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Silos and systems thinking

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Last week, writing about General Motors caused me to reflect a bit more on why silos exist in organizations, and why they are so difficult to break down. Certainly, one of the reasons the silos are so deeply entrenched is that the structures and processes of the “Industrial Corporation” that evolved over a period of about 100 years are still prevalent in many companies. Today, as our economies move steadily forward into Information Age and beyond, most corporations understand the need to change. At the same time, their long-standing mindsets and traditions continue to resist.  As we will see later in this post, GM is far from an isolated case … Continue reading

The failure of systems thinking at General Motors

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In the past few weeks, since preparing my remarks for the Harvard class on systems thinking, I have been reflecting on why many large organizations don’t seem able to do it. Often, when I read in the news or listen to tales of corporate dysfunction, I am left thinking that a good dose of big picture thinking might have prevented or solved the problem.  In a surprising number of cases, the central issue seems to be tunnel vision, what we often refer to as silo mentalities, in large organizations. As such, these days I have been busy thinking about questions of the following nature: Just where do the silo mindsets that limit … Continue reading

Connecting systems thinking and leadership

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Here is a concept that has become part of my worldview: Whatever broadens our vision about leadership, influence and how organizations work makes us more aware as managers, and better as systems thinkers.  Looking back, I see a rich learning experience that I perhaps did not fully appreciate when I worked at Atari in 1982-1983. In fact, my thinking about how organizations work evolved a good deal during this time.  As I discussed in the last post, it was at Atari that I began to observe first-hand the importance of seeing outside one’s silo, of learning to be a big picture thinker with a conceptual overview of one’s world. Since that time, … Continue reading

More thoughts on systems thinking, based on my Atari experience

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I have often said or written that we live life moving forward but understand it looking backward. As I wrote briefly last week, my time at Atari in the early 1980s taught me a great deal about the importance of systems thinking in organizations. Of course, I did not know this term at the time, and I believe the expression did not even exist back then. But, years later I “connected the dots”, as Steve Jobs would say, and I have come to realize how valuable the lessons of this time were for me.  As I mentioned before, my specific function at Atari Home Computers was to organize and run … Continue reading

Systems thinking for today’s workers and organizations

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As I wrote last time, it was great fun to go to Harvard and speak to a class on systems thinking, about my views on how we might connect this concept to leadership and personal storytelling. This week and next, I will put some of my thoughts down here.  Since I have no formal training in the field, and since for the first hour of class I watched the students present models to explain a complex problem in terms of causal loops, balancing precesses, or leverage points in a system, I decided to look up a few formal definitions of exactly what “systems thinking” entails.  Here is one that made some sense to … Continue reading

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