Who’s the cynic?

It’s an old one, but I’d forgotten the RULES OF WORK CLUB so here it is. Again.
It’s highly suspect to re-blog yourSELF but hey ho.
FOUR YEARS I’ve been doing this!



What’s worse?

A dreamer or a cynic?

Seth Godin posted his answer to that question last week. And got it all wrong.. So wrong, that here it is in full.

Let’s see what he has to say…

The selfish cynic

Cynics are hard to disappoint. Because they imagine the worst in people and situations, reality rarely lets them down. Cynicism is a way to rehearse the let-downs the world has in store–before they arrive.

And the cynic chooses this attitude at the expense of the group. Because he can’t bear to be disappointed, he shares his rehearsed disappointment with the rest of us, slowing down projects, betting on lousy outcomes and dampening enthusiasm.

Someone betting on the worst outcomes is going to be correct now and then, but that doesn’t mean we need to have him on our team. I’d rather work with people brave enough to embrace possible…

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What fresh hell is THIS?


No fresh hell sweetie.
Just the latest incarnation of a stale and very familiar hell.

Do you recognise this…

  • yawning at yet another exactly-the-same organisational transformation?
  • wiping sleep out of your eyes at yet another whizz-bang IT venture that’ll save lots of money by costing lots more money?
  • teeth-grinding during another department play-away-day involving pieces of string, assigning people to a category and hugging?

More importantly, ever looked around at everybody else around you NOT noticing that things just keep on repeating themeselves?
That they are gawping open mouthed at how THIS time it will all work, because THIS time XYZ and ABC and yadda yadda and blah-de-blah?

Yes, course you have, youre reading this blog aren’t you?
One of the treats of going systemsy is the new found ability to see world in patterns of repeating activities rather than a constant stream of brand new and uniquely conceived events.

Seeing the world in systems means looking at the larger long-living patterns not the smaller temporary details. It means seeing climate change over decades, not looking outside your window at the snow and seeing today’s weather.
It is the larger long-living patterns that produce and define the details of the here-and-now, but they aren’t as visible as the detail. You have to step back and look and ask different questions, and you’ll see them.


“Jesus, this place is HUGE!”

In organisations that have little to no memory it isn’t possible to see the patterns so they live in a perpetual NOW. Like a goldfish being astonished at just how far they can swim without the scenery changing.

If a big new change effort is planned through a project board, with themes and strands and ooh simply everything that would excite a programme manager, then….its the same as every other culture change effort that came before it. Purely because it’s being done in the same way.

If there is a new performance management system, with more robust reporting and a shinier IT system to report it on with dashboards and ooh simply everything, then…it’s exactly the same as every other performance management system because it IS a performance management system.

The shiny new things are the latest current incarnations of the tawdry old thing they’ve been doing for years. There’s a dead simple list of managament approaches, here. Spot the things on the left hand side that your organisation does.



Look at the design of work.
If your place approaches this through regular restructuring, then it is doing the same thing over and over again. It is tinkering with the detail of the hierarchy. Doesnt matter how many iterations there are of this, it is still merely tinkering with who sits where. Don’t be fooled with who ACTUALLY sits where this particualr year. It’s still just the seating plan, nothing else.

Look at Decision Making.
If it is separated from work, then it doesn’t matter if it is with a project board, a programme board or a theme board. It doesn’t matter who sits on these boards either. The very fact that there IS a grouping of people, no matter what they are called, who are making decisions about the work whilst in a room separate from it, that is the defining characteristic. And if that doesn’t change then nothing has.

So, what’s this to you, dear reader?

1: It ‘s very tiring, due to Altschmerz


n. weariness with the same old issues—the same boring flaws and anxieties you’ve been gnawing on for years, which leaves them soggy and tasteless and inert, with nothing interesting left to think about, nothing left to do but spit them out and wander off to the backyard, ready to dig up some fresher pain you might have buried long ago.

It really is very tiring. You might want to consider just not bothering.

2: People prefer talking about fresh hell to stale hell, it’s more exciting

“Removing context makes it much easier to engage people with emotions such as surprise, or outrage.
Our news media instinctively removes context, because “look at this inexplicable s**** that just happened” sells more papers than the more depressing “look at this inevitable s**** that will no doubt keep happening”.” [Frankie Boyle]

It really isn’t interesting to most other people.

3: It doesn’t end until the organisation changes fundamentally, or you leave


It really isn’t likely to change before you leave.  That’s something you might want to consider.

In order to end this wearying post on a high note, here is a picture of a happy little girl and her cat.


Posted in command and control, learning, public sector, systems thinking, thinking, vanguard method | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

How NOT to do demand


Just like Batman, demand management is an insane attempt to solve a problem. In this case demand  management is an attempt to solve the problem of less money in the public sector, but in a totally insane way.
We here at thinkpurpose have been lucky enough to do work helping core services get better at serving their customers.

If you want to know how to understand demand coming into your workplace, giving you have authentic knowledge to act upon, then read about the time I was lucky enough to be a part of doing it right.
That’s here and here.

However if you want to balls it up, try demand management instead…

If you’re in the public sector then you’ll have noticed demand management sneaking in over the last few years before POUNCING after they took all the money away to pay for the bankers bonuses.



Demand Management is command and control’s attempt at dealing with having less money by telling customers to clear off by designing them out of their service.

The assumption being made by managers sitting in the middle of the service is that by fending off customers at the borders it’ll be cheaper than allowing them in.

Think big barbed wire fences made of self service websites, apps and signposted do-it-yourself guides. The “free” web services and DIY apps will keep out the great unwashed and their demand, by helping them at the staff-free border manage their own problems.


All those apps keeping out the demand will mean those let inside can be serviced by the 2 members of staff left behind [lower left]

 This means less demand coming inside the fence and therefore less money spent on the expensive staff to help them. This is the thinking.

Part of Demand Management is notionally understanding demand. ie knowing where to put the fences up and what apps to build to keep customers on the right side of it.

However Demand Management is part of command and control. It came from it, so it is it.
Don’t be fooled by the word “demand”, it doesnt mean what you think it to mean. In the context of systemsy stuff it is the expression of the customers problem that they need help with. In Command & Control land it is a cost to be avoided.
The thing about demand is, it’s your purpose. It’s NOT a bad thing. However in the world of Command & Control thinking, purpose is what is paid attention to. If activity and cost centres are paid attention to, and they very much are, then anything that adds to it is to be avoided.

Listening to demand is really important. Don’t waste demand by MANAGING IT!
Use it to learn from so you can do something good and become better faster cheaper
Here are 4 ways you can do demand ALL WRONG. Don’t do ’em!

1. Download it from a database 

What is it?  Rather than do the hard work of going to the actual physical location where customers interact with the organisation, listening and writing it down, we’d rather assume we already have it and go to the already existing databases and download what we already have.

Why wont it work? If you want to capture demand in customer terms so you can understand what they want then you want to know the problem they are really trying to solve, without slotting them into predetermined management categories. This requires unmediated listening. It’s been proven repeatedly in all sorts of diverse services. Downloading from a database will  produce incorrect data, and no learning will have be done by people who will make decisions based on incorrect but neat database reports.

What should you do instead? Do the hard, laborious and valuable work of collecting demand data properly by listening and writing it down.

2. Prioritise numbers of demand not types.

What is it?  Concentrate on how many contacts there are, rather than understanding WHY people are contacting. Use this as the basis of working out what to do next, such as  making popular (ie expensive) areas self service at a website without understanding really why the customer is contacting you and what matters to them.

Why wont it work? Say that you get 1,000 requests for a service that you think could be provided on a website instead of through a costly member of staff. But you don’t know that there are only 200 customers, trying to contact you 5 times before they get what they need because it didn’t work the first time. You now don’t know that your service only gets 200 value demands, and creates 800 failure demands because it doesn’t do something right for the customer. So what is the chance that NOT knowing the types of value and failure demand  will help you design a cheaper and better service? A virtual zero chance of success based on ignorance.

What should you do instead? Understand why customers contact you, by actually listening to why customers contact you. Don’t stick with numbers of contacts, ask for some words as well to tell you why they are contacting. Knowing the types and frequencies of demand on your service gives you a huge chance of success compared with ignorance.

3. Set targets for demand 

What is it?  “We want to reduce demand on our expensive resources so we will set a challenging though realistic target to reduce demand”

Why wont it work? We all know targets don’t work. But there is a special kind of foolishness in applying targets to restrict access to services. Restricting access is a common feature already of the design of the majority of Command and Control services from banks and insurance call-centres to social care and benefits provision. The idea is to put the expensive experts at the back of the process away from the customer, and put de-skilled script driven monkeys at the front.
In the public sector it is often done by putting “gateways” into services with the clients having to reach certain thresholds of need before they are then allowed in. This won’t work because the de facto purpose becomes about restricting expensive resources and the question is “is this for us?” with the default setting being “no, it’s not” until a customer can no longer be refused access to the service. This is the opposite of meeting customer purpose. It is about the customer having to meet the organisations purpose of not getting access until ill/poor/old enough to qualify.

Hilary Cottam here talks about this model…

[They] are all about institutions with finite resources, anonymously managing access.
In my work at the front line, I’ve seen again and again how up to 80% of resource is spent keeping people out.
So professionals have to administer these increasingly complex forms of administration that are basically about stopping people accessing the service or managing the queue.

As we all know, meeting customer purpose is actually the cheapest thing you can do. The further away from meeting customer purpose a service gets, the more expense it creates. Setting a target for demand is setting a target for increased cost.

What should you do instead? Use data on demand to understand your purpose and how well your service is currently meeting it, then use it to re-think, re-design and re-manage. No targets can achieve that.

4. Use demand to reduce costs

What is it?  Restricting access to services because servicing demand costs money so the less demand there is, the cheaper the service.

Why wont it work? This is the thinking that lies behind number 3 above, setting targets to reduce demand. It is the assumption that since money is spent on a service, demand on a service is the cause of that cost. So if you reduce the demand, the cost reduces. This is, technically speaking, arse about face.  The cost of a service is due to the design and management of that service, not the demand placed upon it.

“…cost is a really slippery concept. Because when the government says that a family like Ella’s costs a quarter of a million pounds a year to manage, what it really means is that this system costs a quarter of a million pounds a year.
Because not one penny of this money actually touches Ella’s family in a way that makes a difference.
Instead, the system is just like this costly gyroscope that spins around the families, keeping them stuck at its heart, exactly where they are.” [link]

What should you do instead? Manage delivery of value to the customer. Ie. do what is needed to help the customer with their problem. Don’t design a system to reduce cost, design a system to achieve purpose. It’s better and cheaper for everyone.

Posted in all wrong, clarity of purpose, command and control, Demand, purpose, systems thinking, targets, vanguard method | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The one thing you shouldn’t bother changing and the one thing you should


Lots of organisations try to change culture. They try and change that loads.

But nobody really knows what it is. Not enough to point at and say “that’s culture there” and “that isn’t“.

The Harvard Business Review says…

“there is little consensus on what organizational culture actually is, never mind how it influences behavior and whether it is something leaders can change.”

But regardless of not really knowing what culture is, culture change programmes are grandly named, paraded throughout the organisation like a neighbour with his flash new car, and as grandly and loudly as they arrive, they equally quietly with no announcement, disappear without trace.

I think that in itself is a sign of the culture of an organisation, how they attempt to change culture. Like team development sessions writ large, an honest attempt is made to make people act differently and better in some way, there is some initial feel-good change before an inevitable slip back into exactly the same place as before.

Just as team development doesn’t, culture change isn’t.

Why not though?

Cos culture, whatever it is, or at least the important bits that affect how work is done, are all part of something else that’s much bigger….


But what?….


Yes! The system! God I do bang on so, don’t I?

But it’s important, it is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together the thing that affects the work.

All the work.Capture

You can find it by looking for the things that help or hinder achievement of customer purpose. When you find anything that helps or hinders, that’s the system. Anything else just isn’t important. It’s not part of the system, not the one your interested in so don’t waste your time, move on. Nothing to look at.

But when you DO find something that helps or hinders, it’s part of the system of the design and management of work. Imagine it’s something that some people might call “cultural“. ie staff demotivated or not bothering with something. Excessive love of forms or of IT or a “not my problem” attitude. Is this the culture? Have you found it and can change it? Spray some away-days or snazzy roadshows at it?

Sadly no, cos culture is…


The culture is read-only!
Culture is an effect of the system, it is a feature of it. Just as much a part of the system as the IT systems, the rules, the automated phone system.
You want to change the culture? Change the cause of the culture. Not the culture itself. Can’t be done.

Trying to change the culture directly is like putting an umbrella up and expecting it to stop raining.
Instead change the cause of the system that produces the culture. The thinking!

The thinking can be changed, just not through the roadshows and banners that people try and change culture.
Thinking changes through learning. Learning happens in the work. Not in a roadshow.


Posted in change, command and control, plausible but untrue, psychology, systems thinking | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Audis in houses

Blameless car drivers in traffic accidents with stationary houses that refuse to get out of the way.
Poor Audi’s bearing the brunt of the war on the motorist in this case.
An amazingly simple post by the ever AWESOME aseasyasridingabike showing the carnage cars and car drivers wreak and get away with it.

As Easy As Riding A Bike

Note This piece really isn’t intended to make the case that drivers of Audis are worse than drivers of any other vehicle. That may or may not be the case; I wouldn’t like to jump to that kind of assumption without any evidence. Instead, it’s really intended to demonstrate that just one make of motor vehicle is involved in tremendous damage to our urban environment, and indeed to human beings; damage that people travelling around on bicycles are simply not capable of causing, despite the steady stream of articles by journalists about an apparent ‘cyclist menace’.

I did look – briefly – for any kind of opinion piece by journalists on the amount of destruction and death and serious injury caused by motor vehicles in urban areas, but they are apparently very scarce, even in a week when such destruction has featured prominently in the news.

I could, of course, have included motor vehicles of…

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Miss Universe and who’s to blame

Miss Colombia was crowned Miss Universe 2015!


And THEN a few minutes later, the tiara was removed from her head, the sash from her shoulders and put on Miss Philippines.

Miss Philippines was now Miss Universe instead of poor Miss Colombia.

Turns out that the host of the competition had accidently switched around second place and winner, so once the mistake was realised…


The only thing for it was to dethrone the newly crowned Miss of the Universe….


And put it onto Miss Phillipines head instead.

An awkward terrible period of booing and mortification ensued for all on stage.

The host of the show has been widely blamed for switching first and second place and annoucing the wrong winner. But look at the piece of paper he was given to read out from.


Ever seen a more badly designed and confusing layout for conveying essential information?

The people who came 2nd and 3rd are referred to as 2nd runner up and 1st runner up. Not 2nd and 3rd place, but moved up one position so the person in second place is now the first runner-up. Hurray for winning the runners-up!

Then have a good hunt around for the most important word on the page….


There it is there. Smallest font on the card in the least obvious place to find it without any hints that THIS part of the card (handily circled in red with big red arrow by us here at ThinkPurpose) is the bit to look at and read out from.

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

Miss Universe will rule the Universe for a year with her beau, Mr Universe, so it’s important that all of time and matter are ruled by the right people.
Imagine if any old Miss could rule it without being scored corectly on their ability to wear an evening gown? Galaxies and nebulae deserve a Miss who can wear a bikini with aplomb. Or the current Mr Universe pictured here with guns like this…Capture

So everybody blamed the host for “reading out the wrong name”, here’s two reasons why they were wrong.

Why it’s the system

The man who read out the card wasn’t at fault. It wasn’t him to “blame”. He was an essential feature of the system playing a role in it. His role depended on him being given the correct inputs to carry out that role. He’s “part” of a machine, a machine for deciding and communicating the winners. It’s the whole that either works or doesn’t. Not one single part. The whole failed when it didn’t achieve it’s purpose of communicating the winner.
Systems are interconnected parts, it’s the interconnection that matters, how they work together. In this case the “deciding” part didn’t connect properly with the “communicating” bit, using a useless confusing piece of paper, and chaos ensued.
You could only see where it broke down, when the presenter read it out, which leads on to the second You’re why people were wrong to blame the presenter…

Why people prefer to blame the person

You’re probably sitting there, cool as you like, thinking that your mind is some gleaming efficiency machine, all rational and that. It’s not. It’s the ragged confusing mess of millions of years of evolution not design. It bears the scars of evolving in small family groupings as gatherer-hunters in some ancestral environment that looks nothing like your office or the finals of Miss World. Like putting a tiger in a suit and making him go to work in an office, you’ve taken the tiger out of the jungle but you can’t take the tiger out of the tiger.


“Should i eat Shona from Accounts for lunch, or that live goat tethered over there?…”

So there’s a right mess of old and not entirely appropriate ways of thinking rattling around up there.
This includes something called…[drum roll as he finally gets round to it] the fundamental attribution error.
This is the built in feature in human thinking where we place an undue emphasis on somebody’s personality when explaining why they did something, rather than the situation in which they find themselves.
So, you see somebody drop something they’re carrying, then you think they’re a clutz. Rather than they’re trying to carry something tricky to handle. It’s blaming an event on some inbuilt permanent feature of the actors personality, being unable to see the temporary features of the environment that made them behave that way.
So, the presenter is an idiot, rather than the presenter was given an incomprehensible and easily misread card to understand the contents of in a high pressure situation being televised live across the world.

The role of the interconnectedness of parts on the proper functioning of a system, and not noticing the fundamental attribution bias when judging a situation, these combine all the time in organisations to blind people to the true causes of errors and under performance.
Trying to get out of the habit of easy blame patterns is tricky but not impossible. Apply simple rules of thumb like “It’s always the system until proven otherwise” as a conscious and effortful thinking heuristic rather than relying on your unconscious and effortless hardwired assumptions about people’s behaviour.

Miss Universe is crass sexist stupidity of course and I’m amazed it’s still around given you know, reality and that, but whilst it is still around it behoves us to use it for something useful at least, like learning features of systemic behaviour and hardwired thinking patterns.
Yes, behoves, I said it.

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The Zinn Principle

We were not born critical of existing society.

There was a moment in our lives (or a month, or a year) when certain facts appeared before us, startled us, and then caused us to question beliefs that were strongly fixed in our consciousness – embedded there by years of family prejudices, orthodox schooling, imbibing of newspapers, radio, and television.

This would seem to lead to a simple conclusion: that we all have an enormous responsibility to bring to the attention of others information they do not have, which has the potential of causing them to rethink long-held ideas.”

Howard Zinn, 2005


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