Discipline makes Daring possible.

Imitiation or inspiration

Imitiation or inspiration

Over the long weekend, I had a good rummage through some of my quilting books.    It was interesting to come back to them after a gap of a few years as they’ve been in storage while we built the extension.

What struck me going through them now, was just how prescriptive some of the project instructions are – specifying exactly which fabrics to use – down to the manufacturer, designer, range and colourway – exactly how to cut the fabric up to get the required number of pieces,  and exactly how to sew them together to make a quilt top.  They are instructions for making a replica of a particular quilt.

I don’t know why, but I find this approach quite disturbing.  Perhaps because it feels like it isn’t really creative.   If I follow the instructions to the letter I’ll get a carbon copy of the quilt in the picture.  There’ll be nothing of me in it.   There’s no real learning in it either.  I learn to follow instructions to replicate a particular quilt, that’s it.

By contrast other books – generally the older ones, are quite freestyle – specifying only ‘light’ or ‘dark’ fabrics together with the number of different shapes needed – assuming that you know how to cut a square or a triangle (or that you’ll refer to the ‘how-to’ section at the beginning of the book).   Some even include pictures of different versions of the same patchwork pattern, so you can see how the look changes with different fabrics.   These are recipes for making a kind of quilt.  Recipes I am encouraged to make my own, right from the beginning.     I learn to think about colours and how they work together, I learn how to think about cutting.  Most importantly, I learn about my own taste.  I learn a process I can apply to different starting materials to generate my own unique results.

For me, the difference between these approaches shows the difference between workflow and process.   Workflow turns human beings into mindless replicators.  Process frees them to be creative.

Imitation or inspiration.    Which would you rather encourage in your team?



What’s the difference between a good stew and a great stew?


Sometimes, leaving things alone for several hours is the best thing you can do.   And as of course you know, the very best stews are tasted the day after you cooked them.

Time is an ingredient we frequently forget to add, and not just to our cooking.    If you’ve got something knotty you’re working hard on or thinking really deeply about, a long bank holiday weekend is an excellent opportunity to add time.

Over the next 3 days, let whatever it is do its thing.   Let it braise, brew, tenderise, meld.   By Tuesday you’ll find yourself with something really tasty.

Till then, enjoy the break.

Facts are the enemies of truth

Facts are the enemies of truth

When you create your own business, the ‘truth’ of why it exists, what it does, who it’s for and how it should work is only in your head.

If you want to grow beyond the impact you can make on your own, you have to find a way to communicate and transfer that truth to the heads of your collaborators.

At that point, we tend to replace our truth with facts.   Facts are controlling, dry, objective, soulless.   We try to flesh the truth out as much as possible by adding too many facts, hiding the very thing we need to reveal.

No wonder people resist, preferring to follow their own idea of the truth – however different that may be from yours.   What’s really needed is a way to position your truth in the space between the people who work together to deliver it.   That way everyone can access it, everyone can question it, everyone can improve it.

Your truth is your Promise of Value.   The space between the people who work together to deliver it is your business.

Make a map of that space that describes how you make and keep your Promise to the people the business serves.   Keep the facts minimal – just enough to indicate concrete action;  allow the truth to shine through.

Leave room for interpretation, dissent and discussion.   Then make sure there’s a process for reaching consensus around a new, better truth.   That’s how your business will grow and evolve.


Thanks to Carlos Saba, for introducing me to the book that inspired this post.  It’s well worth a read.

As easy as breathing

As easy as breathing

Breathing is something that comes naturally to us.     That doesn’t necessarily mean we do it well.

Nature is lazy, it does enough to get by, to survive.   Any more than that is over-engineering and wasteful.  So as we grow up, we learn to breathe badly.    Not noticeably, but badly enough to create problems for ourselves in later life.     Because we assume that since it ‘comes naturally’, we must be good at it.   And because we assume that, we assume that the problems are ‘natural’ too.

Breath‘ by James Nestor will open your eyes to just how much we’re missing out by taking breathing for granted.   Fortunately, it will also open your eyes to how breathing actually works and how it can be improved, through discipline, to create astonishing possibilities.

Breath‘isn’t just a fascinating read, it’s a reminder that understanding how something really works, and using that understanding to improve daily practice, pays dividends.

Literally, if the something is your business.

Structuring emergence

Structuring emergence

The problem with a hierarchical management structure, is that it’s expensive – adding layers of overhead and transaction costs that have to be carried by the revenue-generating part of the business.   Even worse, it encourages everyone working within it to focus on the wrong thing – their immediate boss.  And that makes work miserable for many, especially those at the bottom of the pyramid.

Alternatives to hierarchy, such as holacracy, co-operation and teal address this by delegating much of the management and decision-making to the people at the coal-face – no longer the bottom, but the cutting edge, where the business meets its customers.

This doesn’t reduce overhead that much because in effect, as Dr Julian Birkenshaw of London Business School observes, these structures “replace a vertical bureaucracy with a horizontal one”.    Considerable interaction costs remain as people collaborate and generate consent to create emergent actions.   But at least the focus is where it matters, on the customer, client or stakeholder.

It seems to me that what’s really needed is both structure and emergence.  A structure that takes the thinking out of doing the right thing most of the time, but allows for emergence at the edges to respond to exceptions and to evolve.  The main thing is that both the core structure and the processes for emergence are focused on the same thing – the customer, client or stakeholder.

By now, you know all about my core structure:

Even hierachy works better around this.  Replace that with holacracy, co-operation, teal or responsible autonomy, and your business will fly.

Discipline makes Daring possible.

Measuring productivity

Measuring productivity

When economists talk about productivity, they mean profit per employee.

The trouble is that profit is blind.      Companies can (and do) generate profit in many ways, not all of which create actual value, many of which destroy value.  For example, if I plant a tree in my garden, I create value, but no profit.  If I pay you to plant it, profit arises from the same value created.   If I pay you to cut it down again, more profit is created, but the original value is destroyed.  If you use it to make a piece of furniture, new value is created.

The problem with capitalism is that it depends on the perpetual growth of profit.   That means that once the easy sources of profit (feeding, clothing, housing people) have been used up, new sources have to be found.

Often these seem trivial – meal kits for busy families for example – but others are more troubling.   Weapons of all kinds; drugs that manage the symptoms of chronic illness, but don’t cure; collagen extracted from executed political prisoners; palm oil from trees grown where rainforest once was.  In fact, looked at carefully, almost all our ‘profit’ has come from destroying value somewhere else.

Profit is a very poor proxy for value.   We need to find a better measure.  Urgently.

Pattern Books

Pattern Books

One of the things that put good housing within reach of ordinary people was the pattern book.

Instead of designing and building each house from scratch, an architect could design a basic pattern with variations that any local builder could construct.   The first owners could even personalise their home by choosing features from a list – a parquet floor here, a bay window there, a different bedroom layout.

The result was our typical suburbs, from Hampstead Garden Village through to Metroland and beyond.  Houses that are enough like each other to give a pleasing sense of uniformity and rhythm, but different enough in their details to be lively.

You are the architect of your business.   What if, instead of building each customer experience from scratch, you created a pattern book that your team can start from, and clients can adjust to suit their tastes?



Last year,  at the start of the pandemic, eight staff at the Anchor House Care Home moved in.

They spent 56 nights on makeshift beds, isolated from their own families, to protect their residents.

The result?  Nobody in the home even caught Covid-19.

Anchor House is a small care home, in a lovely old house in Doncaster.  The only one owned by it’s parent company Authentic Care Services Ltd.    According to the CQC it ‘requires improvement’.


Perhaps the CQC isn’t designed to measure what really matters.



I had my hair cut yesterday.   The salon was quiet.  No sound except the background radio and the snip of scissors.

After about 20 minutes one of the hairdressers said “You can tell when we’re enjoying our work, we don’t talk.”

“That’s true,” said mine, “When you really get into it, you just concentrate on what you’re doing, you forget to chat.”

Concentrated silence.   That’s what flow sounds like.

How often do you hear it in your workplace?

Making a dent

Making a dent

What could be better than making your own me-shaped dent in the universe?

Making a we-shaped one.