The Nine Steps to Successful Organization Development - Step 7

In organizations, we look into the future and ask "What do we want to become, to achieve?" We call this process various things including strategic planning, annual performance objectives, goal setting, etc.

Organizations would do well to remember to "be careful what they wish for."

Step 7 - What Do You Wish For?

Some years ago, at a large chemicals company, I worked with a Quality director named Winston. We co-taught a problem solving course. A pleasant fellow from the South, he was a highly experienced Operations guy with many wise aphorisms, including the following: Every solution, no matter how elegant, generates a new set of problems.

He illustrated this with the visual image of a bathtub full of balloons. Push one balloon down at one end of the tub and a couple pop up someplace else.

I was struck by the truth of this saying. Problem solving isn't linear. It's not even a cycle. Just when you think you have the dilemma solved, and you implement the carefully evaluated solution, you now have a whole new set of problems on your hands.

I immediately incorporated this idea into the course. In the years since then, I have often thought of it and passed it on to others.

Reflecting on my years in various organizations, I witnessed (and was a part of) many attempts to improve things, to change things for the better:

Downsize. Quality. Excellence. Speed. Thrive on Chaos. Better, Faster, Cheaper. Rightsize. Do More With Less. Execution. Outsource. Offshoring.

I wonder how often the designers of those changes realized that each change they implemented would bring a whole new set of challenges. Or said to one another, "Be careful what you wish for."

Today is Father's Day here in the U.S. Until lately, I pretty much celebrated this day as a son. But since my dad passed away in 2003, and I turned 50 in January, I've started to come around to the notion that this day is for me.

This morning, when I went downstairs to put on the morning pot of coffee, I found a Father's Day card from my sons, saying, "Don't get old."

I suppose I always wanted to be the elder of the family, but now that I'm here, I guess it does pay to "be careful what you wish for."


Karen said…
I'm really enjoying these 9 Steps, and while I love the point you make about "be careful what you wish for," I'm not really sure I felt your conclusion to this point as a step to take. As an OD practitioner is it my role to simply remember these words of wisdom, constantly remind my executive team of them, or do we just stop making changes all together b/c they'll just make more problems. I don't believe that last option is your point, but I also am left wondering since this was the first step you didn't really wrap up for us.
Terrence Seamon said…
Your comment made my day! I seldom get any comments on my blog, and I certainly did not expect one from an entry posted so long ago. Thank you!
Great question about the "be careful what you wish for" step. How could you operationalize it? One thought that comes to mind is to have a Murphy's Law component in all change planning. Just when you and the other change architects are so enamored of your elegant design for change, someone should pipe up and ask, "What could go wrong?" Ask: "If we implement this plan, what are some of the unanticipated side effects it could have?"

Also jump ahead to this blog entry:

Not all problems are the same. Some are predicaments.

The latter are the realm of OD practitioners.



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