Eric D. Brown, D.Sc.

Data Science | Entrepreneurship | ..and sometimes Photography

Tag: systems thinking

SWAT – Seize the Accomplishment Review

SWAT Seize the Accomplishment ReviewI just put down SWAT – Seize the Accomplishment (Amazon affiliate link) by Timothy L. Johnson….and now want to pick it back up and read it again.  It’s that good.

I received the book as a review copy from the author…but don’t let that get in the way of believing me when i say that this business fable is an excellent one.

SWAT is an acronym for “Systems Working All Together”…but it also helps set the stage for the story in the book.

The storyline of this book is a good one and keeps the concepts moving forward quickly. In the story, a team lead has a difficult task to work through and turns to his best friend and cousin…who happens to be a SWAT commander.

The main character, Toby, spends time with his SWAT commander cousin and learns the systems thinking concepts that make SWAT teams successful.

The concepts are described perfectly and in a manner that makes it easy to comprehend and easy to understand how you might apply them to the problems your currently facing.

I’ve read quite a few systems thinking books but nothing as entertaining as this.   While this isn’t nearly as comprehensive as Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization, Timothy Johnson‘s put together a great little book that can help to introduce the systems thinking concepts quickly and easily.

Grab this book from your favorite bookseller today..Amazon has it for $14.95.

The Fifth Discipline

OK…I probably don’t have to review the The Fifth Discipline.  It’s a classic…everyone has read it.  Bas de Baar had an excellent review of this book recently…mine won’t begin to approach his in length or quality but I wanted to share a few thoughts.

I read the original edition quite a while ago (in college actually) and didn’t get much out of it…but this time around I did.  I knew I was going to enjoy the book when, in the Introduction to the Revised Edition, I found this gem:

…the prevailing system of of management, is at its core, dedicated to mediocrity. It forces people to work harder and harder to compensate for failing to tap the spirit and collective intelligence that characterizes working together at their best.

The book outlines Five Disciplines that must be adopted in order to become a learning organization. These Five Disciplines are:

  • Systems Thinking – a conceptual framework that has been developed over the last fifty years to make patterns clear
  • Personal Mastery – the discipline of continually clarifying and deepining our personal vision, focusing our energies, developing patience and seeing reality objectively.
  • Mental Models – deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations that influence our picture of the world
  • Building Shared Vision -involves the skills to create and/or unearthing the shared ‘pictures of the future’ that foster genuine commitment
  • Team Learning – when teams are learning, they (and the members of the team) are able to produce tremendous results.

The book can be summed up in a few sentences…but they don’t do the book justice.  Peter Senge states that in order to become a learning organization, the Five Disciplines must be adopted with the Systems Thinking discipline being the most important.  He argues that Systems Thinking allows people and organizations to see the deeper issues of problems.

I’m not going to dive any deeper into the book or the five disciplines here (go read Bas’ post for some interesting commentary) and there are plenty of other detailed discussions of this book around the web (see here, here and here for starters).

In addition, I want to share some excellent quotes from the book that I thought highlight the underlying purpose/meaning of the book.

The first passage is:

It is vital that the five disciplines develop as an ensemble. This is challenging because it is much harder to integrate new tools than simply apply them separately. But the payoffs are immense.

This is why systems thinking is the fifth discipline. It is the discipline that integrates the disciplines, fusing them into a coherent body of theory and practice. It keeps them from being separate gimmicks or the latest organization change fads. Without a systemic orientation, there is no motivation to look at how the disciplines interrelate. By enhancing each of the other disciplines, it continually reminds us that the whole can exceed the sum of its parts.

The second passage is:

A learning organization is a place where people are continually discovering how they create their reality.

And this wonderful nugget from Edwards Deming in the introduction:

Our prevailing system of management has destroyed our people.  People are born with intrinsic motivation, self-respect, dignity, curiosity to learn, joy in learning.  The forces of destruction begin  with toddlers – a prize for the best Halloween Customer, grades in school, gold stars – and on up through the university.  On the job, people, teams, and divisions are ranked, reward for the top, punishment for the bottom.

These are but a few of the great passages from this book.   There is a great deal of information in this book that will probably require several readings to fully take in….i may put it back on the book shelf to read again later in the year.

I really enjoyed the book a great deal.  A friend of mine pointed me to the The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook as a more implementable version of the book…I’ll be taking a look at it over the next few weeks.

Results over Process

Timothy Johnson takes a swipe at methodologies in his post titled “Worshipping the Hammer“.  To be more accurate, he takes a swipe at those people who focus on process & methodology over results.  Timothy asks the following questions:

  • Are you spending more time arguing about process than you are about outcomes?
  • Are you posturing and positioning on methodology more than you are on results?

Powerful questions.

Timothy’s main argument of his post is that results should be considered over process.  Before thinking about the process/methodology that you will use, determine what the outcome(s) should be.  This is the same trap that many organizations fall into….to keep from falling into this trap, organizations should think about what they want to do before deciding how to do it.

As an example, consider the following scenario:

You’ve been tasked with reviewing your organization’s IT processes to find ways to make it more efficient.  What’s your first step?

Do you look for a methodology to use to make the organization more efficient?

Do you focus on on the process rather than the project?

OR

Do you determine what ‘efficient’ really means?

Do you try to figure out what it means to be successful in the project?

Of course, my vote is for determining what you are trying to do and what does success means in the project.  Timothy suggests that many method-heads would argue for throwing a methodology at the problem first, which I’ve seen happen many times.

Also mentioned in Timothy’s post is his new book, which is apparently about systems thinking…a topic I find very interesting.  I’ve just begun re-reading The Fifth Discipline (the new release) and love some of the topics presented in that book so I’m looking forward to reading Timothy’s new book when published.

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