Gene Bellinger and Scott Fortmann-Roe have started a kickstarter project called “Beyond Connecting the Dots” to create a new kind of eBook where the systems thinking (systems dynamics) models will be directly editable and playable with inside the book!
So, you’re interested in Systems Thinking but don’t know how or where to start? ST is a wild beast, but I found that starting with Systems Dynamics is easier. Don’t assume that all there is in ST!
So, here we go, the latest issue of the Creative Learning Exchange newsletter where there’s all the necessary toolkit to teach Systems to your kids… or yourself!
CLE is an organization that publishes content to teach systems thinking to kids, mostly up to K-12 level.
It’s Christmas season, with the popular harvesting of Christmas Trees. A nice opportunity to play the game!
Hmm, while I’m at it, The Lorax (IMDB, Wikipedia page here) has only been released recently in France, but CLE has published a ST studying course for it here: Studying The Lorax with Feedback Loops (PDF as well).
Linda Booth Sweeney writes to her children about the meaning of sustainability, life, love and why she must be far from her children for a week.
Systems Dynamics study of “less trains when incidents means more incidents” #stwg #systemsthinking #systemsdynamics
Autumn is traditionally a season where suburbs trains have problems. There are a few reasons for that, including leaves on the rails (I found an official flyer explaining the process of which I’ll talk someday).
I’ve come to notice that very often, once there’s an incident on a line (someone using emergency signal thus causing a train to stop), other trains are unscheduled. Indeed, I think this is worsening the situation (escalation of incidents) resulting in possibly more incidents, up to a point where the traffic being stopped for too long, people who are blocked in a train open the doors and walk on the rails, thereby causing the whole traffic to Paris (yes, I’m in France) to come to a total halt for obvious security reasons.
Until this extreme situation (that happens once or twice a year), there are intermittent problems that the attached Systems Dynamics diagram tries to clarify. For my knowledgeable readers, it’s two intertwined archetypes: a “fix that fail” with a “shifting the burden“. Here’s why.
- R1: First, there’s a train incident that cause trains to be late. With late trains, there is an increase of people waiting on the platforms to board the next train. Of course, the more there are people waiting, the more there is a risk of incident in the next trains, thereby increasing the number of train incidents.
- B3: When trains are late, that increases the perceived complexity of traffic because the whole schedules have to be changed. So of course, an immediate and symptomatic answer is to reduce the number of trains in circulation thereby reducing the perceived complexity of traffic. This response is somewhat natural, but as we see next, it is a “fix that fail’ archetype.
- R2: by reducing the number of trains in circulation, there is an opposite increase of the number of people waiting on the platforms for next trains, thereby increasing the risk of train incidents: we’re back into R1. The intended fix failed, thereby worsening the situation!
So we see that this first loops (R1-R2-R3) form a fix that fail archetype. Now I want to show how that situation is perpetuating itself through a “shifting the burden” archetype. Let’s continue the investigation:
- B4: when the perceived complexity of traffic increases, so does the learning to manage complexity, which would, after some delay, decrease the perceived complexity of traffic.
- R5: of course, with an increase in learning to manage complexity, the number of train in circulation could increase, thereby decreasing the number of people waiting for the next train and then reducing too the risk of incidents.
B3-B4-R5 form that ‘shifting the burden” archetype where there’s a strong incentive to reduce the perceived complexity by reducing the number of train (short-term, symptomatic response) which reduce the possibility of train controllers to learn how to manage complexity (longer term, better, response). Further, that short-term, symptomatic response is a “fix that fail” in that it worsen the situation by increasing incidents, thus trains late, perceived complexity of traffic and thus increasing pressure on controllers to further reduce the number of running trains.
Hopefully, there’s an unintended beneficial consequence for myself: being blocked in a train is free time to read more systems thinking books!
What to do? Well, I think one of the leverage points resides in the traffic controllers increasing their learning from complexity, but they would need to be aware of the situation first.
Also, I haven’t modelled the security measures that further makes controllers wanting to reduce the number of trains, but it’s acting in a similar way as B3. Yet, for the same reason, more people waiting makes for more incidents and thus a decreased security.
To me, the solution to less incidents (thus improved security) is to have more trains, which would mean more complexity, but traffic controllers would get a chance to learn from it, thereby making them able to sustain a dense enough traffic in case of incidents.
I’ll try to have that essay covertly sent to Transilien for their consideration…
Here’s a thinking of mine I had the other day regarding group with a high number of members and a (strong) moderation of new discussion topics. That group which I am referring to is Systems Thinking World on LinkedIn.
Here’s the message I sent to the group owner and moderation, Gene, also owner of the fantastic Systems Wiki website.
As promised, here’s what came to my mind when I complained regarding your strict moderation rules. It’s quite of a big diagram, so here’s my try at explaining what happens. Hope it’s clear otherwise please ask for clarification. Though my own conclusion is clear: please create an unmoderated subgroup Read more »
Nobody Ever Gets Credit for Fixing Problems that Never Happened (Creating & Sustaining Process Improvement) #Lean paper #stwg
The paper has been authored by John Sterman and Nelson Repenning and is available here.
The paper’s very didactic and takes the reader by the hand into building the diagram step by step.
The (real) situation
A tentative model
Upon analysis with a systemic diagram, I found a horrible picture where the more a manager would go into micro-management, the more it will feel the urge to go. Here’s the explanation why (click on diagram to open it in a new window to follow explanations)
At the beginning, there is a micro-management need, either from a personal inclination and/or from a high hierarchical position that naturally prevents someone from having detailed information about project.
Balancing loop B1: the manager being in micro-management need take on the micro-management of activities in need (from his point of view), which will, hopefully and again, from his point of view, fix any issues on these activities hence relieving the micro-management need.
This is the main reason which a micro-manager start micro-managing in the first place. Only that this triggers three different reinforcing loops that we will now describe, resulting in a classical “fixes that fail” systems archetype…
Reinforcing loop R1: out of that micro-management need, some activities are felt in need of being-micro-managed (because of perceived problems for instance). The more the manager thus focuses on these micro-managed activities, the less there’s a focus on other activies. As a consequence, issues on other activies start to raise (we’ll see why in the next paragraph). The more other activities have issues, the more they are felt as activities in need of micro-management, which increased the need for the manager to micro-manage activities.
Reinforcing loop R2: the more a manager increase his micro-management need, the less his direct reports are motivated. Which results in a decrease in management of their activities and further increase issues. Side note: an issue on an activity need to be considered from the point of view of the micro-managing manager. This further adds to the micro-management need in the first place.
Reinforcing loop R3: when the motivation of direct reports decreases (as seen in R2), so does the trust on the micro-manager in them, which further increases his micro-managing needs.
So, there we are in a situation where the consequences of micro-management further reinforce themselves.
So, where do we go from there?
Traditional way of dealing with “fixes that fail” archetypes is to try to anticipate the unexpected consequences (of micro-managing in this case). Here, that would mean informing the micro-managing manager of that systemic situation. As we’re talking of a personal inclination (whose psychologic causes may be diverse) it’s not sure that the person will change his behavior (further, pushing the model onto him may just raise it’s resistance to the much needed change, hence locking the situation even more).
It maybe the case that the current situation is one in which we’re dealing with a symptom instead of addressing the root cause. In that case, we’d be in a shifting the burden systems archetype situation with new possibilities arising. I’m for instance thinking of teaching people how to “properly” manage their activities such as not to trigger micro-management needs and teach the micro-manager that he needs to teach rather than do himself, just for his own sanity (hereby addressing the WIIFM: “what’s in it for me”).
It may be the time for some Solution Focus work with the micro-manager and/or the micro-managed people: what behavior worked for you in the past? How can you do more?
Or some coaching, maybe using Motivational Interviewing style where the micro-managed manager is brought peacefully to recognizing that he needs to change (for his own and his people sanity) and then coach him to change?
Have you ever been face with a micro-manager? How did you manage that situation without flying away?
From that very interesting (as is most often the case from Coert Visser!) paper here, I derive the following insights:
Lean on the motivation continuum
Self -Determination Theory (SDT) has is that motivation can be expressed on a continuum from “amotivation” to “intrinsic motivation” with three basic human needs: autonomy, competence and relatedness (all things that are also found in Maslow‘s hierarchy of needs and the notion of Flow from Mihaly_Csikszentmihalyi).
Lean appears to be well on these three pillars of motivation:
- autonomy is high in an environment where management does not solve the problem of their collaborators, but instead coach them to resolution.
- this coaching leads to increased competence on the work and on the process of continuous improvement itself, along with a better knowledge of how the organization works (through A3 problem solving for instance which fosters nemawashi – japanese term for: go see all stakeholders and work with them)
- by doing nemawashi with all stakeholders, people get their relatedness level increased!
On motivating people to do Lean
Visser’s paper continues, on page 13, on the way Motivational Interviewing can help a professionnal helper (!) with their client, as would be the case of a Lean coach in any organization (please bear in mind that I talk of a coach, not a consultant whose approach is different). In this regard, MI is based on 4 general principles:
- the expression of empathy
- the development of discrepancy
- rolling with resistance and
- support for self-efficacy
Considering what I often saw in organizations with respect to Change and Lean more specifically, I’d say that:
- Lean change approaches are often law on empathy: “all your problems are belong to us, we’ll you help solve them”,
- with a development of discrepancy that more than often consist in management or co-called coaches finger pointing faults in those running the processes,
- a rolling with resistance that consists of stomping it for it’s the proof of ignorance in Lean matters and that so-called Lean coaches and experts know better (which is indeed true as for Lean things, but blatantly false with respect to people’s own Gemba),
- and support of efficacy is most of the time seen as Lean consultants (whoops I should have said ‘coaches’ 😉 doing most of the job themselves (deciding on what the Future State Map for instance should look like) with only partial accounting for people’s ideas.
What I described above, though caricatural (or is it?) is still what’s even been given a name: L.A.M.E. (Lean As Misguidedly Executed).
The paper goes on starting from page 14 on some suggested questions to addresse the four principles above to move someone in the needed change direction, but with proper respect for their motivation and of them as people, by helping find how they could be engaged with the change initiative.
- As a CEO, how engaged are your collaborators in the Lean initiative? What have you done to motivate them and engage them, as persons, in it?
- As a Lean coach, how have you addressed management’s willing to do Lean? What questions did you asked them as for their own needed change with respect to Lean (that is, Lean should be done by management with collaborators, not to collaborators)?
Reading Coert Visser’s blog post “People prefer to choose for themselves what they initiate and they want to control as much as possible what they do“, I decided to give it a shot at modelling what comes to my mind using my preferred tool of choice: Vensim.
The first analytical thinking through a problematic autonomy situation would be that people’s desire and actions to increase their autonomy is motivated by Others’ action. “Their faulty behavior against me motivates and authorizes my reacting to it“.
Of course, from the view point of others, the same thing happen with us (‘A‘ in the attached diagram).
So, although each actions from A or other tend to reach an equilibrium toward one’s own autonomy desired level (loops B1 and B2), the connection between actions (center of picture, R1) creates an overall reinforcing dynamical structure where A and Others are competing for their autonomy levels. In the end, it’s more than probable that all will loose: a typical loose-loose situation resulting from a “win-loose” mental model.
So, I added, as a proposed solution, that an overall external loop (in dotted lines on the diagram) be added where A and Others exchange on their similar desire to achieve some autonomy, and do listen to and respect the corresponding desire of the partner. In doing so, they might lower their desired autonomy level but in the mean time counter balance the negative and reinforcing loop of their action and we could hope that they reach some form of win-win equilibrium.
That solution can only exist if Dialogue is possible between A and Others.
How are you communicating about problematic situations in your organization? Do you talk them through or do you complain, finger point to one another and stick to phone and mail to fire reactive actions to one another?
Pondering on the often out of topic discussions on the LinkedIn Group Systems Thinking World, I came up to this diagram during coffee with colleagues. I guess they’re not going to take coffee with me anytime soon :-/
As you can see, there are only reinforcing loops. The sole balancing loop is in fact preventing the initial topic from being further investigated. The explanation goes something as follow:
- B1: when the initial topic is discussed, it triggers comments from people given their personal centers of interest, which of course, because the centers of interest are so different, this makes the discussion diverges, which reduces the focus on the initial topic.
- R1: this first reinforcing loop describes the fact that the more there is divergence in the discussion, the more this triggers further personal centers of interest being mentioned in the discussion, which makes the discussion diverges further and thus make more people to react.
- R2: Sometimes, someone in the discussion tries to come back to the initial topic, though, most often, through some personal path. So we have a new path which can trigger further comments from other personal topics of interest (I did not show that the new path, although related to the initial topic, could trigger other centers of interest – this is embedded in the new description of the initial topic; a case of fixe the fails, I think).
- R3: the comments from different personal centers of interest increase the systems thinking view of things (provided there has been some initial interest, but even then, interest can be awaken), which reinforces the link to other centers of interest, which further the comments from different points of view. This loop somewhat describes the self-reinforcing curiosity of systems thinkers.
- R4 shows the fact that these other centers of interest can also add to the divergence in the mind of the people participating in the discussion
Hopefully, some group rules are being researched that could help in maintaining a discussion going in the initial intended discussion (create a web place where regular summaries of the discussions could be posted, do some Dialogue Mapping, perhaps using InsightMaker which added this functionality just recently).