ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

April 1998


Forging New Ways To Work

Celebrating Success

JCPenney Spells Out A METHOD For Success

Roberts Express Delivers CATs

Stories Of The Future

Taxes, Oscars And Performance Appraisals


Quality, Wherefore Art Thou?
by Peter Block

The Bottom Line Benefits Of Participation
by Cathy Kramer


Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Book Review


Book Reviews With A Twist

"Billibonk and the Thorn Patch" and "Frankl's Thorn Patch Fieldbook"
by Philip Ramsey, Illustrated by Robin Runci Mazo & Madaleen Pulsifer

"Billibonk and the Thorn Patch" and "Frankl's Thorn Patch Fieldbook", are two delightful books by Philip Ramsey that are excellent examples of how a complex subject - organizational learning and systems thinking - can be taught in a simple straight forward manner. The power of good story telling comes through to both entertain and educate the reader.

The adventure takes place not in a factory or office, but the jungle of Knith. It begins when Billibonk, a young elephant, stumbles into a thorn patch inhabited by Frankl, a mouse. Naturally Frankl helps Billibonk get out of the thorn patch - that's how all good stories start and friendships begin.

But something strange happens, Frankl gets Billibonk to not only start thinking, but to think about the larger system. A skill not just elephants and mice need to survive in the jungle, but all good managers, leaders and teams.

Throughout the book Billibonk and the reader are learning about systems and how well-intentioned actions taken in one part of the system can have an impact on other parts of the system. Gee - this sounds a little like Dr. Juran talking about suboptimizing the system.
The author, without ever mentioning one hotshot CEO, gives us a better understanding of how organizations operate.

Favorite New Term: "Elephant Thinking." "When something goes wrong for an elephant, usually the elephant decides, 'That was bad luck,' and then forgets about it." How many times do we use elephant thinking when things happen because we're too busy to stop, reflect and learn from the situation?

Favorite Quote: "Elephants believe if they all agree about something, then it must be true. They also think that it is rather offensive to disagree with one another. These two ideas, when put together, sometimes lead elephants to believe the strangest things."

Second Favorite Quote: "At first he resisted the idea that problems were often his own fault. But then he had a thought. It was a great thought. He was so pleased with the thought that a delighted little "toot" escaped from his trunk. His thought was: 'Sometimes animals are so busy finding someone else to blame, or blaming bad luck, that they don't do anything about the problem. If a problem is my fault, then maybe I can fix it. I might even figure out how to avoid problems in the first place.'" Gee, are employees, teams, managers, and leaders some of the animals that Billibonk is talking about?

Message I'll Remember 5 Years From Now: Learning is a wonderful thing, and it seems to be a normal part of everyone's life.

"Yet you may have noticed that there are times in your organization when everyone is learning, but the organization still can't get the results it wants. Sometimes, learning seems to have no effect at a group level - people learn and learn and the organization still stays the same.

"Organizational learning is learning that results in real changes to the organization. Usually, this involves people building up their ability to work together to get the results they really want."

"Billibonk and the Thorn Patch" and "Frankl's Thorn Patch Fieldbook." They're a delight to read and sure to help you better understand systems and how you can have an impact in your jungle. And you if you really want to make sure you get it, share it with a young friend - they'll help you understand what you otherwise might miss. And you in turn will be developing a future systems thinker that will help his or her organization learn and succeed someday.

Reviewed by Steve Gibbons, assistant director, The Principal Financial Group,
Des Moines, Iowa.

Billibonk and the Thorn Patch, Philip Ramsey, 1997, Pegasus Communications,
Inc., Cambridge, MA, ISBN 1-883823-09-9, $17.95, 63 pages.
Frankl's "Thorn Patch" Fieldbook, Philip Ramsey, 1998, Pegasus
Communications, Inc., Cambridge, MA, ISBN 1-883823-21-8, $12.95, 28 pages.

April '98 News for a Change | Email Editor


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