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The Heretic's Guide To Best Practices: The Reality of Managing Complex Problems in Organisations Paperback – December 2, 2011
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From the Author
Why do some projects end up like domestic disputes, yet others that are infinitely more complicated succeed, and thus push the boundaries of what humanity is capable of? Can we learn something about what makes successful projects by focussing on (seemingly) trivial matters such as who does the dishes after dinner or who holds the remote control while watching TV? We believe so. Our book justifies this claim, and provides rigorous, field-tested ways to tackle such social complexity in organisations and projects.
We assert that the number one reason organisational initiatives fail is because they attempt to implement solutions without first developing a shared (or common) understanding of the problem. This leads to chaos, confusion and unhappy stakeholders. Yet even when these symptoms are recognised, the solutions that are applied generally hinder rather than help. Whilst there is substantial published research that offers insights and answers as to why this happens only truly nerdy people ever bother to read it. Consequently there is a gap between professional practice and research.
We've studied the work of many academics who have recognised and written about this. The problem is that these works challenge many widely accepted managerial practices. As a result these ideas have been rejected, ignored or considered outright heretical, and thus languish (largely unread) in journals.
We love heretical ideas - particularly when they support conclusions we have reached through our professional experiences. However we like readability even more - interesting ideas are no good if they can only be understood by PhDs. We believe such insights are best conveyed through stories and analogies that people can relate to and so we have written this book in an accessible, relaxed and conversational style.
From the Back Cover
"Hugely enjoyable, deeply reflective, and intensely practical. This book is about weaving human artistry and improvisation, with appropriate methods and technologies, in order to pool collective intelligence and wisdom under pressure." - Simon Buckingham Shum, Knowledge Media Institute, The Open University, UK
"This is a terrific piece of work: important, insightful, and very entertaining. Culmsee and Awati have produced a refreshing take on the problems that plague organisations... If you're trying deal with wicked problems in your organisation, then drop everything read this book." - Tim Van Gelder, Principal Consultant, Austhink Consulting
Top Customer Reviews
The authors state, "A key factor that mainstream management ignores is that organizations consist of people, and that the smooth functioning of organizations depends critically on the commitments people make to each other. People will genuinely commit only to things they truly believe in. Consequently they have to be convinced of what they are committing to." Within organizations, communication is generally seen as a one-way push of information to employees. The main point of the book however, is that communication plays a deeper, less appreciated role in organizations: building shared understanding and commitment to action via collective deliberation - not a one way push of information.
Why is collective deliberation important? The authors argue individuals or groups can commit to something only after they understand it and feel that their contributions have been taken seriously. Collective deliberation is needed because organizational initiatives are collective efforts - and shared understanding and commitment to action must precede such efforts.
This book will give you the tools to explain what needs to change to get your projects moving in the right direction, to make your professional life more fulfilling, and how to go about changing the "way we do things around here" mentality. If you are happy with the status quo of your day-to-day professional life, this book isn't for you. If you know there has to be a better way to work than what you are currently experiencing, and want to learn how to make positive change, then this book needs to be in your possession.
The paradigm shift at the heart of part one: rather than "cookie cutter" approaches that are SPOZED to "work for all" (but never do!) we can work collaboratively to create custom solutions based on real participation from everyone involved. (Old-timers may remember that this is what the field of Organization Development once did, before being taken over by the "change management" corporate consultancies...) Culmsee and Awati make a brilliant case for this; a deceptively folksy intro, full of Dilbert and Aussie humor, segues into an in-depth exploration of the various sources of cognitive bias, a fascinating debunking of the PERT myth, and a close-up look at the challenges of moving from a bureaucratic to a post-bureaucratic organization...all building up to a whiz-bang weaving together of Rittel, Habermas, Ostrom, Winnicott, and Heifetz, as they articulate the need for creating "holding environments" that build adaptive capacity.
But wait, folks... that's just the preamble! : WHAT'S NEW HERE, is the high-tech support for taking real collaboration to scale: part two explores HOW we can create "holding environments" for building adaptive capacity, by using visual mapping practices, AND ALSO, by addressing issues of power. Again, no need to read all of this in order... if, after two chapters on visual reasoning, IBIS, and argumentation-based rationale, the esoteric comparisons of different problem-structuring methods in chapter 9 are feeling a bit too heady at the moment, SKIP RIGHT AHEAD, and by all means, DON'T MISS the last chapter of this section and the brilliant case study from the construction industry, of how to build collaboration into systems by addressing issues of power. (I can't tell you how many conversations I've been in among OD professionals, where everyone is lamenting how this is one of the most under-adressed issues in our field.. so PLEASE, don't miss this chapter!!!! )
Well, this brings us to the third and final section of the book, which as I mentioned earlier is chock-full of more juicy case studies. As I said, this is (at least) three books in one... three EXTREMELY WORTHWHILE books in one... not just for those of us who are working to help the emergence of shared understanding in organizations, but also, maybe especially, for those of us who are working to help the emergence of shared understanding among multiple stakeholder groups, facing wicked issues. Given everything that is happening in the world today, I can't think of a more timely or more useful message.
p.s. In re-reading my review, I realized I didn't say much about "agile". Here it is, in a nutshell: the ground-breaking collaborative "problem-dissolving" methodology that Culmsee and Awati describe, and use with great success in their detailed case studies, is based on "welcoming initial solutions" (i.e., prototypes), in a highly effective way. Thus the strong parallels with Agile, where rapid prototyping is a key feature. Both systems, Agile project management and Dialogue Mapping, thus feature a rapid, non-linear oscillation between the "problem space" and the "solution space" -- and both methods are highly effective for generating practical creativity in group settings. Make sense? For more... read the book!
With their unique style and deep understanding of systems project success and failure, they bring some lesser-known approaches and tools to bear that will help you to truly become a better business analyst or project manager. The best part is that they have taken some really arcane, sleep-inducing academic work and made it understandable and consumable by us front-liners who are just trying to get our jobs done.