I’m always surprised how the clutter build up.

Whether in my client’s organisations, or my own. We add new things – ideas, processes, connections – faster than we remove them.

In the early days, that’s fine – we have room and we’re growing physically – products, services, people, premises, but before long we become established and our task is to master what we do, more than add new things of maybe only marginal importance. Like unwanted guests at a party, they require our attention but don’t add much in return for it.

And these things that we add seldom arrive alone. They come as part of a package, like those software programmes and apps that are “fully featured” and contain far more than we want or will use. We may not need these extra features, but they still occupy storage and processing space.

The same seems to apply to organisations. We know what the Pareto principle tells us – that 80% of our impact comes from 20% of our resources but we often fail to follow up on it. De-cluttering an organisation can be complicated and contentious, and our loss aversion bias makes us reluctant to let things go – but if we want to keep ourselves flexible, resilient and effective we need to face it down on a regular basis.

Ideally, everybody in our organisation would be on form, on target, engaged, curious and committed. Every customer profitable. Every supplier reliable.

Reality of course is always different, but that’s not a reason for accepting it.

The clutter builds up unseen. We get used to it, walk past it, until it becomes invisible. It weaves it’s way, like bindweed, through the important stuff and like bindweed unless we get it early, is hard work to get rid of.

We are in times of rapid change, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. If we are going to avoid falling behind, we need to have the capacity to be agile. To learn what we need to, and unlearn what we don’t.

Dangerous stuff, clutter.

How to programme people

I consider myself fortunate these days to be able to avoid rush hour on London Underground. However, every now and then, needs must.

So, this morning that’s what I was doing, and because I don’t do it often, I found myself noticing things and reflecting.

I’m not a big fan of conspiracy theories, but if I was, I’d think about how to programme people. To shape their environment in such a way as to make them pre disposed to my message, regardless of real evidence. You might see where I’m going with this 🙂

Firstly, I’d arrange to put them in a position where they pay attention to what I want. Crowded tube trains are ideal. Cramped space with just enough room to look at a screen, and conditions that make conversation difficult. Gotcha.

Then, I would make content available free via free newspapers and social media. Salacious headlines, fake news, digital discombobulation.

Then, I would push overarching themes that pull these different threads into a narrative arc.

Done expertly, day after incremental day, I’d create a set of lenses for people to look through, and keep them so busy they don’t have the time to think, reflect and access their soul.

Job done.

A nonsense, obviously.

How does that really work?

One of my vivid memories from school is calculus. Sitting in rows trying to keep up. Getting marks for being able to replicate what was going up on the Board.

The trouble was, I could do it, but didn’t really understand it. I couldn’t pull it apart and play with it. Be intimate with it. I could pass the exam, but was a mechanic with it, not an engineer, or an artist. But it did the job, I got the grades and moved on. I regret that – maths is a beautiful subject that I’m only getting to grips with now – a long time on. Learning to play with it.

With the change that we’re in, the skills we have learned will become obsolete at an accelerating rate. A little like software that’s just been updated.

The artist who codes it though, the person who understands how how it works, who can play with it, who can create from first principles, will thrive.

Learning keeps you current. Understanding gives you freedom.