Tag Archives: Leadership

Leading people

Do you lead from the Past or lead to the Future?


Recently Loren Murray, Head of Safety for Pacific Brands in Australia penned a thought provoking blog on the default future, a concept from the book  ‘The Three Laws of Performance’. I came across the book a few years ago and digested it from a leader effectiveness standpoint. Loren does a nice job applying it to a safety perspective.

“During my career I noticed that safety professionals (and this included myself) have a familiar box of tricks. We complete risk assessments, enshrine what we learn into a procedure or SOP, train on it, set rules and consequences, ‘consult’ via toolboxes or committees and then observe or audit.

When something untoward happens we stop, reflect and somehow end up with our hands back in the same box of tricks writing more procedures, delivering more training (mostly on what people already know), complete more audits and ensure the rules are better enforced….harder, meaner, faster. The default future described in The Three Laws of Performance looked a lot like what I just described!

What is the default future? We like to think our future is untold, that whatever we envision for our future can happen….However for most of us and the organisations we work for, this isn’t the case. To illustrate. You get bitten by a dog when you are a child. You decide dogs are unsafe. You become an adult, have kids and they want a dog. Because of your experiences in the past it is unlikely you will get a dog for your kids. The future isn’t new or untold it’s more of the past. Or in a phrase, the past becomes our future. This is the ‘default future’.

Take a moment to consider this. It’s pretty powerful stuff with implications personally and organisationally. What you decide in the past will ultimately become your future.

How does this affect how we practice safety? Consider our trusty box of tricks. I spent years learning the irrefutable logic of things like the safety triangle and iceberg theory. How many times have I heard about DuPont’s safety journey? Or the powerful imagery of zero harm. The undeniable importance of ‘strong and visible’ leadership (whatever that means) which breeds catch phrases like safety is ‘priority number one’.

These views are the ‘agreement reality’ of my profession. These agreements have been in place for decades. I learnt them at school, they were confirmed by my mentors, and given credibility by our regulators and schooling system. Some of the most important companies in Australia espouse it, our academics teach it, students devote years to learning it, workers expect it…. Our collective safety PAST is really powerful.”

Loren’s blog caused me to reflect on the 3 laws and how they might be applied in a complexity-based safety approach. Let’s see how they can help us learn so that we don’t keep on repeating the past.
First Law of Performance
“How people perform correlates to how situations occur to them.”
It’s pretty clear that the paradigms which dominate current safety thinking view people as error prone or create problems working in idealistic technological systems, structures, and processes. Perplexed managers get into a “fix-it” mode by recalling what worked in the past and assume that is the solution going forward. It’s being mindful of perception blindness and opening both eyes.
Second Law of Performance
“How a situation occurs arises in language.”

As evidence-based safety analysts, we need to hear the language and capture the conversations. One way is the Narrative approach where data is collected in the form of stories. We may even go beyond words and collect pictures, voice recordings, water cooler snippets, grapevine rumours, etc. When we see everything as a collective, we can discover themes and patterns emerging. These findings could be the keys that lead to an “invented” future.

Third Law of Performance
“Future-based language transforms how situations occur to people.”

Here are some possible yet practical shifts you can start with right now:

  • Let’s talk less about inspecting to catch people doing the wrong things and talk more about Safety-II; i.e., focusing on doing what’s right.
  • Let’s talk less about work-as-imagined deviations and more about work-as-done adjustments; i.e., less blaming and more appreciating and learning how people adjust performance when faced with varying, unexpected conditions.
  • Let’s talk less about past accident statistics and injury reporting systems and talk more about sensing networks that trigger anticipatory awareness of non-predictable negative events.
  • Let’s talk less about some idealistic Future state vision we hope to achieve linearly in a few years and talk more about staying in the Present, doing more proactive listening, and responding to the patterns that emerge in the Now.
  • And one more…let’s talk less about being reductionists (breaking down a social-technical system into its parts) and talk more about being holistic and understanding how parts (human, machines, ideas, etc.) relate, interact, and adapt together in a complex work environment.

The “invented” future conceivably may be one that is unknowable and unimaginable today but will emerge with future-based conversations.

What are you doing as a leader today? Leading workers to the default future or leading them to an invented Future?

Click here to read Loren’s entire blog posting.

When thinking of Safety, think of coffee aroma

CoffeeSafety has always been a hard sell to management and to front-line workers because, as Karl Weick put forward, Safety is a dynamic non-event. Non-events are taken for granted. When people see nothing, they presume that nothing is happening and that nothing will continue to happen if they continue to act as before.

I’m now looking at Safety from a complexity science perspective as something that emerges when system agents interact. An example is aroma emerging when hot water interacts with dry coffee grinds. Emergence is a real world phenomenon that System Thinking does not address.

Safety-I and Safety-II do not create safety but provide the conditions for Safety to dynamically emerge. But as a non-event, it’s invisible and people see nothing. Just as safety can emerge, so can danger as an invisible non-event. What we see is failure (e.g., accident, injury, fatality) when the tipping point is reached. We can also reach a tipping point when we do much of a good thing. Safety rules are valuable but if a worker is overwhelmed by too many, danger in terms of confusion, distraction can emerge.

I see great promise in advancing the Safety-II paradigm to understand what are the right things people should be doing under varying conditions to enable safety to emerge.

For further insights into Safety-II, I suggest reading Steven Shorrock’s posting What Safety-II isn’t on Safetydifferently.com. Below are my additional comments under each point made by Steven with a tie to complexity science. Thanks, Steven.

Safety-II isn’t about looking only at success or the positive
Looking at the whole distribution and all possible outcomes means recognizing there is a linear Gaussian and a non-linear Pareto world. The latter is where Black Swans and natural disasters unexpectedly emerge.

Safety-II isn’t a fad
Not all Safety-I foundations are based on science. As Fred Manuelle has proven, Heinrich’s Law is a myth. John Burnham’s book Accident Prone offers a historical rise and fall of the accident proneness concept. We could call them fads but it’s difficult to since they have been blindly accepted for so long.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Santa Fe Institute where Complexity science was born. At the May 2012 Resilience Lab I attended, Erik Hollnagel and Richard Cook introduced the RMLA elements of Resilience engineering: Respond, Monitor, Learn, Anticipate. They fit with Cognitive-Edge’s complexity view of Resilience: Fast recovery (R), Rapid exploitation (M,L), Early detection (A). This alignment had led to one way to operationalize Safety-II.

Safety-II isn’t ‘just theory’
As a pragmatist, I tend to not use the word “theory” in my conversations. Praxis is more important to me instead of spewing theoretical ideas. When dealing with complexity, the traditional Scientific Method doesn’t work. It’s not deductive nor inductive reasoning but abductive. This is the logic of hunches based on past experiences  and making sense of the real world.

Safety-II isn’t the end of Safety-I
The focus of Safety-I is on robust rules, processes, systems, equipment, materials, etc. to prevent a failure from occurring. Nothing wrong with that. Safety-II asks what can we do to recover when failure does occur plus what can we do to anticipate when failure might happen.

Resilience can be more than just bouncing back. Why return to the same place only to be hit again? Early exploitation means finding a better place to bounce to. We call it “swarming” or Serendipity if an opportunity unexpectedly arises.

Safety-II isn’t about ‘best practice’
“Best” practice does exist but only in the Obvious domain of the Cynefin Framework. It’s the domain of intuition and the Thinking Fast in Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow. What’s the caveat with best practices? There’s no feedback loop. So people just carry on as they did before.  Some best practices become good habits. On the other hand, danger can emerge from the baddies and one will drift into failure.

Safety-II and Resilience is about catching yourself before drifting into failure. Being alert to detect weak signals (e.g., surprising behaviours, strange noises, unsettling rumours) and having physical systems and people networks in place to trigger anticipatory awareness.

Safety-II isn’t what ‘we already do’
“Oh, yes, we already do that!” is typically expressed by an expert. It might be a company’s line manager or a safety professional. There’s minimal value challenging the response.  You could execute an “expert entrainment breaking” strategy. The preferred alternative? Follow what John Kay describes in his book Obliquity: Why Our Goals are Best Achieved Indirectly.

Don’t even start by saying “Safety-II”. Begin by gathering stories and making sense of how things get done and why things are done a particular way. Note the stories about doing things the right way. Chances are pretty high most stories will be around Safety-I. There’s your data, your evidence that either validates or disproves “we already do”. Tough for an expert to refute.

Safety-II isn’t ‘them and us’
It’s not them/us, nor either/or, but both/and.  Safety-I+Safety-II. It’s Robustness + Resilience together.  We want to analyze all of the data available, when things go wrong and when things go right.

The evolution of safety can be characterized by a series of overlapping life cycle paradigms. The first paradigm was Scientific Management followed by the rise of Systems Thinking in the 1980s. Today Cognition & Complexity are at the forefront. By honouring the Past, we learn in the Present. We keep the best things from the previous paradigms and let go of the proven myths and fallacies.

Safety-II isn’t just about safety
Drinking a cup of coffee should be a total experience, not just tasting of the liquid. It includes smelling the aroma, seeing the Barista’s carefully crafted cream design, hearing the first slurp (okay, I confess.) Safety should also be a total experience.

Safety can emerge from efficient as well as effective conditions.  Experienced workers know that a well-oiled, smoothly running machine is low risk and safe. However, they constantly monitor by watching gauges, listening for strange noises, and so on. These are efficient conditions – known minimums, maximums, and optimums that enable safety to emerge. We do things right.

When conditions involve unknowns, unknowables, and unimaginables, the shift is to effectiveness. We do the right things. But what are these right things?

It’s about being in the emerging Present and not worrying about some distant idealistic Future. It’s about engaging the entire workforce (i.e., wisdom of crowds) so no hard selling or buying-in is necessary.  It’s about introducing catalysts to reveal new work patterns.  It’s about conducting small “safe-to-fail” experiments to  shift the safety culture. It’s about the quick implementation of safety solutions that people want now.

Signing off and heading to Starbucks.

A pathetic safety ritual endlessly recycled

Dave Johnson is Associate Publisher and Chief Editor of ISHN, a monthly trade publication targeting key safety, health and industrial hygiene buying influencers at manufacturing facilities of all sizes.  In his July 09 blog (reprinted below), he laments how the C-suite continues to take a reactive rather than proactive approach to safety. Here’s a reposting of my comments.

Let’s help the CEOs change the pathetic ritual

Dave: Your last paragraph says it all. We need to change the ritual. The question is not why or what, but how. One way is to threaten CEOs with huge personal fines or jail time. For instance, in New Zealand a new Health and Safety at Work Act is anticipated to be passed in 2014. The new law will frame duties around a “person conducting a business or undertaking” or “PCBU”. The Bill as currently drafted does not neatly define “PCBU” but the concept would appear to cover employers, principals, directors, even suppliers; that is, people at the top. A tiered penalty regime under the new Act could see a maximum penalty of $3 million for a body corporate and $600,000 and/or 5 years’ imprisonment for an individual. Thrown into jail due to unsafe behaviour by a contractor’s new employee whom you’ve never met would certainly get your attention.

But we know the pattern: Initially CEOs will order more compliance training, inspections, more safety rules. Checkers will be checking checkers. After a few months of no injuries, everyone will relax and as Sidney Dekker cautioned, complacency will set in and the organization will drift to failure. Another way is to provide CEOs with early detection tools with real-time capability. Too often we read comments in an accident report like “I felt something ominous was about to happen” or “I told them but nobody seemed to listen.”

CEOs need to be one of the first, not the last, to hear about a potential hazard identified but not being addressed. We now have the technology to allow an organization to collect stories from the front line and immediately convert them to data points which can be visually displayed. Let’s give CEOs and higher-ups the ability to walk the talk. In addition, we apply a complexity-based approach where traditional RCA investigative methods are limited. Specifically, we need to go “below the water line” when dealing with safety culture issues to understand the why rituals persist. 

Gary Wong
July 16, 2014

G.M.’s CEO is the latest executive to see the light

By Dave Johnson July 9, 2014

Wednesday, June 11, 2014, at the bottom right-hand corner of the section “Business Day” in The New York Times, is a boxed photograph of General Motors’ chief executive Mary T. Barra. The headline: “G.M. Chief Pledges A Commitment to Safety.”

Nothing against Ms. Barra. I’m sure she is sincere and determined in making her pledge. But I just shook my head when I saw this little “sidebar” box and the headline. Once again, we are treated to a CEO committing to safety after disaster strikes, innocent people are killed (so far G.M. has tied 13 deaths and 54 accidents to the defective ignition switch), and a corporation’s reputation is dragged through the media mud. The caption of Ms. Barra’s pic says it all: “…Mary T. Barra told shareholders that the company was making major changes after an investigation of its recall of defective small cars.”

Why do the commitments, the pledges and the changes come down from on high almost invariably after the fact?

You can talk all you want about the need to be proactive about safety, and safety experts have done just that for 20 or 30 or more years. Where has it gotten us, or more precisely, what impact has it had on the corporate world?

Talk all you want
Talk all you want about senior leaders of corporations needing to take an active leadership role in safety. Again, safety experts have lectured and written articles and books about safety leadership for decades. Sorry, but I can’t conjure the picture of most execs reading safety periodical articles and books. I know top organization leaders have stressful jobs with all sorts of pressures and competing demands. But I have a hard time picturing a CEO carving out reading time for a safety book in the evening. Indeed a few exist; former Alcoa CEO Paul O’Neill is the shining example. But they are the exceptions that prove the rule. The National Safety Council’s Campbell Institute of world class safety organizations and CEOs who “get it” are the exceptions, too, I’d assert.

And what is the rule? As a rule, proven again and again ad nauseam, top leaders of large corporations only really get into safety when they’re forced into a reactive mode. For the sake of share price and investor confidence, they speak out to clean up a reputational mess brought about by a widely publicized safety tragedy. Two space shuttles explode. Refineries blow up. Mines cave in. The incident doesn’t have to involve multiple fatalities and damning press coverage. I’ve talked with and listen to more than one plant manager or senior organization leader forced to make that terrible phone call to the family of a worker killed on the job, and who attended the funeral. The same declaration is stressed time and again: “Never again. Never again am I going to be put in the position of going through that emotional trauma. Business school never prepared me for that.”

“In her speech to shareholders, Ms. Barra apologized again to accident victims and their families, and vowed to improve the company’s commitment to safety,” reported The New York Times. “Nothing is more important than the safety of our customers,” she said. “Absolutely nothing.”

Oh really? What about the safety of G.M.’s workers? Oh yes, it’s customers who drive sales and profits, not line workers. This is cold business reality. Who did G.M.’s CEO want to get her safety message across to? She spoke at G.M.’s annual shareholder meeting in Detroit. Shareholders’ confidence needed shoring up. So you have the tough talk, the very infrequent public talk, about safety.

Preaching to the choir
I’ve just returned from the American Society of Safety Engineers annual professional development conference in Orlando. There was a raft of talks on safety leadership, what senior leaders can and should do to get actively involved in safety. There were presentations on the competitive edge safety can give companies. If an operation is run safely, there are fewer absences, better morale, good teamwork, workers watching out for each other, cohesiveness, strong productivity and quality and brand reputations. The classic counter-argument to the business case was also made: safety is an ethical and moral imperative, pure and simple.

But who’s listening to this sound advice and so-called thought leadership? As NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard pointed out in his talk, the ASSE audience, as with any safety conference audience, consists of the true believers who need no convincing. How many MBAs are in the audience?

Too often the moral high ground is swamped by the short-term, quarter-by-quarter financials that CEOs live or die by. Chalk it up to human nature, perhaps. Superior safety performance, as BST’s CEO Colin Duncan said at ASSE, results in nil outcomes. Nothing happens. CEOs are not educated to give thought and energy to outcomes that amount to nothing. So safety is invisible on corner office radar screens until a shock outcome does surface. Then come the regrets, the “if only I had known,” the internal investigation, the blunt, critical findings, the mea culpas, the “never again,” the pledge, the commitment, the vow, the tough talk.

There’s that saying, “Those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it.” Sadly, and to me infuriatingly, a long history of safety tragedies has not proven to be much of a learning experience for many corporate leaders. “Ah, that won’t happen to us. Our (injury) numbers are far above average.” Still, you won’t have to wait long for the next safety apology to come out of mahogany row. It’s a pathetic ritual endlessly recycled.


Accountants live in the Past

A family milestone was recently achieved when my nephew received his CA designation. Great to see when a lot of sweat and effort ultimately leads to a personal and professional goal.

Chris Cairns CA

The blog heading is not meant to be derogatory; it’s just what accountants primarily do. Their job is to record company history in financial terms, according to GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles). According to Wikipedia, the rules and procedures for reporting under GAAP are complex and have developed over a long period of time. Currently there are more than 150 “pronouncements” as to how to account for different types of transactions. GAAP is slowly being phased out in favour of the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).

Not all CAs stay in the accounting field. In many cases it’s a foundational step that will lead to a successful business, management, IT career.

IMO, the biggest contribution a CA just starting out can make is busting through the “yellow bubble.”  That means not being trapped by existing paradigms but challenging them. The world needs CAs in leadership roles to enable new perspectives and ways of thinking emerge and flourish. Obviously the disruption must be respectful and tactful to avoid ticking off senior CAs who may not realize they have become professionals trapped in their own expertise. In the following video, Dave Snowden explains the phenomenon.

What are some of these accounting paradigms we should challenge?

One of the oldest and most durable (resistive?) paradigms in an organization is the financial system that runs on a fiscal year. It is so strong that other systems such as HR, Planning, Marketing, and Supply Chain align their activities to fiscal quarters. If the fiscal year ends on 31 March, a phenomenon called “March madness” takes place. Cautious for the preceding 11 months, a manager will madly spend to minimize year-end budget variance or in fear of having next year’s budget allotment reduced. To avoid this annual ritual, managers are directed to curve budgets; that is, guess when they expect expenses to be charged.

Anyone who has managed a project extending over one year has encountered accrual accounting. It’s spending time guesstimating what your expenditures will be on a particular date. Think about the times you wanted to proceed but we’re told you had to defer due to budgetary reasons. Alternatively, you were surprised and told to spend money now as there were surplus funds. However, you couldn’t pull it off due to lead time issues.

Why is the 12-month fiscal year a sacred cow? Consider the annual employee appraisal. Does it make sense to reward or punish employees according to some fiscal time schedule? Agile companies don’t; they formally recognize performance immediately.

In companies that have installed an IT ERP Financial systems, the Control of Information paradigm is significantly reinforced. Many CAs and CIOs struggle with the advent of social media software, products of the Complexity/Sense-Making S-curve. It will be fascinating to observe those who try to control information and those to choose to unleash the power of networks. Professor Robert Plant in his HBR article “IT Has Finally Cracked the C-Suite” wrote about a new leadership title Chief Business Technology Officer (CBTO). It’s a paradigm shift for technology leaders who still refer to themselves in terms of “working with the business” rather than using technology to drive business strategy.  “You can tell the ones who will thrive and survive and the ones who won’t,” he says. “It may be a year, it may be four, but many are not going to make it because they are so focused on old-school stuff that their competitors will focus on differentiating them and beat them eventually.”

How might one improve business agility? Small ideas include removing the accruals burden on the project manager and putting the onus on the accountants to estimate the dollars spent. A bigger shift is to dispense with a fiscal year operation and run the total business on a Gantt chart. Adam Laskinsky in his book Inside Apple revealed that the Apple culture has only one budget held by the CFO. Managers are not encumbered by dollar watching and focus full attention on getting their projects done.

The future belongs to companies, to organizations,  and to governments who recognize the need for strategic agility. And there’s a strong possibility they will be led by smart CAs.

When a disaster happens, will it be fast recovery or swarming?

Last month’s blog was about Act in the Cynefin Framework’s Chaotic domain.  Be aware you cannot remain in the Chaotic domain as long as you want. If you are not proactively trying to get out it, somebody or something else will be taking action as Asiana Airlines learned.

How you decide to Sense and Respond? We can show 2 proactive strategies:

Resilience as Cynefin DynamicsStrategy A is a fast recovery back to the Ordered side. It assumes you know what went wrong and have a solution documented in a disaster plan ready to be executed.

If it’s not clearly understand what caused the problem and/or you don’t have a ready-made solution in place,  then Strategy B is preferred. This is a “swarming” strategy perfected by Mother Nature’s little creatures, in particular, ants.

AntsIf the path to a food supply is unexpectedly blocked, ants don’t stop working and convene a meeting like humans do. There are no boss ants that command and control. Individual ants are empowered to immediately start probing to find a new path to the food target. Not just one ant, but many participate. Once a new path is found, communication is quickly passed along and a new route is established.

This is Resilience – the ability to bounce back after taking a hit. 

Manage things, Lead People

As a manager and later a consultant, I have been involved with helping people deal with change. My first formal exposure in change methodologies occurred when I was trained by ODR. Founded by Darryl Conner in 1974, ODR held licenses with the major consulting firms from the mid-80s to late 90s. His book Managing at the Speed of Change became a must read for ERP clients.

So that we have a common understanding, let’s use Wikipedia’s definition:

“Change management is a structured approach to shifting/transitioning individuals, teams, and organizations from a current state to a desired future state. It is an organizational process aimed at helping employees to accept and embrace changes in their current business environment.”

There were many methods, templates, charts, diagrams, and forms endeavouring to cover all avenues one would encounter in change management. As a linear, sequential type person, I felt like I had hit the jackpot and won the prize at the end of the rainbow. I was taught the who, when, where, why and hows and became a SME – subject matter expert. FYI, in the consulting world, being a SME is no longer kosher; you are now called a SMS – subject matter specialist. Why? To avoid possibly being sued by a client if big-time projects go badly wrong. Thank you, legal beagles.

Does the preceding sound like the Complicated Domain to you? Change Management was viewed as complicated yet quite manageable. Sense what’s happening using assessments and surveys. Analyze the feedback. Respond with the appropriate packaged solution. Very Ordered side.

If employee backlash or unpredictable behaviour edging on chaos arose, just steer them back on track. One of the more interesting statements I heard was: “We first try to change the person. If that doesn’t work, then we change the person.” It’s a rather subtle way of saying if you don’t get onboard with the program you’re terminated.

What does this mean for CE practitioners who might find themselves involved in a change initiative? I have a couple of ideas to share.

Manage Things, Lead People 
I first heard this from Stephen Covey and it’s been a real favourite of mine. It recognizes that non-human objects (inanimate and living) adhere to logical cause & effect rules. Flip the switch; the light goes on. Press the button, the motor stops. Stimulus-response amoeba behaviour. Simple Domain stuff.

However, when dealing with humans, it’s an entirely different ball game. People have the ability to think, make choices, and choose to behave accordingly. Since we cannot manage/control people, that leaves leading them. Conceivably, they may choose not to listen and go their own way. As leaders, we hope to influence their choosing by giving them positive or negative consequences and acting as models of desired behaviour. Unpredictable behaviour, no understood link between cause and effect? Sounds like Complex Domain to me. Consider Probing as a Stimulus. Sense behaviour changing and patterns forming. Respond by accelerating or dampening stimulation. Rinse, and repeat (sorry about that…)

CE Leadership vs Management

Change Leadership
We have been playing around with the Cynefin framework by creating model variations and testing resonance with clients. One such variation advocates the Ordered side is Management and the Unordered side is all about Leadership. It’s having the desire to get “out of the box” and courage to declare “Enough is enough!” But it’s also having consideration and respect for others who are quite comfortable doing same old, same old. All the more reason why I feel small safe-fail experiments are much more tenable than massive change efforts.

We’re also putting out the notion that most of the time one wants to be on the Ordered Side where life is stable, predictable, easily fixable, and in steady state mode. When you finally come to grips you can’t solve today’s problems using present methods, you take the lead to venture to the Complex Domain As leader, you initiate a search and rally followers to find a new solution that will change the paradigm. 

Change Management
I’m not throwing Change Management out of my toolkit. I occasionally do project management work for clients when the subject of change management is discussed. In this case we are talking about modifying tasks, reallocating resources, issuing change orders. You know, things that don’t think but just get moved around on a spreadsheet or Gantt chart. But if I do hear some whining or screaming from project team members, it’s a signal to shift into a Change Leadership role.

Working with Front-line Managers and Supervisors

Front-line managers and supervisors practically spend their entire working day on the Ordered Side. When they are faced with a Complex Domain issue, unfortunately they struggle big time.

I guesstimate that the time split between the Complicated and Simple Domains is in the 20/80 range respectively. Everyday operational decisions primarily require Management by Intuition – relying on established habits and past experiences to get the job done. As we know, in the Complicated Domain an expert is called upon to sense, analyze, respond. The first-line manager can play the role of an expert, in particular, when he is a key player in a pilot project. Many years ago I was in that situation.SenseMakingA pilot project is a small trial or test of a change idea. It’s common practice to include a pilot in a large scale Business Case. The chief purpose is to locate the kinks and bugs before full implementation and rolling out to the masses. I was picked as one of the experts in the field since I was well positioned in the org hierarchy to generate data and hopefully provide useful feedback. In the beginning I objected (“Why me?”) since it affected my ability to get the Simple Domain work done. However, my resistance faded quickly when it was strongly suggested to “get with the program.”With edict in hand, I was prepared to do whatever was necessary to make the pilot work. The company had invested in training my brain to solve business problems. So the pilot was perceived by me as nothing more than another problem to tackle. In addition, as an up and coming manager, I had formed a plausible rationale: “Let’s see. Someone at a higher-level has created a business case. To get executive buy-in, the plan has proposed launching a pilot and testing the waters to reduce risk. They picked me to be involved in this pilot project for 3- 6 months. I don’t get to make a Go/No Go recommendation; my job is to collect data to help refine the business case. I can live with that. Hey, why risk a CLM (career limiting move) by blocking a change that my bosses want?”I already knew what the solution was; it was articulated in the business case that I read. So I did what Thomas Kuhn discovered and led to his coining the term Paradigm Shift. I fit the data to match the estimated costs and benefits. Plus ignored data that didn’t match or would screw up the business case. No big deal. This wasn’t much different from my days in the high school lab when my buddy and I cooked the data to prove the physics or chemistry law we were studying.

The business change initiative went ahead and did turn out to be a good one for the organization. My expert analysis I’m sure produced some distortion. But then again, I felt all along the project sponsors knew they had the green light from the get go . The pilot was just an exercise to say field personnel were involved. Such is life on the Ordered side.

What about working on the Unordered side? The first thing we do is put away our Sense/Analyze/Respond problem-solving tool bag. Instead we apply a Sense-Making approach and its Probe/Sense/Respond methodology. This calls for setting up Safe-Fail experiments to probe the system and sense the new attitudinal and behavioural patterns that emerge.

Safe-fail experiment

Working with front-line managers and supervisors on a Complex Domain issue is, to put it politely, a delightful challenge. Here are a few things to remember.

They have a really tough time working in the Complex Domain
Front-liners who spend most of their time on the Ordered side find unpredictability and uncertainty extremely discomforting. Problem solving is all about analyzing and finding cause & effect. When you as a facilitator say there is none, be prepared for stunned “how can that be?” faces.

Failure is OK

“Hey, didn’t you watch the Apollo 13 movie? Failure is not an option!”
Reminding them of the Cynefin framework helps to shift their heads from the Complicated to the Complex Domain.
We want failure to happen, as long as it’s tolerable and safe. We will carefully monitor and if things are getting too much out of control, shut down the experiment and stabilize.Probe, not Pilot
Coaching is required to focus their attention away from piloting to probing the system. At our client workshops we have small table groups design a safe-fail experiment. We learned they really struggle creating probes. We ask them to think about radical ideas that would provoke and spark strong reactions. We encourage suspending judgement when we hear murmuring such “Well, that won’t work. No way we can do that. The guys will think we’re nuts.”We should only observe, not measure in the Complex Domain
“Say what? This is a joke, right?”
They live by the Ordered side creed “what gets measured gets done”. Now we tell them the measures they are accustomed to may not be appropriate; the measures may belong to a paradigm we are escaping. So we can only observe behaviour and monitor accordingly.
Asking them to suspend their need to measure won’t be easy. Giving an analogy may offer some comfort: “We don’t want to be measuring velocity when, in the hindsight, we discover acceleration is the right measure. It’s conceivable we may have to invent a new measure.”Insanity is repeating something and expecting to get a different result
Umm, guess what. We can and are looking for different results in the Complex Domain. More incredulous looks. Maybe a few agitated smiles.In the Complex Domain, everything might be reset back to Ground Zero
“You got to be kidding me. You mean I can’t fall back on my vast knowledge accumulated over many years? Hey, that’s why they pay me the big bucks around here! My value will go down the toilet!”
This won’t be an isolated problem with front-line managers and supervisors. It will be a change leadership issue for everyone impacted.

You can Do More with Less
Front-liners who lead by empowering their people to come up with a solution get this really quickly. Front-liners who struggle with giving up control and feeling compelled to find a solution by themselves unfortunately practice Do Less with More.
At FranklinCovey, we use the Gardener vs. Mechanic analogy to point out the differences between leading and managing. A gardener knows he cannot command and control a seed to grow. His role is to nurture by providing water, soil, fertilizer and managing climate extremes.
On the other hand, Mechanics work with gears and pulleys on machines. Their job is to keep the machine running efficiently. If a gear breaks; throw it out and replace it with another.
In the Complex Domain we lead people and enable the system to solve the intractable problem.

Thinking about Paradigms and Paradigm Shifts

I was initially introduced to the notion of paradigms and paradigm shift by Joel Barker. For me, he was able to take a science phenomenon into the world of business.

From Wikipedia: “The word [paradigm] has come to refer very often now to a thought pattern in any scientific discipline or other epistemological context.” …Since the 1960s, the term [paradigm shift} has also been used in numerous non-scientific contexts to describe a profound change in a fundamental model or perception of events, even though Kuhn himself restricted the use of the term to the hard sciences.”
I can relate to non-scientific contexts. As a FranklinCovey trainer, I introduce the concept of paradigms very early in a 7 Habits of Highly Effective People workshop. 7 Habits is all about changing human behaviour and it starts with the paradigms, the beliefs, the mindsets, we possess. In many cases, the paradigms that people hold dearly are not wrong or incorrect; they are insufficient. In addition, if you become highly skilled at using a hammer, you see every problem as a nail.


I hold a Professional Engineer license. I enjoy analyzing problems, finding cause & effect relations, optimizing choices, and implementing solutions. Life is good. When I can make all the decisions, life is really good. However, when other people get involved (especially stakeholders who are not engineers) I get extremely frustrated. I also like to work in a very linear, sequential fashion. I dislike uncertainities, unknowns, unpredictable behaviours. What’s wrong with people? How can they disagree with me? Why can’t they see it my way? As a budding engineer, this was my attitude. Thankfully I quickly matured and discovered I had tunnel vision. I could only view things from my vantage point. The world was much broader and wider than that. In Cynefin framework terms, my early formative career years clearly put me in the Complicated Domain. In many instances I was able to argue that I was right. However, I was insufficient because I did not recognize the Unordered side where Complexity and Chaos resided. I had read some things about complexity thinking but still didn’t have a complete picture. That changed when I read Dave’s and Mary’s 2007 HBR article Leader’s Framework for Decision Making.

Too Good for your own Good

Whenever I took a course or attended a workshop, I discovered my return to my office was often filled with employee trepidation. “Uh oh! What has Gary learned now that he wants to try out on us?” In later years as a consultant, I would come equipped with tried and proven methods, tools, and templates. Yesterday’s posting about wanting to start an engagement with traditional interviewing is an example. Hey! Why not? It’s worked in the past and therefore, should work just as well again. As experts we need to ensure that we are using the right tools at the right time for the right reasons.
In Cynefin framework terms, it’s perfectly okay to recommend Simple Domain solutions such as Training 101 when a lack of basic skills is the problem. Here we’re dealing with known knowns. We must be aware, however, when we propose resolving a Complex Domain issue using a Complicated Domain approach. It’s that ability to use a hammer well inside us which wants to immediately jump in and start analyzing instead of patiently stepping back and probing the system. It’s getting the client to appreciate that a safety culture problem won’t go away if more rules are written, training is mandated for all, and documenting crew inspections is added to the supervisor’s already overloaded checklist.

I once was asked in a 7 Habits workshop must a perspective change be earth shattering, tsunami-sized to be called a paradigm shift? My opinion was no. Humour, for instance, is a paradigm shift. Standup comedians like Bob Hope, Bill Crosby, Jerry Seinfeld knew how the play the brain to create laughter. Question: What is a paradigm worth? Answer: 20 cents If you aren’t smiling (or groaning), don’t feel bad. It’s just an indication of the patterns that have formed in your brain. I will be exploring how the brain works in a future posting. Plus provide an explanation if you didn’t get the joke.
I’d like to end today’s ramblings with story of a paradigm shift in my own home.

We were at the dinner table with my young daughter, Jennifer, sitting across from me. “Daddy! I can count to 10!’ she proudly exclaimed. “Great, Jen! Show me!” “Okay. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10. See! I did it!” “Good job! Way to go!”
Now being the father who enjoyed giving his kids a challenge, I then asked: “Now, can you count backwards?”
“Sure!” she smiled.
Jen proceeded to jump out of the chair, turn her back to me and confidently shouted: “1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10. See! I did it!”.
My wife and I hit the floor laughing. Yes, it was a .001 paradigm shift on the Richter scale but one that we will always remember fondly.