Beyond design thinking- part 3
Tackling complexity doesn’t have to be a burden. In the previous 2 articles, I explained why we’re stepping away from design thinking and why this model no longer serves us, but that doesn’t mean we have to make it hard for ourselves to work with this new model.
In part 1, I focused specifically on the historical perspective of how this design thinking trend became popular. In part 2, I focused on why this trend is part of a bigger picture landscape and what are the pitfalls that following this path. In this 3rd part, I will focus specifically on tactics and practices that help us combine the B school and the D school methods into what is today known as the C school.
There are many conceptualizations of the horizons of service design evolving from design thinking to ecosystem design which is the more complex and holistic approach, but the real difference is in the details beyond tactics.
The details beyond tactics go beyond facts and step into the realm of perceptions.
As Yuval Harari says in Homo Deus, the human brain is made to have 2 parallel structures for aligning the passing of time: facts and perceptions. Our experiences then also split into 2 categories: the perceived and the experienced. And in more economical terms, John Stagl, a colleague of Geary Sikich adds the following regarding value:
Value = the perception of the receiver regarding the product or service that is being posited. Value is, therefore, never absolute. Value is set by the receiver. — John Stagl
It is clear from these statements that dealing with complexity has an underlining human factor of how we perceive something in a given context. If you modify the context, the same thing will have a different value. So how can companies make money while minimizing the risk of their products/ services becoming redundant once they’re a bit out of the context designed by design thinking processes?
Minimizing risk is a business of its own, but the thinking of the model in which we produce goods can be from the very beginning designed to withhold these turbulences and the lack of meaning in some contexts. As Geary summarizes the work of Taleb on complexity in the revised 2nd edition, of ‘The Black Swan’ with a question:
“How much more difficult is it to recreate and ice cube from a puddle than it is to forecast the shape of the puddle from the ice cube?” — Taleb
Geary emphasizes that the way to solve a difficult problem can come from solving it at the end of the experience we want to manage or on the system that created the problem in the first place. The same way I mentioned in the first article on this topic:
As problems become more artificial and far from their initial natural problem we need to go back to the natural problem and find a different way to solve that one with the new acquired knowledge of the initial outcome.
How to follow problem sources
We can follow the nature of problems and give them a diagnosis so we can tackle them one by one and evaluate the nature of the intervention we need to make. There’s a really useful model developed by Cynefin that you can use to make a diagnosis.
And then there’s an adapted version of the Cynefin model, the Samsara model that says the circles above actually intersect.
But the nature of disorder can’t be tackled by intersecting the circles in my opinion. The reason for that is that even when they theoretically overlap, the nature of the problem can only the consequence of clear relationship status of the elements of the system:
- Simple — Sense- Categorize- Respond
- Complicated — Sense- Analyse -Respond
- Complex — Probe- Sense- Respond
- Chaotic — Act- Sense- Respond
And again, in my opinion, connected to the psychology of attachment by Bowlby, and that is documented in an article I wrote on the nature of developing the sense of “we” in life as humans. The whole concept of embodiment relies on reconnecting the problems we face in business with the biology of our human nature.
Looking at the interactions between our human biology and the system dynamics we categorized earlier to follow the nature of the problem, we can easily say that in reality, complexity doesn’t really exist. Harold van Garderen, an organizational consultant helping companies manage their knowledge through storytelling and connected narratives talks about this state of perception from an empirical perspective. That way of following information through narratives resonated with me when I made the reference to our organizational problems is merely a symptom of our human systems of reference to relate to others around us. If we manage to mitigate the conflict and tension between our predisposition/ condition given by our hardwiring of the brain, we can manage relationships with others in a more agile way.
What is the new agile?
The new agile is about being able to reference the “problem category” you are in and mitigate the risks of shifting the dynamic of that problem source.
Let’s look at a visual example of that:
What happens in this situation is that not risking to see more problems might be the end of the organizational growth path. As Bill Campbell used to say if companies “don’t continue to innovate, they’re going to die — and I didn’t say iterate, I said innovate.” So being able to innovate relies heavily on risk-taking of listening to more and more of the people in your organization even if that means you will lose some of the agility. Because one thing that companies got wrong is that agility doesn’t mean less input from people who create “noise” in the organization. Instead, agility means the ability to self organize in taking decisions for the organization at every level of the organizational structure. That sort of empowerment comes from the leadership being open to a different sort of reporting and a different approach to knowledge sharing. As companies become more customer-centric, they listen more to consumers, but they still dismiss their own staff in the process.
In this visual I connected the 2 activities that correspond to all types of problems:
The ability to do these things according to a framework of knowledge belonging to the organization will depend greatly on how knowledge is passed on in the organization. The idea that knowledge is transferred from the top to the bottom of the organization made sense in the past when the sensing of the problems was based on salient information and once embodied the response structure, that became a habit intuitively developed by new members, but the nature of complex or chaotic situations requires action before that sensing part which is no longer salient knowledge. That’s why it’s important to discuss how we do problem-solving in our organization and how we cultivate the relationship to our knowledge base.
How is knowledge passed on?
In some organizations, knowledge has become the central piece of what they keep as IP and many of those are high growth organizations. Many times though, organizing the knowledge library becomes an operational component itself. However, the problem with knowledge transfer is that it depends on a few factors that are beyond the power of the organization to structure. That’s why the HR recruitment process needs to think of these aspects too when adding people to a team.
How can companies manage the relationships between transferor and receiver so as to assure smooth effective communication as a salient knowledge for the members of the organization? The answer to that is by creating a company culture where people of the same learning style are brought together. That’s not to say that you need to bring only men with other men, women with other women, and so on. It just means that the way they look for their information is similar and serves the goal of the organization. Diversity though in other ways is a desired part of the same process of forming culture. We think that culture can only be formed between people with the same characteristics ( physical ones being the easiest to start with) but the new cultures are mixed race, mixed languages, and a melting pot of different opinions. However, they share one thing in common: how they search for information and how they build their knowledge repositories. That comes from a few shared experiences in their initial dynamics with their early learning environments and it’s enough to bring very different people together and form a company culture based on knowledge creation and development.
On the other hand, how do you transfer tacit knowledge? How do you transfer from the “I” ( individual and interior) to the “we” ( collective and interior to an organization)? That’s what organizational structures solve. While leadership seemed to be more of a management role in the past, it becomes an inspirational business. And the teaching of problem-solving skill moves from tacit to explicit. If you’re wondering how problem-solving can be improved and passed on as knowledge of the organization, think of how much time you spend identifying problems before you jump to solutions. Leadership needs to take a step back in impulsively taking all decisions and allow more space between them and the daily operations so they can properly oversee the ecosystem and the dynamics. That sort of emotional intelligence requires an emotional inner balance to master before they can teach someone else how to own their power of slowing down. The way design thinking came about is a radical new way of helping people in execution and operational functions to slow down in their race to respond to even while having a justification for their lack of fast response. Design thinking emphasizes the empathy process which requires a slower speed to react and more time to think. Having this disclaimer in front of their managers and boss will make them better at what they do and the organization will benefit from the impact of their work as it is closer to the real needs of the customers they serve. However, the time they are allowed to research and the resources they allocate is not the same everywhere. As such there are big discrepancies between companies who really invest in listening to the needs of their customers and thus do the walk and those who only do the talk about it. That’s why it’s important to look at how we plan to make further the transfer of knowledge between the transferor and receiver.
The relationships we can see are as follows:
- Companies that do the talk and not the walk with their resources and research on users' needs usually have a top-down approach to knowledge transfer. They focus on the manager passing on the rules and frameworks of the organization so as to assure that the client-facing people or operational people and don’t try to bring the knowledge from customers too high up the hierarchical chain.
- Companies that do the walk as well will have a double way street communication where the employee who has the customer knowledge transfers knowledge to his managers and the manager negotiates higher up in chain how that knowledge is to be incorporated with the views and directions of the organization. Then, the response of the manager is to transfer a way of working with that newly acquired insight and help the employee sediment and categorize the different insights so it becomes easier to operate with that at scale without overwhelming either the employee or the leadership team. These companies learn to work with big data which is the focus of the next 4th part of my article on what’s beyond design thinking.
Organizational structures have also a big impact on knowledge creation. A system of knowledge sharing can become the backbone of relationships between members of an organization. For example, the more people you depend on to get through to information can become a bottleneck in the transfer and sharing of information. Nodes that stand in the way of knowledge being shared are management overkill. You can see below a set of very famous company structures that reflect their internal learning and development values. In Robert Kegan’s book on DDO’s, he clearly makes the difference between companies that empower that network of nodes to support each other rather than block each other. Developing people is the key to success in organizations that tackle complexity and even chaos in uncertain environments as their bottom-line is a solid foundation of interdependent people who contribute and co-create to the companies knowledge base instead of just consuming it.
If we look at the examples above, we clearly see that Google, Facebook, and Apple heavily rely on their people in order to develop the organization while Oracle, Microsoft, and Amazon have the old fashion model of organizational charts.
Finally, the last part, part 4 will unfold even more the clear strategies to apply in your teams to be able to embody the practices and work through the complexities together. The nature of these tactics is following the principles of embodied making.