A short intermission

I shall be away in Chile for a while and expect to be posting infrequently if at all. In the mean time feel free to explore this site. There are many interesting links buried here and, since most posts are not very newsy, the links remains as relevant today as when I made them. Some suggested starting points:
“Echoes of Purposive Drift”
“Hidden value”
“It’s hard to predict”
“Why Do Dancers Smoke? “
“Too much drift, not enough purpose?”

Integrative thinking

I have long felt that real managers, as opposed to the multitude of rule-bound, formula-following appartchiks, who claim this title, have a lot in common with designers. About a year ago I post a piece, “The Manager as Designer”, where I linked to a post on Fast Companys blog, which read, “…theres a remarkably thoughtful essay on design in the latest issue of the University of Torontos School of Management alumni mag. It’s written, no less, by the dean of the Rotman School of Management, Roger Martin. He convincingly argues that business people dont just need to understand designers better — they need to become designers.”
On a recent visit to his website I found an earlier article, where he and Hilary Austen outline a model of what they call, “The Art of Integrative Thinking”, which sounds an awful lot like what designers do to me. Read the article yourself (PDF format) to see what I mean. Meanwhile here is their conclusion.
“Integrative thinking is an art a heuristic process, not an algorithm. The integrative thinker develops a stance that embraces not fears the essential qualities of enigmatic choices.The integrative thinker is a relentless learner who seeks to develop the repertoire of skills that enables him or her to engage the tensions between opposites long enough to transcend duality and seek out novel solutions. Integrative thinkers understand that they are engaged in a creative process that avoids easy, pat,or formulaic answers. In short, integrative thinking is the management style we need if we are to solve the enigmatic problems that face our organizations in the new millennium.”

Listen for the music

Another great quote from Thomas Johnson:
“Scania is a company owned by the Wallenberg family, a wealthy family that owns much of Swedish industry. The parent company, which goes by the name Investor, has held all kinds of companies, like Scania, for many years. Investor has always been run by a member of the Wallenberg family, up until this past year.
One of the great leaders of the family in the post-World War II period, Marcus Wallenberg, was very close to his companies. He regularly would go visit all the companies. He was not a person who sat above the clouds and studied his companies by looking at spreadsheets. He went down to the companies, like Scania, and when he did he invariably visited the shop floor. You can imagine, this is not the chairman of a board, this is the chairman of the chairmen of many boards. He would go down in the shop, where he would talk with workers and engineers. I believe he was trained as an engineer, so he understood what he was looking at. Someone asked him once, ‘How do you know, when you go into a shop, what to look for? What is it that tells you when things are right?’ And he said, ‘I go into the shop, because thats where what matters takes place. And when I go there I listen for the music.’ That was his expression. ‘I listen for the music. And if I hear the music I know everythings all right. But if I don’t hear it, then we go to work.'”

Measuring what doesn’t matter

I am currently doing some work for a college that is going through convulsions as it attempts to make itself more bureaucratic in order to deal with external quality assurance exercises. Seeing very competent, experienced colleagues, who have been doing good work for many years, struggling with the gobbledygook they are expected to learn to deal with stuff is both frustrating and sad, particularly since I’ve been here before and seen real quality work destroyed by similar processes.
So I’ve been a bit cheered by being alerted to the work of Thomas Johnson (courtesy of Paul Skidmore at Demos Greenhouse). A taster:
“Ed Deming used say that 97% of what matters in an organization can’t be measured. Only maybe 3% can be measured. But when you go into most organizations and look at what people are doing, theyre spending all their time focusing on what they can measure and none of their time on what really matters–what they can’t measure. Why would we do this? Were spending all of our time measuring what doesn’t matter. In fact, its part of avoiding a lot of the really difficult and important issues, like virtue, as Bill OBrien has pointed out … We spend almost none of our time on what really matters.”
Intellectually, I know that the regime of targets and mindless measurement will eventually collapse under its own weight, but what saddens me is the people it continues to harm and the organisations and companies unnecessarily undermined as this process continues. What is encouraging is that I am finding more and more voices, like Thomas Johnson, questioning this nonsense.

Busy, busy, busy

Yesterday I was having a phone conversation with my brother when he asked me if I had read John Naughton’s article, which discussed, among other things, how Carly Fiorina had taken “an innovative and much-admired technology company and eviscerated it with a kindergarten-MBA strategy that alienated thousands of the most dedicated staff in the technology business – not to mention leading many more to take early retirement or pursue exciting new careers in the fast-food industry.”
I had and was reminded of a quote by William Hewlett I had fallen on with delight many years ago. So I told him what I could remember of the quote, which was something to the effect that when they started the company they didn’t have any plans and just did what came along. And we both had a good chuckle.
I also told him that somewhere on one of the hard discs of one of my obsolete computers, I’ve got that quote, but getting to it would be really hard and how I have searched the web for it on a number of occasions and always come up with a blank.
So imagine my surprise when this morning I picked up a copy of “Digital Aboriginal” by Mikela Tarlow and found a quote by William Hewlett that read:
“… the Professor of Management is devastated when I say that we really didn’t have any plans when we started – we were just opportunistic. We did anything that would bring in a nickel. We had a bowling foul-line indicator, a clock drive for a telescope, a thing to make a urinal flush automatically and an electric shock machine to make people lose weight. Here we were with about $500 in capital, trying to make whatever someone thought we might be able to do.”
What made this find even more surprising is that I had almost given up on “Digital Aboriginal”. I had borrowed it from my College library because flicking through it I had found some ideas very similar to my thinking on Purposive Drift. It also has other some insights I had never thought of. But, the gems all seemed to buried in that somewhat breathless American business book style, which seems to shriek ‘every things changed and youve got to catch up’. And, unusually for me, that style so irritated me that I was about to return it unfinished.
Quite what made me pick it up this morning I don’t know, but it was very strange finding that quote on the bottom of the second page I looked at. And perhaps equally strange, a few pages later, finding this from Mikela Tarlow, “Paying attention is not a glamorous leadership skill. We tend to focus on the more flashy traits like courage, boldness, risk, vision and charisma. Just looking around rarely makes it to the top-ten list of how to get ahead. Few spend time nurturing their talent to really observe, although it may be the most important tool we have.”
All of which leaves me to say just like a Bokonist:
“Busy, busy, busy”

Which, in turn, gives me an excuse to link to two earlier post “Attention and Identity” and “Echos of Purposive Drift”.
Read them and you might see what I mean.