What fresh hell is THIS?


No fresh hell sweetie.
Just the latest incarnation of a stale and very familiar hell.

Do you recognise this…

  • yawning at yet another exactly-the-same organisational transformation?
  • wiping sleep out of your eyes at yet another whizz-bang IT venture that’ll save lots of money by costing lots more money?
  • teeth-grinding during another department play-away-day involving pieces of string, assigning people to a category and hugging?

More importantly, ever looked around at everybody else around you NOT noticing that things just keep on repeating themeselves?
That they are gawping open mouthed at how THIS time it will all work, because THIS time XYZ and ABC and yadda yadda and blah-de-blah?

Yes, course you have, youre reading this blog aren’t you?
One of the treats of going systemsy is the new found ability to see world in patterns of repeating activities rather than a constant stream of brand new and uniquely conceived events.

Seeing the world in systems means looking at the larger long-living patterns not the smaller temporary details. It means seeing climate change over decades, not looking outside your window at the snow and seeing today’s weather.
It is the larger long-living patterns that produce and define the details of the here-and-now, but they aren’t as visible as the detail. You have to step back and look and ask different questions, and you’ll see them.


“Jesus, this place is HUGE!”

In organisations that have little to no memory it isn’t possible to see the patterns so they live in a perpetual NOW. Like a goldfish being astonished at just how far they can swim without the scenery changing.

If a big new change effort is planned through a project board, with themes and strands and ooh simply everything that would excite a programme manager, then….its the same as every other culture change effort that came before it. Purely because it’s being done in the same way.

If there is a new performance management system, with more robust reporting and a shinier IT system to report it on with dashboards and ooh simply everything, then…it’s exactly the same as every other performance management system because it IS a performance management system.

The shiny new things are the latest current incarnations of the tawdry old thing they’ve been doing for years. There’s a dead simple list of managament approaches, here. Spot the things on the left hand side that your organisation does.



Look at the design of work.
If your place approaches this through regular restructuring, then it is doing the same thing over and over again. It is tinkering with the detail of the hierarchy. Doesnt matter how many iterations there are of this, it is still merely tinkering with who sits where. Don’t be fooled with who ACTUALLY sits where this particualr year. It’s still just the seating plan, nothing else.

Look at Decision Making.
If it is separated from work, then it doesn’t matter if it is with a project board, a programme board or a theme board. It doesn’t matter who sits on these boards either. The very fact that there IS a grouping of people, no matter what they are called, who are making decisions about the work whilst in a room separate from it, that is the defining characteristic. And if that doesn’t change then nothing has.

So, what’s this to you, dear reader?

1: It ‘s very tiring, due to Altschmerz


n. weariness with the same old issues—the same boring flaws and anxieties you’ve been gnawing on for years, which leaves them soggy and tasteless and inert, with nothing interesting left to think about, nothing left to do but spit them out and wander off to the backyard, ready to dig up some fresher pain you might have buried long ago.

It really is very tiring. You might want to consider just not bothering.

2: People prefer talking about fresh hell to stale hell, it’s more exciting

“Removing context makes it much easier to engage people with emotions such as surprise, or outrage.
Our news media instinctively removes context, because “look at this inexplicable s**** that just happened” sells more papers than the more depressing “look at this inevitable s**** that will no doubt keep happening”.” [Frankie Boyle]

It really isn’t interesting to most other people.

3: It doesn’t end until the organisation changes fundamentally, or you leave


It really isn’t likely to change before you leave.  That’s something you might want to consider.

In order to end this wearying post on a high note, here is a picture of a happy little girl and her cat.


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

8 Responses to What fresh hell is THIS?

  1. Tobias says:

    Altschmerz. What a great word! Once again, a post to enjoy…and think about. Thank you.


  2. Kojak99 says:

    Too true, I find myself in this never ending mind melting state every single day at present. I’ve made the painful journey into the real world (the one which all of us see as the only way forward) but unfortunately colleagues, and more importantly the leaders have not. This perpetual state of having to switch from one world to the other is sending me slowly insane!!!

    I’m currently running three ‘pilot’ interventions, the clue is in the word ‘pilot’. As you can imagine this means that they are not treated with the same importance as if they were fully fledged and signed up to interventions. But on the positive side, its a start and we have infiltrated the non-systemsy world and have started to plant our seeds. This is both a blessing and a potential hindrance, an example of this; we illustrated to some of the leaders the benefits of the method and the early findings relating to check, and then low and behold a new target is set to remove all failure demand, a prime example of the reactive nature of the command and control nature that is so embedded into the management thinking. Ideas created, objectives set and change & improvement projects undertaken on little more than opinion. How dare I suggest using that ultimate curse word – evidence!! Heaven forbid that we actually have the evidence to back up our claims/opinions that this idea would be a good idea.

    anyway, I think I’ve made my point. On a positive note I just wanted to say that I love your work Onion Man. It’s heart warming to know that someone has gone/is going through the same mind bending journey. Although I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on some techniques that you’ve used to facilitate that ‘normative learning’ experience for those senior managers who as yet, have found it difficult to leave the shackles of their command control way of life. Ideas are most welcome.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      I’d refer to The Idiots Clause on my About page…

      “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.”

      Honestly, with THREE pilot interventions on the go, you’ve triple the knowledge I’ve got.
      I mainly sit here, griping. Anything unusually useful on the blog is somebody else’s words that I’ve polished up to a fine sheen, with added slow-loading gifs.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      Sorry, that previous comment may not have made sense, I was answering your query viz normative learning. Ie I dunno.


  3. chariscroft says:

    I needed to read this today, so well done! I saw the light of systems some time back, as my previous organisation slowly inched towards a new way of doing things. Then I moved jobs. This new one is so reactive, traditional, hierarchical etc that it’s untrue, and I’ve spent the past year getting increasingly frustrated.

    And now I’m losing my job here. Which is, y’know, not great. But, as you say, it won’t change, and I’ll just get more and more frustrated. I’m not expecting to move into somewhere run as a systems thinking heaven, but if I can find something a touch more open at least, that’ll be something. Only way to find something is to look, I guess.

    Yes, I’m an optimist. Keeps me going!


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      oh no! sad news viz job. #virtualhug
      Im’ not an optimist, so i’ve pretty much given up on encountering anything approaching a systemsy environment, I’ve acknowledged that and moved on. Jobs are for the mortgage cos theyve been set up so badly they barely give what the customer needs, never mind what employees need. And it’s somewhere to keep warm during the day. The people are pleasant in this part of the organisation. If I find something to do like a tricky excel set-up, then I’m happy. I approach it like Work Sudoku. A pleasant but meaningless way to pass the time.
      Good luck withe job hunt!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. ThinkPurpose says:

    Just read this after two years, and you know what? Totally forgot the lessons in it. I’m a moron now.


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