Peter and Jane do solutions

Peter had been working very hard on his project. Two years ago he had a new idea for a tuck shop, where instead of just buying sweets, Peter would tell people how to eat them instead.

Jane thought Peter was also working very hard too and whilst lots of people were still using the old tuck shop, Peter’s new tuck shop had really excited customers. Peter had persuaded some other children that they also liked working in the shop, because he gave them lots of sticky notes to put on the walls and windows.

Peter had the idea of having a small tuck shop on wheels so that he could tell other people to eat sweets in their own classrooms, but he didn’t do anything about it, because he was going to make more money in the main tuck shop. People would pay him lots of money so he could tell them to eat sweets properly, his way.

Jane also knew that another boy Charles had a mobile tuck shop and as well as telling people how it eat sweets, he also give them the sweets as well. Jane thought Charles had the better idea. She liked Charles more than Peter.

Peter stopped talking to Jane as he thought he had the idea first and he didn’t want to play with Charles.

The Headteacher also decided that Charles’ idea was best and told Peter if he wanted to do a mobile tuck shop he’d have to give the children the sweets once he’d told them how to eat them He’d also have to call the shop, Charles’ Sweets.

Peter was grumpy because it was his idea first. He told everyone to boycott Charles’ shop as he had the idea first.

Jane thought Peter was being a twat. After a while nobody went to Peters shop, as getting your head stuffed down the toilet by Jasper, the school bully was a more pleasant experience.

Looking both ways

He’d picked up the last clean cup from the kitchen cupboard in the office and made some tea, before realising the shape of the handle meant it was designed for right handed people. This would make drinking the murky cup of Earl Grey interesting.

Brian had worked as a technology consultant over the last 20 years and over time what had been purely keyboard-based activities had developed into more complex projects, where the process and the needs of the people using the technology had become the focus. Gone were the days were you could hide in the server room and keep your head down, happily focusing on installing software, writing scripts and submitting bugs. Increasingly he find himself in more and more meetings, discussing how the products would be used and what the customer would need to change or adapt in their way of working in order to be successful. Starting off with assessing their maturity, he would then look to encourage people and teams of develop processes and ways of working to ensure they could use the technology he would be installing.

The company Brian worked for had built a reputation for innovation and has successfully disrupted the IT market, becoming a leader in its main operating system area. As well as it’s products, it was now selling it’s brand and way of working, as well as its open organisation as something that it’s customers should emulate as part of digital transformation. It wasn’t just about the technology anymore.

This change wasn’t easy for customers and as such they looked for help in making organisational and cultural changes which would be needed to ensure their own businesses would be successful. Technology was only a small part of the jigsaw and whilst the problems were now increasingly complex, they weren’t insurmountable if approached the right way and with the right engagement.

This past few weeks had been typical of the type of organisation he was working with and Brian saw himself as much as consultant of people than he was of the technology he’d install. Some of the things he was seeing weren’t unique and all provided challenges that needed to be overcome.

  • The main software system used by the business had been migrated to over the last 12 months, with considerable effort and manual data migration. The person in charge of the transformation to the new system was no longer with the company, having taken the fall for the failures which had significant business impact. It was working but was still not providing the level of service the old system did.
  • Despite this, the main Director of the organisation was dynamic and had successfully grown the business across a number of regions; he knew that he needed to change both the technology and organisation to ensure this growth continued. He’d recently proposed a new org structure, which he’d presented to his leadership team once he’d put it together. Whilst there been some tweaks, it was his changes that were to be implemented, but the lack of detail in plan was impacting some of the key workers, who were now not clear of their role and responsibility
  • Whilst the leadership team worked together, the level of shared responsibility they had for the overall success of the business was low. Initially there had been a lot of discussion on the need to become more agile and flexible in tackling problems, but relatively quickly this had broken down into hierarchical structures with people owning resources, budgets and not cooperating
  • The central team provide systems and services to a number of Regions. These Regions had become increasingly independent and less accountable. Focused on targets there’s was an increasing diversification in products and offerings around the technology and whilst they were successful they could do things there own way. However it was becoming evident that this was beginning to be a problem with one of the largest regions failing to meet targets. These were specific to the Region and as such harder to fix by the central team
  • There are plenty of cases where individuals were propping up bad projects through hard work. These weren’t being addressed by management and people were simply left there until they went sick or the project finally crashed.
  • They’d brought in new people to help scale the systems and business as they grew, but it had infact led to significant clashes in culture. There was an increased aversion to risk, being accountable and stepping up to take on tasks. Management to individual contributor rations had gone from 10:1 to 3:1 with a significant loss in revenue.
  • A few years ago, they’d set-up and funded a small team to try out new ways of working and take on new business. It had had a measure of success and taken on new projects and won new customers, but it now saw itself as its own business rather than being part of the larger organisation. One of the main problems is that was itself looking to prevent innovation in other parts of the business, preferring to be the sole place where new ideas and technology would come from.

All of these things were typical of the challenges facing organisations who were having to transform as technology itself became fundamental for the business. As technology took centre stage, the need for effective processes and organisations become more important, not less.

Brian continued to look at the assessment and write the report he was working on. He would normally be bolstered in the knowledge that he was, as a visitor to the organisation, able take a more abstract, third party view and provide lots of useful insights to the management in his report.

However, this wasn’t the case with this report. Rather than being on customer site, Brian was benched and the organisation he was writing about was his own.

What had been the innovator and the disruptor was now struggling to find its way, with its culture eroded through expansion and the need itself to meet targets. Being on the inside and within the hierarchy now made it virtually impossible for Brian to be heard or understood. Rather than objective observation people saw personal criticism and confrontation. The more you told someone, the more they avoided you and sought out people who agreed with them and confirmed what they wanted to here.

Brian closed the laptop, looked up and out of the office window to see the snow falling gently in the car park and realised that he’d come to the office on his motorbike. Getting home was going to be a challenge with some risk, but he was up for that.

Mynnyd Troed

Last minute decision to head up my nearest mountain (that is a distinct peak over 600m). That isn’t Mynnyd Llangorse (which is only 515m) so need to get in the car and drive round to the pass between the two. It was already 14h30, so not much time for a long walk.

It’s a steep ascent, with most of the other people parked there heading up the nice looking ridge to Mynnyd Llangorse. Up to 500m and then then into the clouds.

Mynnyd Troed : not the finest view, but the best sound

It’s not the more leisurely of walks up to the trig point and the greasy ground didn’t make for easy going as I’d decided not to change out of my workshop trousers and my old walking boots. The cloud down meant there was no view; bad as there was no view but good as the view inside was much clearer.

Accompanying the tinnitus was purely silence. Cold and damp and little wind it created a little world around you. Then you catch your breath from the stiff ascent and that interrupts your thought briefly. You look around expecting to see someone else, but there is only you. It’s a magical experience that can only be experienced in the mountains and only at a certain time. Other, sunnier days, you can lie back in the grass and listen to the skylarks rising up high above you, whilst on others all that is with you is the wind.

The trig point was a limpid beacon from which a mental note of the return route was make. I’d though initially of going along the ridge, but decided against it; I could stand here for 5 minutes or so for the same effect and I’d done my workout on the 250m of ascent from the car. Slowly I made my way down, walking in the heather and rough grass to avoid ice-like short grass. The cloud didn’t clear as expected and only just before the road did the view down the u-shaped valley towards Cwmdu appeared.

Only 1 hour and 20 minutes of walking but refreshing of body and mind and whatever the weather, distance or hill (or mountain) and great diversion from the everyday.

Do technology companies really care ?

Having worked in public sector  for 10 years up to 2000 and with a US technology company since then, it’s surprising that it’s taken me so long to consider this question. Do technology companies really care ? There are lots of statements on social responsibility from them but are they more than lip service ?

This article discusses whether caring about the social impact of a project is beneficial for both end users and shareholders and if this is possible ?

Malcolm Herbert

Whether its the technology company giants (like Facebook, Google, Amazon etc), business technology providers (like VMware, Red Hat, IBM etc) or small startups, the same question should be asked, do they really have a social conscience ? As well as measuring financial performance, they may measure other key performance indicators (KPIs) and run customer satisfaction surveys, but does this show they care whether the products actually benefit the customer (or a customers customer).  Recent analyst reports and guidance and highlighting the need for social responsibility as a component for future success. 

Redefine your company based on the company you keep

Accenture Technology Vision 2018

Lets look at an example (and it’s a fictitious one). A technology company, SoftwareA, sells a products to CompanyB, that will potentially allow it develop better software, more quickly so that its customers can register complaints they may have with property rentals and landlords.  CompanyB sees regional and local government authorities as the main buyers of it’s product which links a comprehensive set of data on properties, landlords and transactions, with a nice easy to use interface, large amounts of date and some innovative software that gets information via  machine learning that enables problems to solved more effectively. The aim is that landlords fix problems quicker and that renters have less problems. 

LocalGovC buys the service from CompanyB, which includes the software, and this comes as a managed service, so that it is run and operated by CompanyB entirely. SoftwareA have provided the software that allows CompanyB to update the software and develop new functionality. 

Typically a company like SoftwareA will charge a license (or subscription) for the software product, sell some consulting to install and set it up as well as training for the developers and users of their product.  The normal measure of success for company SoftwareA is how much CompanyB spend with them, though they might also take other measurements like a Customer Satisfaction survey into account.  

CompanyB will also be deemed successful primarily on the amount that LocalGovC spends and if they are able to deliver the services at a profit.  As with SoftwareA, CompanyB should also be looking to the longer term and ensuring that their customers buy more product and renews any subscription, consulting or support services. Therefore, rather than a one-off deal, any corporate company will look to develop a longer term relationship with customers based on mutual success. 

LocalGovC will be also seen to be successful if it has bought a service under budget and that meets the requirements laid out by a wider government policy. However, this is where the pyramid of mutually assured success begins to break down. This is in part because 

However its possible that the IT based service provided by LocalGovC on its own will fail to improve the quality of social housing and the rental market in its area.  The service might have been poorly designed and not meet the needs of its customers, but to staff and management at LocalGovC this may not be the view. The metrics based on usage, response times etc might be being met, so whilst overall more tenants are suffering revenge evictions, rental prices are increasing and fewer landlords are offering affordable properties to the market, measures of success being used by LocalGovC are still being met. 

Whilst the organisations involved may see that they are responsible for the success of the final service (that is the improvement of rental accommodation on the LocalGovC area), it’s less likely the SoftwareA and CompanyB will be bought in. Things however are changing and it’s clear that to be more successful, even against the limited criteria discussed above, the software companies and service providers need to work on other areas outside of technology . However, by being more involved with process and people and not just technology, the technology companies by necessity have to care more the overall success of the project.  

Larger outsourcers haven’t got a great press and whilst they take on all the roles (including to large extent that of LocalGovC)., their drivers are that of a commercial enterprise, not of a social one and as such caring and responsibility to customers are secondary to that of shareholders. 

Kakistocracy and a thicket of idiots

A few weeks ago I was sent via facebook messenger the Wikipedia page on the Dunning-Kruger effect.   An initial read of the first couple of paragraphs and I found myself nodding my head in agreement (mainly with relationship to some work colleagues).

Further reading after laughing and further cussing, you settle into the understanding that this is actually quite a serious assessment and study and probably why Dunning and Kruger won an Ig Noble in 2000 for this work.

There are plenty of other writings on the subject, some commentary of these below, as well as my own thoughts. 

Now interestingly both the Wikipedia article and Dunning Kruger mention a quotation from Bertrand Russell, the English philosopher, mathematician and general, all round interesting person. 

In their article (with a host of coauthors) “Why the Unskilled Are Unaware: Further Explorations of (Absent) Self-Insight Among the Incompetent” there is a 1951 quote from Bertrand Russell (see below), but alas it’s not cited so you cannot understand the context in which it’s written. 

Bertrand Russel 1936
Bertrand Russell in 1936

“One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.”

If you do a quick search on Bertrand Russell quotes, then you find another quote (usually #1 in the lists) which essentially says the sames thing.  

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.

And if you have a quick search on BrainyQuote, then lo and behold you can find a similar quotation, again without citation from Russell (though BrainyQuotes allow you to do a citation from them, raising the whole can of worms about the search for the real truth in sources). 

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.

However, this is to a large extent a distraction, though if pressed on the accuracy of the quote and what it means,  you may have to say that you aren’t really sure of the exact meaning. Irrespective of the versions of the quote then it’s meaning and is clear.  That some people are not aware and are incapable of being aware of how wrong or foolish they are. 

The process of understanding and accepting this statement as fact leads onto a number of other statements that need to be considered :

  • that the only people who think that they might be stupid and overly confident are the people who are probably not; that they are wise but that they doubt that they are.
  • that it will be impossible to convince individuals that they are foolish; attempting to do so will fail because their confidence is in opposite proportion to their ability to reason and their intelligence. 
  • that mechanism of assessing the foolish and overconfident isn’t possible by those around the person, because it is also true that rather than being solely applied to individuals, it is indeed  a more powerful force in groups, where self reinforcement is backed-up by reinforcement of others. 

In hierarchical organisations it is far easier for the foolish to thrive, where lack of actual ability can be hidden from managers through effective managing-up techniques [1] and from the lack of ability of the manager themselves. Rather than a meritocracy, you have a kakistocracy , where you have government and management by the most stupid.  Given the current state of politics in parts of the world, you may also want to argue that this democracy [2]. 

 The clever and wise, attempting to confront and challenge the position and ideas of the foolish, their followers and their advocates, comes with risk. Risk of accusation of  harrying, of undermining and having a personal vendetta. It also comes at risk of livelihood, future rights of representation and in extreme circumstance, risk of life. Therefore does it make sense to do so ?  Suffering fools gladly has in modern times being primarily used in its negative context, where not suffering fools gladly has been a call to wise to get off the fence and get angry with the stupid.  This confrontational approach it could be argued is doomed to failure, as the stupid will ignore any remonstration and seek others for confirmation of their views and abilities for the equally stupid. It is therefore not wiser to suffer them gladly, to live within their group, their world and make the best of the organisation that this provides ?  By using their techniques, is not very easy to the wise to coast through life in the happy knowledge of life being easier if the stupid are happy and content with their own oblivious view. 

This happy state is however hard to achieve; the stupid will place repeated, excessive calls upon others to reinforce their overstated view of the abilities as well as making decisions that negatively impact you, the wise. Their ineffectiveness means you need to do their work for them and their overstatement of achievement means that you find yourself providing evidence to counter it, in order for your own efforts to be effective and recognised. 

Obviously a kakistocracy thrives in an environment that is doing well, where resources, climate and other inputs ensure that it is doing well, despite the input and actions of the stupid. In a world which is struggling, then the stupid cannot thrive and their actions and views do not have ingredients in which to survive.  It can therefore be argued that a long game, not a short term strategy is needed by the wise, one where that ultimately the stupid will be responsible for their own undoing, rather than this being brought about directly by others. 

Shaun of The Dead : a metaphor for surviving stupid ?

For those therefore not wishing to suffer the fools gladly (or at all) there the following might be worth considering:

  • remove the nutrients from the environment where the stupid currently exist; this could be intelligent, long suffering coworkers and subordinates
  • remove the mouthpiece and routes for pontification and therefore self-reinforcement
  • provide clear and distinct means of measurement of ability based on actions of the individual, not words 
  • ring fence the groups of stupidity and use individual measurements and apply them to the group.

Reading the above, it comes across more of a mechanism for dealing with Zombie apocalypse than it does a strategy for dealing with frustrating friends, colleagues or politicians.  This sense of inevitable doom is sometimes whats faced when dealing with an increasing hoard, that’s infecting a large majority of people around you.  Sitting there watching Shaun of the Dead and you can easily transpose this to the task of explaining the real impact of Brexit to the people who your are connected. 

So, finding yourself surrounded by a thicket of idiots, you have a number of strategies for survival, but none of these provide any guarantee of success of personal survival. 

[1] Of the articles you will find online, see managing up as personal skill to be enhanced.  For example :-

[2] A useful list of government types is provided by Wikipedia, of course. So happy was I with the discovery of kakistocracy that I donated £20 to Jimmy Wales.

Red Hat and IBM : The Present Age

About a year ago (November 2017), I wrote a short blog about Nuxil and The Present Age, which itself referenced a short book called The Present Age by Soren Kierkegaard (see Wikipedia for a list of references about the concepts and the philosophy being discussed).

The key premise from Kierkegaard is that the ‘present age’ lacks passion and energy and there is a tendency to live on the glories of the past.  Presenting, talking about and discussing the glories and excitement of the past lacks something over having actually being there, lived through it and experienced it first hand.  Though the blog post was written quickly and slightly tongue-in-cheek, my thoughts last year was based on a need to promote and preserve the culture within Red Hat, that had in the past kickstarted and driven the companies approach to business and the success that it brought.   I thought then and still think now, that this was also going to be difficult from the safe environment of a successful company.

Rereading the blog post now, a year on and a few days after the news that Red Hat is to be acquired by IBM, it’s made me think that irrespective if you are concerned or not by the news, then you also be excited that you will be part of an ‘event’ [1] and that you will as such be really living.

Kierkegaard’s philosophy is relatively abstract and as such takes a view goes through to penetrate, but one common theme is his concern around the dangers of sleepwalking through life and therefore not really experiencing it.  For example whilst no one enjoys the trauma of a relationship breakdown, bereavement or any other adverse event, the emotions you feel can as such make you feel alive.  You are living a life.

In Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 film, The Seventh Seal [2], the knight played by Max von Sydow is tricked by the devil and as such knows he is doomed to die. In this moment he looks at his hand,  and sees his blood flowing through it and as such knows he is currently really alive.

Whilst no one is going to die through being acquired by IBM,  the sense of adversity or excitement that will be directly experienced, good or bad should be embraced.  For me, change is a means to avoid being complacent and even in the last 4 days, I’m having great conversations with colleagues and friends about the acquisition. We may not agree on some things but that’s not the point. We are all directly experiencing something significant that will change our life.  Whilst Trump and Brexit are also seen as divisive issues with lots of negative impacts, they are significant events that you are living through and as such contribute to who you are.

Of course, there is a spectrum where an ‘event’ can be viewed in this way; impacts of war, famine or addiction might be too serious and detrimental to the self to be viewed in this way.   All things in context and corporate change is significant but not catastrophic.

I’ve always been slightly reticent about following people and their ideas that have come from the Management and Business section from the airport bookshop.  In many cases, to make them appealing they provide direct instructions on how to transform something (yourself, company, lifestyle, diet, thinking etc). By being instructional, they don’t provide the space for you to interpret the wider message and the context of what is happening to you.

So, as part of the acquisition process, share, read and discuss, but also take the time to reflect on your own feelings, in isolation.  Review how you feel and develop as a result as you go through this event.  Whatever your opinions, seize the opportunity to really live with your emotions rather than the complacency of the present age.


[1] revolution if you wish, I’ve used this term a lot since the 1990’s around open source and have been at times castigated as a result, in particular by a senior exec at a software company when I worked for UK government.

[2] The film is full of Kierkegaard themes and as such is one that gets better with each viewing.

MLA Day 3

There is a lot going on with Mountain Leader Training

My notes (and those of others from today) :

– confidence support : talking to people whilst holding them. contact with one arm is better than 2 as allows for balance from the leader

– confidence rope. z shape hold keep rope taut. elbows in.

– shape, size, sharpeness and stability : anchor point

– overhand knot, with a stopper knot as an adjustable waistloop

– South African abseil lots of friction. only for the leader not for the group

top tip : take a half a seat back before position

– belay point: knots in line, use rucksac to reduce friction.

– ABC anchor belay climbe

Who you are responsible for.

  1. yourself
  2. team
  3. other public
  4. next of kin
  5. people you are representing
  6. landowners
  7. environment
  8. organisation

Mountain Leadership Course : Day 1

Course is being run by Sam Leary from Leading Edge in Llanberis and the day starts in Pete’s Eats with a good breakfast and some classroom introductions. Two of the people on the course have been vomiting all night and the 3rd (from the same centre) has made it.

Some theory and a look at the weather forecast before a day walking 8.5km up Moel Eleni and back with plenty of map and compass work. Some good tips and tricks and reinforcement of stuff I did know not had forgotten or lapsed in use.

Plenty of time for discussion and exploration. Using contours as part of the navigation assessment is something I do but was really good to check this out. Measurement of distance by pacing stuff out isn’t something I did but I do now (73 double paces for 100m, double paces).

We didn’t walk far but plenty to think about and do as went. What was good was to have a chat about the flora; not the obvious thing but makes a walk in the mountains more interesting. I was unaware of the two types of carnivorous plants, Butterworts and Sundews (Drosera).

Back to Pete’s Eats for a debrief and chat and finally plodded back to the campsite for 7pm. The shower was okay too and then settled in for some guitar after the second part of the ravioli

Mountain Leadership Training : introduction

Decided a few months ago to sign up for the Mountain Leadership Award primarily on the understanding that sometimes I take colleagues and friends on the mountains and in some cases they’ve not had too much experience and that I need to be better prepared.

To get the award you need qualifications days in the hills (well mountains), to complete a training course and the take an assessment. The training starts today in Pete’s Eats in Llanberis and is with a company called Leading Edge. Not sure how it’s going to work but going in with an open mind and ready to listen as well as participate.

I am not the best at training courses especially non technical ones that look to adapt culture and style. You can’t force people and usually the best way is over time through demonstration and nurture.

Decided to camp in the van for the week and the campsite in Llanberis is handily placed above the village though finding a flat spot is a challenge. This was achieved okay and then went for a short walk over towards Snowdon Ranger as a warm up which was straightforward enough an in excellent weather.

Lots of weary people coming down from Snowdon, probably doing the loop of up the Llanberis pass and down Snowdon Ranger. Generally seen as the easiest way though very much the longest also. Really nice day for it.

Let’s see what the week brings !