One of the three tenets of The Living Organization® model for creating results is the interdependence of the three energy fields of Activity, Relationship, and Context. The Context defines what the possible range of results can be. Yet, we continually lean on our predisposition to understand everything through the lens of Activity, the energy of what we do.
I was reading an article this morning citing a study on obesity in China that was published in the American Journal of Health Behavior. It is considered one of the first to investigate weight among Chinese adolescents. Ya-Wen Janice Hsu, a research assistant at the University of Southern California commenting on the study said, “Findings from this large cohort of data on Chinese youth suggest that weight-related correlates might play different roles in Chinese culture than they do in Western cultures.”
The article then goes on to highlight the differences in causal patterns between China and Western societies. They are:
- In China, parents with more education and more money were more likely to have obese children, whereas the same circumstances are related to a lower body mass index in Western countries.
- Chinese boys were more likely to be overweight than Chinese girls. In the United States, boys are just as likely as girls to be overweight.
- Younger children in China were more likely to be overweight than older children. The opposite is true for youth in Western societies.
- Chinese adolescents who reported frequent consumption of vegetables and infrequent intake of sweets and fast food were more likely to be overweight.
- Frequent participation in vigorous physical activity among Chinese youth was related with greater odds of being overweight.
What I found fascinating about this is all of these are Activity field parameters. The things Chinese adolescents do, compared to what Western teens do. It is not investigating the deeper Context field drivers that influence and define behavior.
When we look at causal factors through the lens of Activity we are limiting our understanding of what is truly creating the results, the outcomes we observe at the Activity layer.
When I was a young manager back in the early 80s I was actively involved in the Quality Movement. I remember when U.S. managers, executives and consultants went over to Japan to investigate how they had outpaced us in bringing quality products to the market. This from a country whose “made in Japan” image was synonymous with junk only a decade earlier.
Our executives learned that Japanese companies had Quality Circles. Aha they thought, the solution was to have regular meetings of employees that focused on quality. And of course, everyone came back to the U.S. and began instituting Quality Circles. And the results? No improvement.
They made the error of copying the Activity they observed without understanding the underlying Context. It was the cultural Context that made the Activity work. After millions of dollars were spent with no results, we kept trying different approaches. Over time and with the investment of more money, we finally began to understand it was “an attitude of quality” that made the difference.
This is the trap and the consequences of viewing our challenges only through the light of the Activity field. We eventually get to the right answer but only after unnecessarily wasting time and money on failed efforts to first change the Activity and stumbling eventually onto changing the Context.
This study will eventually begin to look underneath the Activity behaviors and begin to explore the underlying Context for those behaviors. At that level, I would hypothesize that the differences between Western society and China will have much less differences. The difference will be how each society turns Context into Activity.
Are you wasting time and money by focusing first on the Activity-based solutions without understanding the driving forces that flow from the Context field?