So our edited take on the well know phrase above adds a little bit of detail to what normally reads…the tough get going… They get going to find some sort of control over their situation. The reason for this is that we equate control with understanding, and at the heart of tough situations is a lack of understanding, a sense of not knowing quite what to do. The actual saying does not say what to get going to, yet for some convoluted reason we tend to get going toward control. And control in organizations typically means using some sort of highly practical and data driven methodology. Things like Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing, some version of TQM or any number of policies or systems designed to control things. The problem is that these methodologies and systems only create a certain level of control and do very little to create understanding, let alone control over the key element of any of these systems….. the people that make them work. What would happen if, when the tough got going, they looked for understanding rather than assuming it came with control.
There is one basic flaw to every one of the methodologies like Six Sigma and there have been many of these types of methodologies (remember Taylorism). That flaw is that they create the thinking that people operate from the same causality as nature and machines. This is flaw of logic, not an ethical or moral flaw, although the consequences of this flaw may create ethical and moral atrocities. Virtually all systems thinking based methodologies create this logical flaw in thinking.
Nature and machines operate from a causality called formative. Formative causality means that something ‘behaves’ based on its inherent design properties. The seed of an oak tree produces an oak tree, not a willow tree and a clock tells time, not your future. The formative causality of nature is magnitudes more complex than machines but it is still formative. People as well, from a biological perspective, physically grow to become people by this same causality (although there are even some questions about this now), but from a behavioral perspective they operate from two different types of causality:
Rational causality is simply behavior caused by individual choice and transformative causality is behavior caused by interaction between people where that interaction causes the behavior of those involved (often unpredictable behavior).
Methodologies such as Six Sigma function on the basis of formative causality and do what they are designed to do when done well. The problem is we take what they can do too far and assume they can control the behavior of people. And when the going gets tough we want that control, so we ramp up the expectations of what things like Six Sigma can do and follow our flaw of logic to one of two common end points. Those being there is something wrong with the system we are using (so let’s find something better than Six Sigma – I’m sure there is one being developed right now), or more commonly, there is something wrong with the people using the system.
If you decouple control from understanding you will use things like Six Sigma to create a system that can be controlled by formative causality, and be very clear what that is, typically the machines or work flow to be used. This is the control part. Then you will go and talk to people, interact with them to try and understand the rational causality that may be driving their behavior and you will stay open to the transformative causality that may create behavior you could not have predicted. This is the understanding part. When we think and act in this way we have realistic expectations of the methodologies we are using. We also enhance our accessibility to the possible options that may arise in our interactions with the people charged with making the system work. And if done knowing that all of formative, rational and transformative causality are at play, you will not feel like you are in control to the extent you might like to feel. And that is a much more accurate picture of reality than what any systems thinking methodology typically leads us to believe.
So when the going gets tough and we toughies get going, let’s try getting going to both control and understanding. Use systems thinking methodologies as they should be and then go interact with people to move forward together. And just keep in mind; interacting together is not a humanistic, nice or even good thing to do. It is the logical thing to do.