Glue

Tsiorba Guitars
It seems a lot of things have come unstuck during lockdown.

The office has moved from being an almost invisible fixture, a fact of life of work, to an option. For many, commuting has become an expensive and potentially hazardous choice. Businesses that depend on passing trade have suffered enormously when people stopped passing.

There’s been another side of the coin. I heard part of an interview earlier in the week when the person being interviewed was rejoicing that as the office was now optional, a whole new range of jobs could be globally sourced. Businesses have discovered that they can cope without a significant proportion of people they put on furlough. A government committed to balanced budgets had found not just a money tree, but a forest of them.

Our habits have changed.

The way we shop, How we meet. What we buy. How and where we spend our leisure time.

The business, social and economic models we had at the beginning of this year have come apart. In coming apart both the existing flaws, and the looming threats have become clearer.

  • We could have been more prepared, and weren’t. The scale and speed of the pandemic may have been a shock, but we weren’t even prepared for a smaller one.
  • We found out about the fragility of our economy – from a disproportionate dependence on shallow service industries, an extractive finance industry to hugely exposed supply chains.
  • We found out about the jobs that really matter, and noticed the inverse relationship between pay and societal contribution.
  • That making money by moving money around doesn’t create anything other than increasing inequality.
  • Our relationships were tested, and we found out who our friends are. Not always where we thought.
  • We are able to imagine, globally, what might happen if the individual consequences of climate change, from floods to forest fires joined hands and just how remarkably vulnerable we are. Our collective hubris has been put on show.

We still have all the pieces of what we’ve broken though, and have a choice as to how we glue them back together. Like some global version of “The Repair Shop“, we can, if we choose apply skill, care and a spirit of craft to restore much of what has been lost:

  • Our sense of community
  • Our respect for nature and its abundance
  • Understanding that contribution beats the hell out of consumption.
  • That enough is fine, and that more than enough is usually wasted on trivia.
  • Realising that financial wealth is capricious, and only the tiniest fraction of what true wealth is.
How do we start putting things back together?

Waiting for our politicians and corporate leaders looks like it will be a very long wait. Not that they are bad people (though I can’t help feeling some qualify) so much as they are deeply entangled, like some bloated Gulliver, by ties to the vested interests that benefit from the skewed economy we have created. Platitudes, financial, social or political won’t do it. It needs something altogether more substantive. We don’t have time for gradual.

A new form of business is in my view our best bet. Alan Moore talks and writes about beautiful businesses. I like the juxtaposition – beautiful and business are not worlds we normally put together – but why not? At their best, these businesses:

  • Create and support communities
  • Inspire – from Accounting (think XERO) to Music (Santa Cruz Guitars)
  • Develop Craft Skills that feed people for life.
  • Help heal the world, not exploit it.
  • Create legacies, not liabilities.

It starts with us. What we buy, where we buy, who we support, what we build.

In the Originize community we talked last night about beauty, and reached the conclusion that the opposite of beauty is not ugly, it is abuse of potential. I think that’s what beautiful businesses have – potential.

I think Schumacher was right. Small is Beautiful. Nearly ten years ago Madeline Bunting wrote about it as an idea that had been forgotten. Maybe it’s time to remember it.

To use our glue with care.

footnote. If you want to see how we’re looking to develop the beautiful conversations that trigger beautiful businesses, you can see one tonight – and maybe join in.

Register here.

Introvert Problems

Extrovert Problems

We’ve all been there.

In meetings dominated by the egos, the snappy dressers, the busy people. Bringing attention to themselves, despite the fact they are not the people who are important to address the real issue. They define the problem in terms of their own capabilities whilst the shy people, the introverts who can actually do something about it are suppressed.

I think that problems do the same.

There the big, noisy problems that stride importantly into the room. They have status, and everybody knows them.

Sales. Cash Flow. Productivity. Absence.

We defer to them, and serve them with the responses we’ve learned. Best Practice.

That mollifies them for a while, but only a while. The challenge we face is that, like a Myers Briggs characterisation, they are not all the same. Just as we come in more than 16 varieties, so do problems. They are individual and if not treated as such, and paid proper attention to, they will mutuate and return.

Extrovert problems are like bullies. They do not need to be mollified, they need to be confronted, properly.

Introverted Problems

Then there are the introverted problems. They don’t like to be flash, and expect to be ignored. They would much rather you pay attention to to the extroverts.

Toxic Cultures. Shallow Relationships. Margin erosion. Discounting. Obsolesence.

All are there, eating away at the business while we pay attention to the extroverts. Difficult, requiring challenging conversations, not templates. Easy to ignore whilst we do something more noticeable with the noisy ones.

Introverted problems are like psychopaths. They are good at playing the game, and promising to reform. They don’t of course. They need treating with a combination of care and determination.

Solutions as Aspirin

The challenge we face when we’re busy is that we go into “solution mode” with problems, like taking aspirin for a headache.

Solves it short term, but doesn’t touch the root cause.

We need curiosity. To look at the problem for what it is, and to notice all the players, the introverts as well as the extroverts.

Conversations as Cures

Great conversations are open – open minded and open hearted. Not afraid of the bullies and aware of the psychopaths. Conversations identify the real culprits, not just the usual suspects.

Conversations look at the whole picture, not just the presenting problem. They are holistic.

They are difficult. Sacred cows hate them, so do the elephants in the room.

They don’t need consultants, they need courage.

If you want to have a look at how we’re exploring the idea of consultant free conversations at Originize, we have an open house this Friday, 24th July at 4:30pm.

To Register, click here.

Start at the Beginning

Floor lamp and big poster over brick wall room interior background 3d rendering
We’ve been brought up, trained and rewarded for getting it right.

We have templates, best practice, and proven solutions.

All of these were created for a time that isn’t now, but a time of greater stability, earlier in the industrial cycle, when things were at best complicated, and at worst complex. We could apply the same solution to similar problems and get an acceptable result. Double bubble for consultants.

It’s been changing for a while, as complex has given way to something more chaotic. Something that back in 1973 Horst Rittel described as “Wicked”. He described ten characteristics:

  1. They have no definitive formulation
  2. They can’t be measured because they bleed into one another.
  3. Solutions can only be good or bad, not true or false.
  4. there are no templates
  5. There is always more than one explanation to a wicked problem
  6. Every wicked problem is a symptom of another problem
  7. No mitigation strategy can be scientifically tested
  8. Solutions are often “one time only” efforts
  9. Every wicked problem is unique
  10. If youre addressing a wicked problem, only you are accountable.

It’s a manager’s nightmare. Can’t be delegated, can’t be tested, can’t be justified.

And now, it get’s worse. In Green Swans John Elkington decribes additional characteristics that make formerly the formerly wicked, “super wicked”

  • Time is running out
  • There is no central authority
  • Those seeking to solve the problem are also causing it.
  • Current policies discount the future irrationally.
Welcome to now

CoronaVirus. Black Lives Matter. Brexit. Climate Change.

They all meet the criteria of Super Wicked problems, and we’re still trying to deal with them as though we know what we’re doing.

We don’t, and that’s OK.

It’s how it is. We just need to deal with it.

Start at the beginning

We have been trained and rewarded for knowing the answers. X happens, do Y.

It no longer works. When each problem is a unique, one shot affair our previous qualifications and courses count for less.

What counts is our ownership of the problem, our curiosity, our determination and our willingness to lead. Skin in the Game.

If we bring our assumptions into the room, or our egos, or our status, we miss key elements. We bring them in when they are in service of a possible solution, not the presumed solution.

Make it up as you go.

It’s a one off. The chances of getting it “right” in one go are minimal. At the heart of being agile and anti fragile is iteration – observe, orientate, decide, act, repeat.

Do that till the problem is solved, or decide to abandon and find a better way.

Lean, Agile, Antifragile are mindsets more than processes.

Aim for Better

Not fixed. Wicked problems are never fixed, and our biggest challenges arrive when we allow ourselves to think they are. The financial crash of 2008 is a good example. It’s not fixed, it’s just quietly mutating.

We will not “fix” Coronavirus. It will just sit there, mutating.

Right nowm aim for better, and prepare for next.

Wicked Opportunities

All of the above principles apply of course for opportunities.

The best way to solve a wicked problem is to make it irrelevant.

Originize is holding open house on Friday 24th at 4:30pm UK.

It’s where the conversations that help us sort out “wicked” happen. Be good if you can join us.

Click Here to Register
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