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What goals and how goals – part 2

Posted by Andrew Cooper on February 10, 2009

Way back in mid-January I posted about the distinction that sports psychologists make between outcome goals and process goals.  In a nutshell, focusing on winning a race (an outcome goal) can be counterproductive because everyone else has the same goal and simply wanting to win clearly doesn’t guarantee that you will.  It’s much better, they argue, to focus on the things you need to do to maximise performance (process goals). 

Here’s the excellent Oliver Burkeman making similar points with better examples in his Guardian column last Saturday.


Posted in management, planning, psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

What Goals and How Goals

Posted by Andrew Cooper on January 18, 2009


Someone who has just achieved an objective goal

Last summer the UK experienced a rare fortnight of success in sport.  Having only won nine gold medals in the 2004 Athens Olympics, and a total of 30 altogether, we had no great expectations of success in 2008.  Instead ‘Team GB’ (a moniker which can only have  been picked to annnoy the Northern Irish) won a total of 19 golds and 47 in total.  Rather astonishingly, we finished fourth in the medal tables.  Most of the residents of these islands experienced a growing sense of disbelief as the medal tally grew.

There are a number of possible explanations for this dramatic improvement.  Our team focussed its resources onsports it was good at, in particular the ‘sitting down’ sports: rowing, cycling, sailing and so on.  

It was also interesting to listen to the competitors talking about their success.   Some of them talked about the sports psychology that had been applied by their coaches.  In particular they mentioned the distinction between process goals and objective goals.  An objective goal would be to win a heat or to win a medal.  Focussing on an objective like this can be stressful and unproductive, particularly given that its reasonably certain that every other competitor in a given event will have the same goal.

Process goals are to do with the ways in which success if achieved.  Sticking to a particular training regime, improving technique, achieving a target weight and so on.  I remember one athlete talking about the fact that process goals were about things she could influence directly: she could determine whether or not she achieved her process goals.   She found this much more helpful than focussing on winning per se.

A lot has been written about the topic of process and objective goals.  This simple idea rang lots of bells with me because I have for many years thought in terms of ‘whats’ (aka, amongst other things, objectives’) and ‘hows’ (aka, amongst other things, processes).  Also, I’m a big fan of simple ideas.  

(Incidentally, one of the items that my Googling into this topic threw up was this astonishingly accurate forecast.) 



Part of

Posted in Change, management, planning, psychology | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Cognitive surplus, The Vision Thing, Kurt Lewin and Newton

Posted by Andrew Cooper on November 15, 2008




George H Bush allegedly said that he didn’t do ‘the vision thing’ (although, following two minutes extensive research via Google I can’t actually find a source for that so perhaps he didn’t).

Either way, his son’s successor is very big on Vision.  And following on from his extraordinarily successful use of the web to help back up his job application for the Leader of the Free World post he’s about to take on, he’s using the web to collect visions.  

Anyone interested in change management and psychology is bound to have been thinking about the central message of Obama’s campaign.  If you spend $30.00 on an Obama victory T-shirt (I’d want a victory sweat shirt at that price, particulalry given the current dollar/pound exchange rate, but I suppose that’s not the point) you will be able to wander around broadcasting the message – ‘Change can happen’ – to anyone who happens to read you.

This is a pretty safe promise, of course.  Change can happen. We’re all agreed on that. There’s an implicit suggestion that the change in question, if it does happen, will be beneficial, but the slogan provides a safety net just in case it isn’t.  

thankyou_bannerThere’s a lot that could be said about managing change and it’s a fair bet that the large management consultancies are queuing up to say it to Obama’s transitition team in the hope of landing massive contracts of the kind that our own government, here in the UK, has handed out to them over the last eleven years (see various previous posts in which I’ve suggested that this isn’t necessarily a brilliant idea.)

I’ll limit myself to just one thought. Kurt Lewin, who died in 1947, is one of the best known theorists on change management. He is also, as the wikipedia article points out, known as the ‘father of social psychology’.  His ‘force field analysis’ approach is one of those lessons from pscyhology which I would put in the ‘obvious when you think about it but nevertheless useful’, category of ideas.  

Force field analysis is like a restatement of Newton’s First Law of Motion which, as you will recall, states that ‘”A body continues to maintain its state of rest or of uniform motion unless acted upon by an external unbalanced force”.  Lewin said that social situations are like this.  They remain static because a set of balancing driving and restraining forces keep them that way.  So, if you want them to change, you must reduce the restraining forces and/or increase the drivers.  

As the wikipedia article also explains, Lewin talked in terms of ‘unfreezing’ a situation, making the change happen and then ‘freezing’ it again. 

All this is massively difficult to do and although I’m a SLLL (sceptical lilly-livered liberal) I can understand why the right in America is aghast at the idea of an interventionist President attempting to change things using the Federal government machine.  (So aghast, in fact, that Representative Paul Broun has already played the ‘Hitler’ card by comparing the President elect with, yes, Adolf Hitler.  This is, of course, a sure sign that he has lost the argument.)

(The video is, incidentally from the excellent Daily Show website: fellow card-holding LLLs will appreciate why it’s been my main source of intelligence regarding recent goings on in the USA – the show’s website is excellent.)

Anyway, Obama certainly has one thing in his favour at present.  If you want to engineer large scale change you need a large shock to unfreeze the existing status quo.  In this respect, at least, Obama and Hitler have something in common: large scale economic shocks.  Hitler had the depression and its consequences for Germany.  Obama has the credit crunch induced world economic crisis.

It’s going to be an interesting few years, one way or another.  

My vision for America, incidentally, is that all American citizens are provided with one of my very-nearly-ready-to-sell Mindworks approach starter kits so that they can think things through properly instead of rushing out and changing everthing willy nilly.

The starter kit has been slowly fermenting away over the past couple of months, and has recently been renamed ‘Mindworks BrainGear’ after someone rightly pointed out that ‘Mindworks Approach’ didn’t exactly grab his attention.   The second part of the process around which the kit is based, incidentally, exploits force field analysis.  I talk about bridges and barriers rather than driving and restraining forces, but the idea is exactly the same.  Just thought you’d like to know, Senator Obama.

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Councillors, MPs, thinking time and cognitive surplus

Posted by Andrew Cooper on September 13, 2008

Without going into the gory details, a Facebook group set up to save the building you can see here has helped to persuade our local council to turn down a planning application to demolish it and redevelop the site.  This has left a £5m hole in the budget for the brand new £40m school we’re supposed to be getting.  Regular readers will know our son is in his penultimate year at the school in question.

It’s a bit difficult to understand why the council, who are in the lead on the replacement project, turned down the application.  Clearly the Facebook group and a local petition had a massive influence on councillors when they voted, but I’d be surprised if the 700 or so people who objected represented the majority view.  The words ‘foot’ and ‘shoot’ spring to mind.

When I mentioned this to Sam – who has spent much of the last five years being taught in the building in question – he said ‘Why do they want to keep it?  It’s awful.’  I said I thought that nostalgia was probably a big factor as most of the objectors are former, rather than current, students.  Also, of course, there’s the fact that people do like objecting to things: it’s much easier than having to come up with creative solutions.

Over the past few years I’ve worked a lot with local councillors and have been very impressed by them as individuals.  The are passionate, committed to their lcommunities, willing to spend hours and hours in meetings (my idea of purgatory, if not hell, I must say) and generally spend masses of their own time attempting to make life better for local people.

They have much more difficult and demanding job than MPs – backbenchers, at least, don’t have any real responsibility at all, they get a very good salary (and an even better pension and allowances package) and work in the Palace of Westminster with with its wonderful library, restaurants and bars.  I’ve seen MPs up close too and, for those who want it to be, there’s is a cushy life.

The main problem that councillors face is, quite simply, overload.  They just don’t have time to think properly.  Much of what they do is very detailed – dealing with complaints, planning applications, the latest of (many) reports churned out by their officials (or consultants hired by them) on instructions from Whitehall, and so on.  Because they don’t have time to think, they occasionally (and in this case, very expensively: it’s costing £30K a week to keep the new school project on hold while a solution is found to the funding problem) end up in foot-shooting scenarios as a result.

So, how do we fix this?  Yep, it’s the good old cognitive surplus once again.  There’s lots of thinking power sitting around in the community, but at present it often gets used in rather destructive ways like, in my view, the Save Luker campaign.  People have a right to try to stop things they don’t like, but let’s try to make sure that they don’t like them for really good reasons, rather than simply because they don’t like them.

As Prof Shirky has pointed out, social media and modern technology generally can be used in much more productive ways than simply organising petitions.  We can use it to engage people’s brains in thinking creatively.  I’m doing some work locally which is aimed at achieving just that.  More on that story later, but first I have to finish building a website or two.

Posted in cognitive surplus, consultancy, creativity, government, innovation, thinking | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Form follows function

Posted by Andrew Cooper on August 10, 2008

Form following function

Form following function

Wikipedia is a wonderful thing.  A while back I thought it was going a bit awry: some articles were getting out of hand and were beginning to look as if they’d been drafted by committee (which, of course, they had in a way) but most of the articles I look at these days are really excellent.

I started off this post thinking about another project and typed “form follows function wiki” into my google pop-up window.  This is the article.

I knew the phrase had its origins in architecture and the article identifies two architects associated with it.  It’s worth quoting Louis Sullivan’s statement of his credo:

“It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic,
Of all things physical and metaphysical,
Of all things human and all things super-human,
Of all true manifestations of the head,
Of the heart, of the soul,
That the life is recognizable in its expression,
That form ever follows function. This is the law.”

Gosh, there’s a lot in there don’t you think?  “All true manifestations of the head”!?  And I love the idea that “this is the law”.  Presumably he means a natural law, but the idea that it should be an actual law is more interesting.  Imagine a law which decreed that form should follow function.  Lawyers would have a field day.  Car designers would be prosecuted for adding bits onto their designs which had no obvious function and their defence lawyers would say ‘it doesn’t actually do anything, but it looks nice and that’s part of the car’s function”.

Anyway, the best example I know of form following function in “things physical” is the modern high-performance glider.  I included youtubes of some glides in an earlier post.  They are, to my mind gorgeous machines.  Their function is to be able to fly as far and as fast as possible, simply using the energy in the atmosphere.  The fact that they look the way they do has everything to do with the best aerodynamic form and nothing to do with aesthetics.  If there was an uglier way of increasing the efficiency of a glider, glider pilots would fly uglier machines.  The ASG 29 pictured top right has a ‘glide angle’ of 52:1. This means that it will fly 52 thousand feet – 10 miles – horizontally while only losing 1000 feet in altitude.  That’s very efficient.

Posted in Africa, creativity, design, form follows function, gliding, innovation | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Moving into retail – update

Posted by Andrew Cooper on August 5, 2008

Just a few more bits and pieces to put in place and we’ll be at ignition sequence start for my experiment in retail.  Meanwhile, here’s a sneak preview of the cover sheet for the Mindworks Approach Starter Pack which will soon be available to purchase (along with by-the-hour online coaching, a Booster Pack and a surprise Mindworks new offering) via …. well I’ll leave the ‘via’ until I’ve made a final decision on whether to use the particular channel I have in mind.  Watch this space.

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Some thoughts for the Whitehall Innovation Hub

Posted by Andrew Cooper on August 5, 2008

Thanks to a post on Simon’s blog (Simon, as you’ll recall from earlier posts, is WordPress’s representative on planet Earth and, like me, a former civil servant though not quite so former as I am) I now know that something called the Whitehall Innovation Hub has been created at the National School of Government (or the Ecole Nationale D’Administration, as I think they’d like to be thought of, having apparently downgraded themselves from a college to a school via various name changes)

Simon’s post was the fifth hit on Google when I searched for this just now – see this – the ranking may have changed since I searched, but the top four hits were from egovmonitor.com, publictechnology.net and Simon.  So Simon, a freelance web consultant who lives just down the road from me, is in the top three organisations to break the news at the place most people will go to find out what’s going on – Google.  That says something.

Anyway, as this blog is entirely about people and their ability to innovate, I feel a public duty to throw my half-pence worth into the debate.  I often ask people what they would do if they were running their organisation (the results are always interesting, particularly if you ask them privately and promise not to tell anyone) so this is what I’d do if I was running the Hub.

  1. Stop doing all the things which stop people innovating. Large organisations are virtually designed to stop people innovating and as the civil service (aka Whitehall) is a very large organisation, it’s full of things that stop people innovating.  There’s a good reason for this: if everyone innovated all the time life would be chaotic: everything would continuously be changing  and no one would know what the heck was going on.  So ignore that first sentence.  But I really would look hard at barriers to innovation and find ways of unblocking them.  It’s not rocket science.
  2. I’d also look hard at Whitehall’s tendency to hire other people to do its thinking.  I’ve banged on enough about the £3bn public sector bill for consultants in one year – £1.8bn of which was in Whitehall – which raised the PAC’s collective eyebrows somewhat.  But it’s simply a fact that if you hire other people to think for you, you aren’t  doing the thinking.  And that stops you from learning.  Innovation is largely about learning, so this is a Bad Thing.  We need civil servants to be innovating themselves, and given the tsunami of money that’s been thrown at consultants, I doubt whether they’ve had much practice recently.  They don’t even get to firefight, and firefighting provides massive potential for learning.  I linked to this management consultant’s blog over the weekend.  She argues that civil servants can’t firefight  so someone has to pay her £1000 a day to do it for them.  Big missed opportunity.
  3. Next (or, more likely, at the same time) I’d talk to some innovators.  I wouldn’t sit in Sunningdale, lovely place though it is, thinking great thoughts about innovation, consulting leading academics, chewing the cud with NESTA, IDeA, the Design Council and the rest (although I’d certainly have a chat with them and ask them to write their advice on one side of A4).  I’d be out and about, finding innovators at all levels in the government machine and videoing them with my Flip camera (did I mention I have a Flip camera?) to find out how they were able to do it.  Then I’d post the interviews to Youtube so that everyone else could find out.  That would be both simple and fun.
  4. The Hub is going to look at incentives, so I’d have to think about that.  I’ve touched on this before.  Really good innovators should have the incentive of earning a lot of money.  That usually works as an incentive.  They could even, as I suggested in an earlier post, earn more than their bosses.  Happens all the time elsewhere.  So I’d look at that idea too. And I do mean innovators and not inventors – see below.
  5. I’d think hard about creating a career civil service again.  This sounds dreadfully old fashioned, but I’d re-read Arie de Geus’s The Living Company to remind myself that it isn’t.  De Gues (a senior manager at Shell for many years, not a guru, consultant or member of a think tank) uses the analogy of companies as organisms to analyse why some companies (unlike most) have particularly long lives.  He even refers to Richard Dawkins (who was excellent on Channel 4 last night, I thought, not least because he pretty much kept away from the whole God thing).  Many of the best companies grow and nurture their own talent, rather than hiring it in.  The logic for doing so, both in terms of cost effectiveness and building the internal capability to manage/innovate is, to my mind, irrefutable.  I think the Public Accounts Committee agrees with me.
  6. I’d get on and do some innovating in my own team. Act as a role model.  I’d run the whole thing online and not have an office.  As I’ve already established on this blog, 99.8% of people don’t have good ideas in offices and the other .2% only say they do to impress their bosses.  I don’t have an office already (unless you count the converted end of my garage, from which I write, and it’s much too pleasant and useful to be called an office) so I’ve got a head start.  I once met a brilliant local government direct services manager who didn’t have an office either.  He spent all his time out and about with customers, suppliers and his people.  On the few occasions he went into HQ he used a spare desk or an empty meeting room. He also had some really good ways of managing: for example, he asked all the people who worked for him in managerial jobs to improve at least one thing they or their teams were doing every month.  That’s innovation and that’s the sort of person I’d want to video with my Flip.  Simple.
  7. I’m going to stop at 1000 words (post posting note: this turned out to be wrong), and WordPress is telling me that that was 902 so I’ll have to be quick.  Above all I’d find ways of tapping into what Clay Shirky calls the ‘cognitive surplus’.  Watch the youtube at this post to find out what he means.  And I don’t just mean the cognitive surplus of civil servants, although they must have some surplus, what with all those consultants doing all the thinking and that. I mean the cognitive surplus of the public – us – the people that civil servants are serving.  Customers can innovate too.  A very good way of tapping into cognitive surplus is to use the same technology that I’m using to communicate these blindingly obvious thoughts, as Mr Shirky also – rather brilliantly, in my view – points out.
  8. Lastly I’d work hard to stop ministers – and Prime Ministers – from meddling and try to persuade them to lead instead.  For reasons I’ll have to mention in another post, this could be problematic.  But imagine if Gordon Brown had made the speech shown here?  If our PM had been President during the Apollo programme he would, every morning at 6.00am, have phoned Von Braun to ask how it was going and to offer his own thoughts on booster separation technology and the design of the LEM.  Enough said.

I’m sure  that all this will have occurred to the seconded academics and Design Council, NESTA and IDeA people etc. who make up the Hub, but at least I’ve got it off my chest.

PS – have just emailed a link to this to Clay Shirky.  If the hubbers get him to talk to them – as I think they should – I think I deserve a cut of his fee, don’t you? :0

Posted in consultancy, creativity, government, innovation, Network of minds, thinking | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Negative Bastard

Posted by Andrew Cooper on August 3, 2008

While I’m taking photos, I thought I’d introduce you to Negative Bastard.

Every organisation needs a negative bastard or two. It keeps the rest of us ‘half glass full’ types on our toes.  I’m fairly sure that the Huge Corporation would employ professional negative bastards to wander around ensuring all the new ideas its people generate are subjected to extreme levels of ridicule.  This would help Huge’s innovators to develop their objection handling strategies.

Being self-employed I obviously don’t have any negative bastard colleagues, so I bought the one pictured below eleven years ago to fill the position. He was actually part of a job lot from the Warner Brothers store at Gatwick Airport. They’d discontinued the line and sold me about twenty of them for a knock-down price. I was running some innovation workshops which were being held at the Gatwick Hilton (the project for a large multi-national I mention on my biog page), and I awarded negative bastards to participants who were particularly positive during the events.  I hope that they’ve taken good care of them.  (This sounds as though I’m making it up, doesn’t it?  Well I’m not.)

As you can see, Negative Bastard certainly looks the part. The small goat standing next to him usually lives on top of one of my modest collection of sand timers and was sent to me by a charity after my sister bought me a ‘goat for Africa’ birthday present, although there was some confusion at the time and I thought, not having properly read the instructions, that the present was the plastic goat.

You can see what I mean by negative, can’t you?

Negative Bastard does speak from time-to-time (actually it’s me that does the talking, but don’t tell anyone or you’ll spoil the illusion) . When he does talk he has, for obvious reasons, an extremely negative Australian accent.

If you work in a proper job and this all seems a little odd, don’t worry: it’s perfectly normal for freelance management consultants to surround themselves with virtual team members like this. (Hmmm. Sheba is looking at me right now with an ‘Oh no it isn’t’ expression on her face. In a moment I’ll tell her to get back to her job as Mindworks’ Director of Human and Non Human Resources althoughI have a feeling she rather admires the Evil Human Resources Director, Catbert, who you can see in action here. )

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Hofstadter’s Law

Posted by Andrew Cooper on August 2, 2008

Some industrial activity

Some industrial activity

Over at Oliver Burkeman’s always excellent “This column will change your life” column in the Guardian, this week’s piece is about Hofstadter’s Law.  To quote:

“Hofstadter’s law, conceived by the cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter, goes like this: any task you’re planning to complete will always take longer than expected – even when Hofstadter’s law is taken into account.”

Burkeman then goes on to discuss why this might be and what could be done about it.  The Law certainly applies to everything from building Olympics venues to even the most basic repairs to my bike.

The column also discusses the brilliantly named “ready, fire, aim” approach to planning:

“Better yet, where possible, avoid planning altogether. Use the “ready, fire, aim” approach, and correct course as you go along. As the blogger Steve Pavlina points out, the advantage is you quickly start getting real feedback. If you’re starting a new business, say, you won’t have to imagine how customers might respond to your adverts; you’ll know.”

This is exactly what I’m doing with my attempt at moving into retail, after taking Roger Croft’s advice: see below.

Meanwhile, having been playing with WordPress’s tags, I discovered this (anonymous) consultant bemoaning the fact that the government department for which he is working only pays £500.00 a day so the ‘programme’ on which he’s working has to find the rest of his £1000 a day fee.   (No problem with that, obviously, I’m sure that he’s delivering £1000 of value each and every day and, after all, the government does have to hit its target of spending £3bn a year on consultants.)  What I do have a problem with is his description of management consultancy as an ‘industry’.  God help us.   Business or profession perhaps, but ‘industry’?  I don’t think so. When people start referring to estate agency as an ‘industry’ we’ll know that our economy has finally collapsed.

Posted in consultancy, creativity, innovation, planning, thinking | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Stress testing

Posted by Andrew Cooper on August 2, 2008

A destruction test

A destruction test

I notice from their website that one of the large consultancy firms offers ‘stress testing’ of policies as one of their services to government.  This is a more circumspect version of the ‘destruction testing’ phrase I often use when talking about the rigorous evaluation of ideas.  (You couldn’t actually say to a client who you’re hoping will give you some of the £3bn spent annually on public sector consultants “We’re going to destruction test your daft ideas”, obviously. although given the not-entirely-joined-up nature of some current policies – e.g. budget support – I wish government departments would do more of this.)

I’ve been engaged in an email discussion with a close relative of mine of my Systems Party idea (see “Power to the People”) in an attempt at some stress testing.  He’s 83 and, without doubt, a WOB (Wise Old Bird).  Here are a couple of responses I’ve sent to his emails.

Dear L,

I  take your points, and this is just a thought experiment, of course, but I don’t think that the debates under my proposed system need to be anything like discussions in pubs, or trials for that matter.

I’m suggesting that one of the main problems with the existing system – at least so far as debates in the House of Commons and in the media are concerned  – is that they are adversarial.  Also, there’s a ridiculous, in my view, obsession with ratings and how popular individuals are with the public.  There’s no obvious correlation between popularity and ability to take part in governing the country.  A politician who handed out £20 notes on street corners would be very popular – in fact Mobutu, when he was President of Zaire – used to do just this.  My friend Tom in Dar es Salaam once worked in what was Zaire and he tells me that Mobutu used to drive around in his limousine throwing bank notes out of the windows.  He was very popular but not entirely effective.

I think it would be possible to arrange debates in such a way that most people could understand what was being presented to them, what kinds of decisions could be taken and what the likely outcomes of these decisions might be.   If the focus was trying to understand problems, and then to get civil servants and others to proposed well reasoned solutions, debate could be constructive rather than destructive.  Of course, Parliamentary Committees already work like this to some extent, although they still seem to revel in tearing apart those who appear before them rather than engaging in intelligent discussion.

All a bit academic, obviously, as the current system doesn’t have built into it the means of achieving any significant change.


Dear L,

I think the ‘who’ that gives the presentation is ‘people who know what they are talking about’ and the way they do it is via the internet.

I’ve followed the Wikipedia project for some years, and have contributed some material to it.  For a while it was very patchy, but many of the articles – in fact, all the articles I use – are excellent.  If you want to know what there is to know about democracy for example, there’s a (to my mind) very good article here, complete with a management summary.  Here are articles on fascism and communism.

I use web feeds – which provide a way of checking changes to a web page without having to visit it – to track a few articles that particularly interest me, and to which I refer other people, just to keep an eye on what changes are being made.  I monitor this article, and this one, for example, both of which I know a fair amount about and are certainly very good.  The whole encyclopedia is produced by people around the world with an interest in the various topic areas and ‘policed’ by moderators (often students) who can control edits.  Very occasionally, these days, I’ll edit something and I often get an email within 5 minutes or so to tell me that someone has edited my edit!

To my mind there’s no reason why something similar shouldn’t  be used to present material to my randomly selected MPs for consideration before they are presented with policy options (there would generally be three, I think: do nothing, do something radical, do something incremental).  Each wikipedia page is, incidentally, accompanied by a ‘discussion’ page (see the tabs at the top) on which contributors can discuss the information presented in the relevant article.  Here’s the one for the Wright brothers, for example.

Before voting, the MPs would have to take a test to work out whether they’d understood the analysis.  Anyone who failed would be given help to understand why and then asked to try again before voting.  I think there would probably have to be a rule which said that those who repeatedly failed the test would be fired, but hopefully the massive salary and expenses package would provide some motivation for them to try to do well!

So, I think I’ve answered that question.  Any more?!


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Posted by Andrew Cooper on August 2, 2008

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about why I haven’t tried to sell the Mindworks Approach to large organisations – corporates and public sector organisations – here in the UK.

A relevant economist

A relevant economist

The reasons is quite straightforward. In order to do so I would have to deal with the ‘gatekeepers’ who are usually involved in decisions to hire people like me. They are often people who are steeped in the complex methodolgies which are used by large organisations these days, such as Six Sigma and Prince 2. It’s easy to knock approaches like these, and the wikipedia articles summarise some of the criticisms. But, as Albert E said, ‘theories should be kept as simple as possible, but no simpler’ and if you’re designing a large computerisation project or re-engineering business processes you need an approach that’s able to deal with the complexity involved.

The problem is that, as the Wikipedia article on Six SIgma points out, these methodologies can become industries in their own right. As I said in a previous post, just getting your head around all the abbreviations can be quite challenging.

So if I turn up saying ‘I’ve got this really simple structured way of thinking about things that’s described on a 2 sided card, doesn’t feature any jargon or abbreviations and it’s based on how we think anyway’ they say ‘too simple, I’m afraid, and I have to go to a Six sigma committee meeting followed by a Prince 2 Project Board, goodbye’ and that’s that: I take one last glance at the framed certificates on their office wall and leave.

Now I could, without much effort, make my 9 steps much more complex if I wanted. When, in step 2 of the Mindworks Approach, I say ‘identify the groups and indivduals who have needs that should or could be met’ I could say ‘conduct an extensive and in-depth stakeholder profiling and segmentation analysis’, but I don’t. I could also introduce some abbreviations. ‘Step 5 – develop a picture of the future’ could be the DAPOTF and I could recommend that a FACG (a Futuring Approval Compliance Group) should be set up involving all key stakholders, project champions and whatever. But I won’t do that either. Some numbered sub-steps would be good, including a Step 0 (open Mindworks Box) and Step 0.1 (do what it says on the instructions) immediately spring to mind. In no time at all (you’ve seen the length of my blog posts) I’d have filled numerous binders with detailed material, sign-off forms, compliance criteria and so on. I could also design a series of modular workshops, leading to the presentation of various levels of accreditation (see the ‘belt’ system Six Sigma uses). Eventually – and I’m quite warming to this idea – the only possible way to use the MCBADIM (Mindworks Comprehensive Business Analysis, Design and Implementation Methodology) would be to hire teams of consultants trained in the approach, because the clients would realise it would be far too complex for their busy staff to get their heads around and, if they, did, they’d only be poached by the consultants.

As I say, complex methodolgies are needed to deal with complex situations. But my argument – if I hadn’t been thrown out of the hypothetical meeting described above – would be: ‘Yes, you do need all that, but before you immerse yourself in your favourite complicated methodology, you need to get your thoughts straight. I might even use a bit of jargon and say that I’ve got an end-to-end process that can do that and can help you with the different kinds of thinking you need to do to make a change. The odd ‘moving forward’ would probably help, just to show that I can speak the client’s language.

Anyway, enough of that. Talking of end-to-end, a former boss of mine at HM Treasury (we worked on the same floor as most of HMT’s economists) used to say two things about them. “For every economist there’s an equal and opposite economist” and, even better, “If you were to lay out all the economists in the world end-to-end, they’d never reach a conclusion”. Feel free to crack these brilliant jokes the next time you meet an economist.

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Consultantese/English Dictionary: extract 2

Posted by Andrew Cooper on August 1, 2008

Some ducks refusing to stand in a row.

Some ducks refusing to stand in a row.

I’m thinking of publishing extracts from my Consultantese/English Dictionary as a part-work. Readers can assemble their own personalised version by copying and pasting the separate entries into a single document.  Alternatively you can just email me and I’ll send you a copy.

Here are two non-random entries from the current edition of the dictionary.

Ducks: feathered animals which live partly on water, used by
consultants in the phrase ‘Getting Your Ducks In A Row’.
If anyone has succeeded in getting real ducks to stand in
a row, we’d very much like to hear from them.

Jumping Your Fences One At A Time: an expression
used by consultants when they tell clients what to do
during the ‘implementation phase’.  This can usefully be
combined with the phrase Getting Your Ducks In A Row to
produce the more graphic Getting Your Ducks To Jump Their
Fences One At A Time.

I’m currently attempting to get a number of interestingly interconnected ducks to jump their final fences so that they can gallop down the home straight and emerge into the light of day before feeding on some low hanging fruit.  As we management consultants might say.

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Testing the market

Posted by Andrew Cooper on August 1, 2008

As a result of a fascinating discussion today with Roger Croft, from this company, I’ve decided to move into retail.

It’s something I’ve always wanted to do with the Mindworks material.  The current version of the Mindworks Approach is based on 11 years of practical experience with thousands of users from large and small organisations and also some budding entrepreneurs.   A ‘starter pack’ version of the full Mindworks Box (see the products and services tab) is, I think, well suited to the retail market and users will be able to buy additional material online.  I’m also going to offer blog-based mini websites to purchasers so that they can record their ideas and insights as they work through the process and, if they wish, make their thinking available to others.

The process around which the Mindworks Approach is based can be – and has been – used by individuals and families to think about ways of improving their lives,  This is an aspect of its use I’m particularly hoping to address via a retail offering, backed up by a collection of websites aimed at developing a community of users.

Of course, I have no idea whether it will actually sell but Roger came up with the brilliant idea of testing the market at …. well see if you can guess before scrolling down…

A clue

A clue

… an actual market!  Hurrah! (Maybe that clue was a bit too obvious).  There are a number of farmers’ markets in the area which would be ideal, assuming they’ll let me have a stall.   So, that’s the plan. I’ll also offer the Mindworks Starter Pack online : check back by the end of this weekend for details or set up Bloglines if you haven’t already (see the ‘changes’ tab) and it will tell you when I make an annoucement.

My aim is to sell if for less than £20.00, which means purchasers will have a choice between a starter pack at less than £20.00 or the whole works, a full Mindworks Box and 10 hours of online one-to-one coaching, for £1500.00. Various intermediate options will be available.

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Einstein and Thatcham

Posted by Andrew Cooper on July 31, 2008

I mentioned a while ago that I spent a year working as the project manager for a community planning exercise in a nearby town. The town was Thatcham, Newbury’s next door neigbour here in West Berkshire. It was a great experience and I’m still involved with the project on a freelance basis. The project was called the “Thatcham Vision”.

One of the consultation exercises we ran came in the form of a ‘wrap’ to the local free newspaper, which was a very cost effective way of getting coverage not only in Thatcham but across the whole district. This was important because we needed wanted to seek the views of non-residents as well as the 25,000 or so people who live in the town. We wanted to find some way to signal to readers that this was a little out of the ordinary, and came up with the idea of using the photo below on the front page. (The text was generated by the website at the address shown on the pic.)

This wasn’t the text we used in the final version of the wrap, a copy of which you can download here. You can also see the headline which accompanied the photo and puts it in context. (I notice in the version above Albert appears to be having problems with his apostrophes.)

I built a website for the project which is here, ran a blog and set up a Wiki to capture information about Thatcham.  If you visit the interviews page on the website you can hear me and Clare Tull, who worked with me on the project, being interviewed on Kick FM, the local radio station, shortly after we started working on the project.

The project was great fun and I very much enjoyed getting to know the local community. One of the highlights, for me, was being asked to chair a special Thatcham edition of Just A Minute which was run to raise funds for the Mayor’s charity. The evening was great fun, and was attended by the late Ian Messiter’s (creator of the game) wife, Enid and his son Malcolm, who as you’ll see from his website is a very interesting chap. Enid told us how she used to play the Just A Minute theme, the Minute Waltz, live when the programme was first broadcast in South Africa. (The wikipedia article seems to have missed Just A Minute’s South African roots.)

This is all pretty run-of-the-mill stuff for management consultants, obviously, so if you’re thinking of a change of career I recommend that you brush up on your Nicholas Parsons.

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Telling stories

Posted by Andrew Cooper on July 31, 2008

As any managment consultant will tell you, storytelling can help you to think about your organisation and how it works (or doesn’t).  So, here’s a story I wrote ages ago to make some point or other.

Why Counting Honey is so Complicated

One day mummy bear said to daddy bear (while baby bear was asleep, it was the only time they could have a proper conversation) ‘How much Honey have we got?’.

Daddy bear said that he didn’t know and he went to find out. After daddy bear had counted all the jars he told mummy bear.

Some time later, Mummy bear wanted to find out how much honey there was again. Daddy bear said ‘I don’t know’ and went to count the jars. When he came back mummy bear said ‘There must be a better way of finding out how much honey there is’. Daddy bear replied ‘Yes dear, you’re right as usual, I will go to talk to the other bears about this’, and he went into the woods to find the other bears while Mummy bear got on with something more useful.

All the other bears said that they also had to count all their jars every time that they wanted to know how much honey they had. They all agreed that there must be a better way of counting the honey.

One bear said ‘why don’t we have some special bears who could count the honey for us; we could call them Honey-Counters?’. ‘We could give the Honey-Counters some honey in return’. All the bears agreed that this was a Very Good Idea and set about deciding who should be the Honey-Counters. They thought that all you would have to be good at is counting, so the bears who were best at counting (something that most of the bears found a bit difficult) were appointed as Honey-Counters.

The Very Good Idea worked very well indeed, at first. The Honey Counters would go from house to house counting the honey and would let the other bears know how much there was. The Counters were very happy to do this because all they had to do was count honey (rather than collect it from the bee’s nests, which was a tricky job at the best of times) and they got some in return.

Time went by, and the Counters got bored with just counting the jars of honey (it was difficult to fill up a whole day just counting, so they thought of some other things to do ). First of all they thought that it would be a good idea if they could tell the bears not just how much honey they had now, but how much honey had been used in the past. The other bears weren’t sure why this was a good idea (they just wanted to know how much honey they had), but because they weren’t very good at counting they thought that there must be a good reason and tried to look interested when the Counters gave them lists of how much had been used.

But soon the Counters got bored with this as well. So they thought of lots of other ways of counting honey, including double honey counting, guessing how much honey there would be in the future and counting other things like empty jars. Very quickly the job of counting honey seemed to become very complicated indeed. Certainly it was much too complicated for anyone who wasn’t a counter to understand.

The Counters decided one day, at a special meeting of Honey Counters in a land far away, to have a special test for any bear who wanted to be a Honey counter (the Honey Counters had decided that because they were special bears it was all right to go to a land far away to have their meeting, even though the bears who collected honey had to stay at home) . They thought up a Difficult Test and it was agreed (by the Counters, who were the only ones who could know) that a bear had to pass the test before he or she could become a Counter.

Today honey counting is very, very complicated. As the Counters get bored with each new idea they have think up another one. Honey Counters are now divided up into lots of different types. Some Counters only look at how much honey was used in the past. Others are more interested in how it was used (and whether it will be used in the same way in the future) or developing complicated theories about the liquidity of honey and whether there’s any such thing as too much honey. Lots of Counters don’t even count honey at all. They organise other Honey Counters and think up the (now very very difficult) tests for the different types of Counters. All the other bears have to go along with this because the Honey Counters refuse to count honey unless they are allowed to use the new ways of counting they have invented.

But not all the bears are happy . Some of the (admittedly rather few) bears who actually collect the honey, not to mention the bees, are getting a bit fed up. They think that sometimes the Honey Counters make mistakes, but it is very difficult for someone who is not a counter to tell whether a mistake has been made. They also wonder why the Honey Counters seem to be able to take lots and lots of the other bear’s honey, just for counting it. And it isn’t as if the Honey Counters are the only special bears …….

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Only connect

Posted by Andrew Cooper on July 9, 2008

Until about 15 seconds ago I thought that E M Forster’s advice to authors that they should ‘only connect’ was about connecting their minds with those of their readers.  Wrong.  Never assume anything.  I should have paid more attention during English lessons – perhaps someone did explain and I was daydreaming.

Forster, as I expect you already knew, was talking about something much more profound.  A little light googling swiftly revealed that there are some excellent resources related to Forster sitting on the web.  One explains: ‘… his fourth novel has partly become famous for its epigraph, “Only connect”, which stands as a call across Forster’s writing to seize the day and unite the spiritual and the material sides to life.’

Another, a site dedicated to the man, quotes a paragraph from his best known novel Howard’s End: “Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.”  Crikey.  The site on which this quote appears seems to be a sub-site within one called musicandmeaning.com.  If you go to the home page it links to a blog and various sections – looks amazing.  Could spend the whole day exploring it, based on a first glance, but there’s lots to do, most of it completely unconnected with ‘the idea’.

Simon will be pleased if he looks at the site.  It’s been produced using WordPress.  Simon – who I’ve got to know via a project I’m working on in a nearby town – is WordPress’s representative here on Earth.  You can do some amazing things with the help of WordPress.  Take a look at Simon’s site for some examples. If you do, you’ll be able to see Simon rather cleverly holding up the first page so you can read it.  At least, I think that’s what he’s doing.

Incidentally, I didn’t resist temptation and tried to explore the music and meaning site again – very frustrating, as it turns out.  Can’t find my way back to the Forster sub-site – all the links lead to a ‘home page’ which doesn’t have any links.  Perhaps this a kind of challenge which you have to figure out before you’re allowed to read the other material.  Or maybe it’s just incomplete.  Maybe Simon won’t be pleased after all.  Forget I mentioned it.

As a result of discovering that Forster didn’t mean what I thought he meant I haven’t covered about what I meant to write about.  Will start again in a moment, but can’t leave this post without mentioning a topic Simon blogged about recently.  The fact that this website cost £9.7m to build.  NINE MILLION SEVEN HUNDRED THOUSAND POUNDS! TO BUILD THAT WEBSITE! AND £1.6M OF THAT WAS FOR PROJECT MANAGEMENT!

As you can see, I’m a little cross but to put that in context, it’s nearly a third of the amount the government has allocated to building our new school.  If someone said to you ‘you can have three websites or a new school for 1600 students’, which would you choose?  Unforgiveable.  I am sure the person who made this decision has been sacked. Haven’t they?

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