Abstract: If truly successful, problem solving concludes by discovering better questions to ask. There may be other benefits also.
Here are some questions I have asked myself. Perhaps you too can think about them and dialog about them. If I leave having better questions to ask, I will be happy.
1. Is today’s world full of technology and techniques in search of a new value system?
- In technology, just because we can and it’s cool, should we?
- We have all kinds of techniques to improve quality, lean, behavior – and profit, etc. If these are so obvious, why do we not live in a “perfect world” now?
2. What is systems thinking to you? In scope and in diversity? (Or why can’t we think about everything at once, simultaneously and connected? And while you are up and at it, what is complexity?)
3. How could or should systems thinking affect:
- Preventive health
- Curative health
- Education, birth to death (why do we think K-12, plus college?
- Information in a connected world (How are we “grounded” so that we distinguish fact from fantasy?
- What does “grounding” mean to you?)
- Environment (is nature the touchstone of reality – and of complexity?)
4. Is monetary value an illusion? If so, what of budgets, P&L statements, compound interest, stock caps, and the like, on out to the trading of derivatives? (More generally, are all mental models abstractions that potentially blind us to reality? If so, how can we escape them?)
5. What is a regenerative economy, defined as one in which human activity is symbiotic with nature, the whole maintaining health indefinitely. (What all is being assumed? One big assumption is replacing endless physical growth with “developmental growth.”)
6. In the context of a regenerative economy, what does quality mean to you? What might a quality system be like?
7. Values are a set of beliefs on which we act. Is it possible to live by any set of values without being hypocritical? (Is it possible to prove that you are not crazy – the dilemma addressed in Catch-22?)
8. Is rationality limited, possibly even illusory? If so, how does this affect problem solving? (e.g. Tame problems vs. wicked ones; limits of P-D-C-A problem solving; the promise and the peril of dialog for problem solving.)
9. Is there such a thing as “relative truth?” If so, what is it?
10. How can we reduce the waste of human dysfunction: e.g. egotism, status seeking, urge to control others, display wealth, obsess with old mental models, be the smartest person in the room, and split into conflicting tribes?
11. How can we collectively change us – change our culture? (Can anything practical arise from the foregoing philosophical poo-poo? To what extent can we think our way though to a change vs. behave our way through – changing our beliefs by first changing what we do?)
Biography: Robert Hall is Professor Emeritus of Operations Management, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. Early in his career as a chemical engineer he worked for Eli Lilly and Union Carbide. In 1985 he helped found the Association for Manufacturing Excellence, and for 22 years and was Editor-in-chief of its publication, Target. In 2002 he was honored as the first recipient of AME’s lifetime achievement award. In 2006 he received the Gold Medal for lifetime achievement from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.
“Doc,” as he in known in industry, was one of the first examiners for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. He was a judge for the Pace Award (for innovation among auto industry suppliers). He helped design Industry Week’s America’s 10 Best Plants Awards, and was an examiner for many years. And he helped design the Association for Manufacturing Excellence Best Company awards.
In the 1970s Doc began to compare American and Japanese manufacturing. In 1983 he wrote Zero Inventories, one of the first books detailing lean operations. But lean is more than techniques, so he moved on to study leadership and culture in organizations exhibiting excellent operational performance. In 1990 he edited the translation of Manufacturing 21, a Japanese projection that catalyzed American programs to develop “agile manufacturing,” “next-generation manufacturing,” and that pointed toward environmental sustainability. He combines long-term vision with pragmatism.
In 1992 Doc wrote The Soul of the Enterprise, which foreshadowed his latest book, Compression, which projects that the challenges of the 21st century are so much more comprehensive than the challenges of the 20th century that they require us to fundamentally rethink what we do and why. He now chairman of the Compression Institute, an organization with a plan to live better while using far fewer natural resources. Our biggest challenges are not technical. Our biggest challenges are us.
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