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 | 78 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

When is a team meeting NOT a team meeting?

Q: Does your manager cancel it if they cannot attend?
A: It’s not a team meeting. It’s the manager’s meeting.Q: Does your manager set and send out the agenda?
A: It’s not a team meeting. It’s the manager’s meeting.
Q: Are you expected to attend by default?
A: It’s not a team meeting. It’s the manager’s meeting.

This is not a feature purely of generic team meetings, it applies to any regularly timed meeting in a normal ordinary command and control organisation.

Think of people who need to meet to solve some kind of mutual problem. They self organise and decide individually whether they should or shouldn’t go. The things that need to be talked or decided grow out of the shared problem. If somebody can’t come at that time or date, then the nature of the problem and the degree and nature of the missing person’s involvement in it would be the criteria that decide whether the meeting is rearranged so they can come later or at a different location.

Essentially the problem itself that causes the meeting, dictates the meeting.

On the other end of the scale from problem-driven meetings are hierarchical meetings. These are total crud. They happen because. They happen because of the features of a command and control hierarchy, such as the existence of managers, decisions made separate from the work dropping vertically from above, performance monitoring, “planning” in the absence of knowledge etc

The hierarchy dictates the meeting, who attends, the content, the form and how decisions are made within it.

Here’s the test of a meeting, whether it is a manager’s meeting or a problem solving meetings….

Does the law of 2-feet apply?

The law is simple…

If you are in a meeting and are not contributing anything of value or getting something valuable, you have the responsibility to use your 2 feet and walk away.[link]

If you cannot use the law of 2-feet, because you’re expected to be in the meeting due to because, then you’re in  a manager’s meeting.

If you can, congratulations. It’s a real meeting. Enjoy!

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

Folk management

How do you think organisations work?
This is how Jeremy thinks his boiler works….

This is what a fair few people including me think a boiler works like. Not in as obviously ludicrous way, but  comments I’ve sourced from nearby people are similar…

  • I’d turn it high, so it gets really warm quicker, then turn it down to the temperature I want”
  • “If you whack it up high, it makes it hotter, which is what you want. Then turn it down”
  • “When it’s cold, turn it much hotter to reverse the cold then put it to the heat you want”

This isn’t how thermostats work, but it’s how people think they work.

Most people don’t give it much thought, instead they use the nearest metaphor they have to imagine how it works. Probably something like putting your foot down on an accelerator hard, so you speed up faster, until you reach the desired speed then you take your foot off the pedal. Or closer to the actual situation, turning on a gas fire full until it heats up a room, then turning it down again.

When people don’t know how something works, they imagine how it works. But crucially, they’ll not know that there’s a difference between imagining and knowing. There’s something called folk physics, which is the study of how people imagine the world works when they don’t know how it does.

For example people think that when water is piped through a coiled spiral of pipe, that when the water emerges from the end it will continue to spiral, in a coil of water. It doesn’t, it comes out in a straight line, but surprisingly large numbers of people think it comes out all wiggly.

What are trees made of? Where does all that wood come from? Lots of people think it comes from the soil, water and something to do with leaves and sunlight.

Trees come from fresh air. 95% of a tree come from carbon dioxide, the air around it turns into tons of wood. Sounds quite weird and unlikely, but only if you don’t know how photosynthesis works. 

This is why normal ordinary command and control management is so dumb. Because it actually is dumb. Or rather, it’s the equivalent level of dumbness as thinking that a cannonball falls faster than a marble. Just an incorrect model of how reality works, easily tested by empirical investigation. But startlingly dumb, if intelligence is the ability to acquire knowledge, then the failure to test assumptions of normal models of work is dumb cos no new knowledge is acquired.

Do targets work to make services better? No, you can test that and find out.

Do appraisals work to make services better? No, you can test that and find out.

Folk management is the result of the ongoing inability to generate new knowledge by testing the underlying theory that it relies on. Most organisations don’t know the theory that they operate under, only the visible manifestations of it. They know they do annual plans, budget monitoring, have service standards, but not that this is a choice driven by an assumption about how the world works.

As the Deming quote goes, without theory there is no learning. Without knowing the theory of how boilers and thermostats work, you can’t use it properly to keep you at a pleasant temperature. Without knowing how work works, or at least what your own theory of work actually is, then you can’t learn how to get better at it.

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Double Trouble

Mr SquireToTheGiants did a nice thing on why organisations can be like the politics and game playing of Game Of Thrones, but without the deaths or dragons, explaining double loop learning in the process. Here it is and you should click to read more.

Squire to the Giants

Double troubleThere’s a lovely idea which I’ve known about for some time but which I haven’t yet written about.

The reason for my sluggishness is that the idea sounds so simple…but (as is often the case) there’s a lot more to it. It’s going to ‘mess with my head’ trying to explain – but here goes:

[‘Heads up’: This is one of my long posts]

Learning through feedback

We learn when we (properly) test out a theory, and (appropriately) reflect on what the application of the theory is telling us i.e. we need to test our beliefs against data.

“Theory by itself teaches nothing. Application by itself teaches nothing. Learning is the result of dynamic interplay between the two.” (Scholtes)

Great. So far, so good.

Single-loop learning vs. Double-loop learning

Chris Argyris (1923 – 2013) clarified that there are two levels to this learning, which he explained through the…

View original post 2,383 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment


This gallery contains 3 photos.

“Okay, say you go into the break room, and a couple people you like are there, say someone’s telling a funny story, you laugh a little, you feel included, everyone’s so funny, you go back to your desk with a … Continue reading

More Galleries | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

WANTED: systemsy stuff to cheer me up

I’ve been working in an ordinary command and control organisation TOO LONG.

I’m miserable and it makes me think that all work is like this and it can never change.

I know it isn’t. I’ve been a part of, and seen in other organisations PROPER WORK. by which I mean

  • Studying work to get knowledge 
  • Measures derived from and used in the work
  • Change happening by experiment
  • Purpose discovered outside-in rather than by asking your manager

You know, systemsy stuff. 

I want to go and see somewhere doing this, cos whenever I have done in the past, it’s brilliant and makes me excited and optimistic.

So if this is you, if you work in a place that’s going or even gone systemsy in a Deming-ish or Seddon-ey way then can I come visit you to have a gawk at your stuff? Just for a few hours. I’ll be no trouble, and I’ll not blog about it unless you want me to.  You’d get the chance to show off a bit and I guarantee I’ll be impressed.

If this is you, click on the contact me button and send me a message including your contact details and I’ll get back to you with glee.  If you’re somewhere north of Manchester and south of Edinburgh that would be ideal.

Posted in command and control, deming, systems thinking | 7 Comments

The secret management model that must not be named

It’s my annual appraisal tomorrow, the lowlight of my year.

I announce my opinion of appraisals out loud, and nobody disagrees, most agree, for the usual reasons.

  • “why once a year do you talk about work and how it’s going? we have 121s every month!”
  • “why score someone with “satisfactory”? How’s THAT going to make them aspire to be better!”
  • “what’s with these VALUES?! I’ve got my own that I much prefer!”
  • “Most of the things on my appraisal were cancelled in the following months”

Everyone says they should be done “better”, but nobody says don’t do them at all.

Keen readers of this blog will have noticed that I’m fan of Deming. Despite him being old and boring, he is totally right as well. He said just don’t do them. That’s really the only answer to them.

I’m not going to list all their faults, or why they’re silly, cos I’m not that conscientious, you can google for that. Trust me, or Google, it’s up to you, either way, they’re worthless and damaging but for some reason staff can’t entertain the idea of doing away with them completely. Why’s that?

I think it’s cos they’re an essential part of an invisible and unnamed management model that nobody really grasps exists, or even has a name. The model runs everything. Like the illuminati. From the strategic plans to individual objectives in your annual appraisal. Runs ’em all. The performance monitoring, the use of binary comparisons of target against actual. Every damn thing is permeated by the secret model that nobody knows exists or has a name….

Unless they’ve read a book or two, or taken the slightest interest in how work works, then they’ll know.

It’s called ….




There. It-That-Must-Not-Be-Named has now been named. Like Lord Voldemort

Management By Objective is the name, and by their name so shall ye know them.

Plans, seem natural. Cascaded objectives from above, seem natural. Individual targets derived from plans, seem natural and inevitable.

They are not natural.

They SEEM natural because they’re all that most staff have ever seen in the workplace. They’re as natural as cars or mobile phones. Ie, ubiquitous but man-made. A choice.

They are integral parts of Management By Objectives, or MBO.

MBO is the unknown and un-named model that runs the vast majority of organisations.

You’ll have seen triangles in your work. In interminable service plans or strategic policy documents. Things that assert with a straight face what the organisation and therefore you will be doing.

This is a visual model of MBO. Your annual appraisal, no matter where you sit in the triangle, will be a monitoring of your delivery of a tiny chunk of it.

And MBO is roundly, almost comedically, discredited.

The first time i heard of it it was being debunked. I didn’t even hear of it when it was being mooted, or in its prime! It is THAT much of a secret to most staff. And that old-fashioned.

And it doesn’t work! Not as a model of how work actually works, or an aspiration of how it could work. Drucker first popularised it in the 1950s, so it’s had time enough to see if it COULD work. Look around you, does it?

Which brings me back to appraisals. Do they work? Not in theory, not if you tried really hard and THIS time made it work, but actually in your experience and of those around you, do they?

So, for a laugh, ask your manager in your next appraisal, “what is the name of the management model that we use here? that this is a part of?” Just for a laugh, cos it’ll be the only one you’ll be going to get.

Same time next year folks!

***LATE EDIT! Seems as if four years ago I typed virtually the same blog post, just much prettier cos I was all arty then. So here it is a bonus extra, to celebrate National Democracy Day*****


Posted in command and control, plans, systems thinking | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Why WIFFY’s are bad and to be squashed at birth

YEARS ago some clever lady told me…

Avoid What If’s, these are called WIFFYs. Never allow them. If you see somebody asking “But…what if?” stop them there and then and ask “has it? do we have data that it is? what do we KNOW about it?”

This is not some kind of motivational “hey! don’t concern yourselves with What Ifs, just go for it, it’s your negativity and worry!

This is isn’t about THOSE What Ifs.

The What Ifs i mean, the WIFFYs, are when somebody asks something hypothetical…

“yeah, I see what you’re saying about numerical targets causing people to act odd, but WHAT IF we took the targets away and the lazier and less motivated staff don’t do the work, we’ve got nothing to make ’em do it then, its the customers who need that work done, and quick too.”

Yes, WHAT IF. Are they though? Has that happened? Where can we go to see these demotivated staff? When?

“but WHAT IF we speak to customers to find out more about what matters to them, and the problem they need solving, WHAT IF they want the moon on a stick? An executive gold plated service? What then eh?”

So, have you? And do they? What data do you have on what matters to customers?

“WHAT IF we get rid of service plans, and nobody knows what they should be doing?”

What data do you have on what they know they should be doing now? How did they get that? What data do you have on staff using service plans to find out what they’re supposed to do?

That’s the first part of a WIFFY, bring up what we know, and don’t know. The second part is to say….

“Whatever we find out is actually happening, and have data on, we will deal with, when we find it and when we have data on it.”

IE, we deal with we know, we find out about what we don’t know.

That’s it. 

Why are WIFFYs so dangerous? Because in normal ordinary command and control organisations the imaginary realm of the mind is what people deal in. Things that aren’t real are the currency of corporate thinkings. Once created, ie said out loud, it’s real.

Plans aren’t real, but they’re what people talk about, approve, monitor, cascade. There’s a big difference between a good days backed theory to be experimented with, and a series of quarterly guesses.

Risk management, that’s not real. WIFFYs by another name, they are the worst imaginings of what could go wrong, ignoring what is already predictabley going wrong.

Data-free imaginings are the how command and control organisations run. A WIFFY is the unit of currency in the market of guessology.

Posted in command and control, data, systems thinking, vanguard method | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

First they came for the desks, and nobody said NUFFINK

What’s the DEFINING FEATURE of a bureaucrat?They have a bureau!

Or rather, a desk, cos we’re not French and thanks to Brexit no longer have to follow EU regulations on what we call our desks.

The bureaucrat has a desk. I’ve got one, cos I’m a bureaucrat. Take it away and what am i? Just some dude with a clipboard. Yes, i own a clipboard too, I went FULL bureaucrat for comic effect a few years ago, now I inhabit the role. Where does the bureaucrat end and the joke begin, nobody can tell. It’s a seamless piece of situationist art. 


In common with loads of other public sector bodies that have had vast budget cuts to pay for bankers bonuses, we’ve had to shed office space and very soon will have a load more people working in our office. More people than actual desks. This situation will be met by the adoption of HOT-DESKING and AGILE WORKING

I’ve capitalised both these phrases on purpose, because like with LEAN, when this word hit our horizon very unfashionably late we also capitalised them, if not when written down then at least when saying them out loud. These are strange new words that are foreign on our lips. Probably Japan cos that’s futuristic. We don’t know what it all means but it’s all for the best.

I’ve heard conflicting definitions given as to what HOT-DESKING and AGILE working actually mean.

(I’m instinctively AGAINST the word AGILE. When I first started blogging eons ago and people started leaving comments on here i go to their Twitter account or their own blog, and see mentions of it. I still don’t really know what it is, but it sounds HOKEY. This is NOT an invite for people to leave helpful explanation​s.)
What’s really queer about this whole thing is how everybody knows the phrase “agile working” to be total nonsense, and yet we still keep using it, in very different ways.

 In personal 1-2-1 chats we put on a silly voice and do some kind of arm shake like a gibbon. “Oh, I’m agile [arm shakes like gibbon] working today, so I don’t have a desk”.

But in official channels, it’s used totally straight. 

In the end it means you don’t have a particular desk, but most days you have one, and if you’re unlucky on a few days you’ll have to scrabble round to find a spare one.

It works alright, cos people are off on leave or out for day, or working from home etc so it turns out not to be a disaster in the slightest. I’d call it more desk-sharing than AGILE WORKING though.

In the run up to AGILE WORKING we all had a massive clean out of desks and cupboards, keeping only what was “necessary”. I think you’re either a hoarder or a chucker. I’m a chucker so I LOVED this. Sod YOU retention guidelines, I’m off the leash.
One thing that’s odd is it DOESN’T MATTER. The incredibly important things from a long time ago that I certainly wasn’t allowed to chuck then, I’m encouraged to chuck now. Chucking stuff is fine cos we have to right now, and the bureaucrat’s innate tendency to caution and storing all things for future back-covering had been temporarily paused. It’s a lot cleaner too.

It also allowed me to chuck with gay abandon what is just not needed on voyage.

 I found a whole box of CDs with these labels on…

Archived reports!
Miscellaneous documents!
Be still my beating heart. BIN!

And these beauties….

Is been 7 years since I did systems thinking last with Housing Benefits, and 3 since the marble madness, there’s zero call for systemsy stuff here so… BIN!

Found a tube full of a collection of Vangrad posters that I used in an introduction to systems thinking. BIN!

In my drawer were…

I took these home, they’ve got a reprieve despite the misery they’ve caused. Not their fault, poor things.

I keep passing this abandoned chair everyday on the way to work. This has been brutally chucked out too.

It reminds me that once somebody bought it cos it was liked and wanted, and now it isn’t. It was of its time, and now it isn’t. Time’s moved on, as time by definition does.
I was saying to a colleague recently that I can’t recognise the person who typed such things as…

101 tactics for revolutionaries.

Aaaaaaand others like that. They were of a time, and that time has moved on. Now the contents of this blog are less about what to do to change things, and more to do with what is silly and wrong in an organisation, rather than any optimistic guff on what to do to change these silly things.

This is a recognition that the things required to change in organisations belong to top management, cos it’s the inside of their own heads, and that’s THEIR responsibility.

A weird thing about Demingy/Vangrad systems thinking is it’s about changing management thinking, but it’s very relevant to and approachable by anybody who works. It’s not like most management theories, it’s ABOUT work. So you can see it, in your daily existence, it isn’t only relevant to the executive on their strategic retreat. That’s obviously a good thing, KEEPING IT REAL, but also a bit dangerous cos it sucks in people with an interest in how work works, but without the power to do anything about it.  Essentially, the subject of this whole blog from end to end.

Now I can see how huge organisations are, and how much noise there is in them from transformation programmes and all the usual management gubbins. God knows how a manager COULD be dissatisfied and curious AND do all the usual stuff that’s expected, it’s too much. So I’m totally fine that during the time when I did that 101 tactics thing (above) that I was known as systemsy, and now I’m quiet about it and known for being a policy officer instead.
I like the anonymity of being a clipboard wielding copy/paster. I have nothing to do with performance, other than relaying numbers and text without it touching the sides. I see it around, but because the use of measures is formed by the mental model of work used in managing, it’s all very silly indeed, so best avoided.

I think this post is me fully embracing my loser-dom. Like in this piece here!

It says organisations are comprised of three layers…

The Losers like to feel good about their lives. They are the happiness seekers, rather than will-to-power players, and enter and exit reactively, in response to the meta-Darwinian trends in the economy. But they have no more loyalty to the firm than the Sociopaths. They do have a loyalty to individual people, and a commitment to finding fulfillment through work when they can, and coasting when they cannot.

I didn’t realise that was my allotted role, but now that I do, and have chucked the struggle against it, it’s a lot easier. I’m not saying that you should, cos there’s all sorts who read this blog, people right at the apex of the triangle even. I’m just acknowledging what’s been personally chucked along with the contents of my desk.

Posted in command and control, me doing it, purpose, systems thinking | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

Vanity of vanities, all is vanity OR Why webstats don’t exist

I’ve been learning how to get data on our website usage from Google Analytics.

It’s very hard, both cos Google Analytics front end  is so badly designed and cos you need to learn how websites work. There’s lots of different things you can measure, do you want:

  • pageviews
  • unique pageviews
  • bounce rate
  • session duration
  • entrance
  • exit
  • source
  • and so on and so on and so on

There’s so many, so how do you choose? What webstats are important and should be collected and analysed, and what are not? Which staff should receive which webstats?

Then it hit me…

There’s no such thing as webstats!

They don’t exist.
Thinking of a website and THEN starting to think what you can measure is the wrong place to start.
If you start at the website and think “what can I measure?” or even “what should I measure?” then you will end up measuring activity and what people (i.e managers) think is important.

The typical webstats collected will be…

  • number of hits
  • number of page views
  • number of unique visitors
  • number of followers/friends
  • number of email sign ups
  • time on site

These have a name, they are…

Vanity metrics make you feel good.

The higher they are, the better. That is there only benefit, the ability to make you feel good.

“Ten thousand views! Better than 5,000! In fact TWICE as good!”

Vanity metrics cannot be USED. They don’t tell you the “now what?” answer. They just make you feel popular.

This is like call-centre stats. If you start off measuring the call-centre you get rubbish like the % calls answered in 20 seconds or the average handling time. These are measuring the call-centre but they AREN’T measuring anything the customer cares about or tells you how well they are being helped. In fact they can drive bad performance and create failure demand if they are targetted (as they are).

Webstats and call-centre stats do not exist. They are not things.

Just like any old measure in fact. There’s no such thing as housing measures, there’s no such thing as social care measures. There’s no such thing as planning measures, there’s no such thing as Housing Benefit measures. These all do not exist. They are not things.

What are things are your customers, their problems, and your organisation’s attempts at helping solve them. Measure these instead. Start there.

Start with a customer, find out their problem and what matters, then measure how well your system helps them with this. If this cuts across a website, then find out what you need to measure from that website in order to see how well you are helping your customer. This is totally different from measuring the website as a starting point, because you now have a proper question to answer, how capable are we at helping our customers. Not how many people click through our website. They could be clicking around angrily not finding what they need.

This is like starting with a customer need in a callcentre, find out how well you help them, not if they were answered in less than 20s and the call ended within 6 minutes. These are not things.

Actionable metrics are things that connect customers and your organisation. They create learning by showing what happens when you make a change to your system and whether that is good or bad for the customer and therefore your organisation.

Ultimately feeling good cos of hits/likes/visits/mentions are not important. If it is, you should be in the cute cat gif business. A very unprofitable business.


Posted in command and control, customer, data, learning, systems thinking, thinking | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

One more time… Why values are a pile of cobbler’s

This month I’m going to be handed a piece of paper with the Organisation’s​ new “Values and behaviours”, in my annual performance review.

So this means what I value and how I behave will change once I read what they’re to be this financial year.

This is of course total bollocks.

But this is how command and control organisations think. The theory seems to be that Things and People change because they’re in an official document, approved by senior leaders and cascaded through management hierarchy. 

Let’s say that the last time I was told what my new values were to be, that magically they actually changed to be these values. Let’s say that happened.

Let’s say there was internal commitment to these values, and let’s say that this changed my behaviour, and consequently my “performance” changed. Let’s say that happened.

So here I am, thinking and acting differently because the theory held true, that approved values issued through the annual objective setting process, took root and authentically changed me.

Then this financial year a new piece of paper tells me to drop the old ones and take up new values. If I dropped my authentic values like that, then they weren’t really real were they?

Any knowledge of humans you’ve gleaned over your life must tell you this is not how people think or behave. If they change authentically, this takes time, or some big life changing event. Not reading a document, or worse the side of a pen.

If Things and People changed like this, then command and control management works.

Because Things and People don’t change like this, command and control management doesn’t work.

The most important thing to remember about organisational values is….

If you change your values because a piece of paper tells you, then the old values and the new values were not really values.

Posted in change, command and control, psychology, thinking | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

How i learned to skip with Toyota

I do skipping at the gym. It looks like this.

I however do not look like this

But i want do be epic at skipping and make the rope go round twice.

Like this…

These are called “Double Unders”. So called because although you jump up once, the rope travels around TWICE. Hence Double Under.

These are very hard to do indeed. They are much more tiring than “singles”, and as you get tired in skipping, your rhythm goes off and eventually you stumble with the rope and the skipping stops.

At the gym I go to there are classes with a prescribed workout that everybody does. If skipping comes up it is always prescribed as double-unders, and there is always practice at doing double unders. If you can’t do them, you do normal “singles”. If it is NOT in the workout, then you don’t do them. So they are there or not there, intermittently. And if they are there, you’re trying to do them, but not in a consistent learning curve. In my case, not doing them at all.

So when they come up, it is very much…

I have been trying to do them for 2 years, without success.
Until I realised that I had merely been trying to do them, but I hadn’t been learning how to do them. There’s a difference.

Then one day the coach said this….

“If you want to learn double unders, it won’t work just hoping they’ll come, instead practice for 10 minutes a day. Then they will come”

So I did, I stayed behind for exactly 10 minutes a day after class. And then i saw this thing called “the five questions”, and then I had an idea, and I carried out the idea and here is a blog post all about it….

This is something called “the coaching Kata” from Toyota, allegedly apparently.
It comes from this man here, and this is what it is all about…

“Kata are small, structured practice routines or protocols. Through physical practice their pattern becomes second nature, done with little conscious attention.  Kata are typically for learning fundamentals to build on.  The goal is not the Kata themselves, which get used less as you grow more proficient, but the habits of thinking and acting that practicing them leaves behind.

An example is practicing to drive a car.  Once you can drive you don’t think much anymore about the routines of how to use the car’s controls.  You can now focus your attention on navigating the road and handle the controls automatically.” [link]

So those questions up top, they are a structured step by step practice routine to be followed explicitly and literally, until the practice of them is internalised. .

“They are stepping stones for anyone who wants to acquire new ways of thinking and acting. Kata make skill and mindset transferrable, which is particularly useful for developing an organizational culture. Practicing the routines of the Improvement Kata gives us a way to develop scientific thinking and acting.

Once you and your team develop the fundamental, scientific skill that practicing the Improvement Kata teaches, you’ll be able to develop your own style and apply it in the pursuit of many goals and challenges.”

Now I’m not a one for using foreign words in the workplace, it alienates and makes simple daily management tasks into something weird and esoteric, but “kata” has no obvious English equivalent. So kata it is.

I did the coaching kata to learn myself how to skip double-unders, and this is how it went. Yoda stands in for the imaginary coach that I dont have who is asking the questions, and I’m me….



And this is what happened, over time…

I’ve added the median in (3) and if we apply correct rules for checking for trends, then has there been a sign of an increase?

There’s only 7 data points, so this is possibly too few if this were a normal process being monitored. If it were, and i wanted to test my theory that i had improved due to doing the penguin jump then i would need to see a run of a certain number of data points.

However this is NOT a normal process being monitored. This is a record of skill acquisition that I know accumulates gradually, rather than jumps suddenly from one state to another. So i would expect to see a gradual linear increase like in the graph. So given i would expect it, and there it is, this is a match between my prediction and the outcome. Result!

Not only that, but on the last data point 25th April I did a whole workout unscaled doing double unders! Which was the actual purpose behind the target condition of repeated sets of 10.

This is a VERY DUMBED DOWN VERSION INDEED of this “coaching kata”. There is so much left unexplained, cos i couldn’t be bothered to type it, or cos i don’t understand it yet.
Despite the name don’t think of this as “coaching”. All soft skillz and middle management away days. Instead think of it as how to THINK systemsy wise. The keen eyed reader will have spotted PDSA in here. Check Plan Do. Any version you want, the Kolb learning cycle. What it is, regardless of how you name it, is a method of training yourself to think methodically. About making explicit your assumptions, about recognising and dealing usefully with where your knowledge of a situation ends and where ignorance, in its true sense, begins.

Posted in change, experiment, questions, systems thinking | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The man who mistook his wife for an actual change in performance

There was once a man who mistook his wife for a hat.

This is his wife.

From the TV programme “The Good Wife” actually

This is a hat.

Any old hat

He thought

Why did he think that?

He had a brain injury. The injury affected the way his brain processed visual signals. Looking at his wife, he saw a hat. It wasn’t something he could do anything about, his understanding of what he saw was damaged, physically.

Oliver Sacks wrote a book about him and patients like him, with bizarre neurological impairments due to brain injuries.  There was a patient who after an accident saw totally in black and white. A man who couldn’t form any memories after the late 1960s.

The essence of these stories is that people see with their brains. If what is inside their brain is telling the, “IT’S A HAT!” then they see a hat

They form the image and create the understanding of what they are seeing out there in the world using their brain not eyes.

I think this is like how people look at graphs and see totally different things.

Remember the performance reporting archetypes?

Not mine, Mr Davis Balistacci’s

These are the 6 patterns of any three numbers arranged in every order they can be, with the name used to describe it when people have to invent a fairy story around the shape these numbers make on a page.

For example, here is the fairy story around “the rebound”…

What it looks like:

Commonly Interpreted: “An inexplicable decrease in performance in month 2 has been balanced with a rebound in performance in month 3 to ensure we are entering the next quarter with all our ducks lined up.”

Of course it is all total nonsense, inventing patterns and stories out of pure noise. It’s just what people do when faced with numbers or events, we first of all spot hey HERE’S something, and then say it is ALL ABOUT THIS!

It’s all very complimicated, making sense of the world without falling prey to silly ideas. This is why we invented numbers and statistics to help us.
Note: not do it for us, but help us to do it.

And sadly this is where people use numbers and statistics to muck it all up with THIS goddam awful thing….

The bleedin’ Add Trendline….

Just like Powerpoint is a failed substitute for telling a compelling story, so Excel can be a substitute for doing actual analysis.

We’ve moaned about this before, how a trendline added to some data like so…


…can fool you into thinking that there is some kind of long range and continuing decline in Some Numbers.

When looked at using actual analysis, the data shows there are two different processes, both stable but with ONE step-change happening….



The “add trendline” is a dreadful thing. If the performance archetype graphs, or one’s like them, go through a performance team, they might leave the other side with one attached to them….

This line purports to show….a trend!  It shows the way the dots are moving! The dots are going down! In the future the next dot will be even lower!

Take the same three dots in a slightly different order, stick a trendline in ET VOILA…
The trend is reversed! The dots are going up! In the future the next dot will be even higher!

I’m exaggerating for hopefully comic effect, but i see these sorts of things all the time. Excel is designed to put “analysis” just two mouse clicks away, for the unwary to click on.

However, stick these dots between two different types of line……

The lines represent the predictable upper and lower limits of the measure. We can see that the arrangement of the three dots now shows just meandering between these lines with no change in the underlying system that produces these numbers, because no change in the upper and lower limits…ie there IS NO TREND.

(Obviously 3 dots is too few to calculate upper and lower control limits. But it is also too few to make predictions from and that doesn’t stop anybody using trendlines to do it.)

This is how the unwary mistake their wife (some line pointing upwards) for a hat (an actual change in performance)..

They are looking at noise in all the wrong places. People are not idiots they “know” that there is random noise and movements in data. That not everything is signal. But what they don’t necessarily know is where this noise is, how to distinguish it from signal and even perhaps the mental model to map signal and noise onto.

Below is the same three dots with a trendline added or between some imaginary control limits. Look at the one below with the trendline added. The red arrows show the gap between actual data points and the calculated trendline.

This is assumed to be the “noise” between actual datapoints and some assumed “trajectory” that is taken to be…god i can’t believe I am typing this….the UNDERLYING  PERFORMANCE. uRRGH.

A different way of looking at the noise in the data is seeing the 3 data points in the context of the predictable performance of the system. What is predictable is that there WILL be noise, between these two lines. Within certain criteria there will be movement of data between the lines. This is a built in feature of all of reality, there is noise. And these lines help you understand where it is and therefore how to distinguish it from signal, true change of an underlying system.

In the chart above the blue arrows show where the noise is, between these two lines essentially. The three dots are relegated from “HERE’S THE NEWS! QUICK! THE LATEST DATA! WHAT’S IT SAY!!” to instead, “here’s some extra data, when we add these to the data and knowledge of the system already calculated from that data that we already have, does this tell us that anything has changed?

Or, in short, “anything we need to know?“.

I think this is a lot more useful than the incessant jumping around being fooled by randomness, mistaking wives for hats, noise for signal, jumping at every heartbeat of data. Heartbeats are predictable, they’ll keep on coming.

Data come in patterns. Notice the patterns they make, and look for any changes to the patterns.

Posted in data, experiment, measures, systems thinking | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

There are only 6 graphs you’ll ever see on a performance report and they’re all rubbish. Here they are.

This is Performance Cat, and she doesn’t like rubbish performance reporting.

And she definitely doesn’t like dumbass explanations for meaningless shapes in graphs…

One of the more adorable features of performance reporting in normal ordinary command and control organisations is the total inability to see signal through noise.
EVERYTHING is packed with meaning, every tiny twitch of a line chart, every minor bulge in a pie-chart, every spurt of a bar chart. Like a spurned lover obsessing over their exes Facebook page, every thing means something.

Take three numbers. Go on. I’ll do it too.

10, 20, 30

There are 6 permutations of these three numbers ( ignoring a number appearing more than once). Here they are in every order they can be in a line chart.

These shapes appear all the time on performance reports, but they are accompanied by something weird, an EXPLANATION. An explanation why these meaningless shapes, made out of pure math, are shaped as they are. They’re only actually shaped by random permutations, not anything to do with life’n’that. These shapes are the only shapes that these numbers can make when you’ve got 3 of them! This is it!

The explanations accompanying these squiggles are often exactly the same.

These are [drumroll] The Performance Monitoring Archetypes!

What it looks like:

Commonly Interpreted: “Performance continues to be SKY HIGH! We’ve built on our successes and the trend shows we will improve further into next quarter and beyond”

What it looks like:

Commonly Interpreted: “Performance has been disappointing. A downward trend of 3 months in a row have lead to a new management team who are currently addressing the root causes of performance and will be rolling out a robust improvement process to ensure a turnaround in the next quarter”

What it looks like:

Commonly Interpreted: “The dip in performance in month 2 has been turned around by the strong leadership of the new management team, ensure we are going in to next month with a strong trajectory”

What it looks like:

Commonly Interpreted: “Factors have combined to produce an unfortunate downturn in performance. A peak however in month 2 show we are maintaining our strong performance over the quarter.

What it looks like:


Commonly Interpreted: “An inexplicable decrease in performance in month 2 has been balanced with a rebound in performance in month 3 to ensure we are entering the next quarter with all our ducks lined up.”

What it looks like:

Commonly Interpreted: “There’s a small setback in performance at the end of the quarter in month 3, following the stellar success of month 2, but this remains higher than month one’s outturn.”

So there we are, a description of three dots relations to each other and a made-up explanation as to WHY they are in that order…hey presto, a performance report!

For the true performance connoisseur, what tops off the appearance of these is a trend line. A trendline, provided by Excel, sprinkles these turds with the glitter of a statistical validity that they do not deserve.


Take the last performance archetype, The Setback. With a simple linear trendline added from excel, you can now interpret these 3 numbers arranged in this particular order as showing that performance is improving, that it IS only a setback, and that next month you can continue to see higher numbers. Cos that line is going up, look.

This is of course total rubbish. However it is total rubbish that is being produced daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, with no end in sight. No special IT will make this better. This is not a technical problem requiring a technical solution. It won’t end with a more expensive and colourful IT application producing these shapes and words.

I don’t think it will end when there is a better understanding of numbers and statistics. Saying “these are only three numbers from which it is impossible to draw conclusions of future performance” is true, but pointless. There is a reason why people provide reasons and justifications for random noise and continue to be “fooled by randomness”, and it isn’t  mathematical ignorance. That is not the cause.

Typical hierarchical command and control organisations runs on a binary view of the world where performance is “good” or “bad”, this cause a binary view of the numbers themselves where numbers are “good” or “bad” rather than numbers that just ARE.

For example, the last known control chart in this organisation was several years ago, I should know cos I did it. It didn’t stand a chance because the environment is not conducive to it’s survival. Like putting a lemur 50 feet below the ocean, not going to work, it’s in the wrong place. For a control chart or similar approach to understanding performance to survive, never mind thrive, requires a curiosity and a wish to find out. What thrives in normal typical command and control organisations are the performance archetypes above, and Performance Cat will remain very annoyed indeed.

Please note the 3-numbers and the names i used for the “performance archetypes” are totally the creation and property of Davis Balistacci who is my new favourite, he came up with the arrangement of 3 dots and given them names, and all I’m doing is adding swearing and knob jokes and cat gifs. Go here for the real deal cos you’ll learn loads, I am. Hopefully he won’t get mad if he sees my cheap popularising. I’m referencing my steals!

Posted in data, information, leadership, questions, setting a numerical target is like..., statistics, systems thinking | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

If it’s too complicated to understand it’s probably total nonsense

I stand on the periphery of “improvement activities” going on elsewhere in the organisation.

I see things second and third hand through organisational gossip, i.e. people mentioning phrases or names of IT companies doing work elsewhere, somewhere. I’ve got no involvement in it thankfully though.

Despite working in a corporate position, i have no idea what these activities actually are, and when they’re explained, in reports or in person, i still don’t. They’re totally opaque. Just words without any seeming concrete activity behind them. I’m sure there is activity, all sorts of meetings and lots of workshops and theme boards. But it’s completely mystifying what any of it actually IS.

I think this is because they’re mainly IT projects. IT projects being a synonym for improvement projects in normal ordinary command and control organisations. And I’m not an IT professional, so why would i understand? I don’t.

But there must be SOME activities that aren’t IT projects, got to be, but any mention of these still are opaque and don’t reveal what they actually are.

This stands in total contrast to any actual improvement activities I’ve seen or read about. They seem to be REALLY straight forward. You find out what the customer needs, and you help them get it. That’s it. Everything is reorganised around that simple thing, the purpose of the system is to help the customer. Wherever IT appears it’s in the context of serving that purpose. Pulled in because it’s needed.

So i don’t think I’m thick. I think the scary thing could be that all these activities are just total nonsense. Money and time being thrown at services to make them more more complex, cos simple things are easy to understand. Adding IT rarely is a simplifying action if it is pushed, if it is leading the redesign then it’s mucking things right up with unneeded complexity and waste.

I’m thinking that if it’s too hard to understand, that’s because there’s nothing there to understand. There’s SOMETHING there, obviously, just not something worth understanding.

I’m not advocating some kind of Brexit/Trump style bonfire of ideas and experts. But the basics ARE simple.

Eat food, not too much, mainly plants. Move your body, don’t smoke, don’t over drink. That’s easy.

Don’t fight European wars on two fronts. Facebook makes you sad. Nature makes you happy. Dead simple.

Design your organisation so maximum value flows to the customer with minimal waste, and keep on improving it. Easy as.

Rule of thumb: if it’s complicated, it’s​ probably rubbish. If it’s simple, at least you can tell if it is sooner.

Posted in clarity of purpose, command and control, public sector, systems thinking | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Can you count up to 8?

Do you produce loads of whizzy hard performance data?

I bet if you do you use one of these clever whizzy performance applications to showcase your wares…

There’s lots of different types of these things, and an even larger number of people who use them, they like them, they think they’re the bees knees.

Being a contrarian systems thinker I don’t. I think these are symptoms of command and control management. They are not good things, but resultant things.  Symptoms.

In themselves they are neutral. Just bits, literally, of zeroes and ones that produce snazzy graphics to gawk at. But they are part of something, and that something is how large ordinary command and control organisations manage.

Command and control organisations (ie most of ’em) separate decision making from the work. They do this by making these two things (decisions about the work and the carrying out of work itself) be done by entirely different sets of people.

You know, like this…


So if those at the pointy triangle end are going to make decisions, they’d better be making decisions based on pieces of paper.

Which instead of paper is these days likely instead to be a screen, totally full of coloured muck like this….

Which is why this rot exists.
Because nobody knows what they should be looking at or why, not really, they default to stuff that looks clever. Merely having clever things like the above is a substitute for doing clever things. Like buying a book and not reading it, or going to university.

Those pointy-end-dwellers are to be pitied. It is not their fault, it is the system they are in. But because they go in a room and look at screens purporting to show the world outside that room, there is a bit of a disconnect. They could be looking at anything, and they often are. Whatever seems PERFORMANCEY.

There’s a word “truthiness that describes something that possesses the feeling of truth, something that you would personally WANT to be true, regardless of it being true at all.

Well I think that a lot of this stuff produced is performancey.  This is somethinig that looks like performance data, cos its all bar charts and that, but it actually isn’t.

All the stuff above despite being called performance dashboards are actually just performancey. They aren’t the right measures, shown the right way. They are facsimiles of performance measures that grant the illusion of performance. They are performancey.

I think a solid rule of thumb is that the more something tries to persuade you that it IS a thing, whatever that thing is, the less likely it actually IS to be that thing.

These dashboards go to immense lengths to swagger around looking performancey, this shows to me that they aren’t.

A chart drawn in the dirt with a stick would persuade me more.

That’s why I’m a fan of this man here….

He is Davis Balestracci and I’m rudely summarising him as a Demingy/Shewharty/ Donald Wheeler-ish kind of guy. The sort you need to read books and columns and that, because he knows his stuff. About data!

One of the things he says is you DON’T NEED all this complicated stuff and therefore you don’t need to know all the techy stuff that sits behind it, to produce it.

Instead, can you do the following….

  • Counting up to “8”
  • Subtract two numbers
  • Sort a list of numbers
  • Multiply two numbers
  • Ask better questions!
  • React appropriately to variation

Cos that’s all you need if you want to look at simple run charts and find out if there’s been any change in a process.

And that’s all you need do to make a control chart to find out how a process is likely to behave now and in the future.

I bet loads of people could do the above, given half a chance.

No need for coloured tat.  All that’s needed is the ability to count up to 8.


NB you REALLY should google Davis Balestracci stuff, he’s got lots online, he’s funny and simple and useful.  I’ll be trying very hard not to outright steal his stuff and reference it properly, but if I forget, remember to google Davis Balestracci cos he knows what he’s talking about and I rarely do.

Posted in data, deming, statistics | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

I am totally positive


I am relentlessly positive about all of the following…

-Going to where work is and finding out what happens to customer’s problems

-Getting raw data about customers or how we do work that has never been collected before

-Sifting signal from noise

-Listening to a customer without saying anything back to them except to find out more

-Tracking work through our systems

-data informing decisions

-Asking why

-Asking why again

-Experimenting with method, knowing the only failed experiment is one where you don’t learn

-Learning something that matters about customers or work

-Value work and waste activity being understood as two entirely different things and treated accordingly

-Focusing on the problem that we are really trying to solve

-Support work helping core work helping customers

-Constancy of purpose

If I work in a place that does these things I will appear positive as I am positive about these things. The more of these things there are in a workplace the more positive I will appear to be, because these things work.
They work because they are based on a model of work and people that works

Pursuing any of these things is a good use of the money of whoever is paying me and helps people who are supposed to be helped by the organisation.

I am always positive about that, which is why I am always positive about doing all these things.

Posted in systems thinking, vanguard method | Tagged | 1 Comment

I am totally negative


I am relentlessly negative about all of the following



-Best practice


-Strategic awaydays

-Strategic plans

-Strategic anythings

-Performance appraisals

-Service Standards

-Scrums (outside of a rugby game)


-Assessments for access to services


-Target operating models


-IT solutions

-Rapid Improvement Events

-Customer satisfaction surveys


-Culture change theme boards

-Mapping activities to priorities

-Transformation Boards

If I work in a place that does these things I will appear negative as I am negative about these things. The more of these things there are in a workplace, the more negative I will appear to be, because these things don’t work
They don’t work because they are based on a flawed model of work and people.
Pursuing any of these things wastes the money of whoever is paying me and lets down whoever is supposed to be helped by the organisation.

I am always negative about that, which is why I am always negative about doing all these things.

Posted in all wrong, command and control | Tagged | 1 Comment

Thor describes my purpose


I sit next to the photocopier at work.

About 3 times a day somebody printing some papers off will ask me if I have a stapler they can borrow, to staple their papers together.

This is a question I am asked predictably. It is my single most common type of demand. Is this a value demand though? Well, it is caused by a failure to do something, the failure of the photocopier to staple things automatically as people want, so it is probably a failure demand. But at least it is a predictable demand.

However I do not own a stapler.
So my capability at meeting demand, whether it is value or failure, is zero.

Regardless, I think that my purpose, if derived from my surroundings, would be to offer paper stapling services. I could do this! This isn’t beyond my ability to change and move with the times.

However what is beyond my ability is to change work and make it go all systemsy.  Which is entirely fine, cos the people who are in charge of the design and management of work are actually the managers here, that’s their job, and if everybody else was also changing the design and management of the work then it would be total chaos.

So I just stick to carrying out my duties in as avuncular and self deprecating manner as seems fit. I describe myself as a copy-and-paster, and enjoy acting out my role of “corporate harlot“, not being bothered about the authenticity or actual worth of the work as long as blocks of text or tables of numbers are passed to me by some arbitrary deadline for me to spiff up and make it look nice and apply a spell check, if this happens, then all is good.

The metaphor I use is pipes and plumbing.


Imagine a sequence of pipes connecting people. People all over the council send me things, it is my job to ensure that there are pipes there connecting me and them so this stuff can flow between me and them.

It ISN’T my job to be concerned about the stuff that flows through the pipes. If it is sewage or clean fresh water is immaterial, what matters is that it flows. So I’m a plumber, which is a fine and noble profession.

Talk like this tends to alarm people. I’ve noticed they act like I’ve just started talking about my hemorrhoids or something, lean back in their seat and try and pretend I’m not saying these awful words. Like it is dangerous talk. Now I’m being polite really, cos I think the same about most corporate work, in a normal ordinary command and control organisation this type of work is mainly waste with little chance of being good for the end client/customer/resident. But strutting around pointing out the pointlessness of others work isn’t polite, so I stick to my own.


NOT cool. Possibly incorrect too.

This is not the ideal way to pass the time, but time is going to pass anyway. I boldly claimed at the top of this post that in some way “My Purpose” is to be revealed by Thor within the post, and all I’ve talked about is staple providing services and a metaphor about plumbing. Locating and articulating purpose in an entertaining or educational way, why you might expect something, especially given the name of this blog but it might not be possible at an individual level, especially when I don’t have a self-defined purpose. All systems have a purpose, but not necessarily a node within it.

Handily I found a thing about a phrase or word that the man who invented Lean the Toyota Production System used to describe anything that wasn’t work….moving around. Here it is…

He taught people to call all motion that adds value to products “truly working.” Motion that is not adding value is simply called “moving around.”

By clearly separating the use of these symbols, he taught trainees how to tell the difference between non-value-added work and value-added work by creating awareness of that difference with his creative use of spelling.

In this way, he shows us that the most effective approach is to eliminate unnecessary “moving around () ” and create “true work ()” with the full participation of the shop floor as the first step.

I love this. Moving around, if you’re not doing value work than may as well be flapping your arms about a bit. Now if you’re a typist like me, value work and waste work isn’t moving around, it’s typing.

Or as Thor describes it here “Hitting the machine with the words that come out of it“. See, I got to the point in the end. My purpose is to hit the machine with the words that come out of it. Like I’m doing right now.

 So if I hit the machine in the right way, then the words that come out of it please people, and it contributes to the gaiety of the organisation in some way. I’m under no illusion that this can possibly change or improve because the thinking of top management cannot change. Well it could, obviously, but it won’t.

Performance management/reporting/ analysis/whatever is a system condition, a symptom of management thinking, so we’re lumped with it. Whilst decision making is separate from the work, then the decision makers will need reports to make these decisions, and I’ll continue to hit the machine to make the words come out.

Posted in command and control, public sector, purpose, systems thinking | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

I openly mock Myers Briggs, but an INTP would do

Remember the ThinkPurpose team role quiz?

Well, turns out I was a racoon.

Sadly not a COOL RACOON. Just a racoon.

But ignoring all the distastefulness of categorising people into 16 types in a Buzzfeed style quiz based on bleeding JUNGIAN ARCHETYPES, let’s… Oh, hang on…I CAN’T ignore this idiocy.
If you’ve worked in a large organisation for several years you’ll have done either one or both of Belbin or Myers Briggs “what type of corporate drone are YOU?” quizzes.

They both ask you to rate yourself on questions like…

Do you prefer quietly reading book OR GOING TO A LOUD PARTY WITH LOADS OF PEOPLE YOU DON’T KNOW?

(Can you guess what bit of your personality this is attempting to decide?). Then based on such answers, you’re allotted some type of personality/stereotype that purports to tell you what you’re like at work, and what your strengths and weaknesses are.

My weakness is for crappy personality quizzes like this, so I love them. Or rather, love to hate them, cos Myers Briggs says I’m an INTP which means in all into theoretical cohesion, so if it turns out that it’s GOT NO ACTUAL SCIENTIFIC THEORY BEHIND IT AT ALL, then I’m right up in its face, snarling and that.

Luckily Myers Briggs comes from a rigourous peer reviewed approach to psychology, tested thoroughly in double blind experiments, leading to a robust methodology for analysing and predicting people’s behaviours….No, no, course I’m lying.

It was actually invented by a woman who… read a load of biographies of famous people and divided them into types. Yup. She READ ABOUT PEOPLE, and came up with four different “temperaments”, these form the basis of Myers Briggs. Some woman’s musings on the autobiographical musings of the 1917 version of Kim Kardashion now result in office drones like yourself being categorised a whole century later. During that century the field of psychology has undergone numerous revolutions, all of which had been totally ignored by the Myers Briggs lot.

They found their theory, and they’re sticking with it. This theory of personality types has two main weaknesses, it doesn’t measure what it purports to measure (validity), and it gives different results for the same person on different occasions (reliability). These are pretty much killers for any theory of measurement

There’s lots of references to studies ripping into Myers Briggs, I don’t just stick to Wikipedia, you can have a nice browse in this article on the Smithsonian website which had loads of interesting links.

Ultimately though I dislike it because it’s stupid. It’s stupid, because it’s easy and it fits, despite being wrong. And easy and fitting ALWAYS trump rightness and usefulness in a normal ordinary command and control organisation. It’s a diverting Buzzfeed style “What Hogwarts house are you?” quiz that annoyingly takes in millions from gullible organisations because it diverts attention from the system back yet again onto the people working in it.

One annoying thing with quizzes of this type though is the lingering Barnum effect .

This is the cognitive bias where general or vague descriptions that are seemingly tailored to you are perceived as stunningly accurate. As a fellow human being I too suck at avoiding this, especially when I read this thing that describes what Hell would be like for an INTP like myself. From what you have gleaned of me and my job, Dear Reader, I let you be the judge…

INTP – You are eternally condemned to researching an extremely vapid topic using wildly inaccurate methods, mostly involving interviewing people who have no idea what they’re talking about. [Link]

Posted in all wrong, command and control, human brains are weird, psychology, systems thinking, thinking | Tagged , , | 35 Comments

The Law Of The Instrument

I can’t stand digital by default.

-How about analogue by default instead?

I can’t stand digital evangelists.

-How about analogue evangelists instead?

I can’t stand Head of Digital.

-How about Head of Analogue instead?

I can’t stand digital offering.

-How about analogue offering instead?

I can’t stand going digital.

-How about going analogue instead?

If any of the above analogue variations sound stupid to you, the original digital version sounds equally stupid to me.

Theres a concept called The Law Of The Instrument summed up best in the phrase…

“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”

In the public sector I’m seeing exactly this in the Digital By Default Disaster.

The thinking seems to be…


Which ultimately is operationalised as…


This is why I think digital evangelists are dangerous and wrong. They skip the part where having investigated the problem situation, got data, understood what’s happening and why, and redesigned the system using experimenting to find what works, AT THAT POINT  then pulling in technology when needed.

I’m being overly kind here. They don’t do the bit before the capital letters much either.

I’m 100% sure that any digital evangelists reading my blog will consider this a gross caricature and entirely unlike anything they’ve been involved in. 

I’m 100% sure they’re wrong. I see it around me all the time, people with magic goggles on, convinced that IT is the answer to cheaper and better services, and it’s just a matter of changing the question so that it IS the answer.

A way to spot them is they tend to be called “business analysts”, a name I had to Google and it’s got its own Wikipedia entry, helpfully. Teams of business analysts now occupy the public sector under the guise of improvement, whilst actually doing digitising instead.

I remain cruelly aloof to their charms. Often they’re lean-alikes, waving AS-IS and TO-BE process maps in their wake as they dash busily from workshop to workshop. I’ve noticed that when these jobs are  advertised as vacancies, skills listed in the desirable column are often a bundle of LEAN (always capitalised), Agile and systems thinking, sometimes only seperated by a forward slash eg LEAN/Agile/Systems Thinking, as if “hey, you know it’d be cool if you had one or more of these, cos these sound just swell.” Like these are in any way similar or even just NOT CONTRADICTORY!

This is fact a helpful signal to the prospective job seeker that the employer doesn’t really know what they want. But more importantly whatever special magic used to improve things, it’s mainly just a ruse to cover up the shabby old cheap trick of shoving IT in front of people and expecting magic. Ta-bleeding-Daaa.

I started this post with a cheap trick of swapping the word digital for analogue. It’s not a trick though. It’s a point. Thehe point being if there are people wandering around your organisation with default thinking, whether it’s digital by default or anything-at-all by default, you’ve got quite stupid people wandering around your organisation.

Default thinking is actually about circumventing thinking, which is why I say these are stupid people. They might be intelligent in other areas of their life, but default anything is dangerous and stupid.

I’m immune to your charms, Digitalistas. I think you’re wrong and dangerous, and quite bizarrely old fashioned and quaint in your shiny -eyed belief in technology “solving things“. Sadly you’re quite fashionable at the moment so we’ll all be stuck with you for a long while yet. Till then I’ll just quietly resent you and seethe at the dreadful things being done in the public sector, wasting millions on technology whilst social workers and the like are losing their jobs to pay for it and you. 

Posted in all wrong, command and control, public sector, systems thinking, tools | Tagged , , , | 20 Comments

Reality has a liberal bias


This is a  quote from an American comedian, taking the mickey out of imaginary Republicans complaining that reality itself is as biased as the liberal-elite media against Republican beliefs and actions. It is a joke about how people convinced they are right will react when presented with evidence that they are (literally) in fact wrong.

Both liberals, Republicans and every shade in between and beyond exhibit strong tribal loyalty to beliefs, rejecting evidence if it shows they are wrong, and seeking out evidence that they are (literally) in fact right. This is not just political trait but a human one called the Confirmation Bias. But like Paul Krugman says here, it is more apparent in Republicans than liberals.

“liberals don’t engage in the kind of mass rejections of evidence that conservatives do.

Yes, you can find examples where *some* liberals got off on a hobbyhorse of one kind or another, or where the liberal conventional wisdom turned out wrong. But you don’t see the kind of lockstep rejection of evidence that we see over and over again on the right.

Where is the liberal equivalent of the near-uniform conservative rejection of climate science, or the refusal to admit that Obamacare is in fact reaching a lot of previously uninsured Americans?” [Link]

Now I’m no expert on American politics, no really I’m not, and this blog isn’t about any of that, but I’ve noticed the same sort of thing in managing in the public sector, a lock-step rejection of evidence cos it doesn’t agree with what they think.

Reality is biased against normal ordinary command and control management. 

This diagram above shows pretty much how people think. All people, even me and you. Course we’re not perfectly accurate in our thinking and mental models of the world. 

The problem arises when we’re confronted with this. There’s Confirmation Bias that biases people towards looking for evidence that confirms their beliefs and rejects evidence that shows it ain’t necessarily so. 

Now this is fine and usual and normal until this evolutionary quirk of the human brain meets modern management thinking…

The thing that gets a leader noticed is THEIR IMPORTANT THING. Could be anything. A new model the business should follow, a big expensive new IT system, a whole new reorganisation of everything. Doesn’t matter if it’s at the national level, like the Troubled Families initiative or locally, in your very own office reorganisation. The thing that matters is the actual thing being proposed. Not the effect that the thing itself is supposed to bring about. No, not that. Nobody can see that yet, not whilst it’s being done.

The IMPORTANT THING inevitably appears with a bang or a whimper and had some kind of an effect. A terrible effect or a brilliant effect, a tiny effect, or a big effect. Either way, out it goes.

Once it’s out there, if it’s some kind of national initiative, there’ll no doubt be performancey measurey people crawling all over it, monitoring it getting numbers from it to look at the effect it is creating. 

Thing is, this isn’t REALLY what decision makers care about. Managers, leaders etc are recruited to do a thing, and they choose their IMPORTANT THING and do it. The important thing is the thing itself, it’s an article of faith. 

The language shows this, in Big Speeches they often use the phrase “I am clear that…” or “let me be clear” which uses a rhetorical sleight of hand to suggest that anybody not agreeing with their IMPORTANT THING can’t see the clarity of it and therefore the problem is with them, not it.

For example in the speech that David Cameron used in announcing his Troubled Families programme, he used the phrase repeatedly, being extra clear for us Muggles.

Sadly, reality is biased. It is biased against things that aren’t reality. Heavily biased. No matter how clear things are to people, it doesn’t give a flying one.

So poor Dave and his Troubled Families, he spent £400m of everybody’s money on a payment by results Local Government ran scheme, that had “no significant impact” according to a big review of it. For half a billion pounds! 

The report, which was published last night, found that families who were on the programme were no more likely to find jobs, stop claiming benefits or improve the school attendance of their children.

Reality really doesn’t give a stuff does it?

And the annoying thing is this will go on and on, because decision making in normal ordinary command and control environments is all about managers and leaders coming up with THE IMPORTANT THING, and poor old reality trailing along in its wake. No wonder reality is biased against managers and leaders, it feels neglected. It should be wined and dined, treated right.

How could you treat reality like it should?

Well I reckon this would be a start

Don’t split up mental models of decision makers, their brave Nobel schemes split from the nerdy monitoring of reality. That Troubled Families programme, it relies on payment by results. If a Local Authority does”turnaround” a family, from being “troubled” to presumably “not-troubled” then they get money. Payment by results ALWAYS screws motives and methods.

Local Authorities were told the estimated number of troubled families within their area, according to some formula, and that they’d receive £4,000 per family turned around.

Not one local authority has needed to work with more than their indicative number in order to ‘turn around’ all of their families. In fact, many local authorities can demonstrate a 100% success rate not just in identifying and working with ‘troubled families’ but in turning them around. Manchester, for example have identified, worked with and turned around a staggering 2385 ‘troubled families’. Not one has ‘slipped through the net’ or refused to engage with the programme. Leeds and Liverpool have a perfect success rate in each ‘turning around’ over 2000 ‘troubled families. By my reckoning, over 50 other local authorities across the country have been similarly ‘perfect’ in their TF work. Not one single case amongst those 50 odd councils where more ‘troubled families’ were identified or where a ‘troubled family’ has failed to have been turned around. [Link]

This isn’t a surprise if you know what happens if you give someone a financial incentive to meet a target. They will meet that target, regardless of how silly. This is reality being biased against targets and misapplied financial incentives. 

Strange behaviour by individuals as a result of system rules is common, but cos reality is biased against decision makers, it isn’t the rules themselves that are to blame. The cause lies with faulty individuals.

Take Chuck Finley. Chuck is a VORACIOUS reader. He read 2,361 books in a 9 month period. 

Sadly he doesn’t exist. He was invented by East Lake County library to take books out of the library that hadn’t been checked out in a while, to stop them being removed from the shelves and destroyed according to the rules of the system. This destruction of books meant that if someone, a real reader, wanted a book that had sadly been removed and destroyed, the library would have to repurchase a copy. Again.

So some enterprising librarians decided to save money by keeping unpopular books on a rotation through the imaginary Chuck Finley’s bookshelves. When this came to light, what happened? Were the rules of the system that created this odd behaviour changed, to avoid the wasteful creation of pretend readers and the hard work of keeping track of unpopular books and checking them out and back in again? 

No, the librarians were sacked.

It appears that not only is reality biased against decision makers, but also decision makers are biased against reality.

Posted in command and control, public sector, statistics, systems thinking, targets | Tagged , , , | 22 Comments

Why killing Sweat Angels is the most valuable work I do all day

Most readers of this blog probably sit behind a desk all day, like me. Sipping tea in nice surroundings with nice people. They don’t have to push a mop around the floor cleaning up after others.

Dreaming about the dignity of labour and the simple honest toil of the working class is patronising rubbish, and you’ll look a bit of a dick to someone who already does this work for half your salary.

But I’m going do this cos I’ll do anything for the right metaphor.

At 7:30am this morning I was mopping up a stranger’s sweat off the floor.
It was the most fulfilling work I’d do all day.

I go to a gym that has black rubber flooring.

This is cushioning for barbells that are dropped from shoulder height, and cos it’s quite tiring, when you’re finished you yourself drop to the floor as well, covered in sweat.

So after a gym class there’s lots of “sweat angels” left on the rubber floor, black human silhouettes left in sweat.

Part of the tidy up routine is everybody helps put away everybody else’s equipment, doesn’t matter who’s, and some people go around the room spraying the sweat angels with floor spray and mopping it all up again.

It’s just what you do, tidying up so it’s good for the next lot of people. This isn’t what you’d do in a “normal gym” but it’s part of the social contract in this type of gym. You don’t just put YOUR stuff away, it’s not about your own obligation, it’s about restoring the gym for the next set of people to come in. It’s a communal obligation that you fulfill as a group for another set of people.

Cleaning up is a part of the whole session. It is expected and as fundamental as attending and listening to the coach.

So why is this task not onerous, but actually satisfying to me?

When I am working with others, mopping up a stranger’s sweat I am solving a problem (manky floor) and helping people (a clean floor for people in the next class to flop on themselves when they’re all tired and sweaty). This makes me “happy” for want of a better word.

When I am making a scorecard of measures with targets and up and down arrows I am not solving problems or helping people. This makes me “sad”, for want of another more useful word.

What I get from mopping a floor is what I want from a job. I want to work with others to solve problems and help people.

There is a large and flourishing literature on “what makes a good job”. I’m not thorough enough to do any of it justice, but the thing that best explains the difference in satisfaction caused by mopping the floor and creating scorecards is this fellow here…


Herzberg is famous for this very systemsy quote. He established the factors in work that predictably make a BAD job.

Things like:

  • work conditions
  • supervision
  • salary
  • relationship with peers and management

But if these are the causes of dissatisfaction, and make a BAD job, it is not enough to take away from a job theses things that make it annoying, miserable and hard to do.

The opposite of dissatisfaction is not satisfaction.
The opposite of dissatisfaction is NO dissatisfaction

These are so called “hygiene factors“. They’ve got to be right, fixing them removes things that make a job bad, but they don’t make a job good. They are necessary but not sufficient.

To make a good job you’ve got to put into it things that are not currently there. These are called “motivators
Things like:

  • challenging work
  • responsibility
  • opportunity to do something meaningful

These are factors intrinsic to the work itself. Not factors applied to the person doing the work, like salary or praise.  They provide internal motivation, as Dan Pink’s Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose video neatly shows….


So when I’m solving problems and helping people, I’m doing work that provides me with internal motivation. Note that I didn’t say what I wanted to earn, or what the job title would be. These are factors of external motivation that just get you through the front door of the office every morning, they don’t help you do a good job when you get there.

I have found that the most fun work, the work that provides the most satisfaction, you might not even recognise as work. A few months ago I was on Reddit and saw a post where someone was asking plaintively…

“I have to predict how many customer calls we are likely to get next year over the holiday period. I’ve got 3 years of data, but no idea how to do this properly. Could somebody help?”

So I did. He put the data on a shared spreadsheet on Google Sheets, I did some rudimentary stuff with a chart, explained what it meant and how confident you could and couldn’t be with the analysis. I solved a problem and helped someone. I did work for free and didn’t even notice that it was work at all.

Ironically the thing I did for free and was fun is the very actual thing that a performance person should do but rarely if ever does when at work.
This is one of the main reasons why I’m fan of systems thinking/ deming/ Sneddon/ Whatever you want to call it. These approaches to changing work make work work. Not just in a process improvement type of way, not just a clever clogs striding around with post-it notes composing a “to-be” map, but in a real fundamental way. Snit gets real. Finally you get to solve the right problems and help people.

Most jobs in normal ordinary command and control organisations are not like this though.

This is why mopping up a stranger’s sweat is the most valuable work I do all day.

Posted in clarity of purpose, command and control, purpose, systems thinking, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Cloud cuckoo-land

“What matters to me as a customer is getting everything for free. I’d appreciate it if all organisations could just go ahead and arrange that please. No, I didn’t think so.”

This comment left on a recent post shows the typical command and control response to the idea that organisations should find out what matters to customers.
There’s a fear that the customer will turn out to be a unreasonable diva demanding the moon on a stick.

What the customer doesn’t want

This is total balls.

It is a fear caused by ignorance, ignorance of what actually matters to customers and a knee jerk response to a loss of control, that customers should get what they’re given.

Instead of giving in to this fear, find out what matters to customers by studying them. Get data. Don’t just ASSUME what they like and need.

Find out by observing what matters to them. Ask them even. It’ll not be unsurprising if they say in large enough numbers that price matters to them. They might not though, I’m guessing that a patient in the NHS wouldn’t even imagine that price would be a factor. Just as much as a customer in the market for a burger and fries to eat quickly on the go, that they wouldn’t expect Macdonald’s to give’em away for free.

I’m guessing this, YOU however should go study, get data, find out empirically.

But what you don’t do is guess. Like this character leaving the comment above guessing that of course everybody wants stuff for free. I do! I’d LOVE stuff for free! But it’s not what matters to me. What matters depends. I want free air,I don’t want pay for it. But I’m fine with paying a reasonable amount for a burger.

But if I’m looking for a burger what matters is different from what matters when I’m booking a holiday, or buying a car. Cost, price, free things, all depend on the context.

If you find that customers predictably do want everything for free, then you are in a tough business. Perhaps you’re selling sand to Arabs or snow to Eskimo? There’s plenty other customers out there, perhaps try selling sand to Eskimo and snow to Arabs instead?

I once had a manager who had the same attitude as the commenter, that asking customers what they wanted is silly. He worked in Local Government and said if we asked residents what they wanted, actual words, “they’d all want swimming pools“.

Now I’m guessing this not the case. But don’t guess, go study. Find out. That old manager never did, they thought just as the commenter did, that customers are free-loaders who will take you for a mug if you let them.

Now I think THAT is living in cloud Cuckoo land.

Posted in clarity of purpose, command and control, customer, Demand, systems thinking, vanguard method | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is a pony

You’ll not like this, but you’re not getting a pony for Christmas.
You’re also not going to persuade your organisation to go systemsy. 

You’re not going to get managers to ditch targets.

You’ll not be introducing control charts throughout the organisation, there’ll not be a mass burning of dashboards. 

Just not going to happen. 

Doubt me? Well did it happen last year? 

The thing with going systemsy is it seems so obvious, that SURELY EVERYBODY will join in when they hear about it? 

This is an example of the Focussing Illusion. When something appears REALLY IMPORTANT because you’re thinking about it.

Thing is, nobody else is thinking about it.

“The Focus Illusion can be summed up in a single sentence: Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it.” —Nobel Prize-winning psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman

In systemsy thinking, there’s loads of stuff on how to get people curious, on intervention theory, on how people learn and change etc. 

What there isn’t, is anything about how to drum your fingers, bite your lip and bide your time whilst nothing changes. 

You could say that’s not really within the remit of systemsy thinking, which is about change. It’s more within the remit of psychology or philosophy. How to put up with stuff is the foundation of Buddhism, Stoicism etc and I reckon any introduction to systems thinking should touch on it to some degree, cos whilst you’re all excited about getting a pony, Santa ain’t getting you a pony. 

So on that characteristically bleak but truthful point, have a Merry Christmas and a pony-free New Year from us all at ThinkPurpose!

Posted in change, systems thinking | Tagged | 4 Comments

One weird trick to design your organisation, in one easy step! (Management consultants will HATE you!)

Don’t design your organisation

  • for efficiency

  • for managing demand

  • for digital by default

  • to achieve strategic priorities

  • by copying best practice

So what do you do then?


  • Design against customer purpose

That’s it.

The predictable value demands presented by the customer, whatever matters to them in helping them solve their problem. That’s the purpose your system should meet.

Here’s what happens when you do….

“Through focusing ruthlessly on what matters to citizens, public-sector organisations in Wales have:

  • More than halved the percentage of referrals leading to statutory funded packages of care, from 24.1% to 10.9%

  • Reduced residential and nursing care placements by 28%

  • Cut average domiciliary care packages from 12 hours to 9.7 hours a week

  • Reduced contacts into social services by 48%

  • Underspent community care budget for three consecutive years

  • Reduced the number of assessments by 30%, and rereferrals” [link]


 By ruthlessly  focusing. Not “doing a bit of purpose on the side”, and not doing it as part of a half hearted customer satisfaction or a spot of continuous improvement.

But taking customer purpose and what matters as their central aim and number one only priority.

Focusing on purpose reduced costs. On the other hand reducing costs would have distracted from and made worse their ability to meet customer purpose. Increasing costs.

Focusing on purpose reduced failure demand. Managing demand would have distracted from meeting value demand, increasing failure demand.

Nobody wants to make an organisation worse, but this is what happens when you focus on things other than customer purpose. It makes people do silly things they otherwise wouldn’t.

If you want to design your organisation to be the best it can be, focus ruthlessly on customer purpose and what matters to them.

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

The Varieties of Human Work

There’s 4 types of work, only one of which actually exists.
We mainly talk about the other three that don’t.
Here’s a blog post of Steven Shorrocks, explaining all 4 so that the NEXT time YOU talk about work, you know which type youre taking about.

Humanistic Systems

Understanding and improving human work is relevant to most people in the world, and a number of professions are dedicated to improving human work (e.g. human factors/ergonomics, quality management, industrial/work/organizational psychology; management science). The trouble with many of these professions is that the language and methods mystify rather than demystify. Work becomes something incomprehensible and hard to think about and improve by those who actually design and do the work.  Recently, some notions that help to demystify work have gained popular acceptance. One of these is the simple observation that how people think that work is done and how work is actually done are two different things. This observation is very old, decades old in human factors and ergonomics, where it dates back to the 1950s in French ergonomics (le travail prescrit et le travail réalisé; Ombredanne & Faverge, 1955) and arguably the 1940s in analysis of aircraft…

View original post 4,232 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

There really is only one test!


Attention performance people!

Attention people who use numbers for performance!

That’s you!

You have one job!

One job only!

The purpose of your job, listen up, here it is, I’m about to tell you….it is to find out…

“Is the apparent effect real, or is it due to chance?”

That’s it.

Your job is to (i) measure the right thing  (ii) in the right way, so that managers can tell if what they are doing has any real effect, and that any change isn’t due to chance.

Everything flows from that question. Here, I’ll repeat it..

“Is the apparent effect real, or is it due to chance?”

Now, off you go.

NB the crux of this teeny post comes from this one here. I’ve even stolen the title, just added an extra word. Go have a read if you understand statistics. I don’t, but it’s STILL worth a read. It’s very good!

Posted in statistics, systems thinking, very short posts | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The Curious Case Of The Chart That Didn’t Bark In The Night

“Why has this performance indicator gone down three months in a row?”

Regular readers of this blog will know the answer to this question already, without any knowledge of the indicator in question, or the work being measured.

“It’s probably just random noise”

“That’s common cause variation”

“3 data points doesn’t say s****”

The words might be different, but the message is the same: chill. There’s not enough in 3 decreasing data points to say anything has changed.

But I was asked that very same exact identical question recently and thought hang on, what are the chances that I’m wrong?

Oh… Hang on…WRONG?

I mean, jumping to conclusions and knee jerk reactions is what I accuse others of aaaaaallll the time. So I thought I’d work it out using all maths and snit.

We have 22 months worth of data, it’s a pretty silly indicator, doesn’t really measure anything business critical but it is still one that people are interested in. So and hence it is on an official scorecard reported in the usual scorecard way of this month against last month with an associated up or down arrow, you know, binary comparisons ahoy…

The problem with putting an indicator in a table like this, it chops it all up into individual pieces and compares the latest piece with some other arbitrary number, like a target or same time last year. It loses EVERYTHING that helps you find out about the thing being measured.

So first, let’s put it all back together again and have a look at the data in context. Let’s open up this baby and see what’s under the hood. 

Ahem…. I’ll stick it in a graph.

Et voilà!


This is just a bog standard run chart, with the median indicated on it. No control chart AS YET because if you’ve a control chart THEN you’ve got to start explaining stuff about variation, which I just don’t have the energy for and nobody gives a damn either.

But RUN CHARTS, that’s a line graph, it’s from excel. It’s NOT SCARY. Nothing needs explaining with a run chart other than what’s in it.

And the cool thing about a run chart is you STILL can detect, and more importantly UNdetect “trends”.( I hate trends. Trends are to Excel, what death by bulletpoint is to PowerPoint. A built in function that substitutes a default Microsoft approved solution for ACTUAL thinking.)

So, tell me Einstein, what’s that run chart tell YOU?“, Says an imaginary reader.


Remember that question at the very beginning? Here, I’ll shout it at you again

“Why has this performance indicator gone down three months in a row?”

The question is about the last three going down. Now, I’m going to have to get all mathematical on your ass. Not VERY, cos I can’t be bothered working it all out correctly so nobody will spot all my mistakes.

But take a good look at that run chart again…


(I’m assuming you know about noise and signal, about the world being chock full of noise and only a bit of signal. That there is common cause variation and special cause variation.
Let’s assume you do. (if not, read all around here).)

In a run chart you can tell if there has been any shifts in the underlying process producing this measure. No need for a control chart! This discovery changed my life! Turns out there’s a whole load of knowledge about run charts I’d not been privy to.
A run chart acts as Filter Number One as Davis Balestracci calls it, find out ““Did this process have at least one shift during this time period?”.

This question is KEY. It tells you whether you are looking at a stable process. As My New Best Friend Davis says…

This generally is signaled by a clump of eight consecutive points either all above or below the median. If the process did have such a shift, then it makes no sense to do a control chart at this time because the average of all these data doesn’t exist.


Sort of like, “If I put my right foot in a bucket of boiling water and my left foot in a bucket of ice water, on the average, I’m pretty comfortable.”

So there IS no point in looking at a control chart right away, see what the run chart tells you first, see if there is actually ONE process there at all.

This run chart shows there are not 8 consecutive points above or below the median, so it’s all one set of data produced under the same conditions. It’s one system. Same things happening throughout.

So lets see that thing at the end, the 3 data points in a row that decreased, in the context of a process producing a stable set of data, what’s THAT mean then?

Well, a run of 3 data points all in one direction in a process that is stable, my theory is that it’s just noise. It is common cause variation. The alternative mental model of this is the question I was asked, these 3 decreasing data points mean something, that they are signal. Let’s do a robot wars fight off between these two!

If there WERE just common cause variation in a set of 22 data points, then this means that any of the data points is as likely to go up as well as it is go down. There is no signal in any particular movement of any single data point.

This is because randomness is CLUMPY. You don’t expect it, but in random strings of data there will be things that look not random. Ie in a string of flipping a coin you will get clumps of heads and clumps of tails. Like this!


Here each T is a tail, and H is a head. See how there are patterns, as the number of data points increase, the number of seeming odd patterns will increase too. There is more noise as the number of datapoints increase, and as a proportion of it all the signal reduces as the noise increases.

This is why people need to understand statistics because they are already using statistics.

Below is a lovely table from that smashing man Davis, and here we can see that for any given amount of datapoints there are a minimum and a maximum number of runs that you should expect to see.


In this case there are 22 datapoints, and therefore we should expect to see between 7 and 16 runs. This is expected noise! We should see noise! And we do!

In fact if we were to apply a bit more of a thinking cap, we can work out what are the chances of getting 3 or more datapoints going down in a row.

In a process with simple common cause variation, im going to assume (FLASHING RED LIGHT FLASHING RED LIGHT!) that for any single data point there is a 50% chance of it going up as it is to go down. If you want to know for any dataset with each datapoint having a 50% chance of being something or another, what are the chances of there being X amount in a row having this characteristic, its just like the flipping coins example. basically I want to know in any set or 22 coin flips what are the chances of 3 in a row being heads (or tails). This is the same as me wanting to know the probability of in 22 datapoints with a 50% chance of being up or down, that there are 3 in a row going down.

In fact, i’m going to make it HARDER, cos what happens if there were 3 or MORE in a row, not just 3 exactly. Whats the chances of that then?

Turns out, it’s 99.994% that there will be 3 or more going down, in my set of 22 datapoints.

ie, a racing certainty. Odds on. Bet your house on it!

You can work it out using excel!


Click on this pic for an explanation, cos its ROCK to explain, but easy to understand

So, there we have it. The answer. 99.994% chance of seeing by pure random chance three months in a row of this measure going down.

I think I’m in need of an open top bus parade with all that maths.

Now for the actual hard bit….explaining it to someone not systemsy.


Posted in data, statistics, systems thinking | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Looking good, Billy Ray!

This is a systems thinking blog.
There’s a type of systems thinking I don’t mention here called Soft Systems Methodology, or SSM. I’ve never actually used it as a method, not out loud and proud.

But the key word is systems THINKING. 

And SSM is great for thinking about things yourself. It’s a structured way of thinking in systems.

A part of the method is to use diagrams of a system, to have a structured debate about what it currently is and what it could and should be changed into.

A question asked during this is..

“Is this change systemically desirable and culturally feasible?”

There are two parts to this, tackling two issues. Is the change..

1: systemically desirable.

This means given the purpose of the system, given what it is supposed to achieve in what way, then are the changes needed to achieve this? Would the system get more coherent and congruent to its purpose?

2: culturally feasible.

This asks the question, is it POSSIBLE given the culture and beliefs, the norms and values, of where we are.

Ponderous stuff eh? It’s why I’ve never bothered talking about SSM, and cos quite frankly you could do SSM and still sit in your executive strategic suite, fully insulated from reality, drowning in operational ignorance, and still correctly say that you’re doing “systems thinking”. Cos you are, a branch of it.

Anyway, this question, systemically desirable and culturally feasible, I reckon managers and leaders do actually ask it in the course of change… Just the wrong way round.

I think the question they ask of the change they plan is actually…

Is it Systemically feasible and is it culturally desirable?

This is a very different question indeed.

It asks “the change we’re gonna do, firstly CAN we do it in the system we’ve got? Is it feasible?

Secondly, what will people make of it? If it’s not wanted, how can we make people want it?”

See the difference?

It starts from ALREADY having decided what you want to do, not from working out what should be done, and whether it could be done.

This is the feel good method of managing change. It is about bulldozing changes into a system, and schmoozing the people in it to “want” the change. 

Anyway. Here’s what Billy-Ray Valentine had to say about it yesterday…

Posted in change, systems thinking, thinking | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Computers are weird

Computers are weird.

People sit with both open hands held next to each other in front of their body, their palms down. Fingers wiggling.

They call this work.

They call it work cos they’re at work, and that’s where they go to work. At computers.

Today all around me people, proper intelligent people, sat at computers, fingers wiggling. All day, with breaks for tea, lunch, bits of chats and such. 

I know computers are great. I’m finger wiggling at one to type this. But work is not whatever happens at work. If you think this then finger wiggling at a computer becomes work. Rather than solving problems and helping people, work is defined as whatever you do at work.

This is why purpose is vital. A line of sight between what you do when you walk in the door, and somebody helped because of that

If you can’t see this, it’s probably not there, and you’re just sitting finger wiggling at a computer.

This is not cynical. Cynical is sitting finger wiggling and convincing yourself that it’s work cos people tell you it is, and cos it’s easier than finding a customer and seeing if they need any help.

Most activity at work happens without any beneficial effect on a customer. It goes down without touching the sides. I spent all day today re-formatting a report, full of the wrong measures, measured the wrong way, so that it could be printed easier and it would look nicer. A perfectly benign activity that helps nobody. In the thinking of lean, or Vanguard Method, or Deming, or indeed any sane point of view, this is 100% waste and therefore shouldn’t happen at all. Just stop it.

Waste can easily hide itself if it looks like finger wiggling at a computer. Especially if it looks like finger wiggling at a computer. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a computer, but there is something inherently wrong with finger wiggling at it for no good reason.

Computers are weird, but people are weirder.

Posted in clarity of purpose, command and control, purpose, systems thinking, vanguard method | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

We’re number 2! We’re number 2! Yay us! Now who’s US exactly?

image004-25About a month or so ago I started getting loooaads of traffic for a really old post from when the blog was still good.

This one was about 4 German words we should all use, which is why it was called 4 German words we should all use. You should go read it, it’s quite good.

Anyway, I noticed that the source for the traffic was Google, meaning people were searching for something and it was directing them to this post.

I was curious so left a note on the post asking new arrivers where they’d come from. Turns out the word Verschlimmbesserung points to this post, if you google it and if you ignore Urban Dictionary which is the first link. So yay me.
This weird word is enjoying a brief period of being fashionable, it has appeared on some famous YouTuber’s..erm Youtube, and it also was on BBC radio! Go Verschlimmbesserung!


Click on the pic to google this word if you don’t believe me

This is excellent because Verschlimmbesserung is a one word encapsulation of this entire blog.

If you’ve got this far and still haven’t clicked on my post, here is the definition…

“A supposed improvement that makes things worse.”

If that isn’t command and control management in one hard to pronounce word, then what is?

So, what’s the point of this post then?

I never set out to type blog posts about German compound words, and yet here we are. I also didn’t set out to type blog posts that anybody would ever actually read, and yet here we are as well. This got me thinking. I found out specifically who was coming for the delightful Verschlimbesserung, but I have also found out over the years who is coming for everything else too.

In short, I know who I am, I’m a chippy lower-middle class oik, but who are you?


Ok, you undoubtedly know who you are, but who are the other people who click on this nonsense? Ever since I started I’ve been keenly interested in why and how people get here.
I just fire up my phone and here I am, but other people have to know about this place or somehow are led here.
I’ve been keeping tabs, and here is who you lot all are. There’s roughly THREE types of people who follow this nonsense….


A pie chart. An onion pie. Mmmm tasty

1: IT people

Loads of these. For some reason often from Finland. I think it could be because IT actually produce stuff, and so therefore have come up with models of “how to make stuff”? Unlike call centres etc, which don’t produce stuff. I HAVE heard of “Agile” and “scrum” and the like, though don’t want to know any more than that about those things, so I’m thinking there is a history of models of doing things in IT that just aren’t there in callcentres etc and this is why people come across this place. They are agilistas or whatever, and being IT types are also on the line, so and hence googling and following people who are akin to systems thinking they come across this place? You know, nerds

This is guessology of the crudest sort, but it’s all I have to go off, and I HAVE noticed that of all the corporate type functions, finance, legal, procurement etc, there is only IT in any appreciable numbers. I’m also guessing that they follow the usual route of dissatisfaction with the usual ways of doing things, and curiosity leads them to many places including this one. And as a provider of functionally illiterate systems-thinking memes, i salute you.


I’M a nerd, i like nerds. Not a criticism!

Or IT people are nerds.

2: Systemsy types

By which I mean, consultants, people who work as “improvement types” of a systemsy bent, individuals with a personal interest in and a pursuit of knowledge about systemsy things. People who are into organisations and why they are they way they are. Could be HR types, could be. No reason why not.

They run from people with Grand Titles like “Director of Systems Thinking” etc, to people who just have systemsy blogs to their name. Either way, they’re into improvement and organisations either professionally or unpaid, to keep their amateur status.

I’m guessing, again, that they come across this place as part of their ongoing professional or personal interest in organisations and why they don’t and could work properly. I’m in this group, but safeguarding my amateur status by being totally inept at it in real actual life.

I’ve noticed the more “practical” posts tend to resonate and get spread around a lot on twitter by this lot. Things like that marbles post or stuff to do with measures. From browsing around I’ve found out people actually went out and bought jars and marbles to do their own version! Fantastic.

And this one, this lot loved this one.

Best of all is the last group though…

3: Normal ordinary people

These are the best. This is what happens…


How would I know that somebody is a normal ordinary person? Well a person subscribes to blog…


Then I see who they are, roughly. Linkedin, or work email addresses tell you that, I’m not peering in their bathroom window at night or anything.
THEN somebody else from the same place soon afterwards signs up too, days or hours usually…


So now there’s a pattern. And then more….


I know then that they’ve shared links or posts around their colleagues and for some reason systemsy stuff resonates with a fair amount of people in the place. Not hundreds, but more than where I am. Which isn’t saying a lot. In fact it’s saying “more than none“.

Then I google said organisation, curious like, to find out more and turns out they’ve got someone in, like Vangrad, to turn the place systemsy.
Either that or a new broom has arrived to turn the place systemsy. Events happen, as events tend to do, and somebody googles a word they’ve heard like “demand” or “purpose” and hey presto they find something about the stuff they’ve been doing in meeting rooms, but this time with added knob jokes and crudely drawn cartoons.

As I often say when spotted copying cleverer people, I don’t create I curate. I don’t add something entirely new, I turn what exists into a slightly funner or at least shorter version of itself. This is a thing! There’s so many dull versions of systemsy stuff, or at least long versions, that funner and shorter is a viable alternative to those who don’t identify especially as systemsy types right now. “Just” normal ordinary people working in places that are getting better by studying work, thinking new thoughts and making things better.

This last lot of people are by far the most exciting. They are in banking call centres, insurance companies, large public sector organisations, all sorts. It is always exciting to see it start, as I know that means there are people who will be coming into work excited to do something worthwhile.

If you want to add a comment to say which of the 3 types you are, you are more than welcome as i love comments and finding out about people in other places doing systemsy things.

One more thing, as well as being number 2 for an obscure German word….

We are number 35!

The fantastic Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog, has done a listing of the top management improvement blogs. Wallowing around in the unfashionable end at number 35 is this one.



Go us.

Posted in communication, learning, systems thinking, vanguard method | Tagged , , , , | 20 Comments

I am an average employee

Are you a great employee?

I’m not, I’m totally average.

On twitter I found this pic shared by someone, showing the purported different characteristics of Average and Great employees….

And I clicked and looked at that pic, [you too, click on the link] and thought I’m not having that!

So I doctored it….


I doctored it because i think it is wrong.  Might not be totally wrong, but it is wrong enough that my version is righter.

The original comes from an assumption that people have fixed characteristics. That an employee IS good or bad or indifferent. That they ARE a bag of characteristics that walk in the door, and these characteristics are theirs and theirs alone. This is based on an assumption that most behaviour is what the employee brings to the workplace.

Wrong way round!
It is what the workplace brings to the employee.

On pinterest where this is saved there are a whole load of others akin to it, in their specific wrongness. Here’s an appalling one….


The creep described above sounds appaling!  A massive teacher’s pet.

I think they are appalling because they broadly don’t exist except in the mind of the equally appalling command and control organisation that wants people to be keen, work by themselves and with others in a heartbeat, “embrace change“, challenge-but-in-the-right-way-ie-not-challenge-at-all-really.
Basically be a complete simpleton’s idea of how people act when you give them money for 40 hours of their time.

People don’t act like this. Instead, they act in a variety of different ways, according to their background, upbringing, specific moment in their life, all sorts. But the one thing they DO predictably act like is according to their environment, the workplace.
Want to know if somebody will electrocute someone just cos they’ve been asked to by a man in a white coat? Then don’t look to see if that person has sociopathic tendencies. No need! We’ve done the experiments, got the proof, turns out most people will. No monsters needed, just average people in a specific environment that encourages electrocution of strangers.

So that is why I say I am an average employee. Give me good work to do, and I will do good work. Give me rubbish work to do, and I will do rubbish work. Because I am average, just like you.

Posted in all wrong, command and control, psychology, systems thinking | Tagged , , | 16 Comments

How to be hopelessly untrendy

I got me some data!

Done gone put it in a graph!

Added meself a TRENDLINE!


And me answer is THE TREND IS DOWNWARDS!

This is what happens when people get data and have excel.
They stick it in and press that inviting “Add Trendline” button and hey presto INSTANT ANALYSIS. It allows you to cut through all that silly binary comparisons and possibly separate out the noise to find the signal beneath the actual data to see which way it is moving.

I should know, cos that’s what I did for years. But here’s why it is ALL WRONG.

Have a look at that data again, with added trendline…


Trendlines make you think the data HAS been moving in that direction and WILL CONTINUE TO. It is a slope that starts and doesn’t stop. Doesn’t matter if that isn’t what it strictly means to a hardened statistician, if this is presented to a manager what will they think?  They will think that the data shows that whatever is being measured has gone down and will therefore continue to decrease.

If they thought that, they would be dead wrong.

Here is why….

I put the data above in to a control chart, using Winchart. Here it is in all its clunky 80s glory…


The blue line on it is the mean, the red line at the top is the upper control limit. But that’s not important, what IS important is that pressing the handy “diagnose” button will run a check on the data using a set of tests. These tests look at how the data behaves in relation to the average and upper and lower lines. It checks for any signs of a change. An actual change in the system, as indicated by the data.

When I pressed the button, it said “look at data point 37, cos from there there were 12 points below the average line” , and there were. This indicates that there was a change in the data, enough for there to have been a change in the system that produced the data.
So I click another clever button that split the data into two parts, to show the system before the change around data point 37, and the system after the change around data point 37.


Then I done gone and put a label to show what I had done gone and done.


This chart shown to a manager will lead them to think that there was ONE change somewhere in the middle of the data, a single step change. One that occurred once, and not again.

This is different from the the message that the trendline one communicates. The trendline says “its decreasing and will continue to”. Not a step change, but an incremental continuous change.

Now I’m no statistician, but these are two different messages.
Deming said “Management is prediction”, it relies on interpreting the past to make theories about how the future might be if you act a certain way.

Management is prediction.

The simplest plan – how may I go home tonight – requires prediction that my automobile will start and run, or that the bus will come, or the train. Knowledge is built on theory.

The theory of knowledge teaches us that a statement, if it conveys knowledge, predicts future outcome, with risk of being wrong, and that it fits without failure observations of the past.”

This means a manager relies on the data being presented and interpreted in a way that most accurately reflects reality. The map is NOT the territory, but a useful map MOST accurately reflects the territory.

In the Grand Battle Of The Charts, which of these is the MOST accurate map of the territory?


You can rarely directly see the territory behind the map, or the generator of the numbers…

History is opaque. You see what comes out, not the script that produces events, […] The generator of historical events is different from the events themselves [link]

But I can cos I cheated.

I made up these numbers myself, using my own random number generator.
I used excel to produce two sets of 30 numbers.

  1. 30 whole numbers between 4 and 8
  2. 30 whole numbers between 3 and 6.

Then I put them in a row, the first 30 then the second 30.

So who is the winner in this instance? Which map is closer to the territory?


The control chart!

It said look at point 37, and i did.
I split the data there, the data pointed at around there being a change in the data being produced, and therefore a change in the actual system producing it.

It was correct! (almost, the change was at point 31, control charts are a heuristic but they’re the best heuristic we’ve got)

If I used that control chart to make predictions about the system producing that data, my theory would be that there would be no further changes in the system. I would be correct in that theory.

If I used the trendline I would think there had been continuous decrease and there would be further decrease in the data, and I would be wrong.

This matters. It matters because if I am making potential improvements to that system, I would want to see the effects of my changes. If I was managing that system without making changes to it the I would still want to know if it changed in any fundamental way.

This is why I don’t like trendlines, they are not used by thinking that wants to understand the system producing the data, they are just talk about the numbers themselves. “Hey look, it’s going downwards” as opposed to any insight into the behaviour of the system itself.

As per previous incoherent rants, don’t analyse numbers, analyse the system producing the numbers instead.

An analysts job is not what they think it is.

An analysts job is not to analyse numbers, it is to solve problems by analysing numbers.

Choosing the right tool to do this follows by asking the right question, not “what’s happening with this data?” but “what is happening with this system?”


Posted in command and control, data, statistics, systems thinking | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Why you SHOULDN’T try to improve performance measures!

Imagine you come across a right mess of performance tat, all targets and comparisons against this time last year.
Like this!



You’d want to try and fix it wouldn’t you?

Turn them into measures of purpose, chuck the targets and the red and green coloured shapes cluttering up the place like toddlers toys.

Perhaps even put it in time series, perhaps even a control chart…

Stop! You’re doing the wrong thing. In fact, I say….



But I say it again.

You should not try to improve performance measures.

WHAT?! Has TP gone insane?

Last post I said…

Trying to improve performance measures is not wrong.  But it’s not right either.

The whole POINT of this blog is to improve how we understand work and what happens in it so we can improve it.


Here’s why…

Four of the most important little words (and 2 arrows) are in this diagram I’ve borrowed from elsewhere

This shows the cause and effect between work things.t1

Management thinking is how managers think about work and how people are at work, how managers and staff should act. Basically EVERYthing. Every work thing, anyway.

How they think causes them to act in a certain way (ie manage) and shapes how they design work, the way that you do things at work. This is the system that we are all in. You can spot it if you look for the things that help or hinder achieving customer purpose. Those are the visible bits of the system at work. System conditions lets call them cos that’s what they’re called.

Performance is the result of it all. How this affects achieving customer purpose. The length of time it takes, how well we do it, any failure demand, ALL THAT STUFF produced by the system.


This is why it is ALL ABOUT changing management thinking. If you change it, you change everything BELOW it.

So, go in at the TOP and change the actual root cause of both good and bad performance to make sustainable improvement cascade down. It’s just cause and effect.553286206f2df0684a15f75ec0282049

But think of changes that are attempted at the level below the level of management thinking. That middle one called system. This is where you go in and try and change the system conditions directly without changing the management thinking that caused it in the first place. It could be a spot of process improvement or Massive Transformation, a culture change attempt of badges and ribbons or a boring ol’restructure.

Something will result, but it probably won’t be big or lasting. Or even good. Whatever happens at the level of the system will happen without changing management thinking because it is acting WITHIN current management thinking. It slips down without touching the sides cos it’s acceptable.

All the system conditions currently in place, whether they help or hinder, whether wanted and put there by design or unwanted and evolved accidently, all of them exist because of management thinking.

They exist because of it.

Performance measures are system conditions.
They help and hinder achieving customer purpose because they direct managers attention which directs their actions. Like these…

These are rubbish obviously. But they didn’t come into existence because people can’t do maths. This isn’t just a simple set of errors that can be corrected with a technical exercise to explain rationally why these are wrong, and these over here are right.

These are system conditions.

They are caused by management thinking.

These specific pispoor measures exist because of command and control thinking.


If you improve performance measures you don’t change the thinking that created them in the first place.

Control charts won’t help managers know where they are in regional benchmarking, or if this quarters outturn has hit the departmental target.

Those questions will still be there, negating any information the control chart may contain.

So here’s your two step guide, the executive summary for executives too busy for cartoons…

  1. Don’t improve performance measures. It is not the problem you should be trying to solve.
  2. Do change the questions  and thinking. It is the problem you should be trying to solve.



Posted in command and control, measures, systems thinking | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

The sun is in Uranus

astrologerThis dude is an ASTROLOGER



This dude is an ASTRONOMER.

They LOOK very similar don’t they?

Both staring up at stars, they both use telescopes, they both keep accurate records of  where astronomical bodies are in the night-sky.

But one is a total bull-snit merchant and the other an esteemed scientist.

It can be hard to tell just by looking which one is the one that builds knowledge through observation and testing of theories, and which one writes a column in the Daily Mail advising gullible muppets that Friday would be a bad day to book a holiday due to the moon rising in your an Uranus.
But there IS a difference. The difference is IN THE THINKING.

Although both involve stars and telescopes, if you could peel off their skulls and look inside you would see very different models of what on earth they were doing.

 To the outside observer they’re both doing the same thing-peering through telescopes at stars. So if I come along and point at one of them and shout “SCAM ARTIST!” it’ll be very hard for anybody to understand why I’m only pointing at the astrologer and not the astonomer. That’d require me to go into laborious explanations of the stars, and how bull-snit mongering is not the same as observation, data collection and theory testing. I mean that does sound pretty boring.

This is the same as the difference between performance management and “using data to understand what is going on in your work“. The second one doesn’t even have a name. They’re both totally different, with totally different thinking behind them. 

But to the outside observer, they’re the same thing. Both using data and numbers, both possibly using the word “performance”, “measure”, “indicator” and the like. They’re the same thing! Except not.

Performance management is as legitimate as astrology is, a busted theory. Something quite frankly a bit silly, and entirely untrue. But also something that normal people occasionally pay attention to, for some reason.

And cos they both look a bit the same, it’s often thought that you could turn one into the other. That performance management could be turned into “using data to understand what is going on in your work”.

That would be great! Just turn the one thing into the other! Cos they’re basically the same! Numbers and that!

Except they’re not. Peel back the skulls expose the thinking. That’s where the true difference lies. In performance management the thinking is command and control thinking. In “using data to understand what is going on in your work” it isn’t.

Trying to improve performance measures in a command and control organisation is a popular effort. I’ve been trying to do it since my job interview for my place 12 years ago. This guy has built a VG blog all about it. I refer people to it all the time.

Trying to improve performance measures is not wrong.  But it’s not right either.

So why’s it wrong TP? That’s in the next exciting blog post! Snore….


Posted in all wrong, command and control, measures, setting a numerical target is like..., statistics, systems thinking | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Lean, ISO and 6 Sigma all walk into a bar. Hilarity ensues.

The three titans of ISO, Lean, AND 6th Sigma have come together in an unholy amalgam of codification!

At last!


I have a 6th sense that call-centres will love ISO 18404

Long time fans of onion-related blogs will no doubt remember my very first post, the epoch making “Things I no longer believe in and no longer do-ISO9001“.  All about the very-nineties international standard for how to run a business. Can you quite believe.

Well those ISO bods haven’t let the opportunity slip to hop on board and misapply  another management passing fad approach, and have mushed together a bunch o’rules stating what IS and what ISN’T “lean” or LEAN as we like to capitalise it. And they’ve bundled in 6ick Sigma as a bolt-on extra. This is the new ISO management standard for LEAN & Ziggy Zigma, ISO18404.

They call it [drum roll]…

Quantitative methods in process improvement — Six Sigma — Competencies for key personnel and their organizations in relation to Six Sigma and Lean implementation

And it is YOURS for only 138 Swiss Franc! THAT’S £110  IN BREXIT MONEY! (price correct at time I worked it out on my phone).

If you are so disposed you can click here to see the contents, but it’ll not give much away.

The purpose behind the existence of this document is like with any ISO document, how can we be CONFIDENT that something is what it says it is? How can we be confident that a product is safe? In the UK you can look to see if there is a “kitemark” on it, that shows it has passed the British Standards Institute so it wont blow up. Or if its dynamite that it will.

So this 30 odd page manual will specify what LEAN Sickth Zigma is and give people confidence that companies certified with it are all LEAN and Zigz Zigmaey.


Think of any example in your workplace where some auditor/inspector is coming to inspect something,  anything.

Do you…

  1. Become really really great ; or …
  2. Gather all the documents to the nth sub-clause that show that you are really really great

It’s 2 isn’t it? This is defined in the ThinkPurpose maxim, Documents-я-Us

Whenever a quality is judged by inspecting the documenting of that quality, then the documenting of that quality becomes the actual quality itself.

For example, my kid goes to a school that has been judged “Outstanding” by Ofsted, at the exact same time he goes to the actual real school judged by me as “run of the mill“. It is the exact same school, same building and same staff and same pupils. But I don’t have the advantage of judging my kids school using documents, so I am not looking at the actual same thing as Ofsted.

Same as with any management system defined by ISO, whether it is ISO9001, the old “quality management system” standard, or ISO18404, the new LEAN and 6thThickma standard. Defining something in a document and then sending people in to inspect for it does NOT put that quality into an organisation. It puts documents into that organisation.

Now, I’m no fan of LEAN, no matter how heavily capitalised, but if you can’t inspect quality into a product, then you also can’t inspect LEAN or Slick Sigma into an organisation.


Posted in all wrong, inspection, lean thinking, systems thinking | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Three Reasons Why National Customer Service Week Is Rubbish! Again!


Balloons! Oh Christ no…..that means it’s National Customer Service Week! Again!

As this mistake is repeated every year, I’ve decided to start repeating the exact same blog post I first did two years ago.

So, here again is Three Reasons Why National Customer Service Week Is Rubbish!

It’s National Customer Service Week! Celebrate!




Here at ThinkPurpose we love customers so we’d like to tell you about a fantastic event dedicated to improving service for the customer.

Set up by the Institute [fancy!] of Customer Service to….

raise awareness of customer service and the vital role it plays in successful business practice and the growth of the UK economy.

And who could argue with that ?

Here are 3 reasons why it’s rubbish

1: It’s a gimmick

wpid-img_20141006_192504.jpgWhat happens before it? In the week afterwards? Why not all the time?

Why a week at all? It’s a jamboree of gimmicks. There are characters like Captain Keyple, on the left…


I’ve seen fun as a replacement for doing good work, as it’s easier.

Easier to dig into the dressing up box and have Pirate Day.

Easier to get an unemployed drama student to wear Captain Keyple’s foam costume.

There are people wearing sashes


Did they wear the sash home on the bus?

Standing round a bit uncomfortably but there ARE balloons as well to jolly along the customer service excellence.

2: It’s not about customer service


Some arcane part of the convoluted USA healthcare system is joining in too.

HANG ON here is a chance to see it demonstrating excellent customer service in action….







Time for some excellent customer service methinks…


Exemplary listening and knowledgeable. And utterly irrelevant to the customers needs. What matters is her family keep their family doctors. The system should be designed to deliver what matters to the customer. The WHOLE organisations purpose should be customer service. But here Customer service is reduced to mean the thin layer of call centres that surrounds and protects organisations from their customer, mopping up and being polite.

What other purpose would the other parts of an organisation have if not customer service? Who ARE they serving? It is a perfect example of not taking a systems approach. If there is one part of the organisation whose job it is to “service” the customer, then presumably this is NOT the purpose of the other parts. In the example above of the healthcare provider, one part of the organisation is failing the customers by changing their family doctors, it doesn’t matter HOW good customer services are, they cannot help.

There is a dead giveaway on the Institute [fancy!] of Customer Service’s website






These two questions are the wrong way round.

Ask instead…

  • How do you measure the impact of your business performance on customer service?
  • To what extent do leaders in your organisation understand the impact of business performance on customer service?

The purpose of an organisation with customers is customer service, not “business performance”. That’s just a way of keeping score and continuing to have and serve customers.

3: It’s sloppy and muddled thinking



All the customer service consultants are crawling out the woodwork with their shiny smiles and sloppy thinking.

How about this from the guy with the teeth above…

Start making a plan for daily – yes, daily – reinforcement of your customer service standards.”
“Commit to empowering your employees. Employee empowerment, or autonomy, is important stuff.”
Important stuff! And here is from the lady pictured above rolling a bogey between her fingers…

Customer experience superstars celebrate what they contribute to the customer’s success. They take extra care and pride in doing it.
Be customer experience superstars. Shine through the customers’ achievements. Be instruments to their success. Get set and be ready for mission possible!”

This is typical of the bilge I’m seeing flow through twitter at the moment.

It is almost as if these people have no knowledge of the root cause of performance, the system, which is shaped by the thinking of people in charge. In fact, it IS it.

This is the reason why I retch, the unadulterated idiocy of organisations who’d rather wear a sash and wave a balloon than work on improving the system. Y’know, for the customers.



Posted in all wrong, customer, systems thinking | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

What’s the purpose of a-SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!


I went into PC World last week to help make them into a business.

I was going to do this by making myself into a customer of theirs. Until that happens, PC World is not a business, it is just a large warehouse with loads of cheap electrical stuff stored inside, like a rubbish museum.

Let me explain…

The purpose of a business is to create a customer

A little quoted character in this blog, Drucker, said this and explains further…

There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer. The customer is a foundation of a business and keeps it in existence. The customer alone gives employment. And it is to supply the customer that society entrusts wealth-producing resources to the business enterprise.


That is what PC World is for. To make me into a customer. I went to their shop,walked inside, found the thing i wanted to buy….and they didn’t make me into a customer.

They didn’t take my money off me, they didn’t give me the thing i wanted, they instead took my name and said that there was a bit of wait until they could serve me!
Yes, i was put on a list to become a customer!!

Turns out they don’t employ enough staff to sell people things and turn them into customers. I waited, like the idiot i am, for about 20 minutes for the privilege of becoming a customer of PC World. Turns out I’m not the only one, as i researched on Twitter in my interminable wait…

Buying HDMI cables and iPods and moving them to huge out of town warehouses does NOT make a business. Selling me things and me giving them money, that makes a business.

A large museum dedicated to the death of rubbish shops

When PC World forgot to make very sure indeed that they actually carried out that final link in the chain, selling stuff, they forgot to carry out their actual purpose-making customers.

This is the same as a lot of other organisations who forget to actually carry out their purpose, especially in the public sector. I was a customer in the private sector waving money at a company who didn’t want to take it. Imagine instead I was facing public sector indifference? I have no money to give, but instead a problem I need help solving, what do public sector organisations often do instead of helping me?

In Adult Social Care an enormous amount of time and money is spent on assessing and referring people, but surprisingly little on helping vulnerable people live the life they want to lead.

In Housing Benefits an enormous amount of time and money is spent on sending people letters asking them to send documents in, and surprisingly little time is spent on helping people claim the benefit they are entitled to.

In Planning departments an enormous amount of time and money is spent on sparring with planning applicants on their ability to fill in a form correctly, and surprisingly little time is spent on helping people make good decisions on developing their property.

It is ALMOST AS IF it is possible for an organisation to entirely forget their actual purpose, i.e. you.

Never mind, you could always measure customer satisfaction couldn’t you? Cos that would tell you if….err….never mind.

EITHER 95% of 303 PC World customers are idiots OR measuring customer satisfaction like this tells you bugger all


Posted in command and control, customer, systems thinking | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

How to have an organisational detox!


Ever wanted to empty your mind of organisational bumf?
Start again with a fresh clear mind, untainted by this year’s key strategic priority aims? This seasons value statements cluttering your head up too much to think straight?

Have an organisational detox!

The purpose of a detox is to remove harmful unwanted elements from your life, to leave only the things that you need and do you good.
People these days have digital detoxes and news detoxes, an organisational detox is very similar to them. Just as social media is full of gossip with no substance, and news is a constant onrush of events, organisational culture is mainly wind and air that pollutes the mind with nonsense. Nonsense can only harm, cos it’s knowledge you want, not wind-baggery and corporate posturing.

The essence of an organisational detox is to remove the toxins of the noise generated by the operation of a normal ordinary command and control organisations, and replace it with the simple clear signal of knowledge of what is actually happening.

There’s two steps you have to undertake…

1: Understand the difference between signal and noise

Signal-to-noise ratio is sometimes used informally to refer to the ratio of useful information to false or irrelevant data in a conversation or exchange. [link]

There is so much noise in organisations. Noise is any information that is false or irrelevant or otherwise not useful. Not useful to what? To achievement of purpose, ie customer purpose. Meeting what matters to customers should be what matters to organisations. It mainly doesn’t, although it will think it does, and it should.
So the toxins you want to get rid of is all that noise that gets in the way of the signal.
So what is signal? Signal is authentic knowledge, knowledge of what customers need, what matters to them, how the system is meeting that need and what matters, what is happening to help it, and what to hinder it, and ultimately why your workplace does what it does.

2: Distinguish between the signal and noise you encounter

See the pic below…


If you don’t do the conscious splitting up of signal and noise, deciding…

  • what is authentic and useful, and
  • what is inauthentic and not useful

…then you’re just bathing in pure noise unable to determine what to act on and what not to.

The signal to noise ratio in most organisations is quite high. ie simply boat loads of pure noise that should be ignored and a tiny amount of signal, if any. Finding the signal in that is impossible without a conscious deliberate decision of that is signal and that is noise.

Here are some suggested areas of noise you’ll want to avoid.

1: performance reports

There’s an awful load of nonsense in performance reports. This is because the wrong measures are measured the wrong way. This effectively shuts out any authentic knowledge of how your organisation is performing. So bin ’em. Go on. There’s nothing there for you.

2: anything about values or culture or transformation

Just stick your fingers in your ear and “la-la-la-cant hear you” etc Values and culture and that, if they’re good it’s because you’re doing the right thing, if they’re bad it’s because you’re doing the wrong thing. So concentrate on doing the right thing and ignore all talk of values. It’ll be HR doing the talking anyway, and you know what they’re like.

3: meetings

FOG- Fact , opinion or guess. Play that game anytime anybody says anything in a meeting.

  • A fact is something independently verifiable.
  • An opinion is a statement about the fact.
  • A guess is a prediction of a fact.

In most meetings there are no facts, only opinions and guesses all masquerading as facts. Avoid meetings.

4: talking about work

A different sort of thing than a meeting, its an informal meeting. Might happen at the watercooler, if you’re American, or the tea-room, if you’re normal. If it is gossip about who dislikes who etc, then pay rapt attention. This is good stuff. If it is gossip about which bit of your organisation is being reorganised into which other bit and what unlikely name it is likely to adopt next, then avoid, it’s rubbish.

5: your work

Most jobs do nothing to help the customer. Remember Sturgeon’s Law?

You’re probably plate spinning at best. Do your work, that’ll keep paying your mortgage, but try not to pay it any attention.

Avoiding all this might leave you with little to actually pay attention to at work.


It is essential to avoid the noise if you don’t want to drown in ignorance.
There IS signal to be discovered, but you’ve got to go work for it, it isn’t just laying around waiting for you unlike the noise. The good stuff has to be excavated.

Here’s where to go to find it!

  • Walk to the work. Authentic knowledge is nowhere else.
  • Understand demand. That’s where you’ll find your purpose, walking in the door.
  • Understand what matters to the customer. Now you know what matters to the organisation. Simple eh? No need for values.
  • Understand how capable your organisation is at meeting “what matters” . Find out your true performance, minus the red triangles and gold stars, it’s a real eye-opener.
  • Find out why work is the way it is. Track how customers are dealt with, beginning to end, from first contact to last. Look for all the things that help and hinder meeting customer purpose.

BAAM! There you go. Authentic knowledge, all signal, no noise.

And I bet you feel a whole lot better for it.





Posted in all wrong, command and control, plausible but untrue, systems thinking, vanguard method | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Your job is not what you think it is

“The role of code developers is not to develop code, but to overcome problems through the use of code.”

This sentence is lifted straight from here. It says that…

The role of X is not to Y, but to overcome problems through the use of Y.



-How is your job measured?

-What are you targeted on?

-What do your managers pay attention to?

-What does the design and management of your workplace make it most easy to do?

This is your actual job. 

The role of X is not to overcome problems through the use of Y, but to do the easiest things according to the design of the work that you are expected to do, when you do Y.

Not as snappy, but more truthful in a normal ordinary command and control organisation.


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

This mug cost £224,000,000

Well the mug itself didn’t but this is the only visible sign left in this building of a SIMPLY HUGE national computer system built at the cheap cheap rate of a quarter of a billion pounds.

It was a database of every single child in the UK, and contained details of which services (Doctors, police, social services etc) had been working with a child. After the high profile Victoria Climbie murder in 2000, it was found that doctors, police and social workers all had been working on her case, but the actual poor child herself fell through the gaps between the services. It prompted a huge review into how public services worked with children, and as part of the Every Child Matters policy framework, came this database.

It caused a massive stink at the time over individual rights to privacy as EVERY child would be on the database, the papers were full of talk about it. Frankly if you didn’t have an opinion on ContactPoint you were nobody.
In 2010 the new coalition government scrapped it.

There was a huge bureaucratic hullabaloo that accompanied this computer system in the public sector and now nobody can remember it, it’s almost as if it never happened.
But 7 years ago this would have been all that some people talked about, filled their days with. Went on courses about, wrote status updates about, created bespoke posts for people to be employed solely because of this database.

And now the only sign it existed in this building, a Local Authority that would have been one of the main users of it, is this dusty mug I found sitting at the back of the cupboard.

I checked the website address on the mug. Dead.

The hullabaloo back then is no predictor of how real or lasting a corporate or governmental effort is likely to be. In fact, I say the greater the hullabaloo, the less likely it is to last.

Hullabaloo is a sign that someone really wants you to know that something is important and big and you’d better pay attention. Whereas in reality, it isn’t important, it doesn’t matter and everybody can tell. There’s nothing much the people giving away the corporate tat can do to change this, and there’s nothing at all the people who get the tat can do either.

So I made myself a nice cup of tea and drank it out of my quarter of a billion pounds mug.

Posted in all wrong, public sector, systems thinking | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Wanted: idle, indifferent and irresponsible staff for absurd work.


Posted in very short posts | 12 Comments

You are no Daniel Kahneman, sir, and I would have you unhand me before I call the gendarmie


This is Daniel Kahneman
He won a Nobel prize, he has written loads of books, all about how you think and how you make decisions.

He has simply loads to offer to help people make better decisions.

You’d think that people whose very job it is to make good decisions would really want him to help them get better?
People like senior leaders in organisations, them surely?

No. They do not.

Here is Daniel…

“The reaction is always the same—they are very interested, but unless they invited you specifically because they wanted to do something, they don’t want to apply anything.”[link]

When asked “Why do you think leaders are hesitant to act on your ideas?”…

That’s easy.
Leaders know that any procedure they put in place is going to cause their judgement to be questioned.
And whether they’re fully aware of it or not, they’re really not in the market to have their decisions and choices questioned.”

So, if THIS man, clutching his Nobel Prize For Cleverness can’t get leaders interested, why would a leader listen to some oik like you*?




















That’s it. No more to this post. No clever 7 point plan outlining cunning strategies. The point was in that last question.

*Or me too obviously. I’m a total oik

Posted in all wrong, psychology, systems thinking, thinking | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments