Disruption after transformative events: the Satir Change Model

July 28, 2009
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The impact on group performance of a well assimilated change during the five stages of the Satir Change Model

Steven Smith has a very interesting post discussing the Satir Change Model – a model of group process which charts the impact of innovations in organisational dynamics.

Smith discusses the impact of change on organisational dynamics.  The Satir Change model is derived from family psychology, which tracks the changes in family behaviour after the introduction of a new or disruptive event.

What the model finds is that after a new way of acting or behaving is adopted, there is a drop in performance often followed by a period of chaos or disruption.  This then restabilises to a higher level than before after group members internalise and embrace the circumstances of the new condition.

Clark Quinn then comments upon this, applying the model to organisational change.  He suggests that breaking new conditions or changes of behaviour into small, bite sized chunks might actually help reduce the negative aspects associated with change adoption.  Introducing these at the right time, and in the right order, may be the key to progressive, ongoing organisational change.

Smith then summarises this process in a table, reproduced below:

ctions for each stage that will help a group change more quickly and effectively.

Actions for each stage that will help a group change more quickly and effectively.

Many thanks to Steven and Clark for discussing this issue in the context of organisational change.

What lessons might this hold for humanitarian bearocratic change in the face of increasing numbers of disruptive, change-inducing events? Depending on the magnitude and frequency of these events (both increasing), it is possible that such organisations could hypothetically be driven down a process of ever decreasing performance if such changes happen fast enough.  On the other hand, embracing and understanding a model such a this (if it works in the context of your organisation) could help managers better navigate these changes.

UPDATE – This also suggests that in order for organisations to learn and improve, they must be subject to creative, disruptive, potentially even destructive events.  If one is serious about change management and organisational adaptation, doesn’t it make sense to bring about such small events in order to help agencies and organisations better strengthen their “immune systems” in this regard?  In this case, do the ends justify the means?

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White House urges better response planning for nuclear attacks

July 28, 2009
The recently released Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation, developed by the White House Homeland Security Council, stresses that it’s “incumbent upon all levels of government” to prepare “through focused nuclear attack response planning.” Mayors, governors, emergency managers and first responders will be the first to deal with the consequences, and according to that same guidance, “local and state community preparedness to respond to a nuclear detonation could result in life-saving on the order of tens of thousands of lives.”
Ready or Not?, a yearly analysis of preparedness for health emergencies that’s released by the nonprofit Trust for America’s Health, found that “surge capacity remains the largest threat to the nation’s ability to respond to a major catastrophe.” Local, and specifically, regional abilities to care for the wounded will be vital just after a nuclear terrorist attack. Unfortunately many communities haven’t gotten the point.
Two assumptions prevail at the local level: 1.) Any nuclear explosion will completely destroy a major city; and 2.) The military is the only organization capable of responding.

nukebonestell

A new report suggests that “surge capacity is the largest threat” to America’s ability to respond to a major catastrophe.

From the press release:

Ready or Not?, a yearly analysis of preparedness for health emergencies that’s released by the nonprofit Trust for America’s Health, found that “surge capacity remains the largest threat to the nation’s ability to respond to a major catastrophe.” Local, and specifically, regional abilities to care for the wounded will be vital just after a nuclear terrorist attack. Unfortunately many communities haven’t gotten the point.

The report notes that, “Two assumptions prevail at the local level:

  1. Any nuclear explosion will completely destroy a major city; and
  2. The military is the only organization capable of responding.

Because it often takes the military time to respond to catastrophic events, the report urges local governments to consider and prepare for what they would do if the military doesn’t arrive in time.

The report suggests that local decision-makers:

  1. Come to grips with the threat and understand that the military can’t arrive immediately to help.
  2. Realize that isn’t a problem for only large, high-risk cities, but one that requires a regional response.
  3. Actually make plans and co-ordinate with your neighbours.

The press release concludes that, “Such preparation isn’t necessarily specific to nuclear terrorism. Regional preparedness and response can be used for a range of catastrophic events, including hurricanes such as Katrina. Moving down the scale, preparing for the “big one” will help communities deal with the small disasters they face every year.”

Press release herefull report here.



Learning from children: strategy, tactics and games in times of rapid change

July 20, 2009

baby_teo2

Are there lessons in how children learn that might help us adults, and the organisations we run, learn from turbulent environments and make better decisions in times of change?

Watching my 9 month old child grow up, I was struck by how inventive and experimental his learning style can be.  Like all children, his life is a constant stream of novelty and change.  He has very little control, has no sense of why or how things work, yet learns quicker and more effectively than most adults and at a rate which makes organisations look positively glacial.  He also seems to enjoy it much more than most adults I know as well.

A colleague recommended reading the classic book “How Children Learn”, by John Holt.  That book is reviewed here, here and here.  I have transcribed relevant excerpts below, and interpret them in the context of organisational learning and strategic change management.

When children attack a new problem, they begin to play, almost at random.  This generates a tremendous amount of sensory data. A scientist might say that, along with his useful data, the child has collected an enormous quantity of random, useless data.  The trained scientist wants to cut all irrelevant data out of his experiment.  He is asking nature a question, he wants to cut down the noise, the static, the random information, to a minimum, so he can hear the answer.  But a child doesn’t work that way.  He is used to getting answers out of the noise.  He has, after all, grown up in a strange world where everything is noise, where can only understand and make sense of a tiny part of his experiences.  His way of attaching a problem is to produce the maximum amount of data possible, to do as many things as he can, [in as many] ways as possible.  then, as he goes along, he begins to notice regularities and patterns.  He begins to ask questions – that is, to make deliberate experiments.  But it is vital to note that until he has a great deal of data, he has no idea what questions to ask, or what questions there are to be asked.

This is a marvellous phrase, “he has no idea what questions to ask, or what questions there are to be asked.”  How many of us have felt this way, when honestly considering the complexities we face in our daily lives?

The young child, at least until his thinking has been spoiled by adults, has a great advantage in situations… where there is so much seemingly senseless data that it is impossible to tell what questions to ask.  He is much better at taking in this kind of data; he is better able to tolerate its confusion; and he is much better at picking out the patterns, hearing the faint signal amid all the noise.  Above all, he is much less likely than an adult to make hard and fast conclusions on the basis of too little data, or having made such conclusions, to refuse to consider any new data that does not support them.

Reading Holt contains excellent lessons for decision-makers faced with complex, changing landscapes.  They must first understand what kinds of problems they are facing and what kinds of questions must be asked.

This can only be done through experimentation.  But not the kind of experimentation taught to us in the science lab.  The kind of experimentation that doesn’t need to be taught, that is, through play.

But not just any kind of play.  Play doesn’t work if it isn’t fun.  Play minus fun equals labour, which doesn’t have the same learning benefits.

The spirit behind [children’s games] should be a spirit of joy, foolishness, exuberance, like the spirit behind all good games, include the game of trying to find out how the work works, which we call education.

Only through play, then – through random, iterative, and fundamentally joyful experimentation – can we begin to understand how and why the world is changing.  And only through play can we generate the notions and motivations necessary to interact successfully with it.

Surprising insights from an author who specialises in, well, children’s games.  Perhaps management strategy need not be as serious and we like to think.

UPDATE – See my similar post on “Rules for Emergent Experimentation“, which reaches similar conclusions and proposes guidelines for play in the context of organisational learning.


Water crisis = food crisis

July 8, 2009
Australia's rice production drops to practically zero because of water shortages; Image via SF Gate

Australia's rice production drops to practically zero because of water shortages; Image via SF Gate

When water availability diminishes, food crops tend to suffer.

TreeHugger has an excellent discussion of the impact of drought on food production in Australia.

Rice is a water intensive crop, and when drought hits, production suffers.  In Australia, “production has dropped from 1.6 million tons in 2000 to a mere 18,000 tons in 2008.”

This has important implications for planning for climate change.

Taking the experience of Australia to heart now can help other areas be proactive about water use and avoid sharp changes in agriculture, and therefore economy, such as what Australia is now facing. Getting started today and reduce our water use to only what we need as well as make practical decisions in the agricultural sector, can help a region avoid a more dire crisis in the future.


An agent-based model of why incompetence spreads through big organisations

July 7, 2009

Italian research scientists use agent-based modelling to demonstrate the “Peter Principle” or organisational incompetence.

It is a truism amongst disgruntled workers in large organisations that their managers are complete idiots.  This is often justified with reference to the “Peter Principle”, named after the Canadian psychologist Laurence Peter who first observed this phenomena in 1969.  The international aid sector is no exception.

Stated simply, the Peter Principle is:

All new members in a hierarchical organisation climb the hierarchy until they reach their level of maximum incompetence.

A new study by researchers at the Universita di Catania has produced computational evidence explaining why this might be the case.  From the MIT Technology Review article on their paper:

[The researchers] say that common sense tells us that a member who is competent at a given level will also be competent at a higher level of the hierarchy. So it may well seem a good idea to promote such an individual to the next level.

The problem is that common sense often fools us. It’s not so hard to see that a new position in an organization requires different skills, so the competent performance of one task may not correlate well with the ability to perform another task well.

Peter pointed out that in large organizations where these practices are used, it is inevitable that individuals will be promoted until they reach their level of maximum incompetence. The unavoidable result is the runaway spread of incompetence throughout an organization.

The research team has used agent-based modelling to simulate this common practice of promotion. They found that, contrary to intended effect, performance-based promotion leads to, “a significant reduction in the efficiency of an organization, as incompetency spreads through it.”

The best way to counter this effect?  Alternately promote competent and incompetent people or simply promote people randomly (or based on non-competence criteria).

A nice review can be found at the MIT Tech Review and the full text can be found here, “The Peter Principle Revisited: A Computational Study”


IFTF 10 year forecast: Environment, the Blue Economy

May 19, 2009

enviro

We continue our series reviewing key themes from The Institute for the Future’s latest 10 year forecast.  In this post, Environment: The Blue Economy

The next theme we will be reviewing from the IFTF’s new 10 year forecast is that of Environment.

This is one of the more interesting themes to emerge from their 10 year forecast.  On the environment, the IFTF writes,

The oceans become the focal point of economic development and environmental debate, as we struggle with collapsing fisheries, a search for new energy sources, and large-scale interventions in global climate climate change.

Detailed sub-themes from this concept include:

  • New coastal zone materials: the rush to solve problems of rising sea levels and coastal climate events drive the development of new materials – many based on materials and life forms that occur naturally in coastal areas.
  • Deep, deep ocean drilling: in the search for new sources of fossil fuel, engineers go much deeper into the ocean floor – with uncertain results.
  • Renewable ocean energy: new technologies for hydrokinetic (or wave) energy and ocean thermal energy conversion get on the fast track to development as a means of reducing carbon emissions.
  • Collapse of fisheries: climate change and over fishing threaten the viability of global fisheries, and drive new certification practices for sustainable fishing.
  • Coastal ecosystem services: urbanisation, industrialisation, and climate converge in coastal zones, where measurement of ecosystem services will play an increasingly important role in everything from development and insurance to disaster management.
  • Ocean dead zones: large low oxygen zones appear to be recurring with regular cycles now of the West Coast of the United States, which scientists attribute to climate change.
  • Methane scares: rising temperatures may contribute to rapid release of methane – a far more destructive greenhouse gas than CO2 – trapped in permafrost and the ocean depths.
  • Geo-engineering climate change: as the ocean’s capacity to regulate climate change declines, extreme geo-engineering measures – from ocean fertilisation to very large scale thermal pumps, enter the debate.
  • Golden age of oceanography: ocean crises, plus low-cost, sensor-based data, genetic mapping of ocean species and the growth of amateur and NGO ocean scientists accelerate the evolution of ocean science.

This theme points us towards the often ignored, often undervalued, yet completely essential aspect of human life; the ocean.  We find the discussion of how ongoing political and technological dilemmas on land translate into policy, debate, and action on the seas to be fascinating; not least of which because the geo-political dynamics become much more exciting, and, well, fluid (sorry the pun).

I was surprised not to see piracy on the list as well, however.  No mass migration of urban populations as coastal cities become uninsurable or uninhabitable.  But a fantastic mix of issues to consider, reminiscent of a recent HFP scenario on water pollution, urban growth, and state conflict in the ECOWAS, by HFP consultant Noah Raford.

As always, thanks to The Institute for the Future for these inspiring themes from their latest 10 year forecast.

Next in the seriesTechnology: Pervasive Eco-Monitoring.


The Gupta Option 2019 – Superstruct field report from the DCAR of the future

May 18, 2009
Vodpod videos no longer available.

Vinay Gupta just forwarded us this lovely report from the future of the DCAR, produced as part of the brilliant Superstruct online futuring game (curated by the Institute for the Future, by the way, whose latest 10 year forecast we have been profiling here).

This is a wonderful piece of future theatre, synthesizing issues of electronic democracy, internally displaced peoples, state failure, and global pandemics.  Scenario planning exercises should all be this fun.

Thanks Vinay!