Discipline makes Daring possible.



Roundabouts depend on self-government. Drivers just need to follow a few simple rules: give way to traffic coming from the right; don’t get on the roundabout unless you can get off; signal left or right before you get on; signal left before you come off.

If the rules are followed, roundabouts prevent gridlock at busy times, without slowing down traffic the rest of the time.

Lately though, people seem to have forgotten how to use roundabouts. Maybe they weren’t told the rules; maybe they are used to different rules; maybe they don’t think the rules apply to them, or at least not right now, when they are in a hurry.

The problem is that if roundabout culture continues to change in this way, we will lose self-governance. Roundabouts will be replaced by traffic lights, and make things worse for everyone.

This is how culture changes. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, through daily usage, until the system has to be re-shaped around it.

For good or bad, we should at least do this with awareness, and perhaps even on purpose.



Orpheus is an orchestra without a conductor.

That doesn’t mean they are directionless, they have a score that tells them what to play.

That doesn’t mean they are mechanical, a core group guides the interpretation for every piece they play, and that core group changes every time.

That doesn’t mean they are homogenous, many players dip in and out, although a minimum number of experienced players ensure the Orpheus promise is kept for every performance.

Being conductorless doesn’t mean they are leaderless, it means everyone has to step up and take their turn at leading.

There’s always another way of succeeding. It just needs to be thought through.

Orpheus (the orchestra) has been doing this for more than 40 years.



In a complex evolving system, the impulse to change often comes from outside. Something is felt at the edges and creates a kind of tension that can only be relieved by making some sort of adjustment.

It pays to make your edges sensitive to these tensions and to make the process of adjustment as quick and as easy as possible.

In a murmuration of starlings this happens through a small number of simple rules that each bird follows.

It ought to be possible to come up with something similar for a business.

It would probably look different for every business, but I’m pretty sure it shouldn’t involve waiting for instructions from the top.



A complex evolving system, such as a planet, an ecosystem or a business, learns through feedback. That means at least … Read More “Feedback”



Exceptions are where it pays to treat everyone the same. By which of course I don’t mean “computer says no”.

Much better to have a ‘golden rule’ to fall back on that enables anyone on your team to deal with the unexpected in a way that shows you absolutely stand by the promise that you make – even if the exception in question isn’t actually a customer.

Standardisation enables brilliant exception-handling, because it takes care of the routine and so frees people up to be human.

Handling exceptions brilliantly, as a human being, creates fans.



‘Standardisation’ often results in every customer being treated the same – whether they like it or not.

To my mind, a better way of looking at standardisation is that it is about treating the same kind of customer in the same kind of way – and of course, in a way that delivers on the promise you’ve made to them before they bought..

So if, for example, you have 4 different services, you could design 4 delivery processes. They may have a lot of activities in common, but by designing a process for each service, you’re making sure the process is easier for everyone to follow – neither you nor your customer is being made to do unnecessary work.

It may even be the case that different people on your team prefer delivering one kind of service to another, so splitting them means you can always have the best person for the job.

Of course there will always be exceptions, so room has to be left for these to be handled in a way that still delivers on the promise, but they should really be exceptions.

The key to all of this, is to start from the customer’s shoes.

The interesting thing is that, in my experience, getting it right from the customer’s perspective, actually makes things much easier and more profitable to run.

Not Applicable

Not Applicable

If you have a checklist with items that can be ‘not applicable’, you haven’t got a checklist, you’ve got at least 2 checklists, and you’re asking for trouble.

Including every possible option doesn’t make executing the process easier.

The spaces in between

The spaces in between

No matter how beautiful the fabrics, or how exquisitely they are cut, they don’t become the end product until they’ve been joined together by a unifying framework.

In this case, its one with considerable give in it.

Leeway – but not complete freedom

Leeway – but not complete freedom

Quilts have often been made collaboratively, especially in America, where the idea of making a quilt in components (called blocks) really took off. This method meant a quilt top could be assembled very quickly, since the production of blocks was effectively parallelised. If you wanted a bigger quilt, you simply enlisted more friends.

Once the component blocks were completed, they were sewn together to make the top, which was then tacked together with the filling and backing layers. Then everyone got together again to quilt the 3 layers into a single unified whole – the finished quilt.

As well as speeding up the making, this block method allows considerable leeway to the individual contributors. In this Friendship quilt, each contributor has chosen their own block design, but they’ve clearly been given a colour scheme to work with, and at least some fabrics have been shared – its leeway, but not complete freedom.

The result is a bedcover that looks coherent, but is still lively and full of interest. An excellent example of balancing tight rules with interpretive latitude.

Those quiltmakers knew a lot about creative collaboration.



“To learn easily is naturally pleasant to all people, and words signify something, so whatever words create knowledge in us are the pleasantest. Metaphor most brings about learning. ~Aristotle

When Blue Rocket Accounting and I started working together, they had a different, very traditional name, based on the surnames of the founding partners. Julie, the new owner, was fascinated by the NASA space programmes, and had already adopted some graphics reflecting that into the branding for the business.

As a result, when we put together the Promise of Value for the business, a powerful metaphor emerged: “we are Houston to your space mission.”

We ran with this metaphor, packaging services up to suit different types of space mission – “Blast Off”, “Maintain Orbit”, “Expand Orbit”, “Reach for the Stars”.

Then we took it further, defining Roles inside the business that are based on key Roles in Mission Control.

So for example, Blue Rocket has a ‘Capsule Communicator’, the primary communication channel for each client mission. Where most accountants would have a ‘Client Account Manager’, Blue Rocket has a ‘Flight Dynamics Officer’ whose job it is to give the client the information they need, when they need it, to keep them on the trajectory they’ve chosen.

This is carried through into the names of key processes: “Deliver Blast-Off”, “Deliver Maintain Orbit”, and so on.

This has proven to be extremely powerful in driving growth.

Firstly, prospective clients find it very easy to grasp exactly what Blue Rocket can do for them, and which package they need, so it makes it easy for them to buy. It’s not for everyone of course, some potential clients find the whole thing too frivolous, but they aren’t the companies Blue Rocket wants to work with, so that’s OK for everyone.

Secondly, its hard to forget why you do what you do when your job title is ‘Flight Dynamics Officer’ or ‘Capsule Communicator’ or ‘Voice of Mission Control’. You’re literally playing out the company’s promise to customers.

So, what would your metaphor be?