Discipline makes Daring possible.



Back in 1960 Albert B. Lord published a book called “The Singer of Tales“.

In it he shows that in a culture without writing, epic poems and stories are not shared by memorising them word for word, line for line.   Each and every performance – even from the same speaker,  is a reconstruction, a re-creation.

A storyteller is able to do this because they work within an enabling framework, in the form of some key constraints. For example:

  • The storyline is well-known by everyone, so things have to happen in the order they are meant to happen.
  • The heroes and heroines are well-known to everyone, they are recognised by certain key characteristics, summed up in familiar phrases.  These phrases must appear, attached to the right people in the story (or perhaps mis-attached for comic effect) for it to be ‘true’.
  • A poem must follow a particular rhyme and rhythm or metre.   This severely limits the number of words it is possible to use, and therefore the number of words the reciter has to hold in memory.
  • The storyteller operates inside a culture, which has certain expectations about how the world works.  These must be reflected in the recitation if it is to be successful.

The point is that even though each recitation effectively starts from scratch and is actually different from every other, it is perceived by both the speaker and their audience as being a word-perfect, faithful repetition of the last time they heard it.    Every telling is perceived as identical to all other tellings, because against all the criteria that matter, it is.

Once we have writing, everything changes.  Writing is of course a way of putting knowledge ‘in the world’, rather than ‘in the head’.  But there are drawbacks.  Multiple versions of an epic poem get written down, but from now on they are read, not re-created.  All too often a single version becomes canonical – the one against which all others are judged.   We gain in practicality, but lose sponteneity, creativity, surprise.

It seems to me though that it is possible to have the best of both worlds:

  • The bones of a storyline are written down so everything happens in the right order;
  • Key roles are written down so they can be identified and clearly signalled;
  • Stock phrases and formulas are given to act as starters for ten until practice has enabled a person to generate their own;
  • Cultural boundaries are clearly stated – “the least that should happen is…”, “Remember this part of our Promise of Value here”.

That’s what makes a good Customer Experience Score.   Enough constraints to ensure the experience is perceived as consistent, plenty of room for a given person to make that experience personal.  Written down so everyone can learn it, practice it and improve it. On purpose.

In your head, in the world

In your head, in the world

The reason you can wander around a new town centre without getting run over is that you don’t have to remember or even really know, how a town centre works.  The information you need to navigate and interact with it successfully is built into its design.

Pavements tell you where you can walk.  Kerbs tell you where the pavement ends.  Different paving tells you which parts are pedestrianised.  Black and white stripes tell you where you can cross the parts reserved for motor vehicles. Shopfronts and market stalls tell you where you can buy things. Litter bins tell you where to put rubbish.

Much of the knowledge of what a town centre is and how to use it is ‘in the world’, which means it doesn’t have to be in your head.  Once you’ve encountered one town centre, you have a mental model – an enabling framework – that you can apply to the next, without having to remember every detail.

Knowledge ‘in the world’ enables us to use our experience to deal with the new and unexpected safely.   When our town centre introduced ‘shared space’ – space that pedestrians and motor vehicles are meant to share nicely – they helpfully made it from patterned paving so walkers didn’t mistake it for a pedestrianised area, in black and white so that cars knew to expect pedestrians.  They also added low-level signage to tell everyone this was something new.

It’s worked brilliantly.

Knowledge ‘in the world’ saves us brain space and effort.

So why do we business owners insist on trapping all the knowledge of how our business should work inside our heads?



I’ve missed out on so many diseases – whooping cough, diptheria, rubella, polio, tuberculosis – as a result of being inoculataed against them at an early age.    And I am very grateful.

Now it seems that people can be ‘inoculated’ against spreading misinformation too.

By showing people youtube videos explaining the techniques used to manipulate them into liking and sharing, it seems people are more able to spot the manipulation happening in other videos.

That’s good news I think.

The bad news is that these videos are being developed by Google, who will decide which societies are ‘in need of’ inoculation.

The techniques are well known and have been used for centuries by politicians, newspapers and advertisers.

Perhaps, instead of relying on the kindness of Google,we could inoculate people early, and just start teaching this stuff in schools?

The revenge of Muri – a reprise

The revenge of Muri – a reprise

When times look good, or you think nobody will notice, it’s tempting to overload systems, processes and people.
A little cut here, a small increase in workload there.    A freeze on recruitment, a delay of re-equipping or upgrading.    It has no visible effect on the bottom line.    You get away with it.
So it becomes tempting to do it again.    To ‘keep it lean’, ‘cut no slack’, ask people to ‘lean in’, commit 100% 110%, 120%, 150%.
And again.
And again.
Then, when you’ve cut everything to the bone and built your entire system on just in time, lowest cost, no slack, it doesn’t take much to bring the whole thing crashing down.
It’s not rocket science.   We are part of a system.   Overloading any part of it is not sensible behaviour.  Overloading all of it at once is madness.

Freeloaders will try, of course, because it means they can extract a higher immediate return.   Blind to the fact that they will not be able to enjoy it.
It’s up to the rest of us to prevent them.   For their sakes as well as ours.



We all think we’re going to live forever.

We go through life making our dent in the universe without giving a thought to what might happen to it after we’ve gone.  If we think of a legacy at all, we think of it as money or assets to be left to our children.

There are other ways.

Artists leave a body of work that can remind everyone that comes after of their unique dent.   Writers or composers do even better.  They leave behind the means to re-create their work, so their unique dent can actually get wider and deeper for hundreds of years after they’ve turned to dust.

And many of us start enterprises.  Most of which will die when we do, even when they are successful.

Why?  When with a little effort, we could leave the means to continually renew and expand our dent to reach everyone who needs it for generations to come?

That’s what I’d call a legacy.

And my mission is to help business owners like you leave yours – for generations to come.





Stick insects confuse their predators on purpose.   They pretend to be a twig.  A predator already has a mental model of what a twig is and how it works, which doesn’t include being edible.  So it leaves the insect ‘twig’ alone.

We humans confuse people all the time.  Sometimes on purpose, most often by accident.   We assume that our mental model of the thing we’re building will be obvious to everyone who buys it, uses it or operates it.   Yet that is rarely the case.

Take a small business.  For a shareholder or investor it’s a machine for generating returns.   For founders it’s a way to make a dent in the universe or their route to a coveted lifestyle.  For their accountant it’s a set of connected accounts.  For an operations manager it’s a set of loosely related functions, one of which they probably consider to be the most important.  For some employees it’s a means to enjoy life outside work.  For others it’s a lifeline, and for others still a vocation.   For a customer it’s a solution to a problem.

Conflicting mental models pull people in different directions and make the thing you’re building confusing, less effective and ultimately unusable.

The answer?

  • Use a model that is simple, easy to communicate and effective in delivering what everyone wants.
  • Design the thing you’re building around that model, so that the way it works clearly reflects the concept behind it.
  • Share your model in your marketing materials, shareholder reports, filed accounts, operations manual, help guides and status reports, so that it becomes a joy to interact with, whatever your role.

If you’re a small business owner, you might like to use mine:

It works well, if you want to create a business that can last or that can grow.

Or both, if that’s what you want.



When there’s a heatwave on, the best thing for me to do is to sit still and read.  Or colour in.

The reason I have such a big library is that I can’t help following threads from one book to another. Sometimes I keep on picking up new threads, often I go back on myself and revisit old favourites.

Eventually they all get darned in together, to make something new and familiar, well-worn and stronger, decorated by repairs.

Like a Pearly King’s suit, or my lovely old linen sheet, too fine and lovely to throw away, so kept just for heatwaves.

By accident or design?

By accident or design?

One day you will have to leave your business.    Will that be by design or by accident?

If you feel strongly about what happens to it once you’re gone, leaving by design is by far the better option.   And the best time to start is now.

After all, you never know what’s around the corner.

Are you building to sell or to last?

Are you building to sell or to last?

Are you building your business to sell or to last?

The answer makes a huge difference to what you do before you leave – even if in the end you sell it.

And if the answer’s ‘Neither‘?

Then your business dies with you.

There’s no right answer.

It just helps to be clear.

Keep it simple, stupid

Keep it simple, stupid

I’m facing a really interesting challenge at the moment.

Over many years I’ve developed a methodology, notation and software for capturing a Customer Experience Score in a way that suits people rather than machines.  My notation is very simple.  There aren’t many rules, and even those are only casually enforced.

This is because it’s all about making it easy for ordinary mortals.   Whether that’s a business owner wanting to capture their desired customer experience or one of their colleagues wanting to learn what’s needed to deliver that experience.   My aim is to make the software easy to learn and easy to use, and above all flexible so that the people using it can start scrappy, and build up to whatever level of detail works for them.

My challenge now is that some of those humans want to generate something more formal from their Score, something that needs clear rules to produce an output.

It’s interesting because it’s showing me how fuzzy (and sometimes inconsistent) my logic is.  This is fine for humans, because humans are perfectly capable of interpreting fuzziness, and in any case I want to leave plenty of room for interpretation.  It’s not so fine for software.

One approach would be to make the tool more rigorous, more constrained, more precise.  In other words, to make it more machine-like.   But that would mean adding levels of detail that would soon become excruciating for any ordinary mortal.

No, my work is all about liberating humans to be human, so I have to find another way, and I think it’s this:   If humans are good with fuzziness and nuance, and machines are not, let the machine ignore all that and concentrate on the essentials.

For stupid machines, the answer might just be to keep it simple.