Discipline makes Daring possible.



“It is known that, when we learn or train in something, we pass through the stages of shu, ha, and ri. These stages are explained as follows. In shu, we repeat the forms and discipline ourselves so that our bodies absorb the forms that our forebears created. We remain faithful to these forms with no deviation. Next, in the stage of ha, once we have disciplined ourselves to acquire the forms and movements, we make innovations. In this process the forms may be broken and discarded. Finally, in ri, we completely depart from the forms, open the door to creative technique, and arrive in a place where we act in accordance with what our heart/mind desires, unhindered while not overstepping laws.”  Endō Seishirō

You want your entire team to get to ri.

That’s impossible while the shu is only in your head.

Discipline makes Daring possible.


HT to Carlos Saba for the thought. And to Claire Perry-Louise for creating the space where it can be shared.



When Adam Smith wrote “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”, he wasn’t thinking of JBS S.A, or Anheuser-Busch InBev, or Grupo Bimbo, S.A.B. de C.V..

He was thinking of Mr Jameson, Mr Paterson and Mr McDermid – people his mother knew and spoke to regularly, trying to make a decent living.   Who knew that if they tried to short-change customers or cheat their suppliers they’d be found out, word would spread and business would be lost.

But as Adam Smith also wrote “The interest of the dealers, however, in any particular branch of trade or manufactures, is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public. To widen the market and to narrow the competition, is always the interest of the dealers. Monopoly of one kind or another, indeed, seems to be the sole engine of the mercantile system.

There’s a reason marketeers talk about ‘brands’.   Brands aren’t people, or even companies, they’re more often monopolies masquerading as humans.

As consumers (and human beings) we should at least keep ourselves aware of that.

The invisible hand can’t work without a market.

Rearranging deckchairs

Rearranging deckchairs

Before you cut costs in your central department of government or business by removing a job it currently does, here’s a good question to ask:

  • Can we remove the need for this job completely?

If the answer to that is ‘No’, then ask these:

  • Who is best placed to do this job effectively and efficiently?
  • What resources do we need to shift along with the responsibility?
  • What resources will they need to set themselves up to do this job?

I’m all for devolution.  The closer to the front line the better, but too often ‘devolution’ merely means shifting where the work is accounted for without shifting the resources needed to get it done.

When you’re looking for real efficiency gains, shuffling deckchairs is rarely the best answer.



The last year or so has forced us all to improvise.

Faced with extreme uncertainty, this is a rational response.  Improvisation enables us to quickly learn what works and what doesn’t in a rapidly shifting world.   It helps us to try new things, change direction, discover new opportunities.

In effect, the last year turned us all back into new businesses.

If your new new business was able to improvise its way into growth, now might be a good time to pause, take stock and reconfigure it into something more intentional.   Make the experiment that paid off repeatable and scaleable.  So you can carry on growing on purpose.

Remember to leave some room for improvisation though – it’s how you’ll see the next challenge coming.

Empathy comes before logic

Empathy comes before logic

When you’re on the receiving end of a complaint about your product or service, it’s tempting to rush into fixing the ‘problem’ through the use of logic.  “Nobody else has complained about that.”; “That can’t have happened.”; “Ok, let’s replace it.”, or “Here’s your money back.”

What you’re missing when you do this is an amazing chance to create a stronger connection with the customer or client in front of you.

If you start with empathy, acknowledging how they feel, aiming to understand how their real needs have been let down by the perceived failure, you’ll show them that you truly care about them as a person.

That enables you both to collaborate constructively on how best to meet those needs, and address that failure in a way that is often less damaging or expensive for you business, and more positive for the customer.

In other words, empathy is more efficient than logic.

Just a blip

Just a blip

Dinosaurs were at the top of Earth’s food chains for around 180 million years.

They died out because they were unable to adapt through evolution to changes in their environments – first rapid climate change caused by volcanic activity, then of course the famous meteorite.

Homo Sapiens has only been around about half a million years.   We’ve arrived at the top of Earth’s food chains by making the Earth adapt to us, driven by models of the world that we make up.  Models that turn out to be at best only partly true and often are disastrously misleading.

Will we be the first species to go extinct, not because we can’t adapt, but because we won’t?  Because we refuse to change our minds?

That might just make us the stupidest blip in Earth’s history.



When we put our minds to it, we humans can be pretty brilliant.

Yesterday, I heard about porous molecular cages for the first time.  These cages are made up individual molecules that have been designed to imprison another type of molecule – effectively creating a molecular sieve for separating chemicals.   As if that wasn’t brilliant enough, the team at Imperial College have been using machine learning and evolutionary models to screen potential molecules for stability, ease of production and scalability.

Also yesterday, I saw a 10-year old Palestinian girl describing how she had grown up amid constant bombings.  “Why are you doing this to us?” she asked, “How are we supposed to fix it?”

When we refuse to put our minds to it, we humans can be pretty dumb.

Let’s at least try.

Good tools

Good tools

A good process is like a favourite tool.

You know the kind of thing I mean – that ladle you reach for first because it feels right, holds plenty, pours without dripping and washes up easily.  Or that favourite saw, that is somehow just easier to work with, even though it’s old and a bit battered.

Often, what makes a good tool work brilliantly is exactly what makes it beautiful.  It’s obvious what it’s for, and how it should be used.  It’s comfortable to work with, easy to maintain.

Good tool designs are timeless, yet it’s often clear that an individual has crafted them and/or worked with them.   They allow for a little personal finessing.

A good tool, like a good process, is one you’re happy to use every day.

It’s one you’re willing to keep in good order, so you can have it to hand always.  It’s a tool you’re proud to share, and proud to pass on when your work is done.

Good processes, like good tools, don’t make work, they enhance it.

Managing what matters

Managing what matters

When you pay a traffic warden by the ticket, you’ve incentivised them to find the easy targets, not to prevent illegal parking, and certainly not to keep the roads safe for other users.   Worse, you’ve incentivised them to pursue minor infractions over major ones.

That’s why my street is full of traffic wardens just before school opens and just after it closes.  It’s why parents arrive 30 minutes before they need to in order to grab a legal parking space, wasting an hour a day just sitting in their cars.   It’s also why everywhere else in my town centre remains plagued by illegal, inconsiderate and dangerous parking.

This kind of simplistic proxy for performance has become endemic, because its easy to measure.   If you can say ‘I’ve hit target’, you’re off the hook as a person, a school, a company or a government department.   Never mind that you’ve actually made life worse for everyone, and really dreadful for some.

What gets measured gets managed, they say.   True.

So start with what you really want, then explore different, creative and possibly multiple ways to measure whether you’re achieving it.

The answer’s unlikely to be a simple tally.  And you may just come up with a completely new approach to the problem.