Discipline makes Daring possible.

Early learning

Early learning

In the olden days, there was only one button you could use to request the bus driver to stop, and in the outskirts of Newcastle, where I grew up, only one person could press it – the bus conductor.

No exceptions.

There were other rules too.   There was a special school bus, which only allowed children on board.   And where there was a school bus, children weren’t allowed on the normal (rush-hour) buses.

No exceptions.

Until my first day at primary school.

My mum wanted to take me on my first day.   It was a fair way to go, so she thought we’d get the bus.

But I wasn’t allowed on the ordinary bus.  She wasn’t allowed on the school bus.

No exceptions.

My mum argued:

It’s her first day, I want to take her myself.

No exceptions.

“It’s just for the first day”

No exceptions.

“Surely you’ve had this happen before?”

No exceptions

It wasn’t just stubbornness on her part.  She realised that it wasn’t just her, it was every mum that missed out.*

She staged a 1-mum sit in until she got her way.

In theory, having separate buses during rush-hour was a great idea.   But the people who designed it hadn’t thought of the human aspect – that most mums would want to accompany their child to their first day at school.  If they had thought of it, it could have been easily accommodated, with an extra bus on the first day of a new school year, and exceptions allowed in between.

Instead they made the whole experience stressful for everyone.

I don’t know if my mum changed anything permanently, but at least she tried.

We were late for school, but I learned something useful that morning.

If you think something is wrong, don’t just put up with it, do something.


*I should mention that my mum had form. At her school, she’d successfully negotiated a permanent change of uniform for 16 – 18 year old girls – away from St Trinan-style gymslips to a more comfortable and becoming blouse and skirt ensemble.



I’ve been re-reading a book I found at the back of one of my bookshelves the other month: “Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being“, by the poet Ted Hughes.   I bought it in a remainder shop 30-odd years ago, so it can’t have been that popular, but it is well worth a read.

The first thing that struck me from the book was this:

“The whole business of art, which even at it’s most naturalistic is some kind of attempt at ‘ritualisation’, is to reopen negotiations with the mythic plane.  The artistic problem is to objectify the mythic plane satisfactorily – so that it produces those benefits of therapeutic catharsis, social bonding and psychological renewal – without becoming unintelligible, and without spoiling the audience for adaptive, practical life on the realistic plane.   The human problem is that life evolves at different speeds on the two planes.”

Shakespeare wrote and worked during what could be called the early Anthopocene – at the point where humans started to see themselves as separate from nature and the natural world as a free resource to be exploited.  Where we learned to separate mind and body, head and heart, individual and community, real and mythic, male and female, and decided that only one half of each pair was acceptable.  Violence, ‘the boar’s charge’ ensues.

According to Hughes, Shakespeare mapped the psychological consequences of this through his plays, and found a way to reconcile these pairs in a new configuration.   Unfortunately, no other artists took up his reconciliation, and the separation continued.  Which could be how we’ve ended up in Boardom.  A world of seemingly arbitrary human rage and disconnection from what makes us fully human.

It’s a poet’s view.  But I think he might be on to something.

Living with it

Living with it

1,496 people died when the Titanic sank.  A tragedy that led to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, new “Rules for Life Saving Appliances”; the US Radio Act of 1912 and the formation of the US International Ice Patrol.   Back then, there was clearly a desire to prevent this kind of thing from happening again.

Last week 1,557 people died due to coronavirus in the UK.  A Titanic’s worth.

Yesterday 346 people died.  More than a Lockerbie’s worth.

In total, 154,702 of us have died.  So far.  More than 3 Blitzes worth.

Still, that’s OK.   We can live with that, can’t we?

I worry that we can.

Dream Teams

Dream Teams

I’ve been reading the Netflix employee handbook – or at least versions of it that are used as exampes online.  It’s pretty well summarised on their jobs page.

There’s a lot I love.

The idea that responsibility comes with freedom:

  • “Our version of the great workplace is a dream team in pursuit of ambitious common goals”
  • “We believe that people thrive on being trusted, on freedom, and on being able to make a difference.”
  • “In general, freedom and rapid recovery is better than trying to prevent error.”
  • “Some processes are about increased productivity, rather than error avoidance, and we like processes that help us get more done.”

Or that in a dream team, the team comes first:

  • “On a dream team, there are no “brilliant jerks.” The cost to teamwork is just too high.”

Or that managment is about creating context, rather than controlling:

  • “We pride ourselves on how few, not how many, decisions senior management makes.”

Or that by being highly aligned at the top enables loose coupling lower down:

  • “We spend lots of time debating strategy together, and then trust each other to execute on tactics without prior approvals.”

So what is it I’m finding uncomfortable?

I think it might be this:

  • Mostly for our salaried employees; there are many limitations on this for our hourly employees due to legal requirements.

and this:

  • ” Sustained “B” performance, despite an “A” for effort, gets a respectful severance package.”

Why does this make me uncomfortable?

Because the “Dream Team” can’t function without the people who work behind the scenes.

Mainly because the threat of expulsion at the whim of your boss feels like the worst kind of control to me.

Our best selves

Our best selves

Being ‘all of yourself, to everyone, all of the time‘ is what we might call being our ‘best selves’, our ‘whole selves’.

If you want your people to bring that ‘whole self’ to work, you have to make sure the work feeds it properly:

  • logical and creative,
  • thinking and feeling,
  • independent and communal,
  • autonomous and collaborative,
  • leading and following,
  • familiar and innovative,
  • left brain and right brain,
  • etcetera,
  • etcetera,

If you only use half the person, you’ll only get half the job.

In other words, the work needs to empower them to be fully human.

The investment pays off.   Handsomely.



I loved this image from Seth Godin’s blog post today: It reminds me of one of my favourite diagrams: We … Read More “Leaders”

Slow reading

Slow reading

I read a lot, and I read fast.   But sometimes it’s nice to ‘slow down’, by reading something longer – a sequence of books that encompass individual stories as part of a larger whole.

It could be non-fiction, like Hobsbawm’s ‘Age of’ series, or crime fiction such as the Martin Beck series by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, or Reginald Hill’s Dalziel & Pascoe novels.  Or it could even be children’s fiction, like Harry Potter or this series from Susan Cooper.

Whatever it is, there’s something very satisfying about working through individual books, adding to the bigger picture as you go, seeing the main characters grow, enjoying the references back to earlier stories or characters, or seeing the same story told from a different perspective, or simply noticing how the author’s writing style develops.   It feels more rounded, more rich, more true to life than a simple jog from ‘once upon a time’ to ‘happy ever after’.

Perhaps I enjoy them because in these works the authors create an entire tapestry, not just a single thread.  An ecosystem, rather than a single process.  An ecosystem that can generate many different stories, not just the ones that happen to have been told.

There’s nothing wrong with telling a simple tale, or with building an ecosystem.    You just need to know which one you’re aiming for.

Much like a business then.



For the ancient Athenians, elections were profoundly unsatisfactory.  The idea of devolving responsibility for running Athenian life to a few people simply because they could afford to do it full time was, for them, disturbing, and likely to lead to demagoguery, factionalism, and ultimately tyranny.

So for most public offices their preferred method of selection was sortition – a random selection from a pool of eligible citizens, much like our modern jury service.  Posts were held temporarily and short term, so that during his life a free Athenian could expect to serve many times in several different capacities, part of a group of people performing the same office.

Of course to our eyes, the system was far from perfect.  Only free men were in the pool of eligibility, but within that pool, it didn’t matter who you were; what you did, how well you were educated, or how much you owned.  If you were a free Athenian man, you could be picked and you took your turn at making Athens run smoothly.

And it meant that every free Athenian man had to be able to carry out these duties if called upon.  They had to learn how things worked, as part of their education, and by participating as observers as well as actors.

It took a lot of effort to run things this way (effort freed up by slaves), but it seems to have been effective at making a life well lived (eudaimonia) possible for everyone involved.

Nowadays we’d use technology to free up people’s time and call it participatory democracy, or holacracy, or Teal, or self-management.

The Athenians just called it democracy.



Humans keep most of their brain cells in their heads.

Which means that our bodies, sensing the world around us, have to send messages ‘up the line’ and wait for instructions before they can act.  That’s an exaggeration of course, we have automatic reflexes.  But on the whole, if I want to move my legs, my brain has to tell them to do it first.

Octopuses have a different model of intelligence.  Most of their brain cells are in their tentacles.  Which means that each tentacle has its own ‘brain’.  Tentacles are autonomous, able to operate independently of the head-brain, and of each other, yet also connected.  Tentacles can even have different ‘personalities’ – some are ‘shy’, some are ‘bold’, and so will react differently to the world around them- enriching the information collected and minimising risk to the organism as a whole.

You can probably see where I’m going with this.  Over their 155 million years of evolution, octopuses have mastered the art of effective delegation. For them ‘The Boss’ has all but disappeared.  9 brains are better than one.

We could learn something from them.