Why systems fail LO10081

Benjamin Compton (bcompton@geocities.com)
Thu, 19 Sep 1996 22:57:24 -0700

Replying to LO10038 --

Rol Fessenden wrote:

> As Adams goes on to say, how can anyone manage these tricks in a nonlinear
> world characterized by conflicting values and by billions of people acting
> on each other and their environment--and in the process constantly
> changing each other and the world?
> Tenner illustrates our inability to elucidate clear goals. Even in
> sports, arguments rage over the use of new equipment that would improve
> safety and performance.
> He also points out that things tend to "bite back" vhenever we interfere
> with them in ignorance, which is most of the time. Insect pests refuse to
> be controlled, the paperless information revolution has proliferated
> paper, flood control actually increases the damage caused by floods,
> helmets and protective gear make football more dangerous than rugby, roads
> to relieve congestion are clogged with traffic, and clear, straight roads
> have the highest fatality rates.
> He goes on to say that the more we introduce conspicuous safety measures,
> the greater the likelihood of a Titanic-style disaster in which the safety
> of the ship becomes the greatest single hazard to the survival of its
> passengers.
> Apparently we cannot stamp out failure because "things" are densely
> interconnected. Whenever we change one item, we set in motion innumerable
> other unpredictable changes. Apparently this is a major reason why
> systems fail.

And, hence, chaos and complexity theory.

I'd like to engage in some dialogue about the word "planning." Here's my
interpretation of the word: It often implies "strategic planning" or
planning 10 or 15 years into the future. In our fast-paced society, I
think that is unreasonable. We should spend more time focusing on our
business philosophy, values, and vision than we should on developing
strategic plans. Our business plans and strategies, will then be able to
evolve from changing culture, societal, economic, and technological
trends. This allows us to practice strategic improvisation instead of
strategic planning.

To achieve this we need to be pragmatically abstract in business planning.
If we accept, as a good theory, the idea that planning is an emergent
process, then I think we begin to make some real progress.

At the same time, however, I see a real need for businesses to plan and
create an environment in which their products and services can flourish.
What I mean by this is that it is up to each individual business to create
their own market conditions, instead of responding to, or anticipating
market conditions.

Those who flourish in fast-paced industries do this very well. As time
compresses, I think this will be a business imperative, not simply a good


Ben Compton The Accidental Learning Group Learning through Literature, Poetry, Music, Drama bcompton@geocities.com http://www.e-ad.com/ben/BEN.HTM

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