‘A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines’

Reading 'A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines' by Janna Levin I'm struck by one of the characters noting that 'We wanted to construct complete worldviews, complete and consistent theories and philosophies, perfect solutions where everything could find its place. But we cannot. … We all prize a resolution, a gratifying ending, completeness and unity, but we are surrounded by incompleteness'.

Breaking down silos

Given that a great deal of my consulting work is about trying to help people in organizations break down/through the silos and talk with each other/run common processes and so on I was intrigued to read the sentence "The closer the connection between the parts, the more vulnerable the whole system becomes to any major wobbles."

The sentence appeared in the review of a book "Bound Together: How Traders, Preachers, Adventurers, and Warriors Shaped Globalisation", Nayan Chanda, Yale University Press; 391 pages; $27.50 and £16.99 (see Economist print edition July 28 – August 4 'The Early Pioneers'. http://www.economist.com/books/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9539888)

Reading this led me to wonder whether the current drive in many organizations to be boundaryless, silo free, and collaborative might have a range of downsides that lead to a weakening of the design: an image pops to mind of something on the lines of metal fatigue. It's a thought I'll bear in mind when I come to my next assignment where part of the design request is to become 'boundaryless'.

Sustainability in Subaru

At the Future of Manufacturing Conference I was at today I was struck by the speaker from Subaru's South Indiana plant where they take 'lean and clean' extremely seriously. Over the last several years they've got to 0% landfill status with their waste, and have won several awards for their environmental work. Look at their website http://www.subaru-earth.com/

or at a short write up in Green Technology


Due diligence in mergers and acquisitions

We had a long discussion at work today about due diligence related to mergers and acquisitions. In our experience most of the due diligence is centred on the easily quantifiable and little on the less easily quantifiable e.g. behaviors around pay and reward, or attitudes to workforce development and training. However, when it comes to 'successful' merger or acquisition it is the less quantifiable stuff that is frequently the deciding factor in whether the merger or acquistion will deliver the promised value. So our challenge is to develop and apply rigor around making the qualitative organizational aspects quantifiable, and get these included in due diligence processes.

Organizational horseholding

Someone gave me a copy of a delightful story called "Organizational Horseholding" http://www.sundance.ca/resources/documents/OrganizationalHorseHolding.April2006.pdf

It's a beautiful illustration of the types of sacred cows that organizations cling to and that can become real barriers to changing the design of the organization. The author of the piece, Chris Edgelow gives a couple of ideas on how to spot this type of sticking to an outdated practice: a) ask new hires to identify what they think might be a sacred cow b) watch for instances of trying to apply a solution that worked well in the past to a current problem.

Risk Managment and theft

Yesterday things went wrong (so no blog entry). My laptop was stolen. Following the fury and the frustration of the immediate event came some thinking about my personal responses to forced change: I could dwell on the event and curse myself for things like leaving on my desk, not password protecting the entry point, and so on. Or I could note that it could have been worse – at least I had backed up things, had insurance and so on. Or I could view it as an opportunity to change for the better the way I organize myself and my environment. Of course these options are not discrete and I am bouncing (iterating!?) from one to another and several along the route. It's a microcosm of the type of event that hits an organization that is going well and then has the workflow interrupted by something extraneous (although not totally unpredictable). I guess I had an adequate risk management strategy in place for computer loss but had not considered the risk that my front door (within an entry system building)could be smashed through.

Simplicity and holding companies

Today two threads started to emerge. First someone mentioned to me John Maeda's book The Laws of Simplicity. (http://lawsofsimplicity.com/)

1 REDUCE The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.

2 ORGANIZE Organization makes the system of many appear fewer.

3 TIME Savings in time feel like simplicity.

4 LEARN Knowledge makes everything simpler.

5 DIFFERENCES Simplicity and complexity need each other.

6 CONTEXT What lies in the periphery of simplicity is definitely not peripheral.

7 EMOTION More emotions are better than less.

8 TRUST In simplicity we trust.

9 FAILURE Some things can never be made simple.

10 THE ONE Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.

At first sight these seem to have relevance for organization design work so I'll get the book and explore further. I wonder how these fit with the Rotary Tests that I discovered yesterday?

Second I was teaching a class on organization structure and someone asked a question about the structure of holding companies vis a vis their operating companies. I was asked this question last week too. Maybe a topic people are getting interested in?

Rotary Four Way Test

Today I read an article about a New River Valley entrepreneur, Bill Ellenbogen (www.nrvmagazine.com). He was asked what guides his business decisions and said it was the Rotary Four Way Test. "Of the things we think, say or do:

Is it the TRUTH?

Is it FAIR to all concerned?


Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?"


I'd not come across this test before but it seems an admirable one to bear in mind when doing organization design work – particularly with regard to communicating any projected changes in jobs (numbers and types).

Flexible shift patterns and temporary workers

I'm a week behind on my reading of the Economist so I've just caught up with the piece in the July 14th – 20th issue on the way BMW builds flexibility into its shift patterns 'for example extending shifts by 30 minutes, adding extra ones …' and making 'liberal use' of temporary workers. (See: Back above the bar again.


Both points suggest organization design questions. For example: What impact does adding in extra shifts have on HR systems (like payroll and productivity). How do managers make the decision to put in an extra shift and what are the processes for doing so?

Managing temporary (and contract) workers is another thorny design issue. The answers to such questions on whether they should be included in training events, subsidised meals or other things that payroll staff get all affect motivation, productivity, and performance (of both the temporary workers and the permanent workers).

Tiny urls

My brother pointed out an improvement possibility in my email signature block. He noticed that the url pointing to my new book was very long (in fact broken over two lines) and that made it difficult to activate the link.

He suggested using a tiny url (see: http://tinyurl.com/) instead and then acted for me. So in tiny url my book, Guide to Organisation Design, is available

at Amazon UK: http://tinyurl.com/2r9m8m

at Amazon USA: http://tinyurl.com/3cw236

What I enjoyed about the suggestion was a) that my brother saw a process improvement idea and acted on it and b) that the orginator of the idea did similarly.

It's often difficult in organizations to successfully act on an idea.