The super agile revolution

ISE Magazine August 2018 Volume:50 Number: 08

By Dave Guerra

How industrial and systems engineering fits into the future

A decade ago IISE published “The New Science of Superperformance” in the March/April 2008 edition of Industrial ManagementISE magazine’s sister publication. The article gave birth to a new science of optimization pairing the systems science of organizational process optimization with the new lens of complexity science to inform organizational culture optimization. The article pointed to a new way to think about management and leadership, the need for a new life science of optimization and the discovery of a consistent pattern of polar-complementarity in every instance of superperformance, defined as long-term industry-outperforming return on investment.

The discovery of superperformance and the pattern of polar-complementarity at its epicenter has been shockingly reliable, provoking a second-order change in many enlightened organizations, giving rise to a new paradigm for optimization and new meaning to the power of servant leadership. This has informed a tremendous body of work over the past decade, greatly expanding subject matter knowledge and understanding, creating gratifying learning partnerships with many companies in countless domains, from Fortune 100 enterprises to owner-operated companies, driving superprojects of all flavors, across a medley of organization types and persuasions.

The super agile model, combines operations excellence with servant leadership and transformation. Super agile pairs superperformance with agility to introduce a reliable approach to the 21st century. By carrying the triple braid of superperformance (process x culture) into the 21st century and by blending it with the lightweight, nimble and innovative approach of agility, companies can become paradoxically immutable and disruptive at the same time.

Solving the riddle of the super agile paradox is driving a new way to think about optimization. As futurist Thomas Kuhn wisely noted, when a paradigm shifts, everyone goes back to zero. In this same way, superperformance will not be enough in the 21st century. Super VUCA is introducing so much disruption into the environment that every society, government, institution, business and individual is being catapulted into a Darwinian fitness race.

Industrial and systems engineers of the future will be designing and shepherding living, complex-adaptive systems, not machines. To optimize organizational organisms, they will have to become something like organizational physiologists and psychologists together, two sides of one coin. The high tech of technology needs the high touch of motivated, engaged and cooperative digital-knowledge workers who find meaning and purpose in their work. Industrial and systems engineers must move from systems thinking to the higher ground of living systems thinking. The science of superperformance, polar-complementarity, is telling us we need to move away from a mechanical view and toward a living, complex adaptive systems view of organizations – systems science to guide the process and complexity science to guide the culture. Together they form a new, biophysical systems view. To optimize living, complex adaptive systems, industrial and systems engineers of the future must become polar-complementarians.