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Organization design blog- June 2017

On purpose and hope

05/07/17  7:45 PM 

There's a phrase painted along the corridor wall, on the way to the cafeteria, of a building I frequent. I'm assuming it's read by lots of people, walking by it to buy their lunch, although when I pointed it out to someone the other day she said she'd never noticed it.

I think it's supposed to be motivational or inspirational but I'm not sure. It reads 'Purpose is better than hope'. I find that a deeply puzzling and somewhat disturbing statement. Each time I go past it I wonder why purpose is better than hope? How is it better? What makes it better and in what circumstances? I wonder who painted it on – were they following instructions, who chose the phrase, what did they intend by it?

In my organisation design work, I often begin with asking 'what is the purpose' of what the organization does or should do. Simon Sinek talks about this as 'start with why'. He says:

'By "why," I mean: What's your purpose? What's your cause? What's your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care?'

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Bunker days

05/01/17  5:59 PM 

A while ago, in our daily stand-up, one of our team said she was going to have a 'bunker day'. You may know that, 'A bunker is a defensive military fortification designed to protect people or valued materials from falling bombs or other attacks. ... Bunkers can also be used as protection from tornadoes.

First, off we misheard and thought she said she was going to have a bonkers day. Since most days feel pretty bonkers we weren't sure why she'd called it out but when she told us she'd said 'bunker', we all got her image immediately.

It meant she was going to hole herself up not allowing any interruptions or distractions. She was going to shield herself from organizational tornadoes, attack by heaven knows what email demands, phone calls, text messages, What's App, Lync, interruptions, and so on. She was going to protect her day, keeping it totally clear for reflective time, regrouping, thinking things through. There's a French phrase for it 'reculer pour mieux sauter' (to draw back in order to make a better jump).

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Energy use

04/24/17  6:59 PM 

Last week I accepted an invitation to have a Smart Meter installed to monitor my electricity usage. At pretty much the same time I got an email with an info sheet about the privacy aspects of smart meters. I learned that 'Gas and electricity firms will be able to use smart meters to collect information about how customers use energy as frequently as every half hour'.

Oddly, that week I was in the middle of an activity recommended in the book Designing Your Life asking me to monitor my personal levels of energy every half hour to help me find out what activities led me to feel at my most energetic. The authors provide a paper work sheet for this (rather than a smart-meter – but no doubt the time will come - or even, has come, when we can meter our personal energy smartly).

Exactly as the utility companies, I was measuring my top energy giving or draining activities then noticing the patterns, then asking 'What relatively accessible changes can I make to improve my energy flows?'

I did wonder whether I could compare and correlate the electricity usage with my personal energy levels to find out, for example, if boiling a kettle led to a spike in my personal energy as I then made and drank a cup of tea. But I didn't do that.

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Yak shaving

04/17/17  7:40 PM 

Someone said to me that he was yak shaving and I had to look up the phrase. It turns out to be:

'Any seemingly pointless activity which is actually necessary to solve a problem which solves a problem which, several levels of recursion later, solves the real problem you're working on.' origin: MIT AI Lab, after 2000: orig. probably from a Ren & Stimpy episode.

It's a great phrase and, sadly, I think I'm in the position where it could become a much-used phrase in my vocabulary, now I know what it is. I seem to have spent a lot of time this week on seemingly pointless activity. A lot of it to do with form filling and compliance with process demands. My favourite was filling in a form on a Word document to attach to a web page. Before submission I had to fill in, on the web page, the identical information that I'd just filled in on the attached form. I couldn't submit just the word document or just fill in the web page. I could only complete the process by duplicating the information. (What is the cost of that?)

In order to fill in the Word form I had to look up a whole raft of information from a variety of sources – it wasn't all housed in the same location. The actual task could be very straightforward were it not for the layers of process.

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Of nets and networks

04/10/17  7:23 PM 

Last weekend I was in Villajoyosa, a Spanish fishing port, 'birthplace of the fishing net industry'. Walking around the harbour and seeing the nets all piled up started me thinking about what was caught in the nets and what escaped through them.

Earlier in the week we'd been discussing a paper by Niels Pflaeging on Organizing for Complexity where he outlines three types of organization structures: formal hierarchy, informal network, and value creation network. In this he argues that, 'value creation is never the result of individual action: It is a team-based process of working interactively, "with-one-another-for-each-other".'

The idea of networks of empowered teams as a new organizational model is one that we're hearing a lot about. Deloitte (a consultancy) describes, 'This new mode of organization-—a "network of teams" with a high degree of empowerment, strong communication, and rapid information flow' as integral to value creation.

But as Anne-Marie Slaughter, talking about her new book, says, 'Network theory is a whole branch of science, but it's relatively new in terms of the last 20 or 30 years. We haven't had a chance to take all that theory out of the universities and apply it to ask, "What kinds of networks should we build, and for what purposes?" '

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Astonishment and don't know

04/03/17  6:22 AM 

'To be astonished is one of the surest ways of not growing old too quickly'. Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette

One of the words that has not yet come into common organizational usage is 'astonishment' and I'm just wondering why. As Lucy Kellaway points out we have a vast language of words that have become debased into corporate guff but 'astonishment' fortunately has not yet reached this point. So, while it is still untainted by being included in a competence framework or list of essential applicant capabilities let me suggest why it is a valuable characteristic to nurture.

'Astonishment' has appeared a couple of times this week in my in-box, once in the quote above and once in a Brain Pickings email in which poet, Wislawa Szymborska, argues that not-knowing, 'is the seedbed of our capacity for astonishment, which in turn gives meaning to our existence'.

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    Naomi Stanford
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