Cooking as a Metaphor for Modern Management
Mixing is a metaphor describing how we use our systems savvy management practices to bring together the technology possibilities, the organizational possibilities, and our people to create a way of working. You can’t just make a change to one of these three dimensions without making a balancing adjustment to the others.
Think about making a rich stew. If you add more stock you may need to add more seasoning given the dilution, or you could choose to just let the mixture cook down and reconcentrate the flavors through evaporation. With mixing you are both balancing flavors of technology tools, organizational practices, and human dimensions, but also blending them to a degree.
For example, as people gain experience with particular tools and practices, their knowledge/skills/abilities will adjust and their motivations to use particular approaches may be influenced positively or negatively.
Consider how some companies use internal wikis (a wiki is a user editable website) as ways of collaborating on documents in their organization. Imagine you are the chef in this instance. You would know that a wiki, versus email with attachments, generally requires the technical implementation of a wiki tool, a shift in company practices to say that the wiki will be the home for collaboration on documents and email use should be reduced, some education around both the tool and the practice (how do you log in to the tool, when is it appropriate to change something someone else has written).
As people gain experience with the wiki they may find new uses and shift the way they do other aspects of their jobs. What started out as shared document editing could trigger electronic brainstorming where people quickly submit new ideas for customer outreach, for example. Over time these shifts could become self-supporting and reduce the need for change management (the cookbook?). The wiki tool’s abilities are reflected in the evolving organizational practices, human skills, and vice versa.
With the idea of a well mixed recipe, the fatal flaw of a silver bullet strategy is impossible. You will always be considering each of the tools, practices, and human dimensions together and looking for ways to blend them together for greater effectiveness and efficiency.
How do we mix in an organizational environment?
How do we get from the image of mixing to an organizational reality? A good cook knows that chopped and sauteed onions, bell peppers, and celery form the base to much Cajun food. In organizations it is technology tools, organizational practices, and human capabilities that form our base. Instead of sauteing, we negotiate the mix of our ingredients for the tastes of our stakeholders and over the evolution of the meal. Unfortunately there is no easy ratio like the 1:2:3 for the Cajun ingredients mentioned above. However, as in cooking, there are many different ways to make a great meal. Great chefs have strong frameworks that guide them to mix wonderful, balanced flavors from new materials.
Are you up for the challenge?
This post is a continuation of my experimentation with the ideas of mixing. Please see the wonderful comments to an earlier version and feel free to add your own ideas there or here. Next up, one friend gave me a fully developed introduction keeping with the cooking theme. I’ll post it on Thursday.