The End of Analysis?

'The whole is greater than the sum of its parts'. Aristotle.

We all believe that quote above. Or at the least believe Aristotle knew what he was talking about. We see it all around us; fantastic teams performing at levels exponentially more than just just the sum of the skills of individual team members (32 WhatsApp employees supported 450 million app users before the $19Bn acquisition by Facebook).

So why do we still focus on breaking things down into their component parts to get a better understanding of situations, companies and systems? What's with all the analysis (the process of separating something into its constituent elements to gain a 'better' understanding) of everything if we agree the sum of these individual separated parts never equals the whole? Especially with the complex and ambiguous systems that we all deal with every day.

We are analyzing things to death right now. Take airport security (a very complex and dynamic system), why is it that whenever there is a security situation we end up with additional steps or intrusive full body scanners? The issue cannot be solved by increasing airport security steps alone (we all know this!) it requires policy overhauls, mindset change, behavior modification, engineering etc. But the additional steps come about from analysis that shows that (you guessed it) we need more security. But this is what happens when we over-analyze separate components of a situation; we come up with solutions that further complicate the system. 

The end of analysis will come about when we focus on 'systems' and combining constituent parts to truly understand/discover where problems lie and ultimately how to solve them. The solutions or improvements we will come up with will factor in effects across the 'whole'. Some examples of where systems thinking led to market disruption

  • Apple did not disrupt the entire music industry by focusing on developing a portable music device (the Zune came out before the iPod). It was about having a hub (the device) at the center of a system that considered hardware, software, human behavior, changing nature of technology and the music industry itself.
  • Nest didn't just design a better thermostat to challenge Honeywell. Nest developed a product that has become the hub of their system to own the management of your home. That system is now made up of Thermostat, Dropcam and Protect.

Other examples like Tesla, Grameen Bank etc come to mind. They all simply thought about the success of their products/businesses within the context of dynamic and complex systems at a global level. This can be applied to your business.

Companies can now get dashboards that provide analytics (computational analysis) on every measurable metric of every business unit. The issue here is how little consideration there is for the relationships between these separate business units and how they make up the 'whole'; have you ever seen a dashboard that relates product development to the tone of customer service conversations and ties that to employee fulfilment? I doubt it. All it takes is to draw a simple line between how well your product delivers on it's promise, how defensive your customer support people have to be on calls and how fulfilled they feel about their jobs. But those intangibles (the things that make the whole greater than the sum of its parts) are never measured and for that reason cannot be analyzed. 

"We live and work in an analytic prison. Working hard within this prison produces nothing. We cannot remodel the prison, we must get out."

The New Economics (1992), Dr Deming.

We need to stop burying our heads in minutia of never ending data that we now pay so much attention to. We need to assess whole systems to get business breakthroughs.

We need a catchy word.

Let's call it synthesis...