The chair that we sit on to project our influence into the World is made stronger by 5 equal sized legs – family, national identity, regional/local identity, belief group and friendship group. Take one away, or choose to let them become of massively unequal size and you will sink down…
No religion (ideas and values) can remain stuck in the past, any more than science (ideas and information), political ideology (ideas and values) or legal system (principles rules and values) can remain stuck in the past. Those that cannot see this cannot realistically expect to lead their religion, their science community, their political party, or their branch of the legal system.
Yesterday, I watched episode four in the latest series of the BBC TV show ‘The Apprentice’. At the end of it, Alan Sugar fired all three of the poorest performers (Ella Jade Bitton, Sarah Dales & Steven Ugoalah). But not before they lost all professional and personal dignity, squabbling in the board room, with the project manager of the losing team (Ella Jade), pleading repeatedly with Lord Sugar to be given another chance.
A triple elimination in one week, along with post-dismissal pleading was a new low point for the series. Is the underlying quality of the applications really that bad, is the screening process to allow them to participate in the series the problem, or is it just the nature of the task that creates a race for bottom place? On a related note, if the CV’s of the Apprentice wannabes really are as great as they claim, why do so few of them step up to lead an ‘all stars’ team in any given episode?
I know one of the purposes of the series is entertainment and that Lord Sugar donates his sizeable series fee to charity. However, the viewer cannot help but wonder, why are the end results of each task so mediocre, whether creating their own video channels to go on the World’s largest video-sharing site, or simply selling market stall products (with TV cameras rolling that in themselves, attract curious punters)?
For any of the wannabe apprentices, especially in the early episodes of the series, doesn’t it occur to them that their best chance of not appearing in the bottom three for elimination is to put maximum effort into effective teamwork?
Arguably, for Lord Sugar to go into business with the winner, two qualities will stand out – one is very clever business ideas, executed well. And the second is stunning leadership qualities. Perhaps if the ‘prize money’ was quadrupled to £1M, it might attract a superior group of wannabe apprentices and reveal in the tasks, a far more stunning range of ideas, delivery and leadership in action. From Lord Sugar’s perspective, does he want to go into business with someone with amazing potential for a mere £1M investment, or go into business with someone who believes their own hype, for a very expensive investment of £250,000?
Personally, I’d far rather watch a version of The Apprentice, with:
- less tantrums and loss of human dignity in the boardroom,
- less smarmy sales pitches to very savvy and seasoned business buyers (even after 3 prior episodes, some project managers still seem to think you can sell complete lemon products, solely by baffling the buyer with youthful sales charm),
- less editorial emphasis on the backchat between prima-donna contestants during the task,
- more coverage during the task of heroic teamwork to problem solve,
- most importantly of all, FAR more design-brainstorming time spent at the front end of the task – none of the wannabes seem to realise that time spent doing that well will pay off massively in the final Boardroom analysis.
As well as delivering far better end results, a change in emphasis might restore some viewers’ beliefs in business activity (and Lord Sugar’s TV series emphasis) as a positive economic force.
Lastly, a real business innovation contrast with the above process. Two Imperial College of London computing graduates Ashley Brown and Simon Overell recently launched an online fraud-busting start up company (spider.io) which was then acquired by Google. Granted it was at least a year of intensive effort to create the end result (not two days as for The Apprentice tasks). My question is, would university graduates of the calibre of Mr Brown and Mr Overell have been attracted to join a series like The Apprentice, or is the instant loss of 50% control and the incentive money just too small to be worth bothering about?
How many community and business problems get bigger, because we grow the ‘open loop’ rather than growing the ‘closed loop’?
Open loops involve inputs at one end, some kind of non-linear travel and some outputs at the other end. As the human population grows, as economic activity grows, as the monetary value grows, more goes in, but correspondingly more comes out of the open loop. Think of a plumbing system with water flowing through it. Think of house supply shortages and rising house prices, creating barriers to people getting onto the property ladder (the result).
With closed loops, as there is growth in population, economic activity and/or monetary value, the loop itself has enough flexibility to get fatter and it enlarges proportionately. Think of global trade, the human vascular system (veins & arteries), healthy lifestyles, housebuilds linked to household growth. Or the double-entry book-keeping system itself.
Open loops are about waste and shortage.
Open loops are about freedoms (with some adverse and sometimes unexpected consequences).
Open loops are about functional department battles (to obscure the blame for waste).
Open loops are about poor strategy, executed to excess.
Open loops allow you to only measure flow, not total volume.
Open loops are about one-time trading (exploitation), with little trust.
Open loops tend towards disorder & obsolescence over the long term.
Open loops discourage significant innovation & teamwork.
Closed loops are about proportionate recycling for net growth.
Closed loops are about responsibilities (what goes around comes around).
Closed loops are about joined-up leadership & waste avoidance.
Closed loops are about great strategy, executed to excess.
Closed loops allow you to measure total volume and flow. As ‘volume’ builds, its capital value also builds e.g. social network or phone network size, club membership influence, no of bank accounts held, customer information. The opportunity – create enclosed volume to create collateral than can be financially borrowed against.
Closed loops are about repeat trading (sustainability), with embedded trust.
Closed loops build order & sophistication over the long term.
Closed loops are about significant innovation & require teamwork.
How can you make an open loop more efficient?
- Increase the rate per period (a possible trade-off is more efficiency sooner, but faster wear and tear on the supporting infrastructure, causing more maintenance cost).
- Increase consistency within the flow (create fewer gaps and more even flow, including using queuing or booking systems, or variable pricing, to manage time of day demand levels).
- Reduce the friction between flow and its infrastructure (manage people’s expectations about freedom to act within boundaries and make appeals time-limited).
How can you make a closed loop more efficient?
- Increase its flexibility to expand and contract cost-effectively, as demand dictates.
- Leverage the infrastructure investment. If employ blended learning in higher education, can increase the flow, with proportionately less investment to scale up the infrastructure investment.
Are open and closed loops the same thing as vicious and virtuous cycles?
An open loop isn’t a cycle, but instead is a one way flow. A closed loop is a virtuous cycle.
Are open and closed loops the same thing as self-balancing and self-reinforcing cycles?
Self-balancing cycles typically involve trade-offs, for example in politics. Stability is achieved when there is common agreement and recognition of the value of the trade-offs made. Arguably closed and open loops can be both self-balancing and self-reinforcing. The problem with an open loop being self-reinforcing is that the downstream problems (pollution etc) prevent its sustainability.
If government policy-makers take more of a closed-loop approach, rather than an open-loop approach, policy regulation might design out tax avoidance, pollution, redundancy, unemployment, crime and economic migration.
If corporate owners take more of a closed-loop approach, rather than an open-loop approach, corporate policies and procedures might design out process inefficiency, process rework, redundancy, legal and after-sales support costs.
So how can you turn an open-loop approach into a closed-loop approach?
(1) One way is to join together two open loops to create the closed loop.
At a university, in the Facilities Management department, use heat transfer from research equipment experiments to generate power (geothermal energy generation) or heat office buildings.
Use faculty discoveries that are approved for commercial use (new materials and energy management systems especially) to reduce the university’s estate operating costs.
In a corporate setting, people are hired, work and then retire or leave the organisation. Unemployed and retired people then provide volunteer labour to advise organisations how to run better. Can these two open loops be joined into one closed loop? If the organisation creates a new status for those retiring or leaving it as employees, those ex-employees could then plough back on a voluntary basis, ideas and advice that the same organisation then benefits from, to grow and hire more staff. Similarly, when the Justice system succeeds in rehabilitating law-breakers, not only is future social cost avoided, but their productive contribution helps build the economy and national culture to greater heights.
(2) Another way is substitution – replace open with closed. This happened historically when the World adopted the double entry book-keeping approach to business records.
In a university setting, embrace a student self-service model, reinforced at all points of the student lifecycle, from preregistration, enrolment, self-directed course content enquiry, study group communication, campus services, course assessment, student survey, student finance, aspects of graduation, professional registration, alumni communication and life-long learning
In an automotive design example, effect refinements to engine efficiency aim to turn exhaust gases into usable system inputs and replace the heat (generated by friction) and moving parts wear with frictionless or solid state components.
In a government policy setting, modify the tax system to build public reserves that are ear-marked to maintain and develop public infrastructure, regardless of economic cycles. Build the fund in the good times and spend correspondingly more in the downturns.
Food for thought?
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?