Old Ideas, New Words

Sometimes I am accused of re-iterating old ideas, and not adding much that’s new. They say my ideas are just old messages in new words.

That is mostly correct. But not quite.

I see no reason to come up with ideas that are totally new, when the old ideas are working fine, after I modified them with a little tweak to make them work better…

I changed the four leadership styles of situational leadership into the seven authority levels (by distinguishing consulting people versus informing them).

I changed the balanced scorecard into the metrics matrix (by considering system stakeholders instead of internal organization).

I changed S.M.A.R.T. goals into Agile goals (by allowing goal setting criteria that are all context-dependent).

I changed 360 degree feedback into 360 degree meetings (by discussing collaboration in an open and respectful environment).

And I have suggested to change value streams into value networks (by replacing customer value with stakeholder value).

In every case I did this because I believe the world is complex, not ordered. And organizations are living networked systems, not lifeless hierarchical machines.

Many of the great old ideas are defective when applied using the faulty machine metaphor. They only work well when we replace it with metaphors of living growing systems. That’s what I prefer to do.

And so yes, many of the ideas I present are old. But they are not merely old ideas in new words. They are old ideas used in a new paradigm of complexity thinking instead of machine thinking.

I call it Management 3.0. Others call it Management 2.0, or even Management 1.1. But does the name matter when we finally understand how to put those old ideas to good use? Should we throw useful management practices away only because some people have misapplied them in command-and-control hierarchies?

Why not brush the old ideas off and recycle them?

Now that's an old idea worth considering…

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  • http://www.jussimononen.net Jussi Mononen

    Re-cycling ideas is good. Taking old ideas and putting them into new context most often yields the best results. Why invent the wheel again…

  • http://softwaredevelopmenttoday.blogspot.com Vasco Duarte

    On the other hand. Re-hashing old ideas is not always what drives the needed change. I think that @jurgenappelo misses on of his points in this rebuttal. The fact is that “old” ideas with a new filter (complexity) can become different paradigms.
    What we are experiencing right now is a paradigm shift. Many companies will simply disappear because they miss some of the deeper consequences of the “networkedness” of our world.
    Just like the Portuguese lost the money to the Dutch in the 1600’s even if we were the first to cross the world in small ships, the Dutch went on to use that principle (traveling all over the world) for completely different purposes, thereby starting a revolution that, 500 years later, would give us modern technology… How’s that for rehashing “old” ideas? 😉

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jurgenappelo Jurgen Appelo

    Great example, thanks! 🙂

  • http://profile.typepad.com/walterarielrisi Walterarielrisi

    Hi all,
    To my belief, recycling new ideas into a new value-adding package is not only valuable by itself, but happens all the time. Of course, there must be additional value in the new packaging.
    Take for example well accepted frameworks such as Six Sigma … the principles and practices date back to the post WWII days at Japan. Of course, Six Sigma introduced an overall umbrella or rigour upon which those practices were used for better than in old fashioned TQM way.
    Another closer example is the CMMI and its predecessor, the SW-CMM. Watts Humphrey himself said he took the Maturity Model concept from Crosby and the Quality Management concepts from Juran and Deming. Humphrey rehashed them in a form that proved valuable for some types of software endeavors … good for him.
    Sometimes, old ideas just need some revamping to look more appealing to a new audience of potential users. And I think that’s just fine as long as it works.
    So, as long as some organizations are taking advantage or Jurgen’s approach to those existing practices, the recycling is worth it. At least, IMHO.
    After all, we’re doing engineering, not science. Engineering is about making things work, not necessarily discovering new things all the time. 🙂

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