Articles and Reading


Melissa Semcer

“Learning COS catapulted me to the next level, both in my thinking about how to solve difficult problems and in moving me forward in my career."
- Melissa Semcer, Administrative Law Judge, California Public Utilities Commission, San Francisco, CA

The Collaborative Organization

Hierarchy is the most deeply embedded paradigm for leading, managing and working in our time. Think about this: A group of people sit down to create a new business. They’re discussing the usual topics – funding, a business plan, where to locate the new company, a suitable legal structure, i.e. LLC, LLP, S-Corp, C-Corp, 501(c)3, etc. Yet never do these stakeholders ask the question, “Given our company’s goals and purpose, which system of organization shall we use?” This question, at the current moment, doesn’t even exist. The assumption of a hierarchical structure is usually enacted without any time or thought spent on it whatsoever. Hierarchy is the default system, the prevailing paradigm, by which work is done.

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Identify the Problem

The primary work of organizations is problem solving. Once a goal has been set, problem solving commences to close the gap between the current state and the goal. There are both art and science involved in being a good problem-solver, especially if you want to solve problems in groups.

The first step in any collaborative effort should focus on identifying the problem and stating it clearly and succinctly in the form of a coherent problem statement...

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Wicked Problems

Have you heard the term, "wicked problem"? In 2006, Jeff Conklin,Ph.D, published a book, Dialogue Mapping: Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems, in which he built on the work of Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber. Conklin explains that it's the social complexity (not the technical complexity) that makes wicked problems inherently difficult to solve. Conklin explains how distinguishing between tame and wicked problems is a critical, and mostly ignored, first step in attempting to address them. He also explains how we try to apply the same thinking, tools, and methods to both types of problems, bringing predictably negative results.

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