One of my goals with this blog is to help people acknowledge their systems savvy. We all have systems savvy to the extent that we are able to understand both technical and organizational opportunities (and limitations) and make effective decisions about how to put the organizational and technical building blocks together in a particular context. I see many people practicing their systems savvy on autopilot, but few consciously. Why is more conscious use better? When should we be aware our systems savvy rather than just using systems savvy on the fly? Aikido master
Creative Commons License photo credit: Matteo.Mazzoni It's not an accident that the six sigma quality movement uses martial arts language to describe the expertise levels of its practitioners: green belts understand the basics; black belts are experts, leaders, and can teach others. One of the philosophical connections between the six sigma approach and martial arts is the importance of heightening your state of consciousness related to your practice. For martial arts this is consciousness of your surroundings, your and your opponents' skill levels, and a systematic understanding of the likely outcomes of your specific actions. The same applies to consciousness in organizational settings as well. Gianna Clark, Vice President of Customer Service, Dominion Virginia Power, was a long time contributor to iSixSigma (a community website providing resources to six sigma practitioners). In a general response to critiques of the six sigma approach, she said:
Let’s see, define the problem, measure it, analyze data to develop solutions, improve the process and make sure the improvement sticks. Sounds like a good approach to me. Maybe it’s the execution. Selecting a project that supports corporate objectives, using a cross-functional team made up of process experts and gathering input from the customer. Nope - no issues here. Right then, maybe it’s the data driven decision-making or the methodology’s ability to fix long standing problems. No - not a problem either.
Gianna is outlining the benefit of thoughtful, conscious attention to organizational action. Problem definition, measurement techniques, and analysis are conscious efforts applied in particular settings. We can also find support for conscious practice of our systems savvy in general management research. Marlena Fiol and Edward O'Connor are experts on mindful managers. In their 2003 research, drawing from Langer's presentations of mindfulness, they show that mindful managers think about their situations in terms of rich categories, are open to new information, and are aware that there are always multiple perspectives. These managers are conscious of their situation and the choices that they make. This more conscious approach to management practice can lead to broader scanning so that more and better information is gathered, resulting in more precise contextual interpretations of the situation, and ultimately, more discriminating decisions. Conscious use of systems savvy will lead to better business outcomes because the process will be better informed. Conscious use of systems savvy also means that we're prepared to respond to questions around why we did certain things the way that we did. Not so that we have evidence to justify our choice, but in order to easily describe to others the choices, trade-offs, and adjustments we made. If we're practicing systems savvy "on the fly" we may be making equally good choices, but we'll be like many experts when asked why they do things the way they do, "I don't know, it just felt right." That may be fine if you are acting on your own, but is limited if you're working with a group. How does your organization support the conscious practice of systems savvy? Are there better (or worse) ways of reinforcing conscious attention to the management of technology and organization practice? Next up: I'll expand on the benefits of being explicit with your practice of systems savvy and will highlight how being explicit can help with coordination and learning within the organization. More on mindfulness: Langer & Moldoveanu 2000 (pdf)