Variety – Governance, Training, Learning & Feedback Loops


Variety, the quality or state of being different or diverse; the absence of uniformity, sameness, or monotony, is a critical element in Ashby’s law (AKA Law of Requisite Variety). The law is simple: “If a system is to be stable, the number of states of its control mechanism must be greater than or equal to the number of states in the system being controlled.”

Although this law never proved wrong (up until now), many organizations ignore it while trying to simplify the system and make it less complex (less verity and more uniformity). Governance, Audit, and Training are the primary tools used by organization management and legislators to reduce variety. Both current management theory and legislators believe that too much verity cause organizations for failing and therefore they are trying to minimize variation. The results of this effort can be seen all over with the percentage of companies that survive for a long time, the decreased lifespan of companies, employee engagements, and many other pieces of evidence. In a nutshell, the data prove that since the focus was on reduce variation, the stability and lifespan of companies went down, not up!

Governance and audit are the primary tools to reduce variation. The concept of those methods is straightforward. There is one common best practice (standards, policies, procedures) that is the best way to operate, which means less variety. Governance and audits goal is to report and make sure that all parts of the organization are following the best practice and therefore to reduce variation. Those methods are working extremely good (with the support of current management theory). The prove is the lifespan and success of companies.

While governance and audit are needed, companies need to find a way how to make governance and audit tools that can accept variety and recognize new and better ways to perform tasks, instead of sticking to one best practice.

Another way to reduce variation is to focus on training and not learning. Training teaches people to use one way to resolve a problem or reach any given goal. Training is not increasing variety; it reduces variety. Learning on the other side increase variety by enabling people to understand what is the problem and them give them the freedom to try different solutions until one solution proved to be the best for now. Successful learning required closed feedback loops. Without closed feedback loops, one can’t know if the new way of resolving issues or operating tasks is performing.

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