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Two weeks ago, I wrote a generic post related to System Thinking, in my opinion, a must-have skill for the 21st century (and beyond). Have a look at the post on LinkedIn; in particular interesting to see the discussion related to Systems Thinking: a must-have skill for the 21st century.

I liked Remy Fannader’s remark that thinking about complexity was not something new.

This remark is understandable from his personal context. Many people enjoy thinking – it was a respected 20th-century skill.

However, I believe, as Daniel Kahneman describes in his famous book: Thinking Fast and Slow, our brain is trying to avoid thinking.

This is because thinking consumes energy, the energy the body wants to save in the case of an emergency.

So let’s do a simple test (coming from Daniel):

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A bat and a ball cost together $ 1.10 –  the bat costs one dollar more than the ball. So how much does the ball cost?

Look at the answer at the bottom of this post. If you have it wrong, you are a fast thinker. And this brings me to my next point. Our brain does not want to think deeply; we want fast and simple solutions. This is a challenge in a complex society as now we hear real-time information coming from all around the world. What is true and what is fake is hard to judge.

However, according to Kahneman, we do not want to waste energy on thinking. We create or adhere to simple solutions allowing our brains to feel relaxed.

This human behavior has always been exploited by populists and dictators: avoid complexity because, in this way, you lose people. Yuval Harari builds upon this with his claim that to align many people, you need a myth. I wrote about the need for myths in the PLM space a few times, e.g., PLM as a myth? and The myth perception

And this is where my second thoughts related to Systems Thinking started. Is the majority of people able and willing to digest complex problems?

My doubts grew bigger when I had several discussions about fighting climate change and sustainability.

 

 

Both Brains required

By coincidence, I bumped on this interesting article Market-led Sustainability is a ‘Fix that Fails’…

I provided a link to the post indirectly through LinkedIn. If you are a LinkedIn PLM Global Green Alliance member, you can see below the article an interesting analysis related to market-led sustainability, system thinking and economics.

Join the PLM Global Green Alliance group to be part of the full discussion; otherwise, I recommend you visit Both Brains Required, where you can find the source article and other related content.

It is a great article with great images illustrating the need for systems thinking and sustainability. All information is there to help you realize that sustainability is not just a left-brain exercise.

The left brain is supposed to be logical and analytical. That’s systems thinking, you might say quickly. However, the other part of our brain is about our human behavior, and this side is mostly overlooked. My favorite quote from the article:

Voluntary Market-Led activities are not so much a solution to the sustainability crisis as a symptom of more profoundly unsustainable foundations of human behavior.

The article triggered my second thoughts related to systems thinking. Behavioral change is not part of systems thinking. It is another dimension harder to address and even harder to focus on sustainability.

The LinkedIn discussion below the article Market-led Sustainability is a ‘Fix that Fails’… is a great example of the talks we would like to have in our PLM Global Green Alliance group. Nina Dar, Patrick Hillberg and Richard McFall brought in several points worth discussing. Too many to discuss them all here – let’s take two fundamental issues:

1. More than economics

An interesting viewpoint in this discussion was the relation to economics. We don’t believe that economic growth is the main point to measure. Even a statement like:  “Sustainable businesses will be more profitable than traditional ones” is misleading when companies are measured by shareholder value or EBIT (Earnings Before Interest or Taxes). We briefly touched on Kate Raworth’s doughnut economics.

This HBR article mentioned in the discussion: Business Schools Must Do More to Address the Climate Crisis also shows it is not just about systems thinking.
We discussed the challenges of supply chains, not about resilience but about sustainability. Where an OEM can claim to be sustainable, there are often not aware of what happens at the level of their suppliers. As the OEM measure their suppliers mostly on Quality/Reliability and Cost, they usually do not care about local human issues or sustainability issues.

We have seen this in the Apparel industry with the horrible collapse of a factory in Bangladesh  (2013). Still, the inhumane accidents happen in southeast Asia. I like to quote Chris Calverley in his LinkedIn article: Making ethical apparel supply chains achievable on a global scale.

 

No one gets into business because they want to behave unethically. On the contrary, a lack of ethics is usually driven by a common desire to operate more efficiently and increase profit margins. 

In my last post, I shared a similar example from an automotive tier 2  supplier. Unfortunately, suppliers are not measured or rewarded for sustainability efforts; only efficiency and costs are relevant.

The seventeen Sustainability Development Goals (SDG), as defined by the United Nations, are the best guidance for sustainable drivers beyond money. Supporting the SDGs enforce systems thinking when developing a part, a product, or a solution. Many other stakeholders need to be taken care of, at least if you truly support sustainability as a company.

2. The downside of social media

The LinkedIn discussion related to Market-led Sustainability is a ‘Fix that Fails’… The thread shows that LinkedIn, like other social media, is not really interested in supporting in-depth discussions – try to navigate what has been said in chronological order. With Patrick, Nina and Richard, we agreed to organize a follow-up discussion in our PLM Global Green Alliance Group.

And although we are happy with social media as it allows each of us to reach a global audience, there seems to be a worrying contra-productive impact. If you read the book Stolen Focus. A quote:

All over the world, our ability to pay attention is collapsing. In the US, college students now focus on one task for only 65 seconds, and office workers, on average, manage only three minutes

This is worrying, returning to Remy Fannader’s remark: thinking about complexity was not something new. The main difference is that it is not new. However, our society is changing towards thinking too fast, not rewarding systems thinking.

Even scarier, if you have time, read this article from The Atlantic: about the impact of social media on the US Society. It is about trust in science and data. Are we facing the new (Trump) Tower of Babel in our modern society? As the writers state: Babel is a metaphor for what some forms of social media have done to nearly all of the groups and institutions most important to the country’s future—and to us as a people.

 

I have talked in previous posts about the Dunner-Kruger effect, something that is blocking systems thinking. The image to the left says it all. Due to social media and the safe place behind a keyboard, many of us consider ourselves confident experts explaining to the real expert why they are wrong. For addressing the topics of sustainability and climate change, this attitude is killing. It is the opposite of systems thinking, which costs energy.

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Congratulations

support

The fact that you reached this part of the post means your attention span has been larger than 3 minutes, showing there is hope for people like you and me. As an experiment to discover how many people read the post till here, please answer with the “support” icon if you have reached this part of the post.

I am curious to learn how many of us who saw the post came here.

 

Conclusion

Systems Thinking is a must-have skill for the 21st century. Many of us working in the PLM domain focus on providing support for systems thinking, particularly Life Cycle Assessment capabilities. However, the discussion with Patrick Hillberg, Nina Darr and Richard McFall made me realize there is more: economics and human behavior. For example, can we change our economic models, measuring companies not only for the money profit they deliver? What do?

Answering this type of question will be the extended mission for PLM consultants of the future – are you ready?

 

The answer to the question with the ball and the bat:

A fast answer would say the price of the ball is 10 cents. However, this would make the price of the bat $1.10, giving a total cost of $1.20. So the right answer should be 5 cents. To be honest, I got tricked the first time too. Never too late to confirm you make mistakes, as only people who do not do anything make no mistakes.

It’s the beginning of the year. Companies are starting new initiatives, and one of them is potentially the next PLM-project. There is a common understanding that implementing PLM requires a business case with ROI and measurable results. Let me explain why this understanding is a myth and requires a myth.

I was triggered by a re-post from Lionel Grealou, titled: Defining the PLM Business Case.  Knowing Lionel is quite active in PLM and digital transformation, I was a little surprised by the content of the post. Then I noticed the post was from January 2015, already 5 years old. Clearly, the world has changed (perhaps the leadership has not changed).

So I took this post as a starting point to make my case.

In 2015, we were in the early days of digital transformation. Many PLM-projects were considered as traditional linear projects. There is the AS-IS situation, there is the TO-BE situation. Next, we know the  (linear) path to the solution and we can describe the project and its expected benefits.

It works if you understand and measure exactly the AS-IS situation and know almost entirely the TO-BE situation (misperception #1).

However,  implementing PLM is not about installing a new transactional system. PLM implementations deal with changing ways-of-working and therefore implementing PLM takes time as it is not just a switch of systems. Lionel was addressing this point:

“The inherent risks associated with any long term business benefit driven projects include the capability of the organization to maintain a valid business case with a benefit realization forecast that remains above the initial baseline. The more rework is required or if the program delivery slips, the more the business case gets eroded and the longer the payback period.”

Interestingly here is the mentioning ..the business case gets eroded – this is most of the time the case. Lionel proposes to track business benefits. Also, he mentions the justification of the PLM-project could be done by considering PLM as a business transformation tool (misperception #2) or a way to mitigate risk,s due to unsupported IT-solutions (misperception #3).

Let’s dive into these misperceptions

#1 Compare the TO-BE and the AS-IS situation

Two points here.

  1. Does your company measure the AS-IS situation? Do you know how your company performs when it comes to PLM related processes? The percentage of time spent by engineers for searching for data has been investigated – however, PLM goes beyond engineering. What about product management, marketing, manufacturing, and service?  Typical performance indicators mentioned are:
    • Time To Market (can you measure?)
    • Developing the right product – better market responsiveness (can you measure?)
    • Multidisciplinary collaboration (can you measure?)
  2. Do you know the exact TO-BE situation? In particular, when you implement PLM, it is likely to be in the scope of a digital transformation. If you implement to automate and consolidate existing processes, you might be able to calculate the expected benefits. However, you do not want to freeze your organization’s processes. You need to implement a reliable product data infrastructure that allows you to enhance, change, or add new processes when required. In particular, for PLM, digital transformation does not have a clear target picture and scope yet. We are all learning.

#2 PLM is a business transformation tool

Imagine you install the best product innovation platform relevant for your business and selected by your favorite consultancy firm. It might be a serious investment; however, we are talking about the future of the company, and the future is in digital platforms. So nothing can go wrong now.

Does this read like a joke? Yes, it is, however, this is how many companies have justified their PLM investment. First, they select the best tool (according to their criteria, according to their perception), and then business transformation can start. Later in time, the implementation might not be so successful; the vendor and/or implementer will be blamed. Read: The PLM blame game

When you go to PLM conferences, you will often hear the same mantras: Have a vision, Have C-level sponsoring/involved, No Big Bang, it is a business project, not an IT-project, and more. And vendor-sponsored sessions always talk about amazing fast implementations (or did they mean installing the POC ?)

However, most of the time, C-level approves the budget without understanding the full implications (expecting the tool will do the work); business is too busy or does not get enough allocated time to supporting implementation (expecting the tool will do the work). So often the PLM-project becomes an IT-project executed mainly by the cheapest implementation partner (expecting the tool will do the work). Again this is not a joke!

A business transformation can only be successful if you agree on a vision and a learning path. The learning path will expose the fact that future value streams require horizontal thinking and reallocation of responsibilities – breaking the silos, creating streams.

Small teams can demonstrate these benefits without disrupting the current organization. However, over time the new ways of working should become the standard, therefore requiring different types of skills (people), different ways of working (different KPIs and P&L for departments), and ultimate different tools.

As mentioned before, many PLM-projects start from the tools – a guarantee for discomfort and/or failure.

#3 – mitigate risks due to unsupported IT-solutions

Often PLM-projects are started because the legacy environment becomes outdated. Either because the hardware infrastructure is no longer supported/affordable or the software code dependencies on the latest operating systems are no longer guaranteed.

A typical approach to solve this is a big-bang project – the new PLM system needs to contain all the old data and meanwhile, to justify the project, the new PLM system needs to bring additional business value. The latter part is most of the time not difficult to identify as traditional PLM implementations most of the time were in reality cPDM environments with a focus on engineering only.

However, the legacy migration can have such a significant impact on the new PLM-system that it destroys the potential for the future. I wrote about this issue in The PLM Migration Dilemma

How to approach PLM ROI?

A PLM-project never will get a budget or approval from the board when there is no financial business case. Building the right financial business case for PLM is a skill that is often overlooked. During the upcoming PI PLMx London conference (3 – 4 February), I will moderate a Focus Group where we will discuss how to get PLM on the Exec’s agenda.

Two of my main experiences:

  • Connect your PLM-project to the business strategy. As mentioned before, isolated PLM fails most of the time because business transformation, organizational change and the targeted outcome are not included. If PLM is not linked to an actual business strategy, it will be considered as a costly IT-project with all its bad connotations. Have a look at my older post: PLM, ROI and disappearing jobs
  • Create a Myth. Perhaps the word Myth is exaggerated – it is about an understandable vision. Myth connects nicely to the observations from behavioral experts that our brain does not decide on numbers but by emotion. Big decisions and big themes in the world or in a company need a myth: “Make our company great again” could be the tagline. In such a case people get aligned without a deep understanding of what is the impact or business case; the myth will do the work – no need for a detailed business case. A typical human behavior, see also my post: PLM as a myth.

Conclusion

There should never be a business case uniquely for PLM – it should always be in the context of a business strategy requiring new ways of working and new tools. In business, we believe that having a solid business case is the foundation for success. Sometimes an overwhelming set of details and numbers can give the impression that the business case is solid.  Consultancy firms are experts in this area to build a business case based on emotion. They know how to combine numbers with a myth. Therefore look at their approach – don’t be too technical / too financial. If the myth will hold, at the end depends on the people and organization, not on the investments in tools and services.

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