Friday, January 18, 2008

Looking from the outside in...

One of the things that doing enough system dynamics work teaches one is the benefit of perspective. Sometimes when you're in the middle of something, it's hard to see the forest for the trees. Standing back a ways and, just for a moment, trying to drop any emotions that are tied up in one's current situation can give one better insights.

That's what system dynamics modeling can often do: change a situation in which you're an intimate part to a situation you and your colleagues can look at with a bit of perspective. It also gives you the ability to test ideas on the model before you test them on the real situation.

When we can't get that perspective ourselves, either because of time limitations or because we can't figure out how to do it successfully, reading or hearing what others say about us can sometimes provide us similar perspective. Sure, those outsiders may not understand our situation as well as we do, at least in the details, but they may help us find a better perspective into which to place our more detailed understanding.

If you live and work in the USA, you've no doubt read much about our economic situation recently. I've suggested before that it's healthy to see how others see us. Recently Henrik Müller of the German business magazine manager magazin posted an article entitled Amerika steht mit dem Rücken zur Wand ("America stands with its back to the wall"), a follow-up to an earlier and more data-filled Nach der Orgie ("After the Orgy"). If you read German, or if Google Language Tools suffices, I encourage you to read these articles. He may not be correct in all his assessments, but he may give a better perspective than the headlines in the nightly news about sub-prime mortgages, foreclosures, and other problems. Certainly his earlier article does something I like to see: he gives graphs of at least some key data over a five-decade span, which is more useful for seeing patterns and gaining perspective than merely seeing what has happened this century.

How do your mental models compare with his? What are you doing in your company to adapt? What should you be doing?

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