Seth Godin on slack in systems

If you ask most people who run a factory, or an organisation or a sports team, what they’re looking for is a taut, firm connection between and among everybody: everybody busy all the time. The reason that a bucket brigade is so much more efficient than people running back and forth and back and forth to the source of water is that it’s easier for people to efficiently pass the bucket from one to another than it is for them to run back and forth. You will put the fire out faster.

If you’ve ever seen an efficient juggling troupe or bucket brigade or a hockey line-up that’s passing, passing as it works its way down to the goal, it’s a thing of beauty. And so what we seek to achieve is that idea of synchronisation. But I’m here to tell you that you cannot maximise system efficiency by eliminating slack from the system. It feels like you should, but you can’t. And the reason you can’t is because of variability. Variability says that someone might be five minutes late for their appointment. Variability says there might be a custom order coming through that’s worth it for the organisation to take on. Variability says that some customers need to be treated differently from others. And when a system like that exists, when you have removed all of the slack, then when switching costs kick in, the whole system falls apart.

What’s the alternative? The alternative is a fire department with firemen who eat chili for three hours, waiting for the alarm to ring. If you were trying to get rid of slack what you’d do is say, “Let’s have exactly the right number of firemen so that when the average number of fires are happening, all of the fires are being addressed.” Which works great – except when the above number of fires show up. And when the above average number of fires show up, you don’t have enough firemen to go around.

And so what we have the opportunity to do as we organise our lives, as we dance with these systems, is to intentionally build slack into our systems. A buffer. A cushion. To avoid the emergency. Because in that buffer, we can work on the long term stuff. The firemen aren’t really eating chili… they’re using their downtime in a slightly productive way. But mostly what they’re doing is standing in reserve, waiting for when the emergency shows up so that they don’t have to say, “Oh, sorry your house burnt down.”

Seth Godin – Akimbo Season 4 Episode 20: Systems Thinking

Resource: Seth Godin on Systems Thinking

Akimbo Season 4 Episode 20 (July 10, 2019) – Systems Thinking

This is a great episode of riffs on how systems create – and constrain – possibilities, and the opportunities that open up when systems change. Featuring Mr Heinz and the fictional (!) Betty Crocker.

Akimbo Season 4 Episode 18 (June 26, 2019) – Find the others: Apollo 11 and the making of culture

This episode isn’t flagged as an episode about systems or systems thinking, but that’s really what this telling of the story of going to the moon is all about. We watch the Space Race grow out of the wreckage of the Second World War and unfold across a network of more-and-less-and-un- expected connections within the complex adaptive systems of science, science fiction, culture and politics. I loved it.

Highly Recommend.

Drucker on the theory of the business

The theory of the business must be known and understood throughout the organisation. This is easy in the organization’s early days. But as it becomes successful, an organization tends increasingly to take its theory for granted, becoming less and less conscious of it. Then the organization becomes sloppy. It begins to cut corners. It begins to pursue what is expedient rather than what is right. It stops thinking. It stops questioning. It remembers the answers but has forgotten the questions. The theory of the business becomes “culture.” But culture is no substitute for discipline, and the theory of the business is a discipline.

The theory of the business has to be tested constantly. It is not graven on tablets of stone. It is a hypothesis, And it is a hypothesis about things that are in constant flux – society, markets, customers, technology. And so, built into the theory of the business must be the ability to change itself. Some theories are so powerful that they last for a long time. Eventually every theory becomes obsolete and then invalid. It happened to the GMs and the AT&Ts. It happened to IBM…*

Peter Drucker – Managing in a Time of Great Change (From The Daily Drucker)

*It happened to Compuserve, MySpace, Yahoo, Nokia…

Seth Godin on fear and reassurance

The way [of handling fear] that doesn’t work is reassurance. Reassurance doesn’t work because you need an infinite amount of it. Someone can give you reassurance for five minutes and then ten minutes later you go “Ooohh no no no.” So the number of times that you need to be told by someone you trust and respect that you’re going to be fine is too high to even ask for it.

For me, the alternative is generosity. That is an excellent answer to fear. That if you are doing this on behalf of someone you care about, the fear takes a backseat. So if you want to figure out how to make books, go to a charity you care about and make a book for them, because now your fear feels selfish. If you want to figure out how to make marketing work, go and market for an organisation that you believe in. If you can find a lonely person and make them unlonely, a disconnected person and make them feel connected, you can make a practice of that. And the upside is it helps you walk straighter and stand taller.

Seth Godin – on Love Your Work with David Kadavy

Typo (3): the myth of correct spelling

Ironically – considering the frequency with which school children use it for exactly this purpose – the Oxford English Dictionary never set out to specify “correct” spelling.

For “mackerel”, the second edition in 1989 listed 19 alternative spellings. The unearthing of sources never ends, though, so the third edition revised entry in 2002 listed no fewer than thirty: maccarel, mackaral, mackarel, mackarell, mackerel, mackarell, mackeril, mackreel, mackrel, mackril, macquerel, macquerell, macrel, macrell, macrelle, macril, macrill, makarell, makcaral, makerel, makerell, makerelle, makral, makrall, makreill, makrel, makrell, makyrelle, maquerel, and maycril.

As lexicographers, the editors would never declare these alternatives to be wrong: misspellings. They do not wish to declare their choice of spelling for the headword, mackerel, to be “correct”. They emphasize that they examine the evidence and choose “the most common current spelling.”

A new entry as of December 2003 memorialized “nuclar”: “= nuclear, (adjective, in various senses).”

James GleickThe Information

All spellings are made up, and exist as dynamic parts of the complex adaptive system of language. Conclusion: we waste too much attention on typos.

Podcast Recommendation: Econtalk with Alain Bertaud on Cities, Planning, and Order Without Design

This is a great episode of Econtalk. Bertaud uses labour markets as a lens for thinking about cities. Helpful examples of emergent order and the challenges (impossibility?) of planning in complex adaptive systems.

Highlights (coming up) include:

  • Discussion of the importance of culture and context in how cities develop;
  • Bertaud’s explanation of his broader-than-usual understanding of labour markets;
  • When planning and regulation is helpful and when it’s damaging;
  • The trade-offs made by new arrivals in a city (and the danger of planners trying to decide these for them);
  • The way that property markets can turn development costs into opportunities.

Highly recommend.

Finishing lines (4) – two numbers

Here’s Seth Godin with some of the best advice I’ve heard for drawing (finishing) lines. It’s especially relevant for businesses.

Q: I’m wondering about personal financing your company and where you draw the line if you’re funding it yourself?

Rule number one is you never put up your house. Don’t laugh. This means you can’t sign a personal guarantee on anything. “You want to rent this? Ok I’ll rent this, but I’m not signing a personal guarantee on anything.”

I have not signed a personal guarantee. I was bankrupt for eight years. I was this close from having to close down for eight years and I still never signed a personal guarantee for anything. That is a line I have chosen to never cross and I encourage everyone to do. The minute you do, suddenly there’s a 3-year-old at home who’s going to have to live on the street if you make a mistake. I just don’t know how to take risks when that’s at stake.

Then the advice that I give people is, if we’re going to be intentional about this, you need to write down a number and a period of time.

The number, it can be as big a number as you want, is the maximum amount of money under any circumstances no matter what that you’re willing to put in. And when you hit that number you can’t put in another penny.

People hate this. They say, “But what if something blah, blah, blah.” NO. There just has to be a number.

The second one is, “How much time before you give up?” And again, it can be 20 years. Fine. But you can’t say, “19 years and 11 months into it, but wait there’s one more deal that might come through.”

You just have those two numbers because if those two numbers are in place and your spouse is aligned with it, you never have to worry about it again. It’s off the table.

This whole situational thing, “I just need $2,000 more,” that’s lying to yourself. The discipline early on is so valuable because then you can spend 100% of your time focusing.

So you raise more money than you think you need and you treat it like it’s the last money you’re ever going to have. It’s way better than always wondering where that next nickel is going to come from.

Seth Godin – Start Up School Ep 11: Cash Flow
From a transcript by Kevin Evans

Values and vision: the acid test

Peter Drucker and Stephen Covey ask the same simple question to get at the heart of these:

“What do you want to be remembered for?”

Covey asks you to imagine your funeral:

  • Who is there?
  • What do you hope they’d say about you?
  • Is this consistent with how you live now?
  • Which goals and relationships matter, in the end?
  • Which work and stresses fall into insignificance?

The answers to these questions are your compass.

Seth Godin on leadership, responsibility, authority

Leadership isn’t something that people hand to you. You don’t do followership for years and then someone anoints you and says, “here.” In fact, it’s a gradual process, one where you take responsibility years before you are given authority.

Seth GodinStop Stealing Dreams (81)

Peter Drucker on continuity and change

The more an institution is organized to be a change leader, the more it will need to establish continuity internally and externally, and the more it will need to balance rapid change and continuity.

Balancing change and continuity requires continuous work on information. Nothing disrupts continuity and corrupts relationships more than poor or unreliable information. It has to become routine for any enterprise to ask at any change, even of the most minor one: “Who needs to be informed of this?” And this will become more and more important as more enterprises come to rely on people working together without actually working together – that is, on people using the new technologies of information.

Above all, there is need for continuity in respect to the fundamentals of the enterprise: its mission, its values, its definition of performance and results. … The balance between change and continuity has to be built into compensation, recognition and rewards.

Peter Drucker – Management Challenges for the 21st Century (in The Daily Drucker)

In other words, the faster things change, the more valuable stability becomes. This is true for skills and routines, for cultural reference points, and especially for relationships. The hard part is seeing which things are most valuable: if you’re not careful, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.