The Earth is Flat - Challenging current beliefs about organisational change & 'Best Practice'
Yajnavalkya (c. 9th–8th century BCE) recognized that the Earth is spherical in his astronomical text Shatapatha
Pythagoras reached the same conclusion in 540BC.
Philolaus of Croton 480-405BC believed that the Earth orbited along with the Sun around a central 'fire'.
Several Greeks circa 350BC held the Pythagoras view such as Heraclides Ponticus, Hicetas, and Ecphantus.
Aristarchus of Samos 310-230BC believed that the Earth went around the Sun but his views were ignored by the Bishops of the church (who then claimed scientific prowess).
Circa 200BC Erasthenes of Cyrene attempted a measurement of the Earth's circumference.
It was an inaccuracy by the great mathematician Ptolemy circa 140BC which claimed that the Earth was again at the
center of the System. This allowed the Roman Catholic Church to hold the view for the next 1500 years.
Kopernik - Copernicus 1473-1543AD never blatantly challenged the authority of the church. His works were published after church approved 'corrections' and omissions. His last work was published the year of his death.
Such facts allow us to see just how powerfully a prevailing belief can inhibit progress on a personal and social scale. For no less than 1500 years when perpetuated by a large mass of authoritative opinion. In the case of the Earth being flat, the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) didn't just promote a belief, they actively suppressed knowledge, even to the extent of persecuting the innocent if they were bold enough to disagree with the doctrine.
I'm pleased to say my own skewed beliefs from school didn't result in any such treatment.
It was Galileo who was dramatically persecuted by the church in the 1600's for his scientific and astronomical beliefs, but he wasn't, it turns out, the originator of the idea. Fortunately, his views and courage kept science and truth advancing for many years thereafter, so that today, we feel enlightened and look back at such times as 'the dark ages'.
It turns out, at any one moment in time, we can't afford to automatically trust the 'so-called' truth and beliefs we inherit from the past. I wonder then, if the current and popular approach to 'Best-Practice', particularly in respect to organisational change can be accepted without question .... or at least, without the introduction of a little bit more science... metaphorically, to see if we're presenting something as flat, which is round? A 2D image of a 3D problem?
Most people in 'Change' environments would have heard of Dr. Deming.
Presented as the the founder of SPC, we find, if we dig a little deeper, that Dr. William Edwards Deming inherited much of what is attributed to him from the original work of Dr. Walter A. Shewart during their time together at Bell Telephone Laboratories. Much of the statistical analysis performed, which led to SPC (Statistical Process Control) and ultimately 'Statistics' being used widely in business under the banner of Six Sigma, is based on standard deviation, i.e. the distribution pattern of data on a Gaussian Bell Curve, itself named after it's originator Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss, (30 April 1777 – 23 February 1855).
Six Sigma as a method to apply statistics to the analysis of organisational performance gained broad acceptance following Motorola's promotion of it in their application to win the Baldridge award. But dig a bit deeper and we find that Motorola didn't use the system they promoted, which came to be known as Six Sigma. They actually used the 'Shainin' method. This was not disclosed in full as they wanted to protect their competitive advantage (For a broader description see here).
Readers will have also heard of Frederick Winslow Taylor (or at least 'Taylorism' or maybe 'Scientific Management').
It's been said by many, that F.W. Taylor was the father of modern management.
However, dig a little bit deeper and it turns out that in October 1910, Louis Brandeis, a 53 year old attorney requested a meeting with F.W.Taylor, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth and other prominent industrial leaders (H. L. Gantt / M. L. Cooke) in a small New York apartment. He arranged the meeting to suggest he present Taylor's allegedly over-inflated claims about his successes using ‘Time Study’, as ‘Scientific management’.
The thing is, it was around this time that Frank and Lillian Gilbreth (Originators of 'Motion Study') were distancing themselves from Taylor, because his claims were over-inflated and unverifiable with the corporations he proposed to have had successes with.
The attorney's motive? To offer an 'efficiency improvement' alternative to railroad price increases, in a rate case he was preparing for the Interstate Commerce Commission, to be heard in 1911. He wasn't interested in the validity of Taylor's methods, he just wanted to position a story that would win him the case. The title 'Scientific Management' had more gravitas than 'Time Study' and thus 'Taylorism' and a new era in management theory was born, from little substance.
“Best-practice” has been ‘moulded’ into marketing packages to satisfy such ulterior motives in various ways since time immemorial, irrespective of the backdrop to the 'latest fad' often being more snake oil than medicine.
Brandeis presented Taylors alleged false accounts of success as ‘Scientific Management’, Six Sigma originated out of a marketing exercise designed by Mikel Harry and Keki Bhote to satisfy the disclosure criteria relative to winning the Baldridge award without giving away IP and the Church held onto, and promoted the belief that the Earth was flat.
What's the point?
Well,... not everything is always as it seems, is it! The straight-forward 2D picture we receive is always 3D if we dig a little deeper.
This is particularly the case where people are protecting their reputation and earning potential, their position or some type of advantage over their competition... i.e. The 'marketing' messages we receive do not always tell us the whole story. Even the education we receive is, at best, 'partial' information that we rely on until we find out through experience that we either didn't have the whole picture painted for us, or our contextualisation of the information presented to us, left us with a slightly skewed if not entirely false belief. See HERE for an amazing account of this in practice. (Click the VoD icon to view).
The VERY real danger in all of this is that others, who may bring a little more science and a different perspective to the 'organisational change' table, to present a 3D image of a 2D world (like Galileo did to the church) are judged by the current beliefs and related standards as interpreted by people who, in often case, have inherited only 2D information.
New ideas are deemed to be either 'Good' or 'Bad' in accordance with the criteria established by the existing belief system and rejected as wrong passionately by those who sense the 3D view of their world presents them with a problem.
We might consider the use of a waste material from a processing plant as a new revenue stream into a new market - until that material is proven in that market, people may look down their nose and scoff at the idea, because it is a material that hasn't been 'judged' by the current beliefs in that market as 'Good' ... Such opinion may prevail .... until that 'waste' product becomes a high value, high volume product threatening the market share of long established products.
We might also consider this in respect to the current beliefs about 'Change' & current best-practice (predominantly focused on tools and systems). Within the current system, we may be asking people to become 2D educated to repeat a process that has an incredibly high failure rate (See previous blog post for change failure stats over the last 40 years, or this .PDF).
I guess this is why Dr. Deming, in his later years, after decades of experience in organisations and corporations around the world, identified a broader approach to organisational change and claimed it was nothing less than essential.
He started to develop a model he called SoPK to address the short-comings of the best-practice we still rely upon today. SoPK - stands for - System of Profound Knowledge. In some ways, it has the component parts to detail what Jim Collins would call Level 5 leadership, incorporating as it does, the 4 headlines of Variation Control / Systems / Psychology and Knowledge (or ... the theory of knowledge, to be more accurate).
Unfortunately, Dr. Deming didn't get round to detailing anything other than Variation Control (A La Statistics & SPC) before he left this mortal coil, only pointing at other theorists like Nonaka and Taguchi before his passing. This is why the majority of readers will not have heard of SoPK. This 3D view of organisational change was never detailed and never gained traction. (Although it is still being pushed by many).
Don't fret, all is not lost! We can now replace 'Theory of Knowledge' with 'Neuroscience', and we can also apply psychology from the latest 'Science' to the world of organisational change (a la DUX Method). From this we can understand why a man like Deming, so highly revered in the world of organisational performance improvement came to the conclusion that the best-practice methods he had himself helped to develop and promoted all of his life were in fact, insufficient, if Change and improvement were to be sustainable.
I contend we are in a place in time, which could comprise highly educated people leading consciously controlled 'Change', but, with the pressure from 'popular-belief' inhibiting progress (Like the RCC), we instead find ourselves in a time where change, especially at a human / cultural level is poorly understood and largely left to chance, while we convince ourselves we 'control change' through process and procedure, tools and techniques alone, and call this 'Best-Practice'.
At this point in time, our knowledge of psychology and neuroscience[3D], as they combine with process based variation control and control systems (ERP / MIS)[2D] to form a 'Cybernetic-deterministic' cultural system, in the world of organisational change is, in fact, minuscule if apparent at all. In our companies, change is approached and conducted in ways little different from any other period since the Industrial revolution, while we argue who knows most about the 2D systematic approach - we retain a 2D view of 3D organisational change.
I think I can risk mixing metaphors at this point. To me, this seems like 'The Emperors New Clothes' presented in wrapping paper printed with the message 'The World is Flat'.
IF we believe the stats and findings the market of organisational change tries to suppress, and the marketing surrounding best practice methods used to promote and sell the current belief system, it starts to look like the world is selling a 'solution' which, in it's various forms and under various banners, has a 50 year track record of failure... we sell a solution which isn't there! (2nd chance to see the .PDF if you didn't see it above or didn't catch the previous blog entry).
Just as it was with the Church, And Taylorism and maybe, to some extent Dr. Deming in his early years and Six Sigma, right now, the prevailing beliefs and the levels of invested interest from the authoritative masses who benefit from this market, ensures this 2D truth prevails.
I can now understand why they say, 'History repeats itself' and why Spengler and Toynbee published papers on 'The Rise and Fall of Nations' showing how Empires succeed and fail in cycles which look very similar over 1000's of years. We humans keep making the same mistakes!
Talking of history repeating itself - if you are still in any doubt about the tone and suggestions of this muse, I'll leave you with one more example from the world of medicine.
He immediately instigated a hand wash lime solution for all doctors and nurses travelling between departments. The mortality rate quickly fell to 1 in 50.
Despite being recorded in medical journals at the time, the general medical society didn’t recognise his ‘Germ theory’ for over a 100years.
Before his death (13/8/1865) with a cracked voice and tears in his eyes, he said “God knows how many young women have gone to their deaths prematurely at my hand”.
Just like the conditions we find ourselves in today, the statistics were known, the control charts and run charts told Semmelweiss who was dying, where they were dying and what was seen to be the cause – fever! It took a new way of thinking in first himself and then the medical fraternity at large to make any significant change (a psychological, neurological and ultimately cultural change). This took his discovery, something so obvious and proven, no less than 100 years to infiltrate the mainstream belief system of the medical fraternity across Europe; largely because those who approved the articles which made the leading medical journals of the time, were also the leading practitioners in the leading hospitals. His findings made them 'wrong'! Their psychological 'defensive' response? To consistently dismiss his 3D presentations as invalid, largely on technicalities they clung to, as a defence against this 'New' idea they couldn't understand with their 2D education.
That cycle of events, mostly ignored and forgotten, ultimately provided us the start of an approach to medicine we take for granted today.
I wonder, will it take 100 years for the world to accept there is a necessity for closer integration of psychological and neurological science into the world of change in the work-place? Or will we find the majority, invested in the current approach, still dismissing the need for improvement and change in the world of 'Continuous improvement', 'organisational change' and 'performance improvement' in another 100 years?
I sense a little hypocrisy .... in a world where 'change agents' dismiss the 'new' because it requires change to what they already believe, especially where that 'new' is an understanding of psychology that would allow them to understand their own bias and defensive, protective responses.
If you know through experience that this 'Earth is flat' approach to change has it's limitations or you're thinking of change and don't want to repeat the mistakes of the past, because you suspect the 'World is round', and want to take on a 3D approach Contact us
23/11/2013 07:28:56 am
17/12/2013 12:12:22 pm
Excellent article! Thank you for putting this into a well-thought-out review.
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