Discipline makes Daring possible.



Swarms look like an attractive option for decentralisation.  After all, “Social insects work without supervision. In fact, their teamwork is largely self-organized, and coordination arises from the different interactions among individuals in the colony. Although these interactions might be primitive (one ant merely following the trail left by another, for instance), taken together they result in efficient solutions to difficult problems (such as finding the shortest route to a food source among myriad possible paths). The collective behavior that emerges from a group of social insects has been dubbed ‘swarm intelligence.'” (Corporate Rebels blog ‘Reinventing work‘)

As you know, I’m all for self-organisation, but for me it has to emerge from autonomy and a shared purpose.  Ant colonies work through programming.  Individual ants don’t get much say.  I’d rather be a goose.

A different kind of swarming showed up this week around GameStop shares.  Bottom-up collaboration between individuals.

The queen ants of Wall St. didn’t like it at all.

Here’s your welcome treat

Here’s your welcome treat

“Here’s your welcome treat” says the email.  Inside, a code for a 10% discount on my first purchase, as a reward for signing up to the mailing list.  Lovely.

Except that I’ve already made my first (hefty) purchase, which is how I signed up to the mailing list in the first place.

Now I’ve been given a discount code I’m unlikely to use.  I don’t feel special, or welcomed, I feel cheated.

If you have more than one way for people to end up on your mailing list, make sure the reward for doing so works properly in every case.

It’s not rocket science.  Just meaning it.

How to capture a business process: Step 3

How to capture a business process: Step 3

Now you know what your business process is aiming to achieve (Step 1), and you know where it really starts and ends (Step 2), you’re ready to describe it.

I’ve always found the best way to do this is to literally talk someone through it.  Imagine that you are telling the story of this process to a listener, who is going to make notes.   Ideally your listener would be another person, but if push comes to shove you can play both roles.

The conversation goes something like this:

  • As Storyteller,  you start at the beginning, thinking of how it usually works.   You simply tell the Listener the first thing that happens.
  • As Listener, you write that down, then ask:  “What happens next?” , or “Then what happens?”
  • The Storyteller describes what happens next.
  • The Listener, notes it down, and asks again “What happens next?”
  • Repeat until the Storyteller answers “Nothing, that’s the end.   We’ve got to the outcome.” 

That’s it.  For now.   The next step is to work out the order things really need to happen in.

Mechanical ecosystems

Mechanical ecosystems

Let’s look at the human body.  Simpler, less tightly-coupled joints are held in place by muscle and cartilage, combining rigidity and strength with flexibility and adaptability.    Although there is a ‘standard’ bone shape, tolerances are high, accommodating a wide range of variation in components – both across a population and within a single individual.   Growth is allowed for.

At the same time, possibilities are constrained by the surrounding muscles.   If there is too much play in a joint, strengthening muscles will help.  If there is too little play, stretching and loosening them will allow more movement.   Remediation is possible without taking anything apart, or even stopping – all that’s needed to keep things in good order is a healthy variety of movement.

Perhaps this is the sweet spot between machine and ecosystem we should aim for in a business?



The thing that makes ecosystems different from machines is that they are made up of autonomous, interdependent and loosely coupled components, which may themselves be ecosystems.

Autonomy allows evolution in the component.  Loose coupling means that the ecosystem can tolerate a good deal of evolution before it breaks.  Interdependence gives feedback to evolving components, constraining or encouraging variation, and, in the end, allowing the ecosystem itself to evolve.

Actually, it’s not really possible to break an ecosystem, but it can evolve into something that becomes hostile to one or more of its components.  So the question for owners who want to build an ecosystem rather than a machine, is how to keep it in balance, without stifling creativity?

Maybe the answer is to explore something between a machine and an ecosystem?

Building precision

Building precision

When you’re putting together a machine that needs to run without you, precision engineering is key.  Each component must fit tightly to the next, in exactly the right position in order to perform a single highly specific function, and no other.

The upside of this approach is efficiency, durability and a kind of austere beauty.  Standardised parts are simpler to mass-produce and easy to replace.  You can reach a much larger market.  And the whole thing runs as we say, ‘like clockwork’.

The downside is that building a machine takes a lot of upfront investment, and when new technology comes along, that highly-engineered investment turns itself into a pile of scrap.  This is true of software machines too.

So maybe the answer is to take our cue from nature and build ecosystems instead?

How to capture a business process: Step 2

How to capture a business process: Step 2

Step 2 of capturing a Business Process is to work out where it really starts.

A good rule of thumb is to think about where the ‘thing’ you’re dealing with – the ‘Noun’ in your process’s name – gets created, from the perspective of the business.   These are good questions to ask:

  • If the thing is created outside the business, where does it first come into contact with it?
  • If the thing is created inside the business, where does that happen?  Is that where it should happen?

You can ask similar questions to find where your process really ends:

  • If the thing passes through the business, when does it leave?
  • If the thing only exists inside the business, where does it get destroyed, or archived?

It’s helpful to think about the process from its real beginning to its real end, because that’s how many opportunities for improvement can be identified, without having to go to the trouble of documenting the entire thing first.   It gives you a shortcut, if you like.



Often, when we think about delegation, we’re thinking about merely handing over execution to someone else.  We’ve already worked out what needs to be done, all they have to do is reproduce that.   This somewhat mechanical form of delegation works well for really simple and generic tasks such as answering the phone, booking meetings, or filling in forms, or even for generic functions such as preparing annual accounts, fulfilment, distribution, even marketing.

But for what really weighs down a business owner, delegating execution doesn’t help much.

I remember my mum telling me, when as a child I offered to go shopping for her “The shopping is the least of my worries – I still have to think about what we’re going to eat, plan the meals, and write out the list.  That’s the hard bit.” 

What we really want to be delegating is the thinking, the decision making – in other words, the management.  And that’s hard, because it means giving up power, entrusting business outcomes to other people. It means devolution.

But devolution is what really pays off.  If my siblings and I had all taken turns to ‘manage’ the household, or taken responsibility for different parts of it, I’m sure that our family horizons and opportunities would have been broadened. 9 heads – even childish ones – are always better than 1.

The good news is that as business owners we have an advantage over mum, in that we’re dealing with adults we’ve selected for shared values, principles and beliefs.  Who will welcome the ability to step up and lead.

Especially if given a score to follow while they (and you) get used to the idea.



I’ve spent the whole of the day re-setting and rebuilding my computer.  Windows simply refused to restart.  No reason was given, no error messages, no hint of what might have caused it, just an escalating series of interventions that culminated in a factory reset.

That’s my day gone.  I don’t have a choice.  My laptop is infrastructure.  I need it to work.

Imagine if corporations like Microsoft decided to do that to us on purpose.

It’s easy to miss where power really lies.



I was delighted to see Matt Black Systems feature again in this week’s Corporate Rebels blog.  I’ve told their story so often, since I visited them back in 2012.

I’m even more delighted to see that they offer consulting on how to apply their fractal model for businesses.

The fundamental thing that makes that model work, as I discovered on my visit, is responsible autonomy.  Enabled by process.  Rewarded by profit.

That makes it a natural model that can work in any business.

They’ve also published a book.   It’s been ordered.  Of course.