Month: July 2013

A scrawl on the insight wall

Success includes the art of being original in style, thought and deed. People (friends, employers, customers) value freshness.

Friends are the mirror lens to help you see things afresh.

Friends are like a roaring fire – they warm your bones, radiate light, crackle with life and make short work of dull objects.

A brand that isn’t about innovation is one brand too many in the World.

Don’t confuse an audience with a following. Audiences are food for vanity. A following is a sign of magic at work!

Too many people think personal happiness first will make the World a better place. Instead, make the World a better place to create personal happiness.

Struggling to succeed is simply walking the journey.

Message in a virtual bottle

What is a blog anyway but a message in a virtual bottle.

Some messages say:

Rescue me.

Embrace me/understand my work (the pictures I take).

Carry my message on to others (the bottle-shaped baton).

Hold my message for the future (bury it in the sand for later).

Set my message free (read it, return it to the bottle, then throw the bottle far out into the bobbing ocean.

Pollute the World (add this bottle to the other junk polluting the planet).

I hope all blogs on WordPress are any/all of the above, except the final one .

Perfection, Excellence and being a Champion

Can you be a perfectionist all your life, but never achieve perfection itself? Is it the case that everyone except the perfectionists realise this?

And if the perfectionists realised and accepted this, they would stop trying? It might mean a World with less obsessive people, but also a World with less good things getting done.

Is perfection subtractive – something you can achieve by removing all the bad things in your life, like a surgeon removing a cancerous tumour from someone’s body. While excellence is about adding good things?

You also hear the expression ‘a perfect storm’, implying all the ingredients coming together in unison to create mayhem. So I guess, perfect isn’t always linked to desirable.

What’s the difference between perfect, excellent and being a champion? Perfection and Excellence both seem to involve improvement. But is it better to have perfect intentions, excellent thoughts, or to act like a champion?

Maybe man-made means achieving excellence and being a champion (at best), but perfection, that’s way beyond us.

What do you think?

Welfare and fish

In its various forms, the welfare budget that countries make available to help those of its citizens in need is often viewed as a safety net. Some people complain the holes in the welfare net are too big, while others say they’re too small.

An alternative analogy of welfare might be as an ocean, creating a basic environment for all fish (the citizens) to swim in it.

How so? The ocean provides basic nutrients, dissolved oxygen and environmental support to the fish. The fish can move forward, or sink to the bottom. Even if the fish do sink, the ocean current does its best to slow their descent.

The fish control their personal direction and make progress as best they can, partly thanks to the ocean current, their fellow fish and their own efforts. The fish can choose to swim towards opportunity (more food, or prospective mates) and swim away from danger.

The fish can also choose to swim alone or in a group. But either way, the ocean will provide basic and enduring support, but not be the solution to all problems.

Over time, both the ocean current and the fish encounter obstacles. The ocean will either wear the obstacles down (icebergs and rocks), break them down (pollution, eventually) or flow around them. The fish can also avoid those obstacles, or choose to turn them into opportunities (shelter and local community).

Threats like over-population of the fish stocks, rising pollution, sickness epidemic in the fish communities, or choice of lifestyle by the fish, the ocean can’t compensate for. Fish seem to accept this. Why can’t humans? Maybe we’re not as smart as we think.

Skills in your head

Originally, people were by necessity a ‘Jack or Jill’ of all trades. If something needed improving or changing, there wasn’t an 0800 number to call, or an online help manual. You just tried to fix it yourself, endured the inconvenience, or perhaps bartered some help from someone else.

Then came; trades, crafts, guilds and professions, markets, apprenticeships, vocational (on-the-job and pre-job) training, secondary education, further education, higher education, standards of proficiency, continuing professional development and the internet.

When it came to workplace innovation, employers discovered the benefits of; teamwork, specialisation, committees and project teams. Meanwhile, the employees became; empowered, customer focussed, globally inter-connected, career self-managed, social network-engaged and change-management orientated.

Artificial Intelligence in the workplace is still in its relative infancy, so we don’t yet know how it can best integrate with human endeavour to generate future innovation. In the meantime, when it comes to innovation, what’s the best human group size? Too small and both the pace and multi-dimensional thinking required will be limited. Too large and there are all the negative features of committees with; hidden agendas, political lobbying, irreconcilable differences (values or sets of information), meeting distractions and lack of responsibility taken. Perhaps an optimal size is up to boardroom size. In the same way that boards limit the number of decision-makers to a relative few, each bringing a diverse set of experience and ability to the table, teams could emulate this model too.

A handful of multi-dimensional thinkers would bring; theoretical, visual, social and analytical perspectives, coupled with some creative techniques such as the ‘Six Thinking Hats’ (de Bono) to improve on the current approach of having a bunch of narrow specialists assemble to deliver a project before handing over the result to the ‘change manager’ of the operations team to then manage.

At present, seasoned architects, engineers and product designer entrepreneurs perhaps offer a tangible illustration of a diverse set of ‘skills in your head’ to tackle complex problems in innovative ways. Why single them out as the best model for the future? They typically have a balance of creative and analytical perspectives that can operate internally to generate translatable (practical) innovation. Perhaps it’s less about their particular profession and more about their internal qualities that is the point to note. Of course put a group of them in a room and there will still be emotion, attitude, political behavior and dissent. It’s just that already self-selecting for multi-dimensional thinking, it might help them agree on a great collective solution that much faster that the current approach.

On a related note, are all jobs slowly becoming change-management jobs?

Regulation – too much or too little?

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Is there an optimal level of regulation that can provide a safety net, but not a glass ceiling?

It sounds like a question affecting a very narrow group of people, but is it? Firstly, in society, if the laws of the land are the cake, then regulation is the icing i.e. an add-on. Something to enhance the result, but not undermine or take anything away from the core product.

Where no regulation of a group exists, the group might itself decide that regulation is a benefit to them. For example a healthcare group wanting to exclude the ‘cowboys’ and keep their profession’s brand intact. Or perhaps wanting to standardise the training requirements and routes within the profession to proficiency.

So would more regulation be the solution? Some people who argue that legalising then regulating the supply of drugs would prevent some of the problems of drug abuse think so.

People who advocate central control of budgets also think a degree of control (by them) is necessary to minimise behavioural gaming and to get a viable (realistic) budgetary outcome.

People who are professional product designers of systems that control traffic flow, heart rate or data, electricity and water flow down  the ‘pipes’ also advocate regulation as the solution to erratic or peak demand, with the problems that those things bring.

But what about the drawbacks to more regulation?

Firstly there’s the question that if more regulation is introduced, will the overall costs be outweighed by the overall benefits? Often the people getting the additional benefits from the regulation aren’t necessarily the people incurring the costs, but are the loudest advocates for change.

Then there’s the power imbalance problem. If the power of the regulator is less than the power of the lobby groups arguing against regulation, then additional regulation will exist in name only and give people a false sense of relief. The global credit crunch and the weakness of the financial regulators leading up to the crisis is a case in point. If illegal drugs were made legal but regulated, what power would the current drug cartel members wield in practice, knowing the profits at stake if they don’t intervene?

Then there’s the definition problem. What should be regulated – the supply of something (affecting its price), the product quality, or the range available? In the case of alcohol, a legal drug, it is currently regulated regarding the age of who can buy alcohol and on quality (it must be fit for human consumption with accurate labelling as to the alcoholic content, amongst other labelling requirements). Even so, the newspaper headlines from time to time still highlight children aged ten or younger securing supplies of alcohol for binge consumption. Furthermore the alcohol and tobacco lobby form a formidable lobby group to lobby politicians on changing the laws away from ways that disadvantage them.

Finally, there’s the political tension problem. For argument sake, assume the UK alone took a radical position and legalised but regulated the production and consumption of certain drugs that are currently illegal to produce or possess. It would no doubt encourage a new export industry and earn taxes for the government. However, unless and until the UK’s major trading partners adopted a similar position, it would likely create significant political tension with those countries, due to the increase in illegal smuggling of such products from the UK platform.

Beware the fixes that backfire.

Blind spots and the way we think

If memory serves me correctly, Bill Gates once said that humans are prone to overestimating how quickly something will happen (timing proximity), but underestimating the impact when it does happen.

Meanwhile, Thomas Schelling, a Nobel-prize winning economist, said ‘there is a tendency in our planning, to confuse the unfamiliar with the improbable. The contingency we have not considered seriously looks strange; what looks strange is thought improbable; what is improbable need not be considered seriously.’ In short, we are prone to confusing familiarity with probability.

Combining these two observations, it’s possible to create a simple matrix with familiarity and probability as the columns and timing proximity and impact as the rows. The combination of probability and impact is of course the well understood concept of risk.

In the matrix, the diagonally opposite quadrant to probability/impact is interesting – comparing familiarity with timing proximity. Arguably, this concerns flexibility – familiarity & timing proximity fostering preference, preference fostering choice and choice fostering flexibility. Then, if comparing short-term timing proximity with tangible familiarity, that’s a strong candidate for improving flexibility to cope (with a situation). However, if comparing long-term timing proximity with tangible familiarity, or short-term timing proximity with intangible familiarity, those are less strong candidates for improving the flexibility to cope.

Perhaps Schelling’s observation is valid is because we sometimes unconsciously confuse flexibility and risk? To recap, the variables of familiarity and timing proximity are reinforcing on flexibility. The variables of probability and impact are also reinforcing on risk. However, although risk can be managed by introducing greater flexibility (buying options, increasing the range, increasing the versatility or other performance improvements etc), other ways to mitigate risk are just as valid and some risks can be mitigated by decreasing the flexibility (road holding performance and car suspension or improving innovation through specialisation etc).

In conclusion, given all of our unique personalities and the complexities of how our brains work (or don’t work), I guess it’s less about solving the riddle and more about being ever watchful for the ‘sirens luring us onto the rocks, at any opportunity’.