Fedoras and other hallmarks of failure

Have you noticed the HUGE amount of men in their 20s and 30s who wear Fedoras?

A fedora is a hat that Humphrey Bogart or Indiana Jones wears.


Cool in colour.


Cool in black and white.

However the typical fedora wearer these days looks more like this…


Uncool in neckbeard


Fedora? Trilby? Serial killer, regardless


As Urban Dictionary helpfully points out, a fedora is…

“A hat that went from the sure sign of an early 1900′s tough guy, to the sure sign of a 1980′s and onward loser who is desperately seeking for a style to call their own
In the first half of the 20th century, this was a hat synonymous with manly style. It was about looking cool without appearing juvenile.

In present times, the fedora is a trademark of the socially inept beta male. He is attempting to distance himself from pop culture with the distinct style of past fashion. But he captures none of the suave, and only comes off looking like an oblivious, pompous fool. “


“Here you go Guys! INSTANT COOL!”

Woah! Cruel. Yet accurate. It seems as if the internet is handing out fedoras with every account set up on Reddit. Typically accompanied by an ankle length leather coat a la Matrix.

The simple rule of thumb is…


So what’s this got to do with systems thinking then?



It is just copying.
A fedora does not make Indiana Jones.

Indiana Jones makes Indiana Jones!

It is copying without understanding, thinking that the hat makes the person.

Other way round!

Here are some other things that are the wrong way round, like Fedoras.


It’s just a size of paper. In Lean though it has acquired a magic beyond that. It was a simple way of capturing and communicating a problem and thoughts about experimenting to solve it, all on a size of paper sufficiently large to hold the detail but small enough to hold in your hand. But some people have thought the size of paper is somehow magical like fedoras and will transfer the power of Toyota to those that wield it. There are all sorts of example templates to download. Look at what there is to choose from…



None of them show the thinking though, that’s invisible. Just picking up an A3 template and starting to fill it in is pointless. It’s not the size of pape that matters, it’s the invisible thinking that sits behind it that makes it useful or useless.

I know how seductive it is, the thing you can see looks magic,  but its the thing that you can’t see that is the actual magic. This weakness for things you can see over the thinking, it has a name. If you find yourself salivating over A3s or Kanbans or Value Stream Maps, Control Charts, flow charts, anything you can hold in your hand…you my friend are a toolhead.

It’s ok though, as long as you remember, look for Indiana Jones, not the fedora. Look for the thinking, not the tool.  I can say this with confidence because, reader, I used to be a toolhead, but I’m alright now.



Posted in all wrong, systems thinking, thinking, tools, vanguard method | Tagged , ,

10 years a Policy Officer


This is my desk.

I have sat in this, and others like it, for exactly 10 years in this organisation. My decade anniversary is today.

In 2004 in the interview for this job I had to give a presentation answering “What would you do to help managers improve their service?“.

Here are the slides from the powerpoint I gave, ignore the appaling presentation, I said I would help them with two things…

1: I’d help them understand their data.

I KNOW. It’s horrible. The dark blue background with some sort of globe theme?
And then there’s the spouting at people about “variation” and even a bleedin Deming quote. All the hallmarks of the proto-systems tinker.

2: I would help them see their work as a system.


This went down a bit better than the first, no mention of algorithms, and this was interpreted as “joined up working” which fitted in with the thinking without upsetting it.

However, it is all wrong. I answered the wrong question.

The number one lesson I have learned over ten years is….

It’s not about me

What I could do to help managers is not important.

What is important is what managers want help with.

I should have answered the question with a question of my own.
I should have asked…

“What is it that managers want help with?”

Or to put it another way, what is the problem they are trying to solve and want help with?

They would never have asked “Help us manage as a system” or “Help us understand our data properly“. This is not the problem as presented so should not be the solution provided or talked about out loud. The theory is important, and without it there is no learning, but nobody lives in theory, only in practice.

If I had known this ten years ago I could have stopped talking gibberish and started talking work instead. The language of work in a command and control organisation is gibberish enough. Deliverables, themes, going forward, baskets of KPIs. These don’t help people, so adding some more words of my own on top of those, that didn’t help anybody.

If it isn’t about me, and is about them, this means TWO BIG THINGS.


You wait. A long time. As long as it takes, because it won’t take any shorter but it could take longer. This means if you’re not in charge you’d better be patient. You wait until someone asks you for help with a problem.


This might never happen.

Though the Second Big Thing seems scary or depressing, it’s not your problem. I presume you’ve got a job doing something else in the meantime, your organisation is not likely to be employing you to do absolutely nothing in the meantime, though that could well be the case. That nobody is interested in Vanguard, Deming, control charts or flow is not your problem. If they’ve got a tatty service falling apart at the seams with miserable staff and customers? Not your problem. That’s theirs.

Nobody ever frames their problem as “we’re not systems thinking“.
Although, whisper it… it actually is….



Posted in me doing it, psychology, systems thinking | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

You are not a dog

I am not a dog.


Blog notwithstanding

You are probably not a dog.


I did say probably.

So if you aren’t a dog why do you need…training?

I was doing some work with a service and before we had even started gathering data, the number one problem and solution had been pre-identified…training! Obviously more of, never less.
This is the number one go-to-solution for a service problem. Training is the default cure-all solution.

In most cases training as a solution to a perceived problem is useless because the design and management of the work system is responsible for WAY more performance than the individual. Get the system right, then use data to see if individuals need help to increase their capability at meeting customer purpose. Train the system! Not the individual.

Training is done in rooms away from the actual work, divorced from the context of the real problems which have prompted the training in the first place. Then the person goes back to the work where nothing has changed and is the same system with the same performance problems and the same causes…the design and management of the work. Training won’t solve that. Changing managment thinking will solve that.

Yes, yes, yes, but why is training so useless? Well, there is the thing…..


 It fits.

It fits right into the current way of thinking, the actual root cause of performance problems.
It fits with the assumed problems of command and control:
-problems of command (telling people the command bit)
-problems of control (the ability of people to do those commands).

Look at the things that people are allowed to say are problems in your organisation. If it is fine and dandy to talk about the “communication problems” or “people with the right skills” then BE ALERT. Those aren’t the real problems. They are just the default words that people are allowed to talk about. It’s never controversial to say there should be more and better communication or more skills would be a good thing.

Training as a default solution doe not challenge these assumptions, it buttresses them.

The most important things learned are never trained out, they are learned in the work by doing. [like this post says]. Training just adds new stuff, which may or may not be useful but learning changes you for the better by testing and then chucking out old stuff that isn’t relevant any more. Just ask Homer!

A test.
Imagine a person approaches you for some advice on something. The sort of big thing, where someone less experienced comes and needs your opinion. Imagine you thinking…you know what to say… you clear your throat and start your answer…

Do you say

“I have been trained that…”


“I have learned that…”

Anything important will have been learned. Learning trumps training every day. When people learn they are changed, permanently.
You are a homo sapiens, literally “wise man“, or woman, and you got that way through learning not training because you are not a dog.
Training fades, learning stays.

Posted in command and control, learning, systems thinking | Tagged ,

3 reasons why National Customer Service Week is rubbish

It’s National Customer Service Week! Celebrate!




Here at ThinkPurpose we love customers so we’d like to tell you about a fantastic event dedicated to improving service for the customer.

Set up by the Institute [fancy!] of Customer Service to….

raise awareness of customer service and the vital role it plays in successful business practice and the growth of the UK economy.

And who could argue with that ?

Here are 3 reasons why it’s rubbish

1: It’s a gimmick

wpid-img_20141006_192504.jpgWhat happens before it? In the week afterwards? Why not all the time?

Why a week at all? It’s a jamboree of gimmicks. There are characters like Captain Keyple, on the left…


I’ve seen fun as a replacement for doing good work, as it’s easier.

Easier to dig into the dressing up box and have Pirate Day.

Easier to get an unemployed drama student to wear Captain Keyple’s foam costume.

There are people wearing sashes


Did they wear the sash home on the bus?

Standing round a bit uncomfortably but there ARE balloons as well to jolly along the customer service excellence.

2: It’s not about customer service


Some arcane part of the convoluted USA healthcare system is joining in too.

HANG ON here is a chance to see it demonstrating excellent customer service in action….







Time for some excellent customer service methinks…


Exemplary listening and knowledgeable. And utterly irrelevant to the customers needs. What matters is her family keep their family doctors. The system should be designed to deliver what matters to the customer. The WHOLE organisations purpose should be customer service. But here Customer service is reduced to mean the thin layer of call centres that surrounds and protects organisations from their customer, mopping up and being polite.

What other purpose would the other parts of an organisation have if not customer service? Who ARE they serving? It is a perfect example of not taking a systems approach. If there is one part of the organisation whose job it is to “service” the customer, then presumably this is NOT the purpose of the other parts. In the example above of the healthcare provider, one part of the organisation is failing the customers by changing their family doctors, it doesn’t matter HOW good customer services are, they cannot help.

There is a dead giveaway on the Institute [fancy!] of Customer Service’s website






These two questions are the wrong way round.

Ask instead…

  • How do you measure the impact of your business performance on customer service?
  • To what extent do leaders in your organisation understand the impact of business performance on customer service?

The purpose of an organisation with customers is customer service, not “business performance”. That’s just a way of keeping score and continuing to have and serve customers.

3: It’s sloppy and muddled thinking



All the customer service consultants are crawling out the woodwork with their shiny smiles and sloppy thinking.

How about this from the guy with the teeth above…

Start making a plan for daily – yes, daily – reinforcement of your customer service standards.”
“Commit to empowering your employees. Employee empowerment, or autonomy, is important stuff.”
Important stuff! And here is from the lady pictured above rolling a bogey between her fingers…

Customer experience superstars celebrate what they contribute to the customer’s success. They take extra care and pride in doing it.
Be customer experience superstars. Shine through the customers’ achievements. Be instruments to their success. Get set and be ready for mission possible!”

This is typical of the bilge I’m seeing flow through twitter at the moment.

It is almost as if these people have no knowledge of the root cause of performance, the system, which is shaped by the thinking of people in charge. In fact, it IS it.

This is the reason why I retch, the unadulterated idiocy of organisations who’d rather wear a sash and wave a balloon than work on improving the system. Y’know, for the customers.




Posted in customer, plausible but untrue, systems thinking, vanguard method | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Why targets are good

Targets are good. They work.

Comparing this quarters performance with last quarters, is good. It works

Benchmarking performance against a group of other organisations, is good. That works too.


Calm down! Let’s go back a bit….

Q: What’s the first question to ask of any system?

A: “What is the purpose of this system?”

You can’t know if an activity makes sense unless you know what it is supposed to do in the context of the system it is in. Until you know it’s purpose, you’ll never know if a part is doing the right thing.

So, what’s the purpose of a performance management system?
Not the usual rubbish answer either, the real answer. The POSIWID answer.

Look closely at how people act with performance information and you will see that the purpose of a performance management system is to provide one of two words….


When a performance report is in the executive boardroom, the question being asked ALWAYS requires a yes/no answer.

Questions such as…

  • Have you hit your target?
  • Are we better than this time last quarter?
  • Are we good compared with others?

To get these questions answered you simply compare…

  • an actual performance against a target GIVES you a yes or a no.
  • this quarters with last quarters GIVES you a yes or a no.
  • yourself against others in a ranked list GIVES you a yes or a no.

In a command and control organisation the method of management is management by objectives. People, especially senior managers, are held responsible for delivering certain numerical objectives. That’s the command bit. The control bit is measuring whether they have or not through corporate performance management. The yes/no is provided quarterly at a big table in an even bigger report stuffed full of yes/no’s.

Targets, benchmarking and other binary comparisons are characteristics of measures that are fit for purpose.

It is just not the purpose you might assume it to be.

This is why it NEVER works to try and improve poor performance measures without improving the thinking that created them.

A common error is to go in at the level of the tool, to show why targets dont work but control charts do. There is a reason why they were using targets in the first place. You cannot assume that people have what you consider “poor measures” because they aren’t good at maths or because they haven’t read the right books.

Instead go in at the level of the thinking. Ask them what questions specifically they are trying to answer. Ask what specific problems they are trying to solve. There is a reason why people do everything they do. It makes sense to them, it needn’t make sense to you.

The purpose of this whole blog is about changing management thinking. If you don’t change management thinking, you’re not doing much at all. In the case of performance measures if you don’t address the thinking…

  • show someone a control chart, they will ask where the target is.
  • come up with a measure of customer purpose, they will ask how they can benchmark it.
  • if you put measures in the hands of people doing the work, someone will want it reported to a boardroom far away.

These are 5  characteristics of measures that are fit for purpose if the purpose is to provide a yes/no answer…

The Wrong Measure

    1. Do they relate to targets, standards and other arbitrary benchmarks?

    2. Do they measure functional performance and activity not attainment of purpose

Shown The Wrong Way

   3. Are they expressed as static data points, averages , percentages, RAG etc??

Used in the wrong place by the wrong people

  4. Are they primarily used for reporting to the boardroom?

  5. Are they used as a carrot or a stick, not a tool for learning and improvement??


These are characteristics to aspire to in a command and control organisation. That is why to go in at the level of the performance measure trying to improve that, is a waste of time. The following are characteritics of good performance measures that are fit for purpose if the purpose is to provoke a question, not provide an answer..

The Right Measure

    1. Does it measure purpose and what matters to the customer as defined by the customer?

Shown The Right Way

   2. Does it demonstrate predictable capability (to meet purpose & what matters) and variation over time?

   3. Is it used to connect actions with consequences so learning can take place

Used in the right place by the right people

  4. Is it used by people doing the work it measures, in the work being measured, to understand and improve the work?

  5. Does it lead people to learn and improve against purpose?


NB All this stuff is Vanguard content, all I do is copy and paste. But I do it beautifully.

Posted in data, systems thinking, targets, thinking, vanguard method | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Lesson learned


This is a fellow onion.
Look how sad she is.

We’d just finished, or rather abandoned, a project, so decided to do a lessons learned exercise.

These are specific lessons we learnt during the work and what we wrote on our flip charts….

1: A meeting room of people agreeing something is like a class room agreeing. Nobodies learnt, they’ve just nodded that they’ve agreed not to disagree.

2:  Policies don’t work. Nobody knows they exist, and if they do, they don’t know what’s in them, and if they do, they rightly don’t care.

3: Regular official meetings are worse than ineffective, they suck life from your bones, if you want to communicate with someone don’t “have a meeting”, just meet someone.

4: Use a hand drawn picture, it’s better than a description of something that could exist as it actually does. You can point at it and talk about something concrete rather than guess the contents of each others heads.

We actually learnt that. So why the glum face?
We thought that this, and other lessons would be useful for colleagues.
We tried to get others involved, told them what we’d learnt. Nobody was interested, or even agreed.
We soon realised it is pointless as it was us who had learned, so telling someone else is pointless. That is the actual lesson learned, only you can learn a lesson. Anyone else is just told it.

Lesson learned.

Posted in knowledge, learning, systems thinking, thinking | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

I’m not at my desk right now









Posted in leadership, learning, systems thinking | Tagged , | 2 Comments