Not one reply

Exactly a week ago I invited readers to send in their own stories about how offering data, creating normative learning opportunities and plain nagging had resulted in some type of systemsy incident. That it is possible to create change upwards through inciting dissatisfaction with current methods and curiosity about different thinking.

Apart from two comments, I’ve not had one reply.

Whilst hardly the gold standard of research, there are hundreds and hundreds of readers of this blog who are the sort of person who might be cajoling and griping up upwards, to try and ignite something. A biased sample, and deliberately so, where you would expect, more than in any other sample, examples of some kind of success.

So if there isn’t any, makes you think.
The guidelines for the onion patch arent the only mention of tactics and strategies, there are other similar suggested activities elsewhere.

The thing is, are these suggested activities just displacement activities for finger-drumming systems thinkers? Something to do whilst waiting?

The systems thinkers version of a soon-to-be-father being urged by a midwife to “quick! Go boil some water! And clean towels!” just to give him something to do.

Because it does look increasingly clear that if you AREN’T totally important, then you can do what you like, cos nothing’s going to happen for the better. After all when was the last time you changed your mind fundamentally about something merely because somebody forwarded on to you a blog post or showed you some data that seems to over turn everything you thought true?

Doesn’t happen due to the backfire effect.

The backfire effect is what happens when some smart Aleck comes along to tell you that you’re wrong. Instead of coolly evaluating their evidence, and updating your mental model accordingly, if it’s telling you you’re wrong about something you’ll reject it and believe what you used to all along…. but much more strongly.

I’m not talking here about how you shouldn’t rationally try to logically explain somebody out of command and control thinking. We all know that one doesn’t work. I mean that proactively trying at all doesn’t seem to have much evidence of working.

This not to say that people don’t change their minds about work, they do. I did, and so did you.
But did you change your mind because someone persuaded you into it? Probably not. I didn’t. You probably didn’t either.
I’m thinking that these cases are just happy accidents. Some mighty leader somewhere overhears something about this John Sneddon or whatever he’s called and Googles it a bit further and is intrigued so goes to a Vangrad conference, or whatever they’re called, and starts thinking strange uncomfortable new thoughts…

Or another hears something about benchmarking not actually doing anything, and is intrigued cos there’s always been something in the back of her mind that never really rung true, so Googles it and so on and so on.

Again, a bit like you or I did. I was all about ISO9001 and my manager mentioned how quality was first properly introduced to manufacturing as a concept in post war Japan by some guy called Deming, so I googled “Deming ISO9001” and came across that John Sneddon arguing the toss about ISO. Random, fortuitous and unpredictable.

But not DESIGNED. I wasn’t caught in a systemsy trap. Nobody set out to turn me.
But there WAS somebody who, however accidentally, mentioned the word Deming. Same as in my fictitious stories up there, there has to be something there for somebody to accidentally come across.

So I’m thinking that if you’re not charge of anything, merely a nameless functionary trudging through organisational life, you could stop with the wittering and haranguing and chipping away, and just do the “work” that you’re told to.


Or you could double and re-double your efforts.
Either way it’s not simple cause and effect, and any changes in some persons head that you’ve yet to even meet might be because of some thing that you’ve left behind, laying systemsy land mines everywhere. Or it might not.

Either way don’t wait by the phone waiting for it to ring cos it might never.
And if it does never ring, what a load of time you’ve wasted, and its the worst sort of time.

Your time.


Late addendum!

A fellow onion emails in to remind me that of course reader stories don’t have to be of the scale of you helping a harumphing command and control manager turn their whole organisation into a world beating Toyota. No, not that. Teeny tiny would do.

Posted in change, deming, leadership, psychology, systems thinking, thinking, vanguard method | Tagged | 21 Comments

Write your own blog post!


Posted in systems thinking, systemz comix, vanguard method | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Dr Cameron’s advice to councils: apply more leeches


A brilliantly concise and accurate takedown of why David Cameron is Thicky Thick McThick, winner of “Thickest man in Thicktown” when it comes to understanding what’s happening as a result of his own policies. Is this man a Thicky or what?

Originally posted on Flip Chart Fairy Tales:

The Oxford Mail has published an exchange of letters between David Cameron and the Conservative leader of his local council, Ian Hudspeth, in which the prime minister expresses his concern about cuts to local services. In reply, the council leader politely explains that he is simply implementing the prime minister’s policies and that the amount he needs to save means that frontline services will inevitable be hit.

David Cameron tells the council chief that he is “disappointed” by the scale of the proposed cuts and asks him why he can’t make savings to back office services instead.

There is sense of deja vu about all this. David Cameron was banging on about back office savings five years ago. The problem is, councils have already made most of the back office savings they can safely get away with. As the council leader explains, Oxfordshire has done all the things the government recommended. It has set…

View original 616 more words

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Why I cannot stand leaders

I just cannot stand leaders.

Simply cannot stand the very idea of leaders.


Look at them! Look how special they think they are!
Look how special we think they are.
It’s our own fault, we fetishize them.

We call them special, rare, talented, unique and essential individuals.

I’ve had it up to here with leaders.

Want to know why?

Here’s why…


That lot, the faceless adoring horde?
That’s you that is.
And me too. And anyone else dumb enough not to be a leader.


The Big Guy at the front (and it’s nearly always a guy) requires a load of seemingly faceless drones to follow him.
Cos whats a leader without followers? A weirdo, that’s who.

Luckily for self-styled leaders our organisations are hardwired to provide the faceless horde. When you join an organisation, you’re signed up straight away to a Horde


So there’s an endless supply of Horde Followers who therefore need a Leader, cos what’s a Horde without a Leader? A bunch of weirdos thats who.
Create a Horde, appoint a Leader, hey presto, an organisation!

In short, this is why I can’t stand the idea of Leaders…

Because it makes everyone else into followers.

All those blank white anonymous figures? As followers they are defined by following.
If there is a leader leading, then there are followers following.
Without leaders what are they?….

The leadership literature elevates leaders, and by extension turns everyone else into drooling simpletons, bumbling around without direction or motivation.

How rude!

There’s a compensatory sop given to acting as a catalyst, not getting in the way but acting as a Shepherd, creating the optimum environment for people, acting on the system etc.

In the systemsy gurus nobody has the balls to get rid of Leaders, Deming has his “14 points for management” and that Vanguard Method seems to work really hard at finding something for leaders to do, by changing the inside of their brains, rather than locking their offices when their backs are turned and turfing them out on the street.

Now, I’m no management guru , which is just as well, but I reckon trying to find better things for a bunch of rich dudes to do isn’t tackling the root cause of the problem.
If the root cause of business problems is command and control thinking, and it very nearly always is, then the heads that hold that thinking are too. They’re system conditions that work against purpose but personified.

Systemsy methods are directed at trying to get leaders to learn and change their minds about work, and in the main it seems they’re not that interested. They’re like the class dullard, creating a noise in class, occupying the teachers time and attention so the rest of the class is dragged down with them. That’s a METAPHOR by the way.

Everybody else, customers, staff and wider society is dragged down by the very fact of Leaders existence.

There’s lots of things I’ve read about creating curiosity and getting leaders into the work, the ultimate purpose of it all to change management thinking. But God I’m bored with leaders.
Bored, bored, bored, bored bored.

Leaders, you’re boring. The lot of you.

Posted in command and control, knowledge, leadership, systems thinking, vanguard method | Tagged , , | 20 Comments

The Chris Pratt dance-off against Organisational Transformation programmes everywhere!

*****The gifs take a while to load, they’re not just photos but actually move. Worth the wait. ****

Possibly the funkiest take down of Organisational Transformation programmes you’ll see this week….

Like all good systems thinkers everywhere Chris Pratt, or Starlord as he’d prefer to be called in this blog post, is not a fan of the usual organisational transformation programmes.

He doesnt think they rule. Oh no, they suck.

Listen up organisational transformation programmes, he’s issued you the ultimate challenge….a dance-off!
This is…

The Chris Pratt dance-off against Organisational Transformation programmes everywhere!

Take it away Chris!

“I see you..oh yes. You want to change something do you?
Culture? Values? Performance?”

ist dance

“Well lookee here freakozoid, I’m issuing you a good ol’fashioned test…you like my moves, well, get ready cos it’s a…

issues chall

“What? You and the Human Resources OD champions? Oh’s just…

me and you

“Oh yeah…

Transform THIS!

getting funky

“mmm, ooh yeah. Feel that? Just gonna get worse…

“cos I see through you, I’ve been through so many different organisational transformation programmes.
You lot come and go with each new Chief Exec…and leave nothing behind…not a trace…

kung fu

“uh!…oh yeah… and I’m tellin’ you right now, ain’t got time for you bro’…not again.

 “I turn my back on you… and I’ll tell you whyyyy…hmmmm  hummm..ooooh yeah…


“…nothin’ changes until people change..that’s what I’m talkin about…mmmm…. and you know what?

“people don’t change cos you try to persuade them it’s a good thing to do..
cos there’s a new set of values on a wall…over HERE…

take it

“…over THERE a new performance framework…new acronyms don’t do it for me no bro’, no they don’t… 

cos I’ve seen real transformation and it doesn’t need any of that…

EVERYBODY can smell Bull from a mile off, you NEED authenticity…people will listen only when you’ve somethin to say…you start with authenticity, yourself and…

bring it down

“…oh yeah, real hard…follow through…go to where the work is, study it, find out for yourself, and DON’T go away again…there’s nowhere else more important than where your organisation does it’s business, I’m sayin it….

hard dancing

“don’t believe no stinkin’ reports! go find out for real…put yourself there…and I’m gonna tell you the one thing.

Oh yes, there’s one true thing, the test….

here it is, ready bro’?
lets take it down a little…mmm yeah….”


“here’s the one test of a true transformation….

…if it’s real, people will miss it when it’s gone.”


“you take that boy, take that and you hold on to it.

Will people miss it when it’s gone?”

Posted in all wrong, command and control, leadership, systems thinking, systemz comix, vanguard method | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wanted: Effective person to make efficiencies

I came across a job description.

It was for a Business Transformation Improvement type.

The document contains the word “efficiency” or variations thereof, 4 times. All in the context of “making” efficiencies.

The word “effective”, or variations thereof,  is in there a massive 10 times!
But ONLY when talking about the behaviour of the job-holder. Eg “effective management”, “effective working relationships” etc Never when referring to services touched by the prospective job applicant.

So, its important that the job holder is effective in implementing efficiencies.
But not necessarily that they’re effective in making services effective.


Posted in all wrong, command and control, lean thinking, public sector, systems thinking | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

250,000 ways to be a management consultant

Tomorrow my blog should hit a quarter of a million views.
Yay me.

This actually means nothing at all.

It’s an arbitrary number that allows me to use the word “million” and thus transfer some glamour onto the act of typing things on the Internet.image

A million is a lot, but a quarter of it, and spread over 4 years, is substantially less. Still, a quarter of ONE MILLION sounds better than none.

When I started in this job as a performance management officer I had precisely none views because I had none blogs.

But what I did have was this book.


Just DRINK it in

I no longer have it, but you can guess what it is full of.


When I googled for this photo I made sure I included the word “steaming”

Thing is  this is still how people think in local government.
The thinking is still the same, and therefore the system is still the same.

If you want to make a difference is very difficult, and downright impossible unless you’re in charge.

As I’m not, and am in fact a low ranking petunia in the onion patch I’ve found that the very best way to make a difference is to make a difference outside of your organisation.

Yes! Here’s the 7 steps to making a difference where you don’t work…

  1. Get paid a salary in a large organisation. You’ll learn loads about how these places don’t work. Use the salary to pay your mortgage, buy food and the like. Use the time to…
  2. Keep your eyes and ears open, observe the difference between what people say is happening and what is actually happening. The gap between these two things is where the gold is buried. With which you…
  3. Use the lessons from these to make puerile and/or self indulgently maudlin posts of about 500 words. Add some mild swearing, stretch it out into a list that promises something unlikely like “7 ways to become invisible“. Then…
  4. Give it away for free. Totally free. Give it away. Think of the complete rubbish that organisations buy from “the real management consultants” like Deloittes or PWC. When people are under no obligation because something is free, then they won’t take rubbish. Get good by giving stuff away for free, it’s much harder to get people’s attention than their money. Then..
  5. Keep on doing it. Keep on making puerile knob jokes about organisational development, keep giving it away for free, and eventually for some reason people will start reading your stuff. If you type about systems thinking there’s not much in the way of competition. It’s not a crowded market. There are so few entertaining and useful things to read or print and stick up on the wall for people to point at. The late lamented Systems Thinking For Girls sadly seems to have died a death, leaving the new Squire To The Giants, the numeric Inspector Guilfoyle, and the frankly Welsh What’s The Pont. People will then…
  6. Use your stuff for whatever they want to. Just like you do with things you find on the Internet. If it’s interesting you might email it to like minded friends and colleagues. If it’s visual, you might print it and stick it up on the wall. All sorts. YOU’LL NEVER KNOW WHAT PEOPLE MIGHT DO. Bizarrely there’s councils all around the country with my tosh cluttering their work inboxes. Bank and financial companies with my scrawl on their walls. Rewriting Deming for the selfie generation creates entirely new content, for people that need something punchy, informative and, most importantly, short. Once it’s out there…
  7. It’s not yours anymore, the people who pick up a post about communicating value and failure demand might do more than make an amusing series of images and a clever gif. They might actually use it to create curiosity and change minds. In fact they do. Lots of people with less time on their hands and more talent and application than me use this tosh in a small way to help create change.

And for that thanks! It turns comics of a Zombified Deming into an actual impact, real change for the better.
If 90% of the countries on earth have somebody who’s read this blog, and they do, then that’s not because this blog is great, though of course it is, it shows that 90% of the countries on earth have people dissatisfied with the way organisations are ran and know there’s a better way.

So that’s what I do. I give stuff away for free so other people can do something useful with it. And I like knob jokes.

Posted in public sector, strategic, systems thinking, thinking, vanguard method | Tagged , | 27 Comments