Johnnie Moore

Scaling and Theory U

Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

I really enjoyed Dave Snowden’s reflections on Theory U. I’ve been meaning to write a comprehensive post but those never get written so here are a few reflections for now. Definitely worth reading the whole thing.

He reflects more generally on approaches to management that draw on spiritual traditions such as meditation and reflection. This section really caught my eye:

Scaling and sustainability have always been the issue with methods that depend on changing the people rather than the process. You might achieve the change in an individual or a group of people for a period, but until you imbed the new way of thinking into the heart and soul of an organisation such change is only temporary.

I think a lot of management initiatives, and a lot of training budgets, can get squandered on misconceived efforts to change people, reflected in dubious language about “instilling values” or grandiose claims to change the “corporate DNA”. In therapy work, I’ve often experienced the wisdom of letting go of the idea of changing the other, in favour of changing something about myself and my response to the other. So Dave’s enquiry about changing the process is at the very least one worth holding when considering how to manage organisations.

The scalability challenge is a tricky one. Conversations about scale sometimes provide cover for idea-killing. The higher up the organisation you go, the more you are expected to have answers to scalability, and there is always the temptation to over-reach: responsibility + helplessness -> abuse. Balancing the desire for real, sustained change with the proper sense of humility is not likely to be easy.

I also share Dave’s concern about how Theory U gets used. I think he’s dead right to suggest it is about repeated iteration.

My overall point however is that the whole of the U curve needs to be less linear, more connected more real time. The danger is assuming you have gone all the way down one side when it fact you need to constantly itterate across the U.

I do get exasperated when people act as if everyone in a meeting needs to somehow traverse the U from beginning to end, and on a timescale. I have to bite my lip when someone opines about where in the U we all are right now. I think that’s a classic reduction of the complex to the merely complicated or simple – whilst maintaining an illusion of somehow really being au fait with complexity. And that’s the pitfall any conversation about scale seems to risk.

Share Post

More Posts

Rambling thoughts on models

I went down to Surrey on Friday for long walk and pub lunch with Neil Perkin. We’d originally planned to run a workshop about agile

Planning as drowning

Antonio Dias offers a fascinating description of what goes wrong when drowning: What separates a swimmer from someone drowning is the way a swimmer acknowledges

Leadership as holding uncertainty

Viv picks out some nice ideas from Phelim McDermott on the subject of leadership. “We love the security of the illusion that someone is in

Concreting Complexity

I’ve been thinking about the urge to scale things lately – see here and here. I understand the concern with being able to effect big

The absurd

In moving house, I radically downsized my collection of books which I can highly recommend. I used to think I’d one day find a reason

Rewriting history…

Thanks to my Improvisation friend Kelsey Flynn I rambled into a letter cited in Margaret Cho’s Blog (go to Letter #1): Lately it seems like

Who says fun is dangerous?

I wanted to share this email doing the rounds this morning… AIRCRAFT MAINTENANCE After every flight Qantas pilots fill out a form called a gripe

Yes, and…

A quick ramble on the nature of paradox, inspired by a blog on the value of both fear of the new and curiosity

More Updates

Emotional debt

Releasing the hidden costs of pent up frustrations


Finding the aliveness below the surface of stuck

Johnnie Moore

The success of an ugly make-up site.

Umair at bubblespace draws attention to the success of MakeUpAlley. Here’s a nice irony: a site about cosmetics that looks pretty scruffy but is hugely effective – because it provides

Johnnie Moore

Musing on a coffee table conversation

I had some friends over yesterday. All four happen to be involved in social work and care in the community. While I pottered they gathered around my kitchen table. They

Johnnie Moore


On a link from The Nub, I found this short report Expressing yourself isn’t always ideal Research shows that psychological health is not about always expressing your feelings but being

Johnnie Moore

Thinking differently

I was fascinated to read about Daniel Tammet in the Grauniad. He is an autistic savant with extraordinary mathematical skills. Here’s how he processes the numbers. Tammet is calculating 377