Dissolve the problems in organizations (Human Complex Adaptive Systems) – part 1/5 – Introduction

Today’s blog post is the first and introductory one in this series of five parts, about Dissolve the Organizational Problems in human Complex Adaptive Systems (CASs), where organizations are the main focus. Dissolve the organizational problems proceeds from the term “dissolve a problem”, by Dr. Russell Ackoff [1], that he stated at least three decades ago. Ackoff explained that the only way to get rid of organizational problems was to re-design the system that contained them, which is what Dissolve the problems in organizations is all about.

With organizational problems within our way of working, the achievement of our organizational purpose, will cover the whole range from more difficult, via very difficult or impossible to achieve, with the centre upon the middle/latter. We can say that a qualitative way of working from start will give us the right and qualitative products in the end, i.e., the right product right, that will make our customers happy. Since we cannot test-in the quality at the end, a qualitative way of working from start is therefore something we always need to aim for, so we can achieve built-in quality of the total product, as well as it parts.

Dissolving the problems in organizations describes two different methods, the Systemic Problem Picture Analysis – SPPA, and the Systemic Organizational Systems Design – SOSD. Together they are representing the needed methods for doing the QA work on the way of working, in order to have a walk in the park product-QA work. SPPA proactively finds all the root causes to symptoms (problems) within any human Complex Adaptive System (human CAS), irrespective if the symptoms come from mistakes, from an erroneous way of working, or if the symptoms are incidents that need to be directly handled and mitigated. Since SPPA goes backwards from symptoms (effects) to root causes (see the Cobra Effect [2]), by asking why, SPPA is mainly a deductive method. With the root causes found it is then possible to make a new systems design of the way of working for the organization with SOSD that fulfils all the organizational principles. With that strategy SOSD is mainly an abductive-deductive method, since the solution for the new way of working also will be built on the experiences from existing solutions of root causes (deduction). With SOSD it is also possible to deductively find out an appropriate way of working depending on the context, from existing ones (TDSD for big software systems is still under construction), that is already following the organizational principles, i.e., the systems design gives a well-functioning way of working. One important output from SOSD (under construction) is also a plan for the needed changes/transformation.

Since experts have already guided us, i.e., by the System Collaboration Deductions, it means that we already have a well-reasoned top-down hypothesis of the systems design. This in order so that the integration of the parts will make a cohesive, united and well-functioning way of working (our system). Without a systems design of our way of working, it means that we will only end up with an aggregation of organizational parts. This problem, with anti-systemical way of workings, has now been a plague for at least half a century, which was brought up by Dr. Russell Ackoff [3], already three decades ago.

As stated before, the focus for the System Collaboration Suite blog is on organizations; companies and governmental institutions. But it can also be used on a whole government, including its regions, provinces, communities and the like, seeing the whole government as a system. This is an important aspect, due to that many of the problems that can be seen in a society are generated by a system, built on a line hierarchy, without a virtual delivery structure, which means low interactions between the parts. Even though the government is divided into regions, provinces and communities, which means they are separated parts that deliver by themselves, the virtual structure thinking is of great importance in order to get opportunities in common thinking, which in turn has the strong ability to decrease wellfare crime. This means that we can use SPPA to find the organizational problems within a society and then make a new systems design for a governmental structure with SOSD, i.e., for the whole society in a country. But that is for future blog posts :-), this blog post series will focus on organizations.

In this series we will concentrate on SPPA and SOSD for organizations. After we have done a SPPA for our organization, SOSD follows, which makes a new systems design of the way of working in the organization, where all problems are dissolved. SOSD can of course also be used separately when building an organization from scratch. Dissolving the organizational problems with SPPA and SOSD, is one, but very important part of the total concept of System Collaboration – “A Systematic approach for a systemic learning”. System collaboration is a general approach for human complex adaptive systems, but in this blog book the focus is on organizations, the general approach will be a future deep-dive. System Collaboration takes the Big Picture view for achieving an awesome collaboration in the organization, to make it flourish by continual learning. To understand this Big Picture, we will start this blog post with an overview to get the meaning of System Collaboration. In this blog post, we will also bring up SPPA and its relation to inductive and abductive approaches, that is an important part of the discussion, since both these approaches can be treacherous. And yes, since we start about abductive and inductive approaches, that of course means some theory as well :-).

In the next blog post, the SPPA for organisations is presented, and in the third blog post, the method of SOSD. The fourth blog post we will go through the theory behind both SPPA and SOSD. The fifth and last blog post in this series will deepen why dissolving the organizational problems is the only way forward, to get rid of the problems within an organization. It will go through why we always need to start with SPPA, before we (even think about) using abductive or inductive approaches for organisational problem-solving. The latter approach is especially treacherous, since its main focus today is on the effects we will get with the new bright shiny, and not on explaining why a new framework or method actually will do the job. By having that focus, we cannot get rid of the current problems within the organisation trying to transform to a better way of working, since the problems of the organisation in focus, are never even looked for.

Let us now start with the Big Picture. Human complex adaptive systems, like our organisations, are not only doing something, they have a common purpose*, for example developing a product, where the purpose in turn depends on the market need for the domain the organisation is operating in. This purpose, a choice made by the organisation itself, is therefore an intended purpose, in the end reached (hopefully) after multiple interactions over time with our way of working. Purpose is aiming for a planned result from our human system with the current way of working et al. This purpose as an output from our organisation, is of the same type as flocking is the result from a system of birds, even though the fulfilment of the purpose in our organisation is planned for, and not automatic. This purpose, shall therefore not be mixed up with emergent behaviour or emergent properties, which we never can plan for, even though they also are results from multiple interactions between people over time, within any human complex adaptive system. This is the same as for the emergent behaviour and emergent properties of the flocking, where the flock itself will emerge continuously in an unpredictable amoeboid shape over time. But the result is still the same, flocking.

And we shall absolutely not mix this purpose with the growing popularity of Purpose statements*, trying to do the impossible, by setting the emergent behaviour and properties in advance, and then want to close the gap to the future that is unknowable. Or as Dave Snowden states: “Qualities emerge from interactions over time, in contexts which are often unique but poorly remembered. [5]”

It is important to point out that the purpose directly gives us the context, i.e., product development of new products is complex, and where the context in turn gives the “activated” organisational principles to follow, principles for people and activities, which has been discussed in earlier blog posts. Remember that this System Collaboration Blog Book is focusing on organizations, but that the principles are valid for any human complex adaptive system (human CAS). The “activated” principles, together with the domain (prerequisites including market need, competence, tools, technology, etc.) will induce a way of working for the organisation, a choice by ourselves, so the purpose of the organisation can be achieved. Within the choice of getting an appropriate way of working, there are also some questions that need to be answered. All stuff regarding designing the new way of working, are neatly parcelled in SOSD.

Another useful understanding is to read this series, to get some more background understanding on the principles. This series dissects in what category of principles we get the biggest problems in our organisations of today, to get a view from many different angels, all in order to understand some more about the questions in SOSD.

This also induces that if the way of working is not following the “activated” principles for the context, the organisation will have problems, be dysfunctional, as mentioned above. But, since we humans are adaptive, we will try hard to achieve the purpose anyhow even though we have problems, built into a deficient way of working. This means that it is impossible, even from within the system itself, to differ a well-functional system from a dysfunctional system just by looking at the emergent behaviour or emergent properties of the system, until it is too late, due to the inherent adaptiveness of a complex adaptive system. A change of purpose that leads to an increase of the complexity level, will always lead to an activation of additional (organisational) principles. This means that when transforming the way of working for the organisation in this case, to achieve the new purpose that gives an increased complexity level, the way of working needs to be changed so that these additional principles in this new context are followed. To only lean on adaptivity is risky business, especially when the new context is more complex, with an exponential increase of risk.

When we put all together, we get the following picture, system collaboration – dissolving the problems, showing the total of System Collaboration – “A systematic approach to a systemic learning” and the important dissolving the organizational problems part of the total picture as well, shown within the dotted oval.

Note, that there of course are many different feedback loops in an organization. The main focus of this picture is to show the feedback loop of having problems at run-time of a way of working, that via SPPA can feedback SOSD to make a better way of working. When we are setting up our organisation from the beginning, we are always under the laws and principles of science. Natural science for the products and the activities we are doing to achieve the products, as well as complexity science for complex activities and the anthropological principles regarding the cognitive ability of us humans. If we do not follow the science properly, we take a very high and totally unnecessary risk for failure. If we do not follow the science, we will only introduce tremendously many problems for ourselves. These problems we cannot just state as uncertainty, because they have already happened, the wrong decision to not follow science, has already been taken in the past when we designed our way of working. If we do not follow the science, we will in the future cause ourselves “a mess – a system of problems”, an expression that Dr. Russell Ackoff often used. And over time, our situation becomes even more blurred or confused, when we are trying to act directly on the symptoms, which will give us even more symptoms, and even worse consequences will emerge due to an increasing emergent negative behaviour due to the mal-functioning system.

These consequences make our people inefficient, non-creative, unhealthy, etc. If we do not detangle our mess, we can be sure of one thing, we will never be able to solve it. If we do not take care about the symptoms and consequences (that have already happened), by finding and dissolving the root causes, we can never judge the amount of uncertainty (WHAT product to make) or/and complexity (HOW to make the product) we really have, since we only see a mess.  We really must start to ask ourselves why our organization does not work properly, and also despite the endless list of methods and frameworks to choose from. Dave Snowden brings this why-question up recently [6], where he discusses Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline from 1990, which led to the approach Learning Organization, that Senge coined himself. Snowden states that “We are now three decades on, and we should maybe start to question a little why it, and its successors have not worked.”. But already 1995 [2], as mentioned briefly above, Ackoff listed methods and frameworks at that time and the decades before, that did not work because they were antisystemic. So, we therefore also need to talk about methods and frameworks preceding Learning Organization as well, methods and frameworks from the last half century at least. Learning Organization is also included in the list of about 20 methods [3], originating from national surveys [3], which Ackoff mentioned as antisystemic already then.

Here Ackoff’s concept of “dissolve a problem”, how to think in order to avoid being antisystemic and get rid of organisational problems one time for all, comes into the picture. We can simply only redesign the system or the environment in order to get rid of many problems within it, where changing the environment rarely is an option for an organisation.

When we already have our organisational problems, we still have many hard facts to proceed from, so we are sure we are on the right track. Because, all problems that we can observe in the organisation, are all taken together one hard fact, and that also is very hard to game. The observed problems are also the best leading indicator that show, if the way of working is mal-functioning or not, since we do not wait with looking for the root causes until we have an incident. Observed problems can never be outrivalled by any measuring, since measuring is only a lagging indicator in comparison. Measuring can neither find the root causes to our organizational problems, making measuring, especially on parts, a treacherous sub-optimizing approach, since it often leads to some non-efficient optimization on the part, in hope of improving its performance.

The Cobra Effect, is another hard fact, that shows us that we in hindsight can understand that we have effect-cause chains also in human systems. This, even though it sometimes is hard to find them, if we cannot observe important problems. But this is actually easy in an organisation, since all our people can speak for themselves, which is not the case for products. For products we can only react when the incident has occurred, and then we have Ichikawa diagrams and 5 why? as excellent methods to be able to find the root cause(s).

Another hard fact is that we, according to complexity theory, cannot isolate a problem (frame it) within a system and try to solve it separately, since that will only lead to unintended consequences, i.e. sub-optimisation of the whole, meaning that the smallest possible frame, to avoid sub-optimization, is the whole system itself. SPPA has all these mentioned hard facts above as its foundation.

A last important hard fact to mention is that organizational symptoms and consequences cannot be solved, only dissolved together with their root causes. That the root causes need to be dissolved is straightforward, since the root causes originates from non-fulfilled science in the first place. SOSD has this hard fact as its foundation.

Let us now elaborate on uncertainty and complexity, starting with uncertainty. Uncertainty is about what action (for example a decision) to take in the current now, to hopefully achieve a future effect, even though the future always is unpredictable. Uncertainty is also about knowing the customer and end user need regardsing the requirements on our product. But, to take an action on the current situation, without any deeper analysis, is to take an action on an entanglement of problems, impossible to directly solve without detangling it first. Many of these problems are effects and consequences, which never are reasonable to attack, since effects and consequences cannot be directly solved. If we still try, we will have a Walk in the Dark, since solved effects and consequences never will aggregate to a solved root cause. The first step should therefore always be to collect the problems within the organisation, and try to find root causes. With the found root causes in our hand, we have brought earlier mistakes into the daylight, having the necessary information about the past, so we can solve the root causes, and by doing that, take the right actions in the current now. But, since the environment the organisation is operating in, is constantly changing, it can mean high uncertainty when a decision is taken, for example about the content and price of a tender will accept or what product to make that the customer will buy. This leads to that in such situations with high uncertainty about the future, even when our way of working is perfect, we can only track us back to the decision taken, and hopefully learn something for the future even though the exact start condition for the decision will never be repeated again, but we cannot change the outcome.

When Snowden talks about ontology (how things are), epistemology (how we know things) and phenomenology (how we perceive things), he states [7]

“… and increasing the alignment between the three is key to coherent action.”,

which by finding the root causes to our built-in problems, makes it possible to understand the context (ontology), and really give us a solid base for our next action (epistemology), in order to dissolve a majority of our entangled problems that we perceive (phenomenology). The need for always starting with SPPA and the collection of all symptoms and consequences perceived in our organisation, will be further deepened in the last blog post in the series, as mentioned in the prologue to this series above. SOSD will then help us to find the way of working, where the root causes are dissolved.

There are different ways to describe a Complex Adaptive System, a CAS, and the most common is to describe it as containing agents with interrelationships. About CASs, our complexity guru Dave Snowden** has stated; “The only thing we with certainty can say about a CAS is that any intervention with the system will have unintended consequences” [8] or “More importantly any complex system is an entangled weave of boundaries, agents, probes and the like. If you cut it, you destroy it.” [9], where the Hawthorne effect [2] and the Cobra Effect [2] are good examples of interventions that lead to unintended consequences (effects). This means that we cannot intervene with any agent in a live system, not model it nor measure on its parts, since then we will sub-optimise the system; or as Ackoff always put it “all interventions with the agents are anti-systemic***”, egoistic is an apt word since any intervention then will generate a sub-optimisation in the system.

The implication of this is that any interventions in a complex adaptive system will cause unintended consequences, with an unknowable what, when and where in our system, i.e., for us our way of working. This means that inductive techniques (bottom-up logic), no matter if they are based on many cases or not, will be very problematic, since they will set up an ideal state and try to close the gap. This indirectly means that they never will look for the root causes, and if the inductive approach solves a root cause anyway, it is only by chance. This means that inductive approaches always will start chains of unintended consequences, since they are trying, without a clue of the real root causes, try to solve the problems, the symptoms and consequences directly (impossible), and are therefore not suitable for neither complexity nor uncertainty. Abductive techniques (some of them) on the other hand, are more suitable for organisational problems mostly regarding uncertainty about the future, but not for making transdisciplinary solutions that is needed when dissolving organisational problems. Abductive techniques are instead trying to avoid premature convergence of the solution, by solving smaller problems (kind of nudging), and with fast feedback analyse the result, in order to take next small step. An example of an abductive approach is mapping the dispositional state [10] in a situational assessment and identifying adjacent possible states in the fitness/dispositional landscape, and then make small hypothesis and experiments and draw conclusions from the new observations. One tool for this is SenseMaker® with big similarities to making hypotheses and do safe-to-fail experiments in parallel, see Dave Snowden’s blog posts for more information [10], [11]. Snowden has also since some years back developed an approach called constraint mapping [12], “as a key approach to understanding, navigating, and managing complexity”, he states. He continues that this is important in order to try to avoid a premature convergence when acting directly on the situational assessment, as well as that “constraints are things that we can manage in a complex system, and they are also things that we can know. “.

But, any intervention with (the agents within) a human system still gives unintended consequences, no matter if we are using inductive or abductive approaches, since they are not going for the root causes to the problems seen. This means that situational assessments or/and making interventions that is manoeuvring in the fitness/dispositional landscape is not the way forward. Note here that the use of constraints to influence the patterns (of people’s interactions or the fitness landscape), also means interventions with our human system. This means unintended consequences, since it is still symptoms or consequences we are trying to solve, since they are the result of a combination of the built-in root causes and of the interactions between our people. And observing the system and the interactions between our people won’t help us either. For every observation, we only see the symptoms and the consequences of our way of working, and here goes also reflective observations aiming for helping people see patterns and gaps. And it does not help to ask questions about the observations, in order to try to get more understanding, since symptoms are still impossible to solve.

Instead, we must intervene with our way of working and attack the built-in root causes, and not try to intervene when the interactions between our people already have become hampered. There are different types of hampered interactions, for example hampering the reduction of complexity or divide functionality in smaller parts without considering non-functional requirements, which are described and dissected in this blog post.

The only way to come to the root causes, is to ask “why?” on the symptoms and consequences. It is neither possible to categorise (and not further recursively continue with sub-categories) the problems seen for example in a team, like in for example the two categories team and surroundings, and their respective sub-categories agreement, interactions, safety, feedback etc. and context, autonomy focus, support, etc. Instead, we always need to collect the problems seen individually and connect them with each other and down to the root causes. Only the root causes can be categorized, and we actually have three categories; people, activities and hampered interactions, where the problem with difference of opinion (no common understanding) about the purposes is part of the activities.
The root causes can lead to problems in any part of the organization, no matter how we slice the organization. This means that it is only misleading us in our struggle to dissolve our problems, if we try to categorize the problems (symptoms and consequences).
And when new methods or frameworks are promoted to reveal problems or bring them to the surface in the current way of working, we need to be vigilant. Why? Because, if we do not try to find the root causes by asking why? on the problems that has been revealed, we can never come under the surface, and understand if the problems were there in the old way of working in the first place. We have frankly no possibility to see if we with the new method or framework; remove all the root causes, have a status quo of them, delete some of them, remove some of them, or simply only add more root causes, compared to the old way of working. Without finding the root causes in the old way of working and show that they are solved with the new method or framework, we should not even start our transformation. With SPPA we can as earlier stated always find the organizational root causes, which means it is always SPPA to start with for all organizational problems. This also means that we can have a common overriding vocabulary, since we are not digging into different kind of disciplines to find solutions/methods, since we cannot solve symptoms. These attempts to solve symptoms has over the last half century, generated a very long list of new vocabulary and things to consider, presented below. At very rare occasions, there may be a root cause that cannot be solved with SOSD, which after we have solved all other root causes, make us need to dig into the mentioned vocabulary and solutions/methods of disciplines, i.e., trying to solve symptoms anyway. But there is no reason for doing that until we first have found all the root causes with SPPA, and then judged that there is someone we cannot solve with SOSD, or if it is hard to connect some of the problems down to the root causes. The top focus is to solve the root causes that can be solved, which will eliminate the emanated symptoms and consequences. Since it can be very hard to judge which symptoms that originates from the root cause that cannot be solved, we shall wait with that until our new way of working has stabilized. Then we do a new SPPA to see if this root cause or the isolated problems still remain.

To avoid trying to solve symptoms and always concentrate on the root causes, we need to think differently, which the French author Marcel Proust famous quote clearly considers:

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

This current seeking of new landscapes, which means infinite perspectives on the symptoms and consequences, is a major reason of why the list of new words and expressions with all new methods and frameworks are steadily increasing. Another consequence is the list of things we so far have found out that we need to cautiously consider, since we are trying to do the impossible, i.e., trying to directly solve the problems (symptoms) within a human system (actually goes for any system) is long. Actually, the combined list of things and new vocabulary is very long, and the number of items in the list is still counting, since the continual symptom solving done with abductive and inductive approaches, only gives more unintended consequences (more symptoms), i.e., more things to consider. Here are some examples to consider if we are trying to intervene with a human system, in the case when we are not going for the root causes to our problems, and instead trying to do the impossible; solve symptoms:
try to close the gap to; bad quality, wrong culture, wrong mindset, wrong values, high cost, inefficiency, ineffectiveness,  etc., dealing only with parts of the system, modelling the system, measuring effects on parts of the system, “everything new will result in better effects” talking (counterfactuals), ignoring observed hard facts, ignoring science, fitness/dispositional landscapes (clusters, ideal location, vectors, coherent homogeneity, incoherent homogeneity, coherent heterogeneity, incoherent heterogeneity, adjacent possible), fractal decision making, vector theory of change, using natural science as a counterfactual, counterfactual landscape in order to identify what is not possible, non-pragmatism (idealism)(manipulation), context-free (universal) solutions (for example copying manufacturing solutions to product development without consideration), that confusion and incomprehension must be part of the process until enlightenment can be reached (manipulation), evidence-based interventions (high risk for trying to solve symptoms, since it does not matter if our reason is backed-up with data/observations/facts/information, we have interpretations and diagnosis, it is logic and we have options, since we still need to find the root causes), a PDCA cycle (including qualitative data/study (listen, meetings, discussions, perceptions, how people respond to things, how people understand things, about people’s needs, peoples mental models of things, paying attention to people’s feelings, look for common threads/difference/outliers), hypothesis, quantitative (collect (big) data, it is about counting and measuring); high risk for sub-optimisation, so we still need to find the root causes), hypothesis without consideration is the way forward (manipulation), that a transformation will take 5-10 years as the new normal (manipulation), premature convergence on a solution, not just starting anywhere (but, where should we start?), directly changing people, sense of direction, we manage the emergence of beneficial coherence within attractors and within boundaries, managing non-confrontation interaction between different groups of people, motivations drops, psychological safety, issues of power and politics, mandate problems – who to have which mandate (gives sub-optimisations, root causes need to be found), only one (or too few independent parallel) observer, (quick) decisions from data privileging past experience, the aggregative error, compliance problems with the Pareto distribution (when referring only to the normal distribution), just ask questions in facilitated conversation, open space techniques, confusing coincidence with causation (Post hoc ergo propter hoc), confusing correlation (consistent coincidence) with causation or correlation is not causation (Cum hoc ergo propter hoc), retrospective coherence, replicate the emergent success of someone else, rules, heuristics, cognitive bias, cognitive heuristics, post hoc rationalisation, controlling or manipulating the outcome of the process, top management initiated approach to change, bottom-up approach to change, norming and pattern entrainment (no matter if done by (reflective) observations, assessments, interviews, etc.), path dependency, bias at situational assessment, micro-scenario planning, constrain and ‘de-constrain’, constraint mapping, trying to manage; constraints, connections/linkages, roles, habits and rituals [13], catalysts, decomposing a problem or situation to the lowest level of coherent granularity, diversity/dissent and cadence, trying to monitor; dispositional states, propensities, identities, common attractors, strange attractors (trope, meme, assemblage, etc.), epistemic justice, cognitive sovereignty, attitudes, mental models (including that complexity is better than mechanistic, which is a big part of the problem, since the root causes are never looked for), classifying things into types (taxonomy instead of topology), weak signals and coherence, expert bias, data****/measurements first will bias the hypothesis, mediation/interpretation/screening of data before reaching the decision-maker, courtier syndrome, Delphi techniques, Hawthorne effect, dark constraints*****, negative context-free constraints, temporal constraints, bounding statements, catalysing conditions, amplify or disrupt patterns, predetermination of only positive stories, talk about how things should be (effects), idealistic state as a goal and closing the gap, analysis paralysis, theory without validation (case-based or inductive approaches), interpretative conflict, unobjectivity******, organisational non-transparency, framing (that do not open up new possibilities), “the eyes of the investigator”, asking better questions, embedded assumptions (about the solution/fact) in the questions, “why without why” (since asking “why?” can make persons defensive; so where, what, who, etc. need to be used), root cause(s) analysis only as a lag indicator or isolated paths, general challenges for root cause(s) analysis as only finding one root cause out of many [14], the risk of blaming individuals for mistakes and therefore not digging deep enough to find the root causes, missing a catalyst, only lagging and no leading indicators or late leading indicators as attitudinal measures, partial abstractions, gaming, engaged facilitation, idealistic facilitator, opinions about the future or the past influencing how the present is seen, relationships of people involved in a work shop or assessment, actions (with or without triggering moments of empathy) in order for difficult conversations when having different opinions to emerge, conceptual thinking*******/critical thinking********/soft skills********* (all of them are of course very important skills, but we still need to find the root causes), inattentional blindness, control in the shadow, shining the light on things too early, not paying attention early enough, a solution focus instead of a problem focus (will most probably sub-optimise instead), the need of looking for confounding factors before intervening in linear systems, patterns of group interaction, that neither one (problem-solving) perspective (or experience from many unrelated fields or enable radical repurposing and ideas), nor infinite number of different (problem-solving) perspectives (or experience from many unrelated fields or enable radical repurposing and ideas) can solve a symptom (solving root causes is the only purposive interventions that will lead us to a fulfilment of our organizational purpose), management need of having sensor networks, strategic interventions with one or many options, low-hanging fruits (will most probably sub-optimise instead), understand the structure of a problem, how a problem differs from other problems, work through the problems by analogy, find the “root problem”, agree on the problem to solve, identify the “biggest” root cause using Pareto analysis, restating new problem for the “biggest” root cause, avoid system traps (happens when we try to solve symptoms; for example generates dependencies to ourselves as consultants) sub-optimisation (impossible symptoms solving that only will generate more symptoms and consequences), etc., where some of them are what Dave Snowden calls “the tyranny of the explicit” [15]. Many of them are also an outcome, new symptoms and consequences, originating from the impossibility of trying to solve symptoms, which is the same as sub-optimisation. Sub-optimisation always means that we are not heading towards the roots of our problems, but instead in the diametrically opposite direction, meaning more and more unintended consequences, since we are trying to solve symptoms and consequences. This makes it possible for the list above to be infinite long, still counting so to say ;-).

Kind of tricky, right!

But, remember that both abductive techniques, not only the inductive ones, mean interventions of some kind, on the current problems (symptoms or/and consequences) we are having in our organizations. This means that we need to avoid these techniques, if possible, since symptoms and consequences always are impossible to solve, i.e., always leads to sub-optimization.

So, what can we do about it?

Instead, we need take another approach and re-think about in what cases we can take advantage of hindsight, we frankly need to think differently, 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.

Taking advantage of hindsight for organisational problem-solving can be done at significantly higher levels than can be seen today in methods and frameworks, and also compared to how uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity, variability, etc.  generally, are presented. By taking this advantage, we can in the light of the current knowledge (problems seen today), redesign our system (organization) today, so that the coming interactions do not lead to the problems seen today, i.e., the problems are dissolved. That is kind of neat, also since we completely avoid unintended consequences by never nudging a live system**********, we redesign it and start again, at the same time as we of course need to solve the root causes within our products, that unfortunately effected them so they will be malfunctioning if the root causes are not solved.

So, it is not about changing the future from the current situation, like intervening with the current fitness landscape, since this will generate many of the items to consider in the list above, due to the unintended consequences that will be generated from the interventions, i.e., we can never intervene directly on the effects. It is frankly about a new systems design of the way of working in our organization and its hierarchies, i.e., line and virtual structures. The systems design is needed in order to eliminate the complexity. The new knowledge is acquired at the integration, i.e., when we start the redesigned way of working.

Here the Cobra Effect is an apt example to have in mind not only regarding unintended consequences from interventions (bounty), but most of all due to the fact that the Cobra Effect means that there is effect and cause in human systems. Because, it was impossible for the Englishmen to understand the sudden increase of cobras at first. But when the cobra farms were found, the missing piece (symptom from the sub-optimal strategy of bounties for cobras) were found. This meant that the effect-and-cause chain could in hindsight be completely drawn backwards in time from the last effect to the first cause, which is the essence of a traditional analysis to find the root cause (s).

With the Cobra Effect in mind, we can also see the importance of having all symptoms needed in order to conclude the effect-and-cause chain down to the roots of the clearly visible problems (increasing pay-out of bounties and increasing population of cobras). And with all things to consider above, we really need to have a systematic approach to achieve true systemic learning in our organisation, so we can avoid the need to consider the items in the list. We need a very easy, straightforward and systematic way of looking at problem-solving in our organisations in order to have a be able to have a systemic learning. This is very important, so we do not apply continuous improvements methods on the system level or parts of the system in focus, before we have solved our problems within our system. The first step of dissolving the organizational problems, SPPA, is a true eye-opener for detangling the problems, the symptoms and consequences, in an organisation.

Here is summarizing detailed picture for dissolving the problems, showing the input and output of SPPA and SOSD, dissolving the problems – detailed overview:

Of course, there is no perfect way of working, which means that we always will have some kind of symptoms, and in worst case also some consequences will emerge, where our people get low-producing, inefficient, unhealthy and in worst case burned-out. Consequences will occur per se when we already have a deficient way of working, that we do not fix due to lost common sense. And if we try to protect this deficiency, disrespect and unobjectivity instead will be the standard organizational behaviour, some form of social disorganization or disintegration of the organization.

Our way of working always need to take into account the number of people, domain knowledge (I-competence), integrative knowledge (T-competence), current other knowledge, current tools, etc., which will change over time, giving us new symptoms and consequences as well. But of course, even with our problems solved, we can always get better, by continually tweaking our system a la Kaizen, even though the effects of them will become smaller and smaller.

But, to just let go with a hypothesis, which means trying to solve a symptom, is actually always a very bad (read: wrong) strategy, since symptoms never can be solved.  We need to understand that all these organizational problems are generated due to built-in faults in our way of working, since we are not following science (the organizational principles). Built-in faults means that the organizational problems will happen. This induces that we do not even need to start any interactions between our people. The more complex context, the more severe problems over time, as well as the longer we need to go back in time in order to solve the root causes. That is why we always must start with SPPA when we are having organizational problems. The best is to do SPPA continuously, and since it is easy and fast to use, there is no better way to get a flourishing organization.

To achieve dissolving the organizational problems, we may need to combine all the three approaches; deduction, abduction and induction, where SPPA, always is the starting point in order to detangle our mess of problems. The necessary combination of different techniques, has also been noted by Snowden, which states the following when he alludes to analyses that find the root cause(s); “It is also important to realise that even in a deeply entangled system there are some cause-and-effect pathways – we need to be flexible here.  Learning can be achieved in many ways and excluding more traditional and structured approaches is almost as bad as claiming those approaches are all that is needed.” [16].

In the next blog post, we will go through the first method used in dissolving the organizational problems, namely SPPA, and show that it is fundamentally different from a traditional analysis to find the root cause(s), which has its roots in products and manufacturing lines, and not organizations.

C u then.


*Purpose shall not be mixed with Purpose Statement, that today many times like Mission statements, also are including core values etc. That means wishing for emergent behaviour and emergent properties, that is emergent from interactions, and therefore cannot be wished for. Or as Snowden states: “I am not saying that organisations should have no values, mission, or purpose, but I am challenging the idea of centrally planned organisational rollouts of programmes designed with articulated Values, Mission or Purpose statements. ” [4].

**At Cognitive Edge, the father of the Cynefin™ framework

***Do not mix anti-systemic with non-systemic. Non-systemic means that there are no side effects. A good example where there are no non-systemic cures, only anti-systemic, are medicines taken orally trying to cure a symptom in the body. This is because the body is a complex system too, which means that no symptoms in the body can be cured with any medicine without effecting parts of the body with side effects. Instead, the root cause(s) to the symptoms need to be found to really cure. The same goes for our organisations and only the root cause(s) to the symptoms can be solved, since trying to solve the symptoms mean more other symptoms, that can be hard to foreseen and never directly be solved either.

****data from for example; HR Systems, Ticket systems, Repos, Communication platforms, Product and technical dashboards, Spreadsheets, Surveys, Studies, Stickies, etc.

*****dark constraints; a term by Snowden, that is affecting the current behaviour of the complex (adaptive) system, but where we only can see the effect, but not the cause of it or modulating factors [17]. If we look at the current symptoms and consequences originating from root causes, where root causes are non-fulfilled organisational principles, it is not a wild guess that dark constraints correspond to these non-fulfilled principles. This means that dark constraints are not as mystic as their name may suggest.

******unobjective [18]; not possessing or representing objective reality. This means that when someone states something that is unobjective, for example 1+1=42, it is not a subjective statement, and therefore not an opinion, it is only plain wrong. Organisations that accept unobjectivity when transforming to a new way of working, will not only create a way of working that is malfunctioning, but before that, a deep polarization within the organisation will be created.

*******What Is Conceptual Thinking? (With Importance and Tips) | Indeed.com Canada

********6 Critical Thinking Skills and Why They are Important at Work | Indeed.com Canada

*********A Guide to Soft Skills | Indeed.com Canada

**********Snowden also states the importance of avoiding direct actions on the current situation; “mapping and changing constraints avoid a direct connection between situational assessment and action.” [12]. But, since science is always constraining, that means that our organizational principles are constraining, which is always needed for us to achieve a flourishing cohesiveness. It means that when we have root causes, we do not fulfil the corresponding organizational principles. This leads to that we will fail to get the wanted interactions in our system. This in turn also means that there are no more constraints needed when we are dissolving organizational root causes, we will simply get the needed interactions in our way of working.



[1] Ackoff, Russell Lincoln. Article. Link copied 2018-12-15.

[2] Snowden, Dave. Blog post. Link copied 2019-06-04.
Of effects & things – Cognitive Edge (cognitive-edge.com)

[3] 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 at 03:30 min, the national surveys at 03:40, and the explanation of antisystemic at 04:48 min. Link copied 2018-10-27.

[4] Snowden, Dave. Blog post. Link copied 2021-11-16.
Twelvetide 20:02 Carbon is not silicon – Cognitive Edge (cognitive-edge.com)

[5] Snowden, Dave. Blog post. Link copied 2021-12-06.
Dancing to the Masochism Tango – The Cynefin™ Co

[6] Snowden, Dave. Blog post. Link copied 2021-09-12.
Learning: an anthro-complexity perspective – Cognitive Edge (cognitive-edge.com)

[7] Snowden, Dave. Blog post. Link copied 2021-08-09.
Separated by a common language? – Cognitive Edge (cognitive-edge.com)

[8] Snowden, Dave. Blog post. Link copied 2022-01-06.
Twelvetide 20:11 Coherent to what? – The Cynefin™ Co

[9] Snowden, Dave. Blog post. Link copied 2021-08-04.
Cutting through a weave destroys it – Cognitive Edge (cognitive-edge.com)

[10] Snowden, Dave. Blog post. Link copied 2020-12-12.
The dispositional state – Cognitive Edge (cognitive-edge.com)

[11] Snowden, Dave. Blog post. Link copied 2020-12-12.
Power laws & abductive research – Cognitive Edge (cognitive-edge.com)

[12] Snowden, Dave. Blog post. Link copied 2021-08-02.
Returning to constraints – Cognitive Edge (cognitive-edge.com)

[13] Snowden, Dave. Blog post. Link copied 2022-01-05.
Dave Snowden states: “Treating everything rationally will take a lot of energy both individually and collective.”. This statement is of course correct, but we first need to be systematic and find out where we can be rational or not, where the SPPA method will sort this out, see this coming blog post for more information. If we not do that, we only have “a mess – a system of problems”, as Ackoff stated.
Twelvetide 21:02 mapping habits – The Cynefin™ Co

[14] Wikipedia. Root-cause analysis. Link copied 2021-09-05.
Root-cause analysis – Wikipedia

[15] Snowden, Dave. Blog post. Link copied 2021-07-20.
Yes but… (and the Isaiah moment is still with us) – Cognitive Edge (cognitive-edge.com)

[16] Snowden, Dave. Blog post. Link copied 2021-08-11.
Root ’cause’ & complexity – Cognitive Edge (cognitive-edge.com)

[17] Snowden, Dave. Blog post. Link copied 2021-07-06.
The tyranny of the explicit – Cognitive Edge (cognitive-edge.com)

[18] Merriam-Webster. Unobjective. Link copied 2021-10-03
Unobjective | Definition of Unobjective by Merriam-Webster


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