As the weather starts to warm up, the hives are starting to wake up. Each bee knows what to do. The queens are starting to lay eggs. The few new young workers are keeping the hive tidy and the others are out foraging for pollen and nectar when the sun gets up and it’s not too cold or wet to go outside.
Yet, as a society, most of us are in the equivalent of October or November, going into hibernation – or as we call it “self-isolation”. The bees don’t know that. They can’t get our kind of virus (though they have plenty of their own to contend with).
However, just as in the beehive, there are those workers who are stretched to the max. The health workers. The supermarket delivery folk. The engineers working out novel ways to make vital equipment with 3D printers. Those lucky enough to have a job where they can work from home.
But for many (particularly those over 70), the next few months might become lonely and frustrating. As humans, we all have an innate need to serve society and be useful. I’ve just volunteered to the UK’s National Health Service – but the system itself is just not designed to take on a flood of volunteers. The old systems can’t cope with taking on a flood of volunteers. There are too many rules and the processes are too slow.
The bees don’t work like that. If something needs doing, it gets done. As a bee goes through life and picks up new skills, it applies those skills to the job in front of it. They are a complex society driven by a much simpler and more effective set of rules than the way we are organised in our so-called modern global economy. I’m going to be writing about my thoughts on this in the coming weeks.
Additionally, next week, at 17.00 GMT every day, I’m running a half-hour Zoom call to swap ideas on effective volunteering in the lock-down. Spaces are limited. Please like or comment below if you want an invitation.
Looking at “Major Tim” the Astronaut talking from space on the TV last night, it got me thinking. How cool it must be to get outside of the earth’s atmosphere and look back down on the earth!
It triggered another thought. One particular type of thinking I find very useful is called “Outside-In” thinking. It takes a perspective of looking at an individual, a family unit or an organisation from the outside looking inwards. Some call it out-of-the-box thinking. It is a way of thinking that allows us to step outside of the box and get a more objective perspective on how we fit within each of the social units within we operate.
This type of thinking can also be used in a number of different ways.
Firstly, looking at your the key personal relationships that you have with others:
How do you, as an individual, relate to those close around you? Take stock of what has happened in the past year. What were the good times and what were the not-so-good times? How can you build on the good and release the not-so-good? Which relationships require a little kindness to improve the energy between you both?
How do the folk that you care about relate to one another? How could you assist in strengthening those relationships by listening and understanding both perspectives?
It can also be a useful tool to work out what presents they would like to receive. Think about the last few conversations you have had with them. Who knows? They might even have dropped some hints!
Secondly, it is useful when looking backwards and planning forwards:
What events or activities did you lead and enjoy – and how many others shared in your leadership and enjoyment at the time? How can you build on these activities in 2016?
What themes do you want to improve and carry forwards into 2016 and how can they be accelerated by asking for some outside-in help?
List out the challenges you face and work out who do you know who could help tackle some of those challenges in a different or disruptive way.
Which activities and themes do you want to wind-down or stop – so that you can create more space for those that you want to build. Who can you offload the activities onto without losing the overall momentum of the theme?
Finally, as a tool for improving your business relationships. It is so very powerful when you get direct outside-in feedback from customers, employees, suppliers and business partners:
How does the organisation that you work with appear to others? To customers? To suppliers? To those who work for it?
What insights can you see that others are blind to?
How can you work those into some actions that will help you and the organisation become more effective and be a more enjoyable and rewarding place to work?
So, as we enter the period where we have cleared our desks and are stocking up for the festive season it is worth looking forward to the challenges and projects that we want to take on in 2016 and spend a bit of time thinking outside-in. I’m sure you will find it useful. Please do write any thoughts on how else you and others could use this type of thinking.
And good luck to Major Tim and his space travels into 2016!
Last Sunday, I took my friend Sam to visit my bees. He has been trying to keep bees for three years – but to no avail. The last swarm that I gave him on his birthday two years died off the first winter he had them.
And so it was, I was completely charmed that, on Tuesday morning, he rang me to say that a swarm had gathered on the window of his office – exactly above the desk he works at! We set about to catch them later that day – and yesterday we installed the swarm in one of his new hives not so many miles from here. I’m sure the bees will stay with him now.
This evening, I came across a beautiful piece by Tolstoy about the ultimate purpose of the honeybee – which I thought I would share with you.
It has been a magical and charmed week and the honeybees have truly touched my friend, Sam and me with this amazing encounter. Long may the honeybees swarm into people’s lives as they did for me so many years ago.
“As the sun and each atom of ether is a sphere complete in itself, and yet at the same time only a part of a whole too immense for man to comprehend, so each individual has within himself his own aims and yet has them to serve a general purpose incomprehensible to man.
A bee settling on a flower has stung a child. And the child is afraid of bees and declares that bees exist to sting people.
A poet admires the bee sucking from the chalice of a flower and says it exists to suck the fragrance of flowers.
A beekeeper, seeing the bee collect pollen from flowers and carry it to the hive, says that it exists to gather honey.
Another beekeeper who has studied the life of the hive more closely says that the bee gathers pollen dust to feed the young bees and rear a queen, and that it exists to perpetuate its race.
A botanist notices that the bee flying with the pollen of a male flower to a pistil fertilizes the latter, and sees in this the purpose of the bee’s existence.
Another, observing the migration of plants, notices that the bee helps in this work, and may say that in this lies the purpose of the bee.
But the ultimate purpose of the bee is not exhausted by the first, the second, or any of the processes the human mind can discern.
The higher the human intellect rises in the discovery of these purposes, the more obvious it becomes, that the ultimate purpose is beyond our comprehension.
All that is accessible to man is the relation of the life of the bee to other manifestations of life. And so it is with the purpose of historic characters and nations.”
Extracted rom Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace: Chapter IV
As we leave 2012, there are many things we may remember which, for those that live in the UK, can be summed up as a year of broken records:
The driest spring for 100 years followed by the wettest 9 months since records began
The summer Olympic and Paralympic games that smashed many World, Olympic and Paralympic records
The Diamond Jubilee celebrations with cheery faces, street parties and that magnificent pageant on the Thames. (Although the Queen did not break the record as the longest-serving British Monarch – she is in good health to take the record from Queen Victoria in three years time with 64 years on the throne).
The “broken record” of economic doom, debt mountains, fiscal cliffs, war, murder, hunger etc. etc.
…..and what should not be forgotten – our own personal records – whatever they might have been.
As we enter 2013, it is the time of year where we look back and look forward. Remember and try to stretch our minds to a New Year.
If there is one thing that I will remember, above all else, it was the power of the “Games Makers”.
Through economic gloom and despondency and the ever sharper and more graphic accounts of murder and mayhem around the world, the Games Makers surely showed us how to make a difference. Whatever is going on in the world, each individual can volunteer to create their own, brighter future. A powerful message for me from 2012 that I was not expecting to receive!
I hope all readers have an extraordinarily successful New Year and the best of luck with breaking your own records in 2013!
I was browsing the bookshelves in a provincial airport lounge last month. I really like browsing business books in these sorts of places (as opposed to ordering books from Amazon). You find things you would not normally find and you can pick them up and read the gist of what the book is about in a very tactile way. Something Kindle struggles with, I think.
Anyway, I came across a what looked like interesting title “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. Being one always on the look-out for new Thursday Thoughts, I bought it and have started to read it…
The book is written by Daniel Kahneman who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002 for his pioneering work, developed with Amos Tversky, on decision-making and uncertainty.
Interestingly, there is a quote on the front cover by Steven Pinker which says “(Kahneman is) certainly the most important psychologist alive today”. I thought the blend of economics and psychology would be interesting – and I have not been disappointed!
To begin with, Kahneman’s says that we all have two “systems” of thought. He adopts terms originally proposed by the psychologists Keith Stanovich and Richard West referring to two systems in the mind: System 1 and System 2. Thee labels of System 1 and System 2 are, apparently, widely used in psychology. For those of you, like me, who are mere lay-folk in the art of psycho-babble, this was news!
Here is an extract from the introduction which outlines the two systems:
“When we think of ourselves, we identify with System 2, the conscious, reasoning self that has beliefs, makes choices and decides what to think about and what to do. Although System 2 believes itself to be where the action is, the automatic System 1 is the hero of the book.”
Kahneman describes System 1 as: “effortlessly originating impressions and feelings that are the main sources of the explicit beliefs and deliberate choices of System 2”.
In rough order of complexity, he describes some examples of the automatic activities that are attributed to System 1:
Detect that one object is more distant than another
Orient to the source of a sudden sound
Complete the phrase “bread and…..”
Make a “disgust face” when shown a horrible picture
Detect hostility in a voice
Answer to 2 + 2 = ?
Read words on large billboards
Drive a car on an empty road
Find a strong move in chess (if you are a chess master)
Understand simple sentences
Recognise that a “meek and tidy soul with a passion for detail” resembles and occupational stereotype
The highly diverse operations of System 2 have one feature in common: the require attention and are disrupted when attention is drawn way. Here are some examples:
Brace for the starter-gun in a race
Focus attention on the clowns in the circus
Focus on the voice of a particular person in a crowded and noisy room
Look for a woman with white hair
Search memory to identify a surprising sound
Maintain a faster walking speed than is natural for you
Monitor the appropriateness of your behaviour in a social situation
Count the occurrences of the letter a in a page of text
Tell someone your phone number
Park in a narrow space (for oct people except garage attendants)
Campare two washing machines for overall value
Fill out a tax form
Check the validity of a complex logical argument
The interesting thing that I have learnt so far is that we use System 1 and System 2 interchangeably throughout the day – and each system performs very important and different functions. Kahneman’s main thesis is that the intuitive (System 1) often arrives at a conclusion or judgement without the detailed logical evidence for that decision being through by System 2. There are many examples he gives where this is so – and here is one of them from page 43 of the book:
“A disturbing demonstration of depletion effects in judgement was recently reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The unwitting participants in the study were eight parole judges in Israel. They spend entire days reviewing applications for parole. The cases are presented in random order, and the judges spend little time on each one, an average of 6 minutes. (The default decision is denial of parole; only 35% of requests are approved. The exact time of each decision is recorded, and the times of the judges’ three food breaks – morning break, lunch and afternoon break – during the day are recorded as well.)
The authors of the study plotted the proportion of approved requests against the time since the last food break. The proportion spikes after each meal, when about 65% of requests are granted. During the two hours or so until the next feeding, the approval rate drops steadily, to about zero just before the meal. As you might expect, this is an unwelcome result and the authors carefully checked many alternative explanations. The best possible account of the data provides bad news: tired and hungry judges tend to fall back on the easier default position of denying requests for parole. Both fatigue and hunger probably play a role.”
The book is certainly worth a read and I hope that even these small excerpts have make you think – even if only to understand we all have two systems of thinking that dance to the daily cycles of our more basic animal behaviours – and that, for all important decisions, gut-feel or intuition is not enough and that it is important to engage System 2. An aspect of thinking I sometimes struggle with! And it appears I am not alone – since the book highlights this as one of the main causes of human suffering in the world today.
I was fortunate enough to be asked to facilitate a discussion on Tuesday evening at the Savoy on Smart Services. Everything seems to be “Smart” nowadays. Smart Metres, Smart Grids, Smart Cities….. so what about Smart Services?
The debate centred around the rise and rise of multiple devices within the so-called Digital Home and what the implications are on the traditional support channels that phone companies, cable companies, ISPs and device manufacturers provide for their customers.
When asked to wrap-up, I was reminded of the acronym for SMART Objectives which I am sure most readers will have come across some version of:
According to Wikipedia, this acronym was originally coined in the November 1981 issue of Management Review by George T. Doran.
Anyway, I tried to create a simple reminder of the main points of discussion about smart services and put together the following thoughts:
Most are self-explanatory – but the last one was all about creating a service as excellent as the one you might expect from the concierge at the Savoy. Can you match that kind of service with what you do? Makes you think anyway!
This week, the bees went to bed for the winter. Fed down with verroa treatment in the hope that most colonies will survive the winter.
I have also had three very different conversations this week about the importance of Business Processes. In each conversation, I came to a different set of conclusions. However, there was one over-riding idea that shone through from each conversation. The obsession with the current process-centric religion in management thinking has actually made many of our service-based organisations less, not more effective and less, not more efficient.
The first conversation came from an experience I had with a US-based hosting company I have used for about ten years. Last year they put SAP into the company. Two months ago the company was sold. The service has been declining for about a year. Coincidence? I don’t think so. The new process involves forcing you to ring a US telephone number which is actually answered by someone in the Phillipines who filters you so they can direct you to the right department. The problem I had involved both Domain Names and Hosting – so I ended up being put through to two departments. In the end I was double-billed and had to ring back a week later to complain – when I went through the same rigmarole – and was sent an email to say I couldn’t reclaim the money because it was against company policy. I rang a third time and finally got through to someone who sorted me there-and-then. Sounds familiar? More like a telephone company? Yes, indeed. I then got hold of the Director for Customer Experience and Process Design on LinkedIn to share my story. He was a Harvard MBA. He saw my profile but ignored me. The company is called Network Solutions.
The second case was with a former colleague whom I had lunch with. He is an aspiring partner at one of the big five consulting practices. He told me he was writing a paper about the importance of process design in telecoms companies. I cited the above story and said that Presence was more important than Process. He looked quizzical. He could not compute. He was not sure how he could implement Presence and make money out of the idea from a consulting assignment.
The final conversation was with an enlightened ex COO of a Telecoms company with whom I had lunch with on Tuesday. He said he was process mad – yet when you listened to his stories of how he managed processes, there was a great deal of practicality and experience blended in with the importance of providing the right information to the right person at the right time to turn customer issues and questions around on the first call.
In the crusade to banish the obsession with Process centricity, I continue to marvel at the bees that I keep. They don’t have crazy processes to waste time. They have developed an approach that balances Process AND Content (or pollen/nectar collection) IN THE MOMENT so that they can respond with far more intelligence than just following a book of rules. Interestingly, the model they use shows that outsourcing is extremely wasteful and makes no sense at all. If you have to hand off, do it only once (not three times like ITIL). The models from the bees also demonstrates the sense of investing in small, agile “cells” of capacity and capability tuned to specific types of demand.
To summarise, I believe it is time to create a new management paradigm based on Presence (modelled much more on the natural world that the bees have developed over 50 million years). It creates a paradigm shift that takes us away from the insanity (or caetextic thinking) of process-obsession and into a new much more organic model based on cells or colonies that can respond to demand of various types a seasonal basis.
Just like the bees do.
I am writing a book on the idea – so expect more like this in future postings.
I have also posted Presence over Process on MIX – The Management Information Exchange – please add comments and vote for the idea there or add your comments here as you wish. Always valuable!
Although this is almost exactly a year old and quite US-centric, the video below “Innovation at the Edge of Electricity” was made. It has some great stories that may well make the minds of anyone living in the US or Europe boggle at how true innovation is happening in the developing world without any “help” from regulators or lawmakers.
As technology is forcing industry convergence, it is not just the Western-style Telecoms regulation that is getting in the way, but the rules and regulations from the Electricity and Banking Industries too. For instance, look to Africa, not Europe or the US if you want to see what true innovation is on mobile payments.
Many of the stories are particularly helpful when we think at how we should rollout faster broadband to the so-called “Final Third”. Innovation has always happened on the edge of the network. Surely it is time for us to include some of these new ideas from the “edge of electricity” and adapt them to our own requirements. Or will we let the regulators carry on regulating our service industries to die a slow, painful death?