[...Note: Bob's report divided into sections by your host...]
This is a "trip report" for the recent Systems Thinking In Action (STIA)
forum in Boston that my colleague Jeanne Hazell and I just attended.
I realize that others have shared their insightful summaries of speaker's
messages with this mailing list before. We circulated this trip report
internally in IBM, and I thought it might also be of interest to some of
you, as additional "learning".
The best of the best (IMHO) are signified with an * bullet.
WHAT: "SYSTEMS THINKING IN ACTION CONFERENCE: BUILDING
ORGANIZATIONAL LEARNING INFRASTRUCTURES"
SPONSOR: Pegasus Communications
WHEN: Sept.18-20, 1995
WHERE: Boston, Marriott Copley Place Hotel
WHO: About 1200 attendees from business, government, education,
consulting, etc.... 7 IBMers - from Canada, U.S, Europe
1. Arie De Geus (former VP of Planning for Royal Dutch Shell, credited
with sparking the formation of the MIT/Senge Center For
Organizational Learning; advisor to Canadian and Dutch governments):
"INFRASTRUCTURE AND ITS IMPACT ON ORGANIZATIONAL SUCCESS"
* 4 SECRETS TO LONG TERM CORPORATE SURVIVAL:
Royal Dutch Shell commissioned a study of 40 large companies
that were >100 years old and still existed with their corporate
identity intact. They found 4 common characteristics:
1. They were very "financially conservative" - they knew the value
of money in hand
2. They were sensitive to the world around them - their leaders
were "outward looking"
3. They had a strong sense of "cohesion" and company identity -
employees knew what the company stood for, and were happy
to be identified with the company's value system
4. They were "tolerant of activities in the margin" - they
changed by making full use of decentralization, even though
they knew this was more wasteful of resources.
. All companies changed their company portfolio completely
at least once, but did it gradually/incrementally in response
to customer needs.
* Continuity was a mindset - they thought in terms of generations,
and a continuous flow of people through the company (a river
versus a puddle); leadership was stewardship while you were
temporarily in your position; encouraged job rotation.
* They viewed remuneration as a hygiene factor - the key was
helping to develop the full potential of individuals.
* Managing for long-term survival is very different from
managing for profit; profit is a means to survival, like
oxygen, but it is not WHY you exist.
* 3 CONDITIONS FOR ACCELERATED LEARNING IN "ORGANIZATIONS":
Royal Dutch Shell visited Allan Wilson, an evolutionary biologist,
to learn the essential factors that contribute to the rapid
transfer of learning in nature (among song birds ... or humans):
1. numerous, mobile individuals ... "flocking" without territorial
2. capacity for innovation ... smart
3. capacity to propagate their innovation ... language,
. e.g. In the 1930's,the entire population of Tit-mouse birds in
the UK quickly learned to pierce the aluminium seals of milk
bottles so they could drink the cream. Robins, however,
never learned, although they had also drunk the cream from
bottles that had been unsealed until then.
. Robins are territorial song birds the whole year,
so drive off other Robins who approach their territories.
. The Tit-mice, however, flock most of the year all over the UK
with other Tit-mice, so they were able to propagate their
MORAL: If you want to kill learning in groups, insist
people represent/defend their "territories"/departments,
and restrict mobility among functions/groups
. We need to encourage "flocking" or networking, at courses,
meetings, etc. at the breaks and before and after the sessions
* We need structural barriers to centralization of power: managers
too easily give in to the irresistible temptation to grab power in
the name of efficiency and speed.
e.g. encourage matrix organizations that force dialogue,
consensus decisions, and the diffusion of power
* The most important infrastructure for learning is "space" - that
is, tolerance for mistakes, patience with the opinions of others,
and room for innovation.
Our report is distilled from a 700 page handout and many pages of
additional notes. Some of these ideas are great, some are strange,
but all are stimulating. Hopefully it has been worth your while to
Bob Willard & Jeanne Hazell
IBM Canada, Leadership Development
-- Regards, R. G. (Bob) Willard IBM Canada, Leadership Development firstname.lastname@example.org