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Avoid the Defect, Smart People Look Stupid Published: Sunday, June 15, 2008 By: Dr. Manuel Ángel (Coco) Morales

In the brain, nerves provide one another with messages of two kinds:  those that excite the receiving cell into more activity and those that inhibit the recipient’s activity.  The human challenge is always that of creating a healthy balance between inhibitory messages and excitatory ones.  In a traditional bureaucracy there is plenty of inhibition for new ideas.  Organizations that learn to inhibit a destructive or highly dangerous practice avoid disaster and critical errors.  Organizations that learn not to inhibit something useful can grow, develop and increase their competitiveness.  The limits to growth are general overcome not by pushing harder but by removing the thing that is stopping you from growing.

Within traditional management context, the inhibitory mechanism or policies are strong and sometimes quite unselective. The power of inhibition is so strong that any one person above in the chain of command can stop an idea.  It is typical to see people promoted whose general modus operandi is to resist any new idea that involves change.  In a knowledge-competitive organization inhibit is far more sensitive.  As in the brain, a single inhibitory message does not stop the creative process.  Both inhibition and excitation are pluralistic, and each person or team learns who to listen to about what.

The most interesting kind of learning for organizations take place when they try to do something new.  Once the organization has a goal people make plans.  In making plans, they discover unanswered questions and the need to change or adapt their plans in accordance with their theories of what will work and how the internal and external environment will respond.  They try theories in action and get feedback.  With new ideas, things do not exactly work out as planned, so there is reflection about what happened and why.  Thus, management in its knowledge driven sense point to constantly working with new plans and new round of theories, new test in practice, new reflections and feedback.  A competitive organization must be good in each of these steps to learn effectively.  Freedom and democracy are vital for this kind of learning process to take place. 

Bureaucracies do not tolerate the discussions of uncertainties and how to test them.  They generally invest on or cultivate things that are presented as near certainties, seldom considering doubts.  In this setting promptness to error is high.  The process of moving a project focuses on getting approval, and a questioning mind does not sell well when decision-makers have other more important issues in their minds.

In the knowledge-highly competitive organization a discussion of action theories (the fundament behind any proposal), and how to test and deploy them is a thing to be encouraged.  In the network organization most of the important people to be sold on an idea are peers or colleagues.  They take time to discuss the theory behind the project of mutual interest and to contribute to enrich the experiments or proposals for finding out what will work.  They do not threaten the idea champion so she/he begins hiding inconvenient facts, worries or errors potential.

The purpose of the knowledge organization is to integrate the thinking with the doing in order avoid the defect of having an organization composed of smart people look stupid.  If you truly believe in quality and competitiveness, when you cut through everything, it is a matter of empowering people and this leads to teamwork, but for each individual working for the best of the team and the company.

Copyright 2008 QBS, Inc.


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