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(August 06, 2001) We've always been uncomfortable with the notion that we were analysts. Good shorthand in trying to communicate our mission has led us to accept the title. Somehow, we're seen as analysts without portfolio. Likened to the young people who work in Financial houses trying to understand various markets, we get measured, occasionally, as if we were competing with those institutions. It's certainly not that the thought hasn't occurred to us. Being a bank would certainly be fun and we're well positioned to do it. But, being an advertising agency would also be fun and we're as close to that as anything else.
We've been rereading the works of Russel Ackoff, the Wharton professor who takes Drucker's work and makes it useful in the 21st Century. Ackoff is a systems thinker who believes that we are in the emergence of a new era, the Systems era (as opposed to the machine era which ran from the Renaissance to the late 20th Century). While systems thinking is still in its formative stages, it's clear that some older ways of doing things are being reshaped.
An analyst is a deconstructor who looks into things in detail. The method is one in which a company or product is taken down to its elements, examined and given an assessment. Synthesis, the opposite of analysis, looks "out of things". That is, synthesis assumes that a larger context drives much of the observable behavior; that trends and patterns beyond the company, product or marketplace are at the root of observable behavior. Synthesis focuses on interdependence and the pull of the future. Analysts prize objectivity and are held to that standard. Synthesis take sides and are involved up to their hearts. While the two opposites are complementary, they often arrive at different solutions to the same problem. Synthesis involves the creation of reality where analysis is all about decomposition. Although we fail regularly, our job is to synthesize.
If you are not current in your systems thinking, there are a number of great places to start. John Gall's deliciously humorous "Systemantics : The Underground Text of Systems Lore" (Why Systems Fail) is a great starting point. As we mentioned, we're in the middle of a refresher course in Ackoff's stuff. It's worthwhile as well.
We all work in systems, with them, through them and around them. Our roles, easily confused with self-concept, are nurtured and shaped by them. We know the funny ways they break down. We intuitively understand that the sum of the parts is usually greater than the whole even though we're told the opposite. The performance of a system is more dependent on the interaction of the parts than the individual excellence of those parts.
This is the problem that makes usable assessment systems so difficult to develop. The next great hire will be someone who is put to a task that requires a subset of her skills to go unused. Fit, based on the notion that teams need excess capacity and are therefore sub optimized, is simply not a component of current team development thinking.
Team design and building is similar to the work we do. Continually trying to imagine a more hopeful and better future and then comparing existing performance to that vision is hard work . It involves some analysis. Mostly, it's synthesis.- John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.
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by John Sumser
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