Business as unusual
Published 11:20, 18 January 10
In my last post I stated, "This is my first post as a Gartner employee. In the spirit of business as usual, here we go". Truthfully, this is anything but business as usual, and that is good. The New Normal is filled with business as un-usual.
Taking a page from my own research in April 2009, Real Transformation: Why IT Change Is Not Enough"... Your organisation’s success has been built on a set of assumptions.
Those assumptions have driven choices related to every aspect of what you do and how you do it. But fundamental assumptions upon which you have built success may have dramatically altered. Like any life-changing event, this may alter what customers you serve, the products and services you provide, and the processes and information required to support a new normal".
In the new normal all organisation's need to release the death grip on what you think is important based on assumptions about the past, and they must keep in mind two uniquely human characteristics.
First is our ability to derive comfort from 'business as usual' and to let it obscure our ability to see anything other than what we 'want to see'. Like Michael Disabato writes, "Processes provide a framework and guidance, but should not be relied on as a universal panacea.
While processes must be executed to be effective, blind reliance on them in the face of changing requirements is a recipe for disaster. Likewise, metrics can be a trap for the unwary". Humans have an ability to develop blind reliance on status quo and 'facts' -- we manufacture reality.
Many facts are 'facts' because we have declared them to be 'fact'. The analysis that provided comfort to the managers of financial instruments leading to the sub-prime mortgage crisis is one example. Another piece of this puzzle about 'fact' is in front of your eyes right now -- the device that allows you to read this blog post.
The device allows you to search and find your own facts, but it also has the power to obscure them. Many of the business and information systems within organisations present a fact that was determined by someone (or something) else. Do you really know why the information should be trusted?
When you add the fact that many data environments have multiple pieces of data that could be considered the same 'fact' and the one selected is just one of many possibilities, then it really makes you think, doesn't it?
The over-reliance on ‘facts’ also applies to planning by past patterns. Don't assume it is the same situation and the old-business playbook still applies. A pattern may render an important piece of the puzzle, but assuming it is the same is dangerous. (Also see ‘Fixing Intel’ is a wake-up call for analysts everywhere).
The second uniquely human characteristic is our ability to use our minds to use information from multiple contexts to create a new insight. This is an amazing gift that we all possess. But as Gary Hamel states in "The Future of Management", "The machinery of modern management gets fractious, opinionated, and free-spirited human beings to conform to standards and rules, but in so doing it squanders prodigious quantities of human imagination and initiative. It brings discipline to operations, but imperils organisational adaptability".
Hamel's statement is not a call for anarchy, it is a call for all of us to engage the human mind and spirit to do amazing things that are otherwise impossible, and to reorient organisations so that this can happen.
I believe we need to reorient our technology focus too. Our IT focus for the last 50 years has been to automate and to fuel the credo of modern management -- pursue efficiency ahead of every other goal. This is not surprising, since modern management was invented to solve the problem of inefficiency.
Frederick Taylor who is regarded as the father of modern management believed that an empirical, data-driven approach to the design of work would yield big productivity gain. Hamel quotes Taylor who maintained that efficiency came from “knowing exactly what you want men to do, and then seeing that they do it in the best and cheapest way.”
But as Hamel further illustrates, this has become a liability for organisations trying to drive innovation and to tap into the human ability for discovery. An overt focus on efficiency and its brother automation can hobble our ability to benefit from human insight.
The new normal requires forward-looking insight versus an over-reliance on historical patterns and 'facts' that may be irrelevant. The new normal is business as un-usual. As we proceed, we need to account for these two uniquely human characteristics to make the most of what lies ahead.