To effectively manage an organization, we must first remember that it is a system.

All systems left unattended will naturally find their state of disorganization. This is the principle of entropy. We could also refer to it as the “random capacity of the system.”

Our problem grows . . .

Most organizations want to improve. Increase customers, revenue, and employee engagement. But you have a problem in your organization. Our improvement efforts suffer if we do not address those underlying problems within the system. When you try to grow, you also grow the problems.

Then we wonder why we can’t achieve the results we desire or expect. Unmanaged systems increase in complexity. Improvements (which always result in change) become increasingly more difficult.

Four ideas . . .

In Creativity, Inc., Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animations Studio, describes four ideas that help inform the way he manages:

  1. Our models of the world so distort what we perceive that that they can make it hard to see what is right in front of us.
  2. We don’t typically see the boundary between new information coming in front outside and our old, established mental models–we perceive both together, as a unified experience.
  3. We unknowingly get caught up in our own interpretations, we become inflexible, less able to deal with the problems at hand.
  4. People who work or live together…have, by virtue of proximity and shared history, models of the world that are deeply (sometimes hopelessly) intertwined with one another.

My own experiences bear truth to Catmull’s ideas. Even when leaders of organizations seek improvement, a lack of awareness of these four ideas often stymies the best of intentions.

Just as individuals have biases and jump to conclusions because of the lens through which they view the world, organizations perceive the world through what they already know how to do.” —Ed Catmul

Our “mental models,” as Peter Senge refers to them, have a powerful influence on how we manage the system. Effective leadership depends on awareness of our own and others’ mental models.

How can these four ideas support how you manage the system in place? What changes could this bring to your leadership actions?

And always—

Be kind. Be brave. Be you.