Tag Archives: GTD

President Obama and his “argument-based organization as learning organization” – insight from David Brooks

I intentionally avoid political topics and themes on this blog.  I realize that in this very volatile, divided era, once a name or a postition is named, some cheer, others condemn, and people want to argue.  (See my earlier post on The Argument Culture, and how Deborah Tannen predicted the coming argument wars).

But this was too good to pass up.  Whether you agree with the assessment or not, it provides for serious thought and discussion regarding leadership and decision making.  The thought comes from David Brooks, one of the conservative columnists for the New York Times.  In his column The Analytic Mode, December 3, 2009, he reflects on President Obama’s approach to his Afghanistan strategy and troop decision.  This is what he wrote:

The advantage of the Obama governing style is that his argument-based organization is a learning organization. Amid the torrent of memos and evidence and dispute, the Obama administration is able to adjust and respond more quickly than, say, the Bush administration ever did.

Brooks pictures the Obama approach as that of a learning organization.  Here’s the definition (from Wikipedia): A Learning Organization is the term given to a company that facilitates the learning of its members and continuously transforms itself.

Though there are five identified traits of a learning organization — Systems Thinking, Personal Mastery, Mental Models, Shared Vision, and Team Learning — I think we can identify the  following as critical to a learning organization’s success as a learning organization.  A learning organization is an organization where the following is true:

1)            Teaching and learning are at the center of the organization.
2)            Everyone, from the leaders throughout the organization, values learning.
3)            Disagreement and dissent are valued, because if there is no disagreement, learning does not happen.  Instead, perpetuating frozen, possibly wrong, viewpoints becomes dominant – and the organization finds itself left behind in a hurry.

This the second time that an author has put modern day business labels on President Obama’s approach to governing.  (at least, the second one that I am aware of).  The earlier was an author calling President Obama our first GTD President.  (see my post here).  I’m a fan of the learning organization approach, and Brook’s observation gives me hope.

The Checklist – from medicine to Sully and the Hudson River, the ultimate GTD tool

checklistHere’s a question:  do you have a checklist?  It sounds so simple, but it is so profound in its simplicity.  We forget what to do.  And because we forget what to do, we don’t get it (all) done.  We need a checklist.

The idea is vigorously championed by Atul Gawande, Surgeon, Rhodes Scholar, Macarthur fellow, (the Genius Grant) medical writer extraordinaire, and Harvard Professor.  In his article in the New Yorker, The Checklist, Gawande describes in detail the many places and procedures that have gone from dismal failures to amazing successes just by following a checklist.  Here’s a paragraph describing the cardiac unit at a hospital surrounded by the Alps, where people come in “from cardiac arrest after hypothermia and suffocation:

Speed was the chief difficulty. Success required having an array of equipment and people at the ready—helicopter-rescue personnel, trauma surgeons, an experienced cardiac anesthesiologist and surgeon, bioengineering support staff, operating and critical-care nurses, intensivists. Too often, someone or something was missing. So he and a couple of colleagues made and distributed a checklist.”

The checklist meant that people literally were able to live – people with similar injuries that killed the many that came before.  And the reason was clear – the emergency workers were too busy to remember everything they needed to do.  They needed a usable, tangible reminder:  a checklist.

Recently at the New Yorker Festival, Gawande (he writes for the New Yorker) spoke of this, and reminded everyone that the hero of the year, Chesley Sullenberger, is a true believer and a faithful follower of the checklist approach.  (Read the post Captain of the Checklist).  Here’s the key excerpt:

To illustrate, (Gawande) discussed the way in which the media had rapidly mythologized the pilot Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot who landed a commercial plane in the Hudson River. “There became questions of who exactly was the hero here,” Gawande said. “Sully kept saying, ‘I want to correct the record. This was a crew effort.’ ”
In saving the plane, Sullenberger and his co-pilot showed daring, but they also methodically went down a list to ascertain their options, and chose the next step until they landed safely. “They adhered to their rigid discipline—they went through their series of checks.”

Did you catch that brilliant simplicity?

• went down a list
• chose the next step

I think that all of the time management insight on the planet boils down to this three step process:

1)  plan the next thing well (so that you always know the next thing to do)
2)  put it on the list
3)  and then do the next thing on the list.

Then — repeat the process…