How to do a SWOT

In the most strategic of rooms in my building, I found an agenda on a flipchart. It is not exceptional, it is typical. This probably happens in your building. This is how decisions are made….

*the photo is real
**the words totes stolen from the brilliant W1a and 2012.

Posted in communication, learning, public sector, systems thinking, thinking | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

The loneliest whale in the world.

Meet the loneliest whale in the world.


She doesn’t speak the same language as other whales so they can’t hear her.

This is the same as systemsy talking.

Once your mental model changes from stupid ol’ command and control to systems thinking you start to forget what on earth you were thinking. Literally.

Although you’ve been given the privilege of learning two mental models, the one you used to have that you didnt know you had, and a newer more useful one, it’s not possible to BELIEVE in the same way that you used to.

When this happens, you can’t see how people can think the way that they do about targets, measures, work decisions, people. Anything really, because the thing that you use to make sense of things is totally changes, everything changes with it.

Not only are you now saddled with not seeing how others could possibly speak and think like they do, the dice is loaded even more against you…

A pair of loaded dice, yesterday

A pair of loaded dice, yesterday

The dice that is loaded against you is the language dice.

“there are two kinds of causation: direct and systemic. Every language in the world has direct causation in its grammar; no language has systemic causation in its grammar.”[link]

For example…

  • Was Hurrican Katrina “caused by” global warming?
  • The bad experience you had when you rang the callcentre, was it “caused by” the existence of customer service standards?
  • If you have an 11 year old child in teh UK, they’re probably spending their time at school practising sitting test papers at the moment, rather than learning. Is this “caused by” Ofsted [the school inspection body]?
  • The time your house was burgled, was this “caused by” the level of income inequality in your country?

Well probably. But this isn’t “caused by” in the sense that most people use it, which is as a direct one to one cause and effect. Like the desk toy, below.

The causal influences on the burglar deciding to enter your house and steal from it are so convoluted and distantly linked to the level of income inequality, that it’s easier to blame them as “bad” people or blame their upbringing, depending on who you vote for.
But harder than that is how you talk about it to people who prefer simpler cause/effect to just knowing that something is a predictable feature of a system, no matter how unclear the actual tangled roots of causation are.

The lack of a specific way of talking about systemic causation is an example of “hypocognition”. This is…

“missing, and being unable to communicate cognitive and linguistic representations because there are no words for particular concepts”[link]

In Tahiti a researcher found that the indigenous people had no words to describe sorrow or guilt, leading to people who had suffered personal losses describing themselves as feeling sick or strange instead of sad.
Not having a word for something means its hard to think about, to talk about, and to do something about.
For example it is easier to dislike and want to do something to reduce the “tax burden”, because it captures in two words a position. But what about people who would prefer to pay for quality public services and a consequent higher tax rate? How is it possible to talk to people about this without an equivalent phrase that means the opposite?
Having the right words makes it possible though, an example of this is “pro-choice”. Note, it is not “pro-abortion”. Just as people who are “anti abortion” are more likely to self identify as “pro-life”.

There are of course systemsy words that mean specific things, demand, flow, purpose, feedback. These are normal and won’t frighten people, but they also have other meanings. For example nobody would argue against purpose, it’s a like those hard working families or family values. Everyone likes them, even though few can agree with what they are.

The Hausa people would call the “front” of an object what we would call the back of an object, if you are standing looking at a tree you might consider the “front” of the tree to be the side facing you. But the Hausa assume that the tree is facing the same direction as you, therefore the “front” of the tree is on the other side that you cannot see, not the side facing you.

So when I say purpose outloud to a Prince2 project manager, what are the chances that they will be thinking of purpose in the same way?

Posted in command and control, communication, human brains are weird, psychology, systems thinking, thinking | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How to create phonecalls you don’t want

Step 1: Do something that doesn’t solve the customer’s problem for them.

Step 2: Err… that’s it.

A fellow onion informs me of the fantastic efforts of a Government benefits department to create phonecalls from nothing.

The department has to pay a benefit to people, there’s a large period of time sometimes between payments. Sometimes the recipients of the benefit have changed their bank between payments, when this happens the payment to the customer will bounce and the government department is told that the payment has not been made.

So far, so unavoidable.

What is avoidable however, is the next bit.
What is “the problem they are really trying to solve“? It is “get the clients correct bank details and pay them the benefit“.

A customer focussed organisation would do what was needed to get the correct bank details for clients who have had a payment refused due to old bank details, and pay them the benefit.
This organisation decided to send out a letter saying…

we tried to phone you regarding this issue but you were unavailable

As most people these days have answer machines or caller display, the clients knew this was a lie.

So they ring up annoyed, in their hundreds and hundreds, saying so.
Generating phone calls out of nothing.

But it’s ok, the organisation has a charter, look.

So you’d think they’d do what was right for the customer.

However this is complete…wpid-wp-1424761145640.jpeg
The sort of organisation that would have a customer charter is the sort of organisation that thinks only customer services deal with customers.

This is how you create work out of nothing.
If you want more waste, design your organisation so that decisions are made away from the front line.
Because the further away you are, the less you know.


Behhh! Poppycock!

Posted in command and control, customer, public sector, systems thinking, thinking, vanguard method | Tagged , ,

Why the [insert favourite] sector is best

imageThis is Michael Portillo on my telly five minutes ago on BBC1 TV programme “This Week” speaking complete…wpid-wp-1424761145640.jpeg

He was talking about a revolting scandal in a hospital that came to light.

In a hospital midwives who were infatuated with “natural childbirth” (never come across anybody similarly a fan of natural dentistry, wonder why not?) had pursued natural childbirths at any cost, resulting in at least 19 deaths. This took years to come to light, with despicable cover-ups all along the way, and hospital staff distorting the truth at inquests and hiding medical notes and conspiring to ensure nobody found out.

Horrible, but not horrible enough for some ideological point scoring by Michael, on my telly 5 minutes ago.

He said…

“It’s only in the public sector that you get this lack of transparency, this covering up, and the emergence of ideologies. Ideologies that are insisted upon”

Only in the public sector Michael?

My favourite David took the mickey out of these stupid sweeping statements about entire sectors in his recent book…


Yes, clearly the best. Let’s look at examples in the private sector which Michael Portillo claims doesn’t have a lack of transparency OR have any ideologies…

Libor scandal-“This dwarfs by orders of magnitude any financial scam in the history of markets”  MIT professor of Finance

HSBC-“aiding Mexican drugs lords, rogue states and terrorists” by laundering their money for them.  Says sorry, nobody jailed.


Horse meat in everyones food-Neighly every frozen food manufacturer.




That’s the cover-ups, as for ideologies? That defines the private sector, what it actually is. It’s called capitalism.

I’ve had appaling service from both public and private sector. Neither has a monopoly on it, both seem to relish delivering a terrible service via out of date management techniques.
There is nothing inherently good or bad about either sector, just a glumly predictable inadequate understanding of how work works.

There is no such thing as a good or a bad sector, only the thinking of the individual bits of it and how it affects how it behaves.
People like Portillo are the sectors that I loathe-the idiot sector.

Posted in all wrong, systems thinking, thinking | Tagged , ,

Seinfeld explains the great big fat work lie

******I’ve had feedback that these Gifs will take forever to load. They’re not static pics. That’s just your net speed. But it’s worth the wait, they’re HILARIOUS I promise you *******

There’s a cult of work as pure activity in this country.

Politicians talk about welfare claimants “languishing on the dole”  when they should get a job and become like the “hard working families”
It’s when I realise that I am apparently one of the “hard working families” that I realise just how much this is all complete….


Nevermind people languishing on the dole, what about people languishing at work?
I’m not talking about my sheer laziness.
Ignoring the scurrying and running, all the frills and accessories of being a busy worker, these hard working families are also languishing, just at work, covering it up by doing loads of pseudo-work.

Most people I see at work are busy people, like this…


Always on the go, constantly harrassed by deadlines and deliverables. But what if you couldn’t see their scurrying around, what if you could see them shorn of busy work and instead could only see the actual value they were creating for the end customer?

Would they look a bit like this instead?


I think they would.

I actually do look like this at work.

I opted out of looking busy a long while ago.

It hasn’t left me any the worse, I think a lot better. I am perhaps financially poorer than I could have been, but that’s countered by the knowledge that by doing less and pretending less, a larger proportion of what I am doing isn’t complete waste.

Now, you can’t achieve anything without hard work


But can you identify work just by looking at it?

Is a busy bee a hard worker just because they are busy, or are they just spinning plates?

Is work…

…what you’re told to do by your boss?

…what your job description says?

…what you do between arriving and leaving your place of work?

Elaine, tell me, what are these?

Riiight. So how did we get like this?
What are the systemic conditions that make us mistake activity for actual valuable work?

Here they are. In the bleedin triangle….


This is the bog standard diagram idiots draw for me when explaining anything.

Plans? Oh they cascade from a top, through a middle, to a bottom.
Where’s the strategic policy making? The pointy end.
The operational front line? The flat bit.


Where is the work in this?

EVERYWHERE! From pointy end to flat bit, its work all the way down. What else would be happening? These people are busy!

Work is there, because hierachy is there. It produces the work. The very design of the organisation ensures that there is work to do, with no relevance or referral to the outside world.


[refer to triangle diagram for location of Up]

If you don’t believe me, point to the customer in this diagram. They are not there. Nobody is, except in relation to who they are managed by.

It’s hard to counter this, to show the flaw in it, when there isn’t anything to compare it to.

Except there is! What about this?


This is a diagram of how work might be designed around the customer.Everything starts with the customer, what their needs are, the problem they need solving. They might want help looking after their children, they might need a burger and fries. Regardless, that is where it all starts.

Where does it end? With their problem solved!

The organisational activity needed to help solve their problem, that’s the core work. What the purpose of the organisation is, expressed in activity that is purely of value because it has to happen to help the customer.

And if the people doing this core work need any help to do it, or to do it better, then they pull in help and support as and when needed. That’s the support work.

That’s it. All the work, all defined by what is needed to help the customer. Everything else? Not work. Waste to be got rid of.


Yes Kramer, mind blown.

It seems so obvious. Too obvious for some.

“I’ll hit this out the park, watch this bozo…”

“What about policy? What about innovation? This is all fine and well for purely operational concerns, but what about strategic identity?”

This is the mark of the hard working bumble bee, referring to what already exists and says “what about, what about, what about“.

Audit, performance management, inspection, reporting, plans and policy. These things are features of triangles and the hierarchy they represent . They are not things a customer needs.

Try and explain this to someone with a triangle mindset and see how easy it is…

The great big fat work lie depends on the triangle.
The triangle depends on the people who believe the big fat work lie.

People won’t thank you for pointing it out either.

But doesn’t matter, cos tea tastes better when you’re right….


Posted in all wrong, command and control, customer, public sector, strategic, systems thinking | Tagged , , ,

The 8 White Identities


Love this. I’m placing myself about level 5, White Confessional.

Originally posted on Left at the Lights:


Look at this chart.

Be honest with yourself.

Be better.

View original

Posted in Uncategorized

Why public sector IT is like a fart


A council faced with an IT product WILL buy it in the end.
It’s like holding in a fart.
Sooner or later it’s going to happen, and nothing can hold it back forever.

Posted in command and control, public sector, RuinedByBestEfforts, systems thinking, tools | Tagged , , ,