A different beat

Doubt can be positive and profitable as Daniel Beunza explains in a piece about his three year study of a derivatives trading room that avoided the perils of the credit crisis by actively encouraged its traders to question their models and assumptions. (Incidentally, they also practised Bob Sutton‘s “No arsehole” rule.) Well worth a read. For a taster here is Beunza’s conclusion:
“Our study suggests that a lack of reflexivity –that is, the lack of doubt on the part of banks– may be behind the current credit crisis. We are reminded of infantry officers who instructed their drummers to disrupt cadence while crossing bridges. The disruption prevents the uniformity of marching feet from producing resonance that might bring down the bridge. As we see it, the troubles of contemporary banks may well be a consequence of resonant structures that banished doubt, thereby engendering disaster.”

Moon Shots for Management

I got very excited when I saw there was a Facebook group, “Moon Shots for Management”. I had this vision of a massive boost for the economy and the good of the world. First an enormous Keynesian spend on rockets and moon colony equipment around the globe. And, second, a vast improvement in the quality of our organisations and business by removing hundreds of thousands of so called “managers” and sending them to populate the moon colony where they could manage each other without doing any damage to the rest of us.
Sadly, the reality is a little more prosaic, though, perhaps equally ambitious in scope. Inspired by a meeting and subsequent article by Gary Hamel, Jack Martin Leith has set up a Facebook group and a Ning website and network hub to help reinvent management for the 21st Century by tackling 25 challenges (all of which seem very worthy and worthwhile)
My one concern is that the largest political challenge isn’t numbered among them. That is what do we do about challenging the vested interests of the bunch of apparatchiks, administrators, corporate politicians and the odd sociopath who have come together as a class over the last thirty years to appropriate surplus value from their workers, customers, investors and taxpayers, while at the same time inadvertently undermining much of the real value in their organisations and business and who are largely responsible for the mess we find ourselves in today.
Note: I have immense admiration for real managers in both the private and public sectors, unfortunately many of those who carry the title aren’t.

Just do less

At last a campaign I can whole heartedly support:
“The way to thrive in 2009 is simply to join the Idler’s Do Less Campaign. It’s simple: you just do less. That means less shopping, less driving, less holidaying, less working, less spending. And more sitting around at home, more reading, chatting and drinking. Doing less is cheap and easy and it’s kind to the environment. The era which privileged the busy high achiever is coming to an end. That system has been found wanting, and there is a new world out there, a world of more fun, more freedom, more time for reflection and contemplation, community and cooking, making and mending…”

Hand over the keys

Cameron Sinclair on his experience of Davos:
“For me it was fantastic, it was like the storming of the gates. There was a lot of doom and gloom, and a lot of major media followed that; it was an easy story. All the bigwigs were freaking out; they don’t know what to do, and they’re not sure how to move forward. And if you were from the financial industry, you were weeping in the corner. By day two, you began to see this movement happening around these emerging nations that deal with crisis all the time. So whether it was Turkey, Japan, or African nations like Nigeria, they began to make their mark, and say “Guys, I can tell you from experience this is not going to work.” And by day three, the floodgates had opened and anyone with any good idea was listened to. It was basically like the old guard was not sure what was going on, and there was a new guard of social entrepreneurs and young leaders who were just like “If you guys can’t control this, then hand over the keys.” It was really inspiring. I think I had 12 or 14 hours of sleep in a five-day period.”

Eddies in the stream of entropy

“Living beings are eddies in the stream of entropy. That is to say, while the universe gradually becomes more homogeneous and disordered, little parts of it can reverse the trend and become briefly more ordered and complex by capturing packets of energy. It happens each time a baby is conceived. Built by 20,000 genes that turn each other on and off in a symphony of great precision, and equipped with a brain of ten trillion synapses, each refined and remodelled by early and continuing experience, you are a thing of exquisite neatness, powered by glucose. Says Darwin, this came about by bottom-up emergence, not top-down dirigisme. Faithful reproduction, occasional random variation and selective survival can be a surprisingly progressive and cumulative force: it can gradually build things of immense complexity. Indeed, it can make something far more complex than a conscious, deliberate designer ever could: with apologies to William Paley and Richard Dawkins, it can make a watchmaker.”
Matt Ridley, “The Natural Order Of Things”, The Spectator, Wednesday, 7th January 2009 – Thanks to 3Quarks and Alvaro Vargas Llosa for the pointer

Slow craft time

“Craftsmen take pride most in skills that mature. This is why simple imitation is not sustaining satisfaction; the skill has to evolve. The slowness of craft time serves as source of satisfaction; practice beds in, making the skill one’s own. Slow craft time also enables the work of reflection and imagination – which the push for quick results cannot…”
Richard Sennett, “The Craftsman” Allen Lane, 2008, ISBN978-0713998733, pp295

Panic is not a financial strategy

“The Valley’s future is bright. We have a huge advantage over the rest of the country. We just went through this eight years ago. It’s fresh in our memory. We know what bubbles are like. We know you don’t turn off the lights and go home. The rest of the country is walking around like stunned raccoons. Silicon Valley understands failure. That’s why we succeed. Silicon Valley has always been in danger of drowning in the waste products of its own success. This gives us breathing room. We live and die by change in this valley. The absence of change is death. I’m not trying to minimize the pain. It is precisely in times like this when you think long term. Focusing on the short term will turn out badly. Panic is not a financial strategy. The market is an efficient mechanism of wealth transfer from the impatient to the patient.”
Paul Saffo in an interview with Dean Takahashi, VentureBeat, December 5, 2008