Merry Triangle! Again

Remember when I used to hate triangles?

Still do.

So here’s my most hate filled post about them from 2 years ago, to advertise ThinkPurpose’s Christmas break.

Ho ho ho, etc


Posted in command and control, systems thinking, systemz comix | Tagged ,

What writing this blog taught me about pull

There’s always been a strong tang of resigned self pity running through this blog, like the reek of faeces in a brace of grilled andouillettes.
This post however should truly please the connoisseur of bleak despair. Read on, and enjoy your schadenfreude Kind Reader….

About 50 days ago someone in the Executive Office of the President of the United States of America read this blog. Look, see. The actual Washington DC.





It was that one about learning to be a policy officer. My soulless prefabricated office in a business park somewhere in English suburbia is being plumbed for detail on policy making by the bleeding West Wing. How odd.

In the last three years this blog has collected a wide variety of regular readers and subscribers, but there’s been also the following groups.
IT people. Finnish, Swedish, foreign mainly. But LOADS of them.
Insurance company staff. Two large UK insurance companies.
Random consultants. Systemsy types.
Local government. Be surprising if there weren’t. Mainly councils from Wales, the West Midlands and the South West of England. There seem to be leylines of systemsy influence that run through those areas.

The above screen shots added a giddy excitement until I googled Executive Office of the President, and found it’s basically as exciting as the DCLG is.

Regardless though, I’m excited when I bag a new subscriber or am tweeted by someone clever and important. It validates and says to me that other people somewhere else are doing systemsy things and find my blog relevant, interesting and even possibly useful in what they do.
From looking at patterns of retweets, and clutches of views in the same organisation, I can infer there are networks of like minded systemsy types passing on links.
I am delighted and surprised when I get emails out of the blue, saying they like the blog and get fresh angles on things from it.
I love getting subscribers with local authority email addresses, because I can Google to find out exactly who they are, LinkedIn tells me their background etc and my curiosity is sated BUT….

DESPITE all the above, there has not been one single instance of anyone in my organisation ever looking at my blog unprompted.
Zero, apart from a few who I’ve strong armed into it, but only ever because I sit next to them and made them through constant drip drip drip.

I think this is because there is zero interest in anything systemsy therefore zero pull on any blog that is systemsy.

Looking at the West Midlands, Wales and South West councils, there seems to be a background to them of systemsy work being carried out, which I’m guessing leads to people Googling or following other systemsy types on twitter, and hey presto, that’s how links are made.

But with my place there is no interest, no background, no curiosity in this area, so there’s no reason why anybody out of the thousands of staff here, would ever Google to sate a curiosity they don’t have about something they’ve never heard of. So they haven’t.

This is FINE of course, my ego is quite big but not THAT BIG.
[compulsory modesty statement that i don’t believe]
Nobody has to pay attention to me…


…yes they do…



…of course they do…


…WHY don’t they!


What this blog has taught me about pull

There is an exquisite irony that this place provides such good material I can keep people in OTHER local authorities entertained and informed for years, but there is no pull from here to be in the slightest interested in learning from their own antics.

There are several Local Authority Directors who will get this post today, emailed direct into their work inbox. I don’t imagine they’re sitting their on the edge of their seat exactly…


“WHAT WILL TP SAY TODAY! I’m so excited, I’ll ring all my Director pals and tell them ALL about it!”

But there they are at least. In my place they aren’t, despite the fact that I sit directly opposite their offices.  This is the difference between the internet and a bureaucracy.

The internet is flat like a sheet of ice, if you want to pull something on it, it is dead easy. You can pull anything, from anywhere in the world, purely because you’re interested.

A bureaucracy is a pointy triangle. If you’re not at the very top then you’ve got to push uphill, and only if it is pushed very forcefully will it budge.

People will pull all sorts, when they want to or they need to. Until then, they won’t.
Just like you can’t make a bird fly. But when it wants to fly, it will.

Until then, it’s as flightless as an ostrich, and what do they do with their heads?

Posted in change, command and control, me doing it, public sector, systems thinking | Tagged , ,

Three  things that will make you a brill presenter

Q: What’s better than the world’s best PowerPoint?
A: No PowerPoint. Literally.

The internet is full of good stuff on how to do, and not do, PowerPoint. The VERY best thing to do is avoid it altogether.
Whatever you do, your chances of being good diminish with every slide you add, every transition, every bulletpoint. It is too dangerous, and only sheer geniuses can do anything even approaching mediocre with it.

In short, PowerPoint is for amateurs.  Someone hoves up and fires up their slides, they’re an amateur. You can stop paying attention, because they did the moment they thought that presentation is just another word for PowerPoint. It is for people to hide behind because they’re too afraid of speaking to people.
This is a systemsy blog, so I know this is a systemsy issue, not something located in individuals. But unlike the design and management of work, it is something in the control of most people who have to “do a presentation”. If you are one of those people, my advice is this.

Turn off PowerPoint. The purpose of PowerPoint is to make a PowerPoint set of slides. You will be sucked into the problem of making a set of slides. This is never anybody’s problem.
Turn off PowerPoint. It is the sign of the amateur.

Don’t worry because you should….


I know, it’s hard, you think you are, but you are probably not fantastic.

But the VERY MOMENT you realise you are not, that’s when you will be able to do a decent presentation.
Look at this man who thinks he is the “prize stallion”, his job is to sell and pitch, he thinks he is fantastic and looks what happens to him….

When I realised that I didn’t have to pretend to know everything was the moment I relaxed and enjoyed doing presentations. Most people think you have to be the expert, which is why you are standing up at the front. This man here skewers this…

Poor speakers create an artificial divide between themselves and the audience. They feel they need to do this in order to establish their own credibility.

Let me tell you – there is no such thing as credibility. In 100 years there will be no buildings named after any of us.

Somebody has to be on stage and some people have to be in the audience. That’s the only difference.

Don’t put any thought as to WHY you are on the stage or how you need to be “better” than the people in the audience. You aren’t better. You’re simply the speaker.

If you think you have to know everything, so that you don’t look a fool, then you WILL look a fool.
Instead  be confident in your stupidity and you’ll be almost awesome.
But to get actually awesome, you have to….


Q: What have all these got in common?
A: They all speak brilliantly to people.

More importantly, they never spoke to THE ROOM. Watch a rubbish presenter, they speak to the room. They look into the middle distance, or do that thing they’ve learnt of gazing rapidly from person to person, picking individuals and stating their bit before moving on.

They’re not actually speaking to anybody, it’s a trick. They’re speaking to the room. When they speak to the room they are speaking to four walls, a door, some carpet. And it shows.

Speaking to a person means you don’t read off a card, you don’t speak in paragraphs, you don’t recite techie facts at them.
Speaking to a person means you might be telling them something that happened to you, a story they might find interesting.
Speaking to a person might even be a conversation where you listen to them

There’s loads of tricks and hints and tips about presentations, but they all boil down to this one.
Don’t speak to the room, speak to the people in the room. Keep that in mind, and everything flows from there.

Posted in clarity of purpose, communication, psychology, systems thinking | Tagged , ,

How to run a call centre

The following story was provided by a fellow onion working somewhere in the world. I’ve changed the details to provide anonymity.


…there was a company that wanted to find out how to sell more to its customers.

It bought a voice recognition system that could understand what their staff were actually saying when customers rang up.

They worked out that other products were only mentioned on 40% of calls.

A chance to improve!


They then went off to implement the strategy of telling customers about other products on 60% of calls.

Staff were incentivised to hit the 60%  target. The calls were monitored using a speech analytics system to identify whether staff were now asking more .
Staff quickly identified that it was impossible to hit 60% but being a resourceful bunch figured out a way of getting around the issue .

If all they had to do was mention the name of the other products on the call for the speech analytics system to pick this up then that’s what they did.
So for example if the other products that were being sold were ‘tins of beans’then the call handler would simply shout out or whisper anywhere in the call ‘tins of beans’.


This confused a lot of customers but was quickly side stepped by the agent on the phone as background noise .

At the end of the month the management team patted themselves on the back as the ‘ask rates’ had increased significantly to over 80% . Well done everyone !

Strangely though sales had not increased .

The management response…

And round we go again .

In another call centre an incentive was ran  to improve ‘silent time ‘ on calls. This is where the call centre agent is doing some work and the caller is left on hold. They had found this was a major cause of customer dissatisfaction and was costing the company quite a bit as handling times were longer than planned.

The incentive would pay £40 for anyone with less than x% of their call in silent .

So what advisors started doing was not to put customers on hold, but keep them on the line and…

If the customer left the line to get some more details the advisor would start singing down the phone to avoid any silent time…

If the advisor had to add notes to the computer system then the advisor would talk the words that they were typing…

Strangely silent-time went down but customer satisfaction didn’t improve and handling time actually went up.

So what? As this blog asks at the end of every post, whats the pont?

I’m starting a new theme in thinkpurpose called …


Ruined by best efforts!

If you have any bizarre tales of how things muck up when people try their best to improve things, but don’t have a method, or act in ignorance, then send ‘em in and I will pour scorn on them using swearing and cartoons. I can’t guarantee I’ll use them, as I’m quite lazy and they may not be very good, but I’ve used people’s stories before. Who can forget this triumph? I’m particularly interested in any local authority stories where things are ruined by best efforts like:

  • managing demand
  • CRM and callcentres in general
  • services provided by the private sector
  • lean, sorry of course I mean LEAN
  • generic change rubbish. When things are just IMPROVED by waving a wand at it.
    and of course our favourite…

I’ll change any incriminating details, or you can before you send it to me, and you’ll have the honour of appearing in Britain’s Funniest Systems Thinking Blog, and I’ll get some material because I’m running out of ideas. EVERYBODY’S A WINNER.

Click on the contact me button at top, or email direct to

Posted in RuinedByBestEfforts, systemz comix, targets, tools | Tagged , , ,

The meeting room rules


This meeting room is only in my head.
But the rules are very strict regardless.

Posted in experiment, systems thinking, thinking | Tagged ,

Fedoras and other hallmarks of failure

Have you noticed the HUGE amount of men in their 20s and 30s who wear Fedoras?

A fedora is a hat that Humphrey Bogart or Indiana Jones wears.


Cool in colour.


Cool in black and white.

However the typical fedora wearer these days looks more like this…


Uncool in neckbeard


Fedora? Trilby? Serial killer, regardless


As Urban Dictionary helpfully points out, a fedora is…

“A hat that went from the sure sign of an early 1900’s tough guy, to the sure sign of a 1980’s and onward loser who is desperately seeking for a style to call their own
In the first half of the 20th century, this was a hat synonymous with manly style. It was about looking cool without appearing juvenile.

In present times, the fedora is a trademark of the socially inept beta male. He is attempting to distance himself from pop culture with the distinct style of past fashion. But he captures none of the suave, and only comes off looking like an oblivious, pompous fool. “


“Here you go Guys! INSTANT COOL!”

Woah! Cruel. Yet accurate. It seems as if the internet is handing out fedoras with every account set up on Reddit. Typically accompanied by an ankle length leather coat a la Matrix.

The simple rule of thumb is…


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



It is just copying.
A fedora does not make Indiana Jones.

Indiana Jones makes Indiana Jones!

It is copying without understanding, thinking that the hat makes the person.

Other way round!

Here are some other things that are the wrong way round, like Fedoras.


It’s just a size of paper. In Lean though it has acquired a magic beyond that. It was a simple way of capturing and communicating a problem and thoughts about experimenting to solve it, all on a size of paper sufficiently large to hold the detail but small enough to hold in your hand. But some people have thought the size of paper is somehow magical like fedoras and will transfer the power of Toyota to those that wield it. There are all sorts of example templates to download. Look at what there is to choose from…



None of them show the thinking though, that’s invisible. Just picking up an A3 template and starting to fill it in is pointless. It’s not the size of pape that matters, it’s the invisible thinking that sits behind it that makes it useful or useless.

I know how seductive it is, the thing you can see looks magic,  but its the thing that you can’t see that is the actual magic. This weakness for things you can see over the thinking, it has a name. If you find yourself salivating over A3s or Kanbans or Value Stream Maps, Control Charts, flow charts, anything you can hold in your hand…you my friend are a toolhead.

It’s ok though, as long as you remember, look for Indiana Jones, not the fedora. Look for the thinking, not the tool.  I can say this with confidence because, reader, I used to be a toolhead, but I’m alright now.



Posted in all wrong, systems thinking, thinking, tools, vanguard method | Tagged , ,

10 years a Policy Officer


This is my desk.

I have sat in this, and others like it, for exactly 10 years in this organisation. My decade anniversary is today.

In 2004 in the interview for this job I had to give a presentation answering “What would you do to help managers improve their service?“.

Here are the slides from the powerpoint I gave, ignore the appaling presentation, I said I would help them with two things…

1: I’d help them understand their data.

I KNOW. It’s horrible. The dark blue background with some sort of globe theme?
And then there’s the spouting at people about “variation” and even a bleedin Deming quote. All the hallmarks of the proto-systems tinker.

2: I would help them see their work as a system.


This went down a bit better than the first, no mention of algorithms, and this was interpreted as “joined up working” which fitted in with the thinking without upsetting it.

However, it is all wrong. I answered the wrong question.

The number one lesson I have learned over ten years is….

It’s not about me

What I could do to help managers is not important.

What is important is what managers want help with.

I should have answered the question with a question of my own.
I should have asked…

“What is it that managers want help with?”

Or to put it another way, what is the problem they are trying to solve and want help with?

They would never have asked “Help us manage as a system” or “Help us understand our data properly“. This is not the problem as presented so should not be the solution provided or talked about out loud. The theory is important, and without it there is no learning, but nobody lives in theory, only in practice.

If I had known this ten years ago I could have stopped talking gibberish and started talking work instead. The language of work in a command and control organisation is gibberish enough. Deliverables, themes, going forward, baskets of KPIs. These don’t help people, so adding some more words of my own on top of those, that didn’t help anybody.

If it isn’t about me, and is about them, this means TWO BIG THINGS.


You wait. A long time. As long as it takes, because it won’t take any shorter but it could take longer. This means if you’re not in charge you’d better be patient. You wait until someone asks you for help with a problem.


This might never happen.

Though the Second Big Thing seems scary or depressing, it’s not your problem. I presume you’ve got a job doing something else in the meantime, your organisation is not likely to be employing you to do absolutely nothing in the meantime, though that could well be the case. That nobody is interested in Vanguard, Deming, control charts or flow is not your problem. If they’ve got a tatty service falling apart at the seams with miserable staff and customers? Not your problem. That’s theirs.

Nobody ever frames their problem as “we’re not systems thinking“.
Although, whisper it… it actually is….



Posted in me doing it, psychology, systems thinking | Tagged , , | Leave a comment