Saturday, December 08, 2012

Facebook vs. Google+ Communities - Is it talkers vs. doers?

If you have a special interest, you may see a lot more action in a Google+ Community than on Facebook. After two days in Google's The Photo Community, my photos had garnered more interest than I have been able to build after years on Facebook.
Google may have hit it off big with its newest product: Google+ Communities.

Two days ago I joined The Photo Community at Google+. The community was created by Trey Ratcliff, a very well known HDR photographer. After two days in The Photo Community, I have gotten into contact with more photographers than I have during the past two years on Facebook. The reason for the different results: The design of the new Google+ Communities.

I am an amateur photographer, and I have spent a couple of years building a photo library at Facebook. some time ago, I started doing the same thing at Google+, but initially it was a bit disappointing. I found other photographers, added them to my own photography circle, and posted photos, but there was little response. The design of Google+ made it easy to find people with shared interests, but it also made it difficult to get noticed.

This changed in a big way two days ago. Google Communities aim to make it very easy to discover people with shared interests. Interested in photography? The Photo Community is very easy to find. (Though I admit, ironically, I found it on Facebook, because Trey Ratcliff posted an invitation.)

A community can be divided into sub-communities. For example, I posted the Scaly Leaves photo in the Anything Goes subgroup, but the sunken boat in the Black & White Photos subgroup.

Different social media sites have different characteristics:

Twitter makes it extremely easy to connect with people who have similar interests, but you also need to use filters to get rid of lots of useless noise. You can't do much on Twitter, except post brief messages and links to interesting stuff.

LinkedIn is great for building a network of business contacts, but sadly, doing things together with those contacts is very difficult. I know from experience, because The LESS Author Group used LinkedIn as the main network hub while writing LESS!. I set up a LESS! forum on LinkedIn because I knew everyone in the group had accounts there. Unfortunately, LinkedIn lacks the tools you need to do things: You can't upload files to other group members, you can't post pictures or other media, no face-to-face communication...

Facebook is of course the largest community, but the noise to signal ratio is incredibly bad. You get advertised to death, people you barely know insist on telling you what they had for lunch (often with photos), you get invitations that are aimed at tricking you into opening up your contact data, and it is well difficult to find anyone who wants to do anything but smother you with their interests, or sell you something. The smothering, by the way, is not due to people on Facebook being especially boring. It is inherent in the design of Facebook. Facebook has affordances encouraging people to post everything in a general stream, even if there are special interest groups.

The big thing about Google+ Communities is that the affordances drive people in the other direction: It is more attractive to post in a community than to post in a general stream. The effect of that shows in the  diagram at the top of this article.

I strongly suspect that Google+ communities will turn out to bring something else into the game: The combination of communities, media upload, and video conferencing, makes Google+ communities very attractive for doers:

If you want to start a company, make a movie, become a better surfer, produce an interactive eBook, become a top notch photographer or writer, start a rock band, or coordinate a political campaign, you can find people and coordinate activities using Google+ Communities much easier than you can using other social media web sites. It does not mean the other sites are useless, far from it, but a Google+ Community is likely to be the major activity hub.

Monday, December 03, 2012

The Reality Dysfunction

I was asked to submit a presentation proposal to Stop Starting, Start Finishing, the Lean Kanban Nordic conference, 12-13 Mars, 2013, so I did:

If the proposal gets enough votes, I'll get to hold the presentation.

Here is the proposal:

Tempo!: The reality Dysfunction puts the fun back in dysFUNctional. 
How did we end up with so many dysfunctional companies? To fix the problems we face today, we must understand the causes. 
Tempo!: The Reality Dysfunction is a romp through the wild side of management history: It starts with a bang, a train crash the 5th of October 1841, with consequences that cause companies to fail in 2013. 
You will meet the unbeatable fighter pilot, who also figured out how to build an unbeatable organization. You will see what managers must know to lead an Agile development team. 
You will see how most companies are applying fundamental principles of strategy, psychology, and physics backwards, and hurt and disable themselves in the process. You will also find out what to do about it, and who has already succeeded. 
There will be a practical demonstration, with members of the audience, showing how a simple restructuring of work can reduce lead times by 60% or more, while increasing quality. 
And, you will have fun!
Serious enough to get your vote? You should of course check out the other proposals before you vote, so you can pick the ones you are most interested in. (You get 10 votes, and you can put up to 3 votes on any one proposal.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

LESS! is available on Amazon

LESS!: Essays on Business Transformation is now available on Amazon Kindle.

The hardcover version of LESS! is available from Lulu and quite expensive ($46.53). The Kindle and ePub versions are just $6.89. We do not use DRM protection, so when you buy the book, it is yours. You can put it on any device you want, and on as many devices you want. Please keep the copies in your family though.

I am very proud of LESS!. I am particularly proud of the fact that I did not write most of it. LESS! is a collaborative work, and working with the other authors has been a privilege I cannot adequately describe. One of my best adventures ever.

LESS! is about building better places to work:

Have you ever had a great idea crushed by the words, "we can't do that, because it's not in the budget"? Then you really need to read up on Beyond Budgeting. Bjarte Bogsnes, VP of Performance Management at Statoil and Dr. Peter Bunce, Director of the Beyond Budgeting Round Table, have written two chapters helping you free yourself from the chains of budgeting.

If you look around you at work, and see people with great potential, but somehow things never get together like they should. The sum of the work is always less than the sum of what the individuals can do. Then Making the Entire Organization Agile, the chapter by Steve Denning is for you. Steve is a former director of the World Bank. He is a deep thinker with unsurpassed practical experience. In November 2000 he was selected as one of the world's ten Most Admired Knowledge Leaders (Teleos).

If you want to do Lean or Agile, what is you and your organization's position on Theory X and Theory Y? Why do you need to know about them? Because Agile and Lean are Theory Y based, and your organization is most likely Theory X based. X and Y ideas don't mix well. Not understanding the difference is a major cause of failure when implementing Lean or Agile. Dan Bergh Johnson's chapter Agile and Lean do not fit into Taylor's Glove will get you up to speed on the all important fundamentals.

And that is just for starters. There is lots more, by authors like James Sutton, Karl Scotland, Håkan Forss, Ola Ellnestam, Brian Hawkes, Maarit Laanti, Ari-Pekka Skarp, and me. And you might want to check out the Foreword by John Hagel III. John is a great author in his own right, Director at Deloitte LLP, and co-chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge.

I promised the Mexican photographer Herminia Dosal I would write an article about the story behind a picture she shot of me. At the time I made the promise, I did not realize how awkward I would feel putting myself on the cover of my own eMagazine, even though I love the photo. In the future, I will try to get Herminia's permission to publish some of her other work. Believe me, most of her models are far better looking than I am.
By the way, if you read the Introduction, you will find a link to the LESS! resource page. That is where we put links to free material you might be interested in, such as the Tempo! newsletter. The issue you see above is in review at the iBookstore right now, but you will find four older issues on the resource page.

If you do buy LESS!, please do write a review at Amazon, Lulu, or Goodreads. Honest reviews help me figure out how to make the next book even better.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Why Cities Live and Companies Die

When cities grow larger, productivity per person increases. When companies grow larger, productivity per person decreases. Cities can last thousands of years and survive plagues and nuclear blasts. Large companies have an average lifespan of fifteen years, and the lifespan is dropping.
It is blindingly obvious, except almost nobody noticed until a couple of years ago: Companies have short lifespans. Cities live thousands of years; Cities can survive plagues and nuclear bombs. Companies croak when there is a slight downturn in the economy.; People want to live in large cities, but they want to work in small companies.

Why? What is the difference, and does it matter? If we understand why cities are so resilient, can we use that knowledge to build better companies? Companies that are more resilient and better places to work?

It turns out we can. Physicist Geoffrey West has studied cities and found a very simple mathematical relationship between city size and productivity: When a city doubles in size, each person in the city becomes about 15-20% more productive.

The astonishing thing is that everything that has to do with the city infrastructure follows the same power law. According to West it holds for wages, supercreative people per capita, and patents per capita. (On the flip side, the power law also holds for crime per capita, and flu per capita.)

The productivity increase in cities is in stark contrast to what happens in companies. According to an article in the CYBAEA Journal, when a company grows, productivity per employee drops.

For comparison, I have plotted the power rules governing city and company productivity:
When cities grow larger, productivity per person increases by about 15% each time the city population doubles. In a company, productivity per person drops when the company grows. The fundamental difference: Cities are networks, most companies are hierarchies. 
What this graph shows is that a city is much better organized than the average company. But why?

Cities are networks. They are to a large extent self-organizing. Nobody tells you where to live, where to shop, which friends to spend time with, or where to work, or whom to vote for. You figure all that out for yourself, based on the knowledge you have about the city.

Companies are very different: You are told where to sit, what to work on, whom to work with, when to take a break, and who your boss is. You have comparatively little latitude to exercise your own judgement.

What companies are missing is the power of self-organization. Here is another way to look at it:

Donella Meadows's System Intervention Scale
Company leaders usually focus on the low end of the Meadows scale: They set targets like "increase sales by 20%", or "reduce costs by 10%". They make budgets and set project deadlines, which is saying they allocate money and time buffers. Sometimes they make a reorganization, which means they mostly mess around with stock and flow structures.

Cities leave most of that to its inhabitants. City planners are concerned with overall system structure, but they mostly let people make their own decisions, and that is what makes cities resilient, productive, and powerful.

Value streams in functional hierarchies vs. value streams in networks. From my book Tempo!.
Why are companies so much more vulnerable to damage than cities? There are several reasons, but most have to do with the way companies split in order to manage growth. Companies divide into functional departments. This causes problems when information or physical material is moved from one department to another. Hand-offs are difficult to manage, and you can have many value streams that interfere with each other. this problem becomes worse the more cost effective an organization is, because increasing cost effectiveness means reducing the capability to absorb variation in the value streams.

Add to that, that if a single node in a functional organization is damaged in some way, it may affect all value streams running through that organization.

For example, if the IT department suffers from work overload, you can't do anything but wait until they get to your request. I have worked at companies with waiting times of 9-18 months for simple requests like setting up a server.

On the other hand, in a city, if you can't get the service you want when you want it, you go someplace else. If the grocery shop closest to where I live closes, I won't starve. I just shop my food somewhere else.

According to the book Creative Destruction by Richard Foster, the lifespan of large companies is shrinking steadily. In 1938 the lifespan was about 75 years. In 2010 it was about 15 years.
It is when you link the productivity figures with company Return On Invested Capital and life expectancy numbers that the results get really scary. According to the 2010 Shift Index by Deloitte, ROIC has dropped from 6.5% in 1965 to 1.3% in 2010.

Steve Denning has pointed out that a study by Richard Foster, using data collected by McKinsey, shows that the life expectancy of companies have been shrinking steadily. In 1938 the life expectancy of an S&P Fortune 500 company was about 75 years. In 2010 it had shrunk to about 15 years.

The amazing thing is that we do have plenty of blueprints for building companies that are as resilient as cities, but with rare exceptions, we don't. There are signs that things are looking up though. We may have a phase shift, a rapid transition from the old hierarchies to network based organizations pretty soon.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Sustainable Leadership seminar by The Hunger Project

 Julia Norinder, CEO of Preera, and the main speaker talked very passionately on the need for sustainable leadership.
I've just been to a seminar on sustainable leadership. The seminar was arranged by The Hunger Project (The Swedish web site is here) and hosted by Ernst & Young.

I am glad I went: Two good speakers, a great workshop, and an interesting panel discussion.

The Hunger Project is a global organization fighting poverty by investing in human potential. In practice, The Hunger Project helps people in developing companies by means such as micro-loans and education.

Sara Wettergren, CEO of the Hunger Project

Sara Wettergren, CEO of the Hunger Project was the first speaker. She talked about the Hunger Project and how the organization works to eradicate poverty in the world.

When Sara talked about how the organization has to change the mindsets of the people they want to help from "I am alone, there is nothing I can do" to "I am part of something larger. I can make a difference", it struck me that the problems she described, feelings of helplessness, isolation, is exactly the same problems I see in many business organizations.

Helping others is a great way to help oneself. I bet that many companies around the world can learn a lot from The Hunger Project.

Julia Norinder, CEO of Preera
Julia Norinder, CEO at Preera made a passionate presentation about the need for leadership adjusted to the world we live in. Julia advocates looking at organizations as living organisms, not machines. This is of course an argument that resonates with me. Organizations are made of people. People are living organisms, not machine parts.

Moving from a machine view to an organic view means moving from control, instructions, and hierarchies to vision, values, understanding and dialog. This is not yet the mainstream view, but it is a view that is steadily gaining traction. (If you have read LESS!, you may recall that my co-author James Sutton wrote about organizations as organic entities.)

Anastasia Nekrasova from Intelligent Mindsets.
 Anastasia Nekrasova from Intelligent Mindsets ran an interesting workshop based on a real case:

Josefine Lassbo, CEO of Reflective Circle, wanted help developing a vision and a growth strategy for her company. Turning to an outside group to get many different perspectives on what the business should be is a smart thing to do. Ultimately, it is of course up to Josefine to define why she is in business, but input helps. Developing a good vision statement is difficult. Getting multiple perspectives can speed up the process considerably.

Josefine Lassbo, CEO of Reflective Circle
The audience was split into groups to discuss the vision and the strategy. Here is my group:

My discussion group at the workshop, except...
...Carina Jonsson, who made our group's presentation after we were finished.
It is worth noticing that much of the value from an exercise like this is due to most of the participants not being experts. We business strategists tend to think in similar patterns due to our sharing of a common body of knowledge. Put a more diverse group together, and you are much more likely to come up with a unique and valuable insight.

The seminar finished off with a panel discussion about sustainable leadership.

The panel: Caroline Trowald (Conferencier); Kristina Cohn Linde, CEO of Mig; Eva Hyllstam, Leadership Trainer; Liselott M Daun, Senior Consultant at Ernst & Young; Gustaf Josefsson, Innovation strategist
The panel discussion was interesting and the panel members had a wide range of opinions about leadership and organization.

I believe events like this are important: They are a sign that there is progress. Though management science has progressed enormously the past sixty years, we actually see very little of it in the way companies are organized and lead. Change is much overdue, and I am glad to see signs of it.

Major change tends to happen like when you try to get ketchup out of a glass bottle: First you get nothing, then you get nothing, then you get everything at once. Scientists call this phase transition, but I'll save that for another blog post.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Is Facebook corrupting us?

When we discuss corruption, and we do, at least in the media, the focus is nearly always on some spectacularly greedy, dishonest, and stupid act. I believe it is a good thing that this kind of corruption is exposed, but there is another, more subtle kind that worries me.

First, let's define the word "corruption":
In philosophical, theological, or moral discussions, corruption is spiritual or moral impurity or deviation from an ideal.
– Corruption, Wikipedia article 
For example, in a contest, we are expected to abide by the rules of that contest. If the judge in a football match judges in favor of the team he likes the most, because he likes it, then the judge is corrupt.

On the other hand, in a popularity contest, voting for the person you like the most is not corrupt. It is the expected behavior.

We have always had a problem with very complex contests, like political elections. Most people do not like to grapple with complex issues, so they substitute something simpler, like:

  • Which politician do I like the most?
  • How do my friends vote?
  • Which policy do I like the most? (Without regard to the total effect of all the policies suggested by the party.)
Politicians aren't exactly helping. They make a lot of speeches, but I haven't yet seen a politician use a Causal Loop, Stocks & Flow, or TLTP diagram, or anything similar. Instead, they rely on long-winded speeches, and documents so obtuse they obfuscate the issues rather than clarifying them.

Of course, politicians are like most other people, they choose their position first, then look for arguments to support their point-of-view. This is much easier than actually figuring things out, experimenting, testing, working with scientists...

There are of course exceptions to the rule among politicians, just as there are among other people. (I have actually met politicians which I judge to have integrity, honesty, a very high degree of intelligence, and who understand the issues they work on very well. It is just that they are a minority, regardless of which party they are from.)

Robert Cialdini, a professor of Psychology and Marketing has constructed a highly useful model for how and when people substitute a simple problem when they are faced with a difficult one. The Cialdini decision model looks like this:

The Wikipedia article on Cialdini contains more detailed information. 

Right before writing this part of the post, I was in a discussion about the US presidential election. There was a newspaper with pictures of Obama and Romney on the front page.

My interest was in the techniques Obama and Romney use to project a certain image. For example, both Romney and Obama had their shirt sleeves rolled up to indicate they are prepared to work hard. Romney had a a tie, indicating he is at home in board rooms. Obama had no tie and the top button of the shirt unbuttoned to indicate he has a strong working class connection.

My discussion partner focused on the faces: "Obama looks a lot nicer than Romney." I also noticed she spent a lot more time looking at Obama's face than at Romney's.

This is a very good example of the Cialdini rules kicking in. Instead of discussing the policies the candidates want to implement, a quite complex issue, we substitute things our brains are good at, like decoding facial expressions.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. If you need to make a snap judgement, even a very brief look at a face can give you valuable information. However, when it comes to judging a complex issue, using a mechanism designed for snap judgements can easily lead to making the wrong decisions.

BTW, she was right. Obama looked a lot friendlier than Romney. Then again, that impression could easily be reversed simply by comparing different photos.

So, where does Facebook enter the picture? We'll, a lot of contests are run on Facebook. Since I am interested in photography, I get messages about photo contests. Of course, when my Facebook friends enter a contest of some sort, they post a message about it.

What disturbs me is that with very few exceptions, the people who enter such contests send a message encouraging others to vote for themselves, not to look at the contest and vote for the best submission.

This is, by definition, corruption. For example, in a photo contest, the idea is that the best photo should win. What actually happens is that the contest turns into a popularity contest. People are admonished to look only at a single photo, and then vote.

A Facebook contest may be a trivial thing, but it teaches people to cast their vote for an alternative without even looking at the other alternatives. This bothers me.

We need in a complex world, where the things we do can have very large consequences. To survive and thrive in such a world, we need more brainpower, not less. We need more decisions to be carefully thought through, not more snap judgements.

We can't pay full attention to everything. For example, if I intend to vote in a photo contest with 10,000 submissions, I won't have time to compare all of them with each other. However, I can look at some of them, and pick the photo I think is best.

Above all, I can be mindful of my own behavior, so that I can consciously choose when to think a choice through, and when to cruise on autopilot. This is something most people can learn, and I believe social media sites could be designed to encourage that kind of self-awareness.

Imagine how the world would change if Facebook was designed to encourage people who use it to think, and to think about when they need to think. Maybe that would help us build a better future.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Perspectives - To buy or not to buy a book?

I am working on a new book, the working title is Perspectives. The purpose of the book is to show how the lofty ideas about management and leadership applies to everyday management decisions. I want to show how having more than one perspective can have a great impact on every day decision making.

The following essay is an early sketch that may become a chapter in the book. I will publish more preview chapters in the newsletter supporting LESS!, the book I co-wrote with eleven other management experts not too long ago. By the way, the ePub version of LESS! is free, if you promise to write and publish an honest review.

Here is the preview chapter for Perspectives:

To buy or not to buy a book?
Imagine you are running an IT department employing fifteen people. Anna, a young software developer asks you if the company will pay for a book she wants to read. The book is about XML Forms. You have no idea what XML Forms are. The book costs $17. Should you let her buy it?

This is one of the countless every day decisions a manager has to deal with. You obviously can’t do a detailed Cost/Benefit analysis every time a decision like this is called for. Instead, you make a quick decision based on your gut feeling. However, depending on your perspective, your gut feeling will be very different. Let’s have a look at the implicit reasoning behind your gut feeling. We will use the following perspectives:
  • Cost Accounting
  • Theory X
  • Theory Y
  • Options thinking
  • Queueing Theory
  • Strategy
Cost Accounting perspective
The answer, straight from the gut, is no, no book!
The reasons are simple and obvious: Spending money on a book incurs a cost, but there is no clear benefit for the company. No customer has asked for XML Forms. Anna does not currently work in a project where XML Forms would be needed. Even if she did work in such a project, it would probably be cheaper to use currently available technology instead of spending time and effort learning something new.
Theory X perspective
The quick answer is no, no book!
Anna is not trusted to make a $17 decision, but you are. The reason is that you, as a manager, have a much better grasp of the big picture than Anna. If you cannot see how the book would benefit the company, then it probably won’t.
Another reason is that the expenditure of buying the book would go on record. If you give Anna permission to buy the book, your own manager might hold you responsible for incurring a needless expense. If you deny Anna’s request, the matter ends right there. There will be no record of the request being denied, because no transaction has taken place. Thus you will not be held responsible for any opportunities that might be lost by Anna not reading the book. As we have already concluded, the probability of such an opportunity occurring is very low anyway.
Options thinking perspective
The gut answer is yes, Anna can buy the book!
If Anna reads the book, the company will gain the ability to use more options in certain situations. Are those options likely to be worth more than $17? The average value of the options is:
Probability of using the options x Value of options used - Cost of buying the options
The cost of buying the options is $17. You have no clue what the other variables are for this particular book, but you can make an educated guess if you pose the question this way:
If employees in your unit read 100 work related books, can they, and you, leverage the knowledge gained to make more than $1,700 for the company?
If you are in a business where technology changes rapidly and customer requirements are varied, the answer will almost certainly be yes.
Theory Y perspective
Anna bought the book on her own initiative, without asking you.
Anna is an intelligent, responsible adult. She works on software worth millions of dollars. Every day, a decision made by her can make a difference of many thousands of dollars on the bottom line of your company. That is part of the nature of knowledge work. Obviously, she can make a $17 decision on her own.
If Anna had asked you before buying the book, that would have been a sign that you must help her gain confidence and rely more on her own ability to make decisions.
Queueing Theory perspective
Anna can buy the book on her own initiative, without asking.
Let’s assume that Anna costs $100 per hour, or $1.67 per minute. You cost $130 per hour, or $2.17 per minute. If Anna makes the decision herself, she can make it in less than a minute. The cost of the decision is about $1.67. If Anna has to ask you, you will spend at least five minutes each. Anna has to explain the reason for her request before you can make a decision. Those 5 minutes will cost $19.2 (5x1.67+5x2.17).  The decision will cost $17.53 more (19.2-1.67) if you make the decision than if Anna does it. That is $0.53 more than the cost of the book itself.
Even if you always made the right book buying decision and Anna always made the wrong one, it would still be cheaper to let Anna make her own decision. Thus, the simple rule is that Anna can make such minor decisions for herself.
Strategy perspective (Maneuver Conflict)
As a commander in Vietnam, I wanted to unleash my marines on the enemy, not control them.
Thinking Like Marines, by Col. Mike Wyly USMC (Ret.)
Anna bought the book on her own initiative, read it and liked it. She wrote a review for, made a video review for, and your company’s book review channel on She also made an entry about XML Forms in the company’s wiki based online encyclopedia. She added links to the PDF article, and updated the PDF article with a link to the XML Forms article. (As it turned out, the PDF 1.5 specification references the XML Forms specification, and your company has an interest in PDF technology.)
Finally, Anna used the book as source material for the monthly Pecha Kucha[1] night at your company. When Anna was done with the book, she put it in the bookshelf in the company cafeteria. You saw the links to the reviews on the company Twitter list, which aggregates tweets from every tweeter in the company.
You like Anna’s energy and initiative. Based on her presentation at Pecha Kucha night, you might give the book a quick read, just so you know what the developers are talking about when you have lunch with them. You make a note to ask Anna to show you how XML Forms can be integrated in the tactics of your unit.
In this version, Anna did what you trained her to do: She took the initiative and made the most of the opportunity that presented itself. By reading the book she increased her own competence and created new options for your company and yourself. She then proceeded to spread an important message outside the company: “These people know their stuff! They are actively building their competence.” Note that every person who reads or watches one of her reviews, will also see your company name. Inside your company, Anna made sure that everyone who is interested in forms technology knows about the book, and also knows that she knows how to use XML forms.
From a strategy perspective, Anna has strengthened interactions with potential allies outside your company, and also strengthened interactions between people inside the company. She has considerably reduced friction, in this case the startup cost of using a particular technology.
Your role in this is as a leader and an enabler. You have trained Anna in IOHAI leadership[2]. You have participated in setting up the company Wiki, the book review channel on Youtube, and the accounts your unit has on Twitter and Goodreads. You are responsible for keeping your unit targeted on the overall Noble Vision of your company.
In this version, your company is very likely to be organized as a network of small units, capable of independent action, responsible for their own value streams, but working to achieve a common goal, a Noble Vision. You are much more likely to be the leader of such a unit, than to be the manager of a functional department.
In 1995 I was co-owner of a small technical documentation company. One of my co-owners, who remains a close friend of mine, and I each bought a book about the Structured Generic Markup Language (SGML), Developing SGML DTDs: From Text to Model to Markup, by Eve Maler and Jeanne El Andaloussi. We quickly took to calling it “The Green Book”, because of the color of the cover. Buying The Green Book was the first step on our journey to become SGML experts. We did a lot more than just buying and reading a book of course: We bought and read many, many more SGML and XML books. We built SGML/XML document authoring systems just for the fun of it. I built a system for reading FrameMaker MIF documents and converting them to XML. I also built a system for managing XLinks in XML documents. XLink is a way of creating various types of links in XML documents.
We adapted our company strategy to incorporate the things we were passionate about. As a result, we were in a perfect position when our largest customer decided to switch from using FrameMaker to using an SGML/XML based document authoring system in 1999. A couple of years later, the MIF to XML conversion system I built for practice became an integral part of a system for processing medical records. My friend integrated the XLink system I built into a commercially successfull XML document management system. Today, more than ten years later, not a single line of the original code remains, but the ideas about how to build a robust, user friendly XLink system live on.
At least five different companies benefited from our original decision to buy and read The Green Book. The total profits accrued from that decision amounts to millions of dollars. I buy and read about twenty work related books a year. The cost is negligible compared to the total profits accrued from reading The Green Book. Even if my friend and I had never bought anything useful again, our reading habits would have paid off handsomely. Note that in monetary terms, other people benefited much more than we did. I think we got most of the fun and excitement though. However, had we not owned our own company, it is unlikely that any of this would have happened.
The most common answer when an employee asks if their employer will spring for a book is “no!”. The employees learn quickly that knowledge is not valued in the organization. The people who are passionate about what they do will eventually leave, not because of the book buying decision, but because of the underlying mental models of the managers. Only the apathetic will remain, because apathy is the only alternative to going crazy.
Without a steady flow of new knowledge, the company will be increasingly out of touch with the world around it. Customers and competitors will adopt new technologies faster than the company can. Strategy, tactics and organization will fall behind. When the customers leave, this is merely the result of a long process of erosion within the company.
The problem is that the Cost Accounting and Theory X perspectives are so prevalent in our companies. Cost Accounting is based on the ideas of taylorism. Taylorism is based on Theory X premises about workers. If you work in a Theory X based hierarchical, functionally divided organization, and is evaluated on cost Accounting measures, you are unlikely to even know about other ways of thinking, and other ways of doing. Even the idea that there may be other ways is unlikely to occur. You, your co-workers, and your company, are trapped in a closed system.
If you can break out of the closed loop, you will be able to see that there is great value in other ways of doing things. Reading a book might be the first step.
Further thinking
  • How do the managers and leaders at your company value new knowledge and learning? What is the message they are sending to employees? If they do not actively support learning, what does that tell you? How often do you hear them speak about what they have learned themselves?
  • As a manager/leader, would you prefer the Theory X/Cost Accounting style of management, or the Theory Y/Maneuver Conflict style of leadership? If you prefer the Theory Y/Maneuver Conflict model, what are your fellow managers most likely to prefer? If most of you are likely to prefer the Theory Y/Maneuver Conflict style, what is stopping you from doing it? How can you remove or get around the obstacles?
  • The US Marine Corps has a reading list, providing a list of books that Marines must have read at each grade level. The list includes both fiction and science books, books about strategy, tactics, philosophy, and different cultures around the world. Higher ranking marines must read everything lower ranking marines read, plus the books graded at their own rank. What would a reading list for your company look like? If you find it difficult to put such a reading list together, why is that? If you find it easy, why?
  • Are there any other perspectives that might be important to a book buying decision? What are they? What insights do they add?

  • [1] Pecha Kucha is a presentation format where all presentations use 20 presentation slides. Each slide is hown exactly 20 seconds. Slide transitions are automatic. This forces presentations to be short and to the point. There is a Pecha Kucha organization that arranges Pecha Kucha presentation nights all over the world. See
    [2] IOHAI is a military leadership model. It is part of the Maneuver Conflict strategy framework. I have described IOHAI in more detail in my book Tempo!.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Dave Snowden's Keynote at XP 2012, Part 2 of 2

This is part two of Dave Snowden's keynote. Great stuff.

 Part 1 is here.

Dave Snowden's Keynote at XP2012, Part 1 of 2

Dave Snowden talks about complexity thinking and contrasts it with design thinking and systems thinking in his XP 2012 keynote.

This is one keynote worth listening to. I was very fortunate to get it all on video.

Part 2 is here.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

LESS! is released!

Whew! After six months of hard work, LESS!: Essays on Business Transformation is released. I should write something brilliant about this, but I just feel tired and happy. I'll go play with my son instead. I have deserved it, and so has he.

Just one thing: You may recall an earlier cover picture:

You may notice that the cover has changed slightly compared to the earlier version:

John Hagel III has written an excellent Foreword. Check him out. I am immensely proud that he wanted to do that for us. John is a great management writer. He is also Co-chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge, and Director Deloitte Consulting LLP. I am currently reading his latest book, The Power of Pull.

Chances are you already do know about some of the LESS! authors, but I'll give you a list with links so you can have a look:

Dan Bergh Johnsson - Technology evangelist and blogger
Bjarte Bogsnes - Chairman of the Beyond Budgeting Roundtable Europe
Peter Bunce - Co-Founder and Director of the Beyond Budgeting Roundtable
Steve Denning - Consultant and former Director of the World Bank
Ola Ellnestam - Co-founder of Agical. Organizer of the excellent Agical Geek Nights(!)
Håkan Forss - Lean/Agile coach, creator of Visual WIP
Brian Hawkes - Founder of Foresite SPA
Maarit Laanti - Agile and Lean coach at Nokia
Henrik Mårtensson - Happy and exhausted
Karl Scotland - Advocate and pioneer of Kanban Software Development
Ari-Pekka Skarp - Coach and organizational developer at Nokia
James Sutton - 2007 Shingo prize winner, CEO of the Jubata Group, co-founder and president of the Lean Software and Systems Consortium

We have a wide range of expertise spanning finance, management, Agile, Lean, strategy, systems thinking, and complexity theory.

What can you, as a reader, do with it? You can start putting the pieces together. When laid out the way we have, it quickly becomes obvious that there are common themes, things we all need to do to make our companies work better. If we work together, we'll get better results. It is that simple.

By the way, in his Foreword, John does speak very clearly about what happens if one does not change. The things we are writing about used to be nice to have competitive advantages. Now they are necessary for survival. On the up side, once you try, they are fun and exciting to do. :-)

Now, I will go play with my son. Be seeing you!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Agile Company Presentation at XP 2012

It nearly did no happen because of my workload, but I will go to XP 2012. Here is a brief description of my presentation:

Agile Company - Win by doing LESS!

Over the past 50 years there have been many attempts to change how business organizations work: BPR, Deming's System of Profound Knowledge, McGregor's Human Enterprise, de Geus Living Company, Semler's Three Ring Model, Theory of Constraints... Despite great initial success, all these initiatives have failed.

Now Lean and Agile show signs of failing, for the same reason their predecessors failed.

The problem is that when a small system, like an Agile team, tries to change a large system, like a company and its customers, through long and continuous contact, the small system will change much more than the large system.

This is also known as Prescott's Pickle Principle:

Cucumbers get more pickled than brine gets cucumbered

Can Agile and Lean avoid getting pickled the same way they predecessors have been? Yes, the solution is doing LESS!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Writing LESS!

The LESS! book cover and the first four chapters.
The LESS! book is close to completion. All chapters are in, I have edited more than two thirds of the book. This has been my most enjoyable writing project in a very long time. Writing a book always requires a lot of hard work, but it is also incredibly fun. If you work with great people, which I do, the fun factor goes up...way, way, up!

I have wanted to write a collaborative management book for a couple of years now, but when I got the opportunity, I was not the first to recognize it. Katherine Kirk did!

Katherine and I were both speakers at the LESS 2011 management conference. The conference was a blast. Lots of great speakers: smart, experienced, deep thinkers, and very good at presenting their ideas. I decided to take the opportunity to interview a few of them for a book project that had been on the back burner for a year. I hadn't written much for awhile, and I was really itching to write and publish a new book.

Katherine made a great presentation, so I asked her if I could interview her for a book. She said yes, so we got together, and I got a very interesting interview. One of my questions was "what topic would you really like to see a management book on?" "This conference," Katherine said.

I just sat there for a few seconds. This was just too good an opportunity to miss. Katherine was right. A book written by the conference speakers was a fantastic idea. I mothballed the book I interviewed Katherine for (Sorry, Katherine!), and asked her if it was OK if I took her idea to the conference organizers. She was fine with it, so I contacted Vasco Duarte. He liked the idea too, so I got a list of speaker email addresses, and we were off.

The LESS! project works like this:

Each writer contributes a chapter. Writers are encouraged, but not required, to edit each other's chapters. We have set up a LESS Author group on LinkedIn to make it easy to discuss the book among all authors. I do the final edit, help with graphics, I do the book layout and the cover.

We decided early on that profits from the book should go to a good cause. Some details left to finagle there. I'll tell you more about that when everything has been set up properly.

So, not only were people willing to take on a large amount of work, they were all willing to give the profits away. Oh, and they have all put up with my rough-and-tumble approach to editing. I have been most fortunate to work with such a hardy bunch of management piooneers.

Writing and editing LESS! has been, and still is, a great adventure by its own right. I learn a lot, about management, about writing, editing, layout, cover design, and about collaboration. I work with great people. I also learn a thing or two that will be useful in the future. I'll let you in on what they are, in the near future. You will not be disappointed.

Now, it's back to editing LESS! for me. See you soon.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

iBook Author – Apple Changes the Game Again!

The latest game changer from Apple is a bit sneaky. Apple recently launched iBooks Author, an eBook authoring tool. There were ads in the App Store of course, but overall, not much fanfare. Nevertheless, iBook Author is an important move. Amazon needs to watch out, or Apple will grab a sizable chunk of the eBook market.

Why is iBooks author important? iBooks Author puts Apple in direct contact with authors, bypassing a traditional obstacle to publishing, publishing companies.

A traditional publishing flow looks like this:
Apple cuts out the people in the middle, like this:
Publishing becomes easier, faster and cheaper than before. By itself, this would not be a decisive advantage. Amazon has 90% of the eBook market, and they aim to keep it.

However, Apple has another little innovation up its sleeve: the iBooks Author workflow. It looks like this:
An author can work directly in iBooks Author, write an eBook, integrating text, video, audio, presentations, even 3D objects, and publish a finished book by clicking a button. This is quite different from the publishing process most book publishers use. It is both faster and cheaper.

Perhaps most important: the quality of the eBook itself is a lot better than most of the competition. At Amazon, eBooks are usually converted from print editions. At the iBook Store, an increasing number of eBooks will be designed to be eBooks from the start. This will make a big difference.

iBooks Author is free, so the economic barrier to publishing high quality eBooks just disappeared. (The economic barrier to publishing really awful eBooks also disappeared. Too early to tell how that will work out.)

Right now, compared to Amazon the iBook Store is a bit thin on books, but that only makes it easier for an iBook author to get noticed, and thus makes it easier to sell. Mainstream authors may not have much of an advantage, but niche authors will. Dominating a niche is the key to building mainstream sales.

For about a year or two, authors writing for the iBook market have an excellent opportunity to break into literary niches and grow their readership.

Whether the iBook Store will grab a sizable portion of the eBook market or not is by no means certain, but Apple is certainly making a credible attempt. Instead of slugging it out toe-to-toe with Amazon, they strike at the weak spots in the production chain.

It is by no means certain Apple's strategy will succeed in the end, but as a writer, I am tempted to test the waters with an ibook or two.