Mind the gap

Regular readers will have noticed gaps of various lengths between entries here. Some times this is because I have nothing to say or to point to. Some times it is because I have too much to say and haven’t articulated my thoughts enough to put down anything but a deranged ramble. Very occasionally it will be because my computer or internet connection isn’t working. And, finally, there are the odd occasions when I am away from easy internet access.
As I write this I am anticipating a large gap through much of December and the the first half of January. During this time I hope to be enjoying a summer in Chile and working on some ideas to extend the the idea of purposive drift. So any of the reasons for not posting may apply.
In the meantime there may be a few posts over the next week and then probably silence.
So to all of you who take the time to dip in here, have a good winter/summer break and let’s look forward to the coming year, which, if we can successfully navigate the alarms and scares it looks certain to bring, promises to be very interesting.

No talent for filling in forms

Perhaps someone could whisper in the ears of some of the apparatchiks and wunderkids, who are now innocently leaving a trail of destruction in their wake, that there are other ways of doing things. Listen quietly to this from Max Perutz, who, as well as being a distinguished scientist in his own right, ran a research lab, which nurtured a number of other Nobel Prize winners (possibly a measure of success?):
“The laboratory owes much of its success to the enlightened policies of the Medical Research Council, especially to Harold Himsworth, its secretary from 1949 to 1968, whose foresight and courage led him to support our early work for many lean years when we had little to show for it yet, and when there was only the faintest hope of it ever benefiting medicine.

Himsworth’s staff did not burden us with bureaucratic rules and futile floods of paper, but saw it as their prime responsibility to help us carry out our research. I reported directly to Himsworth, rather than a Committee; he negotiated the annual grant to the Medical Research Council with the Treasury directly, rather than being allotted the Council’s slice of the overall science budget by a ministerial committee, and he had the authority to take decisions within the broad lines of policy laid down by the Council. This system ensured smooth and efficient running, but Thatcherism has now destroyed much of it. Under her all-pervasive rule and in the name of “accountability”, bureaucracy has multiplied and directors are burdened with mountains of paperwork that leaves them less time to devote themselves to scientific work, the talent for which (and not for filling in forms) earned them their positions in the first place.”
P.S The link to “Max Perutz” is to a set of video interviews that are a sheer delight.

Improv Wisdom Works

My friend, Michael Renouf, read my short entry, “Improv Wisdom”, at the end of March and then bought the book by Patricia Ryan Madison. A few days later, following her advice, “Be average” he began a project to post one drawing a day on his new blog. Here we are a few months on and he has well over two hundred drawings up on his site.
Patricia Ryan Madison’s book is well worth a read and packs a lot of useful advice into a short volume. For those of you who would like to supplement her punchy practical guide to effective action in the world with a more academic justification of the crucial role of improvisation in organisations and human life, take a look at the late Claudio Ciborra’s paper, “Notes on improvisation and time in organizations” – it may change the way you look at the world.

Simple problems for simple minds

Another gem of an article from Simon Caulkin and a great quote from Russell Ackoff. Here’s a short taster:
“Targets, claim their defenders, are simple, they provide focus, and they work. Yes, they do. Unfortunately, these are also their fatal flaws. The simplicity is a delusion. As Russ Ackoff put it: ‘The only problems that have simple solutions are simple problems. The only managers with simple problems are those with simple minds. Problems that arise in organisations are almost always the product of interactions of parts, never the action of a simple part.'”

The Greeks had a word or two for it

Some of you may have read my ramblings about purposive drift that you can access through the sidebar. A few more of you may have read my manifesto, “Purposive Drift: making it up as we go along”, published on Changethis. But there is still a lot more I need to explore.
I touched on one aspect of this in something I posted in February, “Cultivating Kairos”. Kairos is a Greek word for “the right time” or “the appropriate time” – a qualitative sense of time as opposed to the more mechanical, relentless clock time, Kronos.
I discovered another Greek word Metis – “cunning intelligence”, the quality displayed by Ulysses – the other day. And again, like my discovery of Kairos, I have a strong sense that this concept is also going to be important in developing the ideas around purposive drift.
Curious, isn’t that that the ideas people were using a couple of thousand years ago seem so relevant to the world we face today.
(As a totally irrelevant, but perhaps amusing aside, I happen to be writing this with my favourite word-processor Ulysses.)

Why do we pay them so much?

“… After studying twenty firms that were facing crises, Dunbar and Goldberg (1978) concluded that the chief executives in these troubled firms generally surrounded themselves with yes-sayers who voiced no criticisms. Worse yet, the yes-sayers deliberately filtered out warnings from middle managers who saw correctly that their firms were out of touch with market realities; many of these middle managers resigned while others were fired for disloyalty.
Top managers’ perceptual errors and self-deceptions are especially potent because top managers can block the actions proposed by their subordinates. Yet, top managers are also especially prone to perceive events erroneously and to resist changes: Their promotions and high statuses persuade them that they have more expertise than other people. Their expertise tends to be our-of-date because their personal experiences with clients, customers, technologies, and low-level personnel lie in the past…”
William H. Starbuck, “How Organizations Channel Creativity”

(Dunbar, R. L. M., and Goldberg, W. H. (1978). “Crisis development and strategic response in European corporations.” Journal of Business Administration, 9(2): 139-149)
N.B William H. Starbuck’s fascinating online autobiography is worth a post on its own. Is this yet another example of purposive drift?