Thursday, October 15, 2009

Conceptual Filing Cabinets are not Reality

Ever noticed that when corporate downloads an initiative to remedy an internal management problem, the effects on the ground tend to be the opposite of what was intended? Without going into details, this may explain why. Mintzberg said:
"Strategic planning is not strategic thinking. One is analysis, the other is synthesis"*

The fact is, the corporate structure tends to be organized in terms of business lines or branches, so initiatives get forumulated around compartmentalized resources.  That means analytical thinking will predominate in planning - and analytical thinking relies on compartmentalized categories – checklist items. People mistake their conceptual filing cabinets for reality and are rewarded for substituting numbers for facts. But as some astute Brit said not long ago, “You don’t fatten a pig by weighing it.”  The success of mechanistic models of the past has seduced us to seeking "simple" solutions in  complex arenas, much more complex than are tackled by the hard numbers of "hard science." 

Most activities in business are dynamically interconnected and adjustments in one area can be offset by failing to consider their impact on other areas. Thinking strategically involves connecting the dots, lateral thinking, the use of the right brain, which is basically grounded in intention, will, and commitment (caring).

The first thing required for an effective strategy is that you genuinely care.
The second thing is flexibility and openness.

Some folks believe that analytical thinking is a cut above more poetic sensitivities and that it is the sole defender objectivity and of fairness. I'd like you to consider that such a view is rather narrow, sometimes honest but simplistic, other times useful to people with a power-for-power's-sake agenda. Models of evaluation based on analytical thinking are just as prone to manipulation and bias as any poetic kind of perspective. They are also dangerous as one doesn't need brute strength or mass hysteria to convince, but one can just point to "the numbers"as an incantation. This is less likely in very precise areas such as physics, but in business, there are just no exhaustive and exclusive definitions that can be reliably used for evaulative purposes. Our definitions and indicators are handy rules of thumb, never meant to be the be-all and end-all of evaluation. (ISO - I despair.) A planner can pick a few handy items from a potentially infinite list of possible indicators.  Nevertheless, those who employ a definition, a methodology, who fail to think things through broad-mindedly with an honourable meaning, purpose and value, who yet check a list of measures, have the advantage of the appearance of objectivity. This is a pernicious effect of the "trope of science" and needs rooting out.

*link no longer available.

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