If you take down your clothesline and buy an electric clothes dryer, the electric consumption of the nation rises slightly… If you go in the other direction and remove the electric clothes dryer and install a clothesline, the consumption of electricity drops slightly, but there is no credit given anywhere on the charts and graphs to solar energy, which is now drying the clothes.
Steve Baer – The Clothesline Paradox in Co-Evolution Weekly as quoted by Tim O’Reilly in WTF? What’s the Future and Why it’s Up to Us.
The clothesline paradox applies even more sharply to domestic labour, of course: the work of a professional cleaner or child-minder registers as economic activity, but the work we do cleaning our own homes or caring for our own families doesn’t, despite the same work getting done.
The problem is that we come to treasure what we measure, and end up creating incentives that cost us in ways we don’t expect. In the case of the clothesline being replaced by an electrical dryer, it’s pollution. In societies where the norm has become that all adults work outside the home (often incentivised by the state), there’s a cost in the quality of care and in the relational glue that keeps families and societies healthy.
So it pays to be careful about what you’re measuring, and keep your eyes open for the unhelpful incentives that you’ll almost inevitably create. Staying focused on your organisation’s values (specifically about relationships and how you treat people) will help. You can do this by deliberately talking about them, regularly asking how you’re living up to them, and using them explicity to guide you in making decisions.
John Greenall wrote this about our lack of a sense of urgency about the most important things in life:
I wonder if it comes back to overscheduling, busyness, lack of prioritisation and an internal need to look good. This all leads to overloaded diaries and an overly full life. The routine is downplayed and not given sufficient time or consideration and you lurch from one thing to another. Another factor from above is the lack of urgency on relationships. It can be easy to see people as tools to achieve an end, or to further your own purposes, rather than seeing developing them and helping them win as an end in itself.
John’s right – and his comment is a great introduction to these words from Clayton Christensen, which I added to my ‘to post’ list this morning. Christensen was asked about the origin of his book, “How Will You Measure Your Life?”, and began by sharing the ‘scarily’ sad life paths of many of his apparently successful peers. In effect, he blames ‘wrong metrics’ – measuring the wrong things, or paying too much attention to the short-term, immediately measurable things:
… I can tell you with perfect certainty that not a single one of my classmates when we graduated from Harvard planned to go out and raise children who hate their guts, and get divorced one or two or three times. Our intention was to create homes where there was happiness there, that was a source of happiness for the rest of our lives.
That was what we intended to do, and how we spent our time and energy was just the opposite of that.
And the reason why is the very same thing [discussed earlier]: it’s the metrics. So those of us who are driven to achievement… when we have that need for achievement, then when we have an extra thirty minutes of time or ounce of energy, we instinctively spend our time and energy on whatever activities will give us the most immediate and tangible evidence of achievement. And our careers provide that. So every day at work I ship a product, I finish a project, I get promoted, I get paid, we close another deal… and every day I get immediate and tangible evidence of achievement at work.
And then when I walk into the front door there’s not a lot of evidence of achievement when you look at your kids. On a day to day basis they may misbehave every day, the place gets cluttered every day and it really isn’t until twenty years down the road, until you’re able to look at your kids and put your hands on your hips and say “My gosh, we created a wonderful young man or woman.” But on a day to day basis there’s no evidence of that.
As a result of that, we invest our time and energy in our careers, and under-invest in our children and our spouses, even though we plan to have that be the source of energy… and that’s why I chose to write that book, “How Will You Measure Your Life?”
Marks and Spencer have been a mainstay of British retail for more than 100 years, so it’s hard to imagine them as disruptive innovators – but it turns out they were innovative all over.
More immigration and innovation
Michael Marks (born in 1859 Slonim, then part of the Russian Empire) moved to the U.K. in 1882, and within a few years had a market stall in Leeds. He was successful, in part because of a pricing innovation: he called his shops Penny Bazaars (“Don’t ask the price – it’s a penny!”) and allowed customers to browse with no pressure to buy.
Eventually Marks began a partnership with Thomas Spencer, who brought additional capital and good connections with manufacturers, enabling them to source goods directly from their suppliers.
Peter Drucker picks up the story:
World War I had profoundly shaken their country’s class structure… [creating] masses of new buyers for good-quality, stylish, and inexpensive merchandise such as lingerie, blouses and stockings – Marks and Spencer’s first successful product categories.
Marks and Spencer then systematically set to work developing brand-new and unheard-of core competencies. Until then, the core competency of the merchant was the ability ot buy well. Marks and Spencer decuded that it was the merchant, rather than the manufacturer, who knew the customer. Therefore the merchant, not the manufacturer, should design the products, develop them, and find producers to make the goods to his design, specifications and costs. This new definition of the merchant took five to eight years to develop and make acceptable to traditional suppliers, who had always seen themselves as “manufacturers,’ not “subcontractors.”
[After the First World War] M&S continued to grow and innovate. The company displayed its products on trays in the store allowing customers to browse. This was different to most other retailers who kept the products on shelves behind the counter… In the early 1920 M&S started selling what is now their most famous product: underwear. Today one in three women wear an M&S bra.
The history of M&S: This is not just a store, it’s an M&S store since 1884 – Blog at S4RB.com
There’s much more to write about: no-limit cash-refunds with receipt; a staff welfare department; clothes and cafes designed to meet the requirements (or exploit a loophole in) of post-war rationing; a survey of women’s legs to improve underwear design; the invention of ‘cold-chain’ supply so that meat could be sold fresh instead of frozen; the introduction of ‘sell by’ dates to products; some of the earliest sales of Indian and Chinese ready meals – and the Chicken Kiev; increasing emphasis on sustainability and responsible sourcing for clothing.
Innovation seems to be have slowed down a bit at M&S in the 2000s, but with any luck they’ll return to the habit and continue to flourish into the future. After all – it’s where I buy my pants.
Three things that you’ll need building your organisation and making a difference in the world:
1) The big picture
Do you understand the strategy? Do you understand the layout of the world? Do you understand how the game theory works, how psychology works, how interactions work? Do you understand the economy, technology, the revolution that we’re living in?
The second point of the triangle is: are you any good as executing on the strategy? … When you make a sales pitch, can you do it with authority? When you lay something out does the typesetting look any good? When you write code, does it run? These are tactics, things we can improve.
96-year-old Roy Englert runs 42-minute 5K to shatter age-group world record.
Englert, 96, runs 5000m in 42:30.23 to set age-group record.
Virginia native already held the records in 800m and 1500m.
Englert, a retired attorney, credits his late-career success to not to any natural gift but dogged persistence.
“I don’t consider myself that much of an inspiration. I’m a slow runner,” he told Run Washington. “But I guess I’ve outlasted almost everybody. It gets easier to win when there’s not as much competition around.”
I love old buildings , and I usually feel a strange sort of curiosity mixed with nostalgia for the people and cultures that made them. Just in the UK I’d love to see the castle garrisoned by knights and squires, the barn full of hay and animals, the old mill humming, the Tudor pub in its heyday, the telephone exchange building at its historical cutting edge, the cathedral decked out in coloured paint, the rows of clerks in the bank, the WW2 airfield lined with Spitfires and Glen Miller on the gramophone…
Dead buildings – either ruins, or frozen-in-time museums and country houses – seem that much more evocative than the ones that manage to stay in use for centuries, which end up watered down and bastardised…
But that’s probably because we’re paying attention to the wrong things. We fixate on a neat snapshot of a culture at a moment in time, forgetting that these places grew out of a messy and dynamic culture just like ours, were disruptive (and probably disturbing) when they were built, and were evolving from the moment they were finished. We’ve always been leaving the village behind, and we couldn’t stay, and we couldn’t go back – even way back then.
Buildings stay alive and socially profitable when they stay relevant – when we keep them alive by changing them and use the old spaces in new ways – often new ways to achieve old purposes.
The alternative is a building’s slow and expensive death as the network of life around them shifts and ceases to nourish them, at which point they decay and disappear until those that survive become old enough and scarce enough to become interesting again, and the past that they represent is far enough away from us to be the subject of nostalgia and museums.
And all of this is true of our organisations, too.