Thinking with the right logic
“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”
— Peter Drucker
Any description of a company and its troubles and successes is characterised by the kind of thinking that went into the seeing and analysis. If that same thinking is what creates the troubles and kills the opportunities, you will be sunk. Many years ago Peter F. Drucker warned that the most dangerous thing in times of turbulence and change is not the change itself, but to operate with yesterday’s logic. Thirty years later, we now increasingly hear the drum beat and sirens signalling that organizations of all types can no longer survive using frameworks developed during the Industrial Revolution.
These outdated frameworks are often understood as being underpinned by a manufacturing logic, goods-dominant logic, and/or neoclassical economics and Newtonian science. All of these logics essentially view economies and organizations as causal machines that can be engineered to maximize profits and create wealth.
This won’t do.
How do we know?
What does it mean that industries collapse (financial services) and successful firms under the pressure to keep up the pace cut corners (BP, Toyota, VW, Tesco) of fail (Nokia)? What does it mean that senior executive research across the world reports that they are struggling. Clients have told us: we know what we need to do, the problem is making it happen. Other clients have told us, we are not even sure what we need to do in this changing world.
Management has always been a difficult art. Nobody should think that it is an easy business. The NASA scientist Feynman once remarked (to the Boston Globe) that the management of a complex organisation was so intriguing that if he had his time over again he would be tempted to switch to studying management.
The problem is that it is very tough to get to the top of an organisation without being very committed and rather confident and actually getting it right quite a few times. It is not difficult to find that you have built a high level of success in yesterday’s world and this very success makes it a problem considering the new. It was Tolstoy who said:
The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.
Leo Tolstoy, 1897
“People don’t resist change. They resist being changed!”
— Peter Senge
Here is one quick reason why so many organisational initiatives fail. Their fundamental concept of change is profoundly flawed. It is based on old psychological theories and experience. Elephants also have a very good experience of how a tiny weight attached to their leg renders them helpless. In this case, the baby Indian elephant was chained to what was then a heavy weight each night, sufficient to prevent it roaming off. By the time you grew up each elephant ‘knew’ that it was impossible to pull the weight. Experience is undoubtedly good except when it is not.
The analogy I am drawing is that managers have got so used to the idea that change is difficult that they commiserate with tell other – and Business Schools confirm this – on its difficulty and endorse a combination of courage, forcefulness and persuasive adroitness. Nothing wrong with courage. Nothing wrong with commitment (which is not the same as forcefulness) and nothing wrong with persuasive adroitness, in itself, provided it is not going to show up as a lie. But we have found a different way of designing change that makes it relatively easy even in the messiest most wicked of problems. Light touch change.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”
— Margaret Mead
“Company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try, instead, to work with what you’ve got. “
— Peter Drucker