Systems thinking: Gall’s Law

Gall’s Law: A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working simple system. As described by David Perell in his very interesting 50 Ideas That Changed My…

The unglamorous work of doing good (2)

I recently delivered some food parcels to families in our area. This was “helping those who have less” in one of its clearer and more concrete forms. I was happy to do it, but it didn’t feel that great: I loaded up my car, delivered the packages to some people who said thanks, and then drove home. It didn’t feel…

The unglamorous work of doing good (1)

The side of the tracks Among the most rewarding pieces of “good” that I’ve ever done was to start a micro-savings group for a small community of men and women who lived along a railway line in West Jakarta. It was hard: hot, dusty, dirty and smelly from the rubbish that they recycled for a living, always smokey from cigarettes…

Operationalising culture

It’s important to think and talk about your values – to know what’s important to you, why you do what you do, and how you want people in your team to relate to each other and to the work you do. Then you have to live out these values – apply and embody them, demonstrate their importance and their worth,…

McDonald’s miracles and me

McDonald’s gets a lot of stick, much of it deserved. But critics of McDonald’s are often blind to the value it adds – in large part because we never knew (or have forgotten) the context it emerged in. In the pre-McDonald’s era, I suspect more so than now, the quality of food and service available in local restaurants across small-town…

“What should I do?”

If you desperately need a job, you are just another problem for a boss; if you can solve many of the problems the boss has right now, you are hired. To be hired, think like your boss. Kevin Kelly – 68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice A hierarchy of task-related competence and maturity: We have opposite intentions. I will not do…

Some questions

Who for? Who will you serve? What do you think they need, what do they want, and what story will you tell to align the two with what you offer? What contextual factors and wider systems do you need to take into account? How far? Which pieces of the puzzle will you take responsibility for? What will you do to…

Contextualising best practice: one size does not fit all

Here’s another example of how “best practice” is context dependent, this time in responses to the Covid-19 crisis: What’s the point? The point – especially for those working with poor or marginalised communities – is that standard “best practice” from other contexts is unlikely to transfer directly to where you’re working. Education, health services, housing policy and politics don’t occur…

Use it or lose it

In this time of change, what skills and processes are you and your team using more than you used to? What have you stopped doing? If any of the things you’ve stopped doing are going to be important when things go forward (not back) to (the new) normal, find ways to start doing them again. If it’s impossible to do…

The Mundanity of Excellence (3): technique, discipline, attitude

The Mundanity of Excellence is a 1989 paper by sociologist Daniel Chambliss. In it he draws on his ethnographic research among elite swimmers – and his wider experiences as a swimming coach – to explore the meaning and causes of excellence, and particularly to question the role (indeed, the existence) that talent plays in outstanding performance. Excellence in competitive swimming…