When people ask me what I do, I tend to freeze. I dislike labels. If I have to be labelled I prefer to be known as a Polymath. Something like that. And yet that doesn’t help When you are looking for your next piece of work. The market is skewed towards hiring specialists.
The world of HR and recruitment love labels. It somehow makes the hiring process less risky For them when they can you put you into a box. Specialisms, industry knowledge, groupthink. It’s a disease which is rife and one where Renaissance (wo)man stands no chance!
How can generalists become more useful? Some give back by working as a volunteer. Charitable work is very is rewarding But does not pay the bills. Others enter academia to become Priests to the religion that is education.
Others become authors or artists. Yet in business Creativity clashes with corporate straight jackets. Squashed between policies and boring routines We need a revolution! A revolution In the way that cognitive diversity is Recognised, commissioned and rewarded.
Ahah! I hear you say! It’s up to the generalist To market their skills and get themselves a job! However, generalists don’t like being tied-down To particular job descriptions. They don’t like Being put into a box. They are too inquisitive, Onto the next idea before the last has closed.
What if there was a pool of generalists Who could be engaged for an hour, day or week? They know lots of things about many things And can challenge like the Court Jester. Crazy ideas might lead to a great product or service. Who would commission them? Would you? And why?
I met up recently with an old friend. She has decided to give up work in March. The hospital she has worked in for many years as a family therapist was transferred from the private sector to the public sector last year. She is giving up because the (UK) National Health Service (or NHS) that has now taken over the hospital has made the unit a “national asset” and patients are being referred to it from across the country. She can no longer practice as she used to because the patients are disconnected from the families that should support them when they leave hospital care. Costs have also gone up because of the additional remote support that need to be given to both patients and their supporting families. In addition, she finds the extra “meetings about meetings” and paperwork completely stifling.
It reminded of a similar problem that is embedded within the UK prison system. It has been proven that offenders are much more likely not to reoffend once they leave prison if they get family support during their term inside. Yet most prisoners are deliberately sent to another part of the country to do their time. Families (often poorer than most) cannot afford regular visits. So the likelihood of prisoners reoffending when leaving prison goes up.
In each of these cases, I suppose the patient or the prisoner could be seen as the “customer”. Yet these two state-run systems have been designed without the customer’s requirements (or real needs) in mind. They have been designed at the expense of other measures (such as top-down political targets, reduction in costs etc.)
The current business fads of rationalisation, outsourcing, off-shoring, cost-cutting and factory call-centres seem to have driven traditional sane local business practices and have allowed madness to prevail.
I can’t prove it, but I believe that local, common-sense sanity has to create more flexible, cost effective public services over the prevalent national (or international) managing-by-abstract-measures madness. But that is a very difficult case to prove when big egos, big technology, big politics and big finance have each, in their own way, presented measurement madness as the new religion.
Maybe measurement is, itself, the root cause of the problem. Maybe we should be suggesting a new way to educate the cohorts of ignorant managers and measurers.
Taiichi Ohno would have thought so. One of his great quotes fits well here:
“People who can’t understand numbers are useless.
The gemba (or real place) where numbers are not visible is also bad.
However, people who only look at the numbers are the worst of all.”
I got into a discussion with a friend yesterday about religion. You know the sort. It became a discussion about basic beliefs and ideas about what had happened in the past with facts that neither of us could prove. I capitulated, not wanting to tread on ground that was sacred to them, yet still holding true to my own beliefs. In past times, I might have argued the point. But I was tired and did not see the point.
It got me thinking about this religion and holiness and that sort of stuff and reminded me of a phrase my father used to say to me: “All great religions die with their founder”. He was a spiritual man with his own religion. He is now dead. So I suppose, in his own way, he was right.
In so many things in life we seek out the differences. And religions are often a major culprit. If you believe in one version of history and someone else another, then you are different. You have different religious beliefs and are not of the same system, creeds, language etc. etc. And even within a religion, there are sub-sectors, different interpretations and different organisations supporting them. Yet what is common between religions is far more powerful than what makes them separate.
And so it is also true in the business world. We have finely-tuned sensors to work out if another company is a competitor or a potential “partner”. What are the “differentiators” that make you special? We have defined a set of rituals for ignoring or attacking other businesses. Just as in human relationships, these reactions can be commanded on a whim. Defined by tiny variations in perceived behaviour or circumstance. Individual differences are to be highlighted. Sameness is boring.
Yet there is a counter-force which is found much more commonly in nature. This is the unifying force which finds similarities and which seeks out common ground in any given situation. It requires a different way of thinking and a different way of feeling about a situation. More inclusive. More holistic. More local.
I am not an economist. Nor will I argue the pros and cons of globalisation in this short piece. Yet it seems to me that with all the rational arguments for globalisation and free-trade markets we have lost the ability to balance the world with this holistic energy – because responsibility has been taken away from what makes sense at a local level. We could blame Adam Smith and his ideas on how to increase the quantity of pins produced in pin manufacturing – so aptly celebrated on the British £20 note:
It is as if the new religion of global banking and global economics has become the new church which must be obeyed. Making money at the expense of making things whole, rounded, sensible and appropriate at a local level. With differences, of course, but much less important in this context. Much less expensive, for sure, because it does not carry the burden of national or international overheads.
And so it was that I was browsing a book, “The Nature of Order”by Christopher Alexander, one of the greatest architectural thinkers of our time. He describes wholeness as a series fifteen ideas or factors which are represented in the diagram below:
The Elements of Wholeness by Christopher Alexander
So, I wondered, with these fifteen design ideas, what would a new bank look like? What would a new economic system look like? Globalisation ideas don’t fit very well with concepts such as “Boundaries”, “Local Symmetries” and “Inner Calm”. Then again, that shouldn’t be too surprising!
If you are a wordsmith, you will notice there is a lot more in common between the words HOLINESS and WHOLENESS. The only difference is that makes the first unique is the letter “I” and the second that has the letters “WE”. Not that I am pushing one over the other, but it makes you think, anyway!
I was very privileged last year to submit evidence to the House of Lord’s Communications Committee on their report “Broadband for All”.
Below is The Earl of Selbourne’s summary of what needs to be done from his speech on Monday evening when the report was debated in the Lords:
The Earl of Selborne: My Lords, I join others in thanking the chairman, my noble friend Lord Inglewood, for the way in which he chaired the committee and introduced the debate today. From the speeches that we have heard, it is clear without doubt that the future of our economy will depend to a large extent on our ability to connect to broadband throughout all communities and sections of the population. It is not just about wealth creation and social cohesion. The ability to participate in healthcare and whole tranches of public activity will depend on connectivity. The Government must have a policy, and the Government are right to have a policy, but perhaps, as we have said in our report, they have been preoccupied by one aspect, which is to try to be the leader in Europe on superfast broadband.
The first priority has to be to achieve connectivity. If you have excluded populations, you will have a social divide and a lack of social cohesion. The Government need not worry about speed. That will follow. There are not very often market failures when it comes to cities. I therefore agree with those who have said that to spend money on improving superfast provision in cities is not something that the Government need to worry about if the market can do it itself. But there will be market failure in remote areas, where the costs of pushing out the broadband structure are too great. There will be market failure where the incumbents have an advantage, which inhibits other incomers who can help to provide some of the very many solutions that will be required to get this connectivity to all parts of the population. That is something that we are failing to harness—the undoubted innovation and enthusiasm from local communities, small and start-up companies, all of which would have a contribution to make. We go into some detail in the report. It gets pretty dense, I admit, when we talk about things such as passive optical networks and physical infrastructure access. But this is the key to it.
At the moment, we have what my noble friend Lord Inglewood called “the only show in town” for many rural areas. Whether we like it or not, because it is in the very nature of broadband to have high fixed costs, low marginal costs and great economies of scale, inevitably the incumbents will have a strong advantage. I think that we should be proud of what BT has done. It has improved enormously, by technical innovations, the ability to provide broadband on the existing infrastructure. Of course, it is rolling out broadband at great speed. It says that it hopes to achieve 90% coverage by 2017, but that immediately begs the question as to whether in national terms that is a satisfactory objective. I would certainly say, particularly as I am from a rather remote corner of the rural community and likely to be one of the 10% left out, that it is not satisfactory. So let us see what we can do to achieve that connectivity well before 2017. I do not think that anyone has mentioned yet the 4G mobile broadband technology, which is very soon to be with us and will certainly provide greatly enhanced mobile internet access to areas within adequate connectivity.
There are many different contributions to be made. The case for government involvement and public funds to be deployed rests, as I say, on achieving this reduction of the digital divide. The long-term solution will, ultimately, be fibre to the premises and the home. As others have rightly said, the cost of rolling out fibre to the home is exorbitant. We have a temporary solution, and a good one—the BT solution of fibre to the cabinet. It achieves the objective of reducing dramatically the costs. Usually, you have copper or some other connection from that cabinet. But whether BT likes it or not—it is in something like denial over this—it has the disadvantage that it does not provide open access, as I would understand it. In other words, as a local access network provider, you cannot simply move in with a compatible bit of machinery, stick it in there and do what you are trying to achieve. It is not an open access hub, as we have tried to demonstrate. That is where you come back to the technology of the passive optical network, which is a bit of a fix, as those will know who have read the report with great care. It certainly does not achieve what some of those independent service providers would have hoped for.
I think that the Government should ask quite firmly that, for the next tranche of money, which we hear will come in 2015, there should be proper open access. It is not beyond the wit of man. Clearly, there is no great financial advantage to the incumbents to roll out proper open access, but that is what is needed. If it is what is required, that is what will happen. It must be future proofed. We know that the technology changes dramatically fast. We know that some of the existing solutions, including the cabinet, will not stand the test of time for very long, but the fibre-optic cable will. Ultimately, it will be able to handle this vast amount of information. Therefore, we must make sure that as we improve the broadband infrastructure, we have the ability to upgrade and upgrade. That is why I say that, frankly, the cabinets are not very easily upgraded. You have to go back to the exchanges and think again. That is why we should look on them only as a temporary expedient.
When public money is distributed to extend the commercial network, as is happening at the moment, the Government should insist on the long-term solution. We took evidence from a particularly impressive consultant, Mr Lorne Mitchell, who is setting up a community scheme in Goudhurst, Kent. I think he was the first to put it to me how important it was for local groups to be able to access the middle mile and to get the backhaul back into the infrastructure. He said that the key to the problem is the openness of the middle mile, which is the connection back to the internet. If this can be designed in a way that gives each community a chance to get to one of these community hubs, it would be a massive leap forward. That is precisely what the committee report has tried to promote. I think it makes a lot of sense. However, the government response simply quoted a report which said that it was unrealistically expensive to have hubs in every community, and so it would be if you were to launch it all overnight. However, ultimately, it would be no more expensive than the cabinets. It is the same technology but it is a question of making sure that when you roll out the hubs, you do what you are not doing at the moment with the cabinets, and that is making them available to all. To say that they will cost far in excess of the funds available to the Government at present, as the government response does, simply misses the point. If the Government can fund any hubs such as cabinets or exchanges, they should be accessible to the community and to other providers. This simply requires a change in specification, not a change in the scale of funding.
I hope the Minister will recognise that, however impressive BT’s record of rolling out broadband is—it has, indeed, been most impressive—the interests of the BT shareholder and of wider society, particularly the 10% in rural communities who will remain without adequate connectivity in 2017 if present policies are continued, are not always the same.
There is a much better and fairer way to make the UK’s telecoms infrastructure truly open and competitive – and also give much better value-for-money to the government’s interventions. The Lords highlighted the way – but the vested interests put a cloud over the path. Many assume because BT Openreach is called “open”, then it is open. It is not. Never has been. Never will be. Clever marketing.
In spite of many other schemes being “rolled-up” by the BDUK closed scheme where only BT can win, we are letting the Government and the English Counties inject the biggest single donation to BT’s balance sheet in a lifetime. Definitely not the best way to invest government money. Definitely not an open debate in the House of Commons on how to do it differently. Only in the House of Lords.
I am really pleased to say that we were told this week that the Goudhurst Broadband scheme that I presented to the Communications Committee is still going strong – with great support from Kent County Council and our Local Parish Council. You can find more at one of my other blogs: http://www.goudhurst.net I also blog about the final 10% (last point above) at http://www.finalninth.com – so for those who wondered what I do outside writing Thursday Thoughts – then this is some of it!
Let’s hope the Lords’ Report continues to be read and championed and that Monday was not the end of the work of trying to develop a new set of really good ideas for next generation internet access distribution for the UK.
I was with a client yesterday and drew attention to a recent article Two-Speed IT: A Linchpin for Success in a Digitized World from BCG Perspectives on how some organisations are being forced split in two with the pressure of the internet. The BCG paper describes a “two-speed IT” – but in many ways, the IT is only part of it – and BCG have taken the two-speed analogy far further with other thoughts on organisations, economies and governments.
It would appear that, in order to survive, successful organisations now need to have (at least) two speeds or engines within in them. One is there to cope with traditional “industrial speed” business and the other need to cope with innovation and customer interactions at “digital speed”.
There is no finer example than Telefonica-O2 – which has recently split itself in to two companies. One which manages the more traditional “industrial” network and handset business. The second (called Telefonica Digital) was set up to manage innovation and all the different aspects of interconnecting the network business to new technologies and services.
I’m with O2 – and it was disappointing that even after splitting itself in two, the industrial part of the business, they still managed to knock-out my service for 24 hours in the early summer. Even more reason to believe in the importance of creating and adapting organisations so that they can take both the expected and unexpected demands placed upon them.
A better example of success is probably BT’s execution of the Olympic Games. I am sure the stories will start to come out in the next few months, but I heard at a conference recently that there were over 50 severe attacks on the Olympic Network that could have brought it down – had BT not had the right protection in place. In the industrial network game, true success normally means not failing!
As many of you know, I like to draw analogies, and I thought that this client that I was working with had a problem of shifting from first gear to second gear. Somehow, they had all the parts to make very solid machines for the industrial age, but they were not thinking of designing and creating smaller, lighter, more nimble components to put in the small engines of the digital age (for new organisations such as Telefonica Digital). To use a truck-car analogy, they were still assembling large-scale gearboxes for big trucks – (where each component takes days and weeks to manufacture and assemble) – whilst missing the market opportunity to provide new, smaller gearboxes (or even components) that will allow emerging digital organisations to engage with the bigger industrial engines of the past.
These new gear boxes are going to be smaller, cheaper and faster to assemble. It might even require a new, separate organisation to design, market and support them. The possibilities were very interesting.
So I was charmed by the Queen of Coincidence, when, whilst I was preparing for the client presentation, a good friend, Jo, sent me this brilliant recording of a telephone conversation between a guy who has just bought a BMW with a “wonky gearbox” – Listen and enjoy!
For those who have followed this blog for a while, you will know I presented evidence at the House of Lords’ inquiry on the present UK’s government’s policy on Next Generation Broadband. So it was at midnight on Tuesday, the Lords published their report which can be found <HERE> entitled “Broadband for all – an alternative vision”.
Lord Inglewood was interviewed in a video:
“Our communications network must be regarded as a strategic, national asset. The Government’s strategy lacks just that – strategy.
The complex issues involved were not thought through from first principle and it is far from clear that the Government’s policy will deliver the broadband infrastructure that we need – for profound social and economic reasons – for the decades to come.”
The report has had a mixed response. Supporters of a truly open-access fit-for-purpose National internet Infrastructure applauded.
Other analysts were eless complimentary:
Matthew Howett, lead analyst of Ovum’s regulatory practice, said many aspects of the inquiry’s report are “simply odd”.
“With nearly 50 recommendations and no indication of costs or how they should be met, it’s likely to be dismissed as nothing more than a pipe dream,” he said.
Odd it was for me that so many Peers took the time out to learn about the industry and the pros and cons of various options for technology and business models. It was a piece of work that involved many hours of their time to see the problem from different perspectives. It challenged the status-quo and came up with an alternative vision for what the UK’s national internet access infrastructure might look like. It was bound to be unpopular in certain quarters as it threatened the status-quo.
Sure, the government and BT’s in-house analysts might dismiss the ideas as pipe-dreams, but one wonders where the whole BDUK process is heading. It might be the Games in London – but this particular game will go one well into the Autumn after all the athletes have left London.
It is definitely time for the status-quo to be challenged. BDUK is at best a strange construction and at worst a totally bonkers policy for a government set on Localism and Community Engagement. The Lords’ report went to the heart of this matter and has suggested a framework for a truly revolutionary approach to fixing the monopoly of BT’s infrastructure – particularly in the middle-mile.
At times, I think of giving up banging this drum and doing something more conventional and toe-the-line. Yet at one minute past midnight on Tuesday, I had a new surge of enthusiasm that the ideas that we have been working on for several years now are getting some traction and that a body of revered and highly intelligent Peers actually understood what many on the fringes of the industry have been saying for a while.
If only the Government could stand back and listen to some of the concerns about the current vision and understand that they have alternatives that are better, faster and cheaper that will help the UK’s international competitiveness, we might actually come up with something that really does get the economy back on its feet in a fairer way, based on an infrastructure that no single part is too big to fail. Surely there is a lesson here from the banking system that is staring us in the face?
Come on, Jeremy. Put the bell head back on the stick, put the bell down and start listening again. Unless, of course, you get reshuffled – in which case it is round-and-round we go!
In celebration of the time of the year, I found these four sets of elegant Mathematical Formulae which I thought would make excellent Christmas Trees! As we leave 2011, here are two that celebrate the symmetry of eleven:
1 x 9 + 2 = 11 12 x 9 + 3 = 111 123 x 9 + 4 = 1111 1234 x 9 + 5 = 11111 12345 x 9 + 6 = 111111 123456 x 9 + 7 = 1111111 1234567 x 9 + 8 = 11111111 12345678 x 9 + 9 = 111111111 123456789 x 9 +10 = 1111111111
And here is another that balances the tree above with another set of elevens:
1 x 1 = 1 11 x 11 = 121 111 x 111 = 12321 1111 x 1111 = 1234321 11111 x 11111 = 123454321 111111 x 111111 = 12345654321 1111111 x 1111111 = 1234567654321 11111111 x 11111111 = 123456787654321 111111111 x 111111111 = 12345678987654321
And for those of you who believe, like the Chinese, that “8” is lucky, I have dressed this one in red:
9 x 9 + 7 = 88 98 x 9 + 6 = 888 987 x 9 + 5 = 8888 9876 x 9 + 4 = 88888 98765 x 9 + 3 = 888888 987654 x 9 + 2 = 8888888 9876543 x 9 + 1 = 88888888 98765432 x 9 + 0 = 888888888
And finally this one, my favourite, which took me ages to decorate!
1 x 8 + 1 = 9
12 x 8 + 2 = 98
123 x 8 + 3 = 987
1234 x 8 + 4 = 9876
12345 x 8 + 5 = 98765
123456 x 8 + 6 = 987654
1234567 x 8 + 7 = 9876543
12345678 x 8 + 8 = 98765432
123456789 x 8 + 9 = 987654321
A very happy Christmas and successful and abundant New Year!
I cannot mark today’s Thursday Thoughts without a tribute to Steve Jobs. He became a legend in his own lifetime and he has surely changed the way that we work, play and think. He will be sadly missed having made a unique contribution to those who live beyond his untimely death.
Before he died, he expressed his philosophy on death with simplicity and elegance:
“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”