I blame the parents



This is the predictable picture of our breakfast table every morning. The kids have finished breakfast…

An hour later, the table looks more like this;

single loop solution

The kids have gone to school and the table is tidy. Exactly the outcome that we want – success!

Except that the table is only empty because my wife or I cleared the debris away, which delays us from getting to work/walking the dog/writing a blog/getting a ‘beach ready’ stomach.

This is single loop learning.

Fixing the same problem over and over and over again.

In my experience, we do this at work way to often.

Why do we do this?

  • It seems like the easy option
  • To avoid confrontation
  • Time pressures
  • We don’t trust other people to do it as well as we would
  • To be a martyr
  • To show someone else up
  • To keep people needing us

It could be any of those or all of those things that make us do it.

I remember a report that someone else used to prepare for a customer. Every week I would ask for the report to be sent to me and I would spend 15 minutes changing the format to one that I preferred.

Why did I do this? Because I didn’t think I could spare an hour to teach someone some new excel skills. Probably, I didn’t trust them to get it right either.

What an idiot.

It’s the same thinking that created call centres impenetrable for the customer.  The same thinking that led car manufacturers to keep the pace of production up and re-work all the faults at the end of the production line.

Re-work is costly.

Toyota changed that by realising it was ultimately cheaper to slow the line and fix the fault before it was sent on to the next stage. Take the time to learn why the fault occurred and stop it happening again.

The right answer with the kids of course is for them to clear up their own empty bowls. To do this though, requires a change in their thinking and, more importantly, mine.

double loop thinking

It’s the thinking at the top of any organisation that shapes the systems that we make people use. If our leaders don’t modify their thinking, then their organisations will keep doing wasteful things that use up work capacity. We become less productive, stop staff from learning and perpetuate dependencies on managers and specialists.

When you step back and look at the workflow through an organisation, it’s all the single loop, quick fixes that cause absurd blockages and wasteful practices, often delaying service to the customer.

Reducing reliance on specialists and up-skilling front-line workers to meet variation in demand is an important factor in creating a learning organisation. We want to remove blockages and reduce the fragmentation of our work. This is often blindingly obvious to the front-line, but completely counter-intuitive to managers.

Too often managers view training as downtime – a loss to today’s capacity rather than the chance to improve long-term capacity. This is normally linked to pressures from the top to ‘make the numbers’.


So, when was the last time you thought “I’ll just do it myself”?

Kiiiids! Come and look at the dishwasher…

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About Ian

Perfect Flow specialises in logistics, but good service is far too rare across all sectors in the UK. That is why I am driven by a strong desire to improve customer service levels. The Vanguard Method of Systems Thinking is my chosen methodology to achieve that aim. Why Vanguard Method? Because it works. I know it does, because I have used it myself. Perfect Flow have been named in the Smarta100 2012 - the 100 most innovative and disruptive small businesses in the UK

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