Fernando Flores new offerings

Many of my readers know that I worked with Fernando Flores for over 20 years in a variety of companies and roles. I am his student, admiring colleague, and friend.

Now that he has completed his term in the Chilean Senate, Fernando has begun to roll out new educational offerings. He has started to deliver the new program he has been thinking about for some time now, with a center of operations in the US. His central premise (my summary) is that there is nowhere available today an educational program that addresses the challenges of the most serious problems facing us in the world today — working across enormous cultural and geographical distances, and building programs (and people) with the kind of  ‘staying power’ to keep thinking about and developing approaches to problems that will not be swayed or stopped because some groups have found compelling sound-bytes and mastered techniques of speaking ‘loudly’ in whatever media.

To address this need, he has built a short workshop that introduces the program, a four-month long course about working effectively in small groups, and is at this moment piloting the second of what he expects could eventually be a set of four or five courses.

I am currently participating in the first of the four month long courses. I’m convinced that his diagnosis about the dimensions of education and preparation for working in the 21st Century that he is thinking are on the mark. And, I have been very impressed by the accelerated learning that takes place in the environment that Fernando and his colleagues have designed. The combination of a rich philosophical context, guided play and discussion, and the use of a virtual reality environment for interaction gives a place for learning that is both full of challenges and at the same time allows students to take risks and develop new practices fast without risking their identities in their normal workspace. Most participants report important results developed very quickly.

If you have followed Fernando’s ideas and writings over the years at all, and found or suspected that important benefits were possible there, I strongly recommend that you contact Gloria Flores at <gfloresletelier@gmail.com> and discuss with her how to participate in the emerging new work.

The following are introductory comments from Pluralistic Networks’ introduction to their offerings. Pluralistic Networks’ website can be found at http://www.pluralisticnetworks.com. The name comes from the observation that important work all over the world must come from teams of people assembled from deeply varied communities, backgrounds, and training, and those people must learn how to come together and work effectively with each other very quickly. There is no way for us to all ‘grow up in the same village together’ in order to learn to work effectively together.

Our Introductory Session is currently called Building and Thriving in Pluralistic Networks — A New Approach for Learning Critical 21st Century Skills.  It will take place in SF on Feb. 23rd – 25th.

This session is an intensive three day conference led by Dr. Fernando Flores.  During the three days, participants will experience a new way of learning that combines Virtual Reality Games, Guided Reflection and Discussion, and grounded theoretical work to constitute a Virtual Reality Learning Laboratory that enable our students to rapidly develop new skills and sensibilities that are critical for our world today.  During the three days, participants explore:

-the skills and sensibilities we must cultivate to build stronger relationships and act effectively with others in a global, complex and constantly changing world.
-the use use new networked technologies as learning environments for developing new skills and sensibilities.
-their own abilities to work effectively with others, including the behaviors that may get in the way. Throughout the course, participants engage in hands-on group exercises using a virtual reality game environment, and emerge not only with a new awareness of themselves and the skills they need to cultivate, but also with a sense of ambition as they begin to articulate a personal roadmap for learning to navigate in the world of pluralistic networks.

The WEST program (Working Effectively in Small Teams) is our Four Month Learning Laboratory focused on working in teams.  This program is not what you might expect from a “team building” type of course; but rather, our focus is on developing an awareness of how we invent our identity with others, and on learning new skills and sensibilities that enable us to not only coordinate more effectively with other people, but also to build trusting relationships and to be more sensitive to each others’ moods and emotions.  Our students work as teams, and in the process of engaging with each other, they discover what works and what does not work in the way they build their relationship with their team mates (and in real life) for the sake of completing their missions.  The program includes exercises that allow our students to begin to develop the ability to observe themselves in action, not get triggered by negative emotional reactions, and begin the process of cultivating emotional fortitude — the ability to cope with adversity, change and uncertainty as a routine part of life.

When he finished his term as a Senator, the Chilean Government asked Fernando to do several interesting things that I am sure he will share with students and in his blogging when the time is right.

Misled by Technology: Compumorphics

David Brooks in the NY Times writes about the tenor of public impatience with public institutions. “Many people seem to be in the middle of a religious crisis of faith. All the gods they believe in — technology, technocracy, centralized government control — have failed them in this instance.”

Our modern tendency to understand human beings as analogues of computers, which I have begun to call “compumorphizing, gives this kind of result.

via Op-Ed Columnist – The God That Fails – NYTimes.com.

The disappearance of Flight 188. – By William Saletan – Slate Magazine

The pilots “forgot” that they were flying the airplane!

I saw that this had happened a short while ago. William Saletan has asked good questions about what happened here.

This inevitability was anticipated by an early joke of the computer era, about the world’s first fully automated flight, in which a the computer-generated recording announced, more or less, “Welcome to the world’s first computer-managed flight. You will enjoy a new world of comfort, conveniences, speed and safety on this flight. … Sit back and relax. Nothing can go wrong…can go wrong…can go wrong.”

The joke got the danger wrong. The problem is not malfunctioning computers. Nor is the problem malfunctioning people. People “malfunction” as an essential feature of our existential design, and our machines malfunction because we, imperfect and blind to our functioning, are their designers. On the other hand, our “malfunctioning” is the ground in which our freedoms are born, including what we call free will. Without malfunctioning, we have no invention, no new possibilities.

The danger is that the kind of beings we are is being redesigned by the tools and the world we have invented, and we are not observing what is happening.

This is an example of why I spoke so strongly against the metaphoric background that Jill Bolte Taylor spoke from in her poetic and inspiring TED Talk. When we are in the business of inventing what it is to be human and human futures, we should take care about what we are inventing.

Following the line of another joke, we should be careful that we do not end up where we are headed.

Tell me what you think.



Toyota Taking the Lead

For a decade or so I have been saying terrible things about our automobile companies, and for a couple of years I have been saying them here. (Bullshitting in the Economist is a suitably provocative example. You can search the blog for automobile, Toyota, or Detroit and you’ll get a bunch more.)

Now Toyota is about to pass GM as the #1 auto company in the world. GM, Ford, and Chrysler are not catching up. They are headed in the other direction. Yes, I know the same old excuses are still on the table, to which now we see added “this unexpected economic turnaround.” “Who could possibly have predicted….?” Anyone who was paying attention. Many are culpable. The auto executives, who stopped thinking and learning a long time ago. The media, who have been buying the excuses. The rest of us, who have not spoken out early enough or strongly enough. Our American style of bravado, in which, Rocky style, we praise what is “ours” no matter how obviously troubled it may be.

Business Week, in a December article about the world’s most influential companies, doesn’t spend much space on their automobiles. They tout the way that the quality of thinking in the company is being applied to other fields. Healthcare in this case. (Anne Miller gave me the article.)

Toyota deserves the praise it is getting. What a pity that with 50 years to listen to them – and they have been talking to us for that long, and they have not been hiding their secrets under baskets – we still don’t know how to listen to them.


Concerned about Healthcare? Watch this!

Last week I had my first meeting with my new primary care doctor. He works with Qliance Medical Group here in Seattle. I cannot tell you how pleased I am with their services. I have already recommended here looking at what they do.

On March 26th, Dr. Garrison Bliss, who founded Qliance Medical, spoke to the Washington Association of Health Underwriters about the situation of healthcare in the US, and what to do about it. If you are concerned about healthcare, for yourself or for the nation, or for both, I strongly recommend listening to this talk. Listen here.

Below I have paraphrased a little of what he said, as a teaser. The talk is really excellent.

Bliss asks, Why do we have the healthcare system we have? His answer: we designed the system to work this way, albeit not with the intention of producing the results we have produced.

He asks, with the current system, who wins?

Continue reading “Concerned about Healthcare? Watch this!”

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

I offer homage to Waylon Jennings, for his song which echoes in my head as I think about what I want to say here, to Joe Alberti, the acting and drama coach whose comment I have been interacting with, and which inspired this posting, to Fernando Flores, teacher and mentor, and to Greg and Margaret and Shirah, faithful partners for reflection.

This posting has a moral: Be bloody careful about the language in which you make important interpretations, or your language will “invent you” as something you may not be happy with. Winston Churchill, in a speech in the House of Commons on October 28, 1944, said, “We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us.” (http://drmardy.com tells us that Churchill made the speech during the rebuilding of the House of Commons, after it sustained heavy bombing damage during the Battle of Britain.)

  • Paraphrasing his words and idea, we say,

    We shape our language (our interpretations of the world, and the moods and distinctions in which we listen and speak), and afterwards our language shapes us.

    Continue reading “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places”

  • Wise Organizations? Continued …

    To see the earlier parts of this long posting which reflects on the conditions and situations in which wisdom can be cultivated and exercised in organizational settings, click on the links below. To get back to this page, click on the title of the blog in the upper left.

    Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

    We are continuing the set of six tiny essays inviting reflection about the construction of the conditions and situations in which wisdom can be cultivated and exercised in organizational settings.

    Preparing for Ethical Action

    The concern for action is central to the question of wisdom, and there is a direct relationship between the exercise of wisdom and ethics. Let’s take these one at a time. Wisdom has more to do with action and less to do with dry abstraction than a casual look at many traditions would have us believe. Even the extraordinarily rigorous contemplative activities frequently found in the practices of some wisdom traditions, when carefully examined, will be found to have to do with getting prepared for taking or being involved in action. We meditate, contemplate, and the like in order to be prepared to take action, or to support others taking action when the moment for action arrives.

    Continue reading “Wise Organizations? Continued …”

    Wise Organizations? Continued…

    Preparing the Way for Wisdom in Organizations – Part 2c

    We have been talking about language-action and the constitution of organizations. To see the earlier parts of this long posting which reflects on the conditions and situations in which wisdom can be cultivated and exercised in organizational settings, click on the links below. To get back to this page, click on the title of the blog in the upper left.

    Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

    Next we turn to the implications of language-action for the design of systems. In their book Understanding Computers and Cognition, Fernando Flores and Terry Winograd outlined a three point theory of management and conversation in their that shows well many of the features of how software designs could embody the insights we are exploring here:

    1. “Organizations exist as networks of directives and commissives.” Directives include orders, requests, consultations, and offers; commissives include promises, acceptances, and rejections. (These names for performative verbs are from a different taxonomy than I use and present here, but the reader will see the relationships.)
    2. “Breakdowns will inevitably occur, and the organization needs to be prepared. In coping with breakdowns, further networks of directives and commissives are generated.”
    3. “People in an organization (including, but not limited to managers) issue utterances, by speaking or writing, to develop the conversations required in the organizational network. They participate in the creation and maintenance of a process of communication. At the core of this process is the performance of linguistic acts that bring forth different kinds of commitments.” (Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design. p. 157.)

    Flores and Winograd claim (and I am convinced that their claim is a good one) that the classical idea of decision-making is not well supported phenomenologically. (In ordinary language, this fancy expression means “bad theory” or “the evidence doesn’t fit the claims,” or, “that dog won’t hunt.” The problem is that when people are talking about decision making it appears to all concerned that they know what they are talking about, and, in fact, normally they do not.) Flores and Winograd recommended substituting the notion of ‘dealing with irresolution’ and supporting people in coming to resolution. (Ibid, p 144ff.)

    Stay tuned. More to come.

    © Copyright Chauncey Bell, 2003-4. All rights reserved worldwide.
    Copyright © 2005, Idea Group Inc. Copying or distributing in print or electronic forms without written permission of Idea Group Inc. is prohibited.

    The Challenge of Changing Behaviors

    [We revised this posting on Wednesday 26 March.]

    This posting is inspired by the questions Joe Alberti asked here. Joe teaches theatre and acting, and is working on a PhD. Some time ago he began studying wierd stuff – the writings of Fernando Flores and Humberto Maturana in particular. I like the heart of Joe’s question: the central challenge he faces is changing the orientations, ways of thinking and acting – the behaviors – of the people with whom he works. That is the central challenge that a lot of us face.

    Frequently people speak of “those not under our control” as emblematic of this challenge. The way we talk about work in modern organizations produces the illusion that we have some people under our control, and others not. This is an illusion. We don’t control cats, we don’t control goats, we don’t control dogs, we don’t control horses, and we don’t control human beings. We dance with them in consensual spaces. (Yes, I agree that there are places and situations in the world where, effectively, people move with guns held at their heads. That is not the common situation in the developed world today.)

    The overall challenge is to design reliable structures in which the right kinds of actions can happen when people are working together.

    Continue reading “The Challenge of Changing Behaviors”

    Wise Organizations?, continued …

    With the permission of the publishers of the book, Idea Group, Inc., I’m sharing this chapter in a series of postings, to see what kind of conversation it generates. Idea Group’s copyright prohibits copying the text in any written or electronic form. Please help me protect this copyright by referring people to the blog, but don’t copy the text that is here.

    Preparing the Way for Wisdom in Organizations – Part 2b

    We have been talking about language-action and the constitution of organizations. To see the earlier parts of this long posting which reflects on the conditions and situations in which wisdom can be cultivated and exercised in organizational settings, click on the links. To get back to this page, refresh the blog.

    Part 1

    Part 2
    Part 3
    Part 4

    Each language action has standard elements which, when recognized, can help guide designers as they specify elements of an organization: strategies, configurations, practices, systems, etc. The standard elements of a language action? Speakers, listeners, conditions of satisfaction, time of speaking, time of expected response, time of committed action, and so forth.

    John Austin discovered performative verbs (language-actions) some 60 years ago. The implications of his discovery are vast and still mostly unrecognized. Dr. Fernando Flores Labra, currently a Senator in the Chilean government, was the first to point out the importance of performatives for understanding and guiding the behaviors of people in modern organizations, and as a potential underpinning for design in organizations. (Flores brought together many of the thinkers and the traditions of thinking on which I rely in this paper.)

    Ask yourself the question, ‘What makes something be an organization?’ Within every culture there are a variety of standard modes of business operation that can be observed (sales, manufacturing, invoicing, shipping, and so forth.) Underneath all of the variety is a more fundamental set of practices. Whether a business is as simple as an individual sitting on the ground with a pile of fruit for sale or a multinational conglomerate, and whether it produces tangible goods in factories, provides janitorial services, or operates entirely “on paper,” as in the case of many financial businesses, …

    A business is created when a person or group of people declares that they will recurrently make certain classes of offers to some population of customers, and that they will satisfy the conditions of those offers (deliver what they promised) in exchange for some offer the customer makes in return, or the fulfillment of some request they make to the customer.

    Continue reading “Wise Organizations?, continued …”

    Wise Organizations? Continued …

    With the permission of the publishers of the book, Idea Group, Inc., I’m sharing this chapter in a series of postings, to see what kind of conversation it generates. Idea Group’s copyright prohibits copying the text in any written or electronic form. Please help me protect this copyright by referring people to the blog, but don’t copy the text that is here.

    Preparing the Way for Wisdom in Organizations – Part 2a

    This is the second in a set of six essays inviting reflection about the construction of the conditions and situations in which wisdom can be cultivated and exercised in organizational settings.
    Language-Action and the Constitution of Organizations

    For the vast majority of the moments of our lives (including much of our sleep, in dreams remembered and not), we are doing things in language, and language is doing things to us. The opportunity of this topic is that “language-action” offers a radically improved path to observing what we are doing as we are speaking (and listening). When we speak we create new interpretations, moods, possibilities, and futures in the bodies and minds of those with whom we are speaking (and for ourselves). Therefore, one of the distinctions that will be essential for us is language-action: observing language as communicative acts.

    The English philosopher John L. Austin (1911-1960) was the first to carefully distinguish a class of verbs that he called performatives – verbs that, rather than describing actions, perform actions. (John L. Austin, (1975). How to Do Things With Words, Second Edition. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, p. 148.)

    When someone says ‘I promise to …,’ he is performing the action of promising, not reporting that he will, did, or might promise. It turns out that all human languages contain performatives. For the purpose of designing work in organizations, I distinguish six classes of performatives:

    * declarations
    * offers
    * requests
    * promises
    * assessments
    * assertions

    The most important, and most interesting thing about these verbs is that, when we look carefully, we can see that it is with these acts that we human beings invent our futures. Very often we don’t actually use the words; people make promises all the time without saying “I promise,” and make requests even more often without saying “I request” (for example, “The soup needs salt” and “Don’t you think that it is cold in here?”)

    How do these language-actions show up as we are inventing our futures?
    Continue reading “Wise Organizations? Continued …”

    Major Article on Richard Strozzi-Heckler’s Work

    Richard’s work is drawing a lot of attention. Many, many friends have produced major shifts in their capacities to think and act in the world by working with him. Here’s a major story about his work, appearing in the Winter Edition of Strategy+Business. Click here.

    Be sure to read the comments to this post. Margaret gives a good (bad) review of the article itself. I strongly recommend Richard’s work, irrespective of the quality of the article.


    “…humanity’s immune response to resist and heal political disease, economic infection, and ecological corruption …”

    Paul Hawken first came to my attention with the publication of The Ecology of Commerce in 1993. In the book, he said (my interpretations) that in The Silent Spring, Rachel Carson was right, but that the situation was worse than she had said. We did not just face imminent danger, but rather the endocrine systems of our planet’s living organisms had already been compromised by the way we were engaging in commerce and industry on the planet. Secondly, he said, we could give up the idea that the situation could be remedied by governments, agreements among governments, or regulation. There was, he said, only one force on the planet up to the challenge we faced: we had to transform the way that we understood and did commerce and business.

    In his new book, Blessed Unrest, working from the same concerns, he reflects on something that “is going on in the background.” From the perspective of more than a decade of talking to people around the world about what is going on in the world of the environment, he discovered that there is a huge social movement underway that does not fit anyone’s picture of a movement. He calls it a vast network of organizations that are operating ‘without a white male vertebrate running the show,’ and addressing the questions of human rights, social justice, and environmental restoration in what he understands now as a unified phenomenon.

    I recommend the book. In this video, you can hear him talking about the book for a little over 5 minutes. In this video, you can watch his presentation of the book at Google’s offices, and a wonderful conversation after the presentation with Dr. Lawrence (Larry) Brilliant (about an hour long).

    I think Paul’s work is important for understanding many things about our modern world, possibilities for transforming cultures, designing businesses, and building new ethical enterprises. I am convinced that he is distinguishing something “new” in a very solid way. As Michael Salveson said to me when I told him about the book, “But of course, de Tocqueville told us that when he wrote Democracy in America: every major change in this country begins in the communities. The big changes are not generated by the institutions.”

    What do you think?

    Wise Organizations?, Continued …

    by Chauncey Bell

    With the permission of the publishers of the book, Idea Group, Inc., I’m sharing this chapter in a series of postings, to see what kind of conversation it generates. Idea Group’s copyright prohibits copying the text in any written or electronic form. Please help me protect this copyright by referring people to the blog, but don’t copy the text that is here.

    Part 2. What about Wisdom in an Organization?

    Now let us turn our attention to wisdom in organizations per se. The first thing that we will do is to introduce several questions and foundations that we will employ for thinking with you about wisdom, mostly without resolving them.

    Do you admire the way that your bank handles your questions, your supermarket manages your experience, your auto dealer handles the maintenance of your car, or the way that manufacturers of things you buy handle your questions and suggestions? We may admire the wisdom of someone in dealing with his children, spouse, or even colleagues or employees in his company, but a wise organization? Can you remember a real, sustained experience with an organization that learns from its mistakes, as Churchman dreamed? (The book in which this chapter was published is dedicated to the memory of Professor C. West Churchman of the University of California at Berkeley.)

    Even those small community and fraternal organizations over which we might think we have the greatest control are often sources of epic frustration. I listen to my neighbor: “You will not believe what just happened at the neighborhood association meeting.” (Yes, I will.) Does anyone admire the way our governments interact with us? Take a deep breath and prepare yourself to stand patiently in line and wait. When, as does occasionally happen, we have the experience of someone in an organization listening carefully and acting with alacrity in response to our request, this is an occasion for a celebration. “A miracle happened!” my wife will begin a report of that rare event: an organization acting wisely.

    Some institutions produce disproportionately large numbers of people adjudged “wise” in their communities. Consider, for example, the histories of the great religious institutions of the East and West, the institution of science itself, and the institution of medicine down through the ages. These are not the only examples by any means. Can you think of other examples of your own? Why does this happen? And why are these histories so uneven? Why great wisdom at some moments and behaviors that we would call stupid, self-serving, or even criminal at others?
    Continue reading “Wise Organizations?, Continued …”

    Wise Action in Organizations

    Three years ago Jim Courtney, Professor of Management Information Systems at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, asked me to write a chapter on the subject of “wisdom in organizations” for a book he was preparing. The book was published in 2005 as Inquiring Organizations: Moving From Knowledge Management To Wisdom, a book dedicated to the memory of Professor C. West Churchman of the University of California at Berkeley, edited by Jim, John Haynes, and David Paradice. It included my chapter, entitled, “Wise Organizations?”

    With the permission of the publishers of the book, Idea Group, Inc., I’m going to share the chapter here, in a series of postings (it is quite long), to see what kind of conversation it generates. Idea Group’s copyright prohibits copying the text in any written or electronic form. Please help me protect this copyright by referring people to the blog, but don’t copy the text that is here.

    Wise Organizations?
    Chauncey Bell

    In seeking wisdom, the first step is silence; the second, listening; the third, remembering; the fourth, practicing; the fifth teaching others.
    Solomon Ibn Gabirol, Jewish Poet and Philosopher (c. 1021-1058)

    “There is no use trying,” said Alice; “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
    Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland


    In this chapter, I want to help put a richer background in place to support the work of IT designers. I hope that an examination of wisdom may inform those who have the ambition to, or are charged with designing and building software systems and networks, and lead to the development of systems that do a better job of supporting people in the wise exercise of their responsibilities in all kinds of organizations. The subject is too big for a chapter in a book, but perhaps with the following I can inspire, suggest some foundations, suggest directions for exploration, and at the same time point out some goofy interpretations that may be adjusted or altered.

    In his exploration of the idea of ‘designing inquiring systems,’ C. West Churchman challenged himself to invent a basis for building systems that support human action more effectively:

    “Instead of just asking the traditional questions of how human minds come to learn from experience, [I] asked how one could design a system that would learn from its experience in some ‘optimal’ fashion. My plan was to translate some of the historical texts in the theory of knowledge into modern systems terminology, by assuming that the authors were discussing the components of a system design. … I was struck again [while studying Leibniz] by the fact that in his approach to the inquiring system he was insisting that a concept of the whole system was essential in understanding how each ‘part’ worked. … Now in these days of rather intense study of systems and their management, few seem in the least concerned about … the characteristics of the whole system in any but a very narrow sense. If Leibniz was right, then modern theories of system design and managerial control are sadly lacking in their reasoning.” (C. West Churchman, (1968). Challenge to Reason, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, p. v.-vi.)

    I am a designer of business habits. I design ways that human beings – in explicit or tacit collaboration with others – do things to shape their futures by adjusting or changing their habits. Mostly I work in large institutions. In the process of building new working habits in a number of industries over the years, I have designed and led the development of several complex software systems.

    We human beings are creatures of habit, and habits are deeply relevant to the question of wisdom.
    Continue reading “Wise Action in Organizations”

    Bullshitting in The Economist: Homage to Fernando Flores and Harry Frankfurt

    In the November 8, 2007 Economist we find a “Briefing” entitled “Toyota: A wobble on the road to the top.” It is a well-crafted article for someone who is not thinking. However, Greg and I were surprised to see an article like this, without attribution, in The Economist. Who is hiding what? Who takes responsibility for authoring this article? The editors of the Economist? If that is the case, this article invites me to make a major shift in my interpretation about the integrity of this journal, because it looks too much a “planted” article.

    The article puts me in a mood of irony and frustration at the opportunities that the West is wasting by attempting to understand Toyota within the framework in which we have been so busy killing our own automobile industries for so long. Greg and my mother call what this article is doing, “Cutting off your nose to spite your face.”
    What do I mean?

    1. “… not all is running smoothly at Toyota” is exactly the same condition that the company has been in every day for the last 50 years. They don’t expect it to run smoothly, and it has not run smoothly. The difference between Toyota and its competitors is that Toyota organizes itself to deal with a world in which things don’t run smoothly, and to take massive advantage of every breakdown.

    2. Where GM (for example) pats itself on the back for making 20,000 changes in its operations a year, Toyota makes a million changes. Literally. They do that as part of paying close attention to the evolving space in which they interact in the world, and adjusting continuously. The article implies that the company is experiencing momentous, techtonic shifts that they are not in condition to deal with. There is no evidence for such a claim that I have seen. The evidence cited in the article is no more than the kinds of events that are happening every day in every company.

    3. The website to which the article points us to show that “nine of America’s leading scientific and environmental organisations took out advertisements in newspapers and started up a website” is a political hit site without, as I can tell, any substance.

    4. If someone wanted to do the research (I don’t have the time) I’d bet a good sum of money that this is a planted article originally constructed (or shaped less directly) by someone attempting to defend the American automobile establishment. “Toyota could be leapfrogged ….” In whose dreams? The time and money spent here, attempting to pretend a “balanced” report on the state of the Toyota enterprise, would be far better spent trying to figure out why for 50 years the Western auto companies have not been able to understand or build their own version of what Toyota has built.

    5. The author, whoever he or she is, could not make sense of what Toyota’s president was doing in a “personal mobility concept,” and goes on to ridicule the man and the company, calling it a “silly stunt.” This reminds me of the report that my friend George Kuper gave me on returning from one of the earliest visits of US auto executives to Japan to tour Toyota plants that were beginning to use the Toyota Production System. The American executives had been invited by the Japanese to see what they were doing, as a gesture of goodwill originally born out of Taichi Ohno’s admiration and gratitude to Henry Ford for his inventions. At the end of the day, George told me, the American executives caucused in private to discuss what they had seen. One consensus: they could not figure out why the Japanese were so committed to try to convince them that they were running their plants without inventories and parts warehouses. They ridiculed the Japanese for their “silly show.” Everyone knows, the American executives agreed, that it is not possible to run a plant without inventories, and they could not grasp what kind of devious intention was hiding behind their hosts’ insistence that they were operating without these essential components of a good facility.

    It only took 30 or so years for some of the people in the US auto industry to discover what was behind the “devious intention.” Perhaps 30 years from now someone from the Economist might want to investigate whether what the president of Toyota was doing with his “personal mobility concept” was really only attempting “to polish Toyota’s image as a car company with a highly developed sense of social responsibility rather than one chasing growth at all costs.” I know what I bet we’ll find….

    About the title: My friend Fernando Flores has been talking about bullshit as a formal distinction for understanding deceptive misrepresentations for more than 20 years. I wrote about it here. Harry Frankfurt, in his marvelous little book “On Bullshit,” speaks of bullshitting and bullshitters: “… carefully wrought bullshit involves, then, a certain inner strain. Thoughtful attention to detail requires discipline and objectivity. In entails accepting standards and limitations that forbid the indulgence of impulse or whim. It is this [apparent] selflessness that, in connection with bullshit, strikes us as inapposite. But in fact it is not out of the question at all. The realms of advertising and of public relations, and the nowadays closely related realm of politics, are relplete with instances of bullshit so unmitigated that they can serve among the most indisputable and classic paradigms of the concept. And in these realms there are exquisitely sophisticated craftsmen who–with the help of advancend and demanding techniques of market research, of public opinion polling, of psychological testing, and so forth–dedicate themselves tirelessly to getting every word and image they produce exactly right. Yet there is something more to be said about this. However studiously and conscienntiously the bullshitter proceeds, it remains true that he is also trying to get away with something. …” (p23)

    DiCaprio’s 11th Hour

    I went to one of the opening shows of Leonardo DiCaprio’s new “documentary movie.” It, and what he is doing with it, are fantastic. I highly recommend it. A discussion followed the movie, led by Brian Gerber, one of the film’s producers, and Gil Friend, a friend who consults on environmental and sustainability matters. How is a discussion after the movie for an anomaly? Really it was something more than a “documentary.”

    Three things impressed me about the presentation, aside from the fact that it was well done and showed the disastrous situation clearly, with lots of grounding: First, it showed clearly that there is already at work a broad constituency of people actively at work to do something about the mess. Second, while it pointed a finger directly at businesses as major contributors and culprits in the situation, it did not blame businesses for the situation. Third, it laid the responsibility for the mess, and for cleaning it up, squarely in the hands of you and me.

    Here’s the trailer.

    Go see it!

    Why is construction so backward?

    Hal Macomber and I have been talking about construction messes for many years. He regularly says good things on his blog, Reforming Project Management.

    I use the word “mess” to refer to a situation that cannot be responsibly characterized as a problem, or even as a collection of problems. A problem is something which, by virtue of the idea that there are “solutions,” presents itself as sufficiently well understood that skilled and intelligent people can bring solutions to it. A leaking faucet or a car that is not working is a problem. An automobile accident is a problem. A simple illness is a problem. Modern construction is not a problem. It is a mess. It begs for a historical reconstruction and the creation of new interpretations, from which whole new approaches to making offers, organizing the work, and conducting the work, will be born.

    Yesterday Hal cited an article in the Boston Globe entitled, The Industry that Time Forgot, by Barry LePatner. In the article, LePatner talks about the recent extraordinarily rapid repair of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, as an example of evidence that other futures for construction are possible. The author says, among other things, “The modern construction business hasn’t changed significantly since the first steel-frame skyscrapers began to rise in the early 1900s. Early tall buildings such as the Tribune Tower in Chicago and the Woolworth Building in New York grew too complex to remain under the purview of a single “master builder,” the architect who knew and supervised every detail of the project. Instead, each required an assembly of specialists — electricians, plumbers, heating contractors, excavators. Dozens, then hundreds of companies arose to handle those systems, each a local family-run shop that drove its truck to one project at a time. Today, in 2007, that’s still basically how the business works.”

    What a wonderful opportunity!

    As I write, I am listening to Scott Joplin’s Heliotrope Bouquet, from 1907, and the music fits perfectly. A lyrical piano piece 100 years old that would have been lovely accompaniment to a segment of a Charlie Chaplin comedy – perfect music for “modern” construction. Click here to hear the music played on YouTube by Andy Koehler.

    John Prewer, called “the Godfather of modular construction,” recommended that I read Why is construction so backward a couple of years ago.

    Anybody out there read it? I have found that most of my friends in the construction industry are not even aware of its existence.

    What will it take to develop a new story?

    On the one hand, GM, Ford, and (Daimler) Chrysler are all in very serious trouble, and Toyota is flying, the most interesting large company in the world today. On the other hand, the media is full of opinions and strategies all constructed inside the very same philosophical structures in which the “big three” have gotten themselves into trouble – blame the unions, finished goods of $15 billion, millions of cars stacking up on lots, deep discounts and advertising campaigns, laying off thousands of employees, considering getting out of the car business, the truck business, sell off the company, … what next?

    In a February 14th article titled “In Humbling Overhaul, Chrysler Faces Big Cuts”, Wall Street Journal writers begin, “… Chrysler becomes the last of the Detroit Big Three to abandon hope of growing its way out of problems. Now it has a humbler goal: making money.” The article quotes Tom Lasorda, Chrysler Group Chief Executive, explaining the way that the strategy functions: “We lost money building inventory, and then we lost money trying to get rid of it.” 

    We are sure that the management of Chrysler, or Ford, and GM, are not humbled. If they were, they would begin to question the way they are thinking about the mess. 

    What is it going to take for the Big Three to recognize that their stories about why Toyota has out-paced, out-flanked, out-thought, out-designed, and bested them in all aspects the running an automobile business are bad stories. Good stories give hints about what to do to change the situation. For literally decades the stories we have listened to from the Big Three have failed to point to new effective actions.

    “Bold Moves” at Ford

    I just ran into Ford’s “Bold Moves” initiative, which imitates the “Reality Television” style of working out problems in front of an audience. 20 “Episodes” have been published already at http://www.fordboldmoves.com/default.aspx. In the episodes, Ford spokespeople where they say things like “We have to change or die.” and “Ford doesn’t have a PR prooblem; we have a product problem.” Meanwhile, the initiative is subtitled “Documenting the Future of Ford” – my suspicion is that this will turn out to be an attempt to do a new kind of PR.

    Turns out Ford is a sponsor of “American Idol.” I suppose this is a very fancy case of life imitating (art).   

    I will be reviewing the 20 “Episodes” shortly, and seeing what is there. Perhaps the designers of the program have begun to address some of the questions we have been bringing over the last postings. We shall see, and make assessments.

    I attempted and failed to put the “Bold Moves” feed into my blog. If someone out there knows how to do that, the code is <script language=’javascript’ src=’http://www.fordboldmoves.com/clientscripts/externalflash.aspx?episode=20′></script&gt;, but I can’t figure out what to do with it.

    More later; I am getting ready for a trip to Europe right now.

    Give me your reactions and comments!


    Chauncey Bell

    The Toyota Dilemma

    Over the past weeks we have been following threads that come from several questions that Greg and I have been asking. Our questions are like this:

    1. How come people keep trying and failing to copy what Toyota has done?
    2. Is Toyota really that good? Or does the spotty record of wanna-be copiers indicative of a half-baked theory? Does it work in Japan, but not here?
    3. How disastrously bad is their competition in the automobile industry? Is that why they are taking over the #1 spot globally, and winning so handily?
    4. What are people in the automobile industry watching that they keep (apparently) missing the beef? We think that they are not stupid people; then then they must be trapped in a really bad story about how the world works, and must be misunderstanding what Toyota has been doing.

    One of the conversations that Greg and I have says that we are playing out different stories. We fell in love with cars in different ways than did the Japanese. Their national story about extraordinary human beings has in its background the Samurai tradition – in which, among other things, people surrender to disciplines and traditions, and build excellence out of time and practice. In the US, we fell in love with cars as part of our exploration of the dimensions of freedom. It is still a rite of initiation in this country for a young person to reach the age of 16, be licensed, and move towards owning a car. This is a nation of people who escaped from other tribes and refused to be dominated. Kind of the opposite of Toyota. We think, however, that it is possible to build a version of the Toyota Production System that fits with our impatient, freedom-loving, entrepreneurial and strongly independent way of being.

    What do you think?

    What do our questions provoke for you?

    Payment for What?

    According to the San Francisco Chronicle of September 9th, in the Daily Digest, Alan Mulally, the incoming new CEO of Ford, will be paid:

    • An annual salary of $2 million.
    • A signing bonus of $7.5 million.
    • $11 million to offset the compensation he is giving up by leaving Boeing.
    • $10.5 million in stock options.
    • $11 million if Ford changes control or lets him go for any reason other than “cause” before 2011.

    What promises do you suppose this man is really making to the stockholders, to the customers, to the citizens of Detroit, Michigan, and the United States? That he will “try harder”? That he will turn around the situation that has been brewing at Ford for 40 or 50 years? Impossible. No single human being, from outside the company, can fulfill such a promise. If no promise of that sort is being made, then what crazy habits have we arrived at for compensating senior executives in this country? What kind of a world are we making in which business executives are paid like rock stars and world-class athletes, to “play” in games where the play of the game is private, and success is measured the way it is in a modern business like Ford.

    What is the board of Ford doing? Cutting 30,000 jobs, closing 14 plants, and investing $30 million in the dream that Mr. Mulally will leap tall buildings in a single bound?

    © Copyright 2006, Chauncey Bell and BABDI, LLC. All rights reserved worldwide.

    What Were They Thinking???

    Greg asks,

    “How do people who are suffering in the middle of work that is horrifically organized and conducted tolerate that?”

    “Does anyone really notice that they are not happy, or are we so used to the pain and convinced that it is inevitable that we go along? Do modern people just have a high pain threshold?”

    “Is the cultural orientation of people in business so oriented to “producing” that people do not notice the way that things are being done?”

    “What are managers and others listening to when, in the middle of observing and managing actions, they keep doing the same things and don’t stop to ask what’s happening and why people are doing things the way they are?”

    The questions, he proposes, bring to the fore just how difficult it is to pay attention to our current, habitual ways of doing things, to break up old habits, and build new ones.

    Heidegger might have said, in reply, that the people in question were, in fact, not thinking. In these circumstances, we might recognize that people are involved in transparent, recurrent coping with situations and circumstances in which what is happening, and the actions that are possible for dealing with what is happening are completely pre-programmed and automatic. The fact that we say we are thinking under these circumstances is, itself, only another part of our automaticity.

    How do you break that up? We speak of pain as a goad to changing behavior. In training designers, I caution against the notion of people liking or being ‘comfortable’ with situtations and proposals. Normally, when everyone is comfortable, nothing important is happening. An effective designer must develop the skill of bringing the right discomfort to the right people in the right moments.

    © Copyright 2006, Chauncey Bell and BABDI, LLC. All rights reserved worldwide.