2016 April

Goals vs Systems

“I just received the following note from one of our Inner Circle members.  Below the note is my response.”

Per a mention by Alicia, here is the chapter on Goals vs Systems from Scott Adams book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life.  He is the artist who does the Dilbert cartoon strip too.

Would be curious what others see in terms of his cognitive capacity.  He def. has some horsepower.   Not fully revealed here but definitely can pick it up in his comic strip.   And thinking in systems requires a 3ish / 4 capacity.    Or maybe rather WANTING/NEEDING to think in systems.  I don’t think anything he says here is not understandable to most, it just isn’t implementable by most.


That doesn’t make people “goal-oriented” either.  Most are neither.


Sorry it is not paginated better.



Chapter 6 – Goals Versus Systems

At the age of twenty-one, college diploma in hand, I boarded an airplane for the first time in my life, destination California. I knew one thing about success: It wouldn’t be easy to find in Windham, New York, population two thousand. A few years earlier, my older and more adventurous brother Dave had driven his Volkswagen beetle cross-country to Los Angeles, looking for warmer weather and attractive women. He slept in his car and camped along the way. My plan was to fly to Los Angeles, sleep on his crumb-laden couch until I could find a job in banking, and make my home in the Golden State. A few days before my flight to California I traded my rusted-out Datsun 510 to my sister for a one-way ticket to California. I proudly donned the cheap three-piece suit that my parents had given me as a college graduation present— my first real suit. At the time, I assumed everyone dressed in business or formal attire to fly. I grew up in a small town and I didn’t know many people who had flown in a commercial aircraft. My father had taken some flights twenty-some years earlier, but he didn’t volunteer much information about them, or anything else for that matter. He was a man of few words. I had only a few relatives nearby and none of them had ever flown. I was mostly guessing how the process worked, and I didn’t want to take the chance of getting kicked off the flight for being poorly dressed. That’s exactly the sort of mistake I make. I also didn’t know how I would go about getting my suit ironed if it got wrinkled in my luggage. I figured I would be going on job interviews as soon as I reached California and I needed my one and only suit to look relatively less hoboish. It just made sense to wear it on the flight. I was seated next to a businessman who was probably in his early sixties. I suppose I looked like an odd duck with my serious demeanor, bad haircut, and cheap suit, clearly out of my element. He asked what my story was and I filled him in. I asked what he did for a living and he told me he was CEO of a company that made screws. Then he offered me some career advice. He said that every time he got a new job, he immediately started looking for a better one. For him, job seeking was not something one did when necessary. It was an ongoing process. This makes perfect sense if you do the math. Chances are the best job for you won’t become available at precisely the time you declare yourself ready. Your best bet, he explained, was to always be looking for the better deal. The better deal has its own schedule. I believe the way he explained it is that your job is not your job; your job is to find a better job. This was my first exposure to the idea that one should have a system instead of a goal. The system was to continually look for better options. And it worked for this businessman, as he had job-hopped from company to company, gaining experience along the way, until he became a CEO. Had he approached his career with a specific goal in mind, or perhaps specific job objectives (e.g., his boss’s job), it would have severely limited his options. But for him, the entire world was his next potential job. The new job simply had to be better than the last one and allow him to learn something useful for the next hop. Did the businessman owe his current employer loyalty? Not in his view. The businessman didn’t invent capitalism, and he didn’t create its rules. He simply played within the rules. His employers wouldn’t have hesitated to fire him at the drop of a hat for any reason that fit their business needs. He simply followed their example. The second thing I learned on that flight— or confirmed, really— is that appearance matters. By the end of the flight, the CEO had handed me his card and almost guaranteed me a job at his company if I wanted it. Had I boarded the flight wearing my ratty jeans, threadbare T-shirt, and worn-out sneakers, things would have gone differently. Throughout my career I’ve had my antennae up, looking for examples of people who use systems as opposed to goals. In most cases, as far as I can tell, the people who use systems do better. The systems-driven people have found a way to look at the familiar in new and more useful ways. To put it bluntly, goals are for losers. That’s literally true most of the time. For example, if your goal is to lose ten pounds, you will spend every moment until you reach the goal— if you reach it at all— feeling as if you were short of your goal. In other words, goal-oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary. That feeling wears on you. In time, it becomes heavy and uncomfortable. It might even drive you out of the game. If you achieve your goal, you celebrate and feel terrific, but only until you realize you just lost the thing that gave you purpose and direction. Your options are to feel empty and useless, perhaps enjoying the spoils of your success until they bore you, or set new goals and reenter the cycle of permanent presuccess failure. The systems-versus-goals point of view is burdened by semantics, of course. You might say every system has a goal, however vague. And that would be true to some extent. And you could say that everyone who pursues a goal has some sort of system to get there, whether it is expressed or not. You could word-glue goals and systems together if you chose. All I’m suggesting is that thinking of goals and systems as very different concepts has power. Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous presuccess failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do. The goals people are fighting the feeling of discouragement at each turn. The systems people are feeling good every time they apply their system. That’s a big difference in terms of maintaining your personal energy in the right direction. The system-versus-goals model can be applied to most human endeavors. In the world of dieting, losing twenty pounds is a goal, but eating right is a system. In the exercise realm, running a marathon in under four hours is a goal, but exercising daily is a system. In business, making a million dollars is a goal, but being a serial entrepreneur is a system. For our purposes, let’s say a goal is a specific objective that you either achieve or don’t sometime in the future. A system is something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run. If you do something every day, it’s a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal. Language is messy, and I know some of you are thinking that exercising every day sounds like a goal. The common definition of goals would certainly allow that interpretation. For our purposes, let’s agree that goals are a reach-it-and-be-done situation, whereas a system is something you do on a regular basis with a reasonable expectation that doing so will get you to a better place in your life. Systems have no deadlines, and on any given day you probably can’t tell if they’re moving you in the right direction. My proposition is that if you study people who succeed, you will see that most of them follow systems, not goals. When goal-oriented people succeed in big ways, it makes news, and it makes an interesting story. That gives you a distorted view of how often goal-driven people succeed. When you apply your own truth filter to the idea that systems are better than goals, consider only the people you know personally. If you know some extra successful people, ask some probing questions about how they got where they did. I think you’ll find a system at the bottom of it all, and usually some extraordinary luck. (Later in this book I’ll tell you how to improve your odds of getting lucky.) Consider Olympic athletes. When one Olympian wins a gold medal, or multiple gold medals, it’s a headline story. But for every medalist there are thousands who had the goal of being on that podium and failed. Those people had goals and not systems. I don’t consider daily practices and professional coaching a system because everyone knows in advance that the odds of any specific individual winning a medal through those activities are miniscule. The minimum requirement of a system is that a reasonable person expects it to work more often than not. Buying lottery tickets is not a system no matter how regularly you do it. On the system side, consider Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook. It’s apparent that his system for success involved studying hard, getting extraordinary grades, going to a top college— in his case Harvard— and developing a skill set with technology that virtually guaranteed riches in today’s world. As it turns out, his riches came quickly through the explosive growth of Facebook. But had that not worked out, he would likely be a millionaire through some other start-up or just by being a highly paid technical genius for an existing corporation. Zuckerberg’s system (or what I infer was his system) was almost guaranteed to work, but no one could have imagined at the time how well. Warren Buffett’s system for investing involves buying undervalued companies and holding them forever, or at least until something major changes. That system (which I have grossly oversimplified) has been a winner for decades. Compare that with individual investors who buy a stock because they expect it to go up 20 percent in the coming year; that’s a goal, not a system. And not surprisingly, individual investors generally experience worse returns than the market average. I have a friend who is a gifted salesman. He could have sold anything, from houses to toasters. The field he chose (which I won’t reveal because he wouldn’t appreciate the sudden flood of competition) allows him to sell a service that almost always auto-renews. In other words, he can sell his service once and enjoy ongoing commissions until the customer dies or goes out of business. His biggest problem in life is that he keeps trading his boat for a larger one, and that’s a lot of work. Observers call him lucky. What I see is a man who accurately identified his skill set and chose a system that vastly increased his odds of getting “lucky.” In fact, his system is so solid that it could withstand quite a bit of bad luck without buckling. How much passion does this fellow have for his chosen field? Answer: zero. What he has is a spectacular system, and that beats passion every time.

Mike’s response:

There were clues to his capability throughout the blog, his understanding and shifting his own beliefs based on early Hoffman, the perspectives on his perspectives which he unpacked well for us, his vulnerability showing up as who flexibility, he’s as complex as anyone here from what I saw;)

The one thing u mention about using systems instead of goals is at minimum metasystematic reasoning IMHO, and I’ll now try to read that chapter to see what’s there but that’s my initial reaction to ur ask;)

A system of goals and a system of systems are two serials at least (more I think) but they easily combine in parallel languaging (I’ll let our experts ABC that for u), but in order to compare and contrast the two is at least early metasystematic (SMASH) if nothing else, but with the other clues he unpacked, he is 6+ and maybe 6s+ in apple language;)

Here’s another idea.


Glenn’s research indicated that in order to do work ON something, that you must be one level more complex and of course this is consistent with MHC as well.

However, I’ll posit (again) for the record that in order to change something or transform it, you must be “2” (count’em 2) levels more complex because the design (which it seems dilbert is doing here) requires that you are already fiction inf a level beyond that which you are trying to change/transform.

So, in fact the guy shows he’s capable of designing what appears to be a metasystematic approach he may be able to function capably at L7.

Just some hierarchical blather;)

It’s like masturbation, you are the only one who needs it and you’re the only one who enjoys it.

Sorry from off color but it’s what came to mind and I’m feeling the effects of Trumpiness today;)



2016 April

Time Span Range in Requisite Organization Theory

“I just received the following note from one of our Inner Circle members.  Below the note is my response.”

Every once in a while I revisit Jacques conceptualization of the stratums of role and capability and I keep hiccupping on his idea of time-span ranges.  I recall we discussed this a while ago but it really didn’t resolve in my own mind anyway.  I’d appreciate thoughts from the RO experts on this list and others as you see fit.  I’d either like to put a firm nail in its coffin or get a sense for how I am not quite seeing the forest so to speak.


Here is my perspective…time-span range is mostly bunk.   As best as I can tell it is a remnant of the strategic planning paradigm that remains in the core of many MBA programs.    There are a set of tasks that do stretch into mulit-year spans of time of course.   For example,  I can think of lots of big infrastructure projects with multi-year requirements like the modernization of the Panama Canal.

Other than a set of tasks that have a high degree of certainty and high degree of agreement, the vast majority of tasks on a CEO/leader’s plate land in the realm of high uncertainty and low agreement.  (see Ralph Stacey’s matrix below which I like a lot).  Or use the overused VUCA construct.

In these environments, I can’t think of a problem that is helped much by engaging it from a time span frame other than to construct wide ranging scenarios of potential futures.  Ratchet up or down 100s of assumptions and you can construct ANY future you want to imagine.   Or dozens or hundreds of varying futures.

So a CEO’s capability is about what?  That they projected accurately and engage in problems about infinite and unknown distant futures where the likelihood that their organization will be in existence is close to 0%.   What am I not seeing?

My sense… this is not how the most competent higher end stratum thinkers think, in my humble opinion of course.  Like a GE CEO thinking about 50 year problems?  Huh?  Can anyone give me a concrete example of one other than simple things like a timber resource company projecting supply 30-50 years from now based on current inventory.  That’s stratum 2 or 3 calculation.

Most organizations are being slammed this way and that in wickedly complex environments in real time.  It is a fairly common occurance to face issues in the environment that can put a company out of business on a fairly frequent basis, or require a radical reframing of the organization’s strategy.  (see the failure rate of organizations for data on this).

The notion of engaging problems with a longer time span frame violates the inherent dynamics of complex adaptive systems….that being no one can see around the next corner.  The work is to engage the present and understand what is possible now with the deepest sense of opportunity and context for the problems an organization, community, state, country, etc. is facing.    Sensing into what is actually possible and the capacity to align resources to that possibility is the true mark of higher end stratum work.  Ratchet up the complexity and you’ll need higher stratum of capability to actually hold enough context in real time to shape effective action now.

From wikipedia’s write up on VUCU:

“In general, the premises of VUCA tend to shape an organization’s capacity to:

  1. Anticipate the Issues that Shape Conditions
  2. Understand the Consequences of Issues and Actions
  3. Appreciate the Interdependence of Variables
  4. Prepare for Alternative Realities and Challenges
  5. Interpret and Address Relevant Opportunities”

I could see these aspects being part of a system to understand stratum of role or capability of a leader to hold/address these aspects of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.  How time span fits into this is tertiary at best.

“Mike’s response…”

For me, time span brings about two trains of thought not necessarily on the same tracks:

1) time span is very valuable to us as a linear concept because people do process their experience in terms of time–habitually–it seems.

This linear time is important in identifying routine and recurring tasks especially in the first four stratus where there seems to be a systematic world working.

[Although Common, et al, have made the old 11, the new 12, by adding a level of hierarchical complexity near the bottom of the scale.]

There is also another time span which confounds linear time which I’ll refer to as “nom-linear” and you describe that pretty well as not fitting per Se in the time span formula, at least one that’s not cloudy.;)

For me, like God, my thinking has been round the horn on time span, referring to the idea that conception to car took 5 years and now it takes 18 months in a worst case….

However, when I work with CEOs, I can, after some time, see their capability to deal with time span as the number of lower order actions that they can coordinate and its this idea that as “working time span” lengthens, the number of variables increases and the number of coordinating issues that have to emerge in order to improve risk avoidance…and yes the idea of wild cards are becoming much more prevalent to thwart anyone’s actions anywhere, but nonetheless, time span is still running there and you can see it running.

You can tell if a L4 is working beyond a budget/planning year and you can sure see the difference in what an L4 is organizing and coordinating different from an L5 or an L3…who often grows uncomfortable when no budget planning cycle is in place to guide them.

In your case Jim, you see the world through your time span and thus you realize that any stakes in the ground are merely arbitrary snapshots of fleeting reality and thus the ire of time span irking you, but in the bounded reality of work, which there can’t be any other, we assume this arbitrary reality and superimpose working time span to help us identify order of sort.

Over here, in never, never land, you see the lack of time span coupled with the confounding nature of low complexity: high complexity as a crapshoot on any given day of disorder and yet floating over that disorder is an order and it’s clearly time-related.

It’s almost as if, you are not allowed any more time to manage than the variables which are bounded by that time span can hold, or hold you.

It’s as if…time span chooses you because you can’t handle anymore variables than what are present in that boundary or span.

Over and over, the recurring nightmare of…if they would just consider tomorrow, but they can’t because if they did, their current capability couldn’t organize and coordinate anymore variables and that is our story lived daily.

So STRUCTURE of time, or time span is in fact a central organizing principle which can be used to structure strategy to get work done.

Now if you go back to Senge, et al, and THE DANCE OF CHANGE, you realize their research showed that fully 80% of all change efforts FAILED to achieve their intended goals, and the remaining 20% that did, had no valid explanation!

So, if we put together the concept of time span and the ability to achieve success…that seems another matter, almost luck is a better chance or monkeys throwing darts!

Yet, since everything seems to be in flux anyway with reasoning rationalized after the fact, I’ll include time span in my toolkit along with vertical, oblique and lateral capability as a way to dimensionalize my thinking about KSEs;)



2016 April

The World Is Still Becoming One

“I just received the following note from one of our Inner Circle members.  Below the note is my response.”

The biggest political challenge of the 21st century will not be terrorism. It will be borders.


Interesting piece. It may not become an „integral“ world in the wilberian sense, but it definitely is becoming one. Walking through the old touristy part of my town, I watch the many Chinese, Indian, Arab tourists who stroll through the sites holding their smartphones in front of them, dressed fashionably – obviously better off people from elsewhere. I chat with young refugee girls from Eritrea that are housed in our municipality. They know how to look flashy in a western sense and they know how to handle a smart phone. An African friend of mine from Togo lives in Lomé and works there as the Representative of the Swiss Red Cross. He was over here for consultations. His wife is a trader and wanted him to go and see third hand cars that can be exported to Togo. I accompanied him to parts of my city, I have never been where Arabs deal with old cars not suitable for our roads. My friend noted on the growing numbers of Africans (often with white girl friends) around these places looking for deals. Neighbours of mine let out their flat to a Malaysian family for year of which the mother got a grant at the university hospital. They themselves are semi-retired and working in Timor on some project. etc., etc. You can all add on your own stories from your part of the planet.



Mike’s response:

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to integral lately and I plan to update you soon on my thoughts.