The continuation of filling in the Prefilled Problem Picture Analysis Map – part 10/10 – We have the wrong culture; values and mindset

In today’s blog post we will start to look into another common symptom; “We have the wrong culture; values and mindset”.

From Merriam-Webster dictionary [1] we get this appropriate definition of culture regarding organisations; “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization”, where attitudes and mindset have this correlation; mindset: “a particular way of thinking: a person’s attitude or set of opinions about something” [2], or “The established set of attitudes held by someone.” [3]. Dave Snowden states this about mindset; “You can’t change people’s mindset; you can change their interactions…” [4]. But we can also add the following; the only way to get these wanted interactions, we can only change our system to a well-functioning one.

We also have our ability as humans to manage different cultures, by shifting identity, and Dave Snowden states; “When we start to think through the implications of identity everything changes. What now matters is the context, our ability to manage the context and the way individuals/teams interact with each other and the context.” [5].

The culture in our organisation is our shared view of the organisation; the innumerable symptoms of our system and the principles it is made from. Or as Dave Snowden states; “Culture arises from actions in the world, ways of doing things which may never be articulated, and which may not be capable of articulation.  In effect culture is always complex, never complicated.  So, it follows that cultural change is an evolutionary process from the present, not an idealised future state design.

So, the most singularly stupid meaningless thing you can ever do is to define what culture you want.  At best it’s a set of platitudes, at worst its a set of pious platitudes that trigger negative and hostile accusations of hypocrisy from your employees and customers alike.  Culture is an emergent property of interactions over time…” [6].

This means that if we want to change our culture, we need to change our system so we get another shared view.  Changing the system, can also be seen as changing the constraints, as Dave Snowden continues; “Relaxing and increasing constraints is one of the main tools of cultural change and it’s a dynamic one, based on managing in the present not to some idealised future.” [6].

And since we also know the root causes (our negated principles) to the problems within our organisation, we can with help of our Prefilled Problem Picture Analysis Map, see this blog post for more information, dissolve the root causes and achieve, not only a more efficient way of working, but also flourishing. The reason is that since the principles are also built on our evolutionary prerequisites as a specie, it means that the more root causes we dissolve, the better also our culture will get, since the culture is also a symptom of the way we are working; what we do, according to Shook [7] and Schein [8], the New Model arrow in their triangles. Note that since the organisation is complex, everything within it, is interwoven, so the layers in the triangles must only be considered as giving structure to the depiction.

This means that if we do not dissolve the problems and the root causes, we will not give our people the best evolutionary prerequisites for doing their work, which in the long run will affect them negatively. Which also means that we will have the symptom “We have the wrong culture; values and mindset” many times far away from the root cause(s), since it depends on all other symptoms of our system, when we do not fulfil our set of principles.

Therefore this symptom will be like an umbrella over the whole organisation, and the first symptom we will get, when asking why on our problem description “Our product development is too slow, too expensive and delivers the wrong products”, see this blog post for more information. This symptom depends on so many other symptoms, that it is not only impossible to explain, it will of course also be impossible to fix directly as well, since it is a symptom. The only thing we can do is to dissolve its root cause(s) to make our organisation flourish, or put in another way; give the evolutionary prerequisites for our people in our organisation to flourish.

And since our way of working in the organisation depends on our principles, which is our system, it means the following:

The system beats strategy every time.

So, if our strategical change requires a higher fulfilment of the organisational principles than our system (organization) actually is living up to, the new strategy will never work as intended. Instead, a transformation needs to be done, to fulfil the organizational principles that the strategical change requires for its successful effectuation.

If our people feel an open-minded atmosphere, we most probably got most of our principles right in our organisation, which allows; challenging status quo, disputing, networking, safe-to-fail experiments, no blame for trying, respect for diversity/different personalities from different domains. And our people’s feeling is what counts, not any notes on the walls, emails, homepage with value statements stating that in this company we have an open-minded atmosphere, or whatever values, mindset or culture that are claimed.

As soon as you state your values, you have lost them.

This is a 101-anthropology saying that Dave Snowden often refers to [9], since then the values can be gamed. An organisation following our set of principles does not need to state any values. The good values will come automatically, since they are the result, the symptoms of a good system that follows our evolutionary prerequisites for solving the problems needed to meet the market in a flourishing way.

But, when people do not feel the open-minded atmosphere; the trust, engagement, motivation, creativity, happiness etc. will go down, which frankly should not be a surprise at all. Especially creativity will go down as a result, if it is not possible to make mistakes, when the rules and processes always need to be followed, no matter how bad they are. This in turn will generate less innovations, since few people want to be punished, then it is better to follow the processes exactly.

We also need to be careful with the usage of the terms fixed and growth mindset, since these depends on context. No one of them can be stated as better than the other, even if growth mindset feels like the right one. What we can see in many organizations nowadays, which has connections to mindset, is that power when employing people is moved from the managers hiring, to HR. This is high risk for organizations doing product(/system) development, but not at the same magnitude for production/service organizations! Why? Here is a deep-dive:
We start with stating that employing people from different domains gives new thinking and new solutions to a company. But we always need to be vigilant when there at the same time is a context switch, from a Clear context (non-complex) to a Complex context. Examples of organizations that has made this switch are, for example; Finance, Bank & Insurance and governments that has been used to buy their IT systems and maybe do the operations by themselves, and now instead are developing the IT systems themselves. Product development is a Complex context, which requires deep understanding of wholeness and how to reduce the complexity, which is not required in a Clear context like production/service. The mindset discussions today are therefore on a very dangerous path for big product development organizations, especially when doing software, since it has started to focus on mindset and not skill, competence and experience. The thinking is that mindset cannot be learnt/changed, but skill, competence and experience can. A Clear context is non-complex, which also means that the root causes when having problems, have solutions that are easy to find and understand. But, the solutions in a Clear context do not map and cannot be transformed to solving problems in a Complex context. We need to remind ourselves that HR itself always has been, and always will be a Clear context not matter organization, so the HR people themselves do not understand a Complex context. This means that the HR people will easier connect to the mindset of the people from a Clear context at the interviews, which means that skills, competence and experience are marginalized and therefore filtered. Which in turn means that the managers hiring will not see all candidates, and the people with the wrong qualifications are hired. This is already happening, and occurs when hiring people at leading positions, since leaders are administrative staff, not actually doing the job. For engineers, developers, etc., it is obvious that qualifications matter, since otherwise the work want get done, mindset is only secondary choice when choosing between two equal qualified candidates. But, as a leader, coming from a Clear context, the problem-solving abilities are not the right ones for a Complex context. As we understand, this generates tremendous problems for the staff having the problems, since the leader’s solutions want do the job to fix the problems. And when not listening to their staff, the problems will not go away, and the way of working will remain deficient. Instead, these managers will promote the staff with the same thinking as themselves, saying yes to everything the managers say (confirmation bias), making the problems to remain. Having leading people responsible for a way of working, they do not understand, including not understanding how to fix when having problems within it, will simply not make a flourishing organization with thriving people.

And once again a warning about blaming the variability, which has been brought up for other areas in several earlier blog posts, especially about queues in Agile development in this series of blog posts. Of course, our people are different persons, not one of them are the same. They have different; gender, culture, personality, etc., and that is a strength within any organisation. But, when people feel unmotivated, unhappy, frustrated, etc., many times variability is blamed instead of taking care of the root causes to a bad system. We already know that our people are different persons, so we can never ever blame our people for problems within the organisation. Instead, a too low fulfilment of our set of principles violates our evolutionary prerequisites, and will consequently make a non-flourishing organisation, which can never ever be blamed on variability.

The symptom “We have the wrong culture; values and mindset” is, as stated above, directly under our problem description and it will look like this in our Prefilled Problem Picture Analysis Map:

This was all for today’s blog post, and also the last blog post in this series about continuing to fill in our Prefilled Problem Picture Analysis Map.

In the next blog post, we will talk about our ability as humans to solve problems, which has been the most prominent ability for survival through the evolution, and that is really no difference to the need of today’s organisations to please the market. And in the second next blog post, we will have the presentation of the total Prefilled Problem Picture Analysis Map. C u soon.

Next “chapter” according to the reading proposal tree is the blog post about our finalised Prefilled Problem Picture Analysis Map.


[1] Merriam-Webster online dictionary; culture
Link copied 2018-11-28.

[2] Merriam-Webster online dictionary; mind-set
Link copied 2018-11-28.

[3] Oxford online dictionary; mindset
Link copied 2018-11-30.

[4] Snowden, Dave. Link copied 2018-04-15., at 02:30 minutes.

[5] Snowden, Dave. Link copied 2018-12-02.

[6] Snowden, Dave. Link copied 2018-12-02.

[7] Shook, John Y, “Shook’s triangle, figure page 66, MIT Sloan Management Review winter 2010”. Link copied 2018-11-28:

[8] Schein, Edgar, “Schein’s triangle, figure page 66, MIT Sloan Management Review winter 2010”. Link copied 2018-11-28:

[9] Snowden, Dave. Links copied 2018-11-30 and 2018-08-11.
or Design as Managed Serendipity / Dave Snowden / Intersection17, at 17:41 minutes.

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