I am proposing 'new-radical' claims about how businesses work or don't work, and these claims are profound. They are logical claims based on two axioms:
1. We use closed system theories to resolve open system problems
2. General System Theory is valid
I spent a decade after completing my PhD exploring the implications of using the open system construct innovation to fill the hole that Gary Hamel had found in the closed system strategic planning concept.
Emergence, Innovation, synergy, learning, SDIC, self-adapting...
and suddenly now agility.
Innovation is no longer enough, we must also be agile. But how does agility juxtapose with classical management plan/control theory?
It doesn't, where is there a theory of agility? Have the axioms been justified? Or is agility just another H-BS buzz word?
Buzz words! Buzz words have always intrigued me, because as a management praxist, I have always been keenly interested in what the words actually mean. One current buzz word is agility and don’t start me on disruption. Where did this concept of agility first originate?
"The agile enterprise strives to make change a routine part of organizational life to reduce or eliminate the organizational trauma that paralyzes many businesses attempting to adapt to new markets and environments. Because change is perpetual, the agile enterprise is able to nimbly adjust to and take advantage of emerging opportunities. The agile enterprise views itself as an integral component of a larger system whose activities produce a ripple effect of change both within the enterprise itself and the broader system".
This is the opening paragraph of the Wikipedia entry for business agility. It continues…
"Enterprise architecture as a discipline supports business agility through a wealth of techniques, including layering, separation of concerns, architecture frameworks, and the separation of dynamic and stable components. The model of hierarchical complexity—a framework for scoring the complexity of behavior—has been adapted to describe the stages of complexity in enterprise architecture".
I didn’t go much further into all this stuff before I lost the will to live. WOW – what a crock! You can mix your metaphores but you can't mix your isomorphies! How does any of this twaddle fit into the actual architecture of classical management theory, which actually has an architectire?
Organizational Trauma, Stages of Complexity in Enterprise Architecture" phew…
How many organisations are suffering trauma? We are all trying to succeed and perhaps even do better tomorrow than we are doing today. I am pretty sure that there are many people in organisations suffering trauma, but organizational trauma?
My academic work is in Organisational Strategy set in a Complexity paradigm, and some of the words above actually make some sense, but “hierarchical complexity”? Complexity is inherently unstable and a concept of agents interacting in some form of self-similar replication may be valid, but to work with the closed system language that underpins these constructs is to fundamentally misunderstand the implications of complexity.
Back in the late 1970’s when I first started to study business issues on my way to my first career as a management accountant, my fellow students and I had some fun. We discovered a table that someone had developed, that was called a buzz-word generator.
Before the web, it was just a table of three columns of words, I wish I still had a copy of the original and I sincerely thank the original author for the idea!
The concept was that you could perm (permutations and combinations) a word from each column and come out with something really profound. And so, I have just done that with the words that I have emboldened from the entry above, just in the order that the narrative provided.
I would not have been able to derive this combination in 1978 because list is astonishing:
Organizational Trauma Paralyzes
Perpetual Agile Nimbly Adjust
Enterprise Integral Component Ripple Effect
Broader System Enterprise Architecture Business Agility
Layering Separation of Concerns Architecture Frameworks
Dynamic Stable Components Hierarchical Complexity
Scoring the Complexity Stages of Complexity Enterprise Architecture
So here is how you can become instantly profound.
“Organizational Agility is an Integral Component of Enterprise Architecture" phew…
“The issues that are important to your Enterprise, are the Stable Components that will help you to Nimbly Adjust” phew… again
"Scoring the Complexity, while being really mindful of the Separation of Concerns will allow you to encapsulate all the benefits of Business Agility. OMG!
It’s not at all difficult to appear profound, but examine the statements and ask the question, what does any of this really mean and what does the original description mean?
I thank the Wall Street Journal (not an organisation I would normally thank) for a modern Buzz-Word Generator. It is fantastic! For the year 2018, a sophisticated, on line BWG, now anyone can be seriously “like a real Genius, believe me!” profound.
I have spent thirty years in the nexus of management consulting and academia and I think it is time to recognise that there are some profound problems, issues like the pursuit of perpetual growth in a world where certain resources are becoming scarce. Profound problems require profound solutions.
Agility is an open system solution to a poorly framed closed system question and that’s why it is a concept 'drowning in BWGs'. Agility is the classical management (a closed system theory of plan/control) response to the reality of an open system world. A world that is beginning to demonstrate its complexity as the (closed system) approximations like classical strategic planning theory begin to fail. That is why it is necessary to drown the concept of organisational agility in all the nonsense which allowed me to build a buzz word generator.
Agility is the requirement for an organisation to respond to the problems of a complex world. That’s it, that’s what it means!
So, think of agility as an isomorphic principle (law) of a complex system and then the concept starts to make sense. But you can’t mix your isomorphies. You can’t have closed system plan and control at the same time as open system (complex system) agility.
Complexity has also become a buzz word. Complexity does not provide tools for the manager or strategist to choose to use or not to use at will. If you are going to propound these ideas of complexity, I am all for it, but a quick understanding of the isomorphic laws of systems might be a good starting point.
I have a meta-theory - societal theories, management, economics and politics and law are all closed system theories – reality is an open system. von Bertalanffy’s law of system isomorphies informs us that the project that applies closed system theories to the reality of open systems, is a project that must fail.
Be agile, of course, but what are the other isomorphic laws that support agility, specifically those related to the open system property of emergence, and how does agility fit within the framework of classical management theory?
Now that might be a profound question.
Think big with me at new-radical.com