Maximising components vs maximising systems

Some examples to illustrate what it means to maximise components rather than systems – and why it’s best avoided:

  • Sports teams with star players that don’t gel as a team – maximising individual talent at the cost of collaboration, team spirit and collective hunger. (See Leicester City’s 2016 Premiership win as an example of the opposite). This applies to all kinds of team.
  • Building your their upper body but skipping leg day.
  • Maximising your professional life at the expense of the rest of your life.
  • Maximising for beauty or wealth in a partner at the expense of character and shared values.
  • Maximising for short-term income or attention at the expense of longer term impact, relationships and trust.
  • Running too fast at the start of a marathon (see Fast Starts = Slow Finishes).
  • Focusing on lead generation rather than delivery and finishing projects (and getting paid) – or the opposite.
  • Getting really efficient at doing unimportant things.
  • Building an economy that makes us richer but destroys the world in the process.
  • Running a hospital or organisation (or your life) efficiently and at maximum capacity… but with no slack for the unexpected.
  • Winning a family boardgame in a way that ruins everyone’s afternoon (winning a finite game at a cost to the wider, infinite game).

Just a start – contributions welcome!

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.

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.

Counting stamps

Examining the economics of the mail, he [Charles Babbage] pursued a counter-intuitive insight, that the significant cost comes not from the physical transport of paper packets but from their “verification” – the calculation of distances and the collection of correct fees – and thus he invented the modern idea of standardised postal rates.

James Gleick – The Information: a History, a Theory, a Flood

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Where in your work, your life, are you counting stamps when you could be sending packages?

Nit-picking or penny-counting might be costing you a lot more time, money, emotional labour, good-will than you think you’re saving.

Maybe you could standardise, or maybe counting stamps just isn’t worth your effort at all.