Zooming Again!

Sustainability and Zoom Lens Thinking

Green and the Zoom Lens Mind, which was posted to this blog almost two and a half years ago, offers a technique for problem solving. The basic idea involved, however, has a much broader range of usefulness.

A core distinction between business today and business twenty years ago is the huge increase in the scope of issues demanding management attention. This is attributable to globalization, Sustainability, advances in technology (particularly internet – enabled communications), along with a number of really significant demographic, economic and social trends.

This basic idea — zooming out to understand matters in broad context, applying a method for distinguishing the signal from the noise, then zooming in to a point of focus, where effective action can actually be taken — can be applied to almost any constraint, opportunity or threat to your business. That’s why zooming comes up in so many of the posts to this blog.  — C.H.


Green and the Zoom Lens Mind

From: 23 February 2012

“If a problem cannot be solved, enlarge it.” — D. D. Eisenhower

If the problem concerns your company’s competitiveness, now and future, you might take Ike’s advice to heart. To “enlarge it”, of course, doesn’t mean to make the problem worse. Rather, it means to increase the field of vision, the context, in which you view the problem. Enlargement in this way presents new points of view and suggests new approaches to the problem, within which a favorable solution may become apparent.

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image21941251I like to compare Ike’s idea to a zoom lens. When the lens is zoomed out to a wider field of vision, the extent of the environment in which the problem exists becomes increasingly apparent (for example: a root cause analysis, perhaps using Ishikawa’s “fish bone” diagram[1]). When the zoom lens is then focused in tightly, an approach to solution may become increasingly clear, better defined and, above all, actionable. As the matter of concern becomes increasingly complex, getting to an actionable approach becomes less simplistic. As complexity increases, it becomes increasingly necessary to consider contextual interactions and relationships. Increasingly, systems thinking needs overtake process thinking.

A broader awareness of context and contextual relationships fosters what Peter Senge refers to as a shift “from a problem – solving mindset to a creative one” — that is, from the deductive to the inductive. Senge’s book, The Necessary Revolution[2], devotes an entire 50 page section to this shift. Senge is the master in this area. He is well worth reading.

Putting the Zoom Lens to Work

>> Begin by using the zoom lens idea when you encounter mechanical problems in the plant. Zoom out, gather context. Use Ishikawa’s fish bone diagrams to organize. Then zoom in on an actionable approach to solution.

Ishikawa Diagram>> As experience is gained, move on to more complex matters. The same process applies. However, it soon becomes necessary to construct several fish bone diagrams, from different points-of-view. Take, for example, the matter of how to move you business toward Sustainability. As a starting point, you might zoom out, gather context, construct fish bone diagrams and zoom in on actionable approaches for each of the “Contexts” by which the Jera blog posts are organized. All of this takes time and a lot of thought. The reward is an understanding of what you can actually do to increase your company’s chances of “thriving in perpetuity”.[3]


Thoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated. Thoughts on additional methods for gleaning signal from noise would be especially welcome.

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

P.S: Contact me when your organization is ready to pursue Sustainability … CH

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome. New blog posts are published on Wednesday evenings.

Photo: dreamstime.com

Ishikawa Diagram: Wikipedia Commons


 [1] Kume, Hitoshi, Statistical Methods for Quality Improvement, AOTS, Tokyo (1985), pp. 26-32

[2] Senge, Peter, et al, The Necessary Revolution, Part VI From Problem Solving to Creating, Random House, New York (2010) pp. 285 – 334

[3] Werbach, Adam, Strategy for Sustainability, Harvard Business Press (2009), page 9.