In reference to the old Fable of the Roasted Pigs, Gustavo F. J. Cirigliano wrote...
Not only this quote, but the entire fable, reminds me of the many times when I and people around me complained about problems we were going through. Not just any problems, but mainly the ones we thought we understood and believed we could solve if only person A did something. It reminded me of when I decided to stop complaining and start understanding the realities from different people's perspectives.
Inspired by Cirigliano's work, I wrote an adapted version of the fable to define a theory which might help other people, like it helped me. Here it goes.
Once upon a time...
...in a forest where some wild pigs lived, there was a forest fire and all the pigs were roasted. People, who at that time were in the habit of eating raw meat only, tasted the roasted pigs and found them delicious. From that time on whenever they wanted roasted pork they set an entire forest on fire.
The demand for roasted pork increased. Naturally, it became a big business and it generated a lot of jobs, for example:
- Fire Developers were people who worked at setting the trees on fire at the right time when all the pigs were in their positions after the trees had grown and were ready to be burned.
- Pig Catchers were responsible for entering the forest at the right time to catch the pigs when they had been perfectly roasted.
- Weather Architects were experts studying and advising other companies on the best weather conditions to achieve the best roasted pigs.
- Tree Growth Managers would report to the stakeholders on the tree growth levels. There were lots of tools that would help visualise the progress of each forest including tree height, leaf burn propensity and others.
- Anemotechnicians were the wind specialists who could be trained and become CAMs Certified Anemotechnician Masters.
Pig Roasting Crisis Report
Due to the many bad points of "the system", complaints grew at an increasing rate as the system expanded to involve more and more people. The time and cost required to deliver one successful roasted pig was extremely high. There was an 87% Pig Loss - pigs put in the forest before it was on fire who were not successfully roasted by the end. Thus every year there were a number of conferences, global meetings and a considerable amount of time and effort was spent on research to find solutions to improve "the system".
Those who were experts on the subject put down the failure of the system to a few deficiencies that could be improved. The list below was called the Pig Roasting Crisis Report, the output of a global gathering that included representatives from every country in the world.
A great idea that will solve all your problems!
One day a pig catcher named John Commonsense thought that the problem was really very simple and easily solved. He looked for the CRO (Chief Roasting Officer) and asked to have a conversation with him saying that he was going to solve all his problems.
The CRO thought it wasn't every day he heard someone say they'd solve all their problems, so he talked to John. During the conversation, John said that only four steps needed to be followed to solve all the problems of this system which had the objective of producing roasted pigs.
- The chosen pig had to be killed
- Placed in the proper cooking container
- Placed over the fire so that it would be cooked by the heat from the fire and not directly by the flames.
After hearing the four point idea, the CRO said:
"Do you think this solves all our problems? It is a brilliant idea, I have to agree… However, what would we do with the 2 billion dollar budget that has already been approved for weather research? What about the 300 pig catchers who are going to the Amazon for a huge Pig Project training session?"
"I don’t know," answered John. "All I know is that if you want to reduce the effort and cost of roasting pigs, there is a way. I don't know about the rest of the system."
He answered, "John, tell me, if your plan was adopted, it would require a completely different skill set to run pig projects. All our tree growth managers, fire developers and anemotechnicians will have to go through training to learn to work differently. Your job as a pig catcher would no longer be needed. We have been doing this for ages, we cannot ignore history, we have to live with what we have."
Poor John Commonsense didn’t utter a word. Without so much as saying goodbye, stupefied with fright and puzzled by the barriers put in front of him, he went away and was never seen again.
A Systems Thinking Perspective
Systems thinking has been defined as an approach to problem solving, by viewing "problems" as parts of an overall system, rather than reacting to specific part, outcomes or events and potentially contributing to further development of unintended consequences. - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Systems_thinking
John was trying to solve a problem - roasting pigs faster and cheaper - without taking into account the overall system of which the pigs being roasted were part. He thought he was solving all the problems in that system. When he spoke to the CRO, however, he had a different view, which could have made him think differently about it. Neither John nor the CRO were wrong, they were just looking at the system from two very different perspectives.
The quote below expresses a different mindset when trying to solve problems that involve transformation which helped me with my struggles. The secret is trying to look at problem solving from different system's perspectives. Sometimes solving my problem will not solve the system's problem.
"My problem is not always the System's problem, therefore if I fail to take the other perspectives into account and propose solutions to the 'whole' problem, I will have real trouble implementing my part."
Let me give a real example, outside of the world of fables so we can better understand how this can help us with our day to day problems.
I agree with this article in The Guardian that mentions Digital Transformation as "the buzz phrase of the moment" and as a term we've "heard and used a lot in the past couple of years". Here's how they define it:
"Transformation is a whole scale change to the foundational components of a business. A transformation programme touches every function of a business; from purchasing, finance human resource, through to operations and technology, sales and marketing."
In order to have a successful transformation all the functions of a business have to be taken into account. If, for example, someone from IT tries to transform an organisation without taking marketing's perspective into account, that transformation will, very likely, not be successful.
Systems thinking helps us expand our horizon beyond the immediate problem to embrace larger issues that impact the viability of our solution.
What about you, have you been in a position where if you looked at the system from a different perspective, the problems and the solutions would be different? Have you been in a roasted pig situation?
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.