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You can’t fix what you don’t understand

W. Edwards Deming, the American behind the success of the Japanese motor industry coined the following phrase: “If you cannot describe what you’re doing in terms of process, you don’t know what you’re doing.” I think he’s spot on, so let me clarify my position.

The simple fact that we manage to get up and get dressed every morning doesn’t mean that we know what we’re doing. I challenge you to put it to the test. Take pen and paper right now and write out every single step you take from being woken up by the alarm clock to getting into your car and off to work. Go ahead, I’ll wait … Have you got that? Now here’s the fun part; tomorrow morning I want you to take this roadmap and follow the process step-by-step to see how it differs from your daily routine. That’ll tell you how well you know what you’re doing!

 This “Knowing-Doing Gap” applies to many areas of our lives. For example, the fact that we operate a car does not imply that we know how to maintain or repair it ourselves. Or, the fact that someone can decipher your medical stats and interpret your lab-reports does not imply s/he is qualified to perform any invasive procedures on you, right? The same applies to executives. No matter their greatness in running the day-to-day business, changing the business to accommodate growth or adapting it to economic and market challenges is a different ball game altogether.

 I hate to be the bearer of bad news but it’s been my experience that many executives don’t know, for example, the difference between the Sales-Process and the Sales-Department. Therefore, you can’t fix what you don’t understand. Some believe otherwise but sooner or later, they’ll catch up on their education. To this day, I know this to be true because as a seven-year old, playing with my electric model train I thought I had electricity all figured out until I held in my little hands the small gauge wires attached to a 12 volt light bulb and inserting them into the 220volt wall outlet. That’s how I found out how much I knew about electricity. That outlet at my parents home is still black …

 The problem lies in our education. We follow Newtonian mechanics that says that the universe is a machine and in order to understand its complexity, we should take it apart and study the pieces. Therefore, every formal education creates specialists and only few people understand how the pieces fit together; how one piece is related or even interdependent upon another piece. Consequently many experts advise business leaders by PRE-scribing a generic course of action. There’s nothing authentic about performing someone else’s tricks, also known as “Best-Practices”. Besides, “putting the pedal to the metal” is a rather inaccurate way of “explaining” how a car accelerates. What are you going to do when you step on it and nothing happens?

 I advocate DES-cribing what functions the organization performs; taking inventory of the departments, systems and tools and then analyzing their behavior in relationship to each other. I firmly believe that executives will then be able to discover how to operate and change their organization themselves. Gaining insight into the relationships between means & ends and cause & effect allows for better decisions, and creating Authentic Solutions™ that differentiate your organization from the rest. And that’s how you survive; by developing a sustainable competitive advantage. You should know that Organizational Dynamics is something that can be learned. It doesn’t happen by osmosis; you need to take action or accept the consequences. I’ll leave you with another quote coined by W. Edwards Deming: “Learning is not compulsory, neither is survival.” Contact me if you cannot explain the difference between the Sales-Process and the Sales-Department; I’ll be happy to oblige.

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