5 harsh truths you’ll wish you’d learnt earlier


Entirely understandable but…epic fail.
No need to give up your own thoughts and copy everyone else’s!

Inspired by this, and copying this virtually to the letter, here are 5 harsh truths you need to learn so you can live with your complete failure to change where you work”.

TRUTH 1: “It’s not me, it’s you

Nobody gives a crap. Your systemsy wishes are not important, and your systemsy thoughts aren’t either.

They might be of paramount importance to you but are only mildly diverting to anyone else. Learn what matters to them, and then you’ve got their interest. If they have budget problems, learn about and concentrate on them. If they have customer satisfaction problems, then that’s what matters to them. They don’t go through life wishing they were systemsy, so you shouldn’t go through your life thinking that they should. Help this person.

It’s not about you. At all. Ever. Not even to the extent that you are using them craftily to further your own systemsy master-plan. That won’t work either, instead if you just “help this person” then…what else is there? All round win!


Yes, hashtag. I said that. You heard

No need to lever in anything else, it’s all there topped and tailed. Wandering around with your complete solution looking for a problem, well you KNOW that’s silly when other people do it. Guess what? You’re other people too.

 TRUTH 2: You don’t have purpose…

…but at least you’ve got practice.
I decided a while ago that I’d be an amateur anthropologist.

I would watch and learn how the natives behave. A bit like Star Trek’s Prime Directive, you can observe and learn but NEVER interfere in their development. Which is handy as despite all my best efforts I couldn’t anyway.

So armed with my new role as studier of the status quo, I wrote this blog. Virtually  NOTHING in it is about Doing The Right Thing, most is my assiduously collected notes about Doing The Wrong Thing. So I got something from The Wrong Thing…practice!

I’ve practised “doing presentations” so I think I’m quite good now. Good enough so that when I hear “You’ve got to do a presentation on XYZ” I don’t immediately think that means “do a powerpoint”. Presentation NEVER means powerpoint. I learnt that! If I had purpose, would I have learnt that? Possibly not. Now I know it can mean taking people into a lift for 17 seconds, re-enacting the tappers and listeners experiment, or putting a sack of live cats on the board room table as a demonstration of something or another [yet to do]. Without that harsh truth that I don’t have purpose, I would never had had the time to practice.

Truth 3: Laughter is the worst medicine


But, oh, the tears on the inside

No, not the best. How cruel.

A while ago I worked on a Performance Management team. God, the noise of cackling, howls of laughter, the sound of the performance party in full swing could be heard at the other end of the office. Why all the merriment? Because it was easier to laugh at the stupidity of it than do anything. Much easier, in fact, it requires NOTHING from you, and makes you feel good at the same time.

It’s not just laughter either, but those trusty bed fellows, sarcasm and irony.

I was at a meeting where someone was giving a summary of some work they had done. During certain parts there was an eyebrow raise, a deepening of the voice, and adopting a sing-song rhythm, to indicate “DO NOT BELIEVE THIS BIT, IT IS STUPID”

I wanted during these bits to ask, “Did it not work? Why are you insinuating it didn’t, but saying nothing? DO WE NOT WANT TO LEARN ANYTHING!”

We mustn’t, if a judge did this in a summing up, it wouldn’t be accepted. Speak the truth, be diplomatic when needed, but don’t smirk like a school-girl to distance yourself. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

I have noticed that when I ask questions, people laugh.

mock surprise


I think when you’re used to hearing jokes, then everything out the ordinary becomes a punchline.

“If this years draft Council plan is different, what is in THIS years plan that hasn’t been in every other one for the past few years, and what WAS in those plans that isn’t in this one?


Not that funny is it? Just a question I asked in a meeting full of people, normal usual people nobody scary. But the response was as if it was an acerbic and witty bon mot had been dropped into the conversation. It was a genuine question, trying to open up a line of enquiry, but the automated smirk response castrates it at source.

So, what to do? I think this might be a feature of where I work, in the adminisphere. There is nothing of any consequence here, nothing that laughing at wouldn’t turn aside. I am guessing it is different where things matter. Abused children, sick old ladies, people who need their rent money. But in the land of the Eloi, we can laugh and it don’t matter none.

Truth 4: There’s only one of you.

CaptureAnd there’s so many more of them. Every time you asked a cleverly timed question such as ,”but how do we KNOW that, shouldn’t we go and look? Check it out?”, and received a thoughtful consideration, that very same person when they left the room read an email from someone containing some evaluation without any supporting data, they walked past a sign on a wall proclaiming “Data quality is YOUR responsibility” and heard someone say “we’re third quartile so we should benchmark against the best. Find out what Tameside are doing

There’s simply more of it out there than you. Whatever tiny gap you may open up in someone will be immediately filled in with the usual crud that surrounds everyone all the time. There’s an awful lot going on in organisations, a lot of noise. It drowns out whispers.

The chances of your questions opening up a sliver in the dam that will become a flood, its minuscule. Approaching zero. You need to know this, because NOT knowing it is not going to help.

Which brings us on to possibly the harshest of the truths…

Truth 5: You are not in charge

orgstructThe chances that some low-life like YOU will make a difference is infinitesimally small.

The place isn’t set up like that. Look at the typical organisational structure I’ve drawn for you here.

That’s you, there.

See how much you AREN’T in charge?

It’s built into the structure. If you want to get somewhere, you really shouldn’t start from here, but here you are.

I said at the top that this post is called “5 harsh truths you need to learn so you can live with your complete failure to change where you work”. If you were at the very apex of the triangle, you’d still find it hard/impossible to change where you work, they don’t just come in click fingers and hey presto. You know that doesn’t work, that’s why your reading this blog.  But you’re in a better position than those at the top, you don’t HAVE to change where you work. You could just do your own silly job, and you are not expected to turn around the thinking of thousands of people.

In summary, this means that  (i) you don’t have to change everything and (ii) you couldn’t even if you wanted to. What a relief! Pressure’s off.




This entry was posted in command and control, learning, public sector, systems thinking and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to 5 harsh truths you’ll wish you’d learnt earlier

  1. Except when “it’s your job”.


  2. ThinkPurpose says:

    Why, that would be a silly job.
    Outsourcing “change the organisation” to someone without also outsourcing to them the power to do so, sounds like a flawed plan


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