Discipline makes Daring possible.

How to help the climate anxious

How to help the climate anxious

How do you help the climate anxious (terrified!), overwhelmed by the enormity of what they see coming?

Here’s one way:

– Help them to see the system they are in.
– Enable them to find their own way into an examination of it’s structure.
– Connect the dots, so they can find their best place to take action.
– Show them where others are already making a difference.
– Enrol them into a growing web of actors changing the system.

In other words, give them an opportunity to exercise the agency, mastery and autonomy they crave, for a mighty purpose, in a growing community of like-minded, like-hearted people.

Connect the Carbon Dots is a fine project to be part of.

Pour encourager nous autres

Pour encourager nous autres

On reflection, I’d add one more thing to Ari Weinzweig’s definition of Good Profit:

Good Profit, I will now say, appears when multiple ecosystems are all benefited at the same time:

  • Our inner ecosystem
  • Our client’s inner ecosystem
  • The ecosystem of the organization in which the profit is produced
  • The ecosystem of the community of which that organization is a part 
  • The greater ecology of the planet”

That makes some Bad Profits easy to spot:  sell addictive and harmful substances, wrapped in plastic, powered by lithium and destined to litter the streets, to people who are desperate, or bored.  Vapes, alcohol, gambling, ultra-processed food, toxic social media.

These industries are clearly making Bad Profits at all levels except perhaps one: “The ecosystem of the organization in which the profit is produced”.  Even this is questionable – how must it feel to work for one of them?

Business making Good Profits are not as easy to spot, perhaps because one aspect of Good Profits is that they tend to be lower (which is also Good, because too much money in the hands of too few people distorts the system). So it’s important that we share them when we find them, so they can grow.

Here are a couple of examples I know:

  • New Dawn Traders:
    • An alliance of regenerative producers, sailing ships, allies at small ports and like-minded customers.  Customers buy from port allies near them .  The port allies place orders with the broker.  The sailing ship collects cargo from the producers, cares for it at sea, and delivers it to the various small ports.   Everyone gains – producers are paid better, access new markets, ships earn extra income, broker and port allies get their share and customers get top quality at fair prices. Nobody’s exploited, the earth is cared for, almost no carbon is released. Every ecosystem is nurtured.
  • Earth Runs and the 1% club:
    • People get active, trees get planted. The right kind, where needed. Carbon is captured, jobs created.  So far they’ve “planted over 130,000 trees, got over 1,750 people active, provided 1,900 days of fairly paid work for our tree-planting communities and kept the equivalent of 783kg of unwanted medals out of landfill.” Every ecosystem is nurtured.


You know some small businesses making Good Profits.

Please share – “pour encourager nous autres”.

Discipline makes Daring possible.

Why I do what I do

Why I do what I do

You’ve probably heard of Charles Babbage as the inventor of the earliest form of computer.   You probably haven’t heard of him as an analyst of manufacturing – a Taylorist long before Taylor:

(250.) We have seen, then, that the effect of the division of labour, both in mechanical and in mental operations, is, that it enables us to purchase and apply to each process precisely that quantity of skill and knowledge which is required for it: we avoid employing any part of the time of a man who can get eight or ten shillings a day by his skill in tempering needles, in turning a wheel, which can be done for sixpence a day; and we equally avoid the loss arising from the employment of an accomplished mathematician in performing the lowest processes of arithmetic.

(251.) …there are a hundred and two distinct branches of this art [watchmaking], to each of which a boy may be put apprentice: and that he only learns his master’s department, and is unable, after his apprenticeship has expired, without subsequent instruction, to work at any other branch. The watch-finisher, whose business is to put together the scattered parts, is the only one, out of the hundred and two persons, who can work in any other department than his own.

(252.) In one of the most difficult arts, that of Mining, great improvements have resulted from the judicious distribution of the duties; and under the arrangements which have gradually been introduced, the whole system of the mine and its government is now placed under the control of the following officers.

  1. A Manager, who has the general knowledge of all that is to be done, and who may be assisted by one or more skilful persons.
  2. Underground Captains direct the proper mining operations, and govern the working miners.
  3. The Purser and Book-keeper manage the accounts.
  4. The Engineer erects the engines, and superintends the men who work them.
  5. A chief Pitman has charge of the pumps and the apparatus of the shafts.
  6. A Surface-captain, with assistants, receives the ores raised, and directs the dressing department, the object of which is to render them marketable.
  7. The head Carpenter superintends many constructions.
  8. The foreman of the Smiths regulates the ironwork and tools.
  9. A Materials-man selects, purchases, receives and delivers all articles required.
  10. The Roper has charge of ropes and cordage of all sorts.”

Charles Babbage, from “On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures“.

Babbage was an abolitionist.  He could afford to be.   He had found a way of applying some of the technologies developed to control plantation slaves (division of labour, supervision, surveillance through record keeping) to the ‘free’ workers of his native country, so that an industrialist could extract the maximum value from their work at minimum cost and minimum risk of revolt.

He was in at the beginning of a long tradition of thinking of business as machines, and trying to turn humans into robots.

In my own small way, a few amazing small businesses at a time, I’m trying to reverse this by:

  • Enabling a business to structure itself around the value they create for their clients, rather than the means of controlling the workforce, and to give everyone who works in it  access to ‘the big picture’ of what, who for and why.
  • Enabling everyone inside the business to take responsibility (not necessarily the execution) for the entire end-to-end process of making and keeping promises, and gain the satisfaction of doing the whole job.  And/Or to negotiate what processes or activities they perform according to their strengths, personailities and interests and those of their fellows.
  • Supporting people with a framework that gives them (and the business as a whole) confidence that they doing the right thing, along with the freedom to adapt it as they see fit to suit their own personality, the situation and the client in front of them.
  • Eliminating the need for managers and administrators.  People manage processes, not other people, and admin is a side-effect of doing the job.
  • Replacing record-keeping with feedback, immediately and transparently shared to the people running the process, so they can use their judgement on how to deal with exceptions or improve the system.

In a nutshell, to turn an amazing business into a self-managing ecosystem, that can scale, evolve and make more impact because everyone in it is ‘the boss’.

The original boss disappears, not because they leave, but because they have blended in.  And when they need to leave, they can, easily, without having to lose the business too.

Discipline makes Daring possible.

Ask me how.

Good profit, bad profit

Good profit, bad profit

The idea of ‘de-growth’ is often presented as a backward step for us, a return to a life that would be ‘nasty, brutish and short’.  What would happen if we no longer had industry making new stuff, or businesses could no longer make profit?  It all seems pretty negative.

No wonder people aren’t rushing to change their ways.

So I was really pleased to read Ari Weinzweig’s newsletter today, in which he splits ‘profit’ into ‘good profit’ and bad profit’.

Good Profit, I will now say, appears when multiple ecosystems are all benefited at the same time:

  • Our inner ecosystem
  • The ecosystem of the organization in which the profit is produced
  • The ecosystem of the community of which that organization is a part 
  • The greater ecology of the planet”

As I’ve said before, we had businesses, markets, and profits before we had capitalism, and for sure some of those profits were bad. I’m not advocating a return to feudalism.

But what this tells me is that there is a way to think about addressing the climate crisis that can fit with our needs as small businesses.

Simply strive always to make Good Profits – that actively benefit as many of these ecosystems as we can.

I thoroughly recommend Ari’s newsletter.  The Zingerman’s Community of Companies is an inspiring and interesting ecosystem, that has thrived by going their own way.

Discipline makes Daring possible.

A self-managing system

A self-managing system

This junction, near where I live, used to be managed by traffic lights.  It’s a busy junction on the relief road around the town centre.   It’s used by cars crossing through the town in 4 directions, buses getting into the town centre, and pedestrians heading to the shops or to catch a bus.

With traffic lights, everyone had equal priority.   Queues of cars and buses would build up, while each lane took it’s turn.  Pedestrians would wait for 5 minutes or so to get their turn.  At rush hour, the car queues would back up a long way, making everyone grumpy and selfish, blocking the junction for everyone.

Then, several years ago, it was turned into this roundabout.

A roundabout is a pretty wonderful invention.   It’s not really a thing, but a protocol, a set of rules based on responsible autonomy.  A driver chooses when to use it, responsible not just for their own safety, but also the safety of other users.    Busy roundabouts aren’t always great through, the entrance with the heaviest traffic ends up having a de-facto higher priority than the others, and at busy times, pedestrians barely get a look in.

For the best possible flow of traffic, the answer was to make the roundabout part of a shared space like this, where pedestrian crossing places (but not zebra crossings, which would give pedestrians priority) are clearly marked, and the painted roundabout gives drivers a clue how to use it, but not the priority a built-up roundabout with signage would give them over pedestrians.

The roundabout protocol governs the cars at busy times, and the uncertainty of the pedestrian crossings means at all times, everyone has to slow down, look at their fellow road users and negotiate their way across the space.

The difference this made was immediate and huge.   It’s busy at rush hours, and that makes drivers a little less likely to stop for pedestrians, but its never been as bad as it was before.

But what I only realised the other week, when I took this photo, was that in this space, the pedestrians make the roundabout work even better.

A pedestrian crossing one arm of the junction can break a flow of car traffic and give cars on another arm a chance to get on the roundabout.  So even at busy times, traffic flows more or less smoothly, because when there are more cars, there are also more pedestrians to interrupt the flow.

The best thing of all though, is that this setup enables people to see each other as people – we make eye contact, acknowledge each others’ presence and most of the time behave graciously towards each other.

It’s a self-managing system, with people at its heart.


What’s the relevance of this to a small business?

Well, a founder usually starts off as a set of traffic lights, controlling everything strictly from the centre.

When this gets too much, they might delegate the traffic lights job to a manager, a ‘traffic cop’.  Which isn’t much fun for the traffic cop and doesn’t change anything for road users.

Or they install policies, rules, procedures, expecting people to follow them with the same level of strictness.  Which makes things better, but still not as flexible as they could be, and certainly not as much fun.   Things still get clogged up at busy times, and pedestrians (the people) often get ignored.

My answer is to put a system like this into place:

Install a protocol based on responsible autonomy (a Customer Experience Score), into a shared space of values (your Promise of Value), that’s focused on the desired outcome (Making and Keeping your Promise to customers) and gives plenty of room for gracious flexibility.    To create a self-managing system, with people at its heart.  No supervision required.

Discipline makes Daring possible.   But only when the Discipline isn’t rigid.

Ask me how.

Circular economies

Circular economies

Humans have lived in circular economies for an awfully long time, and recognised that fact in their art, thinking and rituals.  The ancient Egyptians knew that dung beetles ensure that every day, the sun rises on a world in balance, neither knee-deep in dung, nor barren rock.

It’s only since around 1500 CE that we fell into the living linear trap required for the perpetual growth of profits – take, make, consume, waste.

Perpetual growth of what really matters – health, wellbeing, community, creativity, ingenuity, beauty, equity etc. etc. – the possibilities are literally infinite – is best served when we think in circles and eco-systems instead of  assembly lines and machines.

We’ve done it before, we can do it again.

How much better could we do it knowing what we know now?

Many people, businesses and organisations are already finding that out.

What are you waiting for?

Discipline makes Daring possible.

Dead space

Dead space

This weekend my husband and I crossed another thing off our ‘to-visit’ list.  We went to Canning Town and had a bit of a wander.  Steve was looking for where the Bridgehouse used to be (a pub he used to visit for  live music in the 70s) as well as the housing development site he worked on as a student in the late 80’s.  The pub is long gone, but the housing is looking nice, low-rise, semis and terraces with neighbourly gardens, set on the edge of the park that replaced the old victorian streets.

While we were there we took a look at the shops in Barking Road, then down to City Island, a brand new development nestled in a loop of the river Lea.

What struck me was the contrast between the two.  Barking Road is scruffy, some might say run-down, but lively and full of little independent shops (including a Portuguese shop and cafe that made its own pasteis de nata) and some impressive former local authority buildings.   City Island is brand new, high-rise, colourful, but samey.

And strangely dead.

A pedestrianised area goes through it, and there are shops, restaurants, a yoga studio, nursery and gym, with typical ‘city’ planting.

The space looks public, but isn’t.

The shops and restaurants are almost anonymous, the only branding the London City Island E14 logo.  The windows are dark, so you can’t see in, or tell whether they are open.  It’s a sunny lunchtime, but nobody’s around.

There are green spaces, but nowhere to sit in them, and certainly nowhere to play.  The last thing the landlord wants is to leave money on the table, and it shows.  Like a theme park, every experience is predetermined, everything is ‘provided’, but only at a cost.

“They’re just warehouses for people,” my husband said, “you’re only really meant to sleep in them, handy for your job in the city.  They’re not for living in.”

I’ve noticed the same about a lot of new places in London – Canary Wharf, Canada Water, Woolwich Arsenal, the South Bank, Elephant Park, Deptford.

The marketing literature likes to call these places, ‘Vibrant‘.


Pretty bleak, I’d call them.

I know where I’d rather live.

The point about a Score

The point about a Score

The point about a musical score is that it tells you where you are, what comes next and where you’re trying to get to.

So when your bow breaks in the middle of your passionately executed violin solo, you can simply borrow one from the lead violinist and carry on. And so can the rest of the orchestra.

Ok, the pause breaks the illusion for a second or two, but the experience as a whole doesn’t break down. In fact, it becomes more memorable.

Not because it ‘failed’ but because of the ease with which it was got going again.

The only change you might want to make afterwards is to add a spare bow to each performance.

The point about a customer experience score is that it enables you to keep your promise, creatively, no matter what.

Discipline makes Daring possible

Ask me how.

HT to @Bev Costoya for the prompt.

Why create a Customer Experience Score?

Why create a Customer Experience Score?

Why write down your Customer Experience Score?  I can think of at least 6 reasons:

  • Memory.
    • Without a Customer Experience Score, some of the knowledge of “what we do here” and as importantly, “how we do things round here” and “why we do what we do” gets lost every time one of your ‘good people’ leaves.  This knowledge also gets changed as new people join and bring their previous experience with them.
    • This can be overcome by a founder that spends time and energy ‘policing’ the culture (think Steve Jobs), but one day even the founder will disappear.
    • A Customer Experience Score gives your business a memory of its own, outside the heads of the people in it – including you.
    • That memory needn’t be prescriptive. The most detailed score still leaves room for interpretation, and you can make it more improv if that’s your style, but the main thing is that if the business always remembers the “what”, “how” and “why”, your people don’t need to make it up as they go along.
  • Detachment.
    • As Japanese businesses know well, what I call a Customer Experience Score embodies the ‘thing’ a group of people are working on – whether that’s a play, a car, a building or a service.
    • This allows a certain level of separation between ‘what I am trying to achieve‘ and ‘who I am‘, which makes it much easier for everyone involved to discuss and agree improvements, because it’s ‘the thing’ that’s being judged, not ‘me’.   Free from the fear of personal criticism, your good people can eagerly look for ways to make things better.
  • Confidence.
    • Having a Customer Experience Score to follow while they learn, gives people confidence that they are doing the right thing.
    • Once people are confident that they know what they are doing, they don’t wait to be made accountable – they take responsibility.  With the confidence of a process behind them, your good people can pretty much manage themselves.
  • Emotion.
    • Most modern businesses, large and small, involve interactions of some kind – with other employees, customers, and suppliers.
    • These interactions require emotional labour – listening; empathising, being present to the other person as well as intellectual labour – pattern-matching, imagining potential scenarios, reviewing possible solutions etc..
    • Without a Customer Experience Score these interactions become harder than they need to be, because every interaction is treated as unique, where in fact they fall into common patterns, with unique features.
    • Your Customer Experience Score captures what has to happen in the common patterns, giving your people a framework to work from that doesn’t need much thinking about.
    • A Score frees up intellectual and emotional energy to be spent on the unique and personal aspects of regular interactions, and on the exceptions that either prove the rule, or highlight the start of a new pattern.  With their heads cleared of the routine, your good people can use their hearts to do more than keep your promises – they can confidently exceed them.
  • Automation.
    • The hardest part of automating any process or function is specifying exactly what it is you’re trying to do.  This is so hard that most people skip this step, trusting the software to do this job for them.  The trouble is, off the shelf software is by necessity, targeted at a mass market, while you have your own unique way of making and keeping promises.  This means either conforming to the way everyone else does things, or worse, automating the details, without understanding the process as a whole.  With a Customer Experience Score, you can use automation (even off the shelf) to strengthen your uniqueness, not dilute it.
  • Longevity.
    • Not even I would say that a Customer Experience Score can be designed to deal with every possible scenario, exception or eventuality, and without good people a Score-based business gradually fossilises and becomes irrelevant, or worse, gets completely out of step with its environment.
    • Good people can handle exceptions appropriately when they occur. They can also identify when those exceptions are due to environmental changes that need to be dealt with by adjusting the Score.
    • Good people spark off constraints (such as a process), they ad-lib, improvise, invent workarounds, dream up ridiculous scenarios that open up new opportunities.  With a solid framework to play in, good people bring a business to life – they make it human.  A Customer Experience Score enables people to keep your business alive and human for generations to come.

Discipline makes Daring possible.

Ask me how.

Blackmail – the new business model?

Blackmail – the new business model?

Is it just me, or is anyone else worried/annoyed/infuriated by the rise of ‘Clubcard Prices’, ‘Nectar Prices’ and the like?

I keep a pretty good track of prices in my head, and from what I could see, ‘Clubcard Prices’ weren’t lower than the usual prices elsewhere.  It was simply an opportunity to put ‘normal’ prices up, by quite a percentage.

Harmless enough, until every other member of the supermarket cartel joins in of course.

To me it feels very much like ‘Give us your loyalty, or you’ll pay extra for everything’.

Since when has blackmail been an acceptable business model?