Chief Contradiction Officer
Editor | On 20, Mar 2018
Back in December, we reviewed the book, ‘Dealing With Dilemmas’. The book represents one of the first serious attempts to examine enterprises, and more specifically the management of enterprises through the lens of contradiction. Author, Frank Buytendijk, identified six key contradictions that businesses need to address. The six came through an examination of the conflict between what he identified as the key silos that exist within a generic organization. While we liked the basic idea, because Buytendijk didn’t have the advantage of knowing any TRIZ/SI, his model suffered since it missed a couple of significant parts of the story. When we apply the Law Of System Completeness to define the minimum number of elements that need to be present in order for any enterprise to function, we know there need to be a minimum of six elements. Then, if we take the Buytendijk’s idea that the core contradictions inside any organization occur between the essential elements, we end up with fifteen fundamental contradictions. Something like this:
Next up comes the search to identify what these contradictions are in more tangible terms. We can take our start point here, again from Buytendijk. The key contradiction between the ‘growth/learning’ (Engine) element of the enterprise and Finance (Sensor) – contradiction number 6 in the Figure – is that between the long-term and the short-term. In that the principal role of Finance is to look after today’s money, while the job of the growth/learning parts of the enterprise are all about creating tomorrow’s revenues.
Here’s what we think the other 14 fundamental inter-element contradictions look like:
|1||Coordination-Engine||Stability v Dynamic|
|2||Coordination-Transmission||Top-Down v Bottom-Up|
|3||Coordination-Tool||Sustain v Disrupt|
|4||Coordination-Interface||Reductive v Expansive|
|5||Coordination-Sensor||Action v Interaction|
|6||Engine-Sensor||Long-Term v Short Term|
|7||Engine-Interface||Listen v Lead|
|8||Engine-Tool||Optimise v Innovate|
|9||Engine-Transmission||Insource v Outsource|
|10||Transmission-Sensor||Fixed v Variable|
|11||Transmission-Interface||Inside-out v Outside-in|
|12||Transmission-Tool||Past v Future|
|13||Tool-Sensor||Open v Closed|
|14||Tool-Interface||Means v Ends|
|15||Interface-Sensor||Value v Profit|
Table 1: Fifteen Core Enterprise Contradictions
Hopefully, most of these contradiction pairs will sound fairly obvious. That said, in our experience working with many of the world’s biggest organisations that no-one ever seems to be responsible for managing any of them. In the majority of situations, I think there is an implicit assumption that these contradictions are ‘inherent’ and that there is nothing that can be done about them. In a similar majority the contradictions have either always been invisible or have allowed to become invisible.
At best, when we see organisations heading towards a crisis, we will find assorted types and form of ‘tiger-team’ or ‘rapid-reaction-force’ established to tackle, for example, ‘out-sourcing’, or ‘profit-maximisation’. The problem with these kinds of mon-istic management strategy is that they tend to deliver success along the nominated direction, but unfortunately at the expense of another dimension. And so, sadly, we end up with cost reduction programmes that end up increasing costs, bottom-up ‘empowerment’ initiatives that alienate everyone at the bottom of the pyramid, and so on.
If TRIZ teaches us nothing else, it is the importance of solving the problems that exist between contradicting parameters. What enterprises need, I believe is a Chief Contradiction Officer (CCO): a person positioned above all of the silos and tasked with actively challenging these 15 core contradictions.
Even the smallest enterprise these days is a complex web of hierarchically nested interdependencies. The Law Of System Completeness needing to be satisfied at each and every level of that hierarchy. Which means someone needs to be responsible for contradictions all the way up to the top and all the way down to the bottom. The CCO is the person who needs to be responsible for coordinating all of them. But then, specifically, needs to be able to sit above all of them, actively leading the ‘Top 15’ described here.
We first introduced the concept of a CCO in the Innovation Capability Maturity Model (ICMM). We introduced it as an essential role in any Level 4 or 5 enterprise. Putting innovation on one side and looking more holistically at the enterprise as a whole, the more we see the incredibly high levels of fragility in most of the management teams, the more we think the CCO role is needed in all forms and Levels of enterprise.