How to be Bert or Ernie


This is what happens in every organisation I’ve been in when someone more important asks someone less important for something.

The someone-less-important doesn’t feel they can ask more about what it is that is needed, as the someone-more-important has already told them and made it perfectly clear. At least it was to them when they said the words out loud.

So the someone-less-important takes a half formed and semi-understood request and creatively turns it in their head into something they can do, goes away and does it in seclusion until it is presented all finished, to an awkward and uncomprehending response from the someone-more-important.

The someone-more-important doesn’t want to say out loud that they don’t understand the thing they are looking at, so they learn to pretend to like it, even if they don’t wear a beard.

The someone-less-important has learnt that they have got away with it, phew, and that the thing they made up in their head must have been right all along, so thank god they didn’t ask any clarifying questions as that would have made themselves look stupid unnecessarily.

Both people now are even less likely to ask for clarifying questions, as they both got through it without. Why add to the mortifying embarrassment when you can avoid the awkwardness of saying ‘I don’t understand what you mean” by just getting on with not understanding. No need to make yourself look stupid when you can just be stupid.

They have learnt that not querying or investigating works so are now more likely to carry on doing this dumb shit.

This is how organisations work that aren’t populated by glove puppets.

Posted in clarity of purpose, command and control, communication, questions | Tagged | Leave a comment

Deming sucks

I can’t stand Deming.

I used to have a mug with his photo on and a snappy quote, but thats all changed now I think he’s dangerous.


Actual Deming. OK

Not the old bald dude who was an actual person who did actual stuff, loads more than I ever will.
This isn’t about him.

No, what I can’t stand is “Deming”. The books, the quotes, the veneration. Urgh.


The veneration. Not OK.

Here are my 5 reasons why “Deming” sucks.



Christing mercy, have you READ “Out of the Crisis”?


No really. The man can’t write. It matters when thats most of what’s left of him, two big books, especially if those two big books are boring as Hell and badly written.

Boring badly written books do not entice managers with a new way of thinking about work.

Then there’s the filmed lectures. Yes, lectures. Quick, to the lecture theatre! There’s an old dead guy speechifying!


 2: Overrated

Lists! I love lists, most of my posts are lists like “7 reasons why this is a list” or “101 things in a list“. Nothing wrong with a list.
Deming had lists too! 14 points for management, 7 Deadly diseases.  These are excellent blog titles with good content and it is a mighty shame they weren’t.

3: He’s an old dead guy

Have you noticed that being old, dead and a guy gives people a massive advantage? Old dead guys are bleedin’ venerated. Fancy becoming a Guru? Get old, be a guy and die.

John Seddon is two thirds the way to guru and when that, hopefully distant, day eventually comes he’ll look down from the sky and watch in bafflement as people who currently shiver at his name become awestruck fans . Like Gore Vidal said when he heard of someones death…”Good career move“.

When a trouble-making curmudgeon dies and becomes a guru, their learning becomes mummified teaching, the sharp snappy things they said become “Quotes”, its all there without any of the inconvenience of the actual person walking around and causing trouble. Instant packaged learning, just add PowerPoint.

I’ve had enough of old dead guys.  As a simple rule of thumb, if old dead guys are dangerously likely to be venerated, I say the future should be their complete opposite,  young alive women.

4: No method.

For a man keen on method, he didn’t offer one himself.
If you want to turn your organisation into the sort described by Deming, and you should, you’ll not find a method on how to do it.
It’s like holding up a photo of a delicious looking cake, describing what it tasted like and saying what is in it…and then not giving you the recipe to make it. Anyone can describe utopia but I’d prefer directions.

5: Plan , Do, Study, What?

CaptureIt makes me retch.

When I hear this intoned I begin to grasp what it feels to be mansplained at. And it is wrong!

As a young Deming Disciple I would be that person intoning the letters at people, little realising that people hear with their brains not their ears. Start anything with the word “Plan” and guess what? People make plans.

Not a plan to get knowledge, but a plan to do. “Right guys, here’s what we are going to do…” It wasn’t until I came across Check Plan Do that I realised why it was all wrong. Start with Get Knowledge, otherwise you’re starting with ignorance. And NEVER include “do” and “act” as if renaming the same thing makes it any different. School boy error Mr Deming.

The thing is so toothless that the Audit Commission included it in their bilge. Avoid.

So that’s my 5 reasons why “Deming” sucks, it is time to move on. It is ALWAYS time to move on and you can’t when you’re tied to the past. If you think this heartless, brainless or tasteless, ask yourself, what would Deming say? Well, to quote an old dead guy…

“We are here to make another world”

Dump the dead guru, he’ll only hold you back.

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The Golden Thread exists!!

There is a golden thread

But it’s not the one you think…

The golden thread, as imagined by Local Government bods everywhere, is the imaginary reason why people do things at work that connects their everyday activity to some supreme overarching piece of paper.
It’s complete bollocks, but it keeps policy officers in a job fussing over the exact wording in plans, as they think it ultimately affects what people do. It is the imaginary and nonexistent link between Sir Gerald Farquahr at the top and Joe Schmo at the bottom.

Why I’ve learnt it exists
The thread that connects Sir Gerald Farquahr at the top and Joe Schmo at the bottom is one of thinking.
When Sir Gerald says about something…

“… And I want it done or else! “

… Then fear and double speak cascades downward all the way to Joe at the bottom, with everyone in between acting like arses.

Sir Gerald doesn’t even have to say those strong words, he could say…

“…this is a key priority and I’m sure we all want to see it delivered “

… And everybody would still know the score.

You won’t find this thread written down, no need for a Policy Unit to massage purpose into your Performance Objectives, the beauty of it is you can spot it all by yourself, you can’t NOT spot it. Look for who pays attention to what.

People learn the norms and values of an organisation by watching how the people around them behave. They don’t pick up a plan that explains what they are there to do and why, they watch what people pay attention to, consider important, how they interact, then they copy it.

The golden thread usually isn’t written down, but if it was, it would look something like this. (Chris Argyris, Model 1 behaviour)


Nobody plans for miscommunication, mistrust and escalating error. But they are the inevitable results when people aim to maximise winning and the appearance of rationality.

This is the golden thread of thinking in most organisations.

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The most important things
should be able to be boiled down
into a few words.
Or less.

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

The Highlander principle


Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.

Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle: when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.

Both can’t win. Only one can exist,  the opposite of co-existence.

This is command and control thinking and systems thinking.  They are the opposite of each other,  in every respect they are mirror image positions on every aspect of work. One liberates the system to achieve purpose, the other limits it.


This isn’t learnt from a book, it’s learnt from the work. It’s not the latest fad, it’s the always existent reality. However, I’ve had people of a C&C persuasion try to tell me off for having such a black and white perspective on things like this. For example…

“well there can be some good ways of doing performance appraisals. If you treat it as coaching or an opportunity to take a wider look at a persons challenges they’ve faced and their overall performance of the previous year

An attempt to strike a balance, appear reasonable and make the best of things. It’s complete bollocks.

The only reason this thinking can appear flexible is because there is no core. It’s not based on learning about reality, it is based on current thinking, what seems best and common sensical given the core assumptions about how work works.

If you don’t study how it really DOES work, then you’ll be stuck with the assumptions in place of knowledge, and assumptions can come in any shape or colour you desire, without knowledge to contradict and inform. For example, if you know that the vast majority of variation in performance is caused by system conditions in the work, then you know you’d be wasting your time having little chats away from the work.
Once you’ve learnt that some things DO work and others DON’T, then there
is the black and there is the white.


This way for knowledge!


This way for opinion!

Posted in command and control, systems thinking, thinking | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The Ridiculously Obvious


My organisation has gone through all the main consultancies, all the big names that you can easily bring to mind but I can’t say here.
And they have all been uniformly shit.

Change isn’t a report, it isn’t a set of executive away-days. Change is ACTUAL change, and I’ve never seen any resulting from paying £100k’s to these no-marks.
Worse than Bankers, the lot of them.

Originally posted on Bulldozer00's Blog:

Over the years, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard smug, self-important consultants and coaches spout things like: “ If your org doesn’t do what I say and/or you don’t get what you want, you should just leave “. Of course, like much of what they say is, it is literally true – you can indeed leave. However, here’s an interesting counterpoint:

“To say people have choice when they are in no position to make one is disingenuous.” – John Seddon

Consultants and coaches love to spout platitudes and self-evident truths couched in the fancy “new” language of the latest fad. Amazingly, stating the ridiculously obvious is what they get paid the big bux to do. To these high-horse riders, life for others is always much simpler than it really is. As outsiders looking in, they have what Nassim Taleb calls: “no skin in the game

View original 53 more words

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A spotters guide to strategy.

You’ll not find it in the expected places…






Strategy is not in a PowerPoint or a document.
Strategy doesn’t happen in meeting rooms or on the top floor.
Strategy is in management thinking about work, their assumptions about how it does and how it should work.
There is nothing behind or above that.

To find out what your organisations strategy really is, look in the work.
That is the result of the thinking and shows the true, real and only strategy that counts.

Posted in all wrong, command and control, strategic, very short posts | Tagged , | Leave a comment