04 November 2009

The danger of "We know!" - Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed how many executives and managers fail to reap benefits from new methods and ideas -- especially if these new methods and ideas arrive in the form of a "consultant" -- simply because these executives and managers believe that the already know what can be known about their organizations and their industries. This prevents many organizations from growing to their full potential.

W. Edwards Deming put it bluntly: "Information is not knowledge. Knowledge comes from theory."

Unfortunately, what far to many executives and managers have is a lot of information about their businesses and their industries. What they desperately lack is "theory" by which to interpret and understand the information at their disposal.

G. K. Chesterton put it this way in Tremendous Trifles (Beaconsfield, Britain: Darwen Finlayson, 1968): "One of the four or five paradoxes which should be taught to every infant prattling on his mother's knee is the following: that the more a man looks at a thing the less he can see it, and the more a man learns a thing the less he knows it. The Fabian argument of the expert, that the man who is trained should be the man who is trusted would be absolutely unanswerable if it were really true that the man who studied a thing and practised it every day went on seeing more and more of its significance. But he does not. He goes on seeing less and less of its significance."

Think of Sir Isaac Newton and the story of his having begun his development of the theory of gravity because he had seen an apple falling from a tree. Surely there had been tens of thousands of individuals that had witnessed objects falling to the ground under the influence of gravity for several millennia prior to Sir Newton's experience. Yet, no one understood "gravity."

It has only been since Isaac Newton put a "theory" around gravity that men could take what they had experienced with gravity and put it into a framework -- a theoretical context -- that made the experience understandable to them. Furthermore, the framework (the "theory") gave men the opportunity to predict outcomes of certain actions relative to the gravitational affects. This meant that men could plan and execute with some real certainty as to the results they would obtain under "gravity."

Precisely the same is true of business.

Executives and managers have all manner of data in their hands relative to the performance of their enterprises. What they lack is a "theory" by which that data may be abstracted and understood for the purposes of effective management. A framework that will help them bring simplicity out of the complexity before them.

In all too many cases, the missing "data" for beginning the process of ongoing improvement is to be found within the organization at all. The missing component for executives and managers is quite often this simple point: there is a simple method available to help organizational leadership logically analyze what they already know internally.

In the absence of a "tool set" that helps management bring forth "knowledge" from their "information," executives and managers tend to continue "tinkering" with their businesses. They make changes here or there to see if the change helps.

Sometimes such change seems to help, other times the change actually makes things go worse than before. Still other times, the change is made and their is no perceptible affect on the organization at all.

This is no way to run a business -- or any other kind of organization!

Executives and managers are yearning -- sometimes without even recognizing what is lacking -- for a simple, effective tool to help them gain control of their enterprises once again.

[Next time: Gaining Control]

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