Thinking about business systematically

A long, long time ago there once lived a man, who was mesmerized with the night sky… His entire life was devoted to understanding the meaning of the endless sea of shiny dots above. One night, he wondered what would happen had he connected the dots. And just like that he invented the constellations, which tremendously helped humanity navigate boats, and mark seasons of the year. And in order for people to remember forever such a wisdom, he created stories about the constellations… Stories that we still tell everyday…

By Akapochtli [GFDL ( or CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Akapochtli [GFDL ( or CC-BY-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
Connecting the dots and storytelling are primordial human needs. That’s how we communicated back then, and that’s how we communicate today. So, here is a story about organizations…

As the legend goes, Sir Isaac Newton was sitting underneath an apple tree. An apple fell on his head. As a result he had a “Eureka!” moment, discovering gravity… That was a defining moment, because for the first time in human history we used scientific reasoning to explain a natural phenomenon, which opened a huge door for humanity: The Industrial Revolution, and the Machine Age… People started to perceive the universe as a well-oiled machine, working like clockwork. Scientists claimed that the universe was made off parts -just like a machine- and it could be dismantled, and reassembled. Regardless the discipline, machine thinking, which is still dominant today from management to psychology, from education to planning followed this thought process: Break the problem into parts, isolate a part, analyze it separately, figure out the underlying formula, and finally put everything back together. Thanks to such reductionist thinking, scientists discovered a myriad of formulas, and humanity progressed beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Indeed, we owe pretty much everything we see around us to machine thinking: Big buildings, mega cities, cars, planes, and space exploration…

However, machine thinking had a problem: it could only explain static or dead events. Breaking things apart, analyzing the building block and fixing it do not work on living or dynamic things. Take your organization for instance. Let’s say you are experiencing production issues. Machine thinking would suggest you to reengineer the production process so that you can produce more efficiently, like a well-oiled machine. But, no production system in the world could solve your issues if your organization is not keeping up with customer demands, or if your employees are demoralized, or if your working conditions are inhuman. Unless the entire organization is fully aligned you will experience the same problems again, maybe in different form. Fixing only one department’s issues cannot solve an organizational problem. Actually any attempt to improve the performance of a department could destroy the performance of the entire organization. That’s’ why we need to concentrate on the relationships among departments.

If we want to create better operating organizations, what we really need to do is think systematically, not mechanically. To be more precise, we need to go back to the thinking style of our ancestors, who lived before the Machine Age… On the article we will look at organizations as an alchemist would.

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