ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

February 1999

Articles
Doctoring The Health Care Industry

A Toast To The Future

Business, The Final Frontier

Formula For Success: Balance Technology And People


Columns
Y2K Calling

by Peter Block

Have You Hugged Your Goalie Today?
by Bryan McGraw


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Views for a Change

The Quality Tool I Never Use

Sites Unseen

Pageturners
Book Review

 

Business, The Final Frontier
Systems Thinking in the 21st Century

To boldly go where no organization has gone before, into the future determined not simply by the demands of customers, but by innovating and meeting needs not yet realized by consumers. Steven G. Brant, president of Trimtab Management Systems, Brooklyn, N.Y., is asking the question, “What future is your organization coming from?” Do you have the answer?

If not, then systems thinking (looking at the “big picture”—all the process and phases associated within an organization or product delivery) may be the key to future success and unlimited earnings. Systems thinking refers to the fact that “Each of us is capable of getting stuck in the ruts of our ordinary ways of doing business. By taking a break and thinking about long-range visions, we step out of those ruts,” Brant explains.

Beam Me Up
Brant originally became interested in this approach after studying Dr. W. Edward Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge, which he found to be a pragmatic complement to the research of Dr. R. Buckminster Fuller regarding systems. Deming believes that a transformation is needed to break out of current organizational thinking paradigms, creating a reality in which “everyone will win.” Brant has developed a presentation around a Star Trek theme to make learning about systems thinking as fun as possible.

“The appeal of Star Trek speaks to certain dreams that can form the foundation of new products and services in the 21st century,” Brant explains. Star Trek unites with systems thinking, in part, by providing strong examples of innovative leadership. “All of Star Trek’s main characters—Kirk, Picard, Sisko and Janeway—are very proactive leaders. They work very hard to get ahead of the problem curve, anytime they are faced with a challenge,” says Brant, “They are constantly looking to learn new things about the (frequently extraordinary) realities in which these challenges occur, so they can be proactive in the courses of action they take.”

The Whole World is in Our Hands
As representatives of The United Federation of Planets, the leaders of Star Trek were forced to constantly learn about and strive to understand cultures, even species, completely outside of their spectrum of knowledge in order to avert conflict or win a battle.

In much the same way, Brant explains, “The ethos of systems thinking is an answer to the question 'What is the aim of your system?”, when system refers to that which exists beyond the system of our organizations.” While the stakes are not necessarily life or death, as onboard the Enterprise, future success may be the prize of such leadership. According to Brant, “Most of us believe that all we can do is observe the future as it happens. Too few of us realize that we have the ability to create the future—to view the future proactively rather than reactively.” Knowing that our actions create the future is the key to corporate strategic power.

Profit for the Future
Like a vast, yet communicative galaxy, “As our world becomes more and more interconnected and interdependent, the systems outside the four walls of our organizations increasingly become the places to find strategic points of leverage. They become the potential sources of breakthrough levels of profit in the future,” says Brant. To step outside of what we view as familiar is an important exercise and may help us to discover avenues for success not previously accessible. “These systems offer us new ways to delight our customers,” Brant says.

Brant views systems thinking as his very own starship. “Systems thinking has enabled me to see a brave new world of services that we have the technology to provide to our customers,” Brant explains.

"It lead us to create new business opportunities, to expand the pie rather than just compete for fixed shares of the pie, to create new sources of growth and prosperity,” continues Brant. “In a future of our own choosing, many new opportunities await.” A phaser is not required equipment for exploration of these new worlds, either.

Star Trek also boasts a unique system of values that can be applied to the world of business. For Brant, “Star Trek portrays a vision of how the world might look if the principles of quality were being used by the entire culture of humanity.” Customer service would certainly benefit from such an outlook, passing on a shared bond of commitment to quality from provider to customer.

Bold Ideas About Whole People
As Dr. McCoy cared for the entire patient, systems thinking “enables us to view our customers as whole people, not just as consumers of our individual products or services. The person who buys a car is interested in more than just automobiles, for example,” Brant explained. Companies that succeed in the future will have to achieve this new level of understanding for customer service.

By understanding the customer, an organization can better plan for the future. Brant believes that the most important direction in which proactive management can take an organization is to begin formulating “bold ideas” about ways to satisfy the unexpressed desire of the customer. Star Trek is also useful in this manner because it can offer insights into possibilities that have yet to be invented. How could a beaming device fail to be profitable? Nobody asked for the electric light, the telephone or email, and yet we find these tools indispensable.

In the midst of uncertainty regarding the future, Star Trek also provides an enjoyable way to think about the future. A common federation of differing life forms uniting to protect freedom and justice is certainly not an unpleasant prospective possibility.

Take a Ride with Captain Kirk
Brant, and Trimtab Management Systems seek to foster new ways of thinking about customer service. In a world that seems to change at Warp Factor 5, a proactive management may not be enough if not coupled with some measure of radical thinking outside of the accepted paradigms. And taking a ride on the Starship Enterprise might be just the way to quickly achieve that new vision of your organization’s current system.

February '99 News for a Change | Email Editor
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