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.”