Colonies, Librarians, Bloggers and Tweeters

This evening I attended a fascinating talk given by our local history society on a local colony of artists who lived in Cranbrook, Kent, England in the 19th Century.  Their art can now fetch well over £100,000 a piece.  Below is one of the typical paintings – that could number an estimated 1,500 – though only 300 have been catalogued by the local historian giving the talk.

What was interesting is that so little is known about the colony locally – and that many paintings were bought by industrial entrepreneurs from the Midlands and North of England.  It is only because of the interest of a few local folk that some of the pieces have found their way back to the local museum and local collections.

The Naughty Boy by George Bernard O’Neill

The reason I was there was that local history society recently asked me to design a simple, low-cost website for them.  The chairman, secretary and other committee members are now adding content to the site – and it was from a discussion with the archivist did it suddenly hit me how differently people think about putting information onto the web.

The archivist is an ex-librarian.  For her, everything can be classified and should be put into order as part of a logical taxonomy.  Already the categories on the site are developing into several layers.  She reflected on the fact that, perhaps there were now too many layers for some categories.  It reminded me of my early days of (IDMS) database programming (before relational databases), when you had to put data into classes and categories.  I had a simple rule then that more than three layers was too many.  It still somehow holds true today.

On describing this blog (where the categories are simply a relational tag that you clump ideas together with), she became nervous.  The way that her librarian-mind worked was that each book, each chapter, each page, each idea had, somehow to be classified in a single tree.  The idea that each idea, or article could be classified by several different classes – and that you leave it up to the search engine to work out how to get you there was a difficult one for her to feel good about.

It was a similar lack of familiarity or unease that I have, perhaps, with those who Tweet.  Sure, I tweet a bit.  Occasionally.  Once every so often.  When I am feeling I have a gap, or when I have a slot at the conference when I want to broadcast something interesting.  But I am by no means a regular member of the Twitterati.  Tweeting somehow gets in the way of the flow of life.  You become an observer or a journalist rather than living in the moment.  I respect those who tweet regularly – but, for me, it is too high a frequency to engage in all the time.  I suppose others will leave an historically-interesting pheromone path of phrases and words for others to analyse in the future.  Like writing a daily journal.  But that life is not for me.  I prefer blogging one a week (or once every six weeks when I am busy – as has been the case recently).

And so it is was with the Victorian artists in the Cranbrook colony.  They left no diaries.  No documentation of their progress.  They lived and worked and played and painted in the moment – by all accounts to make a living first and then to enjoy life.  Some were richer than others – but all of them exhibited at the Royal Academy year-after-year and were successful in their own ways.  Yet now, 150 years on, we know very little about them.

At the end of the talk, someone reflected that the mid 19th century countryside existence in rural Kent perhaps harked-back to the pre-industrial, less smoky, less satanic mills existence of England that had been lost in the North to the industrial revolution – which is why so many of the paintings went North.  Who knows.  There are no tweets, no blogs, no journals or otherwise to confirm or deny such theories.

Just the paintings themselves – which hold a fascinating set of visual cascading stories, moral values and pure artistry that are contained in the outputs from this unique colony of artists that lived so close to where I now live.  Art for Art sake, Money for Godsake.  10cc (now on a brilliant tour of the UK) said it all.  It was the same then as it is now!

Funny about the word colony.  It is what they called the far-flung corners of the British Empire.  As well as being the collective noun for a load of bees!  There you go!  The bees don’t tweet either.  They buzz.  A bit less now we are going into winter.  Makes you think!

Picture from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cranbrook_Colony

 

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Losing Faith, Renewed Hope

We caught the first swarm of bees for this season on Monday night.  It was 18ft up in a bush in a nearby village – very late in the season for the first swarm because of all of the wet weather we have had in April.  I had to use an extension to my long pole (used for painting) to get the box up high enough.  Luckily Dennis (whose garden it was) had an additional 3 poles which I used both to extend my pole as well as get the smoker up there with a further two!  Very Heath Robinson!

The photo looks as though I am trying to catch the sun!

Here is a close-up of the contraption holding the box that I caught the swarm in – the sun was a bit out of reach!

Having inspected the hives on the previous Saturday, the hive called Faith is still very weak from over-wintering and I somehow doubt will survive – as I have now tried to re-queen her twice.  We therefore decided to call this swarm Hope to keep the spirit of our three first hives that we started back in 2004 – Faith, Hope and Charity.  The original Hope and Charity hives died off in 2005/06, but Faith has kept going since then and has produced some of the finest honey-crops.

Oh – and it was luck that the place that we caught the hive in started with an H – so we stuck to the Bee Law of naming the hives from the first letter of the place that they were caught!

Hence we are losing Faith (although not all is lost) and we are gaining Hope!  Not a bad place to bee!

More bee law and bee lore at one of my other blogs: http://beelore.com

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The Duck and the Bee

Once upon a time there was a duck

And the duck thought it was in luck

When it saw a tiny little bee

Buzzing in a nearby tree.

For the duck saw a chance

To show that it could advance

Into higher planes above the lake

Wherefrom it had been born a drake.

However, the bees in the tree

Had other ideas, you see.

The bees saw the duck

As a great chance to suck….

Suck what? I hear you say!

Ah, well, the bees could not pay

For the new nest they were creating

So the duck was definitely worth bating.

The tiny bees flew out of the tree

And began to sting the duck, you see.

So the duck quacked and quacked

And far away from the lake it flapped!

So the bees then drank from the lake

And stung any beast that came near to drink

And they quenched their thirst when it was sunny

So they could then to create lots and lots of honey.

The morale of this tiny fable that you all can take,

Is that however much a duck wants to rise up from the lake,

The little bees from the tree have other ideas that’ll mean, you see,

The duck can never elevate itself into the trees like a bee!

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On Sustaining the Gains (and Losses)

You are probably past the point of setting New Year’s resolutions and have forgotten the one you set last year.  Yet when you look back a year and look forward a year, it is surprising how little changes and how much stays the same.

Sure, 2011 was turbulent for many.  In Europe, we seemed to leave the year with an uneasy sense of unknowingness about what lies ahead in 2012 for the Eurozone.  And we are told that the world is now so connected that we don’t need New York to sneeze before the rest of the world catches a cold.  The sneeze could come from Berlin or Beijing or anywhere else for that matter.

Yet there is nothing like a conscience and a critical review to remind you of what you committed to and what you forecast might happen…. And writing a blog is somehow a very public way of saying that I commit to something at the start of a New Year.

So it was that I was surprised to find that I went public this time last year to reduce my bodyweight.  Apparently this is the most common New Year’s resolution that people make.  I did actually manage to lose a stone between January and April last year – only to put on 9 pounds between April and Christmas!

So often, (in weight loss AND in business performance), the gains are difficult enough to achieve – but even harder to sustain.  It is not that my body needs to be as heavy as it is.  It is more about habit – and changing the habits that have been laid down over a lifetime.  It didn’t take much for me to revert to my old habits as the summer came and the bees started to make honey!

Reading the press over the New Year, it was interesting to see that the UK population has become more and more obese – and some say over 35% is now obese.  As has the banking system and, perhaps many of the service organisations that try to service our needs – or so the current UK government thinks.

So the question for me is how to we can reduce weight and sustain a healthy lifestyle in a world that seems to becoming more obese.

My diet last year where I managed to lose a stone in weight was not really a diet.  I never felt hungry the whole time I was on the regime.  I simply reduced the number of calories I ate.

In a similar way, the two puppies that we took on in September are a good weight – because they get fed the correct amount of food each day.  It is interesting, also, that we have never been as healthy as our parents and grandparents were the 1940s when the country had food rationing.

It is not so much, then, about reducing weight.  It is more about eating the correct amount you need to achieve and maintain a natural bodyweight.

So, for this year, as well as reducing weight (another stone would do), I resolve to try to sustain the weight loss.  I would also like to do the reverse for my business – increase the revenues and sustain the flow!  Funny that in March last year I earned the most in a month when my weight reduced the most!

Maybe one idea works with the other.  Who knows?  Maybe the Lean Folk know.  Makes you think, anyway!

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Predicting and Influencing the Future for the Better

Last night I had a fascinating dinner with a few friends at the Frontline Club where we discussed how you influence the future. We ended up designing a system of brainstorming panels which had 3D glass shelves and used 3D icons that could change colour and show pictures and movies – all hitched to a reconfigurable database the cloud! By 10.30 my mind was totally boggled and we headed home!

The conversation was triggered by last week’s post where we explored the idea of Presence as being a better paradigm to describe effective organisations and trying to show that the current obsession of process reengineering is so lacking as an organising idea for the new internet era.  This week I intend to look at whether or not we can predict the future – and we can influence outcomes at an individual, organisational and world level.

To start with, I love the quote by William Gibson: “The future is here.  It’s just not widely distributed yet.”  Since the beginning of recorded history mankind has held in some sort of reverence (or equal cynicism) those who say they can see the future.  The oldest book in the world is based on the stories of the ancient prophets.  Seers and clairvoyants have always held a deep romantic fascination for me as guides to some sort of futre picture (whether  good or bad) and they seldom seem to be accountable for whether their predictions happen or not.  Just as Gibson observes, seers and prophets might actually be in the future and are describing things that most of us can’t see yet because we are stuck in the past (perhaps tied up in processes that were invented by someone else long ago ;-)).

If you fancy your clairvoyant skills, then there is even an Australian website where you can enter them – and it keeps track of whether or not they come true!  Here is a list of War on Experts’ top 10 best predictions.  There is also an interesting podcast from Freakonomics on why we just love trying to predict the future and how louzy we are at it.

In my work, I find the basis of “back-to-front” thinking an absolutely critical tool when trying to find the best courses of action to achieve objectives.  You can’t really be successful unless you know what success looks like – and you can’t get there unless you have worked out how to get there back-to-front.  So, in many ways, the predicted (reinforced) path to get from where you are now to where you want to get to requires some sort of prediction and willing yourself into the future.

There is some fairly extraordinary research being run at Princeton University into human consciousness that records how the human race reacts to specific events around the world.  With the help of correspondents around the world, events that can be expected to bring large numbers of people to a “shared or coherent emotional state”. The following is a partial, illustrative list of criteria and examples:

  1. Suddenness or surprise. Terror attacks, especially where they are not usual.
  2. Fear and compassion. Large natural disasters, typhoons, tsunamis, earthquakes.
  3. Love and sharing. Celebrations and ceremonies like New Years, religious gatherings.
  4. Powerful interest. Political and social events like elections, protests, demonstrations.
  5. Deliberate focus. Organized meetings and meditations like Earth Day, World Peace Day.

There seems to be evidence that human consciousness actually changed a few seconds BEFORE any jet was rammed into the Twin Towers with the monitoring of  these”eggs” placed round the planet by Princeton University which generate random numbers.

Results still show that one of the main ways to make the world more peaceful and better place is to get a group together and go into a group meditation.  Forget about thinking.  Just sit and meditate.  So whether you believe we can see the future or not, by changing our own consciousness, it appears that we can actually make the future more peaceful!

As Niels Bohr is famously quoted: “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.”  but I am certain we can influence and make the future happen by our actions in the present and by envisioning the future back-to-front into our lives.

Beautiful day here.  Hottest September afternoon in the UK on record, apparently. Off to go and meditate with the bees and raise the level of peace vibes on the planet!

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Presence over Process

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!

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