Today I had an interesting conversation on linkedin about SystemsThinking. We all agreed that trying to convert a group of people into something they are not is an uphill struggle and it is far better to identify what they are good at and make maximum use of this. It reminded me acutely of a blog I wrote back in 2011 when I was steeped in business change issues and I used the example of the five monkeys parable to demonstrate the challenges of bringing about cultural change.
Culture is a peculiar thing and it is sometimes extraordinary just how long monkeys can continue to misbehave before decent people eventually intervene. Even the smartest and the strongest sometimes doubt themselves just enough to hope someone else moves first. Hitler was a case in point, there was only a very small hard core who supported him because they were growing very rich as a result of it, yet he wielded phenomenal power over a large portion of the globe for a long time before eventually they all turned on him.
Another aspect of systems thinking that we all agree on is simply this: For all their flaws: systems; like countries; faiths; organisations and the like survive because sooner, or later they do what it takes to survive.
The monkeys eventually go away and slow as it can sometimes appear, the system rights itself because it must in order to survive. Should we give it a push? of course we should, but discretion and intelligence are key, when the balance is tipped, or a few bananas distributed many of the monkeys turn back into humans. In the software world we rarely try to rebuild from the ground up, instead we tackle the big wins and keep on plugging on.
A few months ago I wrote a series entitled Lernaean Hydra, your time is up. This blog discusses a large change programme that was so poorly put together it reminded me of the multi-headed mythical beast who grew replacement heads each time one was cut off. To read more about the mathematical solution check this math challenge from Leicester University.
The ultimate fate of non-systems thinking is, it would seem, to find that your every effort creates at least twice as many problems, while trying to change all at once is, we agreed, futile. Perhaps the commercial solution to the five monkeys problem was after all, to open a zoo.
My favourite solution to the monkey problem is to introduce a tough monkey and when he eats the banana in spite of them, reward not just him but all the others. Keep doing this and in a short time the monkeys will protect any of their pals who approaches the banana in the centre. If you want some hints about broken programmes read Lernaean Hydra, your time is up.
The hydra problem is more one of getting to the root before taking action, the monkey problem is about trusting the human will to survive and prosper and introducing reward and support n the right places .
Fear is natural. It drove some of the greatest achievers including heavyweight boxers. Fear of failure cripples people. Fear of change is probably the most irrational of all and ultra destructive. Fear of extinction eventually works when nothing else has.