A framework for thinking about problems - Part 2

Theory vs Practice

As I outline this approach, you may perceive that it somewhat ‘theoretical’, academic even. That may have something to do with how I write, rather than what I am actually writing. I get that a lot. 

“It sounds complicated.” “It sounds very smart, but…” Some people tell me outright they have “no idea what I am talking about” when I go off on something. So a short note in self-defense:

People have the wrong view about what constitutes academic/theoretical; especially when it comes to the social sciences like management/business. Academics and researchers who study business and write books about it are NOT the thought leaders. They are NOT the pioneers who formulate new ways of doing things.

Academics and Researchers LAG the practitioners. The so-called thought-leaders of Marketing are now writing about Uber and Netflix and how particular strategies explain their successes. And how other businesses should follow the framework or the recipe or the mode.

The fact is, the entrepreneurs and the leaders at these organisations had figured out how to do things (trial and error OR by design, that does not matter) and they are the real thought leaders. Researchers merely describe what is already happening. (It is called RE-search.)

The Academic or Researcher is simply looking at things with a broader lens, seeing other patterns and gaining other insights and helping to connect dots to put things in a framework that allows others to see in a few minutes or hours what has taken a long time to discover, clarify and document.

I am not an academic or a researcher, but I see the patterns and connect the dots. I know the actual frameworks or models are no reality, but they are representations of reality.  By using the frameworks to systematically look at the knowledge it seeks to convey, they become tools that practitioners can use to manage more effectively.

Management THEORY is merely the description of existing PRACTICES. It is unhelpful to dismiss ‘theory’ as something that is disconnected with day-to-day management.
The System of Excellence Framework
The six variables (6 S’s) on the Y-axis of the matrix is the framework identified by Peters and Waterman in the mid 80s. Whilst they used the 7S’s to explain ‘excellence’, I think it simply explains the organisation. I have come to see the 6 S’s as the DNA of the organisation. The 7th S is ‘Shared Values’ or Culture, which is the dynamic interaction of the six core elements. 

For example, if you have a ‘money’ issue (i.e. insufficient cash) you would want to identify the specific element (one of the 6 S’s) that will help identify and articulate the nature of the problem. Does it relate to the strategic management of funds (making the wrong hedging decisions) or is it because the system does not tell us in good time we will run short of funds or whatever. BY cross-referencing the origin (source) with the element, you will be able to accurately label the problem. (At which stage you will apply root cause analysis to identify primary and secondary causes.)

Don’t worry, it will become clearer as I explain.

Complex vs Simple Problems

The nature of the beast is such that all problems and all elements are somewhat inter-connected, so invariably one problem is linked to another via cause or effect. This creates complex problems. When a problem is isolated and relatively independent, it would be a simple problem.

In this article problems are treated as ‘simple’ problems, for the sake of easy identification, recognising that many are actually part of a complex problem. In the real world of problems and opportunities, you will find that several of the ‘nodes’ in the diagram above will cluster together and will need to be unravelled.

In fact, all problems are complex problems, but treating them as simple problems is pragmatic because one has to start somewhere.


NOTE: This is part 2 in the series. Visit our blog and find the rest of the series which will be published on consecutive days. 

Alternatively you can download the whitepaper in a single PDF.