Model and framework frenzy; adherer beware

26 minute read

I have a few points of concern with the work of people whose primary job or occupation is the creation, evolution, and dissemination / popularization of frameworks and models on organizational design and other such systemic topics, in particular about the potentially-detrimental impact that “model and framework frenzy” has had, has, and will keep having on organizations that don’t know any better.

First of all, in my experience many of those people fall within the “wise old man” caricature (gender irrelevant): a figure that is at the same time brash and, curiously, fleetingly empathetic and fatherly, sometimes dispensing pithy, cryptic morsels of allegedly hard-earned wisdom to his audience. Think “Mr. Miyagi, but self-conceited”, and you’re pretty close to what I imagine. Some of those caricature-like people call themselves “sensei” (or don’t hold others back from calling them so) with a straight face.

In the world of organizational design / development / change / dynamics, of Lean and Agile and all that jazz, and in systems thinking in general, you will find quite a few such personalities, duly pompous and resistant to feedback from those who don’t let themselves be blinded by the attempts of intellectual intimidation. Why that is so, I do not know; it might be because (the prospect of) gaining a grander, all-encompassing ((( (( ( H O L I S T I C ) )) ))) understanding of systems engenders a sense of being above it all, a kind of “God complex”. I have had a few interactions with such experts both offline (at conferences) and online (on LinkedIn). The fewest of them are charlatans, based on my impression and gut feeling; most have a lot of specialized knowledge and serious chops in whatever it is they claim as their areas of expertise, even if they might be insufferable when they are being challenged instead of being showered with the adulation they are used to.

Whether charlatan or not, in my eyes and opinion they all take pages from the same playbook.

Enter the infallible intellectual

Once upon a time, your typical Mr. Pompous Miyagi (“PM” for short) was exposed to organizational idiocy at his workplace that was being perpetrated by people you’d expect better of, such as those educated in engineering or the natural sciences, or those occupying high ranks and (falsely) automatically assumed by others to be prudent, responsible adults. This observed idiocy most likely was the fruit of irrationality, rationalization masquerading as rationality, a low tolerance of ambiguity, black-and-white thinking, or other occasional lapses of people who have been educated and trained in minimizing risk (engineers) or in modeling systems subject to the laws of nature without any regard to how they or others happen to feel on that day (scientists), or are expected to deliver cold hard results based on targets (managers).

Being an intelligent fella and one more likely educated in something unrelated to the natural sciences or engineering (e.g., economics, political science, sociology, business administration), Mr. PM thought long and hard about the observed outbreaks of idiocy, until his original spark of insight led him to smack his forehead in sudden enlightenment. Of course, the issue was that everyone within the system was too caught up in the work the system was supposed to be getting done, without taking into account how the system they were all operating in was set up.

Mr. PM, now thrilled by this possibility of having stumbled upon the one thing that everyone else could not see, realized that only he, among his technically-inclined colleagues, had the benefit of having studied philosophy, psychology, and other social sciences that deal with systems whose nature is non-deterministic, fleeting, and subjects to feelings, emotions, manipulation, systems and their ((( (( ( D Y N A M I C S ) )) )))…

Whoa. Mr. PM felt suddenly empowered! Enthusiasm gripped him as he realized that all the theories he spent years studying in university actually did have an application in the world of business.

He, yes, him, the one who so far had little to add to the system getting the work done, he could now play a role in this story! Sure, not from within the system, but by dancing around it, by throwing pebbles in the pond to perturb it, by observing it from the sidelines and analyzing whatever it is that was going on in there, and by gradually building a model that made everything that the system did clearer, whether beneficial or idiotic.

The frustrated creates a framework

Thus, Mr. PM did exactly that, and entirely in earnest. And so, after lots and lots of actual hard work, Mr. PM derived something (he would eventually need to give it a name, such as “The Tralala Framework”) that allowed him to take observations of (sometimes useful and often perplexing, or perplexingly idiotic) patterns of interaction and classify each observation (or clusters thereof) into one of a handful of neat boxes. He moreover gave each neat box a name and set off to work to derive a set of criteria and conditions under which an observation could be put in each box.

In the beginning, the number of boxes could be described as “a handful”, because Mr. PM was aware of the limitations of his experience thus far, and also because he intuited that the endless spectrum along which behaviors could be classified would become more communicable to others with fewer, even if less precise, options than by expecting others (and himself!) to remember the initial draft of decidedly more than a handful of possible neat little or tiny boxes.

So, again trying to tame the monster of reality, Mr. PM set out to define a set of criteria and conditions (let’s call them “factors”) that would help him evaluate each cluster of observations against and, depending on the “scorecard” of each cluster, the cluster would then be classified into a different one of his handful of huge, neat boxes.

Hence, Mr. PM’s Tralala Framework initially had a handful of huge, neat boxes, and each box was subject to a mere handful of factors. Easy to grasp, easy to communicate, perhaps even in a visual format.

Of course, given the enormous range of possible observations and the even more gigantic span of possible criteria and conditions under which the social system (i.e., not physical, not subject to the brutal indifference of nature to emotions or subjective preferences) gave rise to different phenomena (some of which, of an idiotic nature), this was already a serious amount of work on top of the prior, also serious, work. Moreover, it was done in earnest, out of sheer intellectual curiosity and thanks to his “intelligence horsepower”, and not necessarily with an intent to turn this into a living as a consultant, a “thought leader”, or a public intellectual of any kind. It was primarily to scratch his own mental itch, and it deservedly gave Mr. PM immense pleasure to finally reap the fruit of an education that had always seemed intellectually enlightening but with a large “transmission loss” between theory and practice in the messy reality.

Thus, Mr. PM derived a whole bunch of factors and, after honest evaluation, narrowed the list of factors down to a handful. He did so because he rapidly became aware that keeping the factor count low was of immense importance, since the explosion of possible combinations had really made a mess of things, and if people couldn’t keep more than a handful of boxes in mind, it was unlikely that they would be open to thinking about the effect of the curse of dimensionality on the possible ways in which observations could be evaluated and be assigned into one of the boxes.

And so, Mr. PM, now justifiably content with and proud of his applied mental craftsmanship, shared his creation with colleagues and used it to shed light on the idiocies they had been facing (and causing), and helped them understand where they were stuck, and thus to make better decisions of how to get the work done, given their newfound understanding based on a framework that was derived with “training data” on the very same organizational fragment on which it was now being applied, unsurprisingly, with an unfathomable accuracy.

(In other words, his training and validation data sets were the one and the same.)

The accomplished discovers the limits of his tralala

“Tralala” now took on a life on its own as Mr. PM applied it on situation after situation, learning more about how to apply it, gradually expanding his skill in applying it even when it wasn’t a precise fit (due to the aforementioned mere handfuls of boxes and factors that made the framework insufficiently generalizable), and honing his skill in communicating the value proposition of this product of his, while also honing his skill in defending his product against negative-Nancy detractors and those who had genuine, honest feedback towards Mr. PM, as they (with him) realized that the framework he had developed was kinda nice, but not really a great fit for every single situation under the sun.

In other words, version 1 of Mr. PM’s Tralala was a good-enough classifier, with a confusion matrix that became ever-clearer (and ever-worse) as Mr. PM fed it with an increasing number of observations and saw how well (or insufficiently) his initial set of boxes and factors mapped reality onto guidance on what people dealing with idiotic situations could do next.

And so, knowing that it was still too early for a version 2 of his Tralala and also a bit embarrassed that the confusion matrix of his Tralala was becoming less nice by the day, and perhaps feeling a bit disingenuous (a feeling that could only be placated by a new-and-improved version of Tralala), Mr. PM developed a whole range of responses, both constructive and dismissive, to criticism both constructive and dismissive, a set of tidbits of wisdom shared in a manner that intimidated his audience intellectually (thus making them more likely to dig deeper into the making of the Tralala framework) and, in the worst of days, Mr. PM became very protective of his creation, which he knew was kinda useful sometimes, beautifully communicable in its imperfection, and increasingly the one thing he was deservedly professionally most proud of (and now increasingly considered the core of a possible eventual side-business away from the corporate treadmill).

Gradually, Mr. PM found himself in the awkward position of the classical Product Manager: i.e., he was keenly aware of

  1. how the sausage was made,
  2. how he wished he could make the best sausage the world would ever taste, in every situation,
  3. the finite amounts of money/attention/effort people are willing to pay for sausage,
  4. the fact that there were other makers of sausage competing for the attention of his patrons and,
  5. the trade-offs, compromises and sacrifices he had made, so that version 1 of his Tralala would be good enough to be insightful and simple enough to not turn people off from taking it for a spin.

Phew! This is not how Mr. PM had initially imagined things would go! He hadn’t even set out to make a product, but a product is what he now had in his hands (actually, his mind). And, also, the more he peddled his Tralala product and had to defend its limitations, which he was acutely and painfully aware of and irked by, the more the framework itself inversely affected how Mr. PM saw the world. The Tralala framework became how Mr. PM saw the world, and thus he was cognitively dissonant and defensive whenever anyone would suggest that, for example, the number of boxes is too damn low, or the set of factors too limited to allow an organization to avoid taking a step in the wrong direction based on a framework that seemed to be merely “good enough”.

The tralala rises to prominence

Yet, out of some strange twist of fate, thanks to his excellent work of being “the voice of the product”, and despite the increasing array of Tralala’s shortcomings that Mr. PM was aware of, Mr. PM’s Tralala rose in popularity, also helped by nice, fresh, cute illustrations that made it more inviting, even to those who so far had demonstrated no inclination towards the theoretical; however, cute simplifying JPEGs that could be shared on social media… now, that, they could get behind! The pictures also made the Tralala more simplistic than the actual complex, deep work that Mr. PM had originally put into it; however, this also helped Mr. PM by making his guidance in applying Tralala part of the “Tralala product system”, of which consultancy by Mr. PM himself was gradually picking up steam, turning this Tralala thing into a veritable side-hustle.

And so, over many years, Mr. PM found himself unexpectedly as one of the various figureheads of a “movement” made out of various proverbial “sausages” that tasted kinda similar in a way that happened to please the palate of the world of business at that time period in humanity’s existence.

Tralala and other similar or companion frameworks rose in popularity, and Mr. PM became such a revered figure that he was being invited left and right to speak about Tralala and to expound upon his Tralala-related but not-yet-included musings on things such as the nuances behind the number of neat boxes of Tralala, or the way one applying Tralala should consider and evaluate the factors that determine which box is the right one for the situation.

As Mr. PM’s Tralala product system went through the steps of the product lifecycle, Mr. PM stayed on the ball as a good product manager and kept developing further frameworks and putting together models on those topics that he now felt intimately familar with and those that others saw him as a globally-renowned expert in. These further products were by far not as insightful or as commercially successful (not even in terms of “mind share”) as The OG Tralala Framework but hey–these were made not entirely out of the same intellectual curiosity and thirst for understanding that Mr. PM had experienced as a young lad trying to figure out why engineers and (non-social) scientists were sometimes behaving in unexpected and counterproductive manners in organizations. Some called these “a cash grab”, and Mr. PM thought that these people were mean towards him, and this made him very, very sad :(

The enlightened and his tralala become synonymous

Understandably, therefore, decades after the original Tralala made waves across industries and projects, Mr. PM is still known as “the Tralala guy”. Only few of his followers have spent time (and consulting budget) on getting into his later products, because they too feel that these products are “built different” and don’t “go hard”, as the kids say nowadays. Mr. PM probably knows this too, and it makes him sad on some days when he doesn’t get enough Likes on his LinkedIn posts, but then he remembers that it doesn’t matter, because he’s been laughing all the way to the bank thanks to Tralala version 1. And, honestly, props to him. He found a market niche and served it shrewdly.

“Don’t hate the player, hate the game” is valid here, with an asterisk we’ll get to later: you don’t need to hate the player (too much of a strong word), but it benefits you to shield yourself from the player when his and your incentives clash. And they most certainly do; not because Mr. Pompous Miyagi a bad guy, a charlatan or anything shady; no. Most people who are like the Mr. PM caricature are simply highly-intelligent intellectuals who simply make a living out of peddling theoretical constructs. Their incentives are not aligned with your organization’s, because think about it, how does your organization’s success help them, except if they quote you as one of their success stories? And who defines that their consultancy was a contributor to your success? Except if you define it, they’ll go ahead and define it as they wish, and also use you as a testimonial for social proof that Tralala is, in fact, not merely a theoretical construct but an actual thing that people use and even write papers and case studies about.

So, “what’s the problem?”, I can imagine you asking. “Why so cynical?”

Actually, there is no problem, when you take things at face value. If you are happy to spend resources of any kind on applying the real-world equivalents of Tralala or to invite the real-life Messrs. PM of this world to tell you how to “do it”, it’s your resources to spend and your prerogative to do so.

Systems thinking? Don’t mind me if I do!

But hey, since we are talking about ((( (( ( S Y S T E M S ) )) ))) here, let’s consider the fact that the systems that feed the proliferation of theoretical constructs like Tralala and those like Mr. PM who create them, are not trivial by any means, and are thus subject to unintended consequences arising from feedback loops that come back to bite you, in different ways, especially when you jump on some guy’s product as if Mr. PM is the Second Coming of W. Edwards Deming.

To wit, look at what a stereotypical/caricature-like Mr. PM does at the tail-end of Tralala’s popularity: now from the safety of having little to lose, he releases version 2 of his Tralala. Tralala is now new and improved, a brand-new sausage made with all the ingredients he would have originally liked to use, and with extra flavorings that he didn’t even know existed when he made the original one!

Version 2 or 3 or 4 (versioning is made-up, anyway, and Mr. PM doesn’t know about semantic versioning) of Tralala is decidedly more complex, including way more nuances than the vast majority of its “consumers” has any time to digest while also actually holding down a full-time job (and building a family, and and and…), and way more factors that go into properly classifying observations into the separate neat boxes. Because, after all, as Tralala was exposed to more and more cases over the decades, its performance as a classifier (and the applicability of its per-box recommendations) became evermore suspect as being “not quite there”. But worry not–because yes, version 5 of Tralala might indeed require you to hold a PhD in Philosophy or Organizational Dynamics or Political Science to grasp the full range of nuance and characterizations of observations and properly apply it to get anywhere, but this is not a bug… it’s a feature of the expanded Tralala product system!

That is when the people in your organization who are a fan of Mr. PM will throw up their hands and claim that the next step in the company’s transformation involves getting Mr. PM to deliver a keynote and do a “go gemba” and nod wisely like a sensei, or to have one of his associates (different hourly rates, you see, so there are pricing options for every size of an org and every budget) come and help you apply or “roll out” Tralala version N (N > 1) across the organization as part of its ((( (( ( T R A N S F O R M A T I O N ) )) ))).

And so, either Mr. PM will come to your headquarters and bless you with his wisdom (and thus enable you to namedrop him in future discussions when you need one of your colleagues or “subordinates” to shut up and respect your expertise) or Mr. PM will send his blessed envoys to bring sweet tidings of Tralala transformation in your organization by showing you how to apply version N of his Tralala while subtly making you keenly aware that using Tralala is not anymore something done by the teams themselves (eww, those peasants!), but only by “properly” trained, nay, ((( (( ( C E R T I F I E D ) )) ))) professionals in the trade of Tralala Management or some other fancy moniker that has been trending higher on Noodle after getting featured in an article of Dastard Biz Revue or Fauxrbes.

Tralala breathes new hope into the dejected

You will also be unpleasantly surprised to realize that this bet of your organization on proper Tralala Management now awakens the slumbering intellect of some of your organization’s members, who suddenly fondly remember their younger years of debating theology, sociology, politics and human nature in university, and their more recent opportunities of philosophizing about similar topics with friends over a glass of wine or a sixpack of beers, while expounding upon their theory of ((( (( ( L E A D E R S H I P ) )) ))), which they have painstakingly acquired from inspirational posts of LinkedIn influencers that pluck their heartstrings in the middle of a long day sitting in videocalls or meetings, visualizing your time on this planet slipping away with every buzzword that does critical HP damage to your soul.


The (usually, tiny) minority of these newly-minted pseudo-philosophers will then become infatuated with the intellectual output of people like Mr. PM, and start consuming it and its offshoots (of course, there are also those who will shamelessly plagiarize Mr. PM) unquestionably, thinking themselves as drinking from the fountain of knowledge, becoming better leaders and managers. And yes, some of that will be knowledge. The question is, does knowledge equal something of benefit for them and your organization? Not always.

(I mean, come on, man! Look around you. If it did, then the bajillions of corporate budget spent annually on trainings, workshops, seminars, certifications and all that would have resulted in at least some palpable improvements. Or are we setting the bar too low for the ROI on such actions? Except if… wait… maybe all that money spent has merely kept organizations from devolving into WWE fights. Or, simpler explanation: perhaps knowledge doesn’t convert to improvement just like so? IDK, I’m not a social scientist, so I guess I can’t express an opinion, and the bajillions are well spent.)

These are these starry-eyed people in your organization will start bringing up Mr. PM and his morsels of wisdom as instruments of slapping down naysayers, as a “Totschlagsargument” (beautiful German wordsmithing, as usual!) that kills discussion about whether Tralala version whatever is applicable here, whether its outcome is as insightful as Mr. PM and his acolytes claim, whether tHiS iS NoT ThE rIgHt wAy To dO TrAlAlA, etc. In summary: a waste of energy and time, while the actual work awaits… and awaits.

Moreover, these are the same people who just love to get caught up in debating the academic nuances of theoretical constructs such as Tralala, even thought said nuances have a close-to-zero transmission factor onto anyone’s perceived reality in an organization. And so, dabbling in the field of Mr. PM as pretend or wannabe business philosophers, these people become pleased with the newfound identity they have latched on to and (from my own observations) also become rather complacent about actually doing things differently, as they are satisfied with the false sense that merely understanding a framework or (worse) expending effort and the organization’s resources on nitpicking its finer nuances, will automatically lead to improved outcomes for all.

(Or, they simply latched on to Tralala to add a “Certified Tralala Practitioner” badge to their CV before they depart for pastures greener than their current one.)

It all ends like it has always ended

How does this end? You don’t need to guess. Simply look at past examples or more recent ones that are crushing and burning right in front of our eyes. The “Agile movement” (this is your cue to roll you eyes and scoff) has had more than 20 years to show us how those things reliably and consistently become usurped by people like the caricature of Mr. PM, and how a handful of good ideas get turned into highly-intellectualized takes on organizations, as well as into books, courses, conferences, certifications… ultimately becoming a juggernaut that has been keeping organizations (and people within them) away from getting work done by distracting them in a bevy of “unquestionable” rituals resulting in questionable business improvement (except for catering to individuals’ CV-boosting job titles and claims of having “done an Agile transformation” and other such nonsense).

Clearly, this “great cause” of figuring out how to improve software development began as a movement, then became a business that extends far beyond software development, and eventually degenerated into a racket of certifications, bamboozling, and intellectual intimidation by people like Mr. PM and their “product systems”.

So much so, that there is even an “anti-Agile” sentiment, and people are championing things that they were using as straw-man arguments a mere months ago (see “waterfall”), and there are now Agile consultants who consult organizations on how to escape from the nonsense that other Agile consultants “installed”, “implemented” or “transformed”.

What a circus!

So, clearly, the proliferation of frameworks and models often obscures the need for practical solutions that the people within an organization need to develop by themselves, for themselves–to “work the system”, as some call it. I avoid using the words “must” or “should” in general, but I’ll permit myself this: organizations must focus on doing meaningful work rather than getting caught up in the intricacies of theoretical constructs. They are free to focus on nonsense busywork, and to waste money too, or to deliver bad products late and at a higher cost or lower quality, too. I would say “the market will sort things out”, but this doesn’t seem to be the case, TBQH.

Wait; why are you even condoning this?

To put it more bluntly: why are you, as someone making a living out of doing something valuable in/through/with an organization (assuming that’s who you are), so willing to incur the cost (direct and opportunity, as well as emotional/psychological) of a certain part of your organization’s members indulging themselves in the intricacies of theoretical constructs with a questionable (and often negative) impact on your organization’s outcomes, and distracting others with their peculiar fascination with said constructs and their creators?

Or, perhaps, is it that this is some form of alms paid to the gods of hype as atonment for knowingly getting some people in your organization so “bored out” with what some call “bullshit jobs” that they find an outlet for escapism in highfalutin theories peddled by the Messrs. PM of this world, instead of rolling up your sleeves and lending a hand to get parts of the organization focused on meaningful work on pressing and practical issues?

To be fair: obviously, not all frameworks and models are created equal, and not everyone who has created such a thing is automatically a Mr. PM caricature who found himself in the position of a “thought leader”. And to be even fairer: yes, some theoretical constructs, even some of those I disparagingly label as “a Tralala Framework”, can and do provide valuable insights and structure for diagnosing situations and informing decision-making and other organizational cruxes. When used judiciously and without the attendant cult-like following and hype that screams a lack of business acumen, certain frameworks can help an organization avoid making blatantly obvious, predictable mistakes, or the can act like “training wheels” for organizations that still learn to “ride a bike”, i.e. those that are still immature or have a lack of business acumen for whatever reason.

Disillusioned? No. Wiser and more skeptical after observing reality

At the same time, let’s take a hypothetical scenario. Let’s imagine that someone who matches the Mr. PM caricature presented here posts again and again about his Tralala framework and related products (of course, he doesn’t call them that, ewww, products, he’s in the thinking business) in his portfolio (of course he doesn’t call it that, either).

In this scenario, a prudent person, regardless of role or rank within an organization, would take into account the vast, multi-decade experience of the business world with passing, expensive, and distracting fads such as Business Process Reengineering, Total Quality Management, Six Sigma, Lean, Design Thinking, Agile, and all that actually-insightful stuff that also got turned into sad, mooching “industries”, and would at the very least be supremely skeptical of anyone matching the Mr. PM caricature and of any framework claimed to be .

Now, I might sound so certain about this because I am utterly disillusioned by this “corner” of the business world, a sentiment that is not universal.

To this I say: spend some time dealing with people like Mr. PM and trying to get things done in an organization with (usually, despite) fans of Tralala frameworks empowered by the intellectual (and pseudo-intellectual) hullaballoo that sometimes comes with a framework/model as a package deal that infects your organization; then come back and read this blog post again.

Some closing thoughts

You must be new here

It’s no secret that I am at least skeptical towards, at most cynical about people who model complex reality with communicable frameworks, and then make a living out of peddling derivative wisdom to businesspeople who are thirsty for making sense out of the nonsense in the business world or chooses to deal with the nonsense through escapism and intellectualization. Heck, it’s such a non-secret that I wrote an entire business-fiction book on this!

Work (good work, even) can happen regardless of the insights of a framework. If the framework helps, cool. But the framework’s application is not the work.

Don’t hate the player, hate the game–but also be weary and wary of those Messrs. PM who make a big fuss about their intellectualization of things that could sometimes be rather trivial, and literally profit from it (money) or at the very least benefit from it (ego-stroking).

Most (all?) frameworks aren’t as deep as (they want) you (to) think

The intellectual output of such a person is often a theoretical construct (model or framework) that is initially interesting because it is beautifully presented, appearing like some kind of profound insight that makes the sheer complexity and complicatedness of the world “diagnosable”. Yet, after some hard thinking on a framework, its guidance can be summarized as platitudes and wishful thinking that deserve the utterance of an indifferent “meh”. Sarcastically, “oh wow, what deep insights; I’d have never thought that adapting our plans as we go ahead is necessary to develop the right product”.

The nature of systems isn’t trivial. The “so what” of many frameworks, unfortunately, often is. The outcome of applying frameworks almost always is, because there is a massive “slippage factor” between what the theoretical construct describes or recommends when applied, and the actual real-life effort of translating this guidance (assuming it has any merit) into a stable, self-sustaining improvement.

A lot of second-hand repetition of framework-derived insights is really just a bunch of context-free mealy-mouthed, platitudinous statements that are not insightful at all and cannot be relied upon as guidance except in the most obvious of conundrums. Plus, platitudes may cost little to utter, but can end up unduly occupying the attention of certain people in organizations, especially when they create a cult-like following of pretend-philosophers who waste resources on pointless debates with zero impact.

Making the same mistake twice is stupid

We do not need to go through yet another 10 or 20 years of experience with the next big fad (like Agile, etc.) to finally grasp that even the best of theoretical constructs and valuable ideas behind them are consistently turned into cottage industries and bottom-feeder “thought leaders” and “influencers” who peddle platitudinous sweet business nothings and “organizational hopium” to placate and pacify the hopeful and the burned-out and the bored-out. What we do need to do is to remain vigilant towards anyone who claims they have any kind tralala that makes things immensely better, because there are no miracle cures to business ailments, no “solutions” that you can “install” or “implement” to make things magically better, and because a lot of the marketing of such “miracle cures” is targeted at wishful thinking, and caters to the interests of individuals (e.g., CV enhancement, ego) that might be (usually are) incongruent with the interests of the organization from within which they make a living.

You are not a revolutionary leader, Kevin

The world of organizational design and related fields is rife with pomp. These are exactly the behaviors that I, personally, abhor, especially because they directly oppose the supposed self-awareness and holistic system understanding that the “wise old guys” and their intellectual second-hander acolytes and fans preach. There is very little pragmatism and focus on valuable, “minimally-invasive” interventions. Rather, there is an endless navelgazing obsession with “revolutionary” models, frameworks, processes, roles, theories, etc., and a pretense that you may have have struck some kind of cosmic understanding because you were exposed to the intellectual or intellectualizing musing of someone who makes a living out of impressing people exactly in your state of mind… Plus, the attraction of starry-eyed believers who oooh and aaah at such “deep” realizations that caters to the ego of the real-world equivalents of the stereotypical Mr. PM, bolstering their already-insufferable pomp.

There are downsides to pushing a framework (too) hard

Whatever the content of a framework is, the problem is not the framework itself (some of it might be insightful, even if not all of it is valuable), but the scores of people in organizations who spend time on it as if it unveils something groundbreaking. And then: no actual real-world impact, and sometimes even a negative one in terms of distraction, infighting, complacency, tuning out, hype and triggering agency issues and lose-lose conflicts. But for sure some put a nice title or fancy cert on their CV, or attended a nice conference and got away from the office for a couple of days…

Social-science papers as proof? You must be joking

Papers, academic papers even, that are put forth as proof that a theoretical construct is somehow “validated” mean little, because the underlying systems being studied are not physical but emotional/social systems that drift over time due to dynamics that arise also from within. And so, it is actually good that there’s Tralala v2 and beyond, provided that their reason for existence is not (only) to maintain their market relevance, but to (also) maintain their value as useful instruments updated and tuned to a shifting social situation. Interestingly, some of the same people who criticize SAFe Agile (which I am not a fan of, or defending here) and its continuous gobbling-up of more and more frameworks, models, tools and processes, are totally fine with breaking into the market with Tralala v1 and later upgrading it to v2 or v3 and so on. No hypocrisy there! /sarcasm