A journey through five words

words-quoteIf you are a systems thinking ‘Deming disciple’ working in Command-and-Control land then your constant expressing of (what many of your ‘leaders’ think of as) unconventional thinking may get you a bad name!

…and those choosing to see you in this negative light may use all sorts of words aimed ‘at’ you.

Perhaps the first word used is that you are ‘cynical’.

Owch!

I had a rather wonderful comedy discussion with a fellow, ahem, ‘cynic’ on this and we found ourselves going on a journey through five words.

So, for all you fellow people ‘getting a bad name for yourselves’1 out there…here’s the journey, featuring useful definitions from the wonderful Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

Start here: The ‘cynical’ label

cynicOkay, you cynic….but are you?

1. “Cynical:  believing that people are motivated purely by self-interest; distrustful of human sincerity or integrity.

This definition easily shows that its usage ‘aimed at’ us is so wide of the mark that it’s easily debunked.

THE point of nearly everything that people like ‘us’ put forward  is that it ISN’T about heroes or bad people, it’s about the bad system that people are forced to operate within. In fact, in quite the opposite direction, our thinking is often accused of being too sympathetic of people. But we’re okay with that (and so was McGregor).

Further, the use of the cynical label is rather hypocritical when used by Command-and-Controllers2.

If we successfully get the “we aren’t actually cynics” point across then a revision is thrown at us:

“Okay, ‘cynic’ is perhaps not fair…but you are ‘sceptical’!”

scepticErm, I’ll have to think about that one…

2. “Sceptical: Not easily convinced; having doubts or reservations.

Yes, I can live with being sceptical (as should every scientist)…but it’s not complete.

Most organisations should actually see scepticism (as properly defined) as a highly desirable quality, and not load the word with the usual negative connotations. We should be experimenting, not blithely implementing something we are copying from elsewhere. And those experiments should be robust, with new learning arising (whether as predicted or not).

In contrast, bucket loads of money are wasted by ‘believers’ rushing around shoving in the next fad or fashion, as directed by the current ‘in vogue’ management gurus. A bit more (healthy) scepticism could do wonders for meaningful progress!

Why isn’t the ‘sceptical’ label complete? Well, being sceptical might suggest being deliberately awkward – perhaps sitting around with a teacher’s ‘red pen’ to tear things apart – and thereby requiring everyone around ‘us’ to do all the creative thinking.

Just being sceptical doesn’t require much work…and this narrow label isn’t acceptable as a descriptor of my reality – I do a hell of a lot of thinking! (and if you are a reader of this blog then I expect you do too).

“Righto – I ‘get’ your scepticism. How about ‘critical’? Surely you’d agree with that!”

criticLet me critique that label for a moment…

3. “Critical: Expressing or involving an analysis of the merits and faults of a work.”

Yep, getting much warmer!

People like ‘us’ are very critical. We (aim to) look:

  • for data, for evidence…to work with facts rather than opinions;
  • from multiple angles…to identify a range of world views, and (importantly) why these are held;
  • at the wider picture…to see the bigger system that the problematic situation sits within
  • at the dynamics of the situation…to see what has happened (including the variation within), and may happen over time.
  • …and on and on.

To which a Command-and-Control manager might respond:

“Blimey! Why would you work so hard…it must send you crazy! Why can’t you just accept what you are being told and run with it – you’d find it soooo much easier.”

And this nicely turns to…

The actual word that could best label us:

 passionate4. “Passionate: Having, showing, or caused by strong feelings or beliefs”

Yep, we are seriously passionate about making our organisation:

  • A great place for everyone to work; and
  • A fantastic experience for our customers;

…which will create and sustain a highly successful organisation.

What’s not to like!

Just as a sense check, the opposite (antonym) of passionate is:

Apathetic: showing or feeling no interest, enthusiasm, or concern.”

I’m not sure that apathy is going to work out well for any organisation….I suppose that passion will trounce it every time.

But you said a journey of five words…and that’s only four!

delusionalOh yes, once my colleague and I thought we had finished our ‘labelling’ journey, we realised that nothing had actually changed. And so we turn to:

5. “Delusional: Holding idiosyncratic beliefs or impressions that are contradicted by reality”

If our passion fails to change ANYTHING but we continue on in the same way, then we can probably be labelled as delusional. 😦

So, if we want to avoid this label being accurately applied to us, we need to be clear as to:

five-words

I know that I am passionate about what I do…but I’d like to avoid being delusional.

Footnotes:

1. Getting a ‘bad name’: I have been provided with some ‘quiet career advice’ on this in the past (i.e. “stop pushing your crazy ideas – it’s rocking the boat!”)…and, oh, it made me laugh 🙂

2. Cynical: We can say that any management system using carrots and sticks ‘on’ their people (i.e. by incentivising their employees to behave in a certain way, to comply with their wishes) fits the cynical word rather too well:

“Behind incentive programs lies management’s patronising and cynical set of assumptions about workers….Managers imply that their workers are withholding a certain amount of effort, waiting for it to be bribed out of them.” (Scholtes)

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5 thoughts on “A journey through five words

  1. A term I sometimes get labelled with is ‘idealist’. I’ve looked it up in the dictionary and it’s defined as: ‘a person who is guided more by ideals than by practical considerations’.

    I think this related to the counter intuitive nature of systems thinking and the need for normative learning. If I’m taking a rational approach – even if it’s backed up by relevant data, case studies, personal experience, etc – command and control thinkers just can’t imagine it’s possible for a service to really improved that much. They also find it hard to believe that staff will do the right thing if you remove targets and give them greater autonomy. This is where they also tell me that I ‘don’t live in the real world’. This is why a normative approach is nearly always needed.

    I prefer the term ‘improvement enthusiast’. The latter word means: ‘a person who is very interested in a particular activity or subject’ and the former: ‘make or become better’.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve heard “You don’t live in the real world” or “You think everything should be rainbows and unicorns” or “We all have to work with what we have.” I certainly self identify as both passionate and idealistic. Lately I’ve been pushing more hard data to show I’m not just making stuff up. I was also recently given the advice by another Deming disciple to not pontificate. Its hard not too when you can plainly see what the problem is and no one else does or doesn’t seems to care or doesn’t think there’s anything that can be done about it. Despite all this, we don’t ever stop trying. What crazy fools we must be…

    Thanks for the post!

    Liked by 1 person

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