Structural dynamics

Robert Fritz became associated with the consulting practice, Innovation Associates, in the late 1970’s. Its emphasis on system dynamics, later profiled in Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline, was also influenced by Fritz’s concept of structural dynamics, based on Fritz’s own studies of musical composition. Recently the founders reunited to present their views.

During his address Fritz played a recording of musicians warming up for the audience – and noted it as a sound that any attender of orchestral concerts can identify with. He observes that the musicians doing this are nearly always competent professionals. Yet an orchestra warming up anywhere in the world sounds exactly the same.

Then the conductor steps onto the podium. Those who love to see the conductor as leader identify with this most hierarchical of figures. Conductor Ben Zander notes that the conductor is the last of the great dictators. But Fritz observes that it is not the conductor or the musicians that actually make the difference. It’s the composition. All are united in fulfilling its purpose.

What drives the composition is a musical hierarchy of values. The purpose of the composition determines how it literally plays out. And Robert Fritz observes that a similar purpose has to drive a business strategy or a management strategy. What one has to do, is to offer a product that is so great that everyone will want it. Anything else is snake oil, he says. It is killer products that bring killer profits.

A leader often has a concept that is compromised by others in the large company. Even in a micro company what is ultimately going to make the difference is the strength of character of the leader. He or she has to imagine what isn’t there and move toward its creation. Such imaginings, of course can come into being and later be replaced by even better ones. While Fritz doesn’t mention it when he references the replacement of the Sony Walkman by the Ipod, the Walkman in its own day was a real innovation. The CEO of the company went against his own advisors. They said, ‘No one will want to walk around listening to music’. He responded, ‘When they can, they will’ and he was right. But what Steve Jobs recognized was that such a product could also be a distribution company. It’s the downloads and the apps that are the real product of the I-pod, I-phone and I-pad.

(to be continued)