Self-Preserving Geese and Humans

Clarke Ching on the TOC Thinkers blog has republished an article by Tony Rizzo. Rizzo takes us through a beautiful explanation of how we adapt to the contexts we exist in, and how those adaptations can be seen in how we behave. Just like we can learn about the rules of flying by observing how geese fly in v-formations, Rizzo explains, we can learn about the rules of an organization by watching how people in it behave. It’s a nice analogy. We behave like we do for a reason, and that reason is not to be found only within ourselves, but in the systems we live in.

I like to invoke systems thinker Russell Ackoff’s advice when it comes to observing behavior: whenever you observe something that seems remarkable, incomprehensible or just plain weird to you, ask yourself what would have to be true for that behavior to be useful to the person exhibiting it. That’s how you can start building understanding for the other person’s reality.

Of course, the reasons you come up with are only your wild speculations, so to really do something useful, you need to go ahead and follow the advice of another systems thinker, Jerry Weinberg: you need to check it out. You need to go ahead and describe your observations and how you interpret them to the one you observed, and ask if you are correct. Why, well, many things can go wrong when observing, so let’s just say you need some error correction, just to be safe. Learn more about Virginia Satir’s interaction model for a way to observe your own observations and interactions.

Published by Tobias Fors

I'm a software management consultant. I help other people succeed with software development. In my work, I help teams and organizations be more effective and ship software.

2 replies on “Self-Preserving Geese and Humans”

  1. As with most elegant models, it comes with a challenge. Pulling cars through the final assembly line is typical to businesses applying “build to order” like volvocars. But how far should you pull? Paintshop? Well, changing color in the paint station costs leadtime. Back on the weldingshop? Switching order-by-order is even expensive in terms of lead time. Where is the borderline between production planning for batch production (part production logistics) and order sequencing for pull production? And how do these cocepts integrate? Should “by-sell with call-offs” be used between paintshop and weldingshop or between final assembly and paintshop? Finding the ballance between fault tollerant and dynamic pull and cost-effective and optimizable push is the success factor!

  2. Hi Johan, I’m not sure I understand how your comment relates to the post. By “elegant models”, do you mean the model that says that we can learn about the rules of an organization by looking at how people behave?

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