“I’m sorry, but we are a big company” – a fragment about scale


Brilliant post about how scaling an organisation up seems to hard wire failure demand into their very organisational structure. VgVg.

Originally posted on Matt Edgar writes here:

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about scale…

Trello blog post backlog… but I struggle to get it all out as a single coherent narrative…

… so instead I want to tell a short story. It goes like this…

In order to supply my services to a large public organisation, I find my little company as a sub-sub-contractor in a Byzantine procurement framework. Anyone who believes the dogma that the private sector is inherently more efficient than public enterprise need only look at the outsourcing giants that squat in this space for empirical evidence that it is just as often the exact opposite.

A few weeks into my new contract, it becomes clear that the bureaucracy is incapable of paying the correct amount for work done. They ignore my suggestion that their timesheet system is treating half days…

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When I hear the word “values”… I reach for my gin


That man was a Nazi, and this blog has no truck with that, but I have a similar reaction to talk of organisational culture, in particular, values

I don’t get values.

I think they’ve been spoiled for me by too much optimistic starry eyed HR-driven guff, generally part of a corporate wide transformation effort, where some Values merchant will trundle out their  wheelbarrow of soft skills, simply laden with this year’s new values.

Here are 4 reasons why I reach for my gin whenever I hear the word “values”.

1 It’s all for the pens

I’ve seen several packs (communes? cuddles?) of values come and go, and they’re always inscribed on office giveaways, free tat handed out to replace the old mouse mats or pens. The values have generally disappeared before the pens run out of ink.  But I’ve never witnessed a transformational effort that actually does change values, because the point of intervention seems to be mainly paper based. Lots of new posters, mentions of these new values on appraisal forms, linking of plans etc to this new values. The intervention is aimed at making the pieces of paper link to each other using different words. And pens, lots of pens.
I reckon there is a values-and-office-tat cartel somewhere making a fortune off of this.

2 Paddling in the shallows

Culture and values seem the prerogative of people who want to change them to something else, crucially without any talk of what the current ones already are.
Anybody can do that! Here, have some values. Pretty!

Ever in your real life wanted to change something about yourself, a habit, behaviour etc?
If it worked, I bet it involved some sort of introspection, thinking and that, about what is currently going wrong and why. Your thought processes that are creating your current situation. Finding out what is happening right now, and why.
Well you did it wrong, loser.
What you should have done is shortcut right to the good bit where you pick some nice words and scatter them hither and thither. And get them printed onto pens. Lots of pens.

3 Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

There are some values on the American Declaration of Independence, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But what’s freedom eh? Is it freedom to do something, or is it freedom FROM something? Is it freedom to own a gun, or freedom to be able to walk around without fear of people who own guns? That’s philosopy for you, but if one word can have two opposite meanings, and in a proper document to boot, what chance do the following “values” have?



They are more brightly coloured than the Declaration of Independence, so they’ll live at least 3 or 4 years before a new set are graphic designed. And put on pens.

4 Culture is read only

Wossat, I hear you say. Culture. It’s read only.
That means you can look at it, pick it up, investigate it, but you can’t go directly at it and change the blighter. Oh but people try though, as if the sheer power of nagging will break through the inertia of the thing. Like Mrs Doyle offering a cup of tea.

“But whats it mean “culture is read only” ?”

It means culture is the result of something else. You can see it, but you can’t change it. That would be like thinking you can stop the sun shining by rubbing sun tan cream on yourself.
Culture, and those associated values, can change. But culture does not change through the strategic use of pens.


Pencils however…

To change culture and whatever these value things are requires more than pens, look to see what this man says here

How can we change the organisation’s culture?

You can’t. Culture is read-only. A manifestation and a reflection of the underlying, collective assumptions and beliefs of all the folks working in the organisation. To see any cultural changes, you have to work on – by which I mean work towards a wholesale replacement of – this underlying collective memeplex. And that involves working with peoples’ heads, and in particular, collective headspaces. You can’t change other people’s assumptions and beliefs – only they can do that.

How can we change the mindset of managers?

You can’t. Managers – anyone, really – will only change their mindset when they see how their present mindset is ineffective at getting their needs – and the needs of others – met. Change (of mindset) is a normative process – it emerges from direct personal experiences of e.g. the way the work works now – and the problems inherent therein. You can’t change someone else’s mindset – only they can do that.

Source Flowchainsensei.wordpress.com


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A manager’s guide to good and bad measures

How can you tell if you’ve been sold a pup?
If some performance spod is fobbing you off with nonsense instead of good sound performance information?

Just check what’s put in front of you against this 5 point guide to good and bad measures.


(Click here to see larger version of the above pic)


(Click here to see larger version of the above pic).


If you’re handed something like the bad measures example when you actually want to understand what’s happening in your work, just hand it right back.

Print the above pics out, stick them on your wall, hand them to anybody with the word “performance” in their job title.
Stop accepting dross, cos otherwise they’ll keep on giving it to you.

NB Of course all this is, as per usual, me copying stuff from Vanguard, just with much better words and pictures. Not got an original idea in my head, but I make original ones pretty.

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Slurs: Who Can Say Them, When, and Why


Who can say what to who and why.
It’s really very simple, and just takes a modicum of decency.

Originally posted on The Weekly Sift:

Why President Obama can say “nigger” and I can’t (except when I can)

Maybe the best treatment of racial slurs ever to appear in a movie was this scene from the 2006 film Clerks 2. Randall, a fast-food worker, can’t understand why porch monkey is racist: When his non-racist grandmother used to say it, he claims, she just meant “a lazy person” not “a lazy black person”. After a black customer (played by Wanda Sykes) freaks, Randall’s friend Dante finally convinces him that porch monkey really is a racial slur (and maybe Randall’s grandmother had more racial prejudice than he remembered). But then Randall decides he’s going to “take it back”; he’s going to keep saying porch monkey, but reclaim it by using it in a non-racist way. A frustrated Dante explains to Randall that he can’t reclaim porch monkey, “because you’re not black!”

“Well listen to…

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Productivity stuck on auto-creep


Cheap labour and lazy management thinking= a perfect storm

Originally posted on Flip Chart Fairy Tales:

Tim Scott’s piece on productivity earlier this week led me to this ACAS report on the subject. As you might expect, they focus on what has been happening in the workplace:

A range of macro solutions have been offered by Government and others, including capital and financial investment in infrastructure. But it is now understood that these can only yield lasting improvements if workplaces are operating at their best. The way workplaces are organised, the part played by managers and leaders, and the role and involvement of employees can help deliver better outcomes for individuals, organisations and the economy.

In an ACAS paper published in February, Ian Brinkley remarked:

The macro-economists have tortured just about every dataset they can get their hands on in just about every way possible.
It is always possible that a new insight will provide the missing part of the explanation, but so far we are…

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40 percent


National scandal at Ofsted, or a national scandal at Ofsted? Its one or the other.
A clear and to the point blog about Ofsted’s decision to cull 40% of inspectors

Originally posted on Distant Ramblings on the Horizon:

This story about Ofsted re-configuring its workforce is interesting. As I see it there are two possibilities.

The first is the simplest and, for Ofsted the least damaging. I say ‘least damaging’ because it is still damaging and I will explain why. Under this possibility all that is happening is that Ofsted is responding to the Government cutting its budget and therefore cutting its cloth appropriately. Along the way it will be culling from its books (which is not strictly correct as they were never technically on their books) inspectors who either did not want to inspect any more or perhaps those inpectors who had not done more than a couple of inspections over the previous five years and frankly weren’t really in the game to start with.

Why is this possibility damaging? Well, Ofsted has briefed that there has been a “robust assessment” process and “We see an opportunity…

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The house that looks like Hitler


ja, ich bin ein Haus, aber vergleichen Sie bitte mich nicht auf den schlimmsten Diktator in modernen europäischen Geschichte

Remember the house that looks like Hitler?

Course you do, it’s a house that looks like Hitler. What’s to forget?

There’s loads of things that look like faces.

There is the tampon machine that just loves checkin’ the ladies out…


“Hubba hubba!”

The cake machine who partied too hard.


“Oh dear, I really overdid it last night”

There’s the cookie monster…



And who can forget the drunk washing machine…


“it…it woz tha last pint…it woz baaad….oh god, stand back!”

The point is we are primed to see faces everywhere even where there aren’t faces.
As babies we can only focus 20-30cm, which is the distance between a baby’s face and its mothers during breast feeding. We love seeing faces because it’s important that we did in the past.
We see shapes in clouds, we see things that aren’t there, all because we are pattern recognising machines.

Here’s the Virgin Mary in a 10 year old grilled cheese sandwich!


cheeses, not Jesus

What’s this got to do with systems thinking then?
We see patterns where there are patterns, but also we see patterns where there aren’t.

Dead simple, don’t be fooled by noise. Use the right thinking and the right tools, control charts and the like, and you’ll be sorted.
If I were dedicated enough I’d type stuff about them, but I’m not.
Go read some of this guys stuff.
And DEFINITELY Fooled By Randomness. That’s a good one.

It’s not just faces, what tune do you start hearing in your head when you see this?


Here’s a clue


Posted in human brains are weird, information, psychology, statistics, systems thinking | Tagged , , | 2 Comments