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I Have Nothing Left To Say

This being my 500th blog post here at Think Different, I’ve been looking for something profound, insightful, earth-shattering and above all useful to write about. In that search, I’ve come to feel that, actually, I have nothing left to say.

I’ve written many posts on my experiences, on my thoughts, and on the ideas I’ve come up with to make software development and the business of software development better. I’ve clarified many of my thoughts through writing them down. And folks tell me I’ve entertained and intrigued in maybe equal measure with my different, generally contrarian take on conventional wisdom. If you’re at all interested in any of that, the archive has 499 other posts to delve into.

And now I feel have nothing left to say.

It’s not like any of my ideas have gained any traction in the world. I see and hear of no FlowChain or flow-based initiatives out there. Nobody seems much interested in the effectiveness of their organisations or in improving (Rightshifting) that effectiveness. Nobody seems much interested doing much about the role of the collective psyche, or in treating it. In fact, very few seem to have any interest in improving things, be that in their workplaces or in their wider lives. Few again seem interested in applying emotioneering to the design of their products. And few see the need to act on the idea that attending to folks’ needs would bring more joy – not to mention progress – into the world.

In brief, I’m finding little joy in continuing to sow my ideas in rocky places, along the paths, or amongst thorns. Maybe there is good soil somewhere, but I have yet to find it. And I have yet to see any seeds even come up, let alone produce and multiply.

“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

~ The Bible, Mark 4:3-8

And yet, I persevere. Continuing to help one person at a time. I find joy in that, every time. It all seems so futile, and yet something keeps me going.

Except now I feel have nothing left to say.

I have over two hundred part-writtten and unpublished posts in various states of completion. And precious little enthusiasm for publishing any of them. After all, the emotional return on publishing even one seems so…minimal.

And so I accept that I have nothing new to share, and nothing left to say.

And even if I did have more things to say, I’ve come to believe that’s damn futile, too. Folks so rarely act on what they hear, or read, or see. Just one more reason I have nothing left to say.

For my friends and dedicated readers, fear not. I have no intention of stopping writing this blog. Just don’t expect future posts to have much to say.

– Bob

Wahnsinn ist das. Wahnsinn. Heller Wahnsinn!

VonRundstedt

This is madness. Madness. Sheer madness! That’s what we often think when other people do things we “know” make no sense or are bound to turn out badly.

Predicting the future can be a tricky thing. Particularly predicting the outcome of an action within a Complex Adaptive System such as a Company, or on a smaller scale, something like a software project.

We may “know” what’s going to happen. We may be certain of the future outcome. We may even be “right”, in the sense that we believe any well-informed person would make the same prediction.

It Matters So Much

The thing is, it matters so much to us. And yet not at all to those other people. The mad ones. They see the world differently. They see the issues differently. They choose different actions, different solutions. And they predict different outcomes – at least to the extent they’re conscious of making any predictions. From their perspective, they’re just as “right” as you. Righter, in fact – as their worldview makes so much more sense to them than does yours. So they don’t predict the same outcomes. In fact they generally predict blue skies, halcyon days and cute kittens.

It matters so much to us that we rant and rave about the madness of their actions. Or inactions. Or apparent assumptions and beliefs. I guess you know that feeling of utter frustration – having to stand by, powerless, while the train wreck proceeds unchecked. Of having to do things which you know will result in waste, or worse.

The Double Bind

This kind of situation is what Argyris refers to as a double bind. We feel like we can’t say anything because our perspectives are so far apart, and yet we feel we must say something lest the inevitable disaster proceeds unchecked. Yet we feel we can’t raise that difference of perspectives, either (it being undiscussable).

“What we have here is a failure to communicate.” Compounded by a failure to call out that failure to communicate. But, looking deeper, there are more profound causes, more fundamental issues at play. Like our consummate blindness to the futility of our trying to coerce others into see things our way. Like our frequent bias for task completion over relationship building.

“…Most important of all, we value task accomplishment over relationship building and either we are not aware of this cultural bias or, worse, don’t care and don’t want to be bothered with it..”

~ Edgar H. Schein

How often have you been in this situation? Did you find a way to resolve the double bind? Would you be willing to contribute to this topic?

More on this next time.

– Bob

 

Further Reading

Discussing the Undiscussable ~ William R. Noonan
Crucial Conversations ~ Kerry Patterson et al.
Humble Enquiry ~ Edgar H. Schein (excerpt)

Do Something

People sometimes ask me why my blog is so negative. I don’t accept that criticism. I always take pains to offer a more effective alternative to whatever’s irking me. But I can see how some folks might take my posts that way.

If there is any doom or gloom it’s because I’d really like to see folks wasting rather less of their time, and potential, at work. Despite an internet full of advice on how to do things that little bit better, there’s one grossly unpalatable truth: Incremental improvement is essentially a huge waste of everyone’s time. My chagrin arises from knowing that, yet being seemingly unable to perceptibly move the needle through anything I write or do. Some call this the Cassandra Metaphor. I guess that frustration comes across from time to time.

Knowing What To Do

Tobias wrote a post today which I found both inspiring and depressing. Inspiring because I share his viewpoint that individuals can make a difference. That it’s down to us. And depressing because it said nothing about how.

“It is not enough to do your best; you must know what to do, and then do your best.”

~ W Edwards Deming

Don’t JUST Do Something

So until you know what to do – and my Cassandra-spidey-senses are telling me you’re not going to be believing me on that – may I offer the same advice that some attribute to Taiichi Ohno on speaking to so many of his managers:

“Don’t just do something, stand there!”

~ Taiichi Ohno

Stand there (in Ohno’s case it was a chalked square on the factory floor), and mindfully observe what is happening. For as long as it takes to come to an understanding of what is happening and why, and what needs to change. Not an understanding of every single thing, of course. That could take a life time. Believe me on that, at least. I can vouch.

But at least for as long as it takes to come to some understanding of some piece, some fragment, of the big picture. Then do something. Although I’d call that mindful observing “doing something”, too. Inspect (and experiment) and adapt. Repeat.

What I Know

I know that significant change, change where all our lives will be more joyful and meaningfully spent, absolutely necessitates a shift in our collective beliefs. By all means start with yourself. Indeed, where else could we start?

But the task at hand is to shift – Rightshift – everyone’s belief system. Doing that locally, with a person or team or group, is only storing up problems. Organisational Cognitive Dissonance will do for us every time.

Even doing it for a whole organisation, cross-organisalonal value chain or industry is ultimately doomed. Reversion to the mean will do for us at the larger scale. Unless and until we shift that mean.

Mankind Is Our Real Work

Ultimately. the collective beliefs of Mankind is our real work. That may seem like boiling the ocean for a cup of tea. Especially if all you want is e.g. to have the chance to write some cooler code.

And how can we change the beliefs systems of others, anyhow? I choose to do so by example. And by sharing what I see, and how I feel about those things. This may not perceptibly move the needle. But I have faith it’s making some difference. How about you? Would you like to make some difference?

We want, need, a better life at work and I’m saying the only way is to understand what’s going on with the Universe and live a better life as an example to Mankind and hope it all works out? Sorry if you thought it was going to be easy. At least we’re in good company. The Buddha, not least.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

~ Margaret Mead

– Bob

 

Open

“Open to me, so that I may open. Provide me with your inspiration. So that I may see mine.”

~ Rumi

This quote spoke to me, so I thought I might write this post.

I often find inspiration in the words of Rumi, as I do in the lives and works of a significant number of my “Giants“.

More fundamentally, though, I’ve not really dwelt on what inspires me. Now taking the chance to reflect on that, since my youth I’ve always been curious about how things work. And that curiosity has inspired me to study, take things apart, find out how they tick.

That same curiosity, I guess, has driven me to make things. From Meccano, Lego, Airfix and Hornby, through analog and digital electronics, R/C aircraft, helicopters, tanks and boats, to real cars and motorcycles, carpentry, and food. And software, of course. Making things – and fixing things – helps me understand the fundamentals, and satisfy my curiosity.

Early in my career I made some small speciality out of fixing or upgrading software systems where all documentation – and often, source code – had been lost. And from time to time, taking research or prototype systems, again absent documentation or original authors, and turning them into commercial products. Even these days I find a certain self-indulgent catharsis in that kind of work.

And for the longest time, or so it seems, I’ve found inspiration in trying to understand social systems and how they work. Which in no small measure involves trying to understand people. At least, en masse.

And, I guess, I’ve sometime found much inspiration in exploring things together. With other folks who share my curiosity.

I’d love to hear about what inspires you. Would you be willing to share?

– Bob

Dead Wood

Shoots

Much of my work over the past twenty years or so has been informed by the grace and wisdom of Dr. W Edwards Deming, often known as Bill Deming. This post is inspired by the following quote:

“The only reason an organization has dead wood is that management either hired dead wood or it hired live wood and killed it.”

~ Bill Deming

Note: Very similar quotes have been attributed to Peter Scholtes, and indeed the above quote may well be Dr. Deming paraphrasing Peter Scholtes.

Definition

“Dead Wood” here refers to people in a group or organisation who are no longer actively useful – people still drawing salary, etc., but adding little or no value.

Deming’s 95/5

Bill Deming observed that “95% of the performance of an organization is attributable to the system (processes, technology, work design, regulations, etc.) and 5% are attributable to the individual”. If we accept this, then is there even such a thing as dead wood? Maybe there’s just folks trying to do a good job, but frustrated – defeated, even – by the system, the way the work works, and the situations in which they find themselves.

Dead – Or Just Dormant?

I have seen many folks, in various organisations, written-off as “dead wood”. I see this much like “flipping the bozo bit” – many managers seem to believe that “dead wood-edness” is an inherent attribute of individuals. And little or nothing to do with their circumstances or situation. Maybe they have not heard of the Fundamental Attribution Error.

Is dead wood really dead, or are those so labelled just in the wrong jobs, in the wrong teams, in circumstance where they’ve been all but forced to disengage, where they have learned to be helpless?

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

~ William Shakespeare

Maybe you know some “dead wood” in your team, group or organisation. What might it take to bring them back to life, to flourish, to see some green shoots of new growth? Is there anything you could do to help that along?

– Bob

Further Reading

Four Days With Dr Deming ~ William J. Latzko & David M. Saunders
The Leader’s Handbook ~ Dr. Peter R. Scholtes

Raising The Bar

Most days I have at least ten different ideas for blogs posts. Some I reject because they don’t fit the kind of posts I want to publish here on Think Different. That’s what marketers call “positioning”.

FWIW I’m considered the merits of having a number of different blogs to help with this. For example, my (presently) rather low-activity Humane Solutions blog, and now my latest, “Digital Business Transformation“.

But for the past couple of months, I’ve been applying a new filter to my ideas for posts: How likely is it that folks will ACT on the post? If I deem it unlikely to promote action, I’ll not write the post. For the moment this means I’m writing and posting much less. And that’s OK for me.

– Bob

 

A New Hope

“Hope is the only thing stronger than fear.”

I have hopes, and I have fears. Most days my hopes win out over my fears. As far as this blog goes, I have long had hopes it might give others some hope, too. Hope that by finding new, more effective strategies for getting folks’ needs met, we can nurture workplaces where dignity and human endeavour flourish.

“Hope is the fuel of progress and fear is the prison in which you put yourself”

~ Tony Benn

I’m Not Happy

I’ve become ever more convinced that trying to change others is a poor strategy for bringing about such change. That we can’t solve other people’s problems – or meet their needs. That, fundamentally, only they can do that. Bitter pill.

I’ve now written a little over four hundred posts on this blog. I started posting to share stuff I had learned over the years as an imaginal cell in the caterpillar of work. Recently, I have become increasingly dissatisfied with the notion that telling people things has much effect excepting perhaps some marginal entertainment value. Put another way, I see no evidence that folks ever act upon the ideas that I share.

So, I’m persuaded that if we want to change the world, starting with ourself is a better place to start.

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

~ Mahatma Gandhi

Looking Forward

So, I’m resolved to stop blogging to change others, and start blogging about how my own perspective, assumptions, beliefs have changed, and continue to change, over time. In other words, how I have, intentionally and unintentionally, changed myself.

I’m fearful this might make my posts seem more egocentric and less helpful, but I’m hopeful that with your feedback, this new direction might, eventually, prove useful.

– Bob

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