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Define Your Path

What Are We Talking About

Jimmy Brown

I recently finished work on my latest book. The focus of this text is how to apply systems thinking to the strategic planning process (Brown, 2012). Needless to say, I was pretty excited when UPS dropped off the package of author copies. It was the culmination of a lot of hard work and glad to finally have it out there.

The day that the copies arrived happened to correspond with my father and sister’s weekly dinner visit with my family. Everyone, except for our two year old, shared in my excitement to have another piece of work complete and available. As my father thumbed through one of the copies, he posed a rather interesting question, “Am I going to be able to understand this one at all?” When I asked what he meant by that he informed me that he had zoned out after the first few pages of some my previous work because it was way over his head. My sister concurred. My wife also jumped in with a similar sentiment. Clearly there was a pattern here.

As I pondered this, I was reminded of a statement I once overheard at Academy of Management. Some guy wearing sandals with socks and an ill fitting corduroy sport coat contended that people who don’t get what we are conversing about simply lack the intellectual horse power to keep up. Personally, I completely disagree with that sentiment. At best it is misinformed. At worst it is elitist and arrogant. Moreover, even if there were instances where that feeling had some shred of accuracy or relevance, it would certainly not apply here. My father and sister both have Master’s degrees in engineering. My wife has a law degree and passed the California bar exam. No lack of intellectual muscle there. And yet they all seemed to feel that some of my previous work was a little too out there. This reminded me of something very important we organizational scientists often forget.

We espouse that it is important to be able to apply what we do to make the world a better place. This is a value that has guided the better part of my career. It is also a core value of many of our professional organizations (e.g., Organizational Development Network), and one that is a key value to all of Benedictine’s programs. Regardless of whether one is online or on campus, a Ph.D. or accelerated MSOB, the goal is the same. Take what you’ve learned and make the world a better place.

An important first step in that effort is learning to absorb and process the ever growing body of knowledge around the science of people and organizations. This is not an easy task. To many newcomers it can feel like learning a whole new language. One of the tools we use here at Benedictine to help teach this new language is Dimsdale and Kutner’s white paper on how to become an educated consumer of research (2004). This is a great resource that helps people understand research literature. While it is an excellent starting point, and one I use in many of my classes, we must remember that not everyone has had this orientation. As such, it is important for us to always keep in mind that it not just how we take in the knowledge that matters. It is also how we share it with others out in the world that makes the difference. If we try to share it the same way we took it in, many people will not have the context and frame of reference to get what we are saying. If they don’t know what we’re talking about, we can’t help. If we can’t help them, then what’s the point?

References

Brown, J. (2012). Systems thinking strategy: The new way to understand your business and drive performance. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, Inc.

Dimsdale, T. & Kutner, M. (2004). Becoming an educated consumer of research: A quick look at the basics of research methodologies and design. Retrieved from American Institutes for Research website: www.air.org.

About the Author

Jimmy Brown, Ph.D. is a senior level management consultant with seventeen years of experience leading efforts to develop and implement practical strategies for business performance improvement. Major areas of focus have included change management, organizational assessment/effectiveness, performance improvement, and business strategy.

During his career, Dr. Brown has held senior level consulting positions at leading firms such as Booz-Allen & Hamilton, Accenture and Hewlett-Packard. He is currently a Practice Area Lead with Beacon Associates. In these roles, he has often been called upon to consult with senior and C-level executives on the best ways to leverage data to drive business performance. Dr. Brown’s industry experience includes life sciences (provider, payer and pharmaceutical), federal government (civilian and DoD), not-for-profit, manufacturing and retail.