Fit For Purpose — Everything Starts With Our Values

The way we understand the world influences the ways we react to it. Without schemas we would be too slow to act in our everyday lives because we’d have to evaluate each reaction before we act. Growing from infants to adults we learn and automate according actions. The efficiency resulting from learning has a setback as we do not return to evaluate the premises that form the bases of our schemas. In time our premises become outdated leaving us understanding the problems and possibilities we face in an outdated manner and applying methods to resolve them which have since been rendered inefficient.

Internet, the networked resources and knowledge that comes with it has accelerated pace at which the world changes. It wasn’t long ago that Nokia ruled the mobile world only to be chased out of the consumer markets to a mobile network infrastructure provider (for now). Disruption, entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship, service design, agile, constant delivery have since become increasingly important in current business narratives.

In buying into these narratives we also assume a lot — a world view of constant change and adapting to it. While this might be a good way of creating haste in developing how we act, other people also look at the same world and see the stability they are used to. Interpreting the world and writing the narratives by which others interpret the world is what people in power and at the top of our current hierarchies do.

As the narratives or schemas by which we interpret the world are likely influenced by the premises that we derive them from our whole systems of reasoning and understanding the world might be outdated at times.

As Peter Drucker says it in the quote we all know: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Culture is based in the narratives and schemas we employ in our everyday life. Thus culture can also be influenced by effecting the systemic-holistic issues that give rise to it. The key here, I believe, is uncovering and evaluating our values in terms of what we are attempting to achieve.

The Cynefin-framework made known by Dave Snowden is an excellent tool for uncovering our world view and looking into the assumptions behind it. How are we situating ourselves between the obvious, the complicated, the complex and the chaotic? How could we incorporate a world view which enables us to choose fit for purpose values, goals and methods of living up to our values and generating value? Questions such as this take us out of our comfort zones and into where the magic happens.

As the cycles in the Cynefin-framework show us, our business activity goes around exploration of what we do not know (complex and chaotic) and the exploitation of what we are good at (complicated or simple). Despite understanding that our business environment is more multidimensional than what we believe, we often try to manage it with a simple set of values from a single discipline and their accompanying methodologies.

This brings us back to our world views which includes sets of values. Our traditional way of understanding science and disciplines is based in a disjointed world view. Science has organized itself into disjointed silos whereas our reality is one. Many of us have gotten a science-based higher education and carried the thinking with us into our organizations. We have separate departments for financing, HR, ICT, and others. Our scientific world view has also placed an overemphasis on logic and an externalized world view both in which the individual and the feelings of the individual have little value.

Having a systemic world view causes a shift from disjointed values with a world view based in simple causal effects at its core to a holistic perspective where everything is somehow intertwined, in motion and comprised of several value systems. This shift to a systemic world view encourages us to adopt holistic thinking as the different environments we have to live in require different values and different approaches.

Strategy processes often include such reorientations but these are rarely done within the development of operational processes. In developing our operations we should start off by uncovering the values embedded in our world view which direct the methods we choose to develop our activity with.

As we gain a shared understanding of our environment or the dynamic systems which comprise our environment, we can take the steps to imagine and co-create values which are fit for purpose to what we are doing and where we wish to venture. Values enable or restrict narratives, schemas and their emergent culture.