How do we free ourselves of mental models to get to our goal of breakthrough? Dr. Domenico Lepore, international expert in systemic management, looks at the Core Conflict Cloud, one of the Thinking Processes from the Theory of Constraints.
Building The Core Conflict Cloud
From childhood, we are immersed in a field of forces that shapes the two basic needs that all of us have; the need for control (over ourselves) and the need for vision (of ourselves). These two needs reflect the dual nature that only humans have of physical and spiritual being. While the spiritual, transcendent part of our self knows no boundaries and aims high; the physical part knows and undergoes fears. Invariably, the simultaneous satisfaction of these two needs will prompt us into a situation of conflict. This time though, the conflict will not be between two people wanting different things and neither will it be a dilemma between two equally desirable wants. The conflict originated by these two needs, for individuals as well as for organizations, will be between something that we strongly desire (and we do not seem to be able to access) and a highly undesirable situation that is the result of how our fears force us to cope with the need for control. This kind of conflict is called “Core Conflict Cloud”. It is a powerful Thinking Process from the Theory of Constraints.
The exercise of building a Core Conflict Cloud for an organization is invaluable and the process can be exhilarating. Let me try and give you a sense of this. In the last 25 years I have worked with hundreds of top and middle managers to build custom made implementations of the Decalogue method and the starting point has always been the writing of the Core Conflict. A group of leaders and managers sits for two-three days in a room starting with a “bitching and moaning” session where all their Undesirable Effects (UDEs )are verbalized. This first phase is a very “feel good” one, everybody agrees that the company is plagued by these effects. These effects are and feel “real” and everybody would like to get rid of them.
Summarizing all the UDEs in one single statement is normally a little cumbersome but it is generally done in few hours. This is the starting point the procedure I list below and the end result is normally welcomed as a breakthrough. What happened?
The Conflict Cloud helps to sharpen our intuition. The group of managers in just a few days has moved from an often disparate set of non-verbalized hunches to a clear cut picture of the forces that keep them from achieving their goal. Moreover, a precise description of the needs that craft the psyche of the organization goes a long way in helping to understand the “why” we are trapped in this conflict, the reason for it. I can safely say that no top management strategic retreat session delivers a tangible and operational output like this one. Now that the intuition is strong we can make it stronger.
The conventional way of building a Core Conflict cloud is to start from the elements of our reality that we perceive as undesirable; historically they are named Undesirable Effects (UDEs). If we go down this route, then the procedure is the following:
One: we collect all the Undesirable Effects (UDEs)
Two: we find a verbalization that summarizes them all, we call it D. (We may want to do this in steps: a) we stratify the UDEs in homogeneous categories; b) we summarize each category with one statement; c) we consolidate these statements into one);
Three: we find a verbalization that summarizes all the Desirable Effects (DEs), we would like to experience, we call it D’
Four: we state the need for “control” that forces us to accept, to cope with D; we call it B
Five: we state the need for “vision” that prompts us to say that D’ is the reality we would like to live in; we call it C
Six: we verbalize the most basic goal whose achievement must pass through the simultaneous satisfaction of B and C; we call it A. In other words, B and C must be simultaneously satisfied in order to achieve A.
Challenging mental models
What transforms a core conflict into a full-blown picture of our current reality is a disciplined, orderly elucidation of all the mental models that give birth to the conflict. These mental models are deeply rooted images that we have of ourselves and the world around us. These mental models, which we may also call “assumptions”, are the cognitive lenses through which we perceive reality.
Assumptions are, like any other mental construction, the result of external (the environment, education, experiences, values, etc.) and internal (the chemistry and physics of our mind) factors. The difference between an assumption and a statement of reality is only the realm of validity, determined often by cultural circumstances. (If you want a practical example of this last statement, take a sentence like “in a democracy every citizen is entitled to decent, affordable and reliable healthcare” and ask for a comment from a statistically representative sample of individuals in the US, Canada, and Europe).
Assumptions are the logical connectors between goal, needs and wants; they help us see the logic that shapes the conflict. A conflict with its set of clearly verbalized assumptions portrays the current reality precisely in the way we experience it and is the strongest possible support we can provide to our intuition.
Freeing ourselves of cognitive constraints and getting to the goal
Addressing and overcoming the restraints we experience, the cognitive constraints that limit our existence, is emotionally burdensome. However, it is ultimately rewarding. If the Core Conflict addresses the intuition, how about making understanding and knowledge equally stronger?
As we said, assumptions are mental models we have about the world; they are formed as a result of experiences and socio-cultural circumstances. Assumptions are, in every respect, a reality for the person that develops them. These assumptions, particularly the ones that we verbalize between D and D’ (see diagram below) in the conflict cloud are, de facto, the constraining element of our reality; they are our cognitive constraint.
If these constraining beliefs were challenged and invalidated, i.e. we were to identify logical statements that would disprove them, then these “constraints” would be “removed”. As a result of this removal (the lingo is: “elevation”) of the constraint, our ability to achieve our goal would be magnified. In order to qualify as “assumption sweepers” these logical statements disproving our assumptions must fulfill two prerequisites:
1) they must logically invalidate one or more assumptions;
2) they must protect/address both needs OR one of them and be neutral to the other.
Indeed, the totality of these statements must address/protect both needs. If these prerequisites are satisfied, we call these statements “Injections”. The need for control (B) and the need for vision (C) are captured by the two statements: on one side the “vision” of a company that can overcome with ease the limitations they clearly see as artificial, on the other the “controlling” need for remaining as faithful as possible to the perception they have of themselves professionally and otherwise.
Injections are solutions to the conflict; by invalidating all the assumptions they “evaporate” (nothing like jargon, eh?) the conflict cloud (D and D’ disappear) and can potentially move us from our Current Reality to a more desirable, less constraining Future Reality.
However, in order for this to happen, we have to ensure that this set of injections is both complete and as free as possible from potential negative implications. Only then will we have a full understanding of the pattern in front of us. Only then will we have a thorough comprehension of all the potential ramifications of the solutions we identified (the injections).
Completing the solution: the Future Reality Tree
What ensures the completeness of the set of injections/solutions identified, hence providing a conceptually reliable path to the future, is another Thinking Process called the Future Reality Tree (FRT). The process of building an FRT requires some skill, a bit of experience and a fierce determination. I want to stress that this is neither academia nor is it an exercise in conventional logic. Building an FRT is only possible if we have embraced the vision and the method that supports it; the vision is that of a company that takes very seriously its commitment to the future, that sees itself as an ongoing generator of wealth for all its stakeholders and society at large. The method is the orderly, relentless identification of all the cause-and-effect relationships that are likely to shape the future if certain actions are carried out successfully. In this sense, the FRT is similar in nature to the Plan, Do, Study, Act cycle because it prompts a rigorous, scientific investigation of the subject matter.
The strength and the value of the FRT are in the understanding it provides of the comprehensiveness and the breadth of the effort needed to transition from the current to the future state of reality. The thoroughness of this effort and the completeness of the understanding we derive from it are further enhanced by the meticulous test we carry out on potential negative implications deriving from the coming into existence of the injections. The Thinking Process that supports our understanding in this effort is called Negative Branch Reservation (NBR).
Creating the Continuum from Systemic Strategy to Action
Let’s allow ourselves a moment of speculation. What is the future? This is not a rhetorical question, on the contrary. The life of an enterprise, its ability to stand the test of time, its possibility to wade through the ups and downs of the markets rests firmly on its ability to pursue its vision of the future. A vision of the future for an enterprise cannot be the outcome of a strategic meeting where a few executives develop a plan to react to some ill-understood events or to push something based on personal agendas. Nor can it be some opportunistic decision driven by purely monetary reasons.
The future is not the present in a few years’ time, neither is it what happens regardless of what we do. Building the future is about taking the responsibility to make the future happen; it is about striving to understand better and better the implications of what we do. A vision of the future
is certainly the responsibility of the top management but calls, first and foremost, for the ability to subordinate to that vision, regardless of the circumstances. People’s involvement in building a future they can associate themselves with is essential.
If we take our understanding seriously, if we value our ability to anticipate what future events will be like as a result of our actions, if we truly believe in cause-and-effect thinking, then we must be able to subordinate to that future reality and walk on that bridge.
The bridge that brings us to the desired future and that makes that future possible is knowledge. Knowledge is not erudition and it is not information. Knowledge is not knowhow and it is not experience.
Knowledge is based on theory and must allow prediction. Without the ability to predict there is no management. However, in order for this knowledge to deliver results we must be one with it. Knowledge cannot be disconnected from the consciousness that should permeate it. If the knowledge needed to execute the injections of the Future Reality Tree is not in synch with the change in reality that the application of that knowledge will create; if the unfolding of the pattern we have chosen creates a disconnection between the holder of the knowledge and the sense of who they are in the new reality; if what people know does not match the image they have of themselves in the new reality, then the transformation from the present to the future will not happen.
There are two Thinking Processes that help to deploy the necessary knowledge and the possession of it together with an increased self-consciousness: the Prerequisite Tree (PRT) and the Transition Tree (TRT). See Thinking Processes.
Intelligent Management works with decision makers with the authority and responsibility to make meaningful change. We have helped dozens of organizations to adopt a systemic approach to manage complexity and radically improve performance and growth for 25 years through our Decalogue management methodology. The Network of Projects organization design we developed is supported by our Ess3ntial software for multi-project finite scheduling based on the Critical Chain algorithm.
See our latest books Moving the Chains: An Operational Solution for Embracing Complexity in the Digital Age by our Founder Dr. Domenico Lepore, The Human Constraint – a digital business novel that has sold in 43 countries so far by Dr. Angela Montgomery and ‘Quality, Involvement, Flow: The Systemic Organization’ from CRC Press, New York by Dr. Domenico Lepore, Dr. .Angela Montgomery and Dr. Giovanni Siepe.