Many are working on this challenge

Discussions from LinkedIn and other sources

Selected by David McAra

Half an idea is better than a whole one Seriously, I don’t know how or where to begin.  Micawber-like, I live in daily expectation of something turning up.  Surely, a more meaningful order will emerge from the chaotic soup.  Either that … or the consequences of our failure to come to terms with the concept of sustainability will lead to our collapse.  Transforming ideas are abundant, with solutions beyond compromise – win for the customer / win for the investor / win for the staff – and win for any other group of stakeholders.  But surely, the practice of management lags woefully behind … by several decades.  Or are we missing something?  We know our world view is incomplete but might it be deeply flawed?  From rare instances of personal experience, transformation is usually fragile and short-lived.  I can easily lapse into deep pessimism but I appreciated Ed Miliband’s robust riposte to Russell Brand and I try to remember to draw encouragement from the distance we’ve travelled.  Let’s see if we can surprise and inspire each other.  

(The AMED LinkedIn group has 265 members)

My ‘home’ is the AMED group but I recognise kindred spirits in many others and I posted this note into a number of them.  It sparked a few interesting comments although it isn’t easy to open up exploratory conversations.  Threads get very long and synergy isn’t easy to cultivate.  Here is a representative sample of connections that we’ve been making.  Please feel free to join us.

Viable System Model (790 members) Why don’t management consultants make use of systems thinking? Organisations are deeply systemic, at the service /process, culture, and leadership levels. 
Why then is so much management consultancy designed and delivered in a deeply non-systemic way?

Benjamin Taylor asks this provocative question in the VSM group and other places.  I was late onto Stafford Beer, myself, and Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety.  It took me a while too, to start to get the hang of it.  Their ideas are exciting though … and challenging. Sadly though, so far as I can see, they still represent no significant threat to the enduring supremacy of the Daily Mail world view. 

Great Insiders  (604 members) “Sandy Pentland is an MIT professor who studies the effects of information flow on organizations and communities. Looking at very large data sets, Pentland has found that sharing information and creating strong horizontal relationships improves the effectiveness of everything from businesses to governments to cities. His research suggests that the collective intelligence of groups and communities has little to do with the intelligence of their individual members and much more to do with the connections between them.”

Brian Hunt at Great Insiders, a discussion group for internal change agents, draws attention to General McChrystal, writing for Fast Company, who tries to back up his point by contrasting two totally incomparable case studies.  But let’s not carp.  His point is one which, I hazard, will have been familiar to and appreciated by most members of this community for many years.  Now … how many workplaces have you known where the managers appeared to hold such a belief, “that the collective intelligence of groups and communities has … much more to do with the connections between them”?

Deming Alliance incorporating Deming HR           (364 members) In his blog, Dave Gaster asks about … Seeking EFFECTIVENESS following Austerity A brief overview of too much focus on Efficiencies and Cost Cutting, what’s your view?

The title of Dave’s group puts me into a spin by including both the name of the revered Dr Deming 🙂 and the accursed concept ‘HR’ 🙁 His blog post and its associated discussion make perfect sense. But they’re just ranting – as I am often wont to do myself. It’s entirely understandable, otherwise, how shall we vent our frustration? But it’s fruitless. No one that holds contrary views is listening.

One HCM Global Community         (5322 members) I found Hillary Roberts blog on this site.  “HR Business Partners (HRBPs) are responsible for aligning people to strategy … … we will showcase six topics that are top-of-mind to HR Professionals … you will leave the event with an arsenal of actionable strategies … Our topics are: HR Business Partner Development HR Strategy Total Rewards & Strategic Compensation Business, HR, & Human Capital Metrics Strategic Workforce Planning Strategic Talent Management”

I tend to ‘leak’ freely and reveal my prejudices with intemperate language but I know that my best insights come from the most unexpected sources, so I try not to close any channels down. … but really … will you look at this!  Strategy, strategy, strategy.  What can they mean by it?  I know they are only trying to alert those for whom the management of capital is a primary concern, that they should give proper attention to their human assets … oh, no!  Here am I being drawn into the game!  Humans are beings, not assets or capital or resources.  Instead of constantly finding new ways to reclassify people, can we not work on the attitudes of their managers?  ‘Human Capital Metrics’ for goodness sake!

Away from my continuing, head-on challenge with the mechanistic thinkers, from whose encampment I sallied forth 3 decades ago, my journey has added and extended to the complexity of my understanding. From the rather technical ‘systems’ approach of the Theory of Constraints, OD stretched me deeper into psychology and Deming helped me to see that multiple perspectives are more helpful than ever more specialised expertise. The concept of emergence, from the discipline of complexity gives me hope and fuels my appetite for the effort I am making, with this edition of the journal, to take advantage of the amazing connecting power of social media.

I am surprised though, to have encountered a group of thinkers, admirers of Ralph Stacey, who are hostile of the concept of the learning organisation and the application of systems thinking to human systems. In fact the very concept of human systems is seen as “reifying” something which doesn’t exist.


An article by Chris Rodgers in the Sunday Times (Management by muddling through) triggered a long string of exchanges in the AMED LinkedIn pages, some very thoughtful and thought provoking.  In the end, I think a significant gulf remained. 


Liam Moore alerted me to a group that meets on Twitter (on Friday mornings under #LDinsight) and in the real world.  I will try to join in. 

I gather Peter Day is a systems thinker who can be relied upon to ask interesting and insightful questions on ‘In Business’ his programme on BBC Radio 4

Evan Davies lives strictly in the world of predictable cause and effect.  How else could he host the appalling Dragon’s Den?    Sometimes a systems thinker stumbles into his programme ‘The Bottom Line’, also on BBC Radio 4, and confuses the hell out of him and his guests. 

I really appreciate Tim Harford’s ‘More or Less’, also on BBC Radio 4, and while I appreciate its playful tone, I wonder about that.  Such appalling suffering arises from the misunderstanding and misuse of statistics, measurement and data. 

But it’s probably more helpful to be playful than to be angry, (like Ben Goldacre, seems to be, perhaps justifiably, given the abuses of power he uncovers as a journalist.) 

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