able and willing to part with their money to buy goods and services from you.
To paraphrase Ronald Coase, the primary purpose of a firm is to reduce business transaction costs, principally the costs of information, search, contracting and enforcement.
Words like “sharing” and “social” are often treated as fluffy and ephemeral and Utopian and otherworldly, dismissed as being too pinko-lefty-tree-hugger to make business sense.
Which begs the question. What makes business sense?”

Esko Kilpi  has what looks like a technical post but is much broader. It starts out investigating the Coase logic further, and then gives a clear statement of the business impact of recent developments, beginning:
“Two aspects of work have changed dramatically. First, all financially successful offerings involve customization, or aggregation by the end-user. This means that companies must thrive in situations where very little information or communication can be made routine. Second, all successful firms are actively involved in emergent, responsive interaction with people “outside”: customers and network partners.
These firms understand that value is not created inside the organization but in the larger ecosystem they are one part of.”

The key text from a business point of view is ‘Corporate Agility’ by Charlie Grantham, Jim Ware and Cory Williamson.

They set out a systems approach to collaborative strategic management that brings together IT, People and real estate. (Wonderfully for an ergonomist, it includes an excellent section on the well-designed workplace – with references to Propst!).

There are numerous texts on the difficult task of aligning business and IT. Andrew McAfee is perhaps pre-eminent here e.g. this piece, and there is a good piece recently from Marc Strohlein.

Two points in conclusion. Gibson’s quote “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed” is true. I remember the IRG Network Solution saying much of this in 1984. The book is somewhere in the loft probably. And of course “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” – W. Edwards Deming.

The first post in this series (available here) gave a very quick, and probably superficial, introduction to what C-K Theory claims to be and to do.  Now, we need to look at some established problem-solving methods to see how C-K Theory stands up.

Creative Problem-Solving : 

CPS is well established.  The method suggests that people separate their thinking into stages such as “problem exploration”, “idea generation and selection”, “action planning”.  That sounds simple enough, until you try it with a group of colleagues.  Some people want to jump straight to finding the solution.  I call this the “Let’s get this problem out of here so we can let some more problems in” fallacy – that fastest is always best.  Others feel energised by thinking up ever more creative solutions but lose the will to live when asked to turn just one of them into an action plan.  The most difficult stage to “sell” is the idea of checking whether the problem as stated is really what the group should be tackling.  A common objection is “This is what our boss wants us to solve so it must be right”.

If exploring the question isn’t challenging enough, CPS introduces the idea that, in each problem-solving stage, people should use both divergent thinking and convergent thinking – and to make sure that they do not mix them together.

Here is one way to picture the CPS approach:

3 Diamonds modelIf you think about any meeting you have been in where the aim was to gather new ideas, you will probably recognise that a very common sequence is “someone proposes an idea; the others find all the bad points; so that won’t work;OK whos next?”.  We call this “editing ideas as you go”.  If this is your experience, you probably ended up with very few really novel ideas that withtood this kind of serial stress test.

Even more worryingly, CPS has a lot of techniques based on metaphor (e.g. cartooning, word associations), challenging mindsets (e.g. reverse brainstorming, force-fitting), and playfulness (improvisation, poetry) . . . Enough!  CPS sounds deeply uncomfortable.

But it works . . .  when you are dealing with an intractable problem or you are genuinely looking for some breakthrough ideas . . . and when, most importantly, you work with a skilled CPS facilitator who can guide a group through the different CPS stages and divergent and convergent thinking by choosing the most appropriate technique at the right moment without adding their own ideas into the pot.

Behind CPS is the idea of creating permission, time and space for people to discover unusual re-combinations of concepts, images and thoughts which then pop out from the unconscious mind.  Koestler called this process “bo-sociation”.  These so-called “ah hah!” moments, rather than being fully-fledged solutions, are possibilities which open the door into unexpected “solution spaces”.  Then the hard work of turning the idea into reality begins.

Coming soon –“C-K Theory, CPS and TRIZ #2 – What Are the Benchmarks? (part 2)

Safety and innovation have more in common than appears at first sight. This post is about providing a safe workplace for creative knowledge work, triggered by a post by Donald E. Gray. I hope it is the first of a series on the points of similarity.
Donald E. Gray defined safety to mean “we can take risks and our coworkers/management will support us, especially if setbacks occur. We have the ability to speak our truth without fear of ridicule, rejection, or retribution“.  He devised a Safety Check

Hodu.com also has a safety check to see “How safe is it for you to fully share your ideas during this meeting?” on much the same lines. This is an important point, but only one of several aspects of safe knowledge work.
Compensation Cafe has some checks to stop curiosity getting killed, and concludes:
Once you have an environment where curiosity is valued and recognized, your staff will instantly seem much smarter and more engaged. You will find yourself working amongst solution creators and game changers and your own work will improve as well. Curiosity is the single catalyst that costs nothing and inspires anything. It may not be ideal for felines, but it does wonders for compensation professionals.”

When Esther Derby tweeted Donald E. Gray’s article, I remembered hearing Clint Eastwood talk about creating a safe environment for actors and found this article about him. Do read it, it is short and engaging.

Taking the article as accurate (and it reads that way), then Eastwood’s approach does not easily fit into frameworks for safety culture etc. What I have tried to do below is topic out the points from the article into a system design context to see how they fit.

  • Competent management with experience of the technical task.
  • Trust staff and encourage risk-taking.
  • Recruit on track record, and put staff on their honour to work well and hard (no Prima Donnas).
  • Deliver early, hold to deadlines.
  • Work in public, have clients etc. around all the time. Be presentation ready.
  • Management by walking around.
  • Keep ‘support’ staff in the loop so they work without disrupting delivery.
  • Keep minor roles aware of production drivers and expect them to deliver.

The list is surprising and anomalous. I haven’t got to the bottom of how or if this relates to more general thinking on building a ‘safe’ place for knowledge work.
Much the best tool to use (no disrespect to Donald E. Gray), with a profound understanding of how organizations work as systems, is Ron Westrum’s Safety Climate (I can’t find it on the web – will add a link if and when). Ron is giving a talk on ‘The Generative Organization’  at the 12th European Conference on Creativity and Innovation in Portugal this September. He is well worth hearing.

Argenta works with a large, international engineering company to run an Innovation Programme based on developing the ability of their project teams to plan and facilitate problem-solving Boosters. The Booster approach is based on a customised version of CPS (creative problem-solving). Our client recently attended a seminar on C-K Theory – a new approach for “designing the unknown” and he asked our advice on whether it could complement what developers in our client’s labs already do. (He is always on the lookout for the next big thing!  He had done the same thing with TRIZ.) So we did a bit of research and wrote him a paper. It is good to be challenged like this from time to time. It helps put what you do into sharper focus, and you learn a lot about how others view their own methods.

So this series of posts is based on what we learned. In this first post we need to provide a “rough guide” to C-K Theory as the new kid on the block. The next post will look at what we might mean by a “problem-solving method” and will develop some benchmarks by considering two established alternatives – CPS and TRIZ. Post #3 will propose three important questions to ask of any problem-solving method and will include the answers we came up with for the three methods we looked at. In post #4 we will suggest a model for capturing the most significant differences between the methods and discuss how this helps decide which oneis right in which context. Probably some other thoughts will occur to us at this point and so lead to other interesting stuff – let’s see.

C-K Theory :
The authors of this method claim that it offers a new and distinctive perspective on the cognitive processes underlying inventiveness and design. We use inventiveness to describe the ability of the human brain to produce thoughts which cannot be logically derived from previous knowledge yet which subsequently lead to successful applications. In the context of design and engineering, inventiveness would translate into
applied creativity; that is, problem-solving insights which produce routes towards novel solutions
innovation; that is, collaborative efforts to move from an idea to a real object (or system or product) which matches a human need of some kind.
The C-K approach (see this diagram) is based on the idea that inventiveness takes place when you explore two different spaces – Concept Space (C) and Knowledge Space (K) – and involves swapping your thinking within and between these two spaces; for example, K to C, C to C’, C to K, K to K’.
Two important points are that
– K-space is the space of codified and logical past learning (stuff people already “know” or could look up) while C-space is the space of concepts (stuff which is neither fully definable nor understood in exactly the same way by everyone and which can be explored to uncover novel, surprising ideas)
– exploring a concept to uncover fresh insights occurs by expansive partitioning of that concept – adding, subtracting or substituting attributes from ideas within K-space.

This reminds us of Pasteur’s claim that “inspiration is the impact of a fact on a well prepared mind”.

C-K Theory derives from, and appears to be mainly driven by, the work of Armand Hatchuel – Professor of Management Sciences and Design Engineering, Ecole des Mines, Paris. He has a 13 minute video introducing the concepts of C-K Theory available here.

Coming soon :  “C-K Theory, CPS and TRIZ #2 – What Are the Benchmarks?

Last week I experienced my first “Anecdote Circles” (see here for a white paper). Thank you, Ron, it was an enjoyable and fascinating experience. I see this as a form of brainstorming, but there are some interesting differences between anecdote circles and the brainstorming approaches and techniques we use from Creative Problem Solving and Synectics. Here are some first thoughts:

  • When done properly, all brainstorming should be fun. But I found this process particularly fun, energising and engaging. Why? Is it because there is sharing and/or learning taking place? Does the exercise have a particularly high “ah-ha!” factor? Is it an emotional outlet, an opportunity for commiseration, for getting things off your chest, for telling the truth? Is it an opportunity for recognition, for self-actualisation? Is it the camaraderie it generates, the feeling of all being in the same boat together? Was it just me?
  • Participants get to speak and listen to each other a lot. There is a high ratio of speaking to post-its compared to other post-it based brainstorming. Participants are only required to generate one or two post-its per anecdote.
  • You would use anecdote circles for generating lessons learned and sharing experiences rather than for generating ideas, although ideas could be a final output of a workshop using anecdote circles. Possible outputs from anecdote circles:
    • “War stories” about service delivery
    • Tips, tricks, how tos, do’s and don’ts, recommendations, ideas: knowledge shared
    • Material to start designing signifiers
    • Information about complex spaces, such as trends, weak signals, etc.
    • The themes can be used as headings for a presentation or summary or for chapters for a book on the topic under discussion
    • The themes can be used  for a gap-analysis (where we are now as opposed to where we want to be)
    • It can provide material to define archetypes for exploring culture, values, profiles, etc.
    • The high points and low points in people’s stories can provide material for inspiring speeches/stories/presentations  using the technique of contrasting worst with best, current with potential, problems and solutions, etc.
  • The best thing about SenseMaker (a suite of software applications developed by Cognitive Edge to extract patterns from the types of output you can get from anecdote circles) is that it removes the need to converge after divergence. It provides a promise of outputs, results, data, so that you can treat the anecdote circle as an end in itself, without the need to engage in horrid, mood-dampening convergent techniques.
  • In our first anecdote circle, where the objective was to generate material to identify signifiers (about which more next post), I was happy to stop after the clustering, whereas after the second anecdote circle, where the objective was to explore marketing issues, I felt the need to “do some convergence”, to arrive at a point where I had something I could “take away.” I did not want to do an action plan. I did not want to do a gap analysis. In the end, Julia suggested we quickly go around the themes and generate one or two post-its about “what we got” from each cluster. This was better than nothing, but Julia had also suggested that this would have been a good time to do a Synectics-type idea development exercise, i.e. to choose some “appealing and intriguing” post-its (of which there were plenty) and explore them as ideas, which may or may not lead to some actions. I think this would have worked well.
  • The question “what did you get from this?” helps you to actively listen and can produce a variety of types of response. (NB: it is difficult to translate this question into French and Italian.) Prompts such as “What’s the moral/significance of the story?” (the output will be moral lessons, lessons learned) “What did you hear?” and ”What’s the story about?” (people re-tell the story) give outputs that are too specific.
  • You are only supposed to generate 1 or 2 post-its per story, and use 5-6 words to express what you got out of the anecdote. I rarely respected this word limit. Sometimes I was quoting what people said. What would be the ideal output for this exercise? Why 5-6 words? You’re already constrained by the size of the post it. Synectics provides detailed instructions for generating output during a brainstorming: it should read like a “headline”, it should be expressed in positive language (whether you are expressing an idea, a concern, a reflection, etc.) and it should be expressed as a “How to…/I wish…” question/statement. This kind of output provokes further ideas, questions, reflections, etc., until you get to a point where you can start saying “what you do”, i.e. describing actions. What if you asked people to write “what they got from the story” as a Synectics-type output? Why not?

Your thoughts, responses, answers are very welcome.

Jurgen Appelo recently blogged a list of top 15 systems thinking books, and spurred me into finishing this post on systems thinking resources, with an emphasis on Socio-Technical Systems. It is not really a return booklist, which may come later.  Of his books, I would advocate Gerry Weinberg (very strongly), Checkland, Gall, and Ackoff. Some of the books on his list were purchasing mistakes by me, and others I have not read.

The real reason for the post is that we have had about sixty years of Socio-Technical Systems and systems thinking.  Anniversaries are sometimes hard to pin to specific events, and wikipedia says that Socio-Technical Systems (STS) is a phrase that was coined in the 1960s.  I won’t argue but it is 60 years since the key investigation by Trist and Bamforth into coal mining.

The classic paper by Trist on the first 30 years of STS is available on-line.  It is interesting to note how well the principles of work design and how to analyse a system have stood the test of time:

  1. An initial scanning is made of all the main aspects – technical and social- of the selected target system – that is, department or plant to be studied.
  2. The unit operations – that is, the transformations (changes of state) of the material or product that take place in the target system – are then identified, whether carried out by men or machines.
  3. An attempt is made to discover the key variances and their interrelations. A variance is key if it significantly affects (1) either the quantity or quality of production, and (2) either the operating or social costs of production.
  4. A table of variance control is then drawn up to ascertain how far the key variances are controlled by the social system – the workers, supervisors, and managers concerned. Investigation is made of what variances are imported or exported across the social-system boundary.
  5. A separate inquiry is made into social-system members’ perception of their roles and of role possibilities as well as constraining factors.
  6. Attention then shifts to neighboring systems, beginning with the support or maintenance system.
  7. Attention continues to the boundary-crossing systems on the input and output side – that is, supplier and user systems.
  8. The target system and its immediate neighbors are then considered in the context of the general management system of the organization as regards the effects of policies or development plans of either a technical or social nature.
  9. Recycling occurs at any stage, eventually culminating in design proposals for the target and/or neighboring systems.

The STS approach used in the Volvo plants at Kalmar and Uddevalla has been compared to the Toyota Production System, say at NUMMI e.g. here and here (pdf) . A difference between the two is the emphasis on learning at a group level vs. at an organizational level. For most people, however, the similarities are more important than the differences.
The STS story continues:

The Tavistock Institute is alive and well.
The A.K. Rice Institute celebrated 40 years last year and has some useful resources.
Ken Eason and Lisl Klein at the Bayswater institute have  papers and books that continue the STS approach, including this review (.pdf).

To summarize; STS and related systems thinking works, has much to offer our current working and technical environment, and is supported by a solid body of open source resources.I

Useful links (in no particular order)  include:
A presentation on Smart Work, Making it Happen.
A paper (.pdf) on fifty years of systems thinking for management
A learning Society in Scotland
Strategos material on STS
Paul Pangaro
John Hunter’s Curious Cat resources
A paper by William Hunter on doing more with less in the public sector
Complexity Digest
International Society for the Systems Sciences
UK Systems Society
Derek Hitchins
Open University Systems Thinking  resources and courses such as T214
Institute for the Study of Complex Systems
Complex Systems Roadmaps
and of course our friends at Cognitive Edge