What is a black hole
In reference to organizations?
(excerpt from Ron Lutka's book titled Black Holes In Organizations)

The Oxford Dictionary of Current English, third edition, defines a black hole as "a region of space having a gravitational field so intense that no matter or radiation can escape."

Whereas astronomical black holes suck up matter and energy, black holes in organizations suck up valuable resources, including human energy, time, space, materials, and money. A black hole is a significant entity, not something to be ignored. One ignores black holes in an organization at his or her peril and, unfortunately, at the peril of many innocent people.

Definition of a Black Hole

A black hole in an organization can be defined as follows:

Three Basic Components

A black hole in an organization includes the following components:

  1. Destruction in some form occurs within the organization, whether in the form of undesirable activity or a lack of desirable activity.
  2. There is an abundance of undesirable activity, or a lack of abundance of desirable activity, not merely an occasional occurrence.
  3. Management might or might not be aware of the destruction, but management definitely has an absence of awareness of the root cause of the destruction.

Management is often not aware of the root cause of a particular form of destruction in the organization. Management might see a lot of busy people but little production and not know why this is occurring. Or management might see inventory increasing despite sales declining but not know why. Management might see the destruction, but if a black hole exists, management will not be able to see the root cause.

Known problems definitely warrant management’s attention; however, unknown problems are far more insidious, because management cannot solve or resolve what it does not know or cannot define. This is why black hole destruction festers and compounds and creates great damage to the organization and its people.

Many organizational failures are internal, yet they are erroneously explained away as “cash flow problems”, “deteriorating margins”, or “increased competition” in a tone that states nothing can be done about it. The fact that it is so difficult to detect a black hole festering away within an organization is one reason why a black hole is so harmful. It is also why management, in trying to solve the result of the problem and not the root cause, does not take effective action or takes incorrect action sometimes. It is easy to understand management’s misdirected energy, for the presence of black holes makes it difficult to distinguish the cause of a problem from the result, due in part to the long, interrelated chain reactions involved.

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