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Finding our 15%

Posted By Jeff Cohn, Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 19, 2014

Last week was the completion of the Jewish New Year period that ends with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. One of the prayers recited on Yom Kippur describes the imagery of a process by which we are evaluated based on our behaviors over the past year and judgment is made regarding our worthiness to continue in our lives. The prayer recites the litany of wrongs that we may have committed over the past year. It ends with a phrase, "but repentance, prayer, and good deeds can lessen the severity of the decree.”

I reflected about this for a while. I realized that there are many kinds of good deeds that one can perform. Many think about good deeds that are heroic gestures, like rescuing people from burning buildings and serving one’s country in the military. There are macro good deeds that require large, coordinated efforts, like Plexus’s MRSA/PD work in healthcare and Starfish work with Ori Brafman and the US Army. These initiatives took funding, infrastructure, and human resources in order to be successful. Then there are meta good deeds- initiatives that involve processes like team building, improving relationships within one’s work group, and cleaning up one’s neighborhood. Not all of us are in positions to take these initiatives on, since they are sometimes associated with hierarchy in organizational settings. They also typically require the involvement of others in order to be successful.

And then there are micro good deeds. These are the ones that we can accomplish entirely on our own. We need nobody else’s permission or approval. One of the Liberating Structures we use, 15% Solutions, is based on the premise (first characterized by W. Edwards Deming) that 85% of all organizational problems are due to our systems and outside of the control of the worker. 15% Solutions flips that on its head, saying that this means that there is 15% that is totally within our control. As Plexus friends Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz say on their excellent website,, "Everyone can do somethingsmallimmediately that may make a BIG difference.” Things like smiling, saying hello, offering brief assistance to someone infirmed, paying a compliment- these are all micro good deeds that are totally within our discretion.

Our complex organizational structures are comprised of rich interconnections, many of which reflect relationships between individuals. In these complex environments non-linear dynamics rule, meaning that, as Keith and Henri say, small changescanhave a very large influence on outcomes. What would happen if the relationships within our organizations were being impacted by a steady infusion of micro good deeds? Think how we’d feel at the end of our day, along with how those we connect with would feel. Let’s all commit to finding our 15%, acting upon those opportunities, and making our networks a little (maybe a lot) happier.

Tags:  catching butterflies  cohn  liberating structures 

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