Dissecting fake methods – the general part
Disclaimer: If you think principles and laws as fundamentals from science, are useless when making new methods or getting rid of organisational problems, and we instead are better off guessing or using best practices and one size fits all thinking, this is not for you.
A bad system will beat a good person every time.
– W Edwards Deming
This blog post series is all about to get a deep understanding of why many of today’s methods and frameworks are not keeping their promises, giving a bad system that Deming is referring to above. And the series will also show that many of them are actually built on sand as the only fundamental, making the organisation and its people really suffering. A special focus will later be put on one actual very prosperous framework of today, in order to understand the fundamentals it is standing on, if any at all.
First thing out is to have a common vocabulary, so that avoidance of misunderstandings is enforced effectively. Here are words that are used throughout the text:
- Principle  – a comprehensive and fundamental law (universal), doctrine, or assumption
- Organization  – an organized group of people with a particular purpose, such as a business or government department.
- Symptom /** – any single problem that is caused by and shows a more serious and general problem
- Root cause  – the fundamental reason for the occurrence of a problem
Today it is all too common to ignore organizational principles, where most of them are only common sense, when discussing how to solve organisational problems. Instead is referred to numerous different best practices, or some home-made “principles” or the use of counterfactual conditions to convince us that things that never have happened suddenly is the truth, preferably a mix of them all. Another quote from Deming is appropriate:
To copy is to invite disaster
– W. Edwards Deming
It is also very uncommon that methods consist of some problem-solving part regarding fixing systemic problems, which not only means to make the method fit in the context it is used in. This also means that we need a completely other approach then the current, guessing or hypothesis with Continuous Improvement, when thinking about organisational problem-solving. No, we need to rethink or as Einstein stated:
Without changing our pattern of thought, we will not be able to solve the problems we created with our current patterns of thought.
– Albert Einstein
And since the environment continuously changes, it means that the we need to accept to ourselves (or the authors of the methods to themselves) that the system is not perfect from start or forever in any context. So, any method need to be able to fix bugs within itself, in order to make itself better. Unfortunately, Continuous Improvement originating from production has instead become the mantra. But for other contexts, it not only misses the point that the start must be a standardized and stable process in a non-complex context, but also often means framing the solution to be found at the same place as the problem*, where the latter is much more severe. And the reason why problem-solving parts for systemic problems cannot be found in any commercial method is understandable. Because, since the authors of the methods are claiming that they are solving everyone’s problems, i.e. Best Practice or One-size-fits-all, admitting that fixes probably are needed to make the methods better, is then clearly a flaw.
The only methods that come to my mind, that takes care about both continuous (local) and systemic improvements, are Toyota Production System and Toyota Product Development System. They are both built on Toyota’s Continuous improvement and Jidoka pillars; find all problems, understand if they are local or systemic and then fix them. Continually. For a systematic approach for finding the root causes to systemic problems in your organization, see further down in this blog post.
Ignoring principles as the fundamentals to rely on when discussing how to solve organisational problems and instead refer to best practices, has in fact today rather become the norm, showing strong tendencies of anti-intellectualism. This is cumbersome due to the fact that best practices do not work, which is easy to show theoretically***, in this picture below, here as a pdf file; problem-solving part – symptoms and root causes. See also this blog post series about symptom and root causes for a deeper understanding, showing that the root causes are frankly only the non-fulfilled (negated) principles. And if we are leaving unsolved root causes, we will for sure have systemic problems giving us a systemic failure in our organization.
Practically it was presented for more than thirty years ago regarding many different methods, especially brought up by Dr. Russell Ackoff  as panaceas, where he pointed out that all of the panaceas showed systemic failures, since so most of the implementations failed. Ackoff also stated that the best way to solve a problem in a entity (system) was to dissolve it. Dissolution of problems  means to change the system where the problems were found or the system’s environment, and is the only way to once for all get rid of the systemic problems.
So, ignoring principles is the same as leaving out science, which means that we are on the wrong track from start. How we put ourselves in this situation regarding our organisations is hard to explain, but for some reason we have suppressed our common sense, or in worst case completely blanked it out with help of con men and panacea peddlers , as Ackoff put it already three decades ago.
When we instead have problems with our products, we will for sure try to find the root causes to our problems, and definitely not guess how to directly solve caused problems or symptoms, since it is clearly common sense how we will get back to an operating product again. Who would even think about ignoring Ohm’s law, when making the circuit boards in a product or fixing problems within it? No one, simply because it is not reasonable to guess how we get our product to operate. This is also common sense about our products, since the science is obvious, not only all the universal laws and principles of physics that we cannot ignore when making our products, but also the laws of logic that we can use to find the root causes if we have caused problems within our products. This means that we indirectly already know that a principle or law not followed will cause severe problems, where the root cause to these problems is the non-followed principle, i.e. think about Ohm’s law as an example again. A root cause is simply a negated principle, a non-followed principle. This means that a root cause is universal too, since a negation will not change universality in logic. This gives that only the solution depends on context and is actually very good news, which we will come back to later. Here is a picture below to make it more straightforward, and here is the pdf file; problem-solving part – universality.
Important to know also is that for many of our organisational problems we cannot solve their root causes directly, especially the non-fulfilled principles regarding ourselves. If we think about it, the reason is obvious, since the root causes are pointing at limitations within our own DNA, which of course is unsolvable. Since we are the most important building blocks of our organisations, this means that the root causes to these kinds of organisational problems instead require changes to the organisations’ structure and processes. To be able to solve these kinds of root causes that are inhibiting us from an awesome organisation, we instead need to dissolve the organisational problems, which was brought up by Ackoff already in the 1990s . Dissolving organisational problems, means that we are changing our complex adaptive system, our organisation’s structure and processes, in order to be able to fulfil the organisational principles again.
So, why in earth do we ignore to find the root causes to our organisational problems, meaning indirectly that we are not only ignoring our common sense, but we are also ignoring the already existing science? If you reflect about the above, that symptoms really are unsolvable, it also means that nothing can solve our organisational problems directly, so why even try. Trying to solve symptoms directly, is like discussing politics, it is only about guessed opinions, because when we are not reaching the root causes, nothing is correct, only unsolvable.
An answer to the question above, is that panacea peddlers are convincing us with their talk. They are preaching (and never showing) how to solve organisational problems, putting all effort on trying to convince us that their methods can solve our problems. This without even trying to find the root causes to our problems, and most of the times not even ask for our problems. Preaching in combination with ridiculing us in front of others as the prominent master suppression method, in order to blank out our common sense, make us finally, under severe pressure, accept their panacea. And when they have successfully made us lose our common sense, we cannot see through that they are only guessing how to solve our problems, that in a normal case would not make them trustworthy.
The panacea peddlers of today have also invented more subtle strategies in order to avoid inspection of their methods, namely by referring to home-made “principles”, that the method or framework is built on. These “principles” are of course not real organisational principles and are often a mix of the following three types; small methods (methods are never universal, they are context dependent), or claiming that it is possible to optimise directly on the different output from an organisation, or even try to directly solve symptoms, where all three of them in fact are sub-optimizing, the latter one clearly. Even if these “principles” look convincing, science is of course eating them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 24/7.
We should also keep an eye on cross-references from one specific “principle” to other “principles” that can solve the symptoms that will occur if this “principle” is not followed. Of obvious reasons, real principles do not have this kind of references to other principles. Because, if one principle is not followed, no other principles can help to solve the upcoming symptoms from it, since the only root cause to the upcoming symptoms, is the negated principle itself. This is also the reason to why we cannot refer to human’s adaptivity when we are talking about non-fulfilled organisational principles, since no adaptivity in the world can solve symptoms, only make the organisation to hobble badly.
Yes, our human adaptivity will in most cases make us find a way to get a result, without solving the organisational root causes, which also is a reason to why the root causes many times are not looked for. So, even though we will suffer tremendously, it is not sure we understand that, at least not enough, since we still get some result from our organisation.
Finally, regarding principles, we can state that when a “principle” needs to be explained with tonnes of text, it is for sure a fake and home-made “principle”. A real principle does not need to be convincing; it just is a scientifically proven fact that need to be followed, and most of the times it is simply common sense. This is especially clear when we talk about the activities we are solving within our organisation. If we look into our organisations, we only have people and activities to consider, making the principles few and easy to understand as well, which we will come back to later.
Another common strategy in order to diminish old methods in favour of a new fancy one, is to use counterfactual conditions (CFs) . The definition of a counterfactual is something that is contrary to the truth or that did not actually occur, meaning that at counterfactual condition is a conditional with a false (have never happened) if-clause. As you understand, this is actually the same as guessing, which means sub-optimizing, when trying the impossible, to solve symptoms as described above. Here are some common examples of CFs:
“If A had happened – which A did not – then B would have happened.”, which would in our example above become: “If this fancy new method had happened – instead of this old bad method – then we would have had this awesome result.”
“If A had happened – which A did not and therefore not B either – then B would have happened.”, which would in our example above become: “If this fancy new method had happened – instead of this old bad method giving this negative result– then we would have had this positive (opposite to the negative) result.”
“If A had happened – which A did not and therefore not B either – then C would have happened.”, which would in our example above become: “If this fancy new method had happened – instead of this old bad method giving this lousy result– then we would have had this other awesome result.”
Of course, it is not as easy as above to see through counterfactual conditions, since they are normally written in a much more confusing way, which makes it hard to see through the lame logic. And especially when they are combined with the master suppression method ridiculing and/or making us look that we have a negative attitude to this new fancy, most of us will stop questioning the method. This even though any reflexion or simple analysis would make anyone of us suspicious, clearly showing that the panacea peddlers are only guessing. One book that is discussing this matter when our objectiveness is supressed is “The Stupidity Paradox” , describing how common this is.
After having dissected many different ways of how methods are avoiding science, it is now time for getting down to the organisational principles, the fundamentals need for our organisations.
If we go back to the definition of an organisation above, we can expand it to also consist of activities, which any organisation apparently will have, and solve. People in an organisation are solving activities that can have interdependencies, which means that we can write the following definition of an organisation that is valid for all organisations, like this:
People that interact to solve activities with interdependencies for a particular purpose.
Since this definition is valid for all organisations (as well as any parts of them), the definition is universal, or context independent. This goes well together with principles that also are universal, meaning we can add principles regarding people and activities to this definition, without changing its universality, to make an organisational definition that we need to follow, to get an awesome organisation, see this blog post for an example.
If we also go into the purpose of the organisation, we will commonly talk about the following purpose or needed results:
- The right product or service
- Fast to market
- Inexpensive product
- The right quality
- Low-cost product development/service and/or production
- Healthy people
- And as an effect of the above; good economy
And as you can see, we are coming back to universality again, since this output, or purpose of an organisation, is valid for any organisation. We are simply not talking about what kind of product, what kind of activities to solve, or how our people are, meaning we never go into context. And that is not strange at all, since the fulfilment level of these different output from our organisations are effects from the way of working and taking decisions within the organisation. This means that the output is indirectly emanating from how the organisational principles are fulfilled. This also means that when our output is bad, meaning we have problems, we simply ask multiple why? to find the root cause(s). And as you understand hereby, asking multiple why? starting from a universal output problem to find the universal root cause(s), means that all the symptoms in between are universal too. This leads to, that since a caused problem (or symptom) is universal, it can never be stated as complex, complicated or obvious, it is just unsolvable.
For you that are a lot and deep into complexity, we need to sort things out regarding the universality and of course when root causes are applicable. If we refer to the Cynefin™ Framework  by Dave Snowden, we will put all principles, root causes and symptoms for products or organisations in the inauthentic disorder (recently changed to aporetic/confused) domain, due to their universality. The reason is that it is not until we try to solve the root cause, doing a WHAT in our own context, in the same way as we can do directly for non-caused problems, that we will finally be in the ordered domains, Complicated or Obvious, but never the Complex domain. This is different from non-caused problems, where the solution of course can put us in the Complex domain if we need to explore to gain new knowledge. But, for caused problems, the root causes are only negated organisational principles, meaning that we already have the science, so exploration as a solution is never needed, is never a solution for an organisation. After finding the root causes to our problems, we will finally leave the Disorder domain and solve the root causes within our context, where the solutions can be anywhere in the organisation. Some of the root causes have the solution within the team and can be referred to as continuous improvement, but some of them requires dissolution of the problems, which means systemic changes in the organisation’s structure and processes. See the picture below, or this pdf file; principles – root causes – symptoms -in Cynefin Framework.
If we instead do the WHAT directly on a caused problem (symptom), we will wrongly be in any of the Complex, Complicated or Obvious domains depending on our WHAT. But the WHAT can then of course never be a solution to our original problem, only a clear sub-optimization with unintended consequences (since we have no foresight). Unfortunately, exploration today, trying the impossible of solving symptoms, has become the norm, which results in A Walk in the Dark in the Complex domain.
Unintended consequences are in complexity theory stated as that there is no cause and effect in a complex system, which is shown with the general Butterfly Effect . But that does not mean that we for all complex systems have the opposite, no effect and cause. A good example of this is the Cobra Effect , where the effect never could be understood in forehand, since we have no foresight. But, where the root cause (the action (believed solution) of paying money for cobra heads) in hindsight could be understood when the cobra farms (unintended consequence) were found. So, in hindsight we have a total picture of symptoms and can then clearly ask multiple why? to connect them and get to the root cause. Because if we did not have effect and cause, it would clearly be no Cobra Effect per se. This means that the total picture of organisational symptoms is vital here. This to be able to connect the symptoms from the problem of for example bad Flow Efficiency down to its root cause(s)****. Here is a picture showing this, and here is the pdf file; symptoms all the way down to the root causes. See also this blog post for a systematic method for solving systemic problems in organisations.
The Cobra effect also clearly shows sub-optimization, when giving money for cobra heads, since it is only trying to solve the symptom of too many cobras already in the first place (too many according to the Englishmen). Finally, the Cobra Effect also shows that when we are trying to directly solve a symptom (too many cobras according to the Englishmen), we are on the Walk in the dark path, leading to endlessly new paths of unitintended consequences. The main reason for this Walk in the dark paths, is therefore not because we do not know the consequences in forehand when we interfere with our complex system. Instead it depends on that symptoms are unsolvable, meaning that if we try to solve symptoms, we will always have unintended consequences we cannot imagine per se. Be vigilant on this difference.
We will focus on the organisational principles regarding activities, since most of the methods and frameworks are putting most of the effort trying to control them. For the principles regarding the people within our organisation, please look in this blog post, and how to dissolve problems in organisations genereally, please look into this blog post. Here are the principles for activities, which is purely common sense, that except from complex contexts (maybe) were known already by the pharaohs when building the pyramids, where we need to:
- keep them in the right order (can also be in parallel)
- do incremental development if possible
- keep track of their interdependencies (including the dependencies)
- do timely integration events***** (to get timely feedback)
– to solve a complex context we need new knowledge, so we need to experiment
– to solve a complicated context we have some knowledge and need to do some experiments
– to solve an obvious context we already know exactly what to do and follow-up is enough
(to have a common vocabulary, regarding the definitions of complex, complicated and obvious, the Cynefin™ Framework by Dave Snowden is referred to )
And do not forget that we people like to make structures when we can, so we are of course not talking about Activity A, Activity B, Activity C and so on, we are categorizing our activities into Analyse, Design, Test, Document, Production, etc.
So, if we have organisational problems including our activities, we have not fulfilled one or more of the principles above, which will then be the root cause(s) to our problems, since a root cause is just a non-fulfilled (negated) principle, as stated above. Very seldom there is such constraints, that we need to dissolve organisational problems regarding activities, but if there is, we need to dissolve the problems in the same way as , mentioned above regarding not fulfilling our people principles, which means the same reference as above.
Remember also, that a simple Value Stream Mapping, explained here, in normal conditions easily will visualize when a method does not follow principles regarding activities and how the created problems also should be solved.
This was all about the general part, welcome back next time, when we start to dissect one prosperous method that is on everybody’s lips today.
*framing the problem means that the solutions need to be inside the same frame as the problem, a department/train/team/unit/group, i.e a part of the organisation. Forget asking why enough times (or most of the times never ask why), is the SCQA (Situation – Complication – Question – Answer) technique in the box, and that is also literally since it is constraining the solution to be inside a frame, i.e. where the manager paying the consultant is. But root causes mostly are anywhere in the organisation, especially the most difficult ones, the systemic ones, which in these cases gives that framing the solutions within a part of the organisation, will sub-optimize per se.
**A symptom (caused problem) is unsolvable, where the 5 why? from Toyota is a classic in order to find the root cause(s). We simply must ask multiple why in order to get to the root cause(s) of our problem.
***1) since a problem can have many different root causes, companies can have the same visible problems, but not the same root causes 2) many times, a company transforming to another method also makes other organisational changes that can solve root causes without awareness from the organisation, making it impossible to judge the method, since the root causes are not looked for in neither case, i.e. not by the method and not by the organization.
****since the symptoms are universal, there is also possible to dry swim and make a Prefilled Root Cause Analysis Map, when learning more about different organisational problems in different contexts. But, that is supplementary studies, since it requires high individual and organisational maturity, see this series of blog posts for deep information, or this blog post for a Prefilled Root Cause Analysis Map showing the root causes for common problems.
*****integration within one part or between many parts.
 From Merriam-Webster. Link copied 2020-01-25.
 From Cambridge. Link copied 2020-02-10.
 From Collins. Link copied 2020-02-10.
 Ackoff, Dr. Russell Lincoln. Speech. “Systems-Based Improvement, Pt 1.”, Lecture given at the College of Business Administration at the University of Cincinnati on May 2, 1995.
The list of panaceas at 03:30 min, the national surveys at 03:40 Link copied 2018-10-27.
 Ackoff, Russell Lincoln. Biography. Link copied 2018-12-15.
The quote in total below:
“The best thing that can be done to a problem is to solve it.
The best thing that can be done to a problem is to dissolve it, to redesign the entity that has it or its environment so as to eliminate the problem. Such a design incorporates common sense and research, and increases our learning more than trial-and-error or scientific research alone can.”
 Ackoff, Russell Lincoln. Biography. Link copied 2018-12-15.
 From Wikipedia. Link copied 2020-02-15
 Alvesson, M, Spicer, A, The Stupidity Paradox: The Power and Pitfalls of Functional Stupidity at Work, IPS Profile books. ISBN: 978-1781255414.
 Snowden, Dave. The Cynefin™ Framework. Link copied 2018-10-04.
 Snowden, Dave. Blog post. Link copied 2019-06-04.