Great stuff! If you enjoy this blog (the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog), you definitely should watch this webcast. This video has some great insight into education, learning and systems thinking. It also provides a good explanation of systems thinking compared to analysis. Dr. Ackoff: “You cannot explain the behavior of a system by analysis.” “The performance of the whole is never the sum of the performance of the parts taken separately: but it’s the product of their interactions. Therefore, the basic managerial idea introduced by systems thinking is that to manage a system effectively you must focus on the interactions of the parts rather than their behavior taken separately.”
Dr. Ackoff: “Most discussion of education assume that the best way to learn a subject is to have it taught to you. That’s nonsense… Teaching is a wonderful way to learn. Therefore if we want people to learn we have to make them teach.” If you want more on this see David Langford’s work which provides great advice on how to improve learning and education.
[They seem to have broken the webcast so I have delete it. How sad it is how poor a job well financed organizations to at maintaining what they put online.]
John Kotter believes technology and globalization are requiring us to change more rapidly. “It is very difficult to innovate without requiring people to do something different.” If an organization culture is mainly avoiding making anyone uncomfortable, innovation and improvement are quite difficult.
Improvement is required to stay in business today. The key to good management systems is how rapidly improvement is achieved, not that improvement is being made.
A bit of fun from Dilbert. I have had the exact experience Dilbert does of tech support refusing to think about the actual symptoms of the problem and insisting on following some script and wasting my time – repeatedly. The second act takes on another time waster with a management tip from Dogbert: “Always postpone meetings with time wasting morons.” Dogbert hasn’t quite adopted the respect for people principle.
My brother, Justin Hunter, gives a lightning talk on Combinatorial Testing – The Quadrant of Doom and The Quadrant of Massive Efficiency Gains in the video above. The following text is largely directly quoted from the talk – with a bit of editing by me.
When you have a situation that has many many many possible parameters and each time only a few possible choices (a few items you are trying to vary and test – in his example in the video, 2 choices) you wind up with a ridicules number of possible tests. But you can cover all the possibilities in just 30 tests if your coverage target is all possible pairs. When you have situations like that you will see dramatic efficiency gains. What we have found in real world tests is greatly reduced time to create the tests and consistently 2 to 3 times as many defects found compared to the standard methods used for software testing.
You can read more on these ideas on his blog, where he explores software testing and combinatorial testing. The web base software testing application my brother created and shows in the demo is Hexawise. It is free to try out. I recommend it, though I am biased.
Justin posted the presentation slides online at for anyone who is interested in seeing more details about the test plan he reviewed that had 1,746,756,896,558,880,852,541,440 possible tests. The slides are well worth reading. Continue reading →
This very brief introduction to control charts by PQ Systems provides a very watchable non-technical overview. Getting people to understand variation is important, and not easy. This video is one more quick reminder for those still trying to incorporate an understanding of variation into their view of the world.
The idea is simple. But actually thinking with an understanding of variation people find difficult, it seems to me. It is very easy to continue to revert to special cause thinking (who did it? is often a sign of special cause thinking) – thinking that results are due to a special (unique) cause, instead of as the result of a system (which includes lots of common causes).
The value I see in this video is as a reminder for all those trying to operate with an understanding of variation. It is also a decent introduction, but much, much more would be needed to get people to understand why this matters and what is needed.
Bill George is professor of management practice at the Harvard Business School and former chairman and CEO of Medtronic, the world’s leading medical technology company. Under his leadership, Medtronic’s market capitalization grew from $1.1 billion to $60 billion, averaging 35 percent a year. He is the author of the best-selling Authentic Leadership and a board member of Goldman Sachs, Target, and Novartis.
His board membership at Goldman Sachs certainly leaves him with something to answer for (which I don’t think he does in this webcast). With the damage that company has done to the USA economy you certainly can’t excuse a board member of responsibility for the actions that company has taken. You can listed to his first few minutes and don’t get the idea that he was a leader of the company most responsible for the credit crisis.
His words do sound nice but seem a bit short on much new. Lots of the “new leadership ideas” (like today you can’t have one leader that everyone follows – isn’t that at least 20 years old as a well know bad idea?). Also the idea that an organization exists to provide value to customers not to maximize shareholder value. I understand more people do not understand this point, so it is nice a Harvard MBA professor is pushing this idea (but again it isn’t new at all).
I guess I am a little disappointed in the video but others seem to like it and I do think he makes worthwhile points, just nothing really special (from where I sit). I did like how he discussed value tests come in real life.
I share what seemed to be his opinion that talking abstractly about values is less important than actions you take in the real world. I must admit I am getting more and more frustrated in the lack of moral and ethical values in those with power in our society (this is my feeling, not the speakers). And I do not have must patience for their ability to try to explain away their unethical behavior. I repeatedly see our lack of accountability of those with power (just look at how many people are in jail for all the hundreds of billions of financial fraud in the last few year (what maybe 5 people? 10?) and compare that to those in jail for much much less damaging crimes that have less power). His blog has some posts worth reading.
“After a certain basic point, which translates, more or less, to just a few thousand dollars above the minimum poverty level, increases in material well being don’t see to affect how happy people are.”
The speech includes, the first purpose of incorporation at Sony:
To establish a place of work where engineers can feel the joy of technological innovation, be aware of their mission to society, and work to their heart’s content.
Excellent books by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 1991. People enter a flow state when they are fully absorbed in activity during which they lose their sense of time and have feelings of great satisfaction. Good Business: Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning. Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 1997. Drawing on hundreds of interviews with exceptional people, from biologists and physicists to politicians and business leaders to poets and artists, the author uses his famous “flow” theory to explain the creative process.
I am skeptical that this reality show (Undercover Boss) will actually do any good but the webclip looks fun. It will premier right after the Super Bowl on CBS.
The concept, if done right, could actually be interesting. But even in that case, I would be skeptical it would do much good. I may be wrong, but I would think we will get a whole bunch of thoughts based on one single data point (no appreciation of a system, no understanding variation, no understanding psychology – just playing to psychology, and no understanding of how we form beliefs). My guess is the show will largely be having fun with making bosses actually do physical and customer service work. And probably the bosses trying to appeal to the common working man with admiration about how hard this work is.
Going to the Gemba, where the rubber meets the road is great. But unless the management systems are in place to improve it is more like a site-seeing trip than a management tool. More like those people that go to a working ranch for a vacation (where they work on a ranch) to experience something new before returning to their normal life.
Interesting lecture on Statistical Learning as the Ultimate Agile Development Tool by Peter Norvig. The webcast is likely to be of interest to a fairly small segment of readers of this blog. But for geeks it may be interesting. He looks at the advantages of machine learning versus hand programming every case (for example spelling correction).
Google translate does a very good job (for computer based translation) based on machine learning. You can translate any of the pages on this blog into over 30 languages using Google translate (using the widget in the right column).