Jun 13 2014
Pots of gold, Crutches, Mermaids, and Alligators
Kelvyn Youngman is a consultant from New Zealand, whose writings are usually easy to follow. This is why I was surprised by a post of his in the TLS-TOC Lean & Six Sigma discussion group on LinkedIn that I found unintelligible. The following quotes omits the parts in plain English, but there were too few for me to make sense of the whole:
[…] we in TOC still confuse local/local clouds (part-to-part) and local/global clouds (whole-to-part) […] A systemic cloud, a local/global cloud (whole-to-part) is the destination but it is not the journey. More and more I am coming to believe that the journey is a dialectic, the local/local cloud (part-to-part). The matrix is bound up in this as I hope that I can explain.[…] When we use a change matrix, “they” will list their crocodiles (UDE’s) and their pot of gold (DE’s) or more correctly as I asked the other day, their interpretation of their firm’s UDE’s and DE’s. They are indeed not personal UDE’s/DE’s, they are those of the organization. In fact if you do an affinity diagram with these key stakeholders and ask them each to list the UDE’s most of them will be common to most of the individuals. There is a shared understanding of the UDE’s. Sure there will be a small number of unique UDE’s too, but on the whole everyone is in agreement. […] The issue is our values roughly speaking, the issue is how we interpret these entities. Forget about root cause and so forth. Our side will generally recognise issues of interdependency, and they independency. Their more-of-the-same solution will display this. Their solution will go in the D of the cloud, ours will go in the D’. But right at that moment, their crocodile and their pot of gold is in conflict with our intent (and will impact upon our mermaid and crutches). […] We do see the same UDE’s/DE’s for both sides but we also see different interpretations of the solution. And then we have to move with some sensitivity to help to understand the invalidity of their solution – because their whole sense of identity is built around this.
I surrendered, and confessed that I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about with clouds, crocodiles, pots of gold, UDEs, DEs, and Ds, and asked for help. The first response I received was from Henry Fitzhugh Camp:
My simple explanation is that a global/local change/conflict can be understood through a blended change matrix with the global Pot-of-Gold and Alligators combined with the local Crutches and Mermaids. The latter diagonal (NE – SW) is the one most often ignored, particularly by those with authority about those who have none.
It didn’t help much, but then, fortunately, he added:
For those who are left behind:
- UDE = UnDesirable Effect (part of a Current Reality Tree CRT)
- DE = Desirable Effect (part of a Future Reality Tree FRT)
Both CRT and FRT are sufficiency logical diagrams showing the interconnectivity of a system.
He included a link to a video about Goldratt’s change matrix. Others also directed me to webinars, and debated whether there was rich knowledge embedded in the jargon, which prompted me to respond that yes, sometimes, technical terms do embed rich knowledge, for example in math or biochemistry. Often, however, the primary purpose of jargon is to exclude the uninitiated.
Some like to learn from webinars and videos. I don’t mind them for cooking recipes, but I find them an excruciatingly slow way to learn vocabulary. Clouds, crocodiles, pots of gold, UDEs, DEs, crutches and mermaids should be explained each in 25 words or less.
Lisa Scheinkopf then came to my rescue with explanations for at least some of these terms, which I summarized as follows:
- Pot of Gold: The benefits of successfully making a change.
- Crutches: The risks of trying to make the change.
- Mermaids: What you would lose by making the change.
- Alligators: The risks of not making the change.
As metaphors, Pot 0f Gold and Alligators are OK, but Crutches and Mermaids make no sense. A crutch is a device that helps you, not a risk. And I can’t see what mermaids have to do with the benefits of the status quo. In many cultures, mermaids, or sirens, lure sailors to their deaths. That is not much of a benefit. In others, they fall in love with human males, which makes you wonder what kind of “mermaids” a woman employee would have.
These terms are all about what you have to do to convince members of an organization to embrace a change you are recommending or have been tasked with implementing. In my experience, words are ineffective. To drive change, I have usually focused on finding protagonists rather than persuading antagonists.
Among the first-line managers in a manufacturing plant, for example, you usually encounter about 30% of antagonists who, for whatever reasons, oppose what you are recommending, about 50% of fence-sitters who are waiting to see which way the wind blows, and 20% of protagonists, who see an opportunity and want to take it. You work with the protagonists to get pilot projects done.
Their success then wins over the fence sitters and, together, the original protagonists and the converted fence sitters overcome the objections of the antagonists. Of course, this approach requires you to take human issues into consideration when selecting projects. You may select a smaller pot of gold because the manager in charge is ready to go for it.
And I still don’t know what Kelvyn meant with his “clouds.”
June 15, 2014 @ 2:39 pm
I have heard these terms used but with different meaning:
The Mermaid is a thing that appears as though it will improve the current state but in reality does either nothing or generates a worse outcome.
An Alligator is a problem you uncover during an improvement or project….something you didn’t foresee that “jumps out to bite you”.
June 19, 2014 @ 5:50 am
Mythically speaking, the Mermaid is a wicked creature, who tempts and then attacks and the Aligator swallows you, with tears in his eyes. So?
In order to have fifty percent on your side, you are forced to allow them to think that you are actually interested in what they have to say and then make it seem as if the solution came from them.
A little charm may assist as well.
April 3, 2015 @ 10:44 am
To my understanding a mermaid is an enchantment people have for continuing doing what they have always done. A degree of insanity or illusion by doing the same and expecting different results. An alligator is a real threat to a company if it doesn’t change. Most real competitors improvements are the essence of the alligators one will be faced with. Crutches are perceived risks of failing in the attempt to change, leaving the company impaired if the change does not happens as expected or just the personal risk of pursuing a change. Pot of Gold is the goal a company aims for by changing.
A personal assessment from having read some of your posts in different occasions, Your mermaid is your illusion that you have already all the answers you need. Your alligator is that you are being left behind in knowledge. Your Crutches is that you will not open your mind to TOC to avoid the risk of having to start from zero and risk losing before others. And your pot of gold is what your customers are really missing by you staying in your comfort zone and not leveraging in what TOC has for your customers.
Good luck Michel Baudin!
April 3, 2015 @ 2:38 pm
Thank you for you diagnosis. Incidentally, I don’t believe I have all the answers I need. For example, I still don’t understand the use of “crutch” to mean a risk, and of “mermaid” for what you would lose by making a change or for “an enchantment people have for continuing doing what they have always done.”
Just about everybody who commented on this post has a different meaning for these terms. I have a bias for words that are short and self-explanatory, and mean the same to everybody.
April 4, 2015 @ 4:37 am
That is the greatness in being human. We don´t need to think like robots. The phrase “brake a leg” has different meanings to different people, and when you do break a leg you will need crutches or maybe a bed to lay down and recover. You may not like the symbolism of “crutches” to represent the consequences of personal affectations from high risk situations, so you are free to use your own symbolism.
I am almost sure, but cannot be completely sure, that when something does not result in what is expected you need to change to get the results you want. So you can also use whatever symbolism you prefer instead of “Mermaid” to reflect the fixation people have on continuously doing what seems to be pleasant or justifiable to them but which will not generate the pretended outcomes, or even worse which limits or blocks getting such results.
To me, the Pot of Gold, Mermaid, Alligator and Crutches symbolism used in TOC makes perfect sense. Some others may interpret such symbolism in slight different ways and that is fine. Also, for me, TOC is the most effective approach for companies to thrive with excellence, but I know that TOC is not for everybody because not everybody is prepared for common sense.
TQM (Six Sigma) and TPS (Lean) are great approaches for business improvement, but I have found that when integrated into TOC improvements are far much better than when implemented alone. Also, I have found that many times (usually) TOC alone is sufficient enough for unimaginable benefits in very short time. The problem with most TQM and Lean consultants is that they take a prescriptive approach while in TOC it is more a directive approach.
Maybe that is what is limiting your comprehension of TOC. Trying to grasp a prescriptive approach in TOC to sell your services to businesses as you normally do with TQM and Lean.
April 4, 2015 @ 11:18 am
Salespeople often use ambiguity to their advantage. They let buyers assume that their products have features without explicitly claiming them. In the end, it doesn’t make for happy customers but, in the short term, it helps the sales reps meet their quotas.
In discussions of management or technology, on the other hand, ambiguity just impairs communication. Remember Fred Brooks’s audit of the Tower of Babel project? In spite of a clear goal and plenty of resources, the project failed because the participants couldn’t communicate.
You may want to check out TQM and Six Sigma: they are in fact radically different and contradictory approaches. TPS and Lean are also quite different. There are several post in this blog that explain this.
April 4, 2015 @ 2:32 pm
SIx Sigma is a child of TQM and used in-distinctively by many consultants. Also, Lean is a child of TPS and also used to signify the western approach to TPS. TQM claims to be in line with Deming’s teaching but it is not so, even if some methods and techniques from Deming are used.
There is no need for you to comprehend and accept TOC. It is a personal prerogative to do so and not an obligation. You are pretty well off with what you do with TQM, so why the many years and efforts from you to try to demerit TOC? If it is a true intention to learn about it, there are many books and articles written on TOC and more so evidence worldwide of its merits. Or is it a tactical issue for you to mislead your clients in that, even though you know almost nothing about TOC, they should also avoid learning about it?
Even in Japan, from where you take much of the terminology you employ, TOC has made significant improvements for major companies. Could it be that your teachers are evolving in their understanding for better and improved ways and you are not?
Well, Michel, as I said it is a prerogative you have and one where you really don´t need to do much about it. TOC is not for you.
April 4, 2015 @ 7:57 pm
I am not sure where you get that information about Six Sigma being a “child of TQM.” The inventor of Six Sigma, Mikel Harry, is active on LinkedIn. Why don’t you ask him? The ancestor to Six Sigma is SPC, not TQM. TQM itself is a descendant of the Japanese TQC, in which the “T” for “Total” means involvement of everybody in the company. The Japanese TQC itself differs from Armand Feigenbaum’s original “Total Quality Control” of 1951, in which “Total” meant encompassing all facets of the business, not necessarily all employees. SPC was the application of contemporary Statistics to the achievement of process capability in the high technology of the 1920s; Six Sigma, the same for the high technology of the 1980s.
In terms of approaches to Manufacturing, there really is no such thing as “the West.” TPS, anywhere in the world, is the way Toyota produces, and it produces in many parts of the world. Lean is indeed a child of TPS but has diverged from it, and, implicitly or explicitly, uses the name of its parent to achieve a credibility it would otherwise not have.
You assume that I have not given any attention to TOC or studied it. What gave you that impression?
June 29, 2015 @ 8:21 am
It seems Michel you are a hard man to please.
Agreed if one does not have the technical vocabulary one can feel excluded.
Kelvyn is an advanced thinker in TOC and experiments on the edges making tangents and connections with other theories and theorists. His work is a valuable contribution to the theory of knowledge and to TOC.
I understood those statement above – but then I have spent 15 years studying and implementing TOC (even listening to Kelvyn). If you go to his website dbrmfg.co.nz you will find a comprehensive and simple to understand encyclopaedia of TOC.
With TOC there is no intention to exclude, only include. Embrace rather than resist.
The 4 icons are simply metaphors as explained by others in your blog. As Michael says – no need to get hung up about it. I recommend look at the positives first, the negatives are not show stoppers.
The change matrix is simply a mechanism to dissect the anatomy of change. It applies to everyone, protagonists, antagonists and fence sitters. Your statement alludes to pursuing change only through protagonists and hope everyone else falls (or gets dragged) in line. This disrespects those who are not convinced of the change for reasons valid to them. The change matrix helps diagnose the issues and deep assumptions, so they can resolve the local/systemic conflicts and make better win-win choices.
Kelvyn’s argument goes into the problems conflating local (individual UDE’s/DE’s) with those of the System UDE’s/DE’s within the change matrix.
June 29, 2015 @ 10:32 am
You pursue change with protagonists because you can. It is a practical consideration that implies no disrespect to anyone. When these projects succeed, the doubts of the fence sitters melt away, and they join in without being dragged in.
Antagonists are tougher. Their opposition may have all sorts of reasons that have to be examined individually
I wrote about these issues on LinkedIn, in an article entitled Your project is approved. Now what?
December 4, 2015 @ 12:38 pm
Metaphors are lost on author of this blog. TOC has been used to successfully turn around floundering organizations for maybe 30 years. Rejecting the methodology and its value just because your experience is limited to other methodologies demonstrates example of obstacle to embrace valuable change.