So long, and thanks for all the fish

How do you end a blog?

It’s easy to find stuff online on how to start one, and there’s loads on how to do one, once it exists, but there’s scant advice on finishing one. I’m not just talking how to end one, but when, and also of course whether.

This is a subject of interest at the moment cos I’ve realised that I’m blogging increasingly infrequently and with less gusto than I used to, and the question arose, how would I know when I’ve written my last post? If I got hit by a bus tomorrow then that would decide things, but let’s suppose my continued existence continues, but no longer than a human lifespan, then logically at some point there must be a last post. Either one that is purely the last one by circumstances cos it’s the latest AND the last one cos no more come after it, or its the last by design because I intended it to be the last.

You’ll have stumbled across blogs that tail off without a dignified end, no sign off or summation. No conclusion to the enterprise. They just are there with a series of posts, and then no more.

I’m always left pondering what happened, why are there no more? The whole thing then looks unfinished, tarnished somehow.

Did the “author” (blogger? typist?) just run out of ideas? When a blog is quite small, that’s probably what happened. This one’s quite big, so a sudden stop wouldn’t be that, would it?

Anyway I’ve got a load of half finished blog posts in draft, some just single sentences, there sitting there but they’re sitting there unfinished, and for a reason. I can’t be bothered to finish them. I just don’t care enough.

I enjoy the act of typing, sticking sarcastic glib gifs together to hammer home some point quite violently, but I’m increasingly just not bothered about the subject matter…work.

This blog started cos I wanted to record things I’d learned when I had the great good fortune to do some systemsy stuff at work. And it continued because I enjoyed talking about the lunacy of normal ordinary command and control management of organisations, from a systemsy perspective. There were lessons to be learnt from exploring it.

But now the subject matter isn’t worth spending any thinking time on. I feel a fool for caring about work, as a subject matter. The design and management of work in command and control organisations is not something I actually do anything about, so why keep on banging on? It’s there and there it will stay in its current form. The use of numbers, data, knowledge even, not down to me . I’m properly appreciating why all the Vangrad stuff refers to pull all the time, not just in the context of pulling work through a system. Pulling for help or advice or assistance on a work problem would be a way in, but in the complete absence of anybody pulling, there’s nothing can be done, by me at least.

So here’s an ending in case this is the ending. It might just be the ending for now, it might start again if there’s some kind of change that I can’t imagine right now. Either way, this is me considering this as an ending.

The sad thing about typing an ending is losing the identity of Thinkpurpose, being a tiny part of a much larger world of people in other places thinking similar things. Connecting to others, whether self described systems thinkers, Agilistas, or even Leansters, that was an unexpected treat. I gained enormous validation from seeing lots of other people click on the blog, leave comments or tweet it because they too thought similarly.

It also allowed me to find other stuff that these people created that taught me loads, whether from books, blogs, or tweets I’ve learned an enormous amount I otherwise wouldn’t, absolutely priceless.

Validation that you’re not wrong and that there are others is incredibly important, when you go systemsy cos otherwise you’d think you’d gone mad, as other people around you think you have too. This isn’t true.

Being the only person, that I’m aware of, in my organisation of thousands, that validation I gained from people sharing and reading the blog was enough for me to know that I wasn’t wrong, that things are wrong for a specific reason, that there is a better way. That validation was hugely rewarding so thank you for that.

As I slip back into the shadows, whether temporarily or for good, I’m reminded of the ending of Goodfellas when Henry Hill leaves the Mafia and goes into witness protection. No longer with the trappings of being a gangster he laments just being an average schnook….

Without the excitement of new ideas and the potential of change, there’s just turning up, putting in the hours, leaving at the end of the day. This is of course the life of millions, I’m not special so why should I be any different. I’m not, I just had the great good fortune to have a few years of thinking and typing about a better way that exists potentially everywhere, the only thing stopping it is the reluctance or inability of managers to think and act differently. Ha! Yes, the only thing.

I’ll finish, for however long I’ll be finished for, with the thing that I started with, the thing that prompted the name of this blog and the thing that blew my mind, the vital irreplaceable thing without which you’re just wasting your time. Thanks for allowing me to waste your time, so long and thanks for all the fish.

What’s this? It’s very unclear…

aaah, now I see. Now I have clarity of porpoise.”

Posted in systems thinking | Tagged | 75 Comments

How soon is now?

Once upon a time I was interviewed for a job, and I had to give a presentation on what I would do to help managers improve their service.

I described a thing called “variation”, and how it is inherent in every thing. That when you measure ANY thing over time you’re also measuring how much variation is in it. And that if you don’t know about this thing called variation, you’ll not know it’s there and you’ll think that any change in the measurement is an actual change in real life.

I showed them some dead simple tools you could use to spot the variation, so you could then measure any REAL change.

Knowing when to act, and how to act was vital to any manager, I concluded, and this was an important part of that.

They seemed to like it, cos I got the job.

I spent the following years trying to do the thing that they employed me to do, but whenever I asked to it was never the right time. I suggested all sorts of things to kick it off, gimmicky fun things, boring official things, but every time I was told that it was never the right time. This went on for years.

There were many things that stopped now from being the right time, and these things came and went and other things took their place.

The only constant was that now wasn’t the right time.

What was odd was that now ALWAYS was the right time for all sorts of crap like new performance frameworks, audit commission value for money reviews, the sort of thing that makes things worse.

There’s always time to make things worse in any normal ordinary command and control organisation. That time is very much now.

Turns out this is entirely predictable, so I should have predicted it.

It is entirely predictable that there are buckets of time to continue to do things that you’ve always done, oodles of it, it never runs out.

I learnt that “nownever would be the answer if the criteria used to answer the question “when is it the right time?” are the usual criteria of “what is important to senior managers?“.

Variation, control charts, systemsy measures used in the work to link learning and data, these are currently unknown concepts in the mind of a normal ordinary command and control manager. So there can never be time for them, cos they aren’t important. They’re invisible. What is also invisible is that for decades, if managers have been making decisions based on measures, then they’ve probably been making the wrong decisions. If you don’t know variation is there, if youre comparing a slice of monthly action against an entirely arbitrary target/benchmark/last year’s performance, then yes, you’ve been making the wrong decisions.


Like the thing above says, “the timing isn’t right” is the all-purpose excuse for maintaining the status quo, it is used by people in organisations who style themselves as skilled bureaucrats who are practiced and privy to the ways of senior management.

The right time is the wrong answer cos it’s the wrong question. 
This is cos “time” is irrelevant. “Is it the right time?” is a command and control question, it comes from an assumption that change is driven by leaders making decisions, that it happens rationally, in a linear manner according to a plan. In this mental model time is a factor to be considered coolly along with other strategic considerations.

In systemsy thinking it’s not about time, it is about people and psychology. About the curiosity and dissatisfaction of individuals, specific people. Not anonymous bands of hierarchy. Named people. Because when change happens it happens in actual people’s heads. It can’t happen by decree.

  Like Deming said

The first step is transformation of the individual. This transformation is discontinuous. 

The individual, transformed, will perceive new meaning to his life, to events, to numbers, to interactions between people […]He will have a basis for judgment of his own decisions and for transformation of the organizations that he belongs to.

The level of change is the individual first, then the organisation. And people change in funny ways, often not at all, but if they do it’s discontinuous like Deming says. 

This is not a calendar driven change. It’s not driven by a free space on the agenda becoming available.  It’s dependant on the capricously unpredictable human psyche, on where somebody is at and what they’re thinking and feeling. My hopelessly tool-driven approach was looking for a 15min gap on the agenda that would never exist, because it’s not about time because the right time is never now, and it’s always now.

Which is way too Zen to end a post on, so here’s a picture of Bill Gates looking simply dreamy.



Posted in change, command and control, measures, statistics, systems thinking, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

The Kung Fu Panda principle.

Imagine you want to buy a bar of chocolate from a supermarket.

You are sitting at home, so you need to get in your car, you need to drive to the supermarket, you need to park the car, you need to get out the car, you need to shut the car door, you need to lock the car door, then you need to go into the supermarket to buy your chocolate bar.

And there’s no chocolate bars, cos they’ve ran out.

So you go back home again.

Next day, you want a chocolate bar, so you you need to get in your car, you need to drive to the supermarket, you need to park the car, you need to get out the car, you need to shut the car door, you need to lock the car door, then you need to go into the supermarket to buy your chocolate bar.

And there’s no chocolate bars.

So you wash your car, and valet the inside. Then you you need to get in your car, you need to drive to the supermarket, you need to park the car, you need to get out the car, you need to shut the car door, you need to lock the car door, then you need to go into the supermarket to buy your chocolate bar.

And there’s no chocolate bars.

So you buy a new, faster car. It’ll get you there whizzy fast. You you need to get in your car, you need to drive to the supermarket, you need to park the car, you need to get out the car, you need to shut the car door, you need to lock the car door, then you need to go into the supermarket to buy your chocolate bar.

And there’s no chocolate bars.

You buy a fancy saville row suit, get a smart haircut and you you need to get in your new faster car, you need to drive to the supermarket…

You get the picture. No chocolate bars.

This would be a very silly way to behave if you were doing this. But people are doing this, every day at work.

People begin not to care about the reason they are doing something and concentrate on the thing they need to do, to the exclusion of the bigger thing it is a part of.

There’s a name for this…

More on that later, but thankfully there’s a catchier one, it’s the….

In Kung Fu Panda there’s a thing called THE DRAGON SCROLL. It is a magic scroll with writing on it that will invest the holder of the scroll with great power. There’s a massive fight between the goody (Kung Fu Panda) and the baddy over possessing the scroll, but in the end it turns out, the scroll is blank. Just an empty scroll.

Kung Fu Panda’s dad tells the distraught Panda that this is fine. He is a noodle soup seller and is famous for his special noodle soup and in an attempt to console him, reveals that the long-withheld secret ingredient to his famous “secret ingredient soup” is “nothing“, explaining that things become special if they are believed to be. Panda realizes that this concept is the entire point of the Dragon Scroll

Cos this is a Kung Fu film, this is the lesson here. The lesson is things become special when they are believed to be. And high kicks. That is also the lesson cos it’s a kung fu film

Back to you sitting at work.

You might like your work. You might like the people, the excel spreadsheets, the meetings. You might be a bit teccy and enjoy formula and programming. Or training people on doing things.

And when some awkward sod, like me, asks you about your work you explain how it is good, how you have made it better over years, how it takes less time to do now with greater impact.

And then i ask “Who is this for? Do they use it? Have you ever seen any impact of what you on the end customer?” and you talk about why it is important, and how it could be good. But then, when pressed into a corner, you say, because you know really, well obviously they don’t use it, it’s not meaningful etc

And then the conversation ends abruptly, and we depart to our respective desks.

So at heart you KNOW that purpose is not being met. But you’d rather concentrate on your very own bit, on your patch. Because then you feel better.

This is the Kung Fu Panda principle in action.

The formula for it is…

  1. I know XYZ

  2. But I don’t want to know that i know XYZ

  3. So I don’t know XYZ

A flinty eyed Serbian Philosopher called Slavoj Zizek calls this “fetishistic disavowal” (& he came up with the Kung Fu Panda analogy too so he should know)

He talks about for example, how people carry on eating factory farmed meat…

[Trigger warning: contains stuff about factory farming and all sorts of violence ]

“What about animals slaughtered for our consumption? Who among us would be able to continue eating pork chops after visiting a factory farm in which pigs are half-blind and cannot even properly walk, but are just fattened to be killed? And what about, say, torture and suffering of millions we know about, but choose to ignore?

Imagine the effect of having to watch a snuff movie portraying what goes on thousands of times a day around the world: brutal acts of torture, the picking out of eyes, the crushing of testicles -the list cannot bear recounting. Would the watcher be able to continue going on as usual? Yes, but only if he or she were able somehow to forget what had been witnessed.

This forgetting entails a gesture of what is called fetishist disavowal:

“I know it, but I don’t want to know that I know, so I don’t know.”

I know it, but I refuse to fully assume the consequences of this knowledge, so that I can continue acting as if I don’t know it.”

The full formula of fetishistic disavowal is as below…

“I know things are like this, but I will not admit to that (disavowal), because an investment in a part of the whole edifice of things allows me to ignore the contradictions in the edifice of things as a whole (fetishism)”.

People who are really keen in their job are more likely to not think about the actual whole system they are a part of, if the work they are keen on is a part of a dysfunctional system

Their investment in the part of the system is so much that they ignore the WHOLE.

This post here about the inquest into the death of Mark Duggan, an innocent man at the hands of an armed police officer. In spite of overwhelming evidence of something bad happening, the jury decided the deceased was “lawfully killed”.

“The response of the vast majority of politicians who commented on the case ran something like this: “The verdict is baffling; the police have many questions to answer; we must respect the jury system; we must restore public trust in the police […]

In the responses to the Mark Duggan verdict this takes the form of a disavowal that the jury’s verdict seems problematic, unjust, wrong, and that the police have behaved in a way that is at the least brutal and most probably racist, by fetishising the idea of juries as always correct and unbiased, and the idea of the police as honourable public servants.”

So this flawed and wrong verdict doesn’t show that the policing and court system is broken when it comes to police violence, instead it shows the need to restore public trust in the whole system and forget that it is consistently producing flawed verdicts. It is fetishistic disavowal in action.

Thinking about purpose and whether purpose is being delivered isn’t just the responsibility of leaders. It is a responsibility of everybody playing a part in the system.

It is the responsibility of leaders to enable this and STOP fetishisation of whatever work is being done inside the system and instead make the purpose of the system everybody’s job.

If you are a professional and caring social worker who works tirelessly to help people it doesn’t matter unless the system you are a part of works to help people too.

I produce a scorecard, amongst other things. It doesn’t matter how nice it is, how accurate, how timely. If the system it is a part of doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work too.

Not thinking about whether your system works is encouraged by a command and control management system that splits up flow of work, separates decision making from those who carry out the effect of the decisions. Even job descriptions. Especially job descriptions. They say “this is yours, and that isn’t”. And when that happens purpose definitely isn’t yours.

Not only does command and control management cause and encourage fetishistic disavowal of your own work, it relies on it happening for its own continued existence. Imagine if everybody in an organisation cared about not just their bit, but whether the WHOLE THING worked?

People would be acting across boundaries, across decisions taken elsewhere, whatever is needed to solve problems would go from where it is to where it’s needed.
People would be working to purpose, not their own little bit of purpose, which can only be a pseudo-purpose at best.

Working to purpose wouldn’t mean everyone striking out on their own. CHAOS! The point of a system is not just that it has purpose but that the parts interact in an organised way to achieve that purpose. This means not fetishising your own bit at the expense of and ignoring the larger edifice, but looking at who needs to work with who to do what. In any restructure I’ve been involved in its NEVER about changing the way the bits work together, it’s all about changing what the individual bits DO. This increases fetishistic disavowel and decreases working-to-purpose.

In the end Kung Fu Panda defeated the baddy, but he is a cartoon kung fu fighting panda, and you are are not.

It is a lot harder to look up from your own work and look at the larger thing you are a part of and see that it just doesn’t work. But if you don’t , you can guarantee nobody else will.

[going to the shop to buy a chocolate bar that’s not there was half-inched from here]

Posted in clarity of purpose, command and control, purpose, systems thinking | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

3 reasons why I hate pretty graphs

People prefer the pretty guy over the uglier guy cos they like pretty things more than they like things that are right.

For over a decade I’ve been working in an area where the obsession has been about finding just the right type of pretty so that managers would pay attention to performance reporting and things would just all click.

Every year or two a new format of performance reporting would go through the approval mill and be approved as being officially prettier than the last one. The last framework is now thought of like an ex boyfriend, considered unattractive, thinking with a shudder “how could we have, this one is so much prettier

The word “pretty” is never used when people look at a new arrangement of graphs or tables on a screen or page. It is smarter, easier to read, cleaner, more modern. Pretty, basically but unsayable as an adjective.

Why the urge to prettify? I’ve noticed the thinking is about trying to be SO pretty that managers pay attention, that the graphs and tables would sashay into the room and BAZINGA all eyes go on the graphs.

The assumption is that managers don’t use performance measures etc because they find measures and graphs etc reeeeallly boooorrrriiing and the only way to get them to pay attention and do something worthwhile  is to gussy up measures and data, and slip knowledge in with something pretty. Sugaring the pill.

If the assumption is that managers aren’t using measures and data because it is boring and irrelevant, then it is entirely logical to make your communication and presentation of data and measures more user friendly. To follow solid design principles is not a bad thing. But the reason why i hate pretty graphs, as the blog title says, is because….

Whilst I’m a big fan of doing communication right.

I’m a MUCH bigger fan of doing the right communication.

The assumption that managers just aren’t using or thinking about data and measures cos they’re ugly, and therefore will when they are pretty is probably wrong. This is the first reason i hate pretty graphs…

1 There’s no use for graphs full stop

They just aren’t using them cos nobody uses them.

If you are trying to get managers to pay attention to data and measures then you don’t work in an organisation that does data based decision-making.



You work in a normal ordinary command and control organisation where decision making is separate from the work, where the further you are from work, the higher the pay and the more powerful and ignorant (in the literal sense of the word) is the decision making. There’s no call to use measures and data because that isn’t how management happens.

Whether it is day to day management of work, or changes to the design of work, if you ALREADY worked in an organisation that needed data to make decisions then they would ALREADY be paying attention and using measures and data.

Instead of managers disinterestedly or uncomprehendingly staring at performance reports they would be simply desperate to find out what was happening, tearing them out your hands.

There would be pull, in other words.

Pretty graphs are a cunning attempt at pushing data, when the opposite is the case, you need to create pull.

Managers need to pull data and measures because without it decisions cannot be made. If they can be made without data cos they’re being made cos the highest paid man wants it done, there’s no pull for data. The data is literally useless, because it cannot be used.

The problem with focussing on prettying up performance reports is that no attention is paid to WHAT is being prettified. When you’re prettying up what you’ve already got, then….

2 It’s trying to solve the wrong problem

This also means that you are not solving the right problem. If the wrong problem is “we’ve got ugly graphs” and that’s what you’re focussing on, then the right problem isn’t being addressed. The right problem is management that doesn’t need data to make decisions cos it uses other things to make decisions. Pretty graphs aren’t going to work cos graphs arent going to work, no matter what.

The temptation is to think that what’s needed is more TECHY graphs, like control charts and run charts with all the bells whistles and systemsy add-ons.

Things like THIS….

With all the added analytical tools like this

Stuff that could just hammer home rational decision making. Who could fail to see the light when presented with stuff like this?

This is something that won’t work because those silly wrong measures exist for a reason. Red/green scorecards and binary comparisons weren’t magicked up by foolish performance people because they didn’t know any better, but because bad performance measurement is  a symptom of bad management thinking.

Red/green, up/down, higher/lower, all forms of binary comparisons fit in with the thinking.

A scorecard that shows if a target has been hit or missed with a silly up or down thumb next to it or a smiley face is the answer to the question “have we hit our targets?”.

A control chart showing how much a service varies does NOT answer that question. It is an answer to a question that has not been asked.

This is not the problem you should be trying to solve. Giving managers control charts that answer systemsy questions is falling into the trap of giving things from ONE worldview, yours the systemsy performance type, to someone from another worldview, a manager in a normal ordinary command and control world.

They still have the questions and assumptions from their own worldview, the control chart will be understood through that worldview. The one that’s causing all the mischief that you don’t like or want.

So a pretty stupid graph or an ugly clever control chart aren’t the thing, so what IS then clever clogs? I don’t like pretty graphs because…

3 Pretty means finished means done

Producing pretty charts, either dumb-ass ones or clever ones, is a bad thing because if its pretty it can’t be messed about with. It is a finished product. Signed, sealed and delivered.

“Et, VOILA! Your monthly performance reports Sir, transcribed on vellum as you requested”

Pretty graphs are often the product of people like me, performance types, possibly the worst people to “report performance”. Cos reporting performance implies THREE types of people where there should only be one.

  1. the worker who does the work
  2. the performance type who measures it and
  3. the managerial type who is distant from the work hence needing a special performance report to tell them all about it.They get the pretty graph. When they get it, it is finished and done.

There is a way out of this, by removing the need to report TO someone, it removes the performance type and the managerial type. Now there’s just the worker who does the work, measuring the work, so they can improve the work.

They do [drum roll] THIS!…

This is a measure, in time series, that identifies true change using objective methods, IN THE WORK….

Graphs on a wall in the work. Not signed and sealed and delivered, but written on and annotated. Somebody marked the shift with marker pen. Arrows pointing to when things happened that made an impact, linking data and efforts to improve, creating learning about the work.

This is not a signed, sealed and delivered pretty graph sent away from the work.

This is a living thing used for a purpose. Not pretty, much better than that, useful and used.

These are the 3 reasons I don’t like pretty graphs.

  1. There’s no use for graphs full stop
  2. It’s trying to solve the wrong problem
  3. Pretty means finished means done.

Pretty graphs are an attempt to make an information radiator without anything to radiate.

Start UGLY. First measure the right thing, in the right way. Then build your information radiator.

Posted in data, measures, statistics, systems thinking, thinking, vanguard method | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

How to make the world seem REEAAALLLY BOORRRIIIING

How to be bored

  1. Take a performance report.
  2. Get the data out of those damn tables and silly bar graphs.
  3. Stick it in a run chart, or a control chart, s’up to you.
  4. Look for any actual change over the course of the whole time period.
  5. Yawn.

Whenever I get my hands on data, a rare occurrence for a performance person, I’ve found 90% of the time there has not been any real change.  That over the whole time period nothing happened. Booger all. Sweet FA.

You might find something like this…

These are the standard run chart rules to check for one consistent unchanged process…

Applying these tests to the chart above what do we find?


Nuffinks changed!

No exciting shifts or trends.


Over 3 years!




Managers and strategic leaders DO do stuff over this time period, but because they’re human beings, they react to things that are special and new and distinct, or at least LOOK special new and distinct. They see signal where there is just noise.

If this week’s performance number is lower than last weeks performance number, then look at this week and find out what’s different about it. And probably this will result in some kind of shouting at somebody. Either way, the focus will be on the special, the one-off, the peak, the low-point, the very latest. The focus will be on….

Or they might focus on the outstanding features to the eye….



Either way, they’re looking at where their eye drags them. They are eyeballing data.

Using the eye for analysing data is as bad as using the gut, another mis-used body part often used for feeling or reacting instead of it’s evolved function of producing faeces. The irony.

Instead there is another useful body part just dying to get involved in decision making and data analysis, the brain. Once equipped with the more accurate mental models of how the world works and the necessary tools to apply them, the brain will look at something else…

This means instead of looking at the latest data point or the sharpest looking peak, you look at what the actual whole process is doing. Cos, as the cliche goes, it’s perfectly designed to get the results it is getting. Especially if all there is to look at IS the boring old up and down of common cause variation.

Looking at the common cause variation in the process will mean they  devise a common cause solution.

Looking at imaginary special causes leads to special cause solutions, and special cause solutions in a common cause world are just tampering. No change results, just fiddling round, wasting opportunity. At best just increasing the common cause variation. But without the mental models or tools to support them, the increase in common cause variation will go unnoticed by everybody but the customers who experience it.

This is why control charts are soooo boooorrring. They show up the futility of acting without knowledge, over and over again, world without end.

Posted in data, knowledge, statistics, systems thinking, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The 2,500 year old lesson everybody ignores cos it’s too hard

Harold MacMillan was once asked, what is most likely to blow governments off course, he replied…

Events dear boy, events.

And events is what organisations continue to believe will change things, events meaning one off things that happen. When they want to improve the way we do things around here then it is events that they turn to.

One off things that happen, like….

  • strategic away days
  • staff development days
  • training days
  • bleedin’ rapid improvement event days
  • planning days

All with the word “day” at the end. Cos that’s how long they last. A day or two.

Then what happens? Well if you’re not in an event, you are back at work cos the very definition of event is something that begins and then ends, and once ended it’s whatever the base  level default behaviour is, ie business as usual. So what is the effect of an event?

If I look around me I see exactly what I saw last year, and the year before that ad infinitum. There are people sitting at desks typing stuff. And pretty much typing the same sort of stuff with the same sort of effect that there has been for years, i.e. not much of value to a customer.
But in these same years there have been SO MANY events that came and went. Went being the operative word. The thing that didn’t change is what was between these events. And the thing that is between events is huuuuge. Like this pic below shows.

Business as usual! That’s what I see is the way we do things round here, punctuated by brief events that don’t touch the sides.

If business as usual is what the usual is, then the usual is what you will get. Not the hoped-for things contained within the sporadic events. They don’t work. Business as usual wins.

Events don’t work. Why do we keep on doing them? We keep on doing events because we keep on doing events. You can’t get better if you keep on doing worse.

This is something that Aristotle knew thousands of years ago….

I mean this lesson is old. It is simple and has lasted cos it’s true. Getting better at anything is a repeatable every day habit, not a one off event. 

If you say this out loud, nobody would disagree. It’s a two thousand year old cliche. It’s true, but it’s safe.

What isn’t safe is the next time you’re at an event pointing out that all the other previous events didn’t work so this one won’t either, because it’s an event. You can tell them Aristotle said so.

Posted in all wrong, change, command and control, learning, systems thinking, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

I am a police officer. 

When people ask me, “So what do you do, where’d you work?”

I reply…

I’m a Policy Officer

And inevitably people mishear that as police officer.

Oh really!” they exclaim, looking me up and down with surprise.

Then I have to correct them, “no, sorry, POLICY officer.” and then explain what that is, because you can’t just plop those words in somebody’s lap and walk off. Generally I mime typing and say “you know, reports and that” and people gladly move the conversation on.

Regular readers of this blog will know that whatever I do I don’t hold it in high regard. This is because I can see that there is no line of sight between me and a customer/client/whoever so it is highly unlikely that anything I do is of worth in helping the customers of the organisation.

Not only that, I KNOW it can’t be of value because I am a corporate cog in a normal ordinary command and control management system, so I am based on flawed theory before I walk in the door in the morning.

So, I’m a policy officer (with attendant typing-mimes)

What though if I was asked a different question…

What problem do you try to solve at work?

This is the old “what problem are we really trying to solve here?” question, but applied on a larger scale to a job, rather than a situation. I love this question, because it focusses attention on the actual thing itself, the reason why you should be getting up in the morning rather than the bells and whistles when you get to work. This question allows you to talk about something useful and relevant, like reality and its attendant concreteness.

People with very real jobs like Mr Bun the Baker might reply…

I’m trying to make the tastiest bread and buns I can at the lowest cost

If I were asked this question though, my answer would be similarly opaque and round the houses cos I’d try to answer honestly in a POSIWID manner…

how to strengthen the appearance of data based decision making at a strategic level

Or more honestly…

how to balance creating the appearance of  being valuable, or at least polite, with the expenditure of least energy

The tricky thing is how to describe the problem you are trying to solve, without talking about the actual silly things getting in the way of you solving the real problem. At any moment in time the work I have to do has no impact on helping a customer solve a problem.  It is getting in the way of me solving a real problem, if one were to actually present itself. So the “problem I try to solve at work” is more along the lines of “the problem I try to solve cos there’s no real problem to solve at work“. A pseudo-problem.

As an aide memoire, the problem these people are trying to solve below is the bit on the right….

If they thought the problem they were trying to solve was the bit on the left, they’d be obsessed with the bearings and the trucks etc and wouldn’t be looking at the other bits of the problem they should be trying to solve, ie the bit on the right. How does the skateboard work in the context of what the customer really wants?

Looking at the bit on the right the skateboard is only one small component. The guy is wearing clothes, probably clothing that would be suitable for leaping over things


So the things that “they really want” could include trainers, a cap etc

These are things that fit into and complete the thing “they really want” cos who wants to be throwing sick moves in a pair of pants that your mum’s ironed with a crease down the front?


Or perhaps the thing “they really want” includes the obstacle on the ground, and the smooth ground itself. Cos if where they are it’s all grass, then there’s no skateboarding.

The thing “they really want” is a much bigger thing than a skateboard, so knowing that you make skateboards is one thing, but knowing that the problem you are really trying to solve is providing the customer with the thing that they really want helps you know find the right problem, rather than the problem you have right now.

Me? I am a policy officer trying to solve the problem of strengthening the appearance of data based decision making at a strategic level.

Hard at it.


This blog post very much inspired by Tobias Mayer  a thing he did called “What do you do?”. You could say it’s a blatant rip off. Think more homage, with added musings.



Posted in clarity of purpose, systems thinking | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments