Sunday, May 18, 2008

Deconstructing IOHAI

In 1976 John Boyd wrote a famous essay, Destruction & Creation. The essay is essentially about how creativity works. Boyd's idea was that a body of knowledge in the human mind can be likened to an island consisting of connected information. Creativity is the process of destroying the connections between the pieces of information, and constructing new patterns by assembling the knowledge in different ways.

Sometimes we just break a single body of knowledge apart, and reassemble it again. Sometimes we insert pieces of information from other bodies of knowledge. This process of destruction and construction of patterns of knowledge is sometimes called analysis and synthesis, but there is a simpler word: deconstruction. (In case this article gets too heavy, check out the Babylon 5 episode The Deconstruction of Falling Stars.)

Boyd deconstructed military strategy in his Discourse on Winning and Losing. (Scroll about half-way down the web page to find the Discourse.) Of course, learning from the Discourse requires deconstructing it.

In this essay, I have used two tools to deconstruct Boyds IOHAI concept, his Theme for Vitality and Growth. The first tool is The Logical Thinking Process, the second tool is lots of coffee. (I may have overdone the latter, and not used enough of the former. You tell me.)

Unfortunately, Boyd himself did not write much about IOHAI himself. If you are interested in what he wrote, as he wrote it, you need to check out Patterns of Conflict, slide 144, and Organic Design, slides 12-17. You can also use a shortcut. Chet Richards has put the IOHAI concept together.

Boyd contended that organizations are prone to growth pains that can get debilitating or even lethal. (See Organic Design, slide 20) I have deconstructed his argument in the form of a Current Reality Tree:

The diagram above doesn't give you any information you cannot get from Boyd's presentation. The one possible advantage is a better overview of the idea. (Then again, translating an idea from its original format to a new format may introduce distorsion, so perhaps you should check Organic Design, just to make sure.)

From Boyd's argument about complexity limiting the ability of an organization to adapt, he evolved a model for an organization that can grow without becoming increasingly rigid. Again, translating Boyd to a Logical Thinking Process tool, we get the following Intermediate Objective map:

The IOHAI concept (yes, I know, I still haven't told you what it is), is meant to enable organizational unity of purpose. That is, it focuses on the following part of the organizational model:
The connection between IOHAI and the organizational model isn't new information, it is there in Boyd's presentation. It is not all that obvious either, so maybe we have already gained some insight.

Now for some serious deconstruction. The first step, again, is to translate the IOHAI concept to an Intermediate Objective map:

You'll find IOHAI in the bottom row of boxes. (Click on the picture if you want to see a larger picture.)

IOHAI is a set of Necessary Conditions for leaders at all levels in a Boyd model decentralized organization. (If you haven't read the boxes in the picture yet, now is a good time to do so.)

Grabbing information from Boyd's, and Chet Richard's, slides is itself a deconstruction process. The main advantage is that we can now make the deconstruction process very explicit.

First, let us focus on the part of the IOHAI model directly concerned with the organizational model, like this:

Now we have a little more focus than before. We are ready to destroy the connections between IOHAI and organizational unity:

Looking at our five pieces: Insight, Orientation, Harmony, Agility, and Initiative, is there any way to rearrange them in a manner that still makes sense?

Seems to me Insight should be a prerequisite for Harmony. We can't very well perceive and create interactions between seemingly disconnected events and entities unless we understand how things, and the connections between things, work.

Orientation, on the other hand, stands by itself. It is just a description of how we work. The orientation process exists as long as we are alive, even if we are completely disconnected from reality. Therefore, neither Insight, nor Harmony, can be prerequisites. We don't need much Initiative to orient ourselves, so Initiative can't be a prerequisite either. (You may wonder why Orientation isn't a prerequisite for Insight. It is. I didn't make that connection until after I uploaded the diagrams to the blog. I'll fix it the next time I deconstruct the diagrams.)

Agility, on the other hand, is about shifting between patterns we perceive or create using Harmony, so Harmony is a prerequisite for Agility.

Initiative is necessary to get things moving, but we can imagine Initiative without much direction. (As in fad of the month management imperatives, for example, or random requirements changes in projects.) Thus, well let Initiative remain where it is.

Reconnecting the entities in the diagram to reflect our new understanding we get:

We didn't change anything above the Pursue a Noble Vision box, so we can broaden our perspective again:
There you have it: IOHAI deconstructed. What, if anything have we gained?

For one thing, we have a starting point. Organizational unity must begin with insight into how systems work.

The act of translating IOHAI to the IO map format does itself give us an insight: each intermediate objective is necessary to overcome some obstacle.

Why is that important? It is important because we can go from this:

to this:

That is, we can use an IO map as input to a Future Reality Tree.

What does this buy us? It is a transition from a necessity logic based structure to a sufficiency logic based structure.

Orientation done using necessity logic and sufficiency logic are very different things. they yield different results. One tells us what is necessary, the other what is sufficient.

We now have two possibilities, either:
We have gained insight into how IOHAI is connected to Boyd's organizational model, and where to start when implementing IOHAI in an organization. We have also gained new insight allowing us to improve on how to deconstruct Boyd in the future.
Maybe I should cut back on the coffee.

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