My Red Beads Experiment (part1)

Remember this?


These are the jars that a man is using to count out the rest of his days using beads.

I thought I’d like to do something with coloured beads and jars to measure the value of what I do as a support service and communicate it with a physical symbol. Perhaps start some thinking or at least it’s a lark. Here is what I said

I don’t directly help customers, so my work must be a support service, helping the core services to do their job.

At the end of every day if I have done work that helps someone else in the organisation to help a customer then I would put a blue ball into the blue ball jar.

If I can’t find an actual person that I’ve helped with their customer, then I’d put a red ball into the red ball jar.

This will serve as a physical sign of the value of my work to customers.

I bought two jars, and two sets of marbles. I couldn’t get red marbles for “waste”, for some reason red marbles are not made or sold in bulk, so I bought some white ones instead. I do have blue marbles for “value” though.

This is what happened.

Day 1

I have my jars , I have my marbles, I am all set.


Question is what method do I use to decide when and how often a marble goes into a jar.

The idea was to do it for each big task I do rather than as some sort of summary of the day. Problem is the work is too splurgy, it doesn’t have neat boundaries, so instead I’m giving work the benefit of the doubt. If at any time during the course of a day I do work that helps somebody help a customer somehow, then that’s a blue, regardless of whatever else I’ve done that day.

Today I planned a meeting that nobody would want to go to and in fact turned out was never going to happen anyway. No customers are helped.
This is going to be easy.

I described my jars to a colleague who replied that this was “marking me out” as the next one to get the heave ho at the next restructure. I disagree, I don’t think this is the case but also I DON’T CARE. I refuse to think like that, it’s not worth keeping a job through pretence and lies.
This is not how good services are delivered.

One day as a tiger.


I know the jars aren’t important in themselves. It is the questions they raise and the thinking that ensues. I’m pretty sure that most of what I do is bilge, so it is about getting the right sort of questions that help me understand why. I sort of know why, but it’s an experiment.

White 1, blue 0

Day 2

Service planning guidance.
1 white marble right there.

White 2, blue 0

Days 3 to 5

More whites. Typing up a process for a scorecard to travel along, that nobody will follow.
In the course of these days at least two other people are surprised at the jars and repeat the “marking me out” comment. It is when I describe what I mean by “value” and work being pulled by staff to help customers that they nod a bit. Not necessarily in understanding or agreement, but a nod is a nod.

The thing I find most interesting is that it is entirely seen by people as about me, my worth and ability. This is really important to know. Being steeped for so long in the idea that systems and management thinking direct what and how we do work, it is a bracing wake up slap to see how alien this thinking is. Not just alien, but utterly unknown and brand new. At the end of the week I have 5 white marbles.
CaptureI wave these at a colleague and she says the now familiar “ooh, I wouldnt wave those around“. I reply, “these are not mine. They represent the work I do in the system I am in, and that is owned by the people in those glass boxes. These are their white marbles.“, nodding in the direction of the senior managers offices. This is a curious similarity between systems thinking and traditional command and control. Just as traditional thinking has it that work comes from the top and cascades down, from strategic excellence to operational drudgery, so systems thinking shows that the system is shaped by top management thinking. This is not controversial. It is saying how important the bit between the ears is of very highly paid people. It just doesn’t assume that what comes out of it is right. That’s up for testing.

White 5, blue 0

Days 6 to 10

 There may be a possibility of a scintilla of a chance that I might have to be helping a service, unknown as yet, with going systemsy. We’re getting some people in to do training. It is a day, just a day, but if afterwards anyone is curious enough to want to find out more then I’ve got to have some sort of plan ready to help them.

Sadly the plan isn’t “go the races and put a couple of thousand on an accumulator then spend the winnings on hiring in people who have a clue“. That won’t happen. SO theres just me. I am intimately familiar with my Idiot Clause. I think I should include it in the Plan. Here is it…

The Idiot Clause

I am not an expert in anything, least of all systems thinking. Any mistakes,  misquotes, errors of understanding or of detail are all my fault.  At times the words will make it look like I am pronouncing or stating the case, but I am not really pronouncing or teaching, I am an amateur trying things out, one with little experience and too much book learning.

What I am is keen, learning and keen on learning.

HIRE THAT MAN! Or rather, “we don’t have anyone else, he’ll have to do

What to do with the jars and my marbles though? If I am at work thinking concretely about how to help people help customers, and typing these things on work time, am I actually doing something worthwhile? Even though nobody as yet is asking for it and no customer is actually being helped by it?

It’s a bit of a gamble, a punt, but you lose 100% of the bets you don’t place therefore it’s worthwhile, even though the results aren’t in yet and no customer has been touched. I’m not going to put a blue marble in the jar though until I’ve at least stared into the eyes of someone who works with customers. When that happens, and I’m helping that person, then there’s my first precious blue marble.

-“Good news! I haven’t ran out of blue marbles!
-how to avoid typing essays about systems thinking at work
-“who’s the weirdo with the marbles on his desk?”
“…I said we should have put that accumulator on, I knew a good horse as well. “

This entry was posted in customer, experiment, me doing it, purpose, systems thinking and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to My Red Beads Experiment (part1)

  1. Pingback: How to dissolve purpose | thinkpurpose

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