This website covers knowledge management, personal effectiveness, theory of constraints, amongst other topics. Opinions expressed here are strictly those of the owner, Jack Vinson, and those of the commenters.

Inertia and Shirky

Inertia vs. angular momentumKevin Kelly at The Technium talks about The Shirky Principle, which is "Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution."  This reminds me of the Theory of Constraints' 5th Focusing Step: don't let inertia become your constraint.

The summary of the Kelly piece gives a little more detail:

In a strong sense we are defined by the problems we are solving. Yin/Yang, problem/solution, both sides form one unit. Because of the Shirky Principle, which says that every entity tends to prolong the problem it is solving, progress sometimes demands that we let go of problems. We can then look to marginal solutions and ask ourselves, what marginal problem is this solving that might be a more appreciated problem later on?

Of course there is a reference to Innovator's Dilemma, as that is a classic example of this problem.  I like Shirky's articulation of the issue, as it adds another way to view organizations and continuous improvement.

In the Theory of Constraints, the last of the five focusing steps is (in part) Don't let inertia become the constraint.  Always revisit your system and ask the question what is the constraint and examine what you are doing to overcome the constraint.  This creates an ongoing process of improvement.  What the Shirky Principle suggests is that organizations get so focused on the one issue (constraint) that they forget to step back and look at their system once they have resolved the primary issues. 

So often, the biggest constraints to growth and change in companies are policies and practices that were put in place long ago in response to circumstances that no longer exist.  Attacking those policies is often the first thing they need to do - once they revisit what the organization should be doing.  And record the reasons for the new policies, so you can more actively decide when they have been invalidated and something new needs to come into place.

[Photo: "Inertia vs. angular momentum" by jbrownell]

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