The Europeans are Coming!

August 6, 2009

I’m well into my fourth day here in LA, and our hotel has just been taken over by various Europeans, and breakfast has moved from a relaxed, gentle and serene undertaking to a cacophony of scrummaging for the toaster. It’s strange that when most of us travel we attempt to fit into the ‘culture’ and local expectations (as along as it doesn’t recede our cultural ethics of course), yet others simply ignore or are unaware of the local, social idiosyncrasies. They seem oblivious to the notion that their behavior simply doesn’t fit in, or in some cases even ‘shocks’ the locals, as I witnessed this morning. Even my girls sat there, mouths gaping at some of the antics of the guests at breakfast, just to ensure they got the organic yogurt before it ran out…. even though it was replenished by the minute.

This sort of reluctance to be flexible can often be seen I suppose, within management across some organisations. The “not invented here” or “we only do tools” or “it’s our way or the highway” mentality are just some of the many syndromes which regularly undermine efforts to create a sustainable organisation and shift in culture. The ‘management-think’ which I always harp-on about is this stubbornness and insistence that ‘our way is the right way’, combined with a failure to notice what others all around are looking at, thinking and listening to, i.e. the customer.

Attempts to benchmark performance, measure input, control output and create performance league tables often drives open, honest and trusting communication further underground, as departments and management defend their positions and compete with each other over power, money and status. But does it really help the listening skills of managers? There must be another way…..What about letting go and giving the employees the run of the company? What about Democratic Leadership in companies – Can we do it? Why or Why Not? What’s holding us back? We believe in democracy in all aspects of our life except the work place – why? It cannot be as awful as management….or is it?

Having spent most of the last 5 years researching, changing and lecturing in-company, mostly making people (managers) angry about the future of management (in that it won’t survive the next 5 years!) I’m at a loss at the extent of how change is needed and recognised by the managers, yet they seem unable to move forward. We need to substitute management with complexity, yet complexity is not as tangible or as ‘simple’ as traditional management practice.

And if breakfast this morning is anything to go by, change will be anything but easy in Europe…..

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

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