10x Curiosity
Published in

10x Curiosity

Your Operating System-is it delivering ?

How can you begin to understand the Operating system of your organisation?

Let me know what you think? I would love your feedback. If you haven’t already then sign up for a weekly dose just like this.

As a rule I believe that people are always trying to do a good job — defaulting to the positive is a good policy. I have written previously about the NUMMI factory and how it was completely transformed in by implementing the Toyota production system, taking what was described as the worst workplace culture in the entire north American continent and transforming it to the highest performing factory in a little over two years.

In the book Brave New Work: Are You Ready to Reinvent Your Organization? Aaron Dignan writes about the concept of an operating system for your business.

When faced with that level of complexity and uncertainty, we tend to oversimplify. The people say, “We have the wrong leaders!” And the leaders say, “We have the wrong people!” The culture remains.

But, here’s the good news: The problem isn’t your leaders or your people. It’s your operating system.

Every team has at its core a set of assumptions, beliefs, principles, practices, processes, and policies that act as the foundation upon which the day-to-day work unfolds. I refer to this as an operating system (OS) — a collection of implicit and explicit constraints that shape how we operate. This organizational “DNA” is so pervasive, unquestioned, and deeply held that we don’t even notice it.

Think about how many of our daily decisions are framed, often without us even realising it, by the work place culture. Little artifacts like the behavior that is rewarded, the projects that get approved, the conversations in the hallway, the procedures that make things hard to do. All these add up to an operating system that dictates how a place functions.

Dignan outlines a terrific method to get to begin to understand the Operating system of your organisation. Once you have this baseline then you can identify key areas to improve it. The canvas he developed has 12 areas of focus as illustrated below in his book.

The concept is to pick a topic and work through the following questions:

  1. What are our principles in this area? What do we believe?
  2. What are our practices in this area? What do we actually do?
  3. Are they serving us? Are our actions and outcomes consistent with our values?

These questions can be further expanded upon with the following prompts


  • What is preventing you from doing your best work?
  • What is slowing you down?
  • What is our biggest problem as an organisation

Bright Spots –

  • What is going well? What is working?
  • What is enabling you to do your best work?
  • What is speeding you up?
  • What is helping you make better decisions?
  • What are you proud of in terms of the way we work?
  • What is our biggest strength as an organisation


  • Why are these issues present now?
  • What underlying structures, rules or processes are contributing to them/
  • What personal behaviour, attitude and assumptions are contributing to them?
  • How are the tensions in different dimensions connected
  • Are three bigger patterns present in the canvas?


  • What do we want to change?
  • What one thing would we flip on its head
  • What addition or subtraction might unlock other possibilities?

As Sam Carpenter writes in his book “Work the system”

Human-divised systems will operate reliably if they are put together properly and then routinely maintained. If they are not put together correctly and then coddled, they will fail to produce the results we want.

Dignam also discusses the importance of just getting started and running experiements to iterate your way to a better future rather than blindly trying to predict what is going to work best for your. Lots of small steps will work far better than a big hail mary!

He outlines a series of tips on an “Experiment Worksheet” used to conduct experiments.


  • What is your tension ? How does it manifest ? Share a story that brings it to life .


  • What do you propose we try ? What is your hypothesis ? How does this practice support our commitment to a People Positive and Complexity Conscious OS?


  • Who will be involved ? What are they committing to ?


  • How long will the experiment last ? When will you conduct a retrospective to collect perspectives and learning ?

Learning Metrics

  • How will we know if it was beneficial or harmful ? What kinds of stories do you hope to hear ? Requirements What do you need in order to conduct the experiment , in terms of resources , space , supplies , funding , etc . ?


  • What kind of support or consent do you need to make this safe to try ?

This concept is well documented in other agile and lean frameworks such as the Experiment Canvas by Ash Mauraya and the Knowledge Gap report in the Rapid Learning Cycles Framework.

Leaving the last word to Sam Carpenter

If you personally don’t like a system’s result, … that’s not because of an error in the system. That system is working perfectly according to its construction. If you want a different result from a system, you must go inside it and adjust its configuration. Once you’ve made that adjustment, the system will continue to operate perfectly — according to its new construction — only now it will be producing the result you want.

Let me know what you think? I would love your feedback. If you haven’t already then sign up for a weekly dose just like this.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Tom Connor

Always curious - curating knowledge to solve problems and create change