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Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

The worst possible system of government, apart from all the others that have been tried.

Posted by Andrew Cooper on February 10, 2009

Earlier this morning I commented on the blog post here  which is about a subject that interests me.

Over the past three or four years there has been a lot of talk about re-engaging people in politics, much of it prompted by the idea that technology can help this happen.  But terms like ‘engagement’ and ‘involvement’ are often used without serious consideration of what they would actually mean in practice.  Our systems of government are deeply engrained, based in long established institutions, legal frameworks and, perhaps most importantly, customs and practice.  Just because current information technology enables broader involvement doesn’t mean that it will happen.  

As I suggested in an comment on the same blog, portable  networked computers been around for many years – I sent my first email from a laptop device over 20 years ago.  For most of those two decades pundits predicted that teleworking would revolutionise our working habits and travel patterns.  It still hasn’t happened – those of us who telework are at the margins, most people still travel to their place of work and the airlines still rely on business travel for much of their income.  The reasons we don’t telework (or tele-educate, for that matter) have nothing to do with technology and everything to do with how we best interact with one another in groups.

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Posted in cognitive surplus, democracy, government | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

1% inspiration

Posted by Andrew Cooper on December 1, 2008

edisonOnly one brief mention of Thomas Alva Edison on the blog so far, so it’s time for a little more.  A true innovator, in the sense that I defined the word way back here.  If you are interested in the process by which ideas are turned into changes in the real world, read one of the many excellent biographies of the man.

Edison was, of course, able to do much more than have good ideas – he was, par excellance, able to turn his ideas into money making products.  In fact many of the innovations with which his name is most closely associated started out as other people’s inventions.  I’ve mentioned Kirton’s distinction between adaptors and innovators before – Edison was, like many engineers, an adaptor.  Some 22 inventors came up with the idea of the incandescent light bulb before Edison perfected the technology.  But Edison was a systems thinker and he realised that once the electricity distribution systems required for ubiquitous electric lighting were in place, the power they made available could be used in many different ways.

LIke many – perhaps all – innovators, Edison was a visual thinker.  He first met Henry Ford, they were to become life long friends, over dinner and spent most of the meal sketching ideas on napkins before Edison looked at Ford and said ‘We think the same way!’.

It was, of course, Edison who said that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.  While very few of us can claim to be be geniuses, we all know that the effort required to turn an idea from a vague notion flikering around our 100 billion neurons into something that has actually made a difference in the real world is huge.  The main reason for my infrequent posting here recently is that I’m working hard to turn a clutch of ideas that emerged in early July into tangible, implemented (and, I hope, money earning) reality.

When I’ve made some more progress I’ll return here to reflect on the experience.  Meanwhile I have some bridges I need to exploit and barriers that must be removed.

Posted in creativity, Edison, innovation, systems thinking, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Indistinguishable from magic

Posted by Andrew Cooper on September 22, 2008

A 1955 airliner

A 1955 airliner

Last week I bought one of the new Ipod Nanos.  I’m listening to a Mozart string quartet on it as I type.  I’ve owned MP3 players for as long as there have been MP3 players but had resisted Ipods until now.  What convinced me to buy one was a. the price/specification: 8Gbyte, 22 hour (claimed) battery life, excellent functionality, b. Itunes synching is far better than the WIndows Media Player based synching of my current Philips machine and c. well, it’s just magic.  And, like all Apple kit, it looks really good. Plus, I’m a chap and we chaps like gadgets.

According to Itunes, the player now contains enough music for 36.3 days of continuous listening pleasure (that number looks wrong to me, I think it’s more like 10 days but either way it’s quite enough) and If I get bored with that there’s also a 12 hour audio book, 14 hours worth of podcasts and vodcasts, and 4 games (one of which makes clever use of the player’s motion sensor).  The thing could hold 1600 copies of the complete works of Shakespeare in text files.  Gosh.  The flight to Dar es Salaam is only 8 hours.

I know, of course, that there’s no magic involved in delivering 300 year old music from my shirt pocket to my ears.  The Melos Quartet’s performance is being reproduced in my ears by zillions of bits moving very quickly indeed between registers and some very rapid arithmetic.  Having. on an OU IT course years ago, manually moved bits one at a time between a microprocessors registers to make LEDs switch on and off, there isn’t much mystery there.  It’s the same thing, only more so.  But it’s still quite magical.  

I was 53 in August and, technologically speaking, it’s certainly been an interesting time to be alive.  A mere 10 years and 3 days before I was born Japan surrendered, ending the second world war which gave us the stored program digital computer, rockets, the jet, radar and nuclear weapons as well as over 70 million dead.  My earliest memories, in the early 1960s, were of the space race (I was five when Gagarin whistled (literally!) around the Earth and I’ve blogged before about the excitement of living through Apollo as a teenager.  

I remember a friend of mine being given a pre-cassette player miniature tape recorder in the days when we wer only had reel-to-reels.  In those days I recorded pop music (this was before I discovered J Hendrix and, OK I’ll confess, Yes and Wishbone Ash) onto a reel-to-reel from the radio and then cut out the DJ’s with a razor blade, splicing the tape back together with sticky tape.  I’ve also mentioned before visiting a BOAC flight simulator at Heathrow and walking through the humming frames (as in main frame) of valves which powered it.   And so on.

Head back 53 years in the other direction from my birth and there were still 12 years to go until Franz Ferdinands’ assasination, Queen Victoria had only been dead for 18 months and the first powered flight was 16 months in the future.  

It was Arthur C Clarke, of course, who suggested that any sufficiently advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic.  To my teenage self, my new Nano would also have seemed quite magical.  I know that I would have had an irresitable urge to dismantle the thing to find out what was going on inside, had one been teleported back in time to the village near Henley-on-Thames where we lived.  I guess I would have known enough to say that whatever it was, electricity was involved and I might have figured out that transistors were something to do with it, as there clearly weren’t any valves (I’d have been right about that, but I wouldn’t have been able to guess exactly how many or known what an integrated circuit was.)

Returning to the present, we know, as a species, a fair amount more than we did in the 60s.  But by then most of the technologies we depend on today were well on the way to being developed and in some ways (commercial supersonic flight, the ability for humans to leave the Earth’s orbit) we’ve moved backwards.  By far the biggest strides recently have been in applied biology, but the combined efforts of Franklin. Wilson, Watson and Crick (Rosalind Franklin having missed out on a Nobel prize because they aren’t awarded posthummously) made the pioneering breakthrough which started it all two years before my birth.

If I could go back a mere four and a third times my life span and meet Wolfgang Amadeus (if only!), hand him the Nano and invite him to plug in the ear buds …. well, I’ll leave his reaction as he listens to his own KV174 to your imagination.

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Invention number 2: the genetically engineered, lawn mowing slug

Posted by Andrew Cooper on September 14, 2008

A while ago on this blog I invented the nuclear powered tea pot as a way of illustrating the difference between an invention and an innovation.

A slug

A slug

I’ve just been outside looking at our lawns (that makes them sound rather grand, they aren’t but there are two of them) and the slugs who, as it’s now dark, are happily grazing on them.  

It’s been a great summer for slugs, thanks to the fairly constant rain, and dozens of them have grazed our lawns every evening.  Unfortunately, they don’t graze sufficiently well to prevent me having to mow the lawns, which I did this afternoon.

I have, therefore, invented the lawn mowing slug.  This is a species of slug which has been genetically engineered to sleep harmlessly in flower beds (i.e. without eating all the flowers) during the day and then move onto the lawn in herds (or whatever the collective noun for slugs is) and graze systematically from one end to the other, thus obviating the need for mowing.  

Obvious, isn’t it?  Why has no one thought of this before?  Please feel free to patent and develop the idea, particularly if you are a genetic engineer.  Do drop me a line when you’ve cracked it.

Posted in innovation, psychology | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Brainies Innovation Awards – Latest Entry

Posted by Andrew Cooper on August 27, 2008

Time is running out for entries to the Mindworks Brainies Awards.  All you have to do is post a comment or email me with your favourite innovation and you’ll have the chance to win Mindworks products plus free consultancy/coaching time – see the Innovation Awards tab for more details.

The most recent entry arrived by email while we were away in deepest Dorset.  With great originality Gary Reynolds from Cheltenham has nominated…

‘Lying. The ability knowingly to tell or otherwise communicate untruth. Not because lying has any virtue, but because it represents a Big-Bang-like inflation of the range and abilities of the human mind-brain kit. I don’t mean it occurred with Big Bang rapidity, but that once in place the expansion of potential was of comparable relative magnitude.

In order to lie, it is necessary to have a mental model of the world, and ability to communicate. There’s evidence many species have these. However, the necessary equipment for lying also includes:

  1. Awareness at some level that the mental model is a model;
  2. Awareness that the model could be other than it is, therefore that the world/universe could be other than it is;
  3. Possession of a theory of mind, i.e. that others maintain mental models of the world;
  4. Understanding that mental models can be shaped by things other than input form the “real” world, including deliberate manipulation;
  5. Understanding that actions are influenced by these mental models as much as by the real world.
  6. Ability to project a model of circumstances achieved if others respond to their manipulated model rather than the “real” world, in other words, the ability to model a universe/world different to that which exists in the immediate present, and to act to bring it about.

The ability to mentally remodel the world brings with it the realisation that the actual world, objects and situations in it, can also be remodelled in actuality. Whether the remodelling e.g. shaping sticks and stones for envisaged tasks – preceded the mental remodelling ability or evolved together, I wouldn’t dream of speculating.

But I reckon the ability to lie is a useful signifier for the kit of mental innovation that enabled our species to take off. What the landing will be like is a different question.’

What an excellent nomination.  There’s no doubt that the first lie must have seemed like an astonishing innovation.  Presumably an early homo sapien (or possible neanderthal, given the emerging findings suggesting they might have been brighter than us) decided one day that he’d tell a deliberate untruth – “Look, there’s a saber-toothed tiger behind you!” or similar.  It must have been something of a revelation to his audience – perhaps the first joke was invented at the same time?

Lies have certainly played a part in making the world a better place, so the first lie – at least – certainly counted as an innovation. Ronald Reagan huge strategic lie about his Star Wars missile defence strategy probably led to the end of the (first) cold war and the Overlord operation included a number of bare faced lies about where D-Day landings were targetted.

As regular readers will know, I’ll be selecting the winning innovation randomly so all entrants stand an equal chance of winning so get those nominations in asap.

A liar

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Yet another idea for the Whitehall Innovation Hub

Posted by Andrew Cooper on August 13, 2008

Based on the responses I’ve been getting via email, I think it’s fair to say that few people think that the government should be spending more than it does already on management consultants.

So, what’s to be done?  Well, how about a dose of wikinomics?  It’s certainly taken off in a big way in the private sector so I think it’s time to try it in the public sector.

How would a wikinomics model of management consultancy work?  I think it would be very straightforward. Government departments would set up wikis describing problems they wanted solved, new systems they’d like set up, Olympic games from which they’d like lessons learned,  and so on.

Anyone – members of the public, experts, academics, freelance consultants, civil servants and so on – could pitch in with ideas for dealing with whatever is published on the wiki.

Some responses might solve the problem then and there (‘I’ve seen that problem before, and this is how it was fixed’ or ‘Here’s one way you could build that new agency that ministers have dreamed up…’ or ‘You’re describing the symptoms and not the problem’) and so on.  In my experience, it’s the thinking that goes on before management consultants are hired that’s often the problem: organisations dig theselves in before they really know exactly what they want to do.  In other cass, it would be necessary to bring in outside help but only after things had been thought through properly.

Worth a try, isn’t it?  Could save millions.  Open source consultancy might be another name for it.  Tapping into that cognitive surplus once again and exploiting the fact that social media reduce transaction costs to virtually nothing.  Think of all that spare thinking capacity that’s currently wasted which could be brought into play.

A barrier to all this is that it might leave ministers with very little to do.  Politicians pretty much agree on what I call the ‘whats’ – we should all be healthier, wealthier, wiser and safer.  So they have to differentiate themselves from one another by coming up with headline grabbing ‘hows’.  In other words, they have to specify what they are going to change before they’ve even thought it through properly. ‘Let’s reduce terrorist attacks by forcing everyone to buy ID cards’ for example ‘the terrorists will never be able to think of a way around that!’.  (I think the ‘what’ for ID cards may have changed since the almost-certainly-disatrous system was proposed.)  If the Daily Mail thinks a particular how is a good thing that’s what we’re going to get.

It’s not politicians fault that they have to tinker randomly with headline grabbing and often ill thought through hows. That’s how the system works: it incentivises tinkering.  If the public were really involved in working out the hows for themselves – via open source consultancy – how on earth would politiicans distinguish themselves from one another?  It’d probably all come down to having good hair.

Incidentally, a poll currently online here asking the question ‘Do you believe there is sufficient IT expertise within government …. to deliver egovernmentand trans-government (sic.) ambitions?’.  The overwhelming response is ‘not bloody likely’, or stats to that effect.  Let’s hope that whoever is responsible for fixing the problem has read the NAO and PAC reports which point out that a good way of bridging the defecit would be not to hire yet more consultants.  It just ups the internal cognitive deficit, as we’ve already agreed.

Posted in cognitive surplus, consultancy, creativity, government, innovation, Network of minds, thinking | 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 »

Brainies latest!

Posted by Andrew Cooper on August 2, 2008

Here’s the latest nomination for the Brainies Awards (see tab above), from Kennet Shopping supremo Mag Williams.  It needs a post of its very own because it comes complete with a picture. Extra points there, and she worked in a brand new invention of her own!  (Note the points aren’t actually worth anything as, unless I change my mind, the winner will be randomly selected.}

“I struggled to come up with an ‘all time’ favourite innovation, there must be so many. Not only that but the best innovations are often the simplest and because they are so simple they get taken for granted and overlooked.

I decided to plump for something that I use a lot and gives me a lot of fun. It also encourages people to make friends with me (even if I don’t want them to!) when they want something created like posters or their mates large head put on a small body of something different.

The innovation I chose was Corel Paint Shop Pro or Adobe Photoshop. I don’t use either to their full extent but I’m self taught and like to think if I had training I’d be pretty good at it.

Apart from the innovation, following on from your bisociation blog Andrew, I think it’s imperative to have a nuclear kettle to go with your nuclear teapot!”

Beat that, Dave Gorman!  Hmm – you know, I think he has chickened out.  Perhaps he couldn’t think of anything.  Time to invite my second celebrity guest nominator and to relegate Mr Gorman to the B list.  My second target has already been mentioned on the blog, incidentally.

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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.

Andrew

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?!

Andrew

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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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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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Power to the people?

Posted by Andrew Cooper on July 30, 2008

See if you can find anything wrong with this idea.

Careful, now...

Careful now: no premature evaluation please.

I have, for some time, felt that the machinery of government in the UK isn’t in the best possible shape.  It isn’t ‘fit for purpose’, to use a phrase currently favoured by politicians.

Here’s my proposed and, I think you’ll agree, flawless solution.

First of all we, reader, start a new political party.  Let’s call it the Systems Party until we can think of something better.  We only make one promise in our manifesto: if we are elected we will abolish the current system of representative democracy and replace it with what I suggest we call the ‘It Could be You!’ system.  We’ll need to provide a short explanation of what we mean, obviously.  Something like this, perhaps:

“When you elect us, we will pass a law that does away with elections and replaces them with a means of selecting MPs that is much like the jury system that has served us so well for hundreds of years.  The MPs who have been elected by conventional means will – by law – have to stand down and new MPs will be selected randomly from the population.  They will be asked to serve for a year or two (we’ll fill in the fine details during our first – and last – debate as conventionally elected MPs).  Each MP selected under the new system will be paid, let’s say, £100,000 a year and will receive the same whopping expenses and pensions that our current MPs have so selflessly awarded themselves.  Just think: that new kitchen or plasma screen TV you’ve been wishing for could at last be a reality! And there’d be no problem if you wanted to employ your relatives as assistants!

Your job, if you have one, will be held open by law and the state will provide home-helps and child care for those who need them.  Plus you get a car, but you won’t really need it because most of the business of government (debates, voting, committees etc.) will be done online so that you can work from wherever you like.  During Parliamentary recesses you will, like existing MPs, have extensive opportunities for foreign travel on what we will call ‘study tours’ and ‘fact finding missions’ but which are, in fact, nice holidays. Vote SP! It Could Be You!”

I have discussed this idea in numerous pubs and haven’t found a single objection which can’t be rebutted very easily.  The most common difficulty people have is along the lines that ‘most people are pretty stupid and you wouldn’t want to put them in charge with anything”.  I profoundly disagree with that sentiment,  As I’ve mentioned a number of times here, we all have 100 billion neuron brains, give or take, and if some people have been convinced that they are stupid, a little CBT should fix that (“I am stupid” really is a toxic thought and needs to be replaced with “I am just as capable as anyone else if I put my mind to it”.)  Some of the cleverest people I’ve met have done very mundane jobs.  I think it’s because they get a lot of time to think and don’t have their minds cluttered with things like staff appraisals, going to meetings, attending management workshops or reading and receiving emails.  There’s also firm evidence that we can all be really good if we want.

My single biggest problem with the existing system, to be mildly serious for a moment, is that it’s destructive.  The whole basis of adversarial debate is premature evaluation.  Whatever the other party says is, by definition, worthless and its people are incompetent good-for-nothings who you wouldn’t trust to make a decent cup of tea.  If businesses were run like this they’d fall apart immediately.  Much of government should be about creating:  developing new ideas, working out how to solve problems, getting people excited about possibilities and persuading them to work together to achieve them.  The rest should be about enabling what’s in place tpp work as well as possible, rather than tinkering the whole time as politicians, partly due to my Law of Infinite Complexity, are inclined to do.

All political parties (see this, this and this) say that they are in favour of involving ordinary people in the business of government: giving them more say in and influence over the things that affect their wellbeing.  But our highly centralised system, which is still dominated by the Treasury, doesn’t allow real power (i.e. power over resource allocation) to be devolved away from the centre.

Of course there are countries which are run on lines which are not entirely dissimilar to this.  Sweden and Switzerland are examples, of course, in spite of the fact that they appear to have political parties.

During the course of the aforementioned in-pub discussions I’ve developed numerous glosses on the idea of the Systems Party: ways in which the system would be organised and structured to ensure that problems and policies were properly discussed and thought about.  And, once again, technology could really help here; see this, for example.

At the very least, people would vote for the SP because they’d think it would be worth a try: surely (in spite of Winston Churchill’s sentiments to the contrary) it couldn’t be any worse.  Plus they’d get a chance to win an excellent remuneration package and, as a free bonus, there would be no more interviews with politicians in the media.

I’m only thinking of introducing this in England, of course.  People in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland would have to decide whether they wanted their own Systems Parties.  But, like most English people I know, I think that full independence has to be a good thing, particularly once we’ve worked out how to collaborate on issues like defence and transport.

I’m actually a bit busy right now, reader, so if you would like to have a go at setting this up I will give you my full backing.  I suggest the first step should be for you to hire a really popular and charismatic actor to be the party’s figurehead: an approach which has been shown to work well in the USA.  They’d only have to do the job until the new system is voted through, so it shouldn’t be too expensive.  I don’t  think we could go with Clint, fun though that might be, but Dawn French and/or David Tennant, perhaps? Or maybe Patrick Stuart reprising his Jean-Luc Picard..  Now, there was a real leader.

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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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