Your brain is wired to think fast. So, to do this, it needs to take shortcuts, that psychologists call heuristics. But these shortcuts don’t always give the right answer. They give rise to cognitive bias.
Cognitive bias is the result of the shortcuts. If every car door you’ve ever encountered opens outwards, it’s a good bet that the next one you encounter will too. That’s a bias in your assumptions. Usually, it serves you well. One day, it may let you down.
But the cognitive biases that we need to worry about are those that are baked into our mental operating system. We make the mistakes without realising it. They lead to bad decisions – sometimes to catastrophe.
What if you want to improve the performance of your business or public service? You could study it carefully and hope to find inefficiencies and novel approaches. But maybe you could compare your practices to those of another organisation. That’s the essence of Benchmarking.
The idea of benchmarking is to compare yourself with others, to get new ideas from them, and to learn from what works for them. It’s a powerful idea that allowed Japanese manufacturing to catch up with and overtake the US. And then it helped the US regain lost ground, by codifying what the Japanese had learned, and the improvements they had made.
But it’s not universally loved. There are problems. That said, benchmarking is a big idea that every manager should be aware of.
How can you be sure that your management team is balancing its attention across all the things that matter – rather than focusing solely on one thing: the money? The answer is that what gets measured gets managed. So you need to score yourself on a balanced scorecard.
That’s the insight that Robert Kaplan and David Norton gave us in a stand-out Harvard Business Review article, ‘Putting the Balanced Scorecard to Work‘. The article may date back to 1993, but it’s still one of HBR’s most-read must-read articles.
In the world of quality, Six Sigma is one of the biggest names. Total Quality Management (TQM) may aim for zero defects. But Six Sigma aims to reduce defects down to a statistical blip – arguably a more realistic enterprise.
What makes Six Sigma such a compelling proposition is the vast asset base of tools and process that accompany the core idea. What makes it a big idea is the impact it has had on manufacturing, combined with its wider potential in other domains.
The OODA Loop is is an idea that arose within the US military in the 1960s. It was developed by Colonel John Boyd. But the principles are broader than military theory, and managers can get a lot from them.
When I first learned about the OODA Loop, there was very little available to read about it. A few highly technical papers by military strategists, and copies of Boyd’s original seminar notes.
Now, there is a lot more available on the web. But almost all of it still focuses on the military applications. I want to see what the OODA Loop offers us more widely.
The distinction between urgent and important is an essential one. It’s a staple of time management, and rightly so.
It was first popularised by President Dwight D Eisenhower, but has been picked up by generations of productivity advisors. When you understand what is important, and distinguish those things from others that are merely urgent, you gain real control of how you use your time.
So, urgent and important – or more properly, the distinction between them – is truly a big idea.
There have always been lots of models for how to buy stuff. Buy it outright, lease it to spread the cost and then look after it, or lease it and let the owner keep it maintained. Now software is as important to running our world as buildings and tractors, we are seeing the same sort of options arise. And hence the emergence of SaaS: Software as a Service
So what is it, why is it popular, and what concerns should you address, before taking on a SaaS contract?
Systems thinking is a big idea that’s remarkably… simple.
It’s a simple idea about complex phenomena. And the principle virtue of systems thinking is that it reminds us that the real world is far from simple.
Indeed, when we try to apply simple solutions to complex problems, the solution tends to fail: often spectacularly. And it’s systems thinking that points us in the right direction. We need to think about the whole messy, complex, inter-connected system, if we are to have any chance of finding a solution that makes our problem better.
When I was an active Project Leader, I practised Management by Walking Around, long before I knew it was a thing. Then, when I learned about it, I was fascinated to learn that, if this idea has any formal origin, it was in a company I much admired.
But can something millions of people have done over many centuries by instinct, truly be a Big Idea?
Well, maybe I could argue that such a powerfully intuitive approach cannot be anything but a Big Idea.
So let’s dissect the idea of Management by Walking Around.