The financial crisis in 2008 wasn’t caused by greedy bankers. It was, at least in part caused because large organisations with many departments had little over view of what was happening throughout the organisation. Departments became tribes: tribes formed silos: no one knew what impact the actions they took to further their tribe’s objectives, would have on others within the organisation or outside.
Life in the world of work is ever more complex and we are being measured and are measuring far more – and quicker. We, as humans, are not designed to deal with this type of life. Our brains do not work that way. So we make our world fit to how our brains work – we cut things into discrete chunks, simplify wherever possible and make decisions based on what we know in the timescale that we have. We simplify our maps because we can’t do anything else in the time. But the map is not the territory, to use a well-known quote. And we have no mechanism or external force for keeping us aware of the implications of some of our actions.
Bankers, in general, are very bright people, with reasonable values and objectives. A relaxed regulatory system that did not keep evolving to cope with new financial products, and siloed organisations, caused most of the damage in 2008.
VW’s issue with rogue software probably wasn’t caused at board level or even close to board level. Some may well have thought it was good idea but had no concept of the marketing impact should that idea go wrong or the reputational or technical damage that could be caused. Steve Denning’s excellent article Volkswagen And Its Hidden Debts describes this very well.
Our limited maps of our world make us blind to the intersections of our journey with others. It’s very difficult to get a holistic view of how your actions impact on every aspect of other people’s world, or some awareness that this needs to be done.
Entrepreneurs are in general quite good at this, but they also have a very focused outlook, and can be blind to risk as they are naturally positive and optimistic – sometimes too much so. As a small business grows, the difficulties the owner has tend to multiply. If the owner wants the business to grow they think that they will need to be in all places at once. They don’t: they need enough systems, and people they trust. We’ve talked about this before in these videos on growth, outlining both the problems and some solutions.
We’ve also talked about the need for a generalist approach in business, whatever its size as there is a clear need to cross departments and disciplines to gain an understanding and trust between departments, which will help break down this silo effect. Again, the business owner should want to adopt the position of generalist. And as the business grows, the owner’s role will change so they are more able to move into a coaching and mentoring position rather than have to do department or line management. It is they, then, who are the keepers of the flame. They keep the core values of the business and its mission and communicate that to everybody. One can’t help feeling there’s been a failure in that area at VW.
You can use technology to simplify systems, which should allow people more time to think. And you can use it for information flow. But it cannot be used as a network tool with the unspoken hope that it is a panacea that will build trust between individuals so that they can come to rely upon each other. That needs face-to-face. There are two good blogs by Paul Zak and Nancy Dixon on the Drucker forum blog site on this very topic.