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Posts Tagged ‘thinking’

What Goals and How Goals

Posted by Andrew Cooper on January 18, 2009

adlington

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 »

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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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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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.

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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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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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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