The Golden Thread exists!!

There is a golden thread

But it’s not the one you think…

The golden thread, as imagined by Local Government bods everywhere, is the imaginary reason why people do things at work that connects their everyday activity to some supreme overarching piece of paper.
It’s complete bollocks, but it keeps policy officers in a job fussing over the exact wording in plans, as they think it ultimately affects what people do. It is the imaginary and nonexistent link between Sir Gerald Farquahr at the top and Joe Schmo at the bottom.

Why I’ve learnt it exists
The thread that connects Sir Gerald Farquahr at the top and Joe Schmo at the bottom is one of thinking.
When Sir Gerald says about something…

“… And I want it done or else! “

… Then fear and double speak cascades downward all the way to Joe at the bottom, with everyone in between acting like arses.

Sir Gerald doesn’t even have to say those strong words, he could say…

“…this is a key priority and I’m sure we all want to see it delivered “

… And everybody would still know the score.

You won’t find this thread written down, no need for a Policy Unit to massage purpose into your Performance Objectives, the beauty of it is you can spot it all by yourself, you can’t NOT spot it. Look for who pays attention to what.

People learn the norms and values of an organisation by watching how the people around them behave. They don’t pick up a plan that explains what they are there to do and why, they watch what people pay attention to, consider important, how they interact, then they copy it.

The golden thread usually isn’t written down, but if it was, it would look something like this. (Chris Argyris, Model 1 behaviour)


Nobody plans for miscommunication, mistrust and escalating error. But they are the inevitable results when people aim to maximise winning and the appearance of rationality.

This is the golden thread of thinking in most organisations.

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The most important things
should be able to be boiled down
into a few words.
Or less.

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The Highlander principle


Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.

Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle: when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.

Both can’t win. Only one can exist,  the opposite of co-existence.

This is command and control thinking and systems thinking.  They are the opposite of each other,  in every respect they are mirror image positions on every aspect of work. One liberates the system to achieve purpose, the other limits it.


This isn’t learnt from a book, it’s learnt from the work. It’s not the latest fad, it’s the always existent reality. However, I’ve had people of a C&C persuasion try to tell me off for having such a black and white perspective on things like this. For example…

“well there can be some good ways of doing performance appraisals. If you treat it as coaching or an opportunity to take a wider look at a persons challenges they’ve faced and their overall performance of the previous year

An attempt to strike a balance, appear reasonable and make the best of things. It’s complete bollocks.

The only reason this thinking can appear flexible is because there is no core. It’s not based on learning about reality, it is based on current thinking, what seems best and common sensical given the core assumptions about how work works.

If you don’t study how it really DOES work, then you’ll be stuck with the assumptions in place of knowledge, and assumptions can come in any shape or colour you desire, without knowledge to contradict and inform. For example, if you know that the vast majority of variation in performance is caused by system conditions in the work, then you know you’d be wasting your time having little chats away from the work.
Once you’ve learnt that some things DO work and others DON’T, then there
is the black and there is the white.


This way for knowledge!


This way for opinion!

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The Ridiculously Obvious


My organisation has gone through all the main consultancies, all the big names that you can easily bring to mind but I can’t say here.
And they have all been uniformly shit.

Change isn’t a report, it isn’t a set of executive away-days. Change is ACTUAL change, and I’ve never seen any resulting from paying £100k’s to these no-marks.
Worse than Bankers, the lot of them.

Originally posted on Bulldozer00's Blog:

Over the years, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard smug, self-important consultants and coaches spout things like: “ If your org doesn’t do what I say and/or you don’t get what you want, you should just leave “. Of course, like much of what they say is, it is literally true – you can indeed leave. However, here’s an interesting counterpoint:

“To say people have choice when they are in no position to make one is disingenuous.” – John Seddon

Consultants and coaches love to spout platitudes and self-evident truths couched in the fancy “new” language of the latest fad. Amazingly, stating the ridiculously obvious is what they get paid the big bux to do. To these high-horse riders, life for others is always much simpler than it really is. As outsiders looking in, they have what Nassim Taleb calls: “no skin in the game

View original 53 more words

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A spotters guide to strategy.

You’ll not find it in the expected places…






Strategy is not in a PowerPoint or a document.
Strategy doesn’t happen in meeting rooms or on the top floor.
Strategy is in management thinking about work, their assumptions about how it does and how it should work.
There is nothing behind or above that.

To find out what your organisations strategy really is, look in the work.
That is the result of the thinking and shows the true, real and only strategy that counts.

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Kanban dos and don’ts


An Infographic I did for my team when we introduced a kanban for team work. Not necessarily correctly, or usefully, but there it is anyway blocking my view out the window.

Any mistakes or errors of understanding or communication, all mine.

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How to get skin in your game

ragecomicRegular readers will be shrugging at the easiness of this quiz, but the rest of you…

Is it Eric the scavenger?

He is black, poor and the only one with a roof above his head that is made of corrugated iron.

No, it’s not Eric.

Is it Peter the comedian?

He is tubby, rich, and the only one in the Guinness Book of World Records.

No, it’s not Peter.

*Sigh* Is it The Bureaucrat?


A bureaucracy is

“designed to maximize the distance between a decision-maker and the risks of the decision.”

So anybody inside a bureaucracy has distance between what they tell others to do, and what happens as a result. The distance is a buffer that stops feedback on the accuracy and effectiveness of the Bureaucrats thinking.

They can’t learn.  If they are wrong, they stay wrong. And stay wrong they do. I should know, reader, I am one!

What about Eric and Peter?

They have skin in the game, and this has made them and the bureaucrat doesn’t and this has made her.
(We’ve already covered this, exactly a year ago, but it is that important I am turning it into an annual event. And I’m running out of ideas.)

Eric knows that if he gets it wrong, he doesn’t eat. So he is up at first break of light, combing through other people’s rubbish so he can eat. And so he can buy recording time and borrow nice suits as he is also a budding pop star.

Peter knows that if he gets it wrong, he might get lynched. He went back to stand up comedy after a 7 year gap. His first booking almost a month of nights at the Manchester Arena followed by the biggest and fastest selling comedy tour of all time.
All with 7 years of no practice
So he practised for it, by doing 30 small nights in tiny rooms in front of 50-100 people, trying out all his material. Every night he recorded the act, playing it back afterwards and meticulously going through every single word, and how he said every word, so he could fine tune the act and make sure his skin was returned to him at the end of every night.

This is the only way you get better, by doing something new and exposing yourself to risk of failure, and consequent effects of failure. This is why bureaucrats are stunningly poor at what they do, as they don’t do this. So, BUREAUCRATS OF THE WORLD LISTEN UP.

Here is how to get your skin in the game and get better at what you do

  1. Try new things, in the expectation that some will fail;
  2. Make failure survivable, because it will be common;
  3. Learn from failure; make sure that you know you’ve failed by having skin in the game. Be more than near to it, be right inside it.

These are the Palchinsky Principles, what a Russian engineer called Palchinsky left behind when he was murdered by Stalin for following them. He had skin in the game, but sadly didn’t follow his own principle number 2. Note, they come as a group. You can’t learn from failure unless you have failed. You can’t let someone else fail and pick it up from over their mouldering corpse.

Despite never having heard of them Peter followed them and got his successful tour, Eric did too and here he is now…


And where should the Bureaucrats be? In the game with their skin, and if not then nobody should pay them the slightest bit of attention.

NB None of this is worth anything if leaders don’t do the same, but thats a different story right there.

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