57 – Some types of thinking observed in local government.

Posted by Whistler                                                                          580 words

ant on leaf

Image from http://caracaschronicles.com

Convenient thinking. I think this is a preferred way of thinking for many people. It is the easiest. What is the quickest way to deal with this matter? Is there someone else who should be doing it? What is likely to have the least impact on me? Once you start asking these questions, you are well on the way to some convenient thinking. It is most problematic when senior management regularly engage in convenient thinking.

Consequential thinking. This is related to convenient thinking but is more focussed on the possible outcomes from doing something. What could go wrong? Who could be upset? Will it move my career forward? The high level of risk awareness in local government encourages consequential thinking. It isn’t necessarily a problem unless you identify so many possible consequences that it becomes a reason not to do anything. The consequences of doing nothing are often seen to be the safest.

Integrative thinking. This is seen much less often and usually comes from people at the end of the organisational food chain who are involved in delivering services to customers. They can see the consequences of the convenient thinking that has been going on. They are motivated to look back up the food chain to try and understand what has caused the problem they are dealing with and how it can be solved. Often it involves poor coordination at functional interfaces, which they can often see but can’t easily influence.

Systems thinking. This is the least common. Mainly because it can really make your head hurt and when you talk to other people about systems they think you are over complicating things. After all, we have never thought about our work that way in the past and we have gotten by. It explains why councils struggle to implement and sustain improvement processes like the Australian Business Excellence Framework. The preoccupation with trying to help people work well in organisational systems that work against them just highlights the lack of systems thinking.

I have seen all types of thinking in action. Consequential thinking by my group manager who started their thinking about any issue by weighing up the possible consequences for them. Could this make me look good or could it make me look bad? Will it create a lot of work for me? If I put in the effort, will it look good on my resume? Often, they chose to think conveniently and take the path of least resistance.

Integrative thinking by the customer service officer, who wants to improve service to people they deal with every day over the counter, but, like the ant trying to get back onto their leaf on the tree, can’t see the pathway to do it. Who can improve this process? How can I influence them to do it? As Edward De Bono says, it is much easier for the ant to get from their leaf to the ground than it is for it to get back to the leaf.

I have seen attempts at systems thinking, or at least the pretence of it. When CEO’s launch change programs they are usually announced as whole-of-organisation, integrated and holistic. Unfortunately, implementing something scoped like that is as hard as it sounds. So out comes some convenient thinking instead.

I suppose the challenge to us all is to understand how we are thinking, and how the people around us are thinking, and ask whether it is the best way.