So there’s a fabulous (yet very short) YouTube skit called ‘It’s NOT about the nail’.
Many of you will have watched it…and if you haven’t then please watch it now before reading on – you won’t get this post if you don’t.
And I bet that those of you who have seen it before will want to watch it again (and again).
(though please see my ‘PC police’ note at the bottom 🙂 )
So, why am I using this clip? What’s the link?
Well it struck me that this is a brilliant systems analogy!
Let me explain:
Let’s assume that the woman is an organisation and the man is outside it, looking in.
The script might go something like this…
The organisation: “It’s just, there’s all this pressure you know. And sometimes it feels like it’s right up on me…and I can just feel it, like literally feel it, in my head and it’s relentless…and I don’t know if it’s going to stop, I mean that’s the thing that scares me the most…is that I don’t know if its ever going to stop!”
[Turns to show the outside world the reality of the situation]
Outside: “…yeah…well…you do have…a ‘command and control’ management system.”
The organisation: “It’s not about the management system!”
Outside: “Are you sure? Because, I mean, I’ll bet that if we got that out of there…”
The organisation: “Stop trying to fix it!”
Outside: “No, I’m not trying to ‘fix it’…I’m just pointing out that maybe the management system is causing….”
The organisation: “You always do this! You always try to fix things when all I really need is for you to listen!”
Outside: “yeah…see…I don’t think that is what you need. I think what you need is to get the ‘command and control’ out…
The organisation: “See! You’re not even listening now!”
Outside: “Okay, fine! I will listen. Fine.”
The organisation: “…it’s just, sometimes it’s like…there’s this achy…I don’t know what it is. I’m not sleeping very well at all…and all my workers are disempowered and disengaged. I mean all of them.”
[Pause. Searching looks between the two]
Outside: “That sounds…erm…really…hard.”
The organisation: “It is! Thank you 🙂 “
[Pause. Reach forward to reconcile….]
The organisation: “Owch!”
Outside: “Oh come on! If you would just…”
The organisation: “DON’T!!!…”
[(usually) The end, unfortunately]
But let’s not stop there and just cope with the nail….
…to the point:
To successfully and meaningfully change a system towards its purpose, you need to look from the outside-in. You cannot achieve this looking from the inside-out.
Deming was very clear on this point: “The prevailing style of management must undergo transformation. A system cannot understand itself. The transformation requires a view from outside.”
Seddon wrote “When managers learn to take a systems view, starting outside-in (that is, from the customer’s rather than the organisation’s point of view), they can see the waste caused by the current organisation design, the opportunities for improvement and the means to realise them. Taking a systems view always provides a compelling case for change and it leads managers to see the value of designing and managing work in a different way…
…but this better way represents a challenge to current management conventions. Measures and roles need to change to make the systems solution work. You have to be prepared to change the system…”
In a similar vein Einstein is credited with the saying “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Gosh, it sounds so simple….let’s just look from the outside-in shall we? But, unfortunately, it isn’t that simple.
Here’s Stafford Beer with why not:
“…a new idea is not only beyond the comprehension of the existing system, the existing system finds it threatening to its own status quo…the existing system does not know what will happen if the new idea is embraced.
The innovator fails to work through the systematic consequences of the new idea. The establishment cannot…and has no motivation to do so…it was not its own idea…the onus is on the innovator…[but] the establishment controls the resources that the adventurous idea needs…”
Blimey, that’s a bit depressing isn’t it!…which is an opportune moment to remind you of my earlier ‘Germ theory of management’ post.
You/I/we won’t succeed by trying to push the idea onto the system. We need to make ‘it’ curious and want to pull the idea at the rate that understanding, acceptance and desire emerges.
So it IS about the nail! …Oh never mind.
(if you watch the YouTube clip again, I expect you will find it hard not to mentally overlay the above script onto it now! I know I do.)
Comment for the ‘Political-Correctness’ police: I ‘get’ that the clip is stereotypical about the differences between men and women…I ‘get’ that men will likely find it funnier than women…but, come on, it is very funny.
Okay, okay…I am more than happy to post an equally funny clip (to address the gender balance) that sends up men…here’s a good one: ‘Man flu’