Believe it or not, it hasn’t been that long since organizational science looked to engineering for guidance in managing change. Organizations were studied like machines that could be optimized by improving the performance of the components—people.
It turned out that in reality organizations are more like biological systems, with complex interdependencies that must be understood to effectively navigate change and achieve collective goals. If you want to truly understand the behavior of an organization—a human system, because it is made up of humans—it’s not the performance of the individual parts that matters the most. In a system where there are interdependencies (like an organization), optimizing the parts separately will not necessarily improve the performance of the whole. What you want to look for is how the relationships between parts lead to patterns that arise across the network.
Seeing and recognizing the nature of these links allows people like our most recent guest, Dr. Angela Montgomery, to model and design change scenarios that help organizations adapt and evolve toward a unified goal. “Interdependencies are the main feature of our complex reality,” Dr. Montgomery wrote in her blog at Intelligent Management, a firm she co-founded with her partners Dr. Domenico Lepore and Dr. Giovanni Siepe. Their firm supports those who seek systemic change in their operations to manage complexity and continuously improve. Intelligent Management also provides tools and education to help organizations see, think, and act systemically in order to thrive in complex environments.
This requires nothing short of a new way of thinking about how things work. Many business schools and universities are organized in a siloed, hierarchical manner, Montgomery said, and continue to perpetuate a management model that looks more like inputs and outputs of 19th century factories than a dynamic human system. So, where do leaders and managers go to find the tools for the kind of sophisticated management challenges they’re coming up against?
“Our current understanding of systems, which is coming from neuroscience and biology, is taking us to a new level of awareness,” Montgomery said in her interview with The HumanCurrent. “Today we need a much more sophisticated type of organization that gives space for humans to be humans inside a human system.”
Being able to push past our mental models and employ a more “joined-up” way of thinking is the first step to getting to the bottom of what’s really going on.
Intelligent Management, as a method, means designing organizations that overcome the problems of being artificially divided into silos, and that overcome the problems of a traditional hierarchy, which doesn’t allow us to perform at our full collective human potential.
In our global society, political and ideological polarization have emerged from systemic inequality, and continue to create systemic effects that build to the level of crisis, stunting the growth of information and stifling cooperation and innovation. Helping people, especially leaders, to see what’s really going on is going to require more than theories, because there is no universally accepted method for navigating the space of unintended consequences that complexity produces. It’s a design challenge, and we have to prototype the solutions.
Montgomery helped to develop one of those prototypes. She became one of the founding partners of SocialNation, a platform that allows people to collaborate on projects based on verified identity. The project started as part of a political movement, just a group of citizens fed up with corruption and inefficient bureaucracy. SocialNation provides ways of interacting beyond social networks like Facebook in attempt to reflect our true lives on the Internet. It allows users to have more control over their personal data in a way that is useful for them, secure and doesn’t allow others to manipulate it.
Montgomery also recently authored a business novel about how to apply the Theory of Constraints to management. It is titled, The Human Constraint, and was inspired by the events of the 2008 financial crash. It points toward a new kind of economics—“a sustainable economy that we can produce if we are capable of changing our thinking and adopting a more systemic approach.” The book draws heavily on the work of influential management theorists, but it also illustrates how firms can put the theories into play.
In founding their firm in Milan in the 1990s, Montgomery's partner and husband, Dr. Domenico Lepore, was inspired by the work of W. Edward Deming, the founding father of the quality movement. The quality movement was an ethical approach to optimizing management systems, and it applied a complete philosophy to organizations. While the couple were working in Milan, an entrepreneurial hotspot, they were introduced to Eliyahu Goldratt, the author of The Theory of Constraints, and Oded Cohen, one of his closest associates. The Theory of Constraints states that within an organization’s many interdependencies, you can find one weak spot that’s limiting the performance of the system, like a bottleneck. This is called a constraint, and by identifying and leveraging this constraint you can increase the performance of any system or organization. To illustrate this, Goldratt developed a set of systemic thinking tools that help individuals implement this type of thinking in practical ways.
Lepore saw that by combining Goldratt’s theory with Deming’s quality approach to management, they could have an even more effective methodology for helping companies unleash their potential. The result is a management methodology they have coined the "Decalogue Management Methodology", because it has ten steps, and this whole new approach to working with organizations in a systemic way is Intelligent Management's specialty.