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A time for owners, not Franchisees

A Brand is a promise – of quality, of delivery, of attention. A Brand is organic – it grows, thrives, declines, gets hollowed out and dies.

In times of rapid and complex change, we know that we can only deal effectively with change at the edge, coming into contact with morphing realities. Despite that, most of our organisations still want to “manage” change from the centre.

It reminds me of a scene in the wonderful 1969 film “Monte Carlo or Bust”, where the car, driven by the hapless Dudley Moore, careers over a cliff and the imperious Peter Cooke, pointing over to the left, instructs him to “land over there.” It’s a perfect metaphor for much of what we see in highly centralised organisations at present.

Perhaps, in the current conditions, Franchises are an excellent example of what happens when the centre decides what happens at the edge. In the coffee shop, the people on the front line, or the fast-food outlet, or the coaching business picking up the pieces when the unstoppable force brand they have signed up to meets the immovable object of an unforecast major challenge.

Waiting for the cavalry to ride over the hill can be a very long wait.

The good franchisors (and there are some) take the hit and support their franchisees. The poor ones go to lunch ’till it’s over. Owners are different. Their situation is no more straightforward, but at least they have agency and can act.

There is a point in the evolution of some brands; when they run out of ideas, it pays to retain power at the centre but push accountability to the edge. Get others to take the real risks, but with limited authority to take action.

It struck me last week during the elections. I’m sure where I live is not unusual, but all the publicity and PR was for parties where decisions are made a long way away on the different planet of Westminster. Trying to find out anything about the person, the local candidate who bought the franchise, was next to impossible. They ask us to buy a brand promise featuring celebrity people who like big stages, and who have little to do with the day to day of local politics.

When it comes to rapid change, I think we want to work with people who know what it’s like where we live and who have the courage and commitment to take action as needed, not wait for permission from somewhere far away.

We need owners, not franchisees.

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Reflections 9 May

On my Mind.

In a week that has seen elections here in the UK, an increasing level of noise about returning to work and holiday travel amidst a still explosive international situation, my mind has been on our relationship with ideas.

A mixture of apparent relationships has struck me. At one end, there are the dogmatists, those who insist they know what’s going on, what to do about it and don’t entertain discussion. On the other end are the dreamers, who believe that we can change our situation by willing it to happen. In the middle are the pragmatists, who work with what’s available. 

The dogmatists are easy to spot. They sit atop hierarchies, far away from the day to day realities of those further down. Whether they are preaching populist notions of sovereignty or advocating that a return to the office world is the only acceptable mode of working, they have high levels of propositional and practical power and will shape our short term future. They are those who are often wrong but never in doubt and whose often repeated mantra when it does go wrong is that “lessons will be learned”. 

The dreamers are also easy to spot. They are attractive people with high ideals, a strong sense of social justice, and a cause. They like to go head to head with the dogmatists, pointing out everything they consider wrong, but with only vague, sweeping answers as to possible alternatives. They construct potent scaffolds for their idea of the future but have not yet created the foundations.

We need to pay attention to the pragmatists. 

Some inhabit the world of the dogmatists, brokering the power and expertise that helps the obsolescent function. It is the world of the major banks, consultancies, political parties, lawyers and financiers whose personal interest is vested in the status quo changing as slowly as possible and even then only on their terms. 

Others are pragmatic dreamers. They understand what the dreamers are excited about simultaneously as they realise that to get to that possible future, we need to get unstuck from where we are first. The pragmatist in them recognises that we first need mobility – social, financial, technical and political. The direction takes second place to movement. Once things are moving, then they can set a direction. 

Pragmatic dreamers are tricksters. They inhabit a Schumpeterian world of creative destruction, and there are many of them out there right now. They harness experiential and artistic power. Harder to define than the stuff of dogmatists, but much easier to feel.

As what we have been taught to believe slowly, or maybe not so slowly, dissolves in the face of multiple, linked, complex issues from climate change to social justice, we need to pay attention to whose dreams we are buying.

What is happening is not something we’re watching; it’s something we’re part of and for which we are individually and collectively responsible.

Any dream will not do.

Books I’ve liked

Re-sounding. Rick Spann and Simon Martin. Published by the innovative TAOS institute, this short, well-referenced book offers an exciting alternative to conventional views on organisational change. It is also free to download. Provocative and, in my opinion, well worth reading.

The Fifth Hammer. Daniel Heller – Roazen. Based on the legend of Pythagoras’s discovery that we need apparent disharmony to induce harmony. I bought this to go alongside Re-sounding and Daniel Byrne’s “How music works” to see if it will help me leverage the insights from Re-Sounding.

The Artist’s Way. Julia Cameron. I hadn’t heard of this bestseller until introduced to it during an unhurried conversation hosted by Johnnie Moore. It’s about how we can best get out of our own way when doing something new and creative, and with a book on the blocks, I need that right now.

Articles I’ve liked

Efficiency is the Enemy. FS Blog. Efficiency is good at anchoring us where we are, not where we need to be—an excellent short article.

How to be excellent. From Psyche Magazine. Lessons from Plato and Aristotle. 

The Tragedy of the “Tragedy of the Commons” The idea of the “tragedy of the commons” entered economic folklore in 1968… Like all dogma, it’s worth challenging every so often.

Want to be a Samurai? 

And a Quote (well two actually – I liked them both)

He only takes portions of existence and fancies that the whole

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

“It’s important to think. It’s what separates us from lentils.”

Jack. in The Fisher King

Have a great week. Pick your dreams carefully, but start moving anyway.

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The Values Chain

Before the pandemic, what seems like a long time ago, we spent a long time obsessing about value chains.

We looked at how to make them efficient and wring every last drop of margin from them. We even did risk assessments to determine their vulnerability because we knew what happened to them when we have earthquakes and tsunamis and the like. I guess that not many factored in a global pandemic. Something like that fell into the inconvenient “unknown knowns” category and got in the way of growth projections. Most probably didn’t factor in the potential collateral damage of supply chain nationalism or the effect of systemic change on their business model and debt servicing.

It’s easy to see this after the event, and as we go cautiously to whatever work is going to look like, I wonder how many, under pressure to “recover”, are taking the time to reflect.

Something as simple as adding an “s” to value and consider the “values chain”. Just as a convoy moves at the pace of the slowest vehicle, so a company’s values are determined by those of the weakest part.

Actual values are a product of those practised by shareholders, employees, banks, insurers, suppliers, and customers. When the pressure is on, the comforting, carefully crafted words of the vision, mission and values statements required by best practice crumble into embarrassment and “lessons learned”. For every Patagonia, there are many, many, Cambridge Analytica.

All of us are walking into new working environments. The old normal has gone absent without leave, and no replacement has yet shown up.

Whether as individuals or companies, our security walking into this new future will be determined by our values chain, by the company we keep.

New pressures and crises will arrive.

If we learn one lesson from the last year, we should understand the price we pay for easy efficiency and cheap convenience.