Category Archives: More Space

Reviews of More Space

Jackie Huba at Church of the Customer has nice things to say about More Space

The best business books are those that cause us to think differently and if they’re good, inspire action; this book passes that test.

She also points to approving comments by Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge, no less.

There is a passion for work and business that comes through in each essay… Yes, some of the writing here is self-absorbed—the most used letter in the More Space alphabet is “I.” But the risk-taking with form and content ultimately pays off in a very readable, fresh, and insightful collection.

Hmm, mea maxima culpa on the I thing.

Jory on Authenticity

One of the good things about More Space is that you can listen to each of the chapters as an mp3 (just register at the More Space website for free access). I enjoyed reading Jory des Jardins‘ chapter in its early draft – and I enjoyed it even more in the audio version over the weekend.

Partly because her theme is “the inevitability of authenticity”, partly because it is told as a personal story, it’s good to hear her tell it in her own voice.

Jory’s talks about the difference between being taken for who you are, warts and all, versus being hired on superficial appearances. Here’s how Jory used to see things

To me, getting jobs was tantamount to having a bag of tricks. I could pull any combination of delightful qualifications, based on the hiring manager’s need and what I’d read about in the company’s culture.

She tells how she made the transition to authenticity with humour and candour.

I didn’t suddenly decide to be authentic. I had simply given up on my need to be “on”, to sell myself. If I went to my computer feeling gross, the gosh darnit, I’d let the scant few who happened to bump into my blog know it. Instead of trying to produce content, I simply translated the thoughts, the impulses that were already there… It was around this time that I generated readers, not traffic.

I like that distinction between traffic and readers. I think it’s a nuance that a lot of marketing misses when it gets fixated with metrics for “impacts”. Losing some of our “persona” and showing some vulnerability can be a key to creating vibrant relationships. Jory does a nice job of describing her path to this.

More Space – Rob’s rousing chapter

The arrival of my hard copies of More Space, the book I’ve co-authored with eight other bloggers, has prompted to me re-read what others have written there. Today, I’m going to do a little trailer on Rob Paterson‘s chapter, Going Home. (You can read his essay online free, or order the book, at the More Space site.)

Rob’s chapter is a great polemic and rousing stuff. I think some of us bloggers have learnt to tone down our rhetoric so as not to alarm the uninitiated – and it’s fun to be reminded of the idealism that actually motivates some of us to keep this up.

Rob reckons that we’ve seen a version of the internet revolution before. He looks at how the world was changed by Martin Luther, Galileo and Gutenberg, and asks,

Who would have known then that a priest with a big idea, a man with a telescope, and a man with a new communication tool would come together to shake the world?

Rob’s point is that this is being repeated today:

Is this idea of going direct the same for us as Luther’s big idea that man could talk directly to God?

Is not the new doctrine for organizations based on the observable working laws and designs of nature the same as Galileo’s observations?

Is not the enabling vector a new type of communication device that is so simple and so inexpensive that it will give voice and hence power back to individuals and to their communities? Are we not standing at the beginning of a new reformation? Has the wheel of history turned full circle?

He goes on to look at examples of the sort of communities which are now possible, and which challenge conventional top-down notions of dealing with issues. One is an online health community for seniors on Prince Edward Island, where Rob lives:

Within two years, there were more than three thousand members and more than fifty groups on PEI alone, and the network is spreading all over North America.

Initially, the most popular groups were in health. The health groups grew up at first as support groups. The ?rst was for people who had severe arthritis. Within months this group had become very expert. They were on top of the leading research and had lots of practical advice for each other. They provided not only moral support but also expert help. For a group for whom mobility was a challenge, the online aspect was a perfect fit. Many broke though their fears of the Web by taking lessons from other seniors in the Blogging 101 group.

Here’s Rob’s optimistic prognosis:

Just as people at the end of the Middle Ages rediscovered the wisdom of the Classic world, so we are rediscovering the experience of tribal life. I don’t mean by this that we will have to take up hunting and live in caves. For we have made a Great Return before and we know how it will play out. Renaissance men did not put on togas. What they did was to remember the wisdom of the Classic world that had been forgotten in a millennium-long dark age and applied this wisdom to the world of their time. So we too will begin to experience a new way of living and of being and apply this experience to our own time and to our own challenges.

More Space

More Space – Nine Antidotes to Complacency in Business is being published on 25 October. I’m one of nine bloggers who’ve written chapters for this new book, which (as you might expect) is being offered in multiple formats. First, there’s the book itself, which you can buy here for $24.95. Or if you’d like to take it as a free pdf, or in html, or audio format, then you need to go to the More Space website.

As the back cover blurb says, “Each author challenges the premise that places of business can only be cold and uninspiring. By sharing their own experiences they offer up ways for you to re-ignite passion and enthusiasm in your work.”

This project has been in gestation for several months and I’m excited about it. My own chapter is called Simple Ideas, Lightly Held. In part, it’s a crie de coeur against efforts to treat business, and life in general, as complicated rather than complex. The complicated worldview produces lists, dogmatic notions of best practice and excessive reverence for experts. The complex worldview, on the other hand, means we can enjoy the excitement and vitality of life created moment-by-moment – a game for all to enjoy, not just a knowledgeable elite.

Or something like that. The chapter is built around a series of exercises which you can do with a partner. So it’s a bit more than just a read.

I’ll be writing more about the book – and some of the other chapters – later.

Going off topic

I had a great meeting with two fellow London bloggers last week, Freddie Daniells and Max Blumberg.

This prompted various thoughts, here are some of them:

1. Whenever I meet people I know from blogging, I have a great time. These connections have a power and energy that excites me. They are one of the biggest benefits of blogging.

2. We’d never met before. We met for the fun of it. After 4 hours, we’d agreed to create a project together, invented a domain name, bought it and we’ll be announcing it any day now. I can’t wait.

3. We discussed bloggers who keep to a topic and those who don’t. I have both sorts in my feedreader. I find both interesting. I am definitely in the second camp. I don’t stick to the point here.

4.Sometime’s I’m surprised to be identified as a marketing or branding blogger because a lot of what I say doesn’t fit that stereotype. Then again, the stereotype of branding and marketing sucks, doesn’t it?

5 We talked about Myers Briggs and other ways to sort people into boxes. I quite enjoy such things but I don’t follow them as a script. For instance, in one of them (Belbin?) I come out as either a Plant (troublemaker/questioner/disrupter) or Facilitator (peacemaker/integrator). You’ll find both personalities manifested here.

I sometimes think, oh but if I want to get business as a facilitator, I should stop ranting. And then I think, sod that for a game of soldiers. And that’s partly why my blog is a hodge-podge; it’s so boring to create a pretend persona to get business.

6. I could say more but this post is already way too long.

7. No wonder I find the idea of producing a coherent essay for More Space daunting as well as inspiring.

More space deadline looms

Now that I’ve finished my tax return, the next deadline looms: sending in my proposal to Todd for my More Space essay/chapter/thinkpiece thingy. I’m definitely more of a starter than a finisher so the fact that Todd’s cracking the whip a bit is probably a good thing.

I’m quite sure that what I eventually write, and what I propose now, will be at variance with each other. This is, incidentally, one of the points I’ll be making in the piece.

My working title is going to be, as already hinted, Simple principles, lightly held. This will be a licence for me to enthuse about Improv and the virtues of living in the present whilst providing an excellent excuse for the many ways in which my blog demonstrates my inconsistency in living up to these ideals.

One of the more serious points will be to highlight the difference between things that are complicated and things that are complex. This will owe a lot to the megabrain that is Dave Snowden. He wrote this heavy essay on the topic, and here’s what I blogged in response earlier this year

Far too many people don’t get this, and waffle about metrics, obsessing with narrow measures and making dubious correlations to “prove” their latest ideas “work”, without looking at the broader context. In Britain, our Health Service and education system have been plagued with the very worst kind of shallow target setting and performance measurement. Marketing is awash with dreary mechanistic models that reduce the subtle wonders of human relationships to things like “value drivers” (they sound pretty horrid, don’t they!). This – to my mind – is part of a desperate effort to run away from the complex by treating it as merely complicated, coralling it into the familiar domain of the knowable, the safe hunting ground of the Experts who Know What To Do who delight in its complications as it allows them to seem so clever.

I shall no doubt detour to nail some examples of how the world of branding is awash with these complicated models.

I’m sure that whatever Malcolm Gladwell is saying in his new book will have to be factored in.

I’m going to talk a lot about Improv because this is what most excites me in all the work I do. Improv is a good example of simple principles, lightly held generating wonderfully rich drama.

The title is a nod to David Weinberger’s Small Pieces, Loosely Joined, though I imply no endorsement on his part. I think the approach will fit well into his wonderful evocation of how a networked world actually operates best.

I’m going to want to use some lovely pictures, and I think I’ll ask my good pal Julian Burton to help out with this. I hope Todd’s budget will run to colour reproduction…

I’ve not got my head around how I’m going to write, but I would like to try to embody the principles of Improv and collaboration whilst still taking personal responsibility for the end product.

And I want it to be fun to read.

Comments, brickbats, wild projections of your neuroses onto my personality all welcomed. I’m quite partial to chocolate cake, too.

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Fundamental Attribution Error

I do try quite hard to avoid jargon but I’ll make an exception for the “Fundamental Attribution Error”. Because it’s just so interesting.

I’ve been reading Crucial Confrontations. Based on oodles of research in field, the authors explain how to confront promise-breakers without the ground swallowing us all up. I’m not a fan of how-to books in general, but I thought this had a lot going for it.

It’s particularly good on the Fundamental Attribution Error – a basic flaw in human thinking that means we ascribe the behaviour of others to their personality rather than examining the context. Which generally causes grief in difficult conflicts.

Example: We think, so-and-so is late for a meeting because he’s a lazy good-for-nothing who doesn’t respect me… rather than noticing it’s snowing outside. Well that’s a crude example but you get my drift.

As the authors point out, we’re good at blaming other people’s behaviour on their character, whilst excusing our own faults because of the difficult circumstances we work in.

I guess this partly explains our celebrity-obsessed culture. And the fascination of the business media with hero-CEOs, interestingly challenged by Jim Collins in Good to Great.

In Britain, consider the hoohah surrounding football managers. It fascinates me that a Manager is a great success with one team for a season or two, and gets lauded to the skies. Then he gets poached at great expense by a second team, where he’s a flop. That’s the Error at work; we think the success of a team is down to a genius manager and ignore all the complex context in which he operates.

Of course, this also works for organisations/brands. (As reflected in Cliff Allen’s comment on my recent post about Southwest, filling in the complex context that’s easily ignored.)

A lot of branding is an effort to exploit the Fundamental Attribution Error – to support the idea that if we just have faith in the brand, we don’t have to worry about all the detail.

And this cuts both ways. Watching the TV show Airline, either the UK or US version, is a pretty convincing lesson in how manipulative customers are. They ascribe their flight difficulties to the wicked airline banning them from flying rather than accept the context: for example, that they were late checking in because the roads were congested.

It’s interesting that Crucial Conversations has the usual list of celebrity endorsements on its back cover. So they don’t mind using the FAE in some cases either. And who can blame them.

Perhaps calling it an Error is a bit loaded. Evolutionists might argue that there’s a very good reason we think this way. Certainly, we do need mental shortcuts to navigate life.

Simple ideas then. But lightly held, please…

Southwest paradox (2)

A couple more thoughts on The Southwest Paradox I blogged yesterday.

When we chatted, Michael Herman pointed out that the unsuccessful airlines can’t be separated clinically from Southwest. They’re the context in which Southwest is successful. You could say their failure is a key part of Southwest’s success. And simply replicating Southwest will change the context and make the model invalid. (Does this make sense?)

I suppose it’s like a phenomenon I’ve seen in groups. One person in the group takes the role of, say, troublemaker. And often gets scapegoated for it. But if he stops, or becomes compliant, after a while someone else starts causing trouble… as if there is a systemic need for troublemaking, it’s not down to one person just being difficult.

If everyone in the group pursued some daft “best practice” for group behaviour, the trouble doesn’t get made. But eventually, the system demands some trouble. The model fails.

“How-to” modelling always strips bits of a complex system of some part of their context, rendering the model questionable at best.

This is one reason I dislike all these complicated diagrams that are used to “explain” how to run companies. It seems to me that parts of the puzzle of organisations get modelled in labourious detail and then cut away from all the complex things that feed them. You get clever, complicated, intimidating diagrams that are – quite literally – removed from reality.

Another fragment for my emerging preference for…Simple Ideas, Lightly Held, Joyfully Practised.

The Southwest Paradox

I think it was Rob Paterson who first got me thinking about what I now call the Southwest Paradox.

There’s Southwest Airlines, very successful as an airline for a very long time. Surrounded for quite a lot of that time by a large number of very unsuccessful airlines.

Southwest does not come across as a secretive company. There’s a whole reality TV show showing it warts and all. There’s not much about the way it functions that hasn’t been examined and described. I’d venture that most of what could be made explicit about how Southwest works has been made explicit.

So it’s very interesting that almost no other airline comes anywhere close to Southwest in terms of success.

There seems to be a basic assumption, from B Schools to bookstores, that success is only a matter of modelling something that works, making the process explicit, and copying it. The Southwest Paradox suggests there’s something fundamentally faulty in that assumption.

I might also speculate that the quantity of diet books in shops, and levels of obesity, are positively correlated. And the plethora of books on how to be happy may be an indicator of how unhappy we are – despite there being no shortage of advice on the subject.

For my More Space chapter, I think I may kick off with the Southwest Paradox. Whether I go down the “Simple Ideas, Lightly Held” route or the “Organic Branding” route, I think it’s a good set up.

And comments, questions and sarcastic remarks are welcome…

More Space

I’m excited to be part of the More Space project, dreamt up by Todd Sattersten.

The idea: 10 bloggers each contribute a chapter to a book. We get 10,000 words to play with, more space than would be normal for a blog. As you’ll see from Todd’s FAQs, the finished product will be available in html, pdf, mp3 and good old-fashioned-print. The online versions will be free, with some kind of Creative Commons Licence.

I’m looking forward to the challenge.

I’ve not resolved the exact topic for my own chapter. Possibly I’ll write about branding as an organic, co-creative process.

Another idea is to pick up a theme of “Simple Ideas, Loosely Held” (with acknowledgements to Small Pieces, Loosely Joined). This would be in part a counter to the excessive number of how-to books out there, looking at engaging with a complex world without having to generate complicated, over-theoretical solutions. Or having to learn long lists. Or study lots of matrices.

I’ll probably kick these ideas around more in the blog over the next few weeks.

And there’s a slot for one more blogger to contribute to More Space.