Design by Community

Acknowledgment to Russ Ackoff. This post is essentially a paraphrase of of his work.

  • Guidelines, policy, organizational direction should be defined by consensus of those impacted.
  • Decisions should be made by empowered individuals.

In my experience, most organizations get it backward. Most policies seem to be handed down from on high, based on recommendations of the "experts". Most decisions try to achieve consensus or must be pushed UP for final approval.

Design by Community / Decision by the Empowered Individual makes much more sense.

Celebrating Failure

You often hear this phrase when people talk about how to build better organizations, but something always bothered me about the phrase. Even though the intent is to turn the negative connotation of "failure" into a positive, it still pays homage to the dark side by keeping the term in the lexicon. How about honoring unexpected outcomes?

"Success" and "failure" have such strong connotations in our culture that trying to bend the meaning will not work. In organizations we talk about outcomes, and there are two flavors: expected and unexpected. We tend to celebrate the expected ones because it "means we were right" and we disregard the unexpected as "due to some unforeseen circumstance".

The idea behind celebrating failure is looking harder at the unexpected outcomes, because that is where we can learn the most, let’s just change the way we talk about it…

Honor your unexpected outcomes.

Asked and Answered

I have had a block lately. I can’t seem to find what to write about. I go through these phases where all the thoughts get jumbled up on top of each other and I think there is some connection to it all, I just can’t seem to pull it together. So today I just decided to start writing and see what comes out.

I have been catching up on my reading, though it took a while. It seems that when I get behind my newsreader and the Unread list grows, I avoid it, you know the viscious circle. Anyway I got caught up. I find that I am narrowing who I enjoy reading, and the others I am just cruzing through. The top of my list right now is Kathy Sierra at Creating Passionate Users, followed closely by Jory DesJardines at Pause.

Kathy put up a couple of posts recently, Don’t forget square one…, and How to be an expert, that have connected for me. Basically she says that to be great, you have to return to the basics on a regular basis to keep improving.

I am trying to tie that concept to "how do you improve an organization’s competence?". I am beginning to think that part of the problem is that it is hard to clearly define what an organization’s basic competencies are. I run into this often as a project manager. When a new project starts, everyone loves to jump in talking about solutions. In fact the project is often described in terms of its solution. What I usually find is that everyone is finding solutions to different problems, where the solution happens to look similar. In this case, getting back to basics may mean agreeing to what is the question.

Ask any project team what their objective is and odds are that their answer will be the description of a solution: "to build a bridge" or "to reduce our vendor cost". Neither of these responses provide any insight as to who this helps or why they might want it. Russel Ackoff refers to this distinction as the difference between efficiency vs effectiveness, in his book Re-Creating the Corporation.

I want to develop a set of basic questions that will help me work with my clients and allow them to more clearly see their own objectives. I will post my questions as I come up with them.