“Stop measuring what you don’t really want to happen!”

by Walter Baets.

A friend of mine reminded me an idea that I developed in my book of 2006: Complexity, Learning and Organizations: a quantum interpretation of business (Routledge). Still a book worth reading, and even more so, as with all good wines, I think it becomes more relevant with maturing. The idea was that it is the thermometer that makes sick. And for sure, that sounds weird. But let me explain this, in the light of the crisis we go through right now.

What Corona has shown the world, more than any crisis before, is that the world became fundamentally complex (and not just complicated) and it is profoundly exponential. Simply said, the world is unpredictable and unmanageable, certainly in the way we have always done that. Here comes the thermometer: if we have temperature, we are sick? And if we have no temperature, we are not sick? Clearly, with Corona it did not work like that, but it never worked like that. A thermometer is only one of many instruments and tools, certainly worthy to be developed, but in no way it replaces the concept of the sickness itself. And that is what often happens. We start to concentrate on the instrument. We narrow down our focus since it makes management easier.

We focus on the instrument, we improve it, we put more technology in it. For that matter, we are very close to a continuous sensoring solution to monitoring the body temperature. And before we know, the race for the next best sensor approach, supported by machine learning of course, becomes the target.

Indeed, if one has temperature, the person might be sick. But how many people are sick, feel not-healthy, are unhappy, but do not have temperature, and therefore are not treated. Anyway, our medical approach is based on treatment (cure) and not on prevention. How can we make sure that people do not become sick. How do me monitor and support the creation of a company and/or society that feels well, that is happy, that is productive, that contributes to a better world? Shouldn’t we move away from our focus on solutions, the best possible tools, towards the creation of a network of humans, that together, in co-creation, take care of creating the conditions for a happy and healthy life style?

Now to companies. Over the years we have developed a management style and approach that assumes that the world can be predicted, in a way is slow moving, and that we can de-construct it in subproblems, that are easier to solve. We have developed impressively intelligent tools to optimize subsets of problems, but when we bring them together again, they do not seem to fit anymore. We have created more problems that what we had before. Corona has shown us, due to the nature of this crisis (which was different from all financial, man-made crises we had before), that our focus needs to change.

Of course technology is great, and has huge potential to help solving some of the great challenges of mankind, and we have to do everything to develop them to the best possible. But what matters is the embedding in real business models. How can we co-create business models that matter, that have an impact, that improves quality of life (and prevents sickness), and that are economically viable on a planet with limited resources.

In the whole discussion on climate change, where we all seem to have our own insights, the planet is rapidly moving to disastrous conditions. I am not that much afraid for the planet. The planet, nature, is self-organised, adaptive, seeks survival and sustainability, puts the advantage of the system before the advantage of the individual. The planet will survive. I am more concerned about mankind. We need to shift away from a focus on metrics, tools, technologies, just for the sake of improving them and for realizing a particular profit. Open innovation, in co-creation of many engaged partners, using the collective intelligence of all, with a fresh look on ‘what are we doing it for’, what is the contribution (the value created), and clearly dealing with it from a systems perspective (all engages with all, and out of that interaction emerges the reality) might be the road ahead.

That puts the human back in center stage of the equation. That is what will spark innovation and that will give due implementation of the impressive exponential technologies around. It is not the thermometer that deserves our focus but building a systemic understanding of the disease. A strong focus on the thermometer might make the crisis worse”.

Walter Baets