Most of what happens to a firm is a consequence of what it does, not of what is done to it. - Russel Ackoff
It is really common to hear people in organizations blaming and complaining about external factors that contribute to make their knowledge work environment somehow problematic. In his book, Recreating the Corporation, Russel Ackoff describes how the forces of systems provokes common organization behaviors: “Our lots is due more to what we do then what is done to us”. There is a common assumption that almost all of our problems are created outside of our influence boundary. Certainly, some of the root causes of common issues founded in knowledge work environments can be assigned to external factors, but it doesn't mean that they are out of control, or out of our influence zone.
Donella Meadows was one of the most respectable scientists in the field of Systems Theory. She had challenged us to look at existing complex systems through different lenses in order to find hidden points of leverage. She once stated: “The system, to a large extent, causes its own behavior! An outside event may unleash that behavior, but the same outside event applied to a different system is likely to produce a different result”. The implication of this idea is stunning! The cause of many problems is not “out there”, but “in here”. It is much more about the way we do things, the way we see things or we think about the things.
We need new ways to look at our knowledge work systems, and as we assume that the responsability to change our work system is in our hands, the systems theory holds a lot of good information that we can use to do it. A knowledge work environment is not that different from any other system. In order to make it better, we should look at it and understand how it operates. What forces are acting and how those are interacting with other elements within to generate the current behavior.
This post is the beginning of a series of posts that will put a system thinking lens on our work environments. The theory of systems can be a thinking tool to not only provide more understanding of the nature, elements and forces acting in our knowledge work environments, but also to open space for new opportunities of improvement by finding non-obvious leverage points hidden in all their complexity and uncertainty. Lean, Kanban and Agile approaches are effective ways to allow us to treat our knowledge work environments to be understood like systems. When you start to see your environment like a system, a whole new world for improvements and ideas can emerge in our mind.
I hope to see you later on my next posts about this!