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Articles about better strategy, different emergent, iterative, improvement thinking. Use of better language, communication, participation. Relationship to existing methods and business models.

Seeing Brains

I love the comments I get from people who see a Causal Decision Canvas for the first time.

Once they get to grips with the cause-effect concept they start exploring the Canvas. They’re drawn into the story of the whole system, the dynamic structure, the feedback loops.

They ask questions: What does it mean when that circle or arrow is bigger, fatter, brighter? The Causal Decision Canvas Anatomy helps to answer these questions.

Then people see brains. The shapes formed on the causal canvas literally look like human brains (well, apart from the one which looked like a mouse’s head).

This is the perfect visual metaphor because the pictures emerge from our mental models which are usually trapped, unseen, inside our heads.

Seeing a picture makes something more concrete. Our strategies have taken shape before our eyes; we can see their form with renewed clarity.

Usually though, the early versions of a Causal Canvas are a mess. We have to acknowledge and embrace this complexity because it naturally reflects the myriad ways people think about the world. But we can then start to tame that complexity with visual analytics.

We can get rid of the ‘noise’ and just retain the most influential paths and loops. We can emphasise parts of the model to draw out themes. We can see where we’ll get the most ‘bang for our buck’.

We can point to the most important decisions and outcomes to show where we need to reduce uncertainty or design new performance measures. We can re-cast these parts of the model for more formal problem analysis, or a business case.

The model requires us to express claims, opinions, beliefs, variables and probabilities rather than commit to certainties. The dialogue revolves about the ‘structure’ of the causal model rather than a reflection or judgement of individual positions.

This gives us a new, visual vocabulary. We can articulate purpose, vision, mission, goals, objectives, strategies, decisions all in one place. We can show how investments, initiatives, programmes, projects, interventions could change something for the better.

With this big picture in front of us we can think more clearly and communicate more clearly. In a world of noise, both inside and outside our brains, that’s something worth seeing.

What does Transformation mean to you?

‘Transformation’ must be near the top of the list of most overused business language.

Transformation sounds so grandiose, so important, so necessary and yet at the same time has no universal meaning. Could the hype hitched to this bandwagon even devalue the work of people actually changing the world for the better?

Everything ch-ch-changes. We might be trying to change a Thing. Things are changing around us. If the states of changed ‘Things’ now look very different, they’re transformed. Very Hungry Caterpillars turn into Beautiful Butterflies. Customers now enjoy contacting their bank or broadband provider. People well enough to leave a hospital bed do so, pronto. These are Things in a specific, different state.

‘Transformation’ is vague. Its rarely qualified with a definition of the ‘Thing’ being changed or what the new state would look like. That vagueness only obscures the relative priorities of Things and the evidence of their states.

Is the Thing an organisation chart, new value propositions, the flow of work? And why? To grow revenues, cut headcount, appease shareholders? Such uncertainty surely does its own damage; ‘Yeah, the last transformation [insert fear]’.

It might have been W Edwards Deming who said: ‘There is no such thing as improvement in general’. Can there ever be transformation in general? Something very specific has to change at a process behaviour level to shift an important outcome. What is the cause-effect logic of that hoped-for chain reaction?

Is investing in a big, bold transformation programme the best way to make our most important ‘Things’ better? Can we be so confident until we understand what matters, and what works? Does changing too much dilute the focus, create new systemic shocks? Is change really an initiative, a project, or is ‘getting better’ more of a daily mindset?

So, what does Transformation really mean?

The beauty of a Causal Decision Canvas is that we can take a vague word – like Transformation – and articulate it in an entirely visual way. Whether the material comes from existing words or a workshop of stakeholders, we can distill what ‘Transformation’ really means in each situation. This reveals the strategic hypotheses, the priorities, the decisions and the evidence needed to describe the Thing and its result state.

Now we can see the Thing, why changing it matters and whether it will fly.