Monday, January 30, 2006

Who creates your most important challenges?

Last fall, Robert Samuelson made a good, offhand comment in Inflation: Why It's Not 'That '70s Show':


... we confuse a rise in our "cost of living" with the onset of higher inflation. Although the two concepts are related, they're not identical.

... your cost of living can go up if you decide a decent life requires more stuff. "Luxuries" become "necessities." In 1970, 20 percent of Americans saw a second family car as a necessity; by 2000 that number was 59 percent, reports Alain de Botton in Across the Board magazine.

The high inflation of the 1970s was mostly self-inflicted.


Samuelson goes on to list Fed policy as the major factor in creating inflation.

In my mind, the essence of both statements is not about inflation; it's that Pogo may have been right or, as system dynamicists would claim, endogenous (i.e., internally generated) causes are often key (see section 5.1 of Jay Forrester's System Dynamics and the Lessons of 35 Years or "The Endogenous Origin of Cause" in Mohammed Saleh's The Hard Core of the System Dynamics Research Programme).

When I first began to think about that, I found it depressing: "Am I to blame for everything that goes wrong around me?" Then I began to see that philosophy as a hopeful statement: if most challenges are endogenous, then we should be able to, by changing something we do, improve our situations. We and our companies are not totally dependent on suffering with the ills others have inflicted on us; we can learn and get better through actions we initiate. The way we react to situations we encounter is more important than those situations themselves.

Finding and understanding how we're creating our own challenges becomes key, and it's helpful if we pick useful lenses for examining our situations. How are you looking at your business situations? What lenses are you using? How do you know if they're serving you well? That's what sense-making is all about.

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