Insights to Embracing Change – Using Systems Thinking

By Eric A Denniston, Managing Director, Denner Group International  6-8-2011

You see things and you say, Why? But I dream things that never were;
and I say, Why Not? – George Bernard Shaw

Are you a mid-level manager, a supervisor, the CEO of a young, growing organization, an owner of a small business or a board member of a non-profit organization?  Guess what?  When it comes to planning you all share one identical challenge – embracing change.  This is likely not news to you, except maybe you feel all alone in your conundrum, which is “where do I get the time and resources to do a good job of planning and then to follow through with a diligent implementation of my plans?” 

This is one of the greatest challenges of all organizations.  We are constantly challenged to ask “WHY should we change or even consider changing?” – right?  The quote above might seem comically absurd, in the sense that many of us rarely feel we have the luxury of dreaming things that never were, much less the courage to say “WHY NOT?”

In past articles I have explored some of the unintended consequences of not thinking systemically, or we can say, holistically, about issues and problems.

For example, it generally makes sense and is customary to place backup generators in basements of buildings, right? But that worked out poorly for the Japanese nuclear reactor buildings whose basements flooded. Other than a catastrophic building collapse from an earthquake, for which the buildings were fairly well prepared, flooding seemed to have never been considered.

I imagine all nuclear reactor plants around the world today are rethinking the configuration of their building and support systems. However, a simple four to eight-hour exercise in rigorous systems thinking in the design of the Japanese nuclear plant might have anticipated a flooding incident and adjusted for it in its construction with a much more positive outcome after the earthquake.

Back to the topic of Systems Thinking and “dreaming things that never were”.  Planning for disasters is actually a fantastic exercise in working those systems thinking brain muscles. It’s easier to compel yourself and your colleagues to really press for those “what if” scenarios.

In doing so you will find yourselves asking those tough, uncomfortable questions that are key to the appreciative inquiry process that is so productive in systems thinking. You will more quickly produce the answers to the “why not?” questions, and begin to appreciate how the process can be productive in general business planning.

Whether you are tackling the plan for a project, a product launch, creating a new department, a business plan or a strategic plan, the elements of a rigorous and disciplined Systems Thinking Approach® to the planning process can be amazingly simple and will produce sustained excellent results.

If you are stuck asking “why?” about a problem or issue, it is high time you stop doing so and start “dreaming what has never been” and asking “why not?”, over and over again. You’ll find yourselves changing and moving in productive directions you never believed possible.

Send your comments to eric at dennergroup international.

Building a World Class Organization

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International 4-12-2011

Takeaways: Both passion and purpose are needed for building a world class organization. It’s important to know the difference between passion and purpose.

I’ve been reading Michael Gerber’s E-Myth Mastery to see how his recommendations dovetail with Cathedralsystems thinking. He is, after all, a systems thinker, and an intentional dreamer, looking at business as a whole system made up of many systems or parts. Frequently, the parts don’t work fluidly together because we get so mired in the day-to-day activities, we lose sight of the end goal….the reason we started the business in the first place. His book, E-Myth Mastery is about building a world class organization regardless of size.

E-Myth Mastery goes beyond his first book, The E-Myth, which is all about systems and planning, to help the entrepreneur get back in touch with the passion, the vision, the dream….the reason for being an entrepreneur. Then he applies what he calls “The Seven Essential Disciplines” to the entrepreneurial planning and management process, which become a road map for building a world class organization.

According to the author, “Building a World Class Company is a commitment to the integration of passion, purpose and practice.”

Develop Clarity of purpose first

In our practice, we go a step further by including a review of the external world outside your business as one of the steps in a total strategic management system. The first step in a holistic approach to your business is developing clarity of purpose and connecting with your passion. This is perhaps the hardest part of the process.

You started your business because you thought you could produce a better product or deliver a better service to your customers. Perhaps it’s because you got tired of having someone else call the shots, telling you when, what and where to do your work. That was the passion that got you started.

Now, you’re mired in all the day-to-day emergencies of meeting payroll, solving customer or production problems, handling employee issues, and any number of other things that keep you from doing what you love, yet have to be done in order for the business to operate. Now, instead of a boss telling you what to do, it’s your employees, your customers, and the very business itself, demanding more and more of your time, and leaving you frustrated and exhausted. You’ve lot the passion for the business. What happened?

According to Gerber, this is a common problem among entrepreneurs. Even those who have followed his E-Myth systems, found themselves so mired in running the systems and tracking their progress, they feel like gerbils running on a circular treadmill. Everything demands their attention, and none of it is fun anymore. They can hardly imagine building a world class business when they are busy putting out fires every day.

Now is the time to take a step back, take a deep breath, get away from the business for a little while, and give yourself time to THINK. Yes, that ugly five-letter word, THINK. We’re so busy doing, we don’t take time to just sit and think. Think about why you started the business. What is it really that you set out to do? Is it just to repair shoes or was there a grander passion behind opening up that shoe repair business? Was it to repair other people’s clothes or to clothe the world with designs that flatter any body? Was it to repair computers because you have a knack for understanding how they work? Or was it grander like Microsoft’s, to envision a PC on every desktop? What was the spoken or unspoken vision you had when you started your business?

What was the dream you set out to create?

The difference between passion and purpose

The key to getting back in touch with your passion is to understand the difference between passion and purpose. Passion is what calls you to action. It’s the vision you have for the future you want to create. The tingly feelings you get when you think about this grand idea. Purpose is HOW you put that vision into action. It’s the WHAT that you do everyday. Vision is the WHY.

Have you heard the story of the three men who are laying bricks? When asked what they are doing, the first man says he’s laying bricks. The second says he is building a wall. The third man answers, I’m building a cathedral. Now that’s a vision!

What are you building in your business…..are you just laying bricks or are you building a cathedral?

The Alchemist – an Example of Strategic Thinking

By Jeri T Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International  4-12-2010 

Takeaways: Strategic thinking involves following your personal vision for your life and/or your business. The story of the Alchemist is a perfect example of how to stay true to your vision despite the many challenges that may arise.The Alchemist

You may be wondering how the book The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, ties into strategic thinking. It is the story of an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who had a dream about finding his treasure at the foot of the Egyptian pyramids. There are lessons to be learned as you read about his journey. It’s about staying true to your vision of what you’re trying to accomplish, which is what strategic thinking is all about.

According to Coelho, each of us has a Personal Legend to follow – a personal dream, desired state, raison d’etre to fulfill. If we don’t pursue that dream, we find ourselves unhappy with our lives. In some cases,we can become physically ill as we strive to accomplish what others want us to do rather than pursue our personal desired outcomes. This is also called working against your grain – doing things that are not natural or inherent to your nature.

This is the story of the transforming power of listening to your heart and following your dreams, of having a vision for your future. Business leaders and entrepreneurs need to apply this same thinking to their businesses.  Thinking strategically about the future you are trying to create is called “systems thinking” – a powerful tool that generates long-term sustainability.

There are some religious overtones to the book. However, it is more spiritual and thought-provoking than promoting any particular religion. Ultimately, there is a great deal of strategic thinking throughout the book as the main protagonist follows his Personal Legend, reads the omens of the desert, and achieves his desired outcome.

It’s an easy, thought-provoking read. Not your typical management book. What’s your Personal Legend? Where are you going in life and in your business? Make sure you are following that Personal Legend and not a direction or path that takes you elsewhere.