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

People rate opinion over reality, cos reality’s all facts and that

I was in a training room recently, with a bunch of people from around the council, and it was very dispiriting

Because there wasn’t a lot to fill the time in, there were lots of STORIES being regailed to the room from people.

And they were in the main complete cobblers.

There were urban myths, outright lies and in one case, the storyline from a famous tv show was presented as fact that happened.

People were saying things, that a moments thought would have picked a hole in, but nobody showed the slightest interest in doing so.
What mattered was how it made people feel.
If it confirmed some prejudice, and made you feel self righteous, then that’s allowed through.
If it made people feel a swell of pride, then that was allowed.
If it made people smile and feel good for a kind and gentle reason, that too was allowed.

What wasn’t allowed was questionning whether any of this had any basis in reality. The accuracy, truth or believability of these stories were totally irrelevant.


The guy was talking as if he had recent and ongoing experience of this. Does he have special knowledge, does he know police who do this?
Or…did he watch season 2 of The Wire where this was a small part of the storyline? I did, so I know its all made up.  By script writers in America.

I also know that the police force in my area covers both north and south of the river. So any “shoving” of a floating corpse wont help anybody, the same person will have to deal with it wherever it landed.

And a moments thought would show this to be nonsense. HOW was this corpse shoved? With a stick? Whilst balancing on the river bank? Damaging a crime scene? Not being seen by curious onlookers who alerted the police to the floating corpse in the first place?

The truth or believability of this story is irrelevant.  If challenged, if I had said the things I’ve typed above, I’m sure they wouldn’t have argued the toss. There would have been some “oh, are you sure?” and then perhaps something like “well that’s what I was told”, and it wouldn’t have mattered. Onto the next piece of fiction. The truth or accuracy of things is neither here nor there. So you could spend years, decades, unpicking every thing said that was not true, but it wouldn’t make a difference to the underlying way of thinking. It would just be THAT story THERE that would be untrue, not “the way I am thinking is untrue and flawed”.

I am aware that I’m coming across as Mr Logic, not enjoying the socialising, preferring to ruin a social gathering through literalism and pedantry rather than just let things go that don’t matter…

This is not peculiar to lower paid slightly thicker people, people who aren’t you or me. This is people. Innate to the species, just as cats like to sit in boxes, people like to believe things that make them feel good.


“What’s that you say? The police would shove the corpse away to the other bank of the river? What kind of fool do you take me for! I’m not a dog you know”

Showing that one thing is wrong is irrelevant, because that thing there is wrong or right isn’t the point. That’s just detail.

There were loads more wrong things. Some story about how Islamic doctors wont use alchol hand-wash, a simple google would show this is nonsense. Or even a tiny thought of “hang on, how do moslem patients have painkillers like morphine then?”. Or wear perfume or aftershave, or, or, or…

That’s like trying to persuade cats that sitting inside things makes them look silly.


I'm not silly, you're silly

Remember the Monty Hall problem? That thing about cars and goats and doors. I’m not explaining it, it’s hard and you really should click here instead.

The correct answer is deeply counter intuitive, and people shake their heads and find it hard to keep it inside
What is important to take away is that when it first was debated, people like statistics professors would argue the theory about what was right or wrong. Gradually, computers are invented. So it became a simple matter to show people. To test the correct answer against reality so nobody need rely on opinion or logic, instead look with eyes.

Before computer simulations about 8% of people believed the correct answer. After it had rose to 56%.
Amongst academics support doubled to 71%

Think about that. The Monty Hall problem is about “what is the best strategy in the long run? .
A simulation that tests and shows the best strategy over the long run is only believed by 71% of professional mathematicians! What are the other 29% thinking then? When they see in front of them the actual answer being revealed? Surely this is normative learning in action? People articulating a theory, and going to reality to check this theory for validity. And yet, a third of professional statisticians are left unmoved.

The systems thinking lesson
I don’t have one. Eeek.

Posted in human brains are weird, learning, psychology | Tagged , , ,

One weird trick to outfox the Henry Ford gambit

I done got a letter from a reader!

Here is a dramatic reconstruction….
Remember these two diagrams?
THIS one, the usual, the boring old triangle?

And then there is this one, the one thats not a triangle, the one that is designing services against demand…

Well, my reader (one of probably several readers of this blog) wrote that they have a problem….

“When I show this diagram [the stupid triangle] and try to persuade others that they are all mental, some bright spark is inevitably going to come up with “Yes, well that’s all very well for existing services, but what about when we want to do something new?”

They will then start firing off quotes about faster horses and customers not knowing what they want.

You know the one, the one that goes…


I’ll probably answer by suggesting that they might have a good idea and this approach in it’s core means trying new things constantly anyway.

They will be smug, because in their minds the strategy triangle is magically going to produce the next ipod. Thinking about existing demand is far too boring when we could be writing strategy papers or re-writing a policy that no one is ever going to read.

Have you got any ammunition I can shoot them with?”

Well kind reader, I’ve found the same as you that there is one thing guaranteed to make an otherwise plodding jobsworth into a maverick genius innovator, say this to them…

Services should be designed around the customer

Suddenly they’re self-styled Steve-Jobs-alikes, stating this will stifle innovation.
You know, all that innovation that you see going on around you. It’d just be stifled.

And I’ve never witnessed a response to this other than nodding agreement, and my own personal internal response.

My own personal internal response

And that is that.
Invoking a barmy racist shuts down the discussion as it confers the magic combination of the innovator and the hard headed entrepreneur.
In comparison to your meagre offering of “listen to the customer” this is potent stuff and shuts down any counter argument….UNTIL NOW!


Tell them….
“Henry Ford actually LOST millions of customers BECAUSE he didn’t listen to them”

Yes, you heard.
Henry Ford said you can have any colour car as long as it is black, cos he didn’t listen to his customers, if he DID then he’d be in the fast horses business and that’s just as well, amiright?


Not listening to customers worked well at first because instead he had his famously efficient production line, the first one used in manufactruing. As a result of getting there first and getting there cheaply he sold two thirds of all cars in America. But as soon as there were competitors who did listen to the custpmer, look at what happened…


So how did that happen? How’d he lose HALF the car buyers in America?

General Motors listened to Ford’s customers, and started giving them what they wanted  instead.

They found that customers didn’t want any car as long as it was black, they wanted…

  • closed cabins, no wind in the hair
  • used car trade-ins
  • payment by installments
  • a new car design every year

Ford was left with a tiny market share because he didn’t focus on what customers needed.

But more importantly, the customers may not have been able to say out loud these things, but Ford could have experimented and found this out. He should have tested his vision against reality, got feedback on what worked and what didn’t, and adjusted accordingly.

He didnt, innovation stalled and stopped and he gave his customers away to General Motors. Having good ideas isn’t enough, ideas are only ideas neither good or bad until they become reality.

There is no such thing as a good idea, only a good reality.

[if you want to read more about Ford, click here where I stole this all from]


Posted in all wrong, command and control, plausible but untrue, public sector, purpose, strategic, systems thinking | Tagged , , , , ,

The evolution of the error

For the past two years or so you’ve been getting bills from npower for gas.
But you’ve had no gas supply in your flat for about 20 years when you had the boiler and meter taken out, and your heating and power are all electric now. No gas.

When you get these npower bills for a gas supply that you don’t have you’re assured on each occasion that they would stop – they could see that you’re not using any gas – but they keep coming. This is a real story

If this ever got so bad that you get it onto the telly, perhaps Watchdog, an icily bland spokeswoman might appear to give an apology, without apologising, and refer to it as some sort of “error”.

But what sort of error lasts for 2 years and requires a TV programme and the harsh light of executive involvement to sort out?

Here is the history of how customers rubbish service has been explained away over the decades.

The Clerical error
When did these begin to flourish? 1950s-1960s
What is blamed for rubbish service? An individual. A clerk, probably. Some lowly Bob Cratchett who added up a column of numbers incorrectly due to frozen fingers.
The assumption?. A simple person did a simple thing wrong. This is regrettable and is why we take our staff training so seriously.
The solution? More training.

The Administrative error
When did these begin to flourish? 1960s-1970s
What is blamed for rubbish service? A fault somewhere in our paper factory. The wrong form went down the wrong chute.
The assumption: In modern administration there are complex bureaucratic processes needed to deliver increasingly complex services, if something went wrong it was because the processes weren’t robust enough.
The solution? More processes.

The Computer error
When did these begin to flourish? 1980s to present
What is blamed for rubbish service? A fault “in a computer”. EVERYBODY knows just to shrug at that. Who would ask “well WHAT error and what computer?” cos nobody could ever know the answer.
The assumption? Computers are just great. So if something went wrong, we mustn’t have made them great enough.
The solution? More computers.

These are the three ways we typically explain away poor service in the modern management factory.
Underlying all three is the assumption that errors and mistakes are exceptions to the norm, that lie outside how things actually work. Like an act of God, they appear, strike and disappear. That’s why we have managers, to hold the forces of chaos at bay with more training, more processes and more computers.

It’s a cunning blind alley built so we can’t see that
1: these faults and errors are predictably happening, not randomly striking, and therefore…

Poor service and errors are usually not clerical, administrative or computer errors. They are system errors, caused by the design and management of work.

You can’t ever “only do one thing“. If you design a system to do one thing, it’ll also do a load of other things, unintended things. These unintended things will be as predictable and as built in as the things you intended it to do.

Acknowledging a system fault “there’s a fault in the way we design and manage our work” is truthful and owns the problem.
If you think you have clerical, administrative or computer errors, then you don’t. You have design and management of work problems.

What causes you to design and manage work as you do? What assumptions about work do you have that cause you to manage it the way you do?

These are the true errors that cause mistakes, errors and poor service.


Posted in command and control, systems thinking, thinking | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Hitler gets the SATS results

See, even Hitler was driven to tears by irrational target based standard setting.

Posted in all wrong, command and control, systems thinking, targets | Tagged , ,