Monday, July 18, 2005

Words wiggle

Have you ever noticed how words we use in organizations can seem to wiggle? That is, we both say things using much the same words, while we each mean something significantly different?

I was reminded of that again in an introductory system dynamics class I taught for a client last week. At the beginning of the week, I gave participants a word problem (miniature case study), and they and I interpreted it differently. Had that been real work and had we started without asking the right questions, we might have wasted significant effort going in different directions.

By the end of the week, we found ourselves in an informal discussion about a real issue they were facing, and we found ourselves standing at a whiteboard, sketching out fragments of a system dynamics stock and flow diagram to help make our points.

While there's certainly much more to system dynamics than a nice diagramming language, that language helped keep us on track so that, even as we took a broad view of the problem at hand, we knew what each other was talking about, and we didn't lose focus. Those sound like important attributes of productive business discussions.

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