Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

Read Full Post »

“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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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?

Read Full Post »

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
SystemsWiki
Institute for the Study of Complex Systems
Complex Systems Roadmaps
and of course our friends at Cognitive Edge

Read Full Post »

Yesterday, I went to the NESTA event ‘Engaging Communities in Public Service Innovation in Scotland‘.
After good food and discussion, the afternoon was opened by Campbell Christie of the Christie Commission (Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services) telling us about the work of the Commission to date.
There is still a time for submissions, and he was seeking evidence on the following:

  • The effectivenesss of multi-function outcome-focused teams;
  • Co-production, working together (cf.  NESTA report);
  • More general use of outcomes e.g. for governance, budgets, professional standards, performance.

There was then a panel session chaired by Stian Westlake – Executive Director for Policy & Research, NESTA.
On the panel were:
Karyn McCluskey – Violence Reduction Unit, Strathclyde Police
Jim McCormick – Scotland Adviser, Joseph Rowntree Foundation
Alex Massie – The Spectator
Lorraine McMillan – Chief Executive, East Renfrewshire Council

The questions were many and varied, and the panel offered wide-ranging insights and experience without rants or rambles. In my experience, panel sessions often fail and NESTA deserves credit for this one’s success.

Karyn McCluskey told of the power of re-perception, thinking about violence as a disease.

Gordon Hall of the Deming Learning Network asked a ‘systems thinking’ question about the need to move from top-down command and control, based on its submissions to the Commission. This got nods of agreement from the panel but not the discussion the topic warranted. Some of the experiences quoted during the afternoon sounded  like co-production and personalization were being grafted onto the existing silos, and not part of a move to an outside-in organization, with  its attendant simplification.

From an Argenta point of view,

  • Our approach to developing ‘creative intrapreneurs’ found resonance in discussion.  For us, an intrapreneur is an employee of a large organisation who has many of the characteristics of the start-up entrepreneur in that he/she has the desire and the skills to turn invention into innovation using the resources and capabilities of the organisation, despite the rigidities of behaviour and process that are commonly found in large enterprises.
  • The need to ‘build capacity in a short time’ is certainly  a familiar challenge.
  • Alan Drummond was delighted to hear that Lorraine McMillan had been a physicist concerned with technical innovation in a previous life!

    For me, the highlight was the question from Jim in the audience about changing from care to empowerment, based on a partnership of equals, and the honesty of Karyn McCluskey’s reply. The concern was the lack of urgency throughout the afternoon. The sign that we are making progress will be when people stop talking about ‘service delivery’, the killer indicator of pre-defined ‘push’ rather than user-centred ‘pull’.

    ‘The ambulance down in the valley’  was relevant to more than the discussion on early years investment.

    A Fence or an Ambulance
    by Joseph Malins (1895)
    -a poem about prevention –

    ‘Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,
    though to walk near its crest was so pleasant;
    but over its terrible edge there had slipped
    a duke and full many a peasant.

    So the people said something would have to be done,
    but their projects did not at all tally;
    some said, ‘Put a fence ’round the edge of the cliff, ‘
    some, ‘An ambulance down in the valley.’

    But the cry for the ambulance carried the day,
    for it spread through the neighbouring city;
    a fence may be useful or not, it is true,
    but each heart became full of pity
    for those who slipped over the dangerous cliff;

    And the dwellers in highway and alley
    gave pounds and gave pence, not to put up a fence,
    but an ambulance down in the valley.

    ‘For the cliff is all right, if your careful, ‘ they said,
    ‘and if folks even slip and are dropping,
    it isn’t the slipping that hurts them so much
    as the shock down below when they’re stopping.’

    So day after day, as these mishaps occurred,
    quick forth would those rescuers sally
    to pick up the victims who fell off the cliff,
    with their ambulance down in the valley.

    Then an old sage remarked: ‘It’s a marvel to me
    that people give far more attention
    to repairing results than to stopping the cause,
    when they’d much better aim at prevention.

    Let us stop at its source all this mischief, ‘ cried he,
    ‘come, neighbours and friends, let us rally;
    if the cliff we will fence, we might almost dispense
    with the ambulance down in the valley.’

Read Full Post »

Off to Dumfries yesterday in the Toyota. Lovely run. Please don’t tell people how beautiful Nithsdale is, I don’t want it full of tourists (not true). My object was a workshop on Business Storytelling given by  Bill Gemmell and Alison Smith.  It was a  useful session; practical information, thought-provoking exercises and a range of  fascinating folk there.

We talked about triggers in business stories. Bill had diagnosed that my own website uses an ‘Alarm’ trigger. Correct diagnosis, but perhaps not the right trigger for most people starting out on major projects. ‘Lust’ was an obvious one for Cream O’ Galloway ice cream but there were much more unexpected stories about the people involved, their approach to farming, and Made Fair ice cream.

This got me wondering about engineering and Lust.  There is a popular romantic appeal to engineering in Britain, but it is generally seen as conflicting with business success. “The only thing Brunel did that made money was the Great Eastern”, and the popular perception of Concorde as a technical success but a financial disaster. Where does Innovation stand in relation to romance and lust? My own experience of heroic struggles in engineering, getting people to change their ways and e.g. use modular design and build, is that it is not good for the bottom line (or the blood pressure). Working in organizations with a high level of process capability doesn’t have heroism, just extreme focus and professionalism at a terrifying speed.

So is innovation “Naughty but Nice” to re-use a phrase? Should engineering kill the romance (and lose good people coming into the profession)?

This, on the day that Bristol Cars went into receivership. Try to de-construct  your own attitudes to the brand, the company and the cars. Me, I thought about George. He used to drive Bristols for the works racing team, and I haven’t seen him in a while.

The New York Times had a good article on the death of “the wizard of Sony” Nobutoshi Kihara  with a lovely quote about teaching people to build exceptional products “Anyone can find out the common sense things, and my role is not to teach common sense.”

Links from that article took me to the IEEE Oral Histories Collection. Plenty of romance there.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »