Reality

Everything has a cycle.

It comes into existence and if it makes it past the early stages, blossoms, then declines, then dies and contributes to a new existence. It’s true of everything in the natural world.

We do not seem to think about organisations, and their systems in the same way. From businesses looking for government support because their model has bumped into current reality to politicians and bureaucrats prioritising their ailing and inflexible systems over the people those systems are meant to support, it seems we thinkthat because it worked last year, it must work this. The painful paradox of an education secretary worrying that students might get into a job they are not qualified for does not escape us.

Algorithmic thinking does not cope with reality very well. Trying to deal with anomalies such as we currently face based on historic data sets, context and thinking faces obvious limitations.

We humans on the other hand are brilliant at it. Not very efficient admittedly but hugely effective.

We are part of nature, and no different to it. We stumble around, try things, fail, try again and eventually succeed by evolving something new not bodging together something from bits we already have.

Much of what we built in the industrial age is now failing. We have bodged, until now we can bodge no more. Now, we have to deal with reality.

It offers huge opportunity alongside considerable inconvenience. We have to adapt, evolve and deal with the uncertainty and inefficiency then will require to create the foundations of whatever is next.

This is only a machine age if we just want to sit around and watch. If we want to create something beautiful, it’s an intensely human age.

Effortless Beauty

A Murmuration of Starlings.

It turns out that what drives us is not that much different from what drives every other organism on the planet – and probably beyond.

We crave connection to others – to be part of a group, at the same time as we crave autonomy – the freedom to make our own decisions.

Resolving this paradox has determined our survival and our contentment since the earliest times.

We cannot survive, even now, on our own. No matter how independent we think we are, we’re not. We cannot survive without the help of others. Isolation is terminal.

On the other hand, if we choose belonging at the expense of being ourselves, that’s as bad – survival as subjugation. A wasted life barely worth living.

We know when our lives are beautiful – things are in balance. We experience receiving and giving as part of something that makes our lives worthwhile. That may sound very kaftan, but reality is we all know and revere those all too brief moments that are like that. Just because we can’t measure them, or predict them it doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

If Starlings can do it……..

Starlings do not have a head office, or HR departments, or policies. They just hang out with other starlings, work in sync with those next to them and be themselves in that context. Behaving in this fashion confuses predators, who can only pick off those who are separate from the murmuration. Independence has its price.

Next most vulnerable are those on the edge of the Murmuration, so everybody takes turns at being at the edge, rather than the safe middle. Leaders and managers please note,

The end result is awe inspiring to behold. A defintion of beauty, created by birds being themselves with others, just doing their thing. No plan. No Strategy.

Given that every living organism on the planet comprises pretty much the same elements, just arranged very slightly differently why are we so different?

Or, if starlings can do this, why can’t we?

Organisation

The answer of course is that we can. We have spent around 99% of the time we have been in our current sapien form on the planet in groups of 150 or less. The indigenous people we have left still do. They know those around them as well as they understand their surroundings and although there are differences in status, there is no organisation chart, and certaintly no HR. They flex their structures in much the same way as starlings murmurate – instinctively, according to need and threat. They self organise.

I’m intrigued by what is happening in many organisations at the moment. For the last four months, I’ve watched many organisations cope not just well, but thrive as they’ve used the power of the internet to effectively “murmurate”. Often, driven by the disruption that Covid has generated, combinations of Zoom, WhatsApp and other tools have linked those who do to others who do in getting things done whilst managers look on in a state of bewilderment trying to take credit.

The boundaries between our organisation, suppliers, clients and others become very porous and left alone, stuff just gets done. I wonder what would would happen if we sent managers on holiday, and suspect that without a need for mostly needless control, the answer would be more of better.

Balancing autonomy and belonging.

Perhaps a difference between good leaders and good managers is that the leaders create worlds of shared significance, and managers resource it. Emotional resonance and operational support. No direction, no control, no permissions in sight. Organisationally, we not me.

One of the things we are learning in the small experiment that is Originize, is that conversations around what matters to uncover shared significance can weave magic.

We are diverse groups – puzzlers and mystics – all doing our own thing who meet together, once a week, with no leader and no agenda to talk about what we’re noticing – in our businesses, in the wider world, with each other. A small group within a larger murmurating flock of those who balance autonomy and belonging. Neither subjugating or being subjugated.

Just hanging out improving each others lives.

Beautiful Businesses are possible

I’ve long been a fan of Alan Moore’s work. I love the immediate tension between beautiful and business – when was the last time you read “beautiful” in a business plan or strategy, or heard it mentioned in a weekly management meeting?

Yet, I believe it to be increasingly not just valid, but essential. If we can balance beautiful and business by balancing autonomy and belonging, we can create remarkable organisations that create real value for everybody involved.

As it becomes increasingly clear that whatever we’re going into post Covid, it’s not where we were, it seems a positive aspiration. To enable those around us to be themselves whilst hanging out together doing stuff that matters.

Less planning and effort, more doing and enjoying.

We can learn a lot about effortless beauty from Starlings

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The negative scale effect..

Scale is so alluring.

All that coverage, all that income. Scaling is an industry. Growth Coaches, Scale up Experts. 1.3 billion items listed on Google.

Craft Coaching. Much less popular. 64 million listed on Google. Yet craft is where it all starts. Somewhere, right at the beginning of the product or service was someone dedicated to their craft. A scientist, a writer, an artisan chef. Somebody who created something original (for a brief moment)

The problem with growth is that is is as fragile as it is addictive, as we’re seeing right now.

Scale requires infrastructure and overhead. Factories. People who don’t create, but are part of a making machine. Operatives, not artists. Very humanly painful and financially expensive to unwind.

The moment we scale, we largely immobilize the product or service. When it has acquired structure, overhead, and marketing it becomes sluggish and can no longer adapt in the way the crafter who created it could help it do. We launch the product into the world and the world absorbs it and moves on to require something new. A sort of accelerated assured obsolescence.

iPhone from stunning innovation to commodity in a little over ten years, even with the genius of Apple marketing behind it.

I suspect there is an inverse law between craft and scale. Craft is a function of love and dedication; scale is a function of efficiency and measurement.

There is a point at which the negative scale effect sets in. Research suggests there is a finite number of connections that we can manage effectively – with emotional resonance – and that is around 150. As an organisation, once we get above that the internal resonance reduces, and that will impact on clients. It’s hardly a precise measure, but more an indication of probability. Above a certain point, our connection to craft and our stakeholders starts to erode.

And there is no going back. Never again will an iPhone be a craft item in the way it was when Steve Jobs and the team synthesised it (invented is I think an overstatement). It has spawned copies in the time it has been around, some of which are, on an incremental basis arguably better, but the magic has now evaporated, and cannot be recovered.

Craft has magic. Faberge Egg #69 was no less magic than #1, and the collection is more valuable than the sum of the parts.

That’s because the magic of craft is a function of what goes into it. Dedication. love, obsession, detail, and the never ending pursuit of better for its own sake. A reflection of the soul of the artist who creates it.

We could, I’m sure scale Faberge Eggs, and indeed many counterfeiters have had a go.

If we succeeded the magic would be gone.

We are all Craftsmen and Women at Heart

I know accountants and lawyers who have a sense of craft – sometimes to be found in their profession, more often outside it. Our industrial business model does not make it easy. The ruthless pursuit of a six sigma error rate is not forgiving of foibles or artistic touches.

Outliers as bad, not interesting or inspiration.

That’s fine for commodities – I’d really like light bulbs that work every time and last for as long as they say they will (gentle sigh)

When it comes to the Lamp that carries the bulb however it’s different. We watched one being made for us in a workshop in Italy, one of three. The potter showed us the flaws that didn’t matter to anyone else other than him. That lamp is wonderfully unscaleable.

The people who run the recycling centre in Derby Raynesway have something of the artist.

Given what they do, the place is incredibly clean because they don’t stop cleaning it. They come and help empty your car, unbidden, with a smile. They are led more than managed (people like this need very little managing) by someone who understands and respects recycling, and the team that do it.

Covid-19 has reminded us of the vulnerability of thoughtless scale. It is going to cost us financially and socially as well as environmentally. It’s a lesson we might want to learn.

Craft to scale is easy. Scale to craft is virtually impossible. We lose much in transition.

Craft is eternal. Scale is temporary.

I guess its a matter of values, and what we want to do with our lives.

We can choose.

Scale is a conscious decision.

A Time for Artists

The time was, only a few months ago that the economy was still considered stable enough to pay us in anticipation of us doing the work .

An employment contract, a supplier contract, it was all based on our record of delivery. Defined jobs, with clear specifications, in a marketplace that was familiar.

Of course, the first harbingers were there, for those who chose to look. The easy outsourcing, the gig economy, reliance on low margins and the satisfaction of regular dividends. Nice. Better not to look.

The Lure of Continuity.

Getting the message across was difficult, and it always has been. When the Impressionists first started out, they could not get their work displayed in the Paris Salon, because it was not considered “Proper Art” by the establishment, who did of course, know. Later, the Beatles could not get record deals “four boys with guitars, really?” the list, we know in retrospect, goes on.

“The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible

Reaction to Fred Smith’s proposal for what became Federal Express.

Over time, we built an economy predicated on staying the same.

Of course there would be product innovations, and occasionally disruptions, but the market would accomodate them, and those who understood the way the market worked would always win. Bankers, Consultants. Lawyers and others.

Oops

In 2013 David Graeber wrote an article on “Bullshit Jobs”, followed in 2016 by a book of the same name. In it he argued that a large proportion of jobs were “bullshit”-adding no real value to the economy, and even less to the lives of those who did them.

He included Bankers, Consultants, Lawyers and others.

He was easy to dismiss. A renegade and an anarchist even if he was a recognised if controversial academic. Even if he was at the heart of the Occupy movement, and coined the term “The 1%”

As we look at “Essential workers” and the dreadful toll on jobs caused by Covid-19, it appears he had a point.

The huge amount of noise and demands for subsidy are in those areas that he identified as bullshit. By no means all, but enoough to make the point. Jobs that are, in effect hosted by those parts of the economy that create value, rather than just move it around. The part that the Physiocrats, the precursor to modern neoliberal economists, called “sterile”.

No Time for Templates

Art is about seeing things differently, and finding ways to explain that. About reframing, and paradigm breaking.

In the world of puzzlers and mystics, it’s time for the mystics. Logic will not see us past this crisis, or tackle the ones emerging, it is the mystics – the language of artists.

This is no time for templates, from powerpoints to consultants business models. they were built for a different time, by smart people and used parrot fashion by those didn’t. Leadership Books written by those who defined their style in retrospect rather than in advance on values and beliefs.

A Time for Artists

This is a time for originality, conviction and the pursuit of what really matters. A time for the long game of beautiful businesses our children and grandchildren will admire for what they did at this time, not the short term obsession with ugly, unsustainable returns.

We were born original, and only became standardised through education, training and habituation in more stable times.

What we need now is the artist in you.

To be paid for what you create that only you can do. To make a difference to what next. To not watch passively and hope others will sort it.

Nobody is going to resue you

Ta’mara Leigh

If you want somewhere to explore that possibility, join the discussion at the Originize Project

Beautiful Conversations

Conversations, at their best are beautiful things.

They are a dance of possibility as we pass ideas backwards and forwards, help each other shape them, notice things in the space between ideas and create the start of something.

In the search for efficiency however, we appear to have weaponised them. We treat them like processes, looking at value extracted versus time spent. Dialectic. Not a dance, so much as a tennis match, hitting with ever greater force as we look for weakness in our opponent.

There is a place for this. In stable conditions, with known rules, like the Law Courts, or a manufacturing process this type of dialectic is powerful – testing ideas and improving them.

However, in conditions of uncertainty when the reality is that none of us know what’s coming next, it’s dangerous. We create false certainty to bolster our case and make assertions based at best on assumptions, and at worst on manipulation.

Doubt is uncomfortable, but Certainty is absurd

Voltaire

It seems right now, we’re having far too many of these ugly conversations. Trading off the balance between saving the hospitality industry against the likelihood of a second wave; trying to restore an economy that was dysfuntional rather than using this shock to shape something new.

We have huge opportunity the other side of the pain that is now inevitable. It could be a great story, but it has to be crafted, not bodged.

To craft it we need to bring to it what makes things beautiful. Grace, Gratitude, Intent, Generosity and Courage.

We do not have time for the destructive power of ugly conversations