Monday, April 19, 2010

Advice for riding a dead horse

These are unprecedented times. It has simply never been this way before. Our world had never been more interconnected and interdependent.

To be successful, leaders need to deal with high levels of complexity and situations loaded with abstraction, diversity, ambiguity and paradox. Our familiar mental models do not equip us for this. Our mental models are based on short-term, straight-line ideas of cause and effect.

As we focus on lasting change in groups, organizations and the community, success only comes through using processes that:
  • focus on working with all the parts as a single system,
  • accept that solutions emerge as situations unfold, and
  • involve the people concerned in developing the solutions.
But we know that getting to the place where we can abandon our familiar mental models can be a long and difficult struggle.

And some folks will never get there.

So for the folks who would prefer to stick with the familiar straight-line models to deal with increasingly complex situations, here’s some time-tested advice on how to ride a dead horse.

Dakota tribal wisdom says that when you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. Some of us, however, try other strategies with dead horses, including:
  • Buying a bigger, stronger whip.
  • Appointing a committee to study the horse.
  • Arranging to visit other sites to see how they ride dead horses.
  • Comparing the state of dead horses in today's environment.
  • Change the requirements declaring that “This horse is not dead.”
  • Hire contractors to ride the dead horse.
  • Harnessing several dead horses together for increased speed. 
If you have other strategies for riding dead horses, please post as comments. Or if you are convinced that you can still get some mileage from a dead horse, tell us how that is working for you.

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