Organizations tend to be designed for A-work only. A system’s capacity for Blue Zone B/C-work is the “missing link” needed to bridge to a Blue Star Future.
The ABC Lens is a simple and profound model. Having a clear understanding of the A, B and C-work distinctions is important to understanding the work of regional metamorphosis. Please refer to this post on the ABC Lens which includes examples of how it applies to organizations.
A-work — All normally recurring work in all walks of life. In organizatons this includes manufacturing, R&D, marketing, service, maintenance — everything from strategic planning to vacuuming if its done in a routine patterned way without processes of reflection and improvement.
B-work — Work intended to improve A-work patterns and results. Examples of B-work in organizations traditionally include: training programs, performance management processes, re-engineering, restructuring, leadership development programs, policy changes, total quality initiatives, incentive programs, etc.
For the most part, our traditional approaches to B-work are derived from the same mechanistic worldview that has shaped today’s organizing forms and social patterns. Even where a particular B-work practice has more generative attributes, it is challenging for it to have a lasting transformational effect because of its partial,fragmented, quick-fix nature. B-workers, e.g., outside consultants, tend to be specialists in their particular practices and methodologies.
C-work — Work intended to optimize B-work strategic choices and implementation effectiveness — In essence, the work of a social architect.
Below is a “Personals Ad” that describes an ideal “C-worker:”
WANTED: Architect of Generative Change
You’re a veteran of a variety of community/organizational change initiatives. You’ve worked with a variety of design and change practitioners and methodologies. You’ve learned that no one has THE solution. You’ve seen how flavor-of-the-month approaches invariably erode trust and credibility. You don’t settle for simplistic solutions. You’re a systemic thinker. You challenge yourself to design for multiple and multiplying benefits, in ways that make a lasting contribution to all stakeholders affected.
You’ve also learned that the secret to high leverage, low risk change work is to invest in equipping those closest to the action, players on the front lines, with the capacity to manage their own learning and change processes.
You function as a true architect. You —
- Are able to inquire deeply into the needs and aspirations of all those affected by the change initiative — with special attention to the voiceless, e.g., nature, the disadvantaged.
- Draw from and creatively balance cutting edge expertise from the arts as well as from technological, environmental and social design.
- Effectively convene/engage key stakeholders in a way that enables them to understand, contribute to and truly own the change initiative as it evolves.
- Are convinced that elegant simplicity lies on the other side of complexity — and are not willing to settle for simplistic solutions.
Most organizations have been designed to perform A-work only, with little/no capacity dedicated to B/C-work.
It is important to recognize that the quality of A, B and C-work can range for Red to Blue — from toxic to generative in terms of its lasting contribution to the well-being of life. This is further illustrated in this article and also in the following two figures.
Current State — Hypothetical Region
We see the region as the appropriate unit of design for this work:
This is our very subjective estimate of the distribution and quality of A, B and C-work in a hypothetical region. Notice that the A-work is mostly in the Yellow Zone. Some Orange. Green beginning to emerge.
Desired 2020 State — Hypothetical Region
Our evolutionary challenge involves transforming our social systems in a way that moves their A-work from the mostly-Yellow zone into the Green/Blue territory. This shift would not only begin to turn around our planet’s adversity trends; it would open up new entrepreneurial territory in the same way that the Information Age did. The secret to pulling off this great shift would be developing the generative B/C-work capacity of these social systems — to grow a region’s capacity-building capacity.
Our challenge is to make a compelling case for investing in growing the regional capacity for the generative B and C-work required to make the shift from the Current State to the Desired 2020 State.
NOTE: We are indebted to Doug Engelbart, one of Silicon Valley’s most creative and prolific inventors, for creating the A, B and C-work distinctions. This lens is an extrapolation from and an interpretation of his concept.