COMPLEXITY, FLOW, MINDFULNESS AND HOLONOMIC THINKING
March 13, 2014
by Simon Robinson
Definition Holonomics: it is less a framework or methodology, and more what we call a movement of thinking into a dynamic way of thinking, a certain form of mindfulness which directs awareness and attention not just to the dynamic relationships within complex systems, but which also comprehends the deeper meaning of these systems.
It is of course difficult to do an elevator pitch for Holonomics when you are discussing the four ways of knowing as we do in our book: thinking, feeling, sensing and intuition. Intuition is that part of our way of knowing the world which cannot be codified, put into symbolic language or modelled, and yet it plays such a fundamental role in our comprehension of dynamics.
It was therefore excellent this week for me to discover a quote from Taiichi Ohno (1912 – 1990), one of the principle architects of the Toyota Production System. Of course at first this system had no name, and Ohno famously said that if you were to give a system a name ‘managers would expect it to come in a box’. This is genius, and extremely insightful, especially when nowadays we are overrun with ever-more complex management processes, all of which come with an ®
If you look at the mandala above, the overall idea is that in order to understand a complex system, we need to achieve a balance of all four ways of knowing. There is a huge amount of waste in business today, often because managers are acting like scientists, but they do not realise so. They have many different theories, and rush to implement improvement programmes and change programmes before really studying what the problems are.
Ohno made sure that his management team spent weeks observing real problems in Toyota’s manufacturing plants, and this would mean that rather than being full of theories and management fads, they would achieve a deep understanding of the system as a whole. With this way of seeing, they could see how the flow of work from end-to-end, rather than only thinking in terms of the achievement of targets for each individual in the organisation, targets which could obviously create tension and internal competition.
John Seddon, author of Freedom from Command and Control, describes how he studied the Toyota Production System and translated into a system for service organisations. He points out that Ohno taught us that it’s hard to teach counter-intuitive truths by explanation. It’s better and faster to learn counter-intuitive truths by seeing them for yourself.
Slide by Simon RobinsonSeddon uses the term ‘management factory’ to show how the command-and-control logic of western high-volume manufacturing creates huge amounts of waste in organisations, as management separate the management of work from a workforce who actually do the work. Thomas Johnson and Anders Bröms also write about this concept in their book Profit Beyond Measure, using the term ‘information factory’. When Maria Moares Robinson and I write about sustainability and resilience, we do so from many perspectives. When you have a systems view of organisations, you see how it can be possible to cut costs, reduce waste, but also take care of the workforce as human beings, ensuring their happiness and improving their morale, satisfaction and motivation. It does not need to be either or. You can have both.
In the UK the British Government (nowadays via the Office of Government Practice) over the last four decades has developed and demanded the use of ever more complex ®s, such as PRINCE2® (for projects), MSP® (for programmes), M_o_R® (for risk), ITIL® (for IT services), MoP® (for portfolios) and MoV® (for value). The reality has been disaster roll-outs of IT projects across many different sectors such as health, transport, agriculture and defence which have cost billions and delivered a fraction of what was promised. The answer has often been to employ the same consultants using the same tools and to expect a different outcome.
We need a different way of thinking, and Maria and I have coined it ‘holonomic thinking’. Built on a foundation of human values, it is systems thinking combined with deep philosophical insights combined with the years we have both spent in commerce and industry, seeing both great companies achieving amazing results, enhancing both the lives of people and protecting and nurturing the environment, as well as of course bearing witness to practices which were less than successful.
Simon Robinson is co-author of Holonomics, Business where People and Planet matter. He is an independent consultant who helps groups of diverse stakeholders from business, think tanks and government organisations to innovate, to develop sustainable long-term solutions and to solve complex problems by understanding systems as a whole. Part of his consultancy work involves running intensive one and two day workshops in the following areas:
Introduction to Complexity
Dialogue and Communication
Customer Experience Design and Customer Journey Mapping