Category Archives: Miscellaneous (everything is)

Pitfalls of training

Donald Clark discovers some research that should give trainers, and those who hire them, something to worry about. He describes it in more detail, this is my crude summary:

Various methods were tested for training people to cope more effectively with phishing emails. One was a placebo but the other two were real and got very high ratings on the happy sheets.

Trouble is, when participants were later tested on their supposed new skills, they failed rather badly.

However, what did work was not conventional training at all, but giving people, unblidden, test phishing emails. When they fell for them, they had it pointed out. This was very effective at training them.

One swallow doesn’t make a summer, of course. Still it gives me pause for thought.

On writing a book

People have often told me “there’s a book in you.” I have always suspected that is a polite way of trying to stop me going on about something for too long.

I’ve always felt that even if there is a book in me, it would be agony to get it out. I know that just writing a chapter for a book felt like the worst kind of homework… you know the dreaded summer project created especially to ruin the last days of August.

The worst part of this is the linearity of the book form, which always feels at odds with my non-very-linear mind.

And quite apart from writing it, I’ve always felt a bit wary of the effect of being the person with a book to promote. Which is, sadly, the stage I am about to reach.

This is entirely the fault of Viv McWaters. A year or two ago, recovering from ankle surgery, she drafted a manual to go along with some training for facilitators we were doing in some exotic destinations. She invited to me to help and thereby share in the promised glory.

It’s taken us a long time and endless re-edits but we’re just about ready to release it into the wild as a book, called (imaginatively) Creative Facilitation. In a parallel universe, there is punchier version called We Can’t Go On Meeting Like This.

I think it survives my limited writing skills thanks to Viv’s incredible persistence and some really nice design from Mary Campbell.

We’re just tinkering with final details but our plan is to make it free as a pdf file and find some print options too.

Oxbridge anecdote

I was reading Dave Snowden’s latest post on western cultures preference for thinking in categories rather than relationships. I associate this with a liking for the reductionism of lists.

It reminded me of the old story of someone walking down the street in Oxford. He heard only the tiniest snippet of the conversation going on between two elderly men in front of him. It was “…and ninthly.”

I guess that counts as a spirit of place?

It ain’t that simple

Chris Rodgers pours cold water on the idea of evidence-based practice when managing people.

Organizations are complex social processes not rational scientific endeavours. As such, they are not amenable to the research and testing protocols needed to provide rigorous ‘evidence’ of the merit of a particular practice. Or to justify claims that what is perceived to be successful practice in one context can be generalized to others.

Instead he argues for “practice-based evidence” – describing something that relates closely to my experience of improvisation: try things out and pay attention to what happens.

In a related post he cites one of my favourite books, Phil Rosenweig’s Halo Effect, which debunks a vast amount of the research used to justify various business decisions. Rodgers argues

We are not talking here about products and practices that can be tested meticulously in advance, and replicated precisely in design, development and application. We are talking about the complex social processes that we call organization. And, whilst the dynamics of organization are the same in each case (the self-organized patterning of local, conversational interactions), the ways in which these play out in each situation are unique – and unpredictable in all but the most limited sense.

I usually feel like an outsider reading management books and theories; as if there is some missing script that I haven’t been given. They reduce the complexity of human life to something lacking real texture. I agree with Richard Farson who argues that in doing so they actually undermine managers by creating quite false expectations of what can be achieved. It leads to all sorts of dubious managment BS.


I have been following the US elections fairly closely. It’s interesting to see how partisan they are and how people can take the same data point and reach quite opposite conclusions. People claim their views are based on values but it seems that what these values mean varies enormously.

My hunch that this amount of difference is actually quite natural and normal. And it makes me doubt very strongly much of what is said about organisations getting their people aligned around values.

Watching online fighting

I have been following some fierce online arguments about complexity lately and recognising how easy it is for these things to get very heated. There is something about understanding the subtleties of complex systems that seems paradoxically, to trigger our more animal passions. In may case, these include anxiety (if I were to join in, would I end up getting metaphorically punched in the face by these guys) but also amusement. I bet I’m not the only one that finds these slugfests fun to watch from a safe distance, with the attendant unjustified sense of superiority.

I was going to say that the fierceness of the language means the signal to noise ratio gets worse. So much emotional heat, not so much light.

But then I got to thinking, actually even the noise is really a signal. The argument about complexity is itself a complex system, full of unexpected consequences and chain reactions. We can talk about having sophisticated understandings of complexity but we’d better be realistic about the likelihood of getting much agreement about them if we try to capture them in language.

Equity leading to excellence, not the other way

Steven Downes highlights what he says Americans constantly ignore when studying Finland’s educational success:

Decades ago when the Finnish school system was badly in need of reform the goal of the program that Finland instituted, resulting in so much success today, was never excellence. It was equity.

– Pasi Sahkberg in this book

Hat tip: David Gurteen on twitter

The trouble with models.

David Simoes-Brown reflects on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and wonders about the possible selfishness involved in the top layer of self-actualising. He finds Maslow himself elaborates on this.

I was prompted to check the wikipedia entry for criticism and found some closely related argument that the conventional hierarchy reflects an individualist rather than a collectivist mindset.

Some also question the notion of hierarchy at all, and I’m inclined to agree. This model is so well established that I think we take the implicit idea as a given. I think this is the trap with all models and techniques; they may initially offer insight and then quickly start to filter the way we experience the world.