Taking the Time
Tuesday, December 27, 2016
Linear thinking is effortless and easy. All it takes is processing events as they occur as a sequence of actions and reactions with no regard to any interrelationships. Systems thinking, on the other hand is a “discipline for seeing wholes”. As Peter Senge describes in his Fifth Discipline, systems thinking “is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static snapshots” and “starts with understanding a simple concept called feedback that shows how actions can reinforce or counteract (balance) each other.” Systems thinking relies on observing existing mental models of reality, constructing new mental models, feedback loops that exist between events, and learning organizations.
A related framework is John Boyd’s Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (OODA) loop, which is a feedback decision loop to continually observe, orient and decide before acting.
What is implicit in all these is taking the time to deal with models, feedback loops; and observations, orientation and decisions before taking actions.
While computers are good at executing feedback loops once those are implemented, it turns out that most of us are really poor at taking the time to deal with feedback loops at work. As email threads grow, and as meetings fill up working hours, our work lives force us to jump from event to event. Decisions happen on the fly sometimes ignoring their side effects, feedback processes, and any natural and essential delays between actions and consequences.
When you short-circuit the time for the feedback path, the closed loop collapses to a sequence of events in the feed-forward path, which is nothing but linear thinking. This style of working creates an illusion of increased productivity and busyness. It can simultaneously make you feel that your time is consumed by things outside your control.
What suffers most when you don’t take the time? Casualties include curation, narration, summarization, development of mental models, observing patterns, learning, dialog and sharing. These are all behaviors necessary for a learning organization.
Taking the Time is not Slacking
Systems thinking is a developmental activity. Development starts with taking the time. But taking the time is not slacking. It is not relaxing. It is not taking time off from work. It is about carving out the time for slow cycles that include curation, summarization, dialog, and sharing. Being fast really depends on spending some slow cycles with such activities.