Are you suffering with TOD?

…our present problems are the result of the solutions we implemented previously; so said Peter Senge in his influential work The Fifth Discipline. And when you think about it, his words are just another more precise and pointed way of repeating Einstein’s original truism that the problems we have will not be solved by the same level of thinking that created them; of course once you hear it expressed this way, it seems so logical as to be undeniable…but perhaps its so logical that we don’t do anything about it?

I’ve noticed that we in the Public Sector often seem to acknowledge the obvious; then we all move on as if nothing had changed, nodding politely and muttering, “not my problem” or “nothing I can do”…and let’s be honest, this behavior is a luxury the Public Sector has afforded itself; love it or loathe it, when the Private Sector ignores the obvious it pays a heavy price, or in the case of banking, we all pay a heavy price on its behalf.

This week, North Cumbria, the place in which I and most of the people I love live, was named as one of three areas in need of particular support to help its health system get to grips with what have proved up to this point to be intractable (the sexy word of the moment is “wicked”) challenges. The good news about the support that has been announced for North Cumbria is that it is based on the concept of Systems Thinking; hurrah, at last, I hear you say…as a long standing advocate and enthusiast for Systems Thinking I wholeheartedly agree. But before anything meaningful happens in Cumbria, the powers that be might need to tackle a couple of common diseases that have caused havoc throughout the Public Sector for many years…

The first of these diseases is Target Obsession Disorder, this condition is a relatively recent discovery and has no Latin name, it manifests itself in an obsession with counting things. Sufferers of Target Obsession Disorder, or TOD as its more commonly known, frequently complain of nightmares and delusions in which they are being chased by spreadsheets with legs covered in red boxes. In these episodes they are often driving a car, the car has such a huge colored dashboard that is so big and has so many dials on it that they can’t see out the windscreen; hence the phrase, staring at the dashboard and crashing the car, and its close cousin, chasing the target and missing the point. The episodes that sufferers experience are thought to be the manifestations of the subliminal fear of failure, or “ballsing up” as it is sometimes referred to in popular drinking establishments. Unfortunately TOD can be very contagious and once it has taken hold at the most senior levels of an organisation it often spreads rapidly.

As destructive as it is, Target Obsession Disorder is merely a sub-condition of SSS, or Simple Solution Syndrome to give it its full name. This is a highly destructive virus that permeates the brains of leaders causing them to think that some of the most complex problems facing us today can be dealt with by a simple single solution. This condition causes otherwise intelligent and generally very important people to fixate and obsess on one issue at the expense of everything else. Sufferers of this condition often dream in black and white and go out of their way to avoid contact with networks and people who may have a different view than theirs.

Boffins are currently researching cures for these disorders, their latest findings suggest that both SSS and TOD are closely linked to ITS, or Ivory Tower Syndrome. ITS is a particularly pernicious disease which causes sufferers to think that their view of the world is the only valid view that exists. In very extreme cases some ITS sufferers have been found to deny the existence of the outside world, denouncing talk of it as propaganda on the part of those who disagree with them. So whilst the discovery that SSS and TOD are linked to ITS is useful, it is not good news for sufferers, ITS has been the scourge of civilization for thousands of years and shows no sign of abating. But if you’re suffering with TOD, don’t despair; there is hope. Research suggests that watching videos like the one below which shows how things are connected can alleviate the symptoms; enjoy…



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