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.

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

2 Responses to The 2,500 year old lesson everybody ignores cos it’s too hard

  1. TLF says:

    The same with conferences whether one or more days long.

    Once people get back to their desks the culture force fields drop right down and nothing has changed.

    There are one day events (or one second, minute hour etc) that can drastically change everything.

    They’re called Black Swans and like the Elephant in the Room no one wants to deal with that let alone discuss.


  2. Mark says:

    Too true, about events and about what Aristotle said (what a clever chap)!


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