Accountability vs Responsibility

There’s a difference.

I’m in London attending a conference in Greenwich, and the hotel I was booked into (a very pleasant one in the centre)had a flood, and moved me to the only feasible alternative, a budget chain hotel a few minutes away. A nuisance, but no problem; stuff happens.

The interesting lesson was the “agency problem”. having dealt with the mechanics, the problem was delegated to me – organising taxis, sorting bills, all the minutiae. The opportunity to turn a challenge into a positive experience went missing, as job descriptions, and the boundaries of accountability to line managers, kicked in.

At the conference (In the University of Greenwich – great location) the person looking after the conference could not have been more different. constantly there, not obtrusive, sensing what was going on, and providing things as the need appeared, but before requests were made. My guess is he’s on the same sort of contract as those in the hotel, but he took responsibility.

Accountability is to others. Responsibility is to ourselves.

It’s a big difference.


black swan

Black Friday strikes me as a strange confection – a celebration of nothing more than an urge to spend, with no purpose in sight other than to get retailers beyond their breakeven point (The term derives from the point they have covered costs for the year, and here on in is profit)

As never before we are defined by asymmetry. We are moving from the traditional Pareto of 80/20 to many areas of 99/1. From sports stars to wealth. Those who have receive, only moreso.,

Whilst on the face of it this seems grossly unfair, I don’t think that’s where the unfairness lies. If we were all able to use our talents to the full, we would all be in the 1% within  our own field. For some, that may be money, for others, skills, and for many, happiness.

Instead, events like black Friday encourage us to play by other’s rules. Nassim Nicholas Taleb talks about “anti fragility” – a state where we can grow stronger when unexpected events occur.

Playing to other’s rules – playing to the tunes of marketers, retailers and credit card companies – makes us fragile. Buyer’s remorse is a powerful concept – the debt obligation outlasts the satisfaction of purchase and initial pleasure – on an asymmetric basis.

So, on this Black Friday, maybe we should consider where our 1% lies, and ask ourselves whether what we are spending today – from money to attention to energy – takes us toward that 1%.

Whether tomorrow, Hangover Saturday, will find us more. or less, Fragile.



The Clarity Factor

One of the highlights at the end of the year is the BBC Reith Lecture. They are always worth listening to, and this year, the topic is “Why doctors fail”, with Dr. Atul Gawande. One of the key messages is that we could save and improve more lives by using what we know more effectively, rather than searching for new knowledge. Nassim Nicholas Taleb makes a similar point in his concept of anti fragility ( it’s a challenging concept, and a brilliant book. Here’s a five minute introduction)

In his book, Taleb makes much of  Iatrogenics – the term used to define the unintentional damage done by Doctors. I think the same is true of many businesses.

We now have more tools, and more data that at any time in our history, but we often either fail to use it, or misuse it, in a search for the next big thing and in doing so create the potential for significant damage without realising it.

Business is simple. Creating something that adds value to people’s lives that they will pay more for than it costs to create. In our search for shortcuts, we have created unnecessarily complicated products (including financial devices that nobody really understood).

BCG calculated that business complexity has increased by a factor of six since 1955, but that business complicatedness has increased by a factor of thirty five – almost a power law. Here’s a 12 min video of Yves Morieux explaining:

As complexity increases further, the implications of this power law are frightening.

We have all we need to create and run great businesses. We do not need magic potions.

We do need clarity and purpose. With these in place, everything else follows. Investment in generating clarity pays.


Breaking Rocks with Spoons

I always enjoy Sundays. Despite being (more or less) master of my own time, there is still something about them. One of the things I like to do is go through articles and mails that I’ve sidelined during the week so I can go through and give them time they deserve on Sunday. In the way that these things do, a picture emerged from this week. People breaking rocks.

People approaching things head on, when standing back would indicate a more effective way.

People obeying patently daft rules, despite the fact they know it hurts them and their clients, because the rules somehow have a power of their own.

People “sticking to their knitting” in a valuable education market, even though a small team has created a digital equivalent that will likely pull the rug from under them. If our job can be described and specified, it can be automated. See here for the jobs under threat – right now – of automation.

Screenshot 2014-11-23 11.20.12

You can read the full article here

Our futures do not belong to organisations, they belong to us. Each of us has unique abilities (and the likelihood for most of us is that it has little to do with your job) that we can leverage, particularly if you find the right group to work with (clue: They are probably not those you work with)

Last week, I had the pleasure of listening to Richard Gerver; who talked about a conversation he had with Sébastian Foucan, who you may recognize from his part in Casino Royale. During a walk, Richard asked him what he was looking at. To paraphrase the answer, the reply he got was “the spaces”. Sébastian sees the buildings as rocks, the spaces as the fastest way through, and himself as water. This is what happens:

Maybe we should look at what we do in the same way. Our passions and abilities are like water. Many of the organisations we work in are rocks. Quite often , the resources we are given are like spoons.

Breaking rocks with spoons. Not the future.

Using your skills like Seb? Maybe…….

Friday question #3. Play, leadership and work.

In a world of increasing complexity, a VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) I think we try to make our selves feel more comfortable by talking about “change management”, as though that somehow makes something essentially unmanageable less threatening. By believing we can manage it (as against develop a relationship with it – something entirely different) we think about it as episodic rather than continuous and largely random.

Our experience to date is nothing compared to what is coming, and our industrial era models of leadership, organization, marketing and employment are rapidly becoming counterproductive. The sort of attitudes, dispositions and skills we will need are beautifully outlined in Bob Johansen’s “Leaders make the future”, shown here (and here’s a link to one of his presentations at CCL)

Screenshot 2014-11-21 10.48.44

If you want to see these skills displayed with absolute Mastery, watch a group of five year olds playing, or go and talk with an early years education specialist, or visit If you want the theory, watch Stuart Brown’s TED talk. At GrowHouse Initiative we are building a whole approach around rediscovering and using these skills.

So, here’s your Friday question. When was the last time you played at work – I mean, REALLY PLAYED? If you can’t remember, you may want to try it……..

Do you speak loudly with non-verbal communication?

Otrazhenie creates some insightful and valuable posts. Here’s one of them……



“At a conference I attended recently as a guest speaker I was sitting waiting to address a group of around 300 women. As I watched them come into the hall, I began to take note of the noise they were making. It seemed they were all talking at once. I decided to see if I could focus on just what had them so energised: perhaps they were discussing the world situation on the context of the Iraq war or maybe the political situation here at home. But no, they were talking about which chair they were going to sit in – ‘Hey Mary, let’s go up the front’, ‘Sally, I think we should go over here’, ‘Has anyone seen Jude? She might want to sit with us’, ‘Where do you reckon you’ll hear here better, up the back, or over here?’ ‘Are the seats allocated, do you think?…

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Fear is a habit.

Over the weekend, I attended an excellent workshop by Jamie Smart on influence. Not the normal yadayada, but something altogether something less formulaic, and much more useful.

Jamie’s central tenet is based on concepts of Clarity, and central to this is the notion that our feelings are a product of our thoughts unfolding in the moment. That we create our own world on an “inside out” basis. In other words, what we feel is determined what we think, and what we think and feel governs our relationship with, and our perpective of the reality of the world we inhabit. That is influence on steroids.

As I listened to the six o’clock news this morning, I reflected on this. The news was, well, equivalent to an oily black mass seeping out onto the floor. From prospects of doom for the economy, to unfathomable brutality in the Middle East, it seemed designed to put me into a black mood before I brushed my teeth.

Except of course, all the news items were, in reality, neutral. It was my reaction to them that wasn’t. And that is a choice. I can either accept my limbic system getting fear and prediction to do a tango round my head, or I can understand what is happening, and engage reality. There are many ways we can react to the news, which is certainly real, but allowing ourselves to be hijacked by it is not an advisable one.

I cannot yet find a positive side to the news from the Middle East, other than that this type of activity is inherently self destructive.

But as to the Economy, and our individual propects? – Uncertainty is now our standard fare. Things will certainly change, and only some of that is in any way predictable in advance (other of course, than in our heads) For most of us, that is an opportunity to be grasped.

Generating fear may suit those who benefit from a status quo, and it seems some aspect of fear or control is rolled out as standard fare by those in economic or political power or as a way of encouraging dependent compliance.

Every change presents opportunity for those prepared to entertain possibility. Fearing change is a pretty pointless exercise.

If everybody is being encouraged to be afraid of the same things:

  • How might these affect you – really?
  • What’s the “base rate” – the likelihood – really?
  • What might you do differently that leverages your unique skills, perspectives and abilities to increase your impact and reputation?