Toolkit (v0.1)

My last post got me thinking again about the toolkit for making change and building a good future. What follows started out as the tail of that post but grew too long, so I’ve cut it off and put it here as a springboard to bounce off (or a wave to ride) later.

So here are some tools…

There are a set of practices and principles – many of them falling under the umbrella of normal ‘management’ – that are well-established and effective for running organisations. You will need to tailor them to your context, but understanding and applying them will make an enormous difference to your ability to build and run a sustainable and effective organisation. Drucker and Tom Peters are great places to start for foundational principles. Books like Financial Intelligence and 4DX are great for specifics.

There’s an overlapping set from the world of small business, startups and bootstrapping that will help you build the thing from nothing in the first place, and make it sustainable. The E-myth (which I’ve just discovered is available for a great price on amazon) is great for establishing operations (and overlaps with the previous category), as is Steve Blank‘s Startup Owners Manual (amazon) in combination with Alex Osterwalder‘s Business Model Generation (amazon). I’ll make a post of videos and audio by these people and put a link to it here.

There are resources for thinking about marketing in the deep sense – making something that people want or need and sharing it with them in such a way that they see its value and talk about it to others – is another overlapping area. I’d start with Seth Godin – probably This is Marketing (amazon) or Purple Cow (amazon) – and throw in Bernadette Jiwa’s The Fortune Cookie Principle (amazon) as another good starting point.

And there’s a whole load of writing about personal growth and effectiveness that really helps you to get these things done…

And about writing and presenting and using information (particularly the web) well…

And about thinking about culture, economics, networks and the future

And I’ve clearly gone down a rabbit hole, so I’ll stop here.

Peter Drucker on management as a discipline

If you can’t replicate something because you don’t understand it, then it really hasn’t been invented; it’s only been done.

When I published The Practice of Management fifty years ago [in 1954], that book made it possible for people to learn how to manage, something that up until then only a few geniuses seemed to be able to do, and nobody could replicate it.

When I came into management, a lot of it had come out of the field of engineering. And a lot had come out of accounting. And some of it came out of psychology. And some more came out of labour relations. Each of those fields was considered separate, and each of them, by itself, was ineffectual.

You can’t do carpentry, you know, if you have only a saw, or only a hammer, or if you have never heard of a pair of pliers. It’s when you put all of those tools into one kit that you invent. That’s what I did in large part inThe Practice of Management – I made a discipline of it.

Peter Drucker – from Frontiers of Management in The Daily Drucker

Understand the tools (make them if you have to). Build a tool kit. Make it reproducible.

I have mixed feelings about this quote from Drucker. On the one hand, bringing together a set of reliable tools for making effective non-profits or social enterprises is exactly what I’m trying to do with DriverlessCroc. On the other, a lot of the things that make these organisations effective in their contexts are very hard to reproduce – often apparently serendipitous combinations of people and resources in the right times and places, with combinations of vision, skills and technology that aren’t reproducible because they haven’t happened before – and might not again.

The point, I think, is to learn which tools are out there and how to use them so that you can be more effective at the creative, unreproducible work that only you can do in your context. Use the tools to make a new tool for change: your organisation.

I’ve posted a few thoughts about what some of these are here – more to come soon.

Goldilocks

I’ve made yogurt a couple of times a week for the last two years, and quickly reached the conclusion that it’s not rocket science.**

I use powdered milk (much easier in Jakarta), get the temperature of the water roughly right, put both it into the (unwashed) container that held the old yogurt, put that in an insulated box and pow, seven hours later you’ve got yogurt.

Near perfect results with minimal variation. Twice weekly, every week, for two years. It’s Easy, yo.

Except this week.

Now it’s the rainy season. It’s raining in a way that it hasn’t done for a couple of years, and suddenly it’s cool at night (well, 27 degrees instead of 31), and I’ve discovered that the last hundred or so good results have had more to do with me happening to live at an ideal temperature for making yogurt than my expertise.*** What worked effortlessly before, and produced good results, suddenly just produces sour milk, or curds and whey.

The context – which I’d never really even noticed – has changed, and if I still want yogurt, I’m going to need to do things differently.

Goldilocks

In the same way, the success of our organisations (impact, culture) is always to some extent dependent on factors that are beyond our control. This is simply how life works – and responding to these conditions is part of what will make us successful.

The danger comes when we forget that there is a context, and that it can change. We fail to realise that we’re living in a Goldilocks moment****, and base our (charitable) business models on assumptions that will no longer work for us when conditions (including our users) change.

We need to keep an eye on the future, and do our best to understand what’s changing and why, and respond accordingly.

Just as importantly, we need to base our models on things that change more slowly, or not at all. Fundamentals like staying focused on a clear vision and deeper goals, integrity, an attitude of service and investing in people, showing up and getting things done, communicating well, having a good handle on the money, and even being prepared to close things down when the time comes.

It’s also worth spending time thinking about the ecosystem that you’re part of, and how you can build assets that you can control that will create the factors you need to succeed. At the centre of your assets will be a history of excellent work that helps others to flourish, founded on relationships of trust and affection. These assets will stand you in good stead when Goldilocks moves on.

** I mean, how much did people know about rockets when they started making yogurt?

*** It’s still pretty easy, just not effortless

**** the current burst of interest in and funding for literacy education in Indonesia might be an example of this

Giants – all sizes

Whose shoulders are you standing on?

Greats and GOATs

There are giants who loom large for us all: the Greats who laid the foundations and those who shook them – men and women who broke through and shaped the world.

In a sense, who made us.

There’s no need to name them – we know who many of them are, and we learn more about them as we go. And besides, there are too many to name and most are far away.

Small Giants

And there are the smaller giants: smaller people who stand tall in our eyes because they stood close. They gave us a boost, helped us see, carried us before we could walk or when we couldn’t walk any further. I won’t name these because I can’t – or rather, I can only name some of my own.

Grow in Stature

Whose shoulders are you standing on?

What will you do to help others stand on yours?**

Happy New Year – have a giant 2019.


** You could start by asking:

  • Where am I standing?
  • Who’s standing with me?
  • Which way is up for them?
  • How can I give them a leg-up?

Old year’s resolutions

  • What can you tick off already? Good work on those.
  • What do you need to quit – stop doing, stop trying to do, draw a line under, declare an amnesty for yourself, admit that it won’t get done, and let die with the old year?
  • Perhaps most crucially, what are the little things – acts of kindness that you’ve been thinking it might be nice to do, short emails to friends, decisions, bookings, commitments – that you can do, and get into the habit of doing, starting from right now? Today, the day before you make new year’s resolutions, everything you do is a bonus, a gift of the momentum that a frontlog brings that will make tomorrow better or easier for your future self – the self who’s arriving tomorrow.

Compound interest

We all know about compound interest in the world of money. Save £100 a month for thirty years at one percent interest** and you’ll have a little under £42,000 by the end of that time (compared to £36,000 at zero-percent).

Make that investment at 5% and suddenly you’ll hit £83,000.

10%*** makes almost £228,000.

It takes time, and the commitment to building something steadily. No tricks, no promises of outrageous returns, a degree of risk – but not when compared to not investing at all.

What if the interest we seek for our work – attention, respect, partnership, remuneration – could compound in the same way? Often it seems that we’re after a flash in the pan (Viral. Now.), or that we’re not building anything consistently at all.

Starting with almost nothing, drop by drip, brick by brick, little by little, we can build a mountain.

** 1% annually, calculated monthly

*** A reasonable return from a stocks-and-shares index fund

The Gift

Everything changes if you can see the thing you’re doing as a gift.

Doing it as a gift transforms

  • the thing you don’t want to do, or don’t want to do right now;
  • the thing you don’t want to do in the way you know you should do it;
  • the thing you said yes to that seemed like a good idea at the time;
  • the thing that makes you nervous, that will make you feel stupid if it goes wrong;
  • the work you put in early, building momentum when it isn’t urgent;
  • the work you do late, putting in extra hours to get it done on time;
  • the thing that you might really be doing for yourself, but that could be for them;
  • the chances that what you do might bring about the change that you seek.

Suddenly you’re not

  • doing your duty, but being generous to another person;
  • grinding out an obligation, but choosing to do something well;
  • a fool who should have known better, but someone who offered to show up;
  • at the same risk of embarrassment – if you look foolish, you’ll be a likeable, generous fool;
  • spending time on something because you have to, but preparing an act of kindness;
  • pulling a ridiculous all-nighter, but staying up to wrap a present;
  • thinking about what will make it go well for you, but focusing on what will make it useful/fun/a good gift for the gift’s recipients;
  • trying to change anyone per se, but to make them richer by sharing something you’ve made.

Gifts

  • are free (gratis) to the recipient because they’re paid for by the giver;
  • are free (libre) to be received or left;
  • are best if specific (“it’s for you“) rather than generic (“who wants this?”);
  • aren’t designed to create obligation, but to create new possibilities, generate multiplying gifts.

Happy Christmas 2018.

The new possible

My sister (let’s call her Sharky) bought me a book for Christmas.

Sharky lives in Argentina.

She bought the book from a shop in the UK.

I’m on holiday in a remote part of Indonesia.

She bought the book, told me about it, and I was reading it, in less than ten minutes.

This is the new reality – actually, not even that new anymore. Any information product (book, film, music, software, design) can go anywhere, in effectively no time.

The new possible consists of the things that this reality enables – not just instant access to information products, but information to go into products (3d printing designs, specifications) or for the delivery of products and services (your exact requirements or preferences, your real-time location, your purchase history, your credit rating).

What becomes possible in your field when the information is so relevant and so available, when the transaction becomes so fast, so frictionless?

AirBnB, and Uber are cannonical examples of the new possible, to which I’d add the fact that this year, Sharky bought me a Christmas present.

Ways in: ravelling the network

Interface

A discipline, culture or scene is a network: a mesh of people, things, ideas and ways of doing things.

It might be tightly defined, with a clear centre, tightly woven middle, and a strong sense of a margin.

It might be clustered, with areas where the web is thicker and deeper, but with threadbare valleys inbetween,  fading out to the hinterland.

It might be looser – candyfloss or mist – a ball of tenuous connections at a distance.***

Whatever the form – and if you zoom in or out far enough, they all look much the same – a key feature is that there are no edges. The margins are always porous, threadbare, and frayed, and everything is intertwingled.

Ways in

We find our way into a network by joining it – by making points of connection, by crawling the web, ravelling the edges of the network.

For a field of study, we ravel the references, following the threads of footnotes and references to position ourselves in the network.** 

In a culture or scene, we hop from person to artifact to text to place to practice, each one leading us on to another – and back and round again – as we get familiar with the landscape.

Some things to bear in mind

  1. Thick cloth is hard to pierce, and it’s hard to break into the middle of a network. Change (including accommodating you) is slower and harder: the web is thick and tight, the connections harder to break and re-weave, and space is limited.
  2. Networks overlap. A strong connection with a person (relationship, status) or an idea (expertise, reputation) in one field might help you cross over to the middle of another, different field.
  3. The web is sticky. Once you’re in, you’re usually a bridge (in and out) for others. Be generous.
  4. You add value to the network by bringing something new: new and valuable ideas, new tools or ways of doing things, new attitudes that make it more enjoyable to be part of the network, new connections (by connecting the dots within the network to thicken it, and by bringing connections to an entirely different network).

Start somewhere: Show up. Make connections. Be generous.

**Citations formed a web of knowledge long before the internet.

*** Word on the street is that candyfloss is tougher, denser and less tenuous than you’d think (hat tip: RudderlessSalamander)

Stability: Burke and incremental change

Steve Jobs is right about changing the world.

And here’s Edmund Burke with a counterpoint – for society read ‘society’, but also, ‘family’, and ‘your organisation’:

Society is indeed a contract. Subordinate contracts for objects of mere occasional interest may be dissolved at pleasure—but the state ought not to be considered as nothing better than a partnership agreement in a trade of pepper and coffee, calico, or tobacco, or some other such low concern, to be taken up for a little temporary interest, and to be dissolved by the fancy of the parties.

It is to be looked on with other reverence, because it is not a partnership in things subservient only to the gross animal existence of a temporary and perishable nature. It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue and in all perfection.

As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born. Each contract of each particular state is but a clause in the great primeval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with the higher natures, connecting the visible and invisible world, according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical and all moral natures, each in their appointed place.

Edmund Burke – Reflections on the Revolution in France

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The point?

Stability counts. It’s a product of history, built by those who went before us. The strongest systems grow incrementally  and through iteration, rather than flat-out revolution.**

Too much change will leave your team feeling adrift and uprooted, uneasy and struggling to focus. It’s great to get rid of things that cause friction and slow us down, but change too much, too fast, and things get slippery. It can be hard to keep a grip.

We’re just as blind to many of the things that hold us together as we are to the things that hold us back. So by all means, bounce – but don’t break the trampoline.

**Come back another day for tea with Hayek