Sunday, October 26, 2008


The client wants to encourage collaboration amongst his associates. We design the day to lead them gently to the point where they have an opportunity to form teams. The closer we get to the point where they might start to form them, the more we veer away from the possibility and the less fun everyone has. Now, don't get me wrong - the day was a success and everyone seemed to have an engaging, valuable time. Just that the outcomes were subtlely different from expectations, and the client learnt as much as the delegates, if not more. Some embryonic alliances did form, but 'off-line'; mentoring relationships sprang up and many made new contacts that seemed to be of no immediate business benefit.
I'm now thinking that this was another, albeit gentle, indication that objectives and emergence are mututally exclusive. In this case, the emergent properties (including some pretty critical feedback for the client) were not surpressed by objectives, but the reverse could so easily have been true.
So next time I'll be advising clients to temporarily suspend their need for outcomes and deliverables in favour of the unexpected - on the basis that one is real, the other is fantasy.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Here's what happens when the balance between doing and thinking isn't quite right.


Mitchell Sava is starting the Glory of Failure project with the RSA. Lots of events celebrating failure. He cites how Venture Capitalists look for signs of past failure before investing and how Penn State Uni runs a Failure 101 course for engineers. There are signs that we're beginning to accept the benefits of failure - even though Galileo wrote about it 400 years ago. It'll take a while though while we still have people like Ian stringer (Apprentice candidate) who can't even say the word.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Last week I helped a team of game designers get a handle on what their next game would look like. Now I'm not a game player, let alone a designer, and I can tell you this project looks awesomely complex. So all I could do was to hang on to the simplest of processes to get our heads around the issues. To everyone's surprise, not least mine, we succeded, and came out the other side with not only clarity, but a few kilotons of energy and commitment. It reminded me how a simple approach, coupled with trust and collective will, can turn apparently intractable challenges into exciting and energising prospects.

Friday, June 27, 2008


I feel the need to report on some great results from introducing meditation into exec coaching programmes. A very simple regime of 10-15 minutes a day is having a radical effect on behaviour. The technique is very simple, based on body and breath awareness, yet the effects are profound. Why this should be the case is beyond me... though my hunch is it's around allowing the recursive mind to wind down, so creating space for other good stuff to emerge which otherwise remains supressed.


One of my coaching clients is a very quick thinker and has bags of rational intelligence. He got frustrated recently by his colleagues' inability to pick up some tricky concepts, even after explaining it several different ways. It dawned on him straight after that he could have handled it better. We had a bit of an 'aha' when I put it to him that their lack of IQ was only matched by his lack of EQ in not finding the time and space to allow them to 'get' it. After all, was the issue with the concept, the transmitter, or the receiver?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Have a look at
A wonderful journey through the orders of magnitude of the universe. And a reminder of how micro and macrocosm echo each other.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Derren Brown did it again the other night making the possible look impossible. He threw a coin and got 10 heads in a row. Then he enabled a non-betting person to win on the horses 6 times in a row making serious money in the process. How did he do it? Well he did it by only telling us part of the story. I wonder how much of what we see looks unlikely simply because of the hidden complexity behind it? Or perhaps more poignantly, how amazing is that complexity in its own right?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Can't resist posting this gem, for no particular reason:
Freud declares that the miser is invariably constipated, and associates the dream of money with faeces.


In sharp contrast to the RSA event (below), Channel 4's 'Staying On' debate provided an engaging, mind-changing experience. It even ended up with the RSA's question - What are schools for? - and unlike the RSA, at least tried to grapple with it.
Samira Ahmed presided over 6 panellists and the 100 strong audience with panache. Each panellist was limited to a few minutes' to state their case whereas the 2 RSA speakers droned on for at least 20 minutes each about... search me.
So well done C4 and wake up RSA.

Friday, February 01, 2008


I went to an education debate at the RSA the other night: "What are schools for?". Two eminent speakers and a high profile chair. The evening failed for me on 2 counts. Firstly the speakers were both firmly entrenched in the paradigm that education is about injecting information into people's heads. Secondly the format locked out the audience, which had far more intelligent things to say than either speaker. Even the worthy chair made no significant contribution.

Friday, January 25, 2008


Vindication at last: today's Times states:
In derivatives trading winners exactly match the losers.

And so rogue trader Jerome Kerviel's loss of £3.7B is someone else's gain. I've always felt that some financial trading has a zero sum element to it, but my trader friends have always dismissed this as simply not true - giving me the impression that they are adding value in some way. Now it seems that derivatives trading is a zero sum game... with no added value. I'm now trying to think of any other profession where the overall status quo is left untouched by its efforts. Any ideas?

Friday, January 18, 2008


After years of entrepreneurial planning, scheming and fantasizing, in the past week so many possibilities have emerged that completely destroy the notion (in my mind at least) of any sort of linear cause and effect. Suddenly we're meeting the right people, finding the right spaces (see previous post) which could have happened a long time ago...or may never have happened at all. Is this a stochastic process or a tide in the affairs of men?


Looks like this is going to be our new work home for the next year or so. I went to the opening bash, got slightly sozzled on cheap champagne (pleasant nevertheless) and signed up. Unlike other alcohol-fuelled decisions, in the clear light of day and sobriety, I have no regrets.

Monday, January 14, 2008


At a recent Teambuilding workshop I asked the small team what kept them awake nights. One person replied that it was the fact of reporting to 2 bosses. Everyone sat up at the prospect of chewing on this juicy morsel. But after some careful digging, it transpired that the fact of having 2 bosses wasn't in itself an issue... in fact it all worked quite well.
So why had it been raised?
Answer: 'because I didn't want to be left out not having a problem to share'.
Now what's the problem?

Friday, January 11, 2008


Continuing from my preceeding post, I often wonder what I would do if I saw a group of youths up to no good. Would I intervene? I then ask myself what if the group was replaced by a tiger (yes, one of those stripy wild cats). Obviously I wouldn't attempt to tame the tiger and make it see the error of its ways. So why should I do the same with a bunch of feral teens? The result could be the same.
In other words why would I waste my time and jeopardise my wellbeing trying to change innate behaviour in an animal, a disconsolate youth or an unsympathetic boss?
Now this isn't meant to be a universal principle - I think a lot depends on the drivers: is someone else's welfare at stake and am I acting in their best interests? Or do I want the satisfaction of controlling the errant behaviour of a 3rd party?


I ran a Creative Problem Solving workshop the other day. After some work it transpired that the team's real problem was the boss, who was not present. But on further examination this was a smokescreen - the real problem was that the boss didn't do or say what the team wanted. Already we'd moved away from the person to the behaviour. Then it became clear that the boss's negative behaviour was a response to the team's behaviour - so the real problem became the relationship. Now relationships need 2 parties - 2 to tango. So the emphasis shifted from one person's personality to a network of relationships.
And the question changed from: how can we change our boss's behaviour? to: how can we work within these constraints to get what we want?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


My institution's management network is looking for a new Chair. Problem: no one's volunteering. And in their paradigm, this is a problem. Enter Orpheus the conductorless orchestra:

Instead of one person taking on the orchestra's artistic responsibility and leadership, we share leadership throughout the membership of the orchestra. Each piece sees a different concertmaster, rotating principle musician chairs, and a sharing of ideas and inspirations. This empowering formula creates a dynamic setting where each musician takes artistic ownership of the performance, not just his or her own part. When we feel personally connected to the music, we know you will too. This is the Orpheus Process.
If this sounds too good to be true, listen to the results:

Saturday, January 05, 2008


Andreas Scholl, the great German counter-tenor has a profound insight on learning:

"I have this phrase which sums up the process: imitation, contemplation, emancipation. You begin by imitating, you observe yourself doing the action and then you can move on and become free."
This really resonates with my experience but I only realised it reading this quote.


I've been re-reading Arthur Battram's 'Navigating Complexity' over the Christmas break. I do like the way it skims over the vast surface of this subject, quite happy to leave issues unresolved. It reminds me a favourite 'get out of jail' card that I've used recently: "The question is more important than the answer".


This week's Times reveals that 1 in 3 of us are bored at work. This occupational ennui is apparently due to the simplification and automation brought about by technology. Ironic that the deployment of technology itself is actually very interesting and stimulating (speaking as an engineer).
I wonder if the problem wouldn't be eased if those involved were considered not just as fleshy cogs in the machine, but as people with a need for challenge and meaning.
Henry Ford complained that he got a whole person when all he wanted was a pair of hands - that was a loooooong time ago.