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9 Lenses

Avoid entrenched perspectives by looking through 9 Lenses

9 Lenses - Big picture 9 Lenses - Systems 9 Lenses - Constraints 9 Lenses - Details 9 Lenses - Empathy 9 Lenses - Motivations 9 Lenses - What works 9 Lenses - Surprises 9 Lenses - Weak signals
Observe situations without bias or entrenched perspectives. In complex situations our existing perspectives and expectations often constrain us from seeing things as they really are. Learn how to look through 9 Lenses to collectively uncover important characteristics and behavior.

We are conditioned to see what we expect or are primed to see, not what is really there. This is fast and efficient if our world is stable and predictable – where the past is a good predictor of the future. But what if it is not completely stable and predictable? What if our expectations and experience are only partially useful? Our expectations and experience are often deep within our subconscious mind. It is difficult to quieten them even if we consciously realise they may be inadequate or misleading in a given situation.

How then do we see things as they really are, not as our subconscious would like or expects them to be? One of the most effective things we can do is develop the ability to step through a variety of perspectives of the situation. In doing so we use our conscious brain to counter or supplement our subconscious expectations and biases.

In general, we need to adopt perspectives that allow us to be more empirical. That is, we need to focus on more extensive observation and data gathering before drawing conclusions. In most cases, we also need to recognize that our conclusions are only tentative and will require further testing and validation. We need to be open to revising, or even discarding, a tentative conclusion as we make more observations, collect further data or develop further insights.

Observing a situation through each of the following 9 Lenses forces us to challenge our entrenched perspectives and expectations. Although all 9 lenses will not always be relevant, each lens should at least be assessed in a given situation.

BigPicture Step back from the action so that you can see behaviour and events in a wider context (draw wider system boundaries) and look for more structural influences and factors. Stepping back is also likely to increase detachment and objectivity and therefore reduce any biases introduced by an emotional engagement to the situation.
Systems Identify any significant linkages and relationships and/or any emerging patterns of cause and effect. Even though the situation may be complex, repeatable cause and effect patterns may be emerging. Customers in a given segment may have begun to respond more predictably to on-line promotions. Middle managers from one segment of the organisation may be exhibit similar resistance to a change initiative or offer suggestions for improvement that have a common underlying theme. These emerging patterns provide early indications of potential leverage points in the situation. What might appear to be local behavior may be a symptom of wider system influences. Observe and explore how inter-relationships and inter-dependencies interact dynamically to influence local and system-wide behavior.
Constraints Identify the constraints and boundaries in the situation. The constraints may relate to physical boundaries, information, expertise, resources, awareness and expectations. If behaviour consistently occurs at or near a constraint, the behaviour is unlikely to change without first relaxing or modifying the constraint. New or changing influences and behaviours will often be first evident at the boundaries. This is either because new external influences first interact with system at the boundaries, or because the more diverse interactions that occur at the boundaries generate new ideas and options.
Details Get close to the action to see actual behaviour and events rather than make assumptions based on past, prescribed or expected behaviour. This will enable you to see what is really happening, such as any work-arounds that have evolved to compensate for system deficiencies or the actual roles and contributions of all involved. This perspective underpins the Genchi Genbutsu (“go and see”) principle of the Toyota Production System.
Empathy Look at the situation through the eyes of the key participants. In other words, take a perspective of empathy. For example, aspects of the situation that may be clear and positive to you may be unclear, uncertain and therefore threatening to some of the participants. Benefits of a change initiative that you think are valuable may appear to be of marginal value when seen through the eyes of a stakeholder group.
Motivations Identify the dominant motivations and influences in the situation. Look for the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’? Where do the energy and driving forces for action come from? Are they derived from proactive aspirations or reactive defensiveness? Is the source local or broadly based? Is it likely to be enduring or short term? In emergent and complex situations, the driving influences are potential sources of consistency and coherence. Although they will not enable future decisions and outcomes to be predicted with certainty, they will point to how they are likely to be biased and to evolve.
What works Notice what seems to be working. Where are successes happening? What activities and behaviour are being reinforced? Where are people making progress in spite of their constraints and context? What have they done to overcome the constraints? Is this repeatable and scalable? In complex and emergent situations we cannot rely primarily on what has worked in the past or has worked somewhere else. We need to discover new principles for success.
Surprises Be alert to the surprising and the unusual. Often, much information is found in the unexpected events, behaviours, relationships and achievements. They are likely to tell us something about the situation that we don’t already know or understand. If the surprise is a positive one, consider whether the conditions that generated it be identified and repeated consistently. The earlier the small surprises can be identified, the more likely it is that they can be purposely enhanced if they are positive or suppressed if they are negative.
Weak signals Is anything happening that is just starting to rise above the random ‘noise’ in the situation? Perhaps the performance of normally productive work groups is starting to slip. Perhaps individuals or groups who don’t usually interact are now doing so on occasions. Perhaps previously well satisfied customers are now occasionally suggesting service improvements. These may be just random changes, but they may also be early indicators of more substantive changes or trends. They need to be probed and monitored in order to test and assess their significance.

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