TT1939 – Stepping into the Centre

Stepping into the Centre

At the end of every quarter, I move into the centre of the circle.
The centre is constantly shifting and changing.
Sometimes it can feel a bit stuck in place or time.
Othertimes, it has everything spinning around at 100 miles an hour.
But there is always a still centre to be found somewhere in there.
Calmness in the eye of the storm.

It is that centre that I seek out every three months.
To give me space.
To take stock.
To look backwards and forwards at the same time.
To celebrate what has been done.
And to meditate on where we might go in the future.

This week is a particularly special time of the year.
The hard work of opening-up the combs and extracting the honey is over.
We have an angel called Heather who helps us with that part.
It is now time to bottle the sweet amber nectar.
Some say it’s been a bad season for others.
But we have been fortunate this year.  It’s looking like a good ‘un!

The honey itself pours into the jars in a vortex of swirls
Sometimes left-handed, other times right.  Never straight-down like water.
As each jar fills, the trick is not to stop the flow too early,
Nor too late before the honey overflows onto the floor and makes a mess.
There is a rhythm to it which becomes quite meditative.
Like all skills, it is a combination of practice, timing and feedback.

You are never quite sure how many jars you will fill. 
Nor how many total pounds of honey you will jar.
The mystery of not knowing whether this will be a record season.
But it really doesn’t matter.  It is what it is.
I don’t worry too much about which particular flowers they have come from. 
They make their own unique, delicious blend.

Harvest time is such a natural time of the year to close circles.
The celebration of the friendships made
And a time to reflect on those who have passed.
Now to get ready for winter.  It’s going to be a cold ‘un, they say. 
 Time put the winter quilts into the tops of the hives. 
The circle is closed.

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Inventors are from Uranus. Investors are from Venus.

Sometimes you trip over a word and it takes on a shape.  It bugs you until you look at that shape and see something different.  Something unusual.

That happened to me this morning.  I received a note from a friend of mine who was talking about Elon Musk and his investor dilemma.  Whilst typing back a reply, I said: “it’s the difference between an inventor and an investor”.  And the shape of these two words hit me!  They were so similar – and yet poles apart.

So, as is my wont (an old English word meaning habit or custom that spellcheckers highlight as a mistake, but it isn’t), I set to with the idea that an inveNtor and an inveStor are two opposing forces under tension in any business.

And whilst deciding that this was, indeed, a good analogy, it struck me that so many letters are shared between these two words. In fact, seven out of eight letters are not just the same – BUT THEY ARE IN EXACTLY THE SAME POSITION IN THE WORD!  The only difference is the fifth letter – where one is an “N” and the other an “S”.  How can two such similar words have such contrasting shapes positions in business, yet share so much at the same time?

To use the old analogy “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”, it got me thinking about which planets would inveNtors and inveStors inhabit?  I looked up this idea on an astrology website and found that Venus is the bringer of love, beauty and money.  So that will do for the inveStor community (though I sometimes find it hard to see how those three words fit nicely into one sentence.

As for Mars – well that is a non-starter.  We needed another planet.  And so I typed-in “innovation” to find that Uranus represents technology, rebellion and innovation!  That will do nicely!

So, inveStors are from Venus and inveNtors are from Uranus.  There you go!

Yet that wasn’t enough.  I further studied the two words to find that the only difference were the two letters: N and S  – and suddenly it hit me!  They are also polar opposites on the dial of a compass!  I was so encouraged to find even more elegance down this particular rabbit-hole!

                                     North, South or somewhere in between?

 

Further to discovering this chance pairing, I thought again.  Whilst looking at the meanings behind the planets, I came across  Mercury, the Messenger God who is know for communication, day-to-day expression and  coordination.  A vital and often missing ingredient when inveNtors and inveStors cannot see each other’s point of view.  What other letter (in the same place as the N and S) could be a catalyst for change?  What could be the Mercury that goes between Venus and Uranus (though I know full-well that is impossible in our particular solar system – but work with me on this!)

And so I came across the letter “R”.  One of the few that makes sense and is a word.  An inveRtor.  It has a medical meaning, but I preferred the one used in electricity – which converts AC to DC current and back again.  An inveRtor is a converter of energy from invention to investment.  Perfect!

So, in summary, we need more inveRtors in business to go between the impossible stances that inveNtors and inveStors take when they stand-off in their own worlds of creativity and resolution.  A few more inveRtors that will be comfortable in the space between what is impossible and what is possible.  A few more inverRtors that will help  inveNtors like Elon Musk save the planet with his fantastic ideas to make the world’s transportation system run on electricity without making all the inveStors run a mile!

As it was such a great rabbit hole to go down (and it is Thursday and I have not written Thursday Thoughts for a while), I thought I would write-up the story.  More to follow soon!

Please do leave a comment below if you see any other strange or fantastic happenings on the road from invention to investment.

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The Art of Rounding Things Out

With a large part of my early career spent designing and testing telecoms billing systems, one of the inexact sciences that I still find intriguing is the word: “rounding”.  I remember one client making millions of extra pounds with the Finance Director requiring their new system to round-up every recorded minute as opposed to rounding them down – even though it was against the regulations.

Yet rounding errors and rounding up and down is a small part of the “art of rounding things out”.  The circle is probably the most drawn, painted and elegant symbol in Art that continues to enthral us, whatever age, gender, colour or creed we are:

(Source: https://www.pinterest.com/jhilts/round/)

Rounding things out is an almost innate human need.  And some are better at it than others!  Indeed Belbin allocated one of his nine famous team roles to the “completer finisher” – defined as follows:

The Completer-Finisher is most effectively used at the end of tasks to polish and scrutinise the work for errors, subjecting it to the highest standards of quality control.

Strengths: Painstaking, conscientious, anxious. Searches out errors. Polishes and perfects.

Allowable weaknesses: Can be inclined to worry unduly, and reluctant to delegate.

Don’t be surprised to find that: They could be accused of taking their perfectionism to extremes.

(Source: http://www.belbin.com/about/belbin-team-roles/)

Surely a very useful person to have on any team – particularly as the team comes to the end of a task?  Somehow, though, in the modern world, completer-finishers do not seem to be so highly valued.  Technology firms with meteoric values and no customers just want to get on and create the next feature.  Dreams and visions win over completed circles.

The recent big storms hitting North Western Europe was another reminder for me that we continue to pollute our oceans with plastic – and that we are taking very little effective action to curb the rising trend of more and more plastic being dumped daily into the ocean.

Any rising consciousness of rounding things out is increasingly drowned out by the advertising industry pushing for the convenience of fast food and throw-away packaging.  “Someone else’s problem.  Let me get on with my life.  I’ve got too much else to worry about than where my rubbish will end up!  In any case, I don’t have the space for all those extra sorting bins in my tiny flat!”  Roughly the words from a forty-something London urban female I met recently.  She comes from a different planet from the one I live on.

I suppose that some of my angst on this subject stems from spending a year in Berlin in 1980.  If it could be fed to the pigs, it was.  Otherwise, if it was rubbish, it was very carefully disposed of by folding it up or squashing it.  Disposal of rubbish was very expensive because the number of landfill sites inside The Wall were scarce.  Programmed about such things in my early ’20s, I suppose I have kept a consciousness that most London forty-somethings would think quite abnormal.

I’ve never particularly seen myself as having the characteristics of a completer-finisher.  However, the older I get, the more concerned I am becoming over the lack of importance attached to round things out.  Indeed, after a recent Circular Business Design workshop we ran, I coined a new term “Telosonance” meaning “having concern for where something might end up”.  From the Greek word “Telos” meaning objective or end-result” and an ending sounding like resonance, it creates a word for something that we don’t seem to have in everyday use in the English language.

Maybe the “art of rounding things out” is a similar idea as Telosonance?  Except that it is the consequential action that follows a concern or feeling that things, people or places are not lined-up to complete the disposal of the thing-in-question in an elegant way  – in other words – “to round things out”.

I’m not sure the Finance Director of the dodgy telecoms company that I worked with those many years ago would have worried about any of this, but it is a subject that is close to my heart at the moment.  I truly believe that we need to applaud the ways that completer-finishers think about problems.  Sooner or later, we are all going to have to worry about where things end up and help find elegant ways to round-out and clear up the mess that we have made over the past 100 years.

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If there is one thing you’re going do as we go into 2018, make it this!

Someone asked me what one word or phrase I would use to take me into 2018, leave behind those ideas, things and people you don’t need anymore and create something new and vibrant.

I thought for a moment and then said “I use the term “Lighten Up! quite a lot.”

It gives you the chance to drop those dead-weight ideas, as well as the things and even people who drag you down. It also gives you permission to become more conscious and, literally, “enlightened”.  It is a good one, too for losing those extra few inches around the belly and becoming lighter on your feet!

The lighter you think, the lighter the world becomes. You need fewer words to connect with people. Your emails become shorter. You need fewer “heavy” conversations. You laugh more. Life becomes much more fun and interesting because you are not held back by the shadows of past traumas nor fears of the future.

And if you look into the light, you can’t see the shadows of the past anyway!

“LIghten-Up!” It works for me! Try it. It might work for you too!

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The Myth of Zen in the Art of Archery

It’s fascinating how aspects of Westernised Zen philosophy came out of Hitler’s Germany. Below is the link to a paper called “The Myth of Zen in the Art of Archery” with some extracts below that to prove the point.

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/…/download;jsessionid=CB13F300…

‘Eugen Herrigel’s “Zen in the Art of Archery” has been widely read as a study of Japanese culture. By reconsidering and reorganizing Herrigel’s text and related materials, however, this paper clarifies the mythical nature of “Zen in the Art of Archery” and the process by which this myth has been generated.

This paper first gives a brief history of Japanese archery and places the period at which Herrigel studied Japanese archery within that time frame. Next, it summarizes the life of Herrigel’s teacher, Awa Kenzõ. At the time Herrigel began learning the skill, Awa was just beginning to formulate his own unique ideas based on personal spiritual experiences.

Awa himself had no experience in Zen nor did he unconditionally approve of Zen. By contrast, Herrigel came to Japan in search of Zen and chose Japanese archery as a method through which to approach it.

The paper goes on to critically analyze two important spiritual episodes in “Zen and the Art of Archery.” What becomes clear through this analysis is the serious language barrier existing between Awa and Herrigel. The testimony of the interpreter, as well as other evidence, supports the fact that the complex spiritual episodes related in the book occurred either when there was no interpreter present, or were misinterpreted by Herrigel via the interpreter’s intentionally liberal translations.

Added to this phenomenon of misunderstanding, whether only coincidental or born out of mistaken interpretation, was the personal desire of Herrigel to pursue things Zen. Out of the above circumstances was born the myth of ‘Zen in the Art of Archery.'”

To copy YAMADA Shõji’s concluding paragraphs:

“Zen in the Art of Archery continues to be a bestseller. The Japanese language version, Yumi to Zen (1956), which represents the culmination of a circular translation process that rendered Awa’s original Japanese words into German and, then, from German back into Japanese, has altered Awa’s words to such an extent that it is impossible to ascertain his original expressions. Yet, in spite of this fact, many Japanese rely on it to acquire a certain fixed interpretation of Japanese archery.

Faced with this situation, I have attempted to present a new reading of Herrigel and associated documents from a different perspective so as to clarify the mythic function that creates our conception of what constitutes “Japanese-ness.” At the same time, I have attempted to counter the tendency that has prevailed up until now to read Zen in the Art of Archery with little or no critical awareness.

This paper represents only a preliminary analysis of Zen in the Art of Archery. The next step must compare and contrast Herrigel’s account with descriptions of Japanese archery written by other foreigners during the same period in order to bring to light the idiosyncratic nature of Zen in the Art of Archery and the peculiar way in which it has shaped foreign understanding of Japan and foreign interpretations of Japanese archery in particular.

Moreover, it is necessary to reposition Herrigel’s first essay on Japanese archery within the milieu of the Berlin of 1936 when the storm of Nazism was raging.   Finally, it will be necessary to trace the process by which the ideas in Zen in the Art of Archery, the revised version of Herrigel’s 1936 essay, were imported back into Japan and widely accepted, creating the illusion that the archery of Awa and Herrigel represented traditional Japanese archery. I hope to address these issues in the future.”

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Form, Function and other “F” words

When I started this blog in 2010, the first article was called “Form follows Function – or does it?”.

I’ve been fascinated by the idea of form following function ever since – and have been trying to work out what might follow function itself.

And so, earlier this year, I played around with the idea with a few friends that there might be a sequence:

  • Form follows Function
  • Function follows Flow
  • Flow follows Focus
  • Focus follows Foresight

I presented these ideas at a recent workshop that I was running and Brian Condon, a good friend and one of the participants said that the one “F” word that was missing was feedback!

Now, feedback is different.  It can follow anything.  So here is a diagram that shows these six ideas:

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Connecting Dots, Throwing Javelins and Grassroots Movements

We all love them, don’t we? Whether it is the weather, election results or even horoscopes, the human psyche is intrigued by those who believe that they can predict the future.

Yet, in the past few of years, things that seemed to have been stable and predictable have had an uncanny knack of not being so! Brexit, the rise of Trump, global weather patterns, crazy valuations for Tech companies. Some trace this unpredictability back to the financial crisis of 2008. Others pin it to the rise of globalisation. Yet others believe that the real culprit – climate change – can be attributed as far back as the industrial revolution.

“Leaders of Hope” require a good dose of “back-to-front thinking” to inspire people to follow their vision of the future – only to become disillusioned and frustrated by the system. The pendulum swings and “Leaders of Fear” take over and simply look in the rear view mirror to say how things were great in the past and that “Back to the Future” is the answer.

With linear thinking, we tend to post-rationalise decisions and make them look logical after the event. Ever more so in large corporations and national governments. Steve Jobs put it so well when he talked about connecting the dots in his Stanford commencement speech

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”

So we come to trusting the dots that will connect us to a positive future – and also trust in “gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever….” to get us there! That’s not very precise or scientific. Certainly not terribly rational and not very easy to measure either!

So, maybe all this objective setting stuff we strive for is baloney? 

In my experience, Jobs was correct. Most decisions are made from spinning around looking at various alternatives and then having an intuitive hunch that things would be better if they lined up in a direction where you have a fuzzy idea of the target zone or outcome. As time progresses, things become clearer.

I call this the “White Javelin” approach. We have a Javelin that we can throw in any direction, but we choose to throw where the light shines brightly. Once we have thrown it, we move along to pick it up and then decide where to throw it next. It is better if you keep going in one particular direction. Otherwise, you keep going over old ground and spinning around like a dog chasing its tail!

Fulfilment becomes an intuitive sense of progress towards a fuzzy outcome, which needs to feel good before each throw.  If your daily work does not give you the autonomy to decide the direction of throw or they give you a needle instead of a javelin, then I suggest you quit!

As I’ve grown older (and hopefully wiser), I’ve also become increasingly aware that everything is connected. Literally. So the desired outcome in one country, system or domain will have undesired consequences in another. The current North Korean-US war of words is but a simple example.

So, with all the unpredictability and variability of system outcomes, maybe we need a new set of meta-objectives or meta-goals that we can start to organise ourselves around so we can work out best where we throw our white javelins.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals were a noble attempt to do this. Yet a global, top-down approach is probably only going to help fix a minor part of the problem. As Arnold Schwarzenegger stated in his message to Donald Trump on reneging the Paris climate agreement: “Like all the great movements in human history, our (clean) future starts with a grassroots movement in our communities, our cities and our states.”

It gives hope to mere mortals that there is a clear path to a cleaner, brighter future through grassroots activism, clear personal intent and envisioning end-results that are for the betterment of our local communities.

Whereas linear-thinking approaches had a good chance of succeeding in more stable and predictable systems, we need new ways to shape a purpose, objectives and outcomes for a particular problem set – outside the boundaries of corporate self-interest. (what Ian Ure in an article on LinkedIn calls his “magic ingredient” – which inspired me to write this one). 

Asking lots of “W” questions is a good place to start. Why?, What?, Who?, When? and Where?

Too many “How?” questions asked too early on creates early “solution-thinking syndrome” which gets in the way of exploring alternative approaches and landing points.

Equally, too many “Why?” questions too early on can also be counter-productive because the answer might simply be: “Just because!”.  W can also stand for “Wait” – like  “all good things come to those who wait”.  Counterintuitive, perhaps, but powerful, nonetheless.

I believe that the world is a mysterious, magical and mystical place, well beyond the ken of any single human being. Science and reason are useful tools, but by adopting the Zen-like “beginner’s mind” with an inquisitive sense of discovery, prediction becomes less important. Each day brings magic moments with new discoveries and new areas to explore with our individual throws of our uniquely crafted white javelins.  We need to stop listening to the Merchants of Doom and become our own Leaders of Hope.

Go on! Throw it as far as you can and see where it lands! It will only be good! 

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The Stage Gate Process Kills True Innovation

Last week’s Thursday Thoughts raised many comments from readers: which has certainly made me think a lot more about innovation in the past week!  Many thanks for those of you that engaged in the conversation!
 
My hypothesis that customers were the best source of innovation was challenged by quite a few!
 
  • Kit thought that innovation stemmed from technology, newbies AND customers;
  • Lucy thought it was all about execution;
  • Jerry echoed Steve Job’s famous saying that “customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them”.  (Apple again!);
  • Joanna highlighted the fact that we can become swamped by the choices that we all face, so that we don’t know what we want;
  • Brian made a great distinction between inventors and designers (very close to my heart);
  • Ryan complained of Apple’s cables and pop-ups and vented his frustrations about spellcheckers and such; and
  • James made a very insightful point “Customers are certainly a good source of innovation, but I read somewhere one of the gurus suggesting the people who weren’t yet customers, or weren’t customers anymore were even better. A bit more difficult to access, but an interesting thought.”
Given that the subject (combined with my rather over-simplistic conclusions) created so many comments, I thought I would carry on with the same theme – though this week look at the process of innovation in great companies.
In my research, I came across a very interesting book: “Winning at Innovation: The A-F Model” by Fernando Trías de Bes and the famous Philip Kotler published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2015.
 
There were a few very useful Ideas I have gleaned from the book.  Firstly, on page 16, the authors state that: “the phases or stages of an innovation process cannot be pre-determined, but must emerge as a result of the interaction of a set of functions or roles performed by certain individuals.”
 
This resonated with a thought I had last Sunday that the true source of innovation was probably not the customer, but more likely a passionate,  problem-solver driven to do something new.  Like Steve Jobs – a catalyst that wants to put a “ding in the Universe”.  Somehow this made me feel a lot better, because it meant that this “innovation activist” could really make a difference by simply believing that they could!
The book “Winning at Innovation” called this first role (in their A-F model) an “Activator”.  Perhaps Activator is a better word than an activist.  Less revolutionary and more chemical.  The six roles that they define are:
  • Activators – these are people who will initiate the innovative process without worrying about stages or phases.
  • Browsers – these are the experts searching for information.
  • Creators – The people who produce ideas for the rest of the group.  Their function is to ideate.
  • Developers – People specialised in turning ideas into products.
  • Executors – The people who take care of everything to do with implementation.
  • Facilitators – Those who approve the new spending items and investment needed as the (team-defined) innovation process moves forwards.
The book gives a chapter to each role.  Rather like a Jazz band, the magic only happens when the players perform their parts  with each other by getting “in the groove”.
How far away this model is from the classic “Stage Gate” process!  So many large companies try to institutionalise innovation by forcing new ideas through a series of gates, each gate blocking innovation and creating an economy of scarcity and  innovation prevention agents.  Some might say it is a game and chant “gamification”, but that is not my experience.
Design Process Crossed Out
Innovation is everybody’s job – and everybody’s right!  By defining roles and allowing the players (within a scope / budget / set of objectives) to define their own process (or set the rhythm to their own music), innovation flows naturally.  No need for costly gates and financial cook-books.
 
One wonders whether the corporate and public sector dinosaurs of the 20th Century will be able to adapt to such models in the next 10 years.  I predict that they will really struggle and find it difficult to beat the innovation pioneers who take knock-down the stage gates, put themselves on stage and leave Gates to his philanthropic endeavours!
I call this idea “Presence over Process”.  Think about it.  It really helps if you are struggling to navigate any corporate or government process.
 
Long live the spirit of Jobs and all other innovation activators!
 
That also gives a clue to next week’s piece.  But it probably isn’t the Jobs you think it is!
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The Best Source of Innovation

The news this week that the upwards-ever-upwards iPhone sales are finally stalling was a stark reminder that even the greatest companies struggle to keep the juices of innovation flowing year-on-year.  The Apple Watch couldn’t replace the iPhone and the iCar (if it ever arrives) is still a few years out.

Most companies that I study or consult to are in an innovation crisis.  They know they must innovate in order to remain competitive and keep growing (or simply to stand still).  Yet how often does the innovation agenda become demoted to “novel” efficiency drives and cost-cutting initiatives?

It begs the question: where is the best place to source innovation?  Many of my clients in the telecoms world look to technology suppliers.  They continue to develop new features on top of their already bloated stack of products and services that were offered last year.  The latest gizmo.  The latest bell or whistle.  Yet I already have an iPhone 6s.  Why do I want a Plus?  I upgraded from an iPhone 4s to wait for the 6.  I think I’ll hang on until I see something really new and different from Apple.

evolution of lighting, with candle, tungsten, fluorescent , LED

Innovation can come from suppliers – but you can’t really differentiate your company if that is all you rely on.  Such is the fate of many telecoms companies: they continue to develop new features on top of their already bloated stack of product features that were offered last year.  The latest gizmo.  The latest bell or whistle.  A price war starts and the cost cutting initiatives cut even deeper.  No, suppliers, are not the best answer.

What about the young folk who have just joined the organisation?  Straight out of University or School, they bring a fresh set of thinking.  They are the next generation!  Surely they hold the answer?  Give them a difficult problem and let them brainstorm their ideas to create something truly whacky.  Too risky, I say!  They will not understand the product and how it is used, yet.  They might come up with some good ideas., but   Good ideas are not the same as innovation.  The newbees are not the best source of innovation either!

So where should we go next?  To customers, of course!  Customers that use (and misuse) your existing products and services!  Customers who suffer day-to-day from trying to work the processes that you have under-designed and waste your customers time and effort.  They are loyal customers until they suddenly vanish.  And if no one contacts them to see where they have gone, then innovation dies on the vine!

Customers are an incredibly cheap this source of innovation, too.  Not just cheap, but very valuable!  By asking a few simple questions of customers every time you interact with them, you can increase your profitability, customer loyalty AND innovation in one fell swoop!

And what are those questions?  Well, you will have to read the next few Thursday Thoughts to find out my thoughts on this.  In the meantime, try and work out what you think they might be and comment below!

Oh, and thank you so much for reading this far.  I hope, at least, it has made you think a bit more about one of the most important aspects of business and human life!

 

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