Some notes on Business Design, Customer Experience and Systems Thinking

Sustentare flyerNext month I will be giving an international seminar in Blumenau, in Santa Catarina to business students of Sustentare Business School. I am really looking forward to this two day seminar, as I will be teaching to a mixture of MBA students, design students, innovation students and those who are a part of the leadership academy. This is how fundamental Business design is to an organisation, it is a holistic approach which impacts on each and every aspect of an organisation’s operations, and so I thought I would write a few notes on my thinking in this article.

In the last few weeks I have joined a local gym. I was using the small gym room in our condominium, but although adequate, it is extremely limited hence me joining a fairly new chain of gyms called Mockba. The philosophy of the gym takes its inspiration from physical training techniques developed in Russia, hence the Russian inspired name and branding. In this video, Bruno Tripoli introduces the gym, and how it focuses not just on offering the traditional weight training equipment, but also offers more hardcore training programmes such as throwing around extremely large tractor tyres etc. I am already feeling the benefits after just a few weeks, and it is a very uplifting and motivating place to workout.

Mockba have really thought about the entire customer experience. All the staff both Maria and I have felt with have been welcoming, friendly and attentive. There are always two or three trainers on hand at any time, and they put together programmes and show you the exercises. I know that pretty much all other gyms offer this, but the staff are extremely attentive, and will also keep an eye out for you if they see you doing something slightly wrong, coming up and making the necessary corrections. I know this in theory sounds like the way every gym should operate, but I would say that this level of attention is hard to achieve, and not many companies whatever their product or service manage this level of service.

The gym opened a couple of years ago and continues to grow. Every bit of my experience there has been brilliant, every time, from the arrival to the friendly farewell. If only all businesses and organisations were run this way, but unfortunately they are not, so let’s take a look at why.

In the UK this month saw Labour MP Margaret Hodge, chair of the Commons public accounts committee, commenting that the BBC’s handling of its Digital Media Initiative (DMI) which was abandoned at a cost of £98.4m last year, was “almost beyond parody” and noting that there was a “jungle of bureaucracy” at the corporation (source: The Guardian - BBC ‘half-truths’ over digital debacle condemned as Thompson faces MPs). What a tragic waste of tax payers’ money. If we look back across the past decade, we find many other Government high profile complex IT projects have also failed:

  • Rural payments agency (subsidies to farmers) spent £32 million on a failed system. They then rehired the same IT company to do more work.
  • HMRC (UK tax office) spent £9 billion on an IT led change. 2m pay have paid too little tax, 4m people have paid too much.
  • 160 out of 9,000 health organisations are using a new patient record system costing the NHS £12.7 billion.
  • A project that was meant to save the Department for Transport (DfT) about £57m eventually cost £81m

And also this month the National Audit Office has criticised the Universal Credit project lead by Iain Duncan Smith, declaring that it has suffered from “weak management, ineffective control and poor governance” and that it could now miss its 2017 deadline for implementation (Source: The Telegraph – Iain Duncan Smith denies Universal Credit is an ‘IT disaster’.

If we try and simply the situation to make sense of it, we can see just how many layers of ‘management’ are involved in these huge projects. In a recent article I explored the notion of the management factory (see Complexity, Flow, Mindfulness and Holonomic Thinking) but in Government projects there are many more stakeholders, leading of course to ‘byzantine’ levels of complexity. The situation is of course made worse by the approaches taken by the large IT companies who then sell their solutions through this system

Slide: Simon Robinson

Slide: Simon Robinson

In 2010, David Cameron and Nick Clegg (the deputy Prime Minister) declared that they would transform this mess. They put out a joint statement in which they said that:

What we’re asking departments to do – not to control things from the centre but to put in place structures that will allow people and communities to take power and control for themselves. In place of the old tools of bureaucratic accountability – top-down regulation and targets – are the new tools of democratic, bottom-up accountability – individual choice, competition, direct elections and transparency.

Source: The Telegraph – David Cameron and Nick Clegg : We’ll transform Britain by giving power away

It is interesting to use case studies from the public sector, since there is often far more information available to analyse. Note the ideology in what Cameron and Clegg are saying. They are saying that free market principles are what is needed for public sector services. They are saying that people want to choose their hospitals and schools as opposed to just wanting one hospital or one school which is excellent. They are claiming that they are moving away from older tools but I would humbly suggest that in fact this is far from the case. The ideology is imposed from the top with little freedom to do what needs to be done for the people actually doing the work.

In 2011 one of the UK’s most respected systems thinkers, John Seddon, wrote an open letter to Duncan Smith predicting the failure of the Universal Credit scheme. You can read a copy of his letter here. The letter is an excellent summary of his book Freedom from Command and Control, as is his submission to the Public Administration Select Committee on public service reform from November of last year, in which he wrote that

I warned Duncan Smith he was bound to fail at the project’s inception I also explained that you need people to provide high-variety services and doing so drives costs away, to astonishing levels. I explained how local authority benefits offices provided useful evidence: benefits being processed in days, not weeks or months, and people being treated as people, not mere claimants I offered his DWP project leaders an insurance policy; I would help a local authority benefits office develop a human-interface service to deliver Universal Credit without an IT system. I predicted it would be running in months (not seven years as planned) and would be a far superior service with lower costs.

But these proposals don’t match the government narrative. Duncan Smith has to deliver digital by default, irrespective of the consequences.

Source: Written evidence from John Seddon

When an organisation, or a complex ecosystem of stakeholders manages to achieve a unified vision based on delivering extremely high levels of service, be they clients, customers or members of the public, the results can be remarkable. For example, in 2004 in Scotland, the West Lothian Criminal Justice Project was commissioned by the Lothian and Borders Criminal Justice Board in June 2004 to try to improve the summary justice system through a systems thinking methodology. The full report of how the project team solves these challenges can be read in the report here - West Lothian Criminal Justice Project – Final Report.

Source: West Lothian Criminal Justice Project Final Report

Source: West Lothian Criminal Justice Project Final Report

In taking a systemic approach, the project achieved dramatic results. For example end to end times from caution and charge to disposal reduced from an average of 21 weeks to 8 weeks. The table above shows many other processes which were redesigned, and the processes are all measured in days. As you can see, the impact on the efficiency, costs and use of resources was massive. Not only were the quantitative results remarkable but staff throughout the system were both positive and confident about the changes and did not want to return to the previous arrangements.

If you read the report you will see that there were three key deliverables based around the Vanguard Consulting process of Check – Plan – Do. This is very closely related to what I teach which is the Holonomic Processes of See – Plan – Do. So often we jump into planning without considering the process and the dynamic way of seeing. It is not without reason that one half of our book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter is dedicated to the act of seeing. Without mindful awareness of how our seeing is intricately linked to the way in which we conceive the world, we will never break our of the mental straight jackets imposed on our thinking.

The Holonomics Process

The Holonomics Process

It takes time and effort to do so, and this is why companies such as Google are investing in mindfulness training. The business case is compelling. It is not just about financial performance, it is about reducing waste, making organisations more resilient and sustainable and happy and rewarding places to work. So if we come back to where we started, we saw that Mackba has excellent in developing the customer experience around the business of achieving physical excellence. They have a holistic vision, and their focus on the customer experience is something we can learn from in thinking about the entire experience of every point of contact between our customers, clients and stakeholders and our own businesses and organisations.

Credit: Mockba

Credit: Mockba

Business Design really involves a deep dive into every aspect of our business, its products and services, but we have to take heed of Henri Bergson’s observation that the ‘The eye only sees what the mind is willing to comprehend’. If leaders are to truly enact deep and profound transformations, they first need to be mindful of their own thought processes, and only then can they move into a transformation of the external world.

Related articles

Complexity, Flow, Mindfulness and Holonomic Thinking

Sustentare – Brazil’s visionary business school

Exploring Chaos, Fractals and Bifurcation

Bifurcation diagramAs you may have seen, I am currently really enjoying a course on Dynamic Systems and Chaos run by Santa Fe Institute (see Thoughts on Santa Fe’s new MOOC – Introduction to Dynamical Systems and Chaos). The most recent module has been about bifurcation, and this has been explored via a very simple logistics equation:

Logistic Equation

In this article I am not going to explain what the equation represents in detail and will assume that those of you who have already explored chaotic systems to some degree are already acquainted with it. However, before we can really look at bifurcation, we first need to look at what happens to this when we iterate the function over time. In the examples below, x will vary between 0 and 1, and r will vary between 0 and 4. The software I will be using comes from Santa Fe, and is used extensively as part of the course materials (full details are at the end of this article).

In this first example we will set x to be 0.2 at time = 0, and r will be 2.8. When we iterate just a few times, we find that f(x) oscillates slightly, and then settles down to a final value (0.64286). What this means is that when we plug x=0.64286 into the equation, we get 0.64286 out.

r=2.8

r=2.8

In this next example, we will set x again to be 0.2, and r will be 3.2. The behaviour changes, and instead of settling down to a single fixed point, the system settles down by oscillating between two different values, 0.51304 and 0.79946.

r=3.2

r=3.2

In this final example, again we will start with x=0.2, and this time we will set r=3.9. In the chart below, when we look at the behaviour across 100 interactions rather than 40, we see that there is no discernible pattern. The system does not settle down, and in fact it has now become chaotic.

r=3.9

r=3.9

What we can then do is to plot all values of r (from 0 to 4) on a single diagram, and plot out the final state of each of these values. When we do this, we end up with the bifurcation diagram below:

Bifurcation diagram 1

Bifurcation diagram 1

On the X axis is r, and we can now see what happens as we vary r from 0 to 4. If you look at the values we explored, the diagram shows just one final state at r=2.8, two final states at r=3.2, and at r=3.9 there is no discernible pattern. The great thing about this software is that we can highlight an area and explore in further detail which we will now do.

On diagram 1 above you will see that I have created a blue rectangle. This is the part of the diagram I can now expand, in order to be able to explore in more detail.

Bifurcation diagram 2

Bifurcation diagram 2

As you can see in diagram 2, we are now looking at just one small section of diagram 1, and this is where r varies from 3.407 to 3.680 and x varies between 0.783 and 0.915. The software has ‘stretched’ that part of the diagram we are interested in to fit in to the fixed shape of chart. We are starting to see recurring bifurcation patters, places where the pattern splits qualitatively in behaviour, and we also notice that in amongst the chaotic behaviour, there are also strips of white, areas where the system appears to be exhibiting regular patterns. On diagram 2 there is also a blue rectangle, and so let’s zoom in and take a look at this.

Bifurcation diagram 3

Bifurcation diagram 3

At this level of magnification we begin to really grasp the extraordinary complex and chaotic behaviour of what we thought may be an innocuous looking equation. As well as the fractal like patterns, we also notice structure within the chaos, i.e. these organic sweeping curves where the system activity is a little more concentrated.

Bifurcation diagram 4

Bifurcation diagram 4

In this final picture, bifurcation diagram 4, I have left off the highlighted rectangle, really so that we can just enjoy this mathematical equation as art. Look at the level of magnification – we are now at a scale where r varies between r=3.854014 and r=3.854055. If we wanted to we could continue going deeper and deeper. It is one thing to read about chaotic systems in books, but it is another thing all together to really be able to play with the equations, and explore their behaviour dynamically.

For me, I feel a deep sense of mystery, and the maths really comes alive to me as I interact with both equation and art. If you wish to do so too, instructions are below.

Acknowledgements

The bifurcation program used above was developed by K. N. Springer, January 2014 © 2014 Santa Fe Institute. It has been made available via Santa Fe’s course website ComplexityExplorer.org under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License. The times series plots were also created using software developed by Santa Fe Institute for the course.

The Introduction to Dynamical Systems and Chaos course is taught by Professor David Feldman. It is currently running, but is still open to new registrations. For more information please see this introduction to the course. There is no registration fee, access to all course materials are free, and not only will you have access to these programs, you will also be able to follow a much more in-depth exploration of their behaviour from Professor Feldman.

Related Links

Thoughts on Santa Fe’s new MOOC – Introduction to Dynamical Systems and Chaos

While Maria and I discuss complexity, chaos theory and bifurcation in our new book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter, for an in-depth mathematical exploration you may wish to look at David Feldman’s excellent Chaos and Fractals: An Elementary Introduction.

Intuition, feeling and ethics in organisations

Yesterday I came across the work of Muel Kaptein who is a partner at the international assurance and advisory firm KPMG and professor in business ethics and integrity management at RSM Erasmus University. Interestingly KPMG have as their corporate motto ‘cutting through complexity’ which I do kind of like, but then on the other hand, perhaps it indicates that for KPMG, complexity is something negative to be eradicated, rather than understood and utilised in order to develop living, sustainable and resilient organisations.

Steered by sensitivity - intuition

But anyway, through KMPG Kaptein has published a very interesting report Steered by Sensitivity – A plea for more intuition in the board room. This report has many interesting interviews, and explores the role intuition plays in decision-making at board level. In this instance, intuition is a concept which is being related to feeling, i.e. the common sense use of the word. The report explores how ‘rational’ considerations are only acceptable in decision making, and the fear of being wrong or making a mistake obviously contribute to this situation. However, what is interesting is that when approaching not just complex problems but wicked problems, perhaps we need to use other mental faculties, intuition of which is one.

An extremely important highlight in the report for me was the discussion on framing. This is the way in which we construct our mental models of problems, and although framing is often discussed in the business world, often it is only given lip service with people thinking that they are taking framing into account in the decision-making process, but in fact are suffering from an overload of framing and mis-perceptions and mis-conceptions.

Jung's Mandala and the Four Ways of KnowingThis leads me back to our holonomic conception of intuition, which is seen as something separate from ‘feeling’. It is fascinating for me to read about the way in which Einstein discussed his own mental processes. Of course psychologists would probably say that these introspections were of no scientific value, but I think we have to take his insights seriously. Einstein of course worked with mathematics (thinking) but the mathematics were telling Einstein something deeper about the structure of the universe and the structure of reality. These insights could not be modelled, and could not be codified. Einstein had a scientific intuitive faculty in which he could comprehend complexity.

I think that this was the same cognitive faculty that Taiichi Ohno, creator the Toyota Production System was tapping into when he comprehended the notion of ‘flow’ in production lines (See my recent article Complexity, Flow, Mindfulness and Holonomic Thinking). It was Ohno who told his own managers not to codify their methods of working, since the deep knowledge existed in their intuition, and any attempt to codify would mean that this knowledge would get lost, diluted and misunderstood if written down.

What I also think is interesting, is that if we develop these two different aspects of intuition in people, especially those in business whose decisions have monumental impact and ramifications for people the world over, then their feeling for the complexity of the systems in which they are impacting on will improve for the better, and they will better be able to connect with the outcomes and ramifications too of their decisions. It no longer becomes a decision about data, and financial benefits. The decisions move from purely quantitative to qualitative, and when we understand the qualities of life, we then have the ethical dimension so desperately needed in business and organisational life.

Postscript

I am grateful to Bert van Lamoen for pointing me in the direction of the work of Muel Kaptein. Bert contacted me via Transition Consciousness, as have many others. I am always delighted to hear from people who have enjoyed reading my articles, and I have had many rich conversations as a result. I always welcome comments and emails, and I always reply, although there can be a slight delay during busy times with work commitments.

Complexity, Flow, Mindfulness and Holonomic Thinking

HolonomicsI wanted to write a little note to you all to say that our book Holonomics is now fully up and running on Amazon. It can now be pre-ordered on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and also most of the other Amazon sites. It is also available via other booksellers too of course such as Waterstones, and you can of course buy direct from Floris Books. It has been fascinating these last few weeks talking to journalists and a number of other people about what exactly Holonomics is, especially as it is a less a framework or methodology, and more what we call a movement of thinking into a dynamic way of thinking, a certain form of mindfulness which directs awareness and attention not just to the dynamic relationships within complex systems, but which also comprehends the deeper meaning of these systems.

Jung's Mandala and the Four Ways of Knowing

It is of course difficult to do an elevator pitch for Holonomics when you are discussing the four ways of knowing as we do in our book: thinking, feeling, sensing and intuition. Intuition is that part of our way of knowing the world which cannot be codified, put into symbolic language or modelled, and yet it plays such a fundamental role in our comprehension of dynamics.

Taiichi Ohno

Taiichi Ohno

It was therefore excellent this week for me to discover a quote from Taiichi Ohno (1912 – 1990), one of the principle architects of the Toyota Production System. Of course at first this system had no name, and Ohno famously said that if you were to give a system a name ‘managers would expect it to come in a box’. This is genius, and extremely insightful, especially when nowadays we are overrun with ever-more complex management processes, all of which come with an ® (I will explain in a minute).

If you look at the mandala above, the overall idea is that in order to understand a complex system, we need to achieve a balance of all four ways of knowing. There is a huge amount of waste in business today, often because managers are acting like scientists, but they do not realise so. They have many different theories, and rush to implement improvement programmes and change programmes before really studying what the problems are.

Ohno made sure that his management team spent weeks observing real problems in Toyota’s manufacturing plants, and this would mean that rather than being full of theories and management fads, they would achieve a deep understanding of the system as a whole. With this way of seeing, they could see how the flow of work from end-to-end, rather than only thinking in terms of the achievement of targets for each individual in the organisation, targets which could obviously create tension and internal competition.

John Seddon, author of Freedom from Command and Control, describes how he studied the Toyota Production System and translated into a system for service organisations. He points out that Ohno taught us that it’s hard to teach counter-intuitive truths by explanation. It’s better and faster to learn counter-intuitive truths by seeing them for yourself.

Slide: Simon Robinson

Slide: Simon Robinson

Seddon uses the term ‘management factory’ to show how the command-and-control logic of western high-volume manufacturing creates huge amounts of waste in organisations, as management separate the management of work from a workforce who actually do the work. Thomas Johnson and Anders Bröms also write about this concept in their book Profit Beyond Measure, using the term ‘information factory’. When Maria and I write about sustainability and resilience, we do so from many perspectives. When you have a systems view of organisations, you see how it can be possible to cut costs, reduce waste, but also take care of the workforce as human beings, ensuring their happiness and improving their morale, satisfaction and motivation. It does not need to be either or. You can have both.

In the UK the British Government (nowadays via the Office of Government Practice) over the last four decades has developed and demanded the use of ever more complex ®s, such as PRINCE2® (for projects), MSP® (for programmes), M_o_R® (for risk), ITIL® (for IT services), MoP® (for portfolios) and MoV® (for value). The reality has been disaster roll-outs of IT projects across many different sectors such as health, transport, agriculture and defence which have cost billions and delivered a fraction of what was promised. The answer has often been to employ the same consultants using the same tools and to expect a different outcome.

We need a different way of thinking, and Maria and I have coined it ‘holonomic thinking’. Built on a foundation of human values, it is systems thinking combined with deep philosophical insights combined with the years we have both spent in commerce and industry, seeing both great companies achieving amazing results, enhancing both the lives of people and protecting and nurturing the environment, as well as of course bearing witness to practices which were less than successful. We really hope you enjoy our book when it finally comes out this April.

Links

Holonomics on Amazon.com

Holonomics on Amazon.co.uk

Holonomics on Waterstones

Holonomics on Floris Books

Thoughts on Santa Fe’s new MOOC – Introduction to Dynamical Systems and Chaos

David Feldman

David Feldman

In case you have not come across the acronym MOOC – it stands for Massive Open On-Line Course. Last year I wrote a review of Santa Fe’s first MOOC – Introduction to Complexity in relation to the future of education. Having taken on board and implemented a large amount of feedback from the first students, Santa Fe Institute have now launched a second course, an introduction to dynamical systems and chaos, and this year will also be running a number of other courses relating to complexity and complex systems (see their full list of courses here).

Chaos and Fractals: An Elementary IntroductionThe Introduction to Dynamical Systems and Chaos is run by David Feldman, Professor of Physics and Mathematics at College of the Atlantic, who served as the school’s co-director between 2006 and 2009, and who is the author of Chaos and Fractals: An Elementary Introduction. This course follows the same format as the previous course, being divided into modules which are placed on-line at weekly intervals, and which contain a mixture of lectures plus quizzes and homework (see below) which are designed to test the student’s continuing understanding of what is being taught. At the end of each module is a test, the score of which counts towards the final mark of the students. Those receiving a final mark of 70% or higher receive a certification of completion.

Credit: David Feldman

Credit: David Feldman

At this moment of writing only the first two modules have been uploaded, but these two are foundational modules which explore iterated functions and differential equations. Students on this course need to have a working knowledge not so much of the actual mathematics, but of what the functions represent, what is the meaning behind the functions and equations, and for me this was a huge opportunity to revisit long forgotten A level maths (in the UK, A levels are the exams taken at the age of 17-18 before leaving school and entering university).

For some years now it has frustrated me that I used to be able to solve all sorts of equations, including second order differential equations, and even though I say so myself, I was pretty good, getting an A in maths, but I never needed these skills again, not even at university where the maths involved in Psychology was all statical). Feldman not only provides a comprehensive introduction to these functions, but as he says in one of the first classes, he does so in a manner which also differs from the way in which we were taught at school, a manner which is absolutely focussed on ensuring that students understand the meaning of what is being represented. Although slightly hazy, I am sure at school I could absolutely solve equations but I did not have a deeper appreciation of the meaning be hid the equations, and how they could relate to complex systems.

Slide: David Feldman

Credit: David Feldman

A great example was this question, seen above, in one of the quizzes. You really have to focus not on the equations, but what the graph is representing, and then focus on the relationship between the graph and the function in the question. I initially tripped up, as I think a few of my fellow students did, but this is the point of the quizzes. They really help the student solidify their knowledge, as opposed to just being passive recipients of information.

The course website also features slides which can be downloaded, and an active forum where participants can ask questions to their fellow students, with other students with advanced maths and computer skills uploading simulations and solutions for the other students to play with. The course is therefore of relevance to a quite wide public, with Feldman also playing an active role answering questions in the forum as well.

Now that MOOCs are becoming more widely available, the educational value of them is now being more widely debated. While I do not feel that all subjects are suitable for the MOOC format, with students who are highly self-motivated and disciplined to find the 3 hours or so a week necessary for this type of course, I continue to feel that they can play a much needed role in taking new teachings and practices from schools, colleges and universities out to a wider audience. And for those of you who are interested in complexity and complex systems, I can certainly recommend Santa Fe’s courses. At this moment the second version of Introduction to Complexity is currently coming to a close, but it will be run again on the 30th September of this year.

Links

Santa Fe Institute – Complexity Explorer MOOC homepage

 

Starlings – Introducing my new short film

I would like in this post to introduce my new short film Starlings. This short contains footage of starlings at Rigg, Gretna Green shot on 4th January of this year, and even though I say so myself, after five years of capturing the murmurations of these amazing birds, I am extremely happy with the footage, even though it was recorded on just a compact camera.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

In this post I would like to talk a little more about the behaviour of the starlings, and hopefully I will be able to do so without losing any of the intense excitement and wonder I feel each time I see them. I cannot really say I study the starlings from a complexity science perspective, but I do my best to observe, and what I feel blessed about is the fact that I have been able to observe the starlings in so many different ways which I will explain shortly. But first I thought I should say a little about where the starlings are.

Source: Google Maps

Source: Google Maps

You may need to click on the map above to see Gretna. It lies on the southern most part of the border of Scotland and England, and it is not only starlings which flock there. In the 18th century, marriage laws in England were tightened to the age of 21, but in Scotland the laws were much more relaxed, where couples could marry at the age of 16. Since it could have often be the case that an angry father-in-law was in pursuit of young runaway lovers, marriages would often take place in Grenta, the very first town actually lying on the Scottish border. Nowadays Gretna is seen as the most romantic town in the UK, and many weddings still take place, some in the now famous Blacksmiths Shop.

Gretna Green

Source: Google Maps

Gretna is a small  town with a population of just under 3,000. Gretna Green is a small village next to Gretna, and this is where the majority of weddings take place. On the map above I have placed four markers, A, B, C and D to show the differing location of the starlings since 2009.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

For many years, the starlings would gather and fly just to the north of Gretna Green (location A and the photo above). This was an easily accessible location for people to park and view the birds, which would settle down in the copse which you can see in the photo below (taken in sub zero temperatures with numb and painful hands, but it was worth it).

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

However, from what I understand, these trees became so damaged by the starlings that a new ground was sought, and so from 2012 it became a little more difficult to know exactly where the starlings would be. The starlings arrive in November in order to escape the harsh winters in Russia and Scandinavia and reports suggest that for the first few weeks they have no single base, often being seen flying over the centre of Gretna itself.

In December of 2011 it took Maria and I three attempts to track down the roosting location of the starlings. I am originally from Dumfries, and so it is possible for Maria and I to visit easily when we return each Christmas. People travel from around the UK to see the starlings, so it can be a little disheartening for some who arrive with just one opportunity to see them. One one of these attempts, we could only see the starlings from afar and with a very restricted view in the field in which we were standing. However, while many of you will have seen the really spectacular footage of starlings in their many thousands, I love the build up, which starts at around 3.30pm. In this particular field small groups of maybe ten or twenty would zoom across the fields, and would speed past our legs, they were that low. It really is quite incredible just how fast the brains of starlings must be to avoid colliding with us, and this too is a quite exhilarating experience.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

In January of 2012, on our third attempt, we discovered that the starlings had moved across the M74 to location B. Our vantage point was a little elevated, but what was quite amazing this time was the fact that the starlings were no longer in a copse or wood, but in a hedgerow along the road where we were standing. After flying, starlings pour down like rain to roost for the night, and to be so close to this was intense, even afterwards when they have not quite settled but are still singing and chattering away.

I have already written a fairly long article about our experience with the starlings in January of 2013 (see Starlings at Gretna Green, January 2013). We discovered that the starlings had moved yet again to the little hamlet of Rigg, just outside of Gretna, and the video above was taken at position C. I was standing in the gap you see in the middle of the copse above the ‘C’, and the starlings were flying extremely low, making for a quite dramatic film in which you also are able to hear the bellowing sounds of their wings flapping in unison.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

This time our Christmas and New Year in the UK, like most people in the UK, was filled with intense storms, rain and flooding, pretty much the worst conditions you could have for watching starlings. Maria and I made two visits, and we decided to return to Rigg in the hope that the starlings would still be there. Luckily they were, but Maria was suffering from a slight cold so she watched from our car while I galavanted off through the muddy fields looking for a good spot.

At this point I need to say that Scotland has different access rights to land than the rest of the UK, and for me as a person who loves being out in nature this is extremely important. However, although we have the right to roam the land (some exceptions do apply), it is still extremely important to respect both farms, farmland and especially cattle, and for me I do my utmost to both “leave no trace” and also avoid fields with sheep and cows. The starlings this time were gathering in location D, and so I had to make my way through the extremely boggy copse to the fields the other side. I did see some cattle but after investigation I saw that they were in another field some distance from me. While waiting I was joined by three muntjac deer who gathered nearby, another great treat for me.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

At first the starlings began to gather the other side of the farm which you can see in the photo above. But as more and more flocks joined the main group, the starlings began to fly into the field in which I was standing, and this was my first experience of starlings flying directly above me, which you can gain some idea of what this was like in the photo above. Luckily for Maria, the car was parked in a slightly elevated position to these fields, and she too had a surprisingly good view of the display.

Source: Hemelrijk CK, Hildenbrandt H (2011) Some Causes of the Variable Shape of Flocks of Birds. PLoS ONE 6(8): e22479. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0022479

Source: Hemelrijk CK, Hildenbrandt H (2011) Some Causes of the Variable Shape of Flocks of Birds. PLoS ONE 6(8): e22479. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0022479

Before I discuss our final trip to see the starlings and my film, I thought that I would discuss some of the great research being carried out to model the flight of starlings. Starlings can fly at up to 36 km/h, have reaction time of 100 milli seconds and appear to be able to track the movements of up to seven starlings deep in the flock. Some of the most advanced work in this area comes from Professor Charlotte Hemelrijk and scientific programmer Hanno Hildenbrandt who have developed a computer model called StarDisplay, and an earlier EU funded Starflag project.

These models are generated from data taken from photographs of the flocks from two different locations. This allows individual starlings to be tracked, but the work is painstaking and difficult, as the cameras have to be synchronised and many frames studied to ensure accurate tracking. At present the models are still limited, and still do not include factors such as feeding behaviour, behaviour related to avoiding predatory birds, wind and turbulence, but they still offer insights as to how such complex behaviour (much more complex than seen in schooling patterns in shoals of fish) can arise from a relatively limited set of rules.

What is also missing at this stage are the decision making processes. What leads the flocks to decide to move from one roosting ground to another, and how is this decision made collectively? Also missing, as I have mentioned previously, are the patterns of behaviour in the build up, such as the waiting in small groups, be it on the ground, in trees or along power lines and on pylons.

On January 4th Maria and I decided to visit Keswick, a small and attractive town in the north Lake District, which as you will see from the first map lies to the south of Dumfries in England. It was still wet and windy, and with Maria still having a bit of cold we did not manage to go walking as we originally had hoped. But we found ourselves arriving at Gretna on our way home at around 3.30, and with only trainers on our feet we decided to stop off and see the starlings once more. This time we parked on the very small lane near the farm, and to our amazement, the rains stopped, the clouds parted, and for what could have been the first time in weeks, we were treated to a stunning sunset in near windless conditions.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

When we arrived there were just a few birds on the power lines, but these were soon joined by more groups, which while initially being formed of maybe thirty or forty so birds, gradually become larger. Indeed, while on our way to Rigg a couple of days earlier, the roosting ground, we did see an extremely large flock flying over the Channel of River Esk, wetlands to the south of Gretna where access is impossible. Although it was tempting to park the car some distance from this spot to watch from afar, I really felt that Rigg would be the place to wait, and so this turned out to be the case.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

As the sun began to set, and the orange light turned to darker purple, ever more groups of starlings joined the pulsating flock. The flock was like one single breathing organ, expanding and contracting, and you will see this in the first couple of minutes of the film. As the starlings spread out, they came straight over us forming a huge living canopy. In case you are wondering, amazingly there was barely a mark on us despite being under the starlings for so long a time, but our car, which was parked just metres from us, did get more of a covering.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

At 2 mins 40 into my film, you will see an extremely large group of starlings arrive and merge with the flock. This is one of the most amazing abilities, the fact that starlings do not crash or bump despite moving in very different directions.

Around 5 minutes into the film you will see that the sun has set and the sky has become a little darker. The starlings moved across the road from where we were standing into a different field, one which contained their roosting site. The display intensifies as the group reaches its peak size, with the birds flying in more dense formations.

In the lat couple of minutes of my film, you will see the starlings draw ever closer to the trees, and begin to dive down in droves. It never ceases to amaze me how fast they do this. It is definitely worth not leaving too soon, since it is quite possible to be extremely close to the starlings to hear them chatter away along with the beating of wings before they finally settle for the night.

I hope you enjoy my film. I do have an HD version which both Maria and I will be using in our work in strategy, change management and innovation helping people in business become inspired by nature. We love to show people the aerial displays of starlings, and then ask what words come to mind when watching. Below are just some of inspiration from a recent workshop I ran on complexity and leadership, and you will see just what wide range of behaviours and qualities come to mind.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Although at times it can seem that we are losing ourselves in technology and suffering from nature deficit disorder more and more, this does not have to be the case. There is still a huge amount we have to learn from nature, there are still many things that our fellow creatures and beings do better than us, and if we manage to stay humble, we will be able to develop technology in harmony with both people and planet, working collectively with trust, where creativity flows, joyfully and happily.

Related Articles

Dialogue on Leadership: Maria’s meditation on starlings

Can Generation Flux Learn from Starlings?

 

 

What can Gadamer and Wittgenstein teach us about Big Data?

Hans-George Gadamer and Ludwig Wittgenstein

Hans-George Gadamer and Ludwig Wittgenstein

Firstly I would like to thank all those readers of mine who have been enjoying my series on Hans-Georg Gadamer. As some of you will know, this was quite an adventure in writing for me, since I decided to write an article after finishing each chapter of Gadamer’s classic Truth and Method. I did not know how well this would be received, especially as in the early stages of writing I had to be honest and admit that certain concepts of Gadamer still were not clear to me. But as I progressed, I received a number of messages of support, including one from Donald Marshall, one of the translators of Gadamer, who wrote to me saying:

Gadamer Truth and Method

It is wonderful to see how the course of your own career and thinking have led you to Gadamer.  I’m delighted that his ideas may hold the interest of someone with your kind of scientific background, and I hope his ideas may be useful in your own reflections.  This is truly how ideas come to touch diverse people and extend themselves into new areas—exactly what Gadamer was describing with the idea of “tradition” and “historically effected consciousness”.

For those of you who have not seen it, my six part series on Gadamer is here:

Exploring Gadamer’s Truth and Method: The Truth and Experience of Art

Exploring Gadamer’s Truth and Method: The Ontology of the Work of Art and Its Hermeneutic Significance

Exploring Gadamer’s Truth and Method: The History of Hermeneutics

Exploring Gadamer’s Truth and Method: Elements of a Theory of Hermeneutic Experience

Exploring Gadamer’s Truth and Method – Language as the Medium of the Hermeneutic Experience

Exploring Gadamer’s Truth and Method – Final Reflections

Ray Monk on WittgensteinFollowing this journey, I then set about to explore Wittgenstein, and before jumping into Philosophical Investigations, a masterpiece which some people consider to be the greatest philosophical work of the twentieth century, I decided to study some works by Ray Monk, a well-respected biographer of Wittgenstein. However, although I was meant to be writing a shorter three part series, my studies collided with the Strategy Execution Summit here in São Paulo, hence the final part in the series offers some reflections on Wittgenstein, strategy and innovation:

Exploring Wittgenstein: The Early Years

Exploring Wittgenstein: Transition

Strategy Execution Summit 2013: Ducks, Rabbits and Wittgenstein

What is the point of me telling you about these two great philosophers of hermeneutical and phenomenological philosophy? Hermeneutics, phenomenology and even the word philosophy are hardly the sexiest words on the planet (although they are pretty sexy to some of course). What we are talking about here is the study of meaning at the deepest level of reality. What is ‘meaning’, and how does ‘meaning’ relate to the very fabric of reality? If that is still a little too pretentious or obscure, let me now call on my good friend Gunther Sonnenfeld, who is articulating this philosophy and really putting it into practice, helping organisations, governments, businesses and indeed entire industries rethink the meaning of their purposes, goals, products and services.

Gunther has recently written about storytelling and big data, and he summarises his argument as follows:

- Immediacy and importance with information leave us, as readers and media participants, grappling over the choice of information we want to consume or with which we want to interact;

- Data isn’t ‘big’ so much as it is curatorial and relevant given a particular context or set of contexts;

Credit: Gunther Sonnenfeld

Credit: Gunther Sonnenfeld

- Normative methods for measurement (clicks, views, page rank etc.) don’t represent true or scalable value, and actually commodify the media market, to include ‘content’ and the creators of it;

- Discovery and serendipity (not filtering) are vital for critical thought processes;

- Stories are in actuality the predicates for markets and their growth; the question becomes how we look beyond the need to push content out into media environments and instead look at how storytelling is used to leverage cultural and business behaviors;

- We need to relearn how to think, and ask better questions, knowing that the ‘answers’ may not come to us right away or ever;

- Central or ‘meta’ narratives have been constructed over time to influence our perspectives of the world that often run in conflict with what we know to be true in our hearts; the choices we make (our freewill) can shift these perspectives and create new realities through personal and collective stories;

Source: Some Truth About ‘Big Data’, Agnostic Storytelling & Journalism

While Big Data may be a huge theme setting the agenda for innovation, social networking, journalism, e-commerce, smart cities and many other industries, current search technologies are just not cutting it. They are not delivering products which are in true authentic service to people, as opposed to ‘consumers’. If we just develop computer systems based on an analytical, mathematical, left-brain way of understanding people, we miss the opportunity to deliver meaningful services. We need a deeper level of understanding, one which comprehends meaning in complex systems, and for this reason Maria and I talk about ‘holonomic consciousness’. It’s why Gadamer talked about ‘historically effected consciousness’ and its why Wittgenstein developed his ‘language games’. We need to understand meaning.

Holonomic consciousness is a form of consciousness which is not so much talked about, but experienced, hence the fact that we felt the need to write our book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter less as a treatise, and more as a guide which if read carefully, will truly lead you into this deeper level of awareness, a dynamic way of seeing. It is possible to deliver competitive advantage through authentic and meaningful products and services, which are sustainable, both for the company and the planet. We really can shift from economics to holonomics.

HolonomicsMaria and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all our friends who have been so supportive in our work, and we have been overwhelmed by all the support we have received so far. We really cannot wait for the launch next year, when we will be talking much more about these themes, and hopefully meeting many of you in person for what I am sure will be amazing conversations. Many many thanks from us both.

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Announcing our new book – Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter

Announcing our new book – Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter

Holonomics coverBoth Maria and I are very happy to be able to announce our new book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter. It is being published by Floris Books from Edinburgh, and will be launched in April of next year.

Holonomics came about after many requests for recommended texts from our students and clients who were looking to explore more deeply the themes of complexity, sustainability, strategy, innovation, leadership and change management. Our aim was to capture in a single volume the philosophy and teachings from Schumacher College, and particularly the unique masters degree Holistic Science – a radical rethinking of our ecological, social and economic systems. In structuring the book into three parts – The Dynamics of Seeing, The Dynamics of Nature and The Dynamics of Business – we then wished to show how these teachings could be implemented in a practical manner in business, governmental and other organisations based on our many years of experience in industry, in both the private and public sectors.

We decided to coin a new definition for the word ‘holonomics’, which for us is a combination of the words ‘whole’ and ‘economics’. The Greek origins of these words contain three components; ὅλος (holos – all, whole, entire, total), οἶκος (oikos – house) and νόμος (nomos – custom or law). Economics can be thought of as the understanding of the laws and customs of our home (oikos + nomos). We cannot have a limited view of our home, for home is a living planet of finite resources. Our understanding of economics has to encompass an understanding of the wholeness of nature and business systems in all their complexity, and this can only come from what we call ‘holonomic thinking’ – a dynamic and authentic understanding of the relationships within a business system, and an appreciation of the whole.

Part One of our book is devoted to leading the reader into the dynamics of seeing. These four chapters introduce the reader to the work of Henri Bortoft who passed away in 2012, just a few months after the publication of his final work Taking Appearance Seriously: The Dynamic Way of Seeing in Goethe and European Thought. While Henri was writing this book, the name he almost settled on was The Dynamics of Being. It was at the last moment that he had the inspiration to call it Taking Appearance Seriously, a name which is a philosophical play on the word ‘appearance’. Holonomics is divided into three parts – The Dynamics of Seeing, The Dynamics of Nature, and The Dynamics of Business – in honour of the profound insights of Henri, and is written in a manner that will lead the reader towards their own understanding and experience of the dynamics of being.

Work began on the book back in 2011, and both Maria and I have been amazed at the generous encouragement and help we have received, with much valued feedback and support coming from our friends both here in Brazil, and from around the world, and our friends and colleagues at Schumacher College and the wider global Schumacher family, including some advance praise which you can see below. Satish Kumar has kindly written the foreword in which he writes that:

The days of compartmentalisation are passing. We are at the dawn of a new age where we must look for unity in diversity, the big picture in small parts, macrocosm in microcosm, large vision in little details and Holonomics in economics. We can enter this new age of wholeness by the act of deep seeing, by expanding our consciousness, and by transforming our perceptions. This book is a handy tool to accomplish such metamorphosis, a manual to move from a linear model to a cyclical system of business.

Further information about the book is available on Floris Books’ website here. It has been wonderful working with Floris, especially as they have already published a number of other books from members, teachers and friends of Schumacher College, including Henri Bortoft (The Wholeness of Nature, Taking Appearance Seriously), Brian Goodwin (Nature’s Due: Healing Our Fragmented Culture), Stephan Harding (Grow Small, Think Beautiful: Ideas for a Sustainable World from Schumacher College) and Craig Holdrege (Thinking Like a Plant: A Living Science for Life). We do hope that many of you will enjoy reading Holonomics, and that it will help you in your work integrating complexity, systems thinking and sustainability into a wider organisational and educational context.

Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter by Simon Robinson and Maria Moraes Robinson, with a foreword by Satish Kumar is published by Floris Books, Edinburgh, 24th April 2014. ISBN 9781782500612, 192 pages with 30 B/W images, illustrated and rendered with the generous help of Michael Pruett. An eBook version will be available as well.

Please also see our Holonomics page on Facebook.

Advance Praise for Holonomics

The authors of this remarkable book have distilled the essence of the ideas and values taught at Schumacher College, a unique transformative learning centre based on systemic thinking and grounded in deep ecology, and they show how these teachings can be applied with many case studies of enlightened businesses. Holonomics is a powerful antidote to the fragmentation and materialistic orientation of today’s dominant culture.

Fritjof Capra, author of The Hidden Connections, co-author of The Systems View of Life

The central question of our time is “How can we live divided no more?” This wonderful book provides the science, the philosophy and the business practices that lead us to an answer. The Robinsons present the concepts and thinkers who first awakened a new sense of excitement and possibility in me many years ago. What a gift to have these monumental, mind-changing ideas woven together skilfully in one book. If you absorb their perspectives, you can’t help but have your mind changed—for the benefit of both people and planet.

Margaret J. Wheatley, author of Leadership and the New Science, and most recently, So Far From Home: Lost and Found in Our Brave New World

Holonomics portrays reality in our universe as the interconnectedness of all to one and one to all. While great poets, artists and modern scientists intuitively see reality as relationships, economists, politicians, and business leaders fail to understand how parts and the whole relate in the world we inhabit. This failure now causes human economic activity to steadily diminish the quality of life as it has existed on Earth until very recently. In Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter, Simon and Maria Robinson draw from works by several holistic thinkers, most notably the late Henri Bortoft, to present a powerful mode of thinking that promises to deliver a new and life-enhancing approach to human economic activity. I urge all economists, elected public officials, and people in business to connect with the timely and important message the Robinsons convey to us in Holonomics.

H. Thomas Johnson, Professor of Sustainability Thinking, Portland State University , Portland, Oregon, USA, and co-author of Profit Beyond Measure

Cynefin evolves

Credit: David Snowden, Creative Commons license

Credit: David Snowden, Creative Commons license

I have had an interest in David Snowden’s Cynefin framework for understanding complexity for some years now, and so it has been really interesting to read his blogs on how he is updating the model and adding a finer layer of granularity. He has made the latest versions available on Flickr under a creative commons license, which is great as it means they are available for researchers like myself to explore and play with.

The Cynefin model is all about making sense of reality, and it can only really be fully understood in relation to the SenseMaker® application developed by Cognitive Edge. In its original form, the Cynefin framework consisted of five domains, although there are many versions drawn by others who seem to miss the central domain of disorder.

Source: A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making, Harvard Business Review, November 2007

Source: A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making, Harvard Business Review, November 2007

As you can see from the main image at the top, the new version of Cynefin depicts pathways through the model, and these have been expanded, as you can see in these images below:

Credit: David Snowden, Creative Commons license

Credit: David Snowden, Creative Commons license

Credit: David Snowden, Creative Commons license

Credit: David Snowden, Creative Commons license

Credit: David Snowden, Creative Commons license

Credit: David Snowden, Creative Commons license

Credit: David Snowden, Creative Commons license

Credit: David Snowden, Creative Commons license

In writing about Cynefin, Snowden makes the point that the framework should be seen as scaffolding, and not be confused with reality itself:

Cynefin, and now the sub-domains along with various methods and of course tools such as SenseMaker® all have at their heart the goal of creating scaffolding through which and by which people can make sense of their world in different ways. Since my early days in knowledge management I have emphasised the need to focus on context. Cynefin used in full form is contextualised by the micro-narratives of that organisation’s own perception of its past, present and future. I have railed against strategy and other models that simply define themselves and make organisations fit into pre-given structures. So I developed our method of emergent archetypes rather than have some academic or marketing company come up with a set of so called universal archetypes to which customers or employees had to be categorised, labeled and duly filed away.  Consistency is achieved through process and structure not through final product. Source: Context & Cynefin

I love this description as it forces us to remind ourselves that in our working lives we constantly use frameworks and many of us construct models, but we do not realise two traps. Not only do we fail to realise how our deeply embedded mental models construct our reality we experience, but we also confuse the models we build (which stem from our mental models) with reality. Hence we need to develop a degree of mindfulness so that we are always cognisant of these traps.

One of my obsessions these last two or three years has been to really focus on wholeness and the relationship between our conceptualisation of wholeness and both complexity science and systems thinking. This is why you will have seen my explorations and writings on Henri Bortoft, Hans-Georg Gadamer and Ludwig Wittgenstein every so often. How can phenomenology and hermeneutics help us make sense of the world and what is their relationship with complexity and systems thinking? As Wittgenstein famously said “Philosophy is the battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.” I love this phrase as it reminds me not to get so lost in language and the analytical side of my mind and brain when contemplating life. Just as language is indispensable to us, so are frameworks, but as Snowden reminds us, they are like scaffolding which when finished with, can be removed, and should not be confused with what we are constructing.

If you would like to join in the conversation, please as always feel free to comment below, or also if you are interested in these specific themes, on Facebook on a page I run for people wishing to discuss wholeness and the work of Henri Bortoft.

Related Articles

Braziliance! Chaos and Complexity, Philosophy and Flux Through Brazilian Eyes – Reflections from Sustentare (This article summarises my own work in sensemaking).

Links

Cognitive Edge Network

White Paper: Changing mental models of complexity in Brazilian MBA students – a high impact approach

Professor Wilmar Cidral

Professor Wilmar Cidral

I am pleased to be able to announce a new Transition Consciousness white paper:

Changing mental models of complexity in Brazilian MBA students – a high impact approach via Goethe, complexity science and the dynamical way of seeing of Henri Bortoft

Abstract
Complexity Science and chaos theory are now starting to emerge as serious branches of science. However, many of the key insights from these disciplines, such as non-linearity, feedback, sensitivity to initial conditions, emergence and systems thinking while greatly applicable in a business and organisational context still remain mysterious, misunderstood or are not explored at all. This paper posits that much of the reason for the lack of enthusiasm and comprehension of complexity science and complex systems comes from a deficiency in the mental models of managers and executives. In Brazil, the author takes MBA students on intensive learning journeys, creating classes which allow students to explore and rapidly restructure their own mental models, enabling them to see complex systems for the first time. The paper provides feedback from questionnaires from these students and describes what form this teaching takes. Students end up viewing complexity and chaos as concepts to be embraced, capitalised upon, and not as something to be feared or managed away, concepts which provide them with a brand new window on the world.

The paper has been written following my experience over the last three years of teaching complexity to MBA and post-graduate business students at Sustentare Business School in Joinville, Santa Catarina, founded by Wilmar Cidral. I hope you find it of interest.

Download the PDF:

Changing mental models of complexity in Brazilian MBA students