How to get skin in your game

ragecomicRegular readers will be shrugging at the easiness of this quiz, but the rest of you…

Is it Eric the scavenger?

He is black, poor and the only one with a roof above his head that is made of corrugated iron.

No, it’s not Eric.

Is it Peter the comedian?

He is tubby, rich, and the only one in the Guinness Book of World Records.

No, it’s not Peter.

*Sigh* Is it The Bureaucrat?


A bureaucracy is

“designed to maximize the distance between a decision-maker and the risks of the decision.”

So anybody inside a bureaucracy has distance between what they tell others to do, and what happens as a result. The distance is a buffer that stops feedback on the accuracy and effectiveness of the Bureaucrats thinking.

They can’t learn.  If they are wrong, they stay wrong. And stay wrong they do. I should know, reader, I am one!

What about Eric and Peter?

They have skin in the game, and this has made them and the bureaucrat doesn’t and this has made her.
(We’ve already covered this, exactly a year ago, but it is that important I am turning it into an annual event. And I’m running out of ideas.)

Eric knows that if he gets it wrong, he doesn’t eat. So he is up at first break of light, combing through other people’s rubbish so he can eat. And so he can buy recording time and borrow nice suits as he is also a budding pop star.

Peter knows that if he gets it wrong, he might get lynched. He went back to stand up comedy after a 7 year gap. His first booking almost a month of nights at the Manchester Arena followed by the biggest and fastest selling comedy tour of all time.
All with 7 years of no practice
So he practised for it, by doing 30 small nights in tiny rooms in front of 50-100 people, trying out all his material. Every night he recorded the act, playing it back afterwards and meticulously going through every single word, and how he said every word, so he could fine tune the act and make sure his skin was returned to him at the end of every night.

This is the only way you get better, by doing something new and exposing yourself to risk of failure, and consequent effects of failure. This is why bureaucrats are stunningly poor at what they do, as they don’t do this. So, BUREAUCRATS OF THE WORLD LISTEN UP.

Here is how to get your skin in the game and get better at what you do

  1. Try new things, in the expectation that some will fail;
  2. Make failure survivable, because it will be common;
  3. Learn from failure; make sure that you know you’ve failed by having skin in the game. Be more than near to it, be right inside it.

These are the Palchinsky Principles, what a Russian engineer called Palchinsky left behind when he was murdered by Stalin for following them. He had skin in the game, but sadly didn’t follow his own principle number 2. Note, they come as a group. You can’t learn from failure unless you have failed. You can’t let someone else fail and pick it up from over their mouldering corpse.

Despite never having heard of them Peter followed them and got his successful tour, Eric did too and here he is now…


And where should the Bureaucrats be? In the game with their skin, and if not then nobody should pay them the slightest bit of attention.

NB None of this is worth anything if leaders don’t do the same, but thats a different story right there.

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

1 Response to How to get skin in your game

  1. Pingback: Are you a policy fashion victim? | thinkpurpose

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