Metal detecting

Usually, by the end of the week there’s been some obvious bloggable theme that’s emerged through conversations, observations, meetings and readings.  This week was not unusual, the strongly emerging theme was governance.  What is unusual is that I find I can’t summon the interest today to tackle that topic, so I’m left casting around for something to say!

I just read a good Aeon article on free will where the author writes, ‘But as I read [William] James, I just needed to keep trying things and, most of all, be brave. From him I learned that the truth is elusive – but taking action is mandatory.’   Thus, I decided to spur myself into action despite the lack of topic.

Looking back at my calendar for the week, I see I’ve been in a range of meetings covering all sorts of territory.  In that sense I feel I’ve had something like a metal detecting week.  One in which I’ve metaphorically been wielding a metal detector and found a number of organisation design related items which, for one reason or other, seem attractive, useful, or worth a closer look – the articles linked above are two of them – here’s what else I’ve found.

1:  I got an invite to join Phanish Puranam’s webinar on “Organizational Design and Development in the Age of Algorithms”.  The blurb reads, ‘In this session, we will bring you to the cutting edge of how organizations are being (re)-designed today in the age of algorithmic intelligence. We begin by identifying the limits of traditional top down, “box- and-arrows” approaches to design and show how we can do better by approaching design problems from a “bottom-up” perspective. The new approaches exploit the vast computational power and data resources made possible by digitalization, as well as recent theoretical breakthroughs in conceptualizing the problems of organization design’.

There’s a pre-webinar ‘look-over’ blogpost and video, which I’ve looked over today.  They’re excellent.  I particularly like the way Puranam talks about the pressing need for ‘new ways to think about organisation design that link individual actions and interactions to organisational outcomes’.

2: A friend told me about Carlo Rovelli, a theoretical physicist.  She’s highly energised by his work.  I hadn’t come across him and followed up on the mention.   A reviewer describes his new book ‘The Order of Time, a dizzying, poetic work in which I found myself abandoning everything I thought I knew about time – certainly the idea that it “flows”, and even that it exists at all, in any profound sense.’  I’ve promptly downloaded a sample chapter to read on my way home tomorrow.  It may help bolster an argument I’m busy (so far, unsuccessfully)  making about the futility of developing a ‘three year plan’, or it may at least cheer me up in the process.

3:  Coglode Nuggets – A set of cards each one giving ‘Bite-size behavioral [science] research analysis. … Each Nugget is painstakingly crafted to summarise research without undermining its integrity’.  Each card outlines a behavioural principle, references some related academic papers, and gives ‘takeaways’ to help you apply the principle e.g. Risk Aversion, Storyteller Bias, Certainty Bias in your business. They say you can ‘Design by behaviour: Quickly choose key behaviours to drive your design sprints.’   Someone brought a set to a presentation I went to so I was able to flick through them. I haven’t bought the deck yet, but I think I will.

4:  The Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcasts.  As rather a sk(c)eptic on things, I was delighted to discover these podcasts, thanks to @robinince.   I’ve just listened to the current one – which discusses Goop which ‘spreads misinformation’.  Sadly, I am over 700 episodes behind, but I’ve found them now.

As Ince says ‘it is one of those podcasts where the chemistry and fascinations of the hosts come together. … Steven Novella is a neurologist whose campaigning work has been particularly focused on the pseudoscience behind the anti-vaccination campaign and alternative medical practitioners’.  I get New Scientist every week and this podcast is a good complement to that.   I am of the view that scepticism is a necessary quality for organisation design and development work and a useful antidote to hype and fads.

5:  The quote, ‘Trifles make the sum of life’, from Dickens’ David Copperfield, and I read it in a review of the new film adaptation of the book.  It adds to, what may become a collection of quotes on trifles.  A couple of weeks ago I found ‘it is in the negligible that the considerable is to be found’ (said by Jonathan Miller)  and I’ve long had the quote ‘Do not be negligent in trifling matters’, from Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings .  I enjoy these quotes because, in organisational life, we are constantly enjoined to see the ‘big picture’, indulge in ‘visioning’,  and do ‘blue sky thinking’.  There’s nothing wrong with this.  Indeed, it is necessary but not at the expense of paying attention to the detailed reflection and critical thinking needed to get any idea from vision to implementation.   ‘The devil is in the details’ is a similar concept.  In day to day working life having, for example,  a working stapler is just as important as having the mission, ‘To inspire humanity – both in the air and on the ground’.

6:  A mixed bag of miscellaneous items, including some uplifting stories from Positive News which I’m now thinking of subscribing to.  (I get the weekly email update),  a link to a story on ‘The writers breathing life into black British history’ and another to  Amazing women in history.  All these three reminding me again that there are multiple perspectives, no ‘right’ answers and that there is huge value in diversity of thought in looking at organisational issues and possibilities.

7:  A recommendation on the gohenryapp designed to help children learn how to handle money and make sound financial decisions.  I’m struck by the way these types of apps take learning and development into a whole new sphere – with this you are not ‘teaching’ financial responsibility, children are experiencing developing it in real time.  At the same time I see apps like this completely changing the business models of organisations.

On the same day as the gohenry recommendation.  Someone sent me a link to a video of 2 teenagers trying to work out how to dial a number on a rotary phone. It’s hilarious.  With gohenry in mind, wondered how soon there’ll be a video of two teenagers trying to work out how to use an ATM.  (I’m assuming ATMs will be defunct soon).

Both of these, illustrate how quickly things move on – reinforcing my view that we must never think an organisation design is sustainable, or that we can predict what and how things will change in order to ‘manage’ it.

What organisation design related items did your metal detector turn up this week?  Let me know.

Image: Best metal detector