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Art Smalley

Art Smalley: Laws versus Thinking

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: lundi, mars 15, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

I think the analogy between thermodynamics and organizational dynamics is an interesting one to consider. It certainly made me stop and think for a couple of days. After mulling on the topic I have personal doubts regarding whether we can come up with laws for organizations as neatly as physicists did for the body of work known as thermodynamics. Even if we do the laws certainly won’t be as quantitative or specific.

I’d like to point out that on a personal level laws in science carry a very positive connotation for me when I think about them. However the notion carries a somewhat negative one when it comes to laws for organizational dynamics. Laws in science generally represent a concise verbal or mathematical statement of a relation that expresses a fundamental principle. In organizations however laws often become rules to adhere to or follow without much thinking.

The Toyota Production System (TPS) grew out of the machine shops in Toyota starting roughly around 1950. The system was essentially complete in its basic form that people would recognize around 1973. The first TPS handbook was edited and compiled in 1973 in Japanese and bits and pieces have been translated, improved, and clarified ever since.

In this sense Toyota did not codify its laws for improvement for decades. For one they were too busy doing it to write it down and secondly the leaders of that era viewed it somewhat as counterproductive. My former manager Tomoo “Tom” Harada put it this way to me once, “If I give you the book full of answers you will quit thinking and just try and copy the examples. TPS does not work that way.”

So I am a bit of a party pooper for this question as I fear the damage that laws (e.g. rules to follow or obey) can do to an organization unless you are very careful. Efforts that center on conforming to rules tend to stifle thinking and creativity. Conforming to standards for example is important but what makes an organization great is performing beyond existing standards. And by definition that means intentionally breaking the rules from time to time …

However I realize this is all probably silly semantics to some people so with the aforementioned cautions above I will outline a few ideas for “Laws for Organodynamics” off the top of my head.

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