What I Said On Twitter On 2012-12-20

  • @JohnFMoore @barackobama @whitehouse @un phew – I was being intentionally controversial – thanks for the reassurance in reply to JohnFMoore 12:23:53
  • @JohnFMoore @barackobama @whitehouse @un What of the #ArabLeague? what can they do? in reply to JohnFMoore 12:24:39
  • @JohnFMoore totally agree. Military only needed cos we ignored all the earlier signs that might have needed small critical acts of diplomacy in reply to JohnFMoore 12:27:27
  • Dear @barackobama
    belated congratulations.
    I would love you to go all out with your vision in your final term. Be bold, be brave.
    kthxbye. 12:28:58
  • @JohnFMoore thanks – that said, I often think that some 'leaders' can only lead in a crisis and so things allowed to fester until BOOM! in reply to JohnFMoore 12:29:49
  • @ideally_world oh, now I see. Thanks!!! Absolutely in agreement. in reply to ideally_world 12:52:50
  • love that latest #vlc update is seasonal #christmas http://t.co/OICNxpsP 12:58:53
  • the bedrock of #politics is outsourcing. We (the people) outsource our rage, passion to these wordsmiths and emotioneers. 14:00:13
  • @JohnFMoore thank you for what i consider a huge compliment. ūüôā in reply to JohnFMoore 14:51:41
  • ‚Ķand there I stood with bottle in my fist‚Ķ #guysAndDolls #musicalThursday 15:04:59
  • we are in such a dangerous place,that we think govt. by politicians is to be trusted with both morality and taxes. That path lies folly. 16:04:03
  • I hope my tweets are not gloomy. They aspire to my perspective of reality. That we are beautiful, magnificent creatures who do dumb things. 17:35:12
  • @dnwiebe excellent observation. We don't only do dumb things. Just mostly. The rare not dumb things are magnificent enought to inspire hope. in reply to dnwiebe 19:04:10
  • To be fair, people kill people… With guns that are wayyy too easy to acquire in #america. 19:09:14
  • Saw the #hobbit. Not feeling as excited as i was with the first #lotr. Its like watching 1980 'Jason and the Argonauts'. 19:13:43
  • @WoodyZuill yes actually it was from the 60s. in reply to WoodyZuill 20:50:26
  • #AppInADayHackthon just started. I'll demonstrate how it goes in a little while. 21:27:09
  • @TikkuMikku or‚ĶI underestimated the maturity of his followers vs Justin Beiber's. perhaps the gap is not nearly as wide. in reply to TikkuMikku 22:29:06
  • @WoodyZuill Thank you for valuing my input enough to invite me to read and comment. Hope I made the sense I was intending. in reply to WoodyZuill 22:29:49

Managers as Ecologists

I have recently been gripped by what I consider is¬†a very powerful idea and I would love to share it with you, in the hope that you might ‘Yes and‘ it (make it better/ enhance it) and perhaps explore it in practice at your business. ¬†‘Business Ecosystem’ is a much abused term. I find that many CEOs and senior management use it as buzz phrase to mean their organisation structure (typified by their organisation chart).
In the most common misuse it depicts no more than the chain of command or the boundaries of blame.

What might happen if corporate managers reframe¬†their roles to understand their organisations more like natural ecosystems and set about being stewards of understanding what needs to thrive in that ecosystem and helping to¬†establish and sustain the conditions to support the organisation’s vision?

This is simply a first pass at this idea. Enough, I hope to get the early adopters amongst you thinking more deeply about this approach. More will follow.

Disclaimer: I cannot be held responsible for the untold learning and outright wonder that this information may unleash in your life.  Proceed at your own caution, but enjoy it. 

A Word About Ecology.

Ecologists are interesting ¬†people. ¬† Geeky (i.e. intelligent and obsessive) ¬†for sure, but interesting. They study nature at various scales. The stuff that lives in it and the stuff that lives on them and so on. ¬†They think about the conditions in which life exists in the space they are studying ( those conditions that most of us wouldn’t give two hoots about like how much nutrient is in the earth, what puts it there etc).

Ecology is painstaking. It all starts with a study of what is present in the space under study and how those components are related. This is complexity in action.
In natural ecosystems, ecologists talk  of food webs and chains, nutrient flows etc.  All of which point to how energy in the system flows (through death, decay and being eaten by some predator).

It all starts with a Picture.

Artist’s rendering of the complexities of the Gulf of Alaska marine ecosystem. Image courtesy of Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council GEM (Gulf of Alaska Ecosystem Monitoring and Research) project. Click for a larger version.

This picture is, as you may have guessed, from the Exxon Valdez oil spill case. Take a moment to really look at this picture. It has a lot of detail. Go on, get comfortable with it.
What is it saying to you?

But why all this effort for a picture. Well one word…understanding. ¬†Very deep understanding of the forces at work in the system. Understanding of the subtle and delicate balance that exists between apparently¬†independent¬†components. ¬†With understanding comes wisdom, with wisdom comes better informed and more responsible action.

Let’s test just how much understanding you have gained from this picture alone.

Let’s say I asked you to suggest ways to help salmon thrive, purely from the detail in this picture, what might you say?
Or what might we do to increase the population of rare sea birds?
What if I asked you to imagine another potential spill occurring around the center of the picture, what might be the immediate likely risks and how might we need to respond to minimise it?

The point is, you can make a pretty good set of suggestions and recommendations (and you likely aren’t an expert, geeky ecologist!) just from this picture – let alone the deep underlying data that went into creating it.

Beware Social Engineering

Now before you freak out and accuse me of advocating social engineering, let me say that in the brave new world of business agility – in which we are seeing the biggest challenge to traditional management since the industrial revolution, the role of management needs clarification. ¬†Coaches and ‘thought’ leaders talk of ‘servant leadership’ and ‘change agents’. All that is well and good, but still managers are generally befuddled.¬†The rise of self organising teams to solve complex problems has only amplified the need to get the role right

I am suggesting that management can  be that part of the organisation that is specifically tasked to pay attention to the conditions  under which work is done.
They can understand what they should be measuring and monitoring (like water quality to understand health of fish stock!) and measure them effectively (and efficiently). They can explore the feedback loops that will be most effective.

The beauty of an ecosystem  based management approach lies in where it leads the curious and engaged mind.
It leads the ecologist to follow the threads of interdependence, encouraging them to widen the boundaries of their ecosystem until they form a clearer, richer ¬†picture of the real dynamics that exist in their organisation. ¬†It leads them to ask ‘what should our ecosystem be optimised for and why?’ (goals!).
It leads, if you let it, to a more holistic and human view of a deeply human system that is often deeply dehumanising. It may lead to more joy at work.

Note of Caution:  Using this approach is , of itself,  neither good nor bad. It is informative.  It rests with a healthy organisation to hold itself accountable to act ethically and not use the visibility that an ecosystem based management provides to megalomaniac ends.

The Metaphor Only Goes So Far.

But it goes far enough to be useful.  Be creative about how you consider this methapor, particularly about:

Food Chains.
In natural ecosystems, the primary way energy is released or transferred is by predation (i.e. something eating something else). ¬†Now hang on, I’m not advocating that you start feeding on your colleagues. ¬†What might be the analog of ‘food’ in your organisation? What forms the ‘energy’ of your organisation. ¬†In many that I work with, it is information.

The ecologist is part of this picture.
Usually, the ecologist is studying a system as an observer (unless they are studying systems with human components that include them) . In this approach, the managers are part of the ecosystem they are tasked with studying and understanding. The other living components of a corporate ecosystem are other human beings, with opinions , feelings and the ability (and intelligence) to articulate them. So ecosystem management here is more about doing things with the the ecosystem vs doing things to the ecosystem.

My Challenge To You.

Hopefully I have described the basics of my idea well enough for you to do something with it. I would like you to consider these as next steps.

  • Draw a picture of the components in your ecosystem (start with your team as a space under study) – look at living (e.g people, pets, plants) and non living components (e.g code, servers, food!)
  • Identify what represents the things that are exchanged (the energy that is flowing) – what is the primary thing (e.g money, information, code?)
  • Identify how your components are related and interdependent. If it helps, consider who influences whom and how?
  • Then, think for a minute about something you would like to see improved in your ecosystem (for example, attitude to risk, reduce blame) and see if you can identify how your picture might need to change to help this improvement emerge. ¬†If you can’t, try reworking the components and relationships until you can.

It’s worth it.

Drop me a line @mhsutton on twitter to let me know how you get on or if I can help you think it through. ¬†I’d be delighted to.


People Are Mostly Good (or How I lost My Keys, Shat a Brick and Was Saved By The Kindness of a Stranger)

I recently had an experience that reminded me that people are mostly good. In fact, good people (i.e. people who do good things, often instinctively)  are everywhere.

I hope this helps remind you too.

Warning: This account involves mild to moderate panic, spontaneous anger, latent aggression and scheming that would put Wile. E. Coyote to shame.  Enjoy.

Life is Not a Walk in the Park

It was a lovely West of Ireland day (which basically means ‘sunny with an ever-present threat of lashing winds and rain’) and my family and I decided to take a walk on the Salthill promenade, via a little play park ¬†– so we could exhaust the boys on the kids play things.

Somewhere on this walk, the seeds of my frustrating night were sown. I must admit, I was a grumpy old man on this walk – as though I knew of the impending doom!

After about 90 minutes of hanging out with my family and with the weather turning unfriendly, we headed back to the car park to head home for some dinner.

The Keys! The KEYS! Where the hell are the Keys?

I reached into my jacket for the familiar feel of my car keys, but alas, there was nothing but pocket liner and a used tissue! ‘Don’t panic Michael’ – wailed my inner voice (full of panic).
The future unfolded in my mind  like a horror movie that I was forced to watch.

As everyone does in this situation, I searched every pocket and even ones I thought I had РNOTHING!  I searched again and again, as though the keys were playing an impromptu game of hide and seek with me.  Not a trace, nada!

My facilitator mind kicked in. ¬†I grumped to the lovely Katharine that I lost the keys and that I needed to retrace my steps. She needed to look after the boys so I didn’t have to worry about them.

Katharine: ‘Are you sure, have you checked your pockets’
Me: [Angry, very angry] ‘Of course I’m sure, I’m not some kind of nincompoop’ (aside from losing keys, of course). ¬†

I set off retracing our steps (which thankfully were not many and the light was still good). No sign of the bloody keys.

What started out as mild panic turned into a potential diplomatic incident (I am a Brit in Ireland after all).  We called the Garda (the cops, the fuzz, the old bill) to let know them that we had lost keys and please could they call us if anyone handed them in. Then we headed off to a café to contemplate the consequences and figure out our options over a latte and a panini (must we starve as well as panic?).

The Bogeyman Has The Keys and Will Soon Have Your Car and your Life.

People are mostly good, I believe that almost wholeheartedly – I have experienced enough of the goodness of people to know.
I say ‘almost wholeheartedly’ because when faced with this situation, I chose to believe that some nameless, faceless mastermind criminal had found the keys, knew that my car was parked in this specific car park and clearly intended to come back later to steal it.

Katharine and I went over the options.
This was a rental – so the most I would lose would be the insurance excess – aside from the bloody inconvenience of making claims , revoking cards (Katharine’s handbag was in the car also) and the like, this was acceptable. I could get replacement keys on Monday (today was Saturday), so the singular issue was how to secure the car and prevent the evil Criminal Mastermind from pinching it.

Forget the limited financial loss, I was shitting a brick that the Criminal Mastermind would win the day. I visualised how he would vandalise my car, violating my space. Whatever options I had, I had to stop this from happening.

Good People Make Your Problem Their Problem

One of the first things I did was call the rental company (Avis in Shannon). A very nice guy – Patrick – ¬†answered and I explained the situation to him. He thought about it and , I’ll remember this for a long time, he said “Our options for this problem are…”. ¬†The inclusiveness of himself in my problem was heartwarming. He immediately made me feel less alone. ¬†He could have given me the company policy of “You are liable [blah blah blah]”. But he didn’t.

Patrick was magnificent. He called locksmiths on my behalf, spoke with the car recovery company and basically sprung to action on my behalf.

Good People Think About You and With You

Of course, my house keys were also unavailable (I had locked them in the car too!), so the challenge of how might we get back into the house was a real one. ¬†We called our landlady to get her parents’ number – so we could get a spare from them (because she lives in a different town to us). ¬†We explained the situation and she was so empathetic. ¬†As it turned out, she was in town and offered to come pick us up with the spare key . We agreed to be picked up 45 minutes later (it was during this time we had our light , hasty supper).

Our lovely landlady РEmer, newly wedded ( no kids,  very hip chick) Рshows up in a family sized car with 2 child seats!!   In the time it took to come into town, she had somehow commandeered a car with child seats so that my children could travel home safely.  I was lost for words, Katharine was speechless (a rare treat!). Our love for Ireland just got upgraded!

Good People Don’t Seek Recognition

I’ll save you the detail but here is what I tried/considered to secure the car in the car park…

  • Hire a clamp and clamp a wheel till Monday
    Didn’t happen, couldn’t figure out where to rent a clamp (might be a business opportunity to explore though)
  • Hire a tow truck and tow the car home (spent a good deal of time on this with a tow truck guy)
    Didn’t work because the car park has a height barrier that prevented the tow truck from coming into the park.
  • Sleep in the car park overnight and keep watch over my car
    Are you kidding me!?
  • Immobilise the car by letting the air out of two of the tyres – late breaking idea from my neighbour!

Finally, as I was about to leave home to let the air out of the two of the tyres, the phone rang.  It was the Gardai.

Garda: Mike Sutton?  I have some good news for you.

Me: Oh wonderful, someone found the keys?

Garda: Yes, Fella just walked in and handed them in.

Me: Fantastic, what was his name, I would love to thank him, maybe buy him a pint.

Garda: Oh, he didn’t leave his name. Just walked in.


All’s Well Ends Well

I have never really understood what this actually means. All wasn’t well , even if it did end well!

However, this experience led me to reflect on how I came to not expect that people would be good, by default.
How did I conjure up this Bogeyman (aka Criminal Mastermind)?  Why did I choose to indulge in the fantasy that , despite my experience to the contrary, he would triumph and had to be stopped.

It also got my inventive juices flowing. I imagined a device that you could put on a keyring and never had to again suffer the indignity of not finding lost keys. These guys beat me to it.