Wednesday, December 19, 2012

You Get What You ...

A while back I wrote a blog post titled "You get what you measure" discussing the importance of metrics in the change process.  A couple of days ago I read a blog post at ZenHabits on the theme "You get what you do" discussing the actual change happens in the doing.  It hit me that these two concepts are intimately intertwined. How do you change without doing and how do you understand what to do without measuring.

These two came together recently for me in the area of weight loss. I have been on a steady uphill slope with my weight and became very dissatisfied with how I felt, how out of breath I became and of course not liking looking like a stuffed sausage.  I have heard the story: "I keep reading diet books but I am not losing weight". The punch line is that you cannot lose weight by trying to understand the process, but only by actual practice.

But what is practice?  It seems to me to be a loop of measure, do, measure, do...

Back to my weight.  Several months ago I saw a program by Dr Joel Furman about changing eating habits (life style change) to focus on consuming a diet high in micro nutrients (vitamins, phyto-chemicals, anti-oxidants, etc) but low in the macro nutrients (carbohydrates, fats, protein). One premise is that we over eat because the body craves micro nutrients but the western diet is high calorie but low in micro nutrients.  Thus we over eat and get obese.

So I increased my intake of micro nutrient rich food and watched my high calorie foods. Weight kept going up. So I began to understand that the phrase "watch what I eat" means exactly that; observe the food as it move from my plate to my mouth. It is not a measurement technique, but a placebo in place of actually doing anything to moderate my input.

So with the micro nutrients, my hunger was well contained and my body felt healthier, and I was actually doing something in the right direction, but I did not have any handle on calories. What I was missing was any real measuring.

A couple of months ago one of my best friends at work came in with a high tech pedometer and an app on his smart phone, raving about how measuring his steps and logging his food was helping him lose weight. The device and app came from a company called Fitbit. 

I looked into it.  The system was very easy to use and fairly automatic.  They had a tracker device that would measure steps, stairs, distance, calories burned and if worn on your wrist at night, how well you slept. It would automatically sync through a blue tooth connection to your online account.  They also had a wifi connected scale that measured weight and fat content; which also automatically synced with your account.  Just wear the tracker and step on the scale every day.  The only piece of the puzzle that was not automatic was logging food consumed. With the phone app, you always have a tool at easy hand to do that.

Automatic enough that I would stick with it, I bought the set.  I now have the measurement tools with historical graphs, etc. I need to understand what to do and the motivation to actually do it.

I started just before Thanksgiving and slowed down the gain that first week.  During the 3 weeks after that, I lost 10 pounds.  Seems like a lot but I am a big guy so this might be more like 5 or 6 pounds for someone else.  Most days I meet my goals in calorie intake, and my goal of 10,000 steps and 10 flights of stairs. I feel so much better. My physical fitness has noticeably improved.  Better yet this system feels like something I can maintain for a very long time, ideally a permanent lifestyle change. High in micro nutrients and low in calorie measure diet with goals/feedback in a walking program.

My take away from this experience is that to be effective in making a change in your life, business, anything at all; is to dynamically steer with a constant cycle of measure, adjust, do, measure, adjust, do...

PS, just got this out before the Mayan calendar expires.. ;-)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Over the Cliff

We hear a lot about the fiscal cliff now, not quite as much as we did for the Presidential election and particularly no flood of ads.  However I think that all the rhetoric about how we have to avoid going over the cliff, how the politicians in Washington have to solve this problem before the end is a bunch of hot air.

No need to worry about it.  I predict that we are going over.  I believe that it is pretty much a done deal.

First it is to big a problem to solve in one month.  The politicians are so out of practice in compromising that it will take longer.  The same conditions that caused them to set up the cliff still exist. All the politicians are still saying that they will only accept everything they wanted a year ago.

Secondly, and probably a bigger issue, is that preventing going over the cliff is to neither Republican's or Democrat's political advantage. In fact any move to solve it will bee seen a weakness and be a major political defeat by anyone who blinks.

Most of the Republicans got elected by their district on the promise of never voting to raise taxes and reducing the cost of government.  Many Democrats got elected on the promise of raising taxes on the rich and not reducing the entitlement programs.  If either blinks, then they lose their job next election. And that is what is closest to the heart of a politician (and of course most of us) keeping their job.

But falling off the fiscal cliff solves all of those political problems!

After January 1, the baseline is drastically changed! 

Taxes are higher and government expense is reduced. It is a much better political position to negotiate from.  You can reduce the taxes for one segment of the population without voting for an increase in another.  As far as government spending, it requires some justification to increase any budget.  No one has to vote to reduce a budget and budgets don't just automatically get grandfathered at the old high levels. Everyone politician can claim to be a hero back home where they get elected.

Of course this political victory come at a cost to the economy.  The greatest is the level of uncertainty business and people will feel for the next month and as long as it takes to come to a settlement.  In uncertainty, business will avoid growth investment.  So employment will take a hit.  People will not know how to plan for 2013 taxes.  If they can save for higher taxes that reduces spending.  If they cannot afford the higher taxes, depression and panic sets in.

Given that all of this is pretty obvious and politicians are pretty savvy about protecting their political interest is why I say that going over is pretty much a done deal. I would not be surprised if this is already recognized in backroom deals and that any negotiation that is happening is already using Jan 1 as the baseline.  The question is how fast after Jan 1 will they be able to act.

Even with all this as a back drop, progress can be made if they try to create a number of smaller bills get the low hanging fruit were everyone pretty much agrees and not try to get one huge bill perfect. I have heard some thoughts in this direction, but it would be a new way for congress to operate.

I will check back to this blog entry early January and add some though about how I think I did. 

Monday, November 5, 2012


Recently, I attended a webinar by Net Objectives titled "De-mystifying Kanban." It was a very well done presentation discussing the basic principles and practices of a Agile software development variant called Kanban.  They did a good job relating Kanban to the Agile software development practice of Scrum and also to the more general practices of Lean. There was a good discussion on how to use Lean's value stream analysis to organize the flow of the work.  This post is not intended to be a full review of Kanban or the presentation. This opening paragraph is to set the context for a couple of points I would like to discuss.

Most of Kanban fits in the tactical organizational space.  As in most Agile software practices Kanban emphasizes breaking software development into small distinct chunks usually expressed as a story and progressing them through various steps of development such as design, coding,  unit testing, integration, etc. depending on what makes sense for the particular particular organization.

The Agile software development systems tend to emphasize cross training so that most everyone in the team can execute in all steps of development. Emphasizing predominately a team of generalists. There are some specialists for certain activities, such as database or build specialists, but the emphasis is on generalizing the roles so that any team member can, for the most part, pickup any story at any point in its development or even work in pairs in a fast paced  test driven development pair programing model, switching back and forth between the tester and coder roles.

This emphasis on generalizing of roles in Agile software development seems to me to be different from the emphasis I see in Holacracy of differentiating  and separating roles to focused onto an individual. While this seems to be Holacracy"s emphasis, Holacracy works very well with teams focusing on role generalization in their operational activities.  There are a number of examples of Agile teams using Holacracy very successfully.

Back to the webinar, I heard many times the phrase "Kanban opens up the opportunity to have a conversation" on defining policies, roles, relationships, etc. It was always left at "having a conversation." No idea as how to structure the conversation.  This is where the Governance practices of Holacracy really shine. The purpose, inputs, outputs, and meeting practices are very well structured and defined in Holacracy. This leads to very clear results and a clear way forward from these "conversations".  Leaving the conversations undefined in Kanban, still leaves a lot of room for stalemates, politics, unclear definitions and directions, unproductive meetings.

I feel that Kanban has very strong operational characteristics for work that can be structured in such a way to effectively use it.  Kanban should be well understood by many organizations as it can be surprising how often it can be useful. But it is not sufficient in itself, Kanban needs the governance practices offered in Holacracy to develop clarity for the Kanban practices to be as effective as possible.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Recently, HolacracyOne posted on Facebook:

There is a lot of buzz about "Leadership Development". Enlightened leaders are indeed needed to make up for the lack of organizational capacity to digest whatever comes from the environment. Holacracy precisely helps building this organizational capacity, making leadership development much less necessary.

This comes at a time when I have just finished the book "The End of Leadership" which talks about the Leadership industry. The book and Holacracy tend to agree that the current offerings of Leadership development are not what they should be. The book says that the leadership industry is failing us and is a self perpetuation sham. The book contains many pages of real world example. Holacracy says that leadership is not need to the level that our organizations think that it is needed. Both seem to me to shed good light on the issue, but I have a slightly different view.

My knowledge about the material taught in the current leadership training is about how a single person leads and motivates groups of small to very large people to do what the leader wants.

From the examples in the book, even with current organizations this has not worked very well but since it is very attractive to leaders in organizations, it really strokes their egos to think that everything revolves around the leader, leadership consultants teach what brings in the money. And it is a lot of money, to the tune of $50 billion a year.

Holacracy proposes a radically different distributed power system from conventional organizations in which this leader centric training has very little value.  There is still leadership, it is just radically different.

My proposition is that leadership training is very important, but not the leadership training that is currently being promoted by the industry today. 

With current organizations the leaders at the top are usually very autocratic. They give the orders and everyone below marches always looking over their shoulders in case the leader does not like the way they are marching.  Holacracy turns this on its head.  Purpose flows down from the top, but how each marches is determined autocratically by the person doing the marching.

As everyone in the organization is an autocrat over their own identified scope, they do need leadership training on how to lead that scope effectively.  As I indicated before, this leadership is fundamentally different.  Instead of learning how to get others to do what you want, you must learn how to get yourself motivated, how to stay organized and focused to do what is needed by the purpose guiding that scope.  Self-leadership is also need to effectively act a organizational sensors, to know how to recognize the tensions, how and when to speak-up to the organization, and how not to be personally attached to your idea as to how to resolve the tensions that you sense.

I see many people working in a conventional organization that will do nothing unless directly motivated and directed by the leader.  This approach will not work in Holacracy.  If a person executes a role with this do nothing unless externally directed approach, nothing will get done and after a while the holacratic organization will eject them as not being suitable for the role.

This failure is not a fundamental human weakness.  All humans are capable of working is such a system. Instead, it is a weakness in training and socialization of the person. Most of the skill are not taught at all or even worse suppressed by the more effective conventional leaders. It is a positive feedback loop, the more effective the conventional leader, the more repressed and dependent the follower.

These self leadership skills are the skills needed in leadership training for the future.  Even more, most people will need this training and refresher courses throughout their lives.  This new direction would seem to be a larger industry than the current leadership industry, providing more revenue if teachers and consultants can get past the sunk cost put into the existing models and experience. Further more, the new direction would meet the real needs of organizations instead of simply massaging the egos of the leaders and repressing the lead.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Spreading a Practice

Holacracy is the most useful organizational practice that I have seen in my over 50 years in organizations.  If you are not familiar with it, head over to and explore the links on the slide show. 

As Holacracy is often on my mind, I have been thinking about how to spread it. This post is a brain dump to get the ideas out of my head to free up space for other things. Many of the ideas here have been action-ed by H1 and others in the community to some extent.  This just allows me to get it out of my head and down on paper at overview level of the landscape.  Each paragraph could be expanded into a much larger discussion, but this is enough for now. Hopefully, this describes a reasonable structure to the issue.

Most of our modern organizations are structured in a hierarchy with most of the power and control at or near the top. Holacracy is a true distributed power and control system.  Thus, to move an organization towards a distributed system like Holacracy, you need to introduce it, either, when the organization is small before it grows and becomes fixed with power and control at the top of a larger structure or introduce it from the top down starting with the current power holders of the organization driving the transition.  These are the two focal points to effectively spread Holacracy, such that implementations happen.  Strictly informational opportunities would not be very helpful unless they influence the two identified focal points.

 With fledgling or small organizations the keys are to identify and educate founders while providing a low enough cost of entry that these organizations can afford to adopt the well documented Holacracy practice instead of the normal an ad-hoc, seat of the pants, keep everything in your head approach most start-ups or small organizations use.

First we need to identify these small organization founders.  If you want to hunt ducks, you go to a duck pond.  For small business, one great place is small business expos.  The cost seems reasonable to setup a booth, handout pamphlets, and engage face to face. Face to face time often has the most effect in infuencing a person and any opportunity to engage a person when they are in the correct frame of mind should be taken.

Keeping the costs in line for the available budget of a small organization has some challenges.  The cost of bringing in a consultant can be beyond the means for many, so this leads to a predominately self help approach.  Sending one person from the organization to the Holacracy Practitioners training can infuse a lot of knowledge to a small group at a reasonable cost.  Joining the Holacracy community of practice opens up more resources and a place to ask questions.  One possibly to consider is creating an identified Holacracy Hotline either manned or voice mail that gets responded to on a daily basis.

Big organizations can be a big challenge.  While the resources can be sufficient for a well supported implementation using consultants, getting the attention of those in power can be very difficult. It is almost impossible to get face to face time with an executive unless you already know them or they are seeking you out. Past history indicates that the most productive entry is through organizational consultants all ready in a relationship with the leaders of an organization.  The key here is to identify and educate organizational consultants and entice them to propagate Holacracy through their organization contacts.

Again where to catch the organizational consultants attention? There are a number of organizational forums and conventions where Holacracy can be presented.  Also, there are a number of periodicals which may accept Holacracy articles.  We also need to think carefully how to entice them to add/change to Holacracy in their offerings. Looking at the problems in the world today, mainstream approaches to leadership and organizational consulting are not working.  The problem is how to get the consultants with years of vested interest in these systems to see, accept and embrace a new way. Most people with a vested interest turn a blind eye to anything contrary to the vested interest.

We also need to explore the various sets of motivations organizations have for adopting Holacracy. 

The traditional areas of efficiency, productivity, profitability are motivators for some leaders.  This is a strength of Holacracy that plays well with managers and leaders once you get their attention.

Emerging is areas of work-life balance, employee engagement, employee satisfaction, employee acquisition and retention.This is being driven from the bottom up, mostly from the younger employees.   More younger workers are using some of these non-monetary attributes as a filter for positions.  Just as the Arab Spring movement towards democracy was driven by the 20 somethings through social media.  The principles that are an advantage of Holacracy needs to be spread to the 20 somethings through social media.  If the kids coming out of college start asking for these things in their job interviews, companies will have to adapt to get the brightest and best employees.  What better motivation can we have to entice the top of an organization to adopt Holacracy.  Over time those that do will out perform those that don't.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

On Being Happy

I saw a quote: "The secret to being happy is realizing that everything is already perfect."  About the same time a friend on mine said something along the lines of "Stop seeking what you want, It will find you."  So for the past few months I have tried to follow these two nuggets of advice.  You may have noticed that I have not posted in this blog for a while as most of my posting was about how to make things better.  But, if everything is already perfect, I don't need to post anymore. And if I should stop seeking, well what then?

I feel that it has been a partial success. But I find myself constantly stopping myself.

I see someone doing something in a way that I think could be done better. I start to speak, but bite my tongue and don't say anything.  Maybe the way I thought was better is not better.  Maybe what they were doing was good enough.  If everything is perfect, then their actions are also perfect. Maybe they needed to do it that way to learn an important life lesson and if I interfered they would not learn it and get into bigger trouble later. Cool, no stress in trying to explain myself, no resentment from correcting someone, the task gets done and maybe they learned what they needed to learn.

I see something that I would really like to do but I am not in the position to pursue it.  My natural instinct is to do everything I can to seek a path to be able to do it.  So I stop myself, put it on my someday list and move on.  If I had put in all the extra effort to seek the path, what would have been the cost.  Maybe I would be exhausted all the time and get sick.  Concentrating on that unattainable path would take all my concentration such that I would miss other opportunities that would have been just as interesting and useful without the pain.  Some other natural paths that would lead to where I wanted to go may be missed.

However, there is a temptation to take these two quotes and start doing nothing, navel gazing if you will.  After a bit of doing nothing, I get very unsatisfied.  Is my purpose in this world to do nothing? (This the dark side of stop seeking.)  If everything is already perfect I need not do anything.  (This is the dark side of always seeing perfection.) Well, what now?  How do I resolve this.

For the quotes above there others in the opposite direction just as valuable.  I am sure you could come up with many, but some that I like are:  "God helps those who help themselves" and "Every journey of a 1000 miles begins with one step. 

If everything is perfect, then why do you need to help yourself?  If you have stopped seeking, where are you going on the journey.  Are we to just wander aimlessly in our life's journey and simply enjoy all the perfection we see?  Well kinda but not really. 

How wishy-washy can I be!  There is a point in here somewhere!

We miss the point when we do as humans are most tempted to do and simplify everything to black and white.  What we miss the the infinite shades of gray (and of course the colors.)  We miss that there is stuff in the middle.  We miss that the tension between the extremes generates an entire universe where everything is perfect, we don't need to sacrifice everything to seek a path, we get what we need (often more)  and we have a purposeful journey with many accomplishments along the way.   It is not that there is a fixed middle way.  The middle way is a dynamic tension created by all the extremes pulling on each other.  The middle way is flexible, ever shifting and always playful. It is like surfing, riding the ever changing wave without flipping out into the sky or falling under the water. The exhilaration of maintaining the present moment to stay in tune with the wave is what makes it playful and fun.

For myself, I am looking to be happy riding that wave again after some time off.  What wave are you riding.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

First Principles

Holacracy exposed to me a number of first principles that I never noticed before. Once my eyes were opened, I see them everywhere. That is why I call them first principles as they seem universal.

One, I will talk about in this post, I will call "reduction." Reduction to me says that if you break up a job or task or project into very small next steps (you only need to identify these as you go, another first principle under dynamic steering) it is easy to get started and easy to maintain momentum towards completion of the larger project. The smaller the step, the easier it is to attack it.

We see this in nature when a very small stream of water can cut a huge boulder in half by removing a single grain of sand at a time.

There is a saying that "a journey of a thousand mile begins with one step." If you look at the thousand miles it is so overwhelming that you cannot even begin. But one step is easy. Then the next step is easy. And so on. With each step you will see something new an interesting that you would have missed if you only concentrated on the whole journey.

In my job, computer programming, we used to plan out an entire project in fine detail, in very specific order, creating very complex charts to find critical paths, etc. This made it very difficult to get started, it was difficult to do and manage, people always took short cuts and it usually fell apart with much suffering by everyone involved. Agile software development applies the reduction principle, making software development much more productive and efficient, easier to start seeing results and remove most of the unnecessary suffering that we used to experience. Agile makes it easier to adjust to changing requirements, which almost always happens as projects take many months or years and reality is a moving target.

Holacracy expresses this principal explicitly by saying: "find the smallest next step and deliver it fast, see what you learn from that and repeat." Agile focuses this reduction principle into practices specific to developing software: pair programming, test driven development, refactoring, time box planning, etc.  Holacracy expands the reduction principle to more general organization practices: meeting structure/purpose, integrative decision making, power distribution, organization structure/restructuring, etc.

Given the dynamic nature of Agile it is often at odds with traditional predict and control organizations.  Grown from some of the same first principles, Agile fits well within a Holacracy organization. Agile provides specific software development practices that seem to be activity specific specializations of the same more general principles that for the foundation of Holacracy.

Every day I see more examples of the reduction principle.  Once I started seeing them and realized the value in this first principle, I started actively looking for them. My life has become much richer from this change in perspective.  Try to see these things and see how it works for you.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Heroes in Organizations

In almost every organization there are heroes. Heroes are the people who "go the extra mile." Extending themselves to accomplish seemingly impossible tasks. Everyone either looks up to them or are jealous of them. We hold well known examples up before our children and encourage them to "be like Mike." The heroes often reap great rewards when they succeed and when they fall, suffer great disappointments. It is as though we worship manic depressive behavior.

With our current organizational models, we need heroes to "cut through the red tape" that keeps most people from accomplishing very much in their routine day to day work. The heroes become the heroic leaders in our organizations and are greatly sought out. Or organizations would fall flat without them. In a sense, successful organizations have become addicted to these heroic leaders.

This addictive behavior is a two way street. The heroic leaders cannot be heroes if the organizations were not structured to need them. How can one person standout so much if the organization allows everyone to be effective to their full capacity.

How often have you seen ideas and work by an average employee ignored and belittled when the same idea and work by one of these heroic leaders is readily adopted and heralded as brilliant. If organizations were able to listen to everyone there would still be differences in performance/rewards between people but not to the extremes we see today.

This pushing up the hero and pulling down the average person, creates a self fulfilling feedback loop, pushing the heroic leaders ever higher while demotivating and demoralizing the rest into an ever lower state. Following the basic yin-yang principle of the universe, we see that by needing and creating heroes, in balance, we also create the opposite in everyone else.

With this reinforcing loop in place, it becomes ever more difficult to break free into a more effective overall organization. So heroic leadership and organization need for heroic leadership is a co-dependent relationship.

Lets imagine an organization that did not need or have heroes, what would it look like.

First, everyone would have a voice that would be heard. Everyone would be treated as a valuable sensor of the part of the organization within their scope and have input to organization respected as from that scope. No one would be able to get their way based on ego values, but instead on the effect it would have on the organization to move forward towards meeting its purpose. No longer can an idea from someone be shut down by the fallacious argument of "I don't see it." This collective voice is not one of consensus (everyone agrees that it is good) but of consent (no one can see a definite harm.)

With this lower bar for decision making, it becomes easier to make most decisions. When decisions are easier, the risk and cost is lower to make most decisions. This leads to a feedback loop of making more, smaller decisions rapidly allowing the organization to vault up on the agility scale.

Next we would see that the leadership positions would not be overloaded to funnel more power and decisions into one person, but distributed over each team member and distributed over the entire organization increasing capacity accordingly. Information would not flow up and down at through one individual any point who could alter it or choke it. Direction and motivation would flow down through one person to a sub unit of the organization but feedback and sub unit health needs would flow back up through a different person. This would create a balance between the needs of the higher level to meet its organizational purpose with the needs of the sub unit to maintain a healthy environment to support those needs.

It should be easy to see that changing the basic organizational assumptions like this would reduce the dependence of heroic leadership, self empowering everyone in the organization to be engaged in the purpose of the organization, greatly increasing the capacity and agility of the organization without increasing the staff.

All of this is just a part of a new organizational operating system called Holacracy.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Medical Records

As part of being alive, most of us have had some contact with the medical profession and institutions. I have been around long enough to have seen many changes in medical technology. One area that seems to drag slowly behind in the US is electronic standardized medical records. As a long time computer technologist, it seems a natural progression. So why is it taking so long.

I have seen the advantages of electronic records and standardization in the very conservative financial industry. Transactions are defined by an international standard and you can send funds and other financial information almost anywhere in the world very quickly. The process is automated and even has the common term of Straight Through Processing.

Recently, I have experienced the transition from paper records to electronic records in some of my Doctors offices. In one office after about 4 months of pain during the transition, the office went from 45 or more minute waiting time in the reception area to about 5 minutes. All due to gains in efficiency. I have not experienced any loss in quality, in fact the visits seem a bit more relaxed and personal.

So why do some offices show so much resistance. I observe fear. I have talked to some Doctors about it and have seen the fear in their eyes. Fear of change. Fear of the cost to convert and maintain the new system. Fear of the pain during the transition as the staff and patience adjust to the change. Fear of lowering the quality of care. Mostly just a fear of the unknown.

But we do have some real world examples. Back in the late 1990s, Denmark starting converting to an National online medical records system so we have well over a decade of data from it.

The Danish system reports an average of 50 minute a day per Doctor reduction in administrative work. With a population of 5.5 million, it has saved the equivelent of $120 Million a year. Translate those saving to the US population and that is almost $7 billion each year.

We in the US spend a lot of money to provide a high quality of care. Health care in the US costs $7,290 per person (16% of GDP). While in Denmark it is $3,362 per person (9.8% of GDP). But what does that buy us? Life expectancy in the US is 78.1 and in Denmark it is 78.6, not any significant difference.

To get the full value from electronic records, it must be standardized, portable and accessible by appropriate medical providers.

Imagine being unconscious in an ambulance. In the current system, no one know what medications you are on or conditions you have requiring special care, unless you carry that information all the time. How many of us do that. Being able to access your history would allow the best cars in the shortest time.

Imagine the data mining applications to help improve the medical industry once we have built up a few years of records.

I see two points to push for this situation. One, lobby every Doctor office to implement an electronic records system. Two, push for a standard at the National (or even better international) level to allow for seamless exchange.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Innovation not equal Ideas

I have worked in a few large companies over the past few decades. Every so often they each would go on an innovations kick. Every time they would trot out the same old tired pony. The suggestion box.

The first few times in each company that I worked, I would get a bit excited that maybe something would happen with the suggestions. But after many years and a number of innovation initiatives, I guess, I have become a bit skeptical. After all how can I expect the company to do anything I put in the suggestion box when they have effectively ignored most everything I have proposed in my day to day work. I have hundreds of ideas every day, but rarely have the bandwidth to action only a few a year.

I got to the point where if I had an idea, I would jot it down and file it in my filing cabinet. Then, usually 3 to 5 years later, when everyone was in a panic and willing to try almost anything, I would go to my file and pull out an idea that would help solve the problem. Often the idea had been proposed and rejected earlier.

I never used all the ideas in my filing cabinet, but enough were useful to make it worth while to keep putting ideas into it. But it did illustrate that simply more ideas is not innovation. There were a lot of ideas in my filing cabinet, but simply sitting there caused no innovation.

My interpretation of an organization that every time it wants to innovate, the major thrust is to call for ideas is that the organization is simply insane. One of my favorite quotes is from Albert Einstein: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results." So I think that it is organizational insanity that causes this belief that this action of thrashing and rehashing is the same as making effective progress. If an organization cannot make use of the ideas that naturally occur in day to day work, how can it have the bandwidth to handle opening the flood gates by calling for ideas.

One problem, I have seen in some companies, is that the call for innovation is filtered through the requirement that the idea be fully formed, with little or no risk and is a home run of at least a value of 100 million before the company would consider any investment. There are a few companies willing to invest in small or partially formed ideas, 3m a few decades ago and Google recently. But it is a rare attitude.

Let's take a closer look at why so many companies cannot take advantage of the day to day ideas for improvement. 20 years ago a good friend of mine, Jeff Rosenberg, made the observation while we were going through another reorganization to implement the management theory of the day that "organizations do what they do because of the structure of the organization." Recently, I heard Brian Robertson, the founder of Holacracy, say that "organizations are perfectly organized to produce the results that they do." Given the current top down command and control organizational structure, with the decisions made towards the top and actions separated from the decisions and performed at the bottom, we have an organization that perfectly suppresses ideas from the bottom and separates the hands on learning and experience at the bottom from the decision makers at the top. This structure tends to calcify the organization, forcing it to do the same things over and over. To simply say "lets have all your ideas" without addressing this calcification perfectly meets Einstein's definition of insanity.

To be fair, working with in the conventional business framework, the suggestion box seems to be the only (easiest) way to break through these layers of calcification. But it rarely shows any significant results as it does not address the fundamental problem with the distribution of power.

Some of the organizational work at Toyota moved some of the decision making down to the line workers with a great increase in quality and production because some of the innovative ideas of the line workers was not lost through the filters of going up then back down through a fully calcified organization. Agile software development expanded some of these principles into the line level programmers, also with a substantial increase in quality and productivity. Holacracy is the leading edge of this wave, formalizing the ideas of distribution of power and dynamic organizational self modification for any type of organization. Holacracy is now formalized into a constitution that can be legally adopted by an organization.

Of course, full adoption of Holacracy would give the greatest benefit to any organization able to make the transition. However if that is not currently possible, a deep study of Holacracy and understanding its principle can help inform better decisions when there is an opportunity to decide between options when adjusting or working within a traditional organization. I do the latter almost every day.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Red is Green

Like many people, I try to be environmentally conscious. Minimize my impact on the environment by following the principle of reduce, reuse, recycle, etc. I drive a hybrid car. If I don't plant a at least a few vegetables in my vegetable garden every year, I feel useless.

About two years ago I discovered vermiculture. Yes, composting with red worms. I had always had a pile of shredded leaves etc in my back yard that I dabbled with composing. But with vermiculture, I could have some new and strange pets and be more involved in composting my kitchen vegetable waste all indoors! Yes, indoors! I have a year round sun room off the kitchen where I can keep my worm bins making it easy to deliver the kitchen scraps right from the kitchen. Some people do keep bins in other places in their houses, including the kitchen.

I started two years ago with a couple of standard (cheap) storage bins with holes drilled in the bottom for drainage and around the top for air. You can see dozens of these setups in amateur instructional videos on YouTube. These do work, but I was not happy with mine. They tended to stay too wet which can cause problems. I even had a die off right before a party and almost threw everything out. These cheap bins can get heavy and awkward to work with. So around Thanksgiving I invested in a Worm Farm.

The Worm Farm has multiples stacking trays of a reasonable size to handle, much better drainage and liquid collection system. The liquid that collects in the bottom is called worm tea and when diluted, makes a great natural liquid fertilizer for your plants (indoors or out.) The final product, worm casting, is a very rich fertilizer as well. With the improved drainage and ventilation of the Worm Farm, the moisture level is more easily maintained at the proper level, no more die offs or offensive odors, the worms are happy and thriving and I am very happy with it.

I would highly recommend that any one with a little space and the inclination, to try vermiculture. You do not need to have a garden (vegetable or flower.) With a little asking around, I am sure you would find someone who would make great use of the worm casting as they are rather expensive in a garden store.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

When Did I Really Start?

I was participating in a Holacracy community of practice Forum thread about implementing Holacracy and I realized that many contributors were dancing around the question of what really constitutes practicing Holacracy. They were saying things like "We do this and that, what do we need to add to really be practicing?" I believe that asking that question misses the point. Just like the ancient Zen riddle about the finger pointing at the moon, when you ask that question, you are focused on the finger not the moon.

Holacracy is practice and as all there is a common framework progression exhibited by most of the practices I have followed that we can put into context for Holacracy.

When starting a practice, there are a number of techniques or actions that you must learn to follow. You won't really understand them, but they seem to have some positive effects so you trust that and continue to practice the techniques by rote. At this point the techniques seem like a simple cookbook that if you can just do them enough, you will perfect them and reach some high but not well understood goal. In Holacracy, the basic techniques have been described in a 9 page introduction document. With the guidance of someone experienced with Holacracy, most circles can do the work of rote practicing these techniques fairly well. Some start with one or a few of the techniques and slowly add more as they become too comfortable, others jump in with both feet. Either way it is hard work to process a few tensions at a time, but as the effect become apparent, most are encouraged to keep moving forward.

After a while, with each success processing a tension, faith increases, capacity to sense and process increases, you begin to trust the process in your gut. The tendency is to stop falling back to old way and more naturally express the new way. As your capacity to process tensions increases, so does the capacity to sense tensions. At some point it will seem like you are fighting the Hydra, with every head (tension) you cut off 2 more take its place. The practice will seem to be getting harder not easier as you expected. You struggle taking great effort to chop of the heads. The tensions take effort as they are still seen as mostly problems to be solved and put to bed. But have faith.

Eventually, tension process starts to seem like a natural rhythm, not taking much effort to process each one. It actually starts to seem a bit easier. It is as though you are smoothly skiing through the process.

Some where along the way, you start to notice a change in your perception of the tensions, they stop being problems you need to get out of the way to get real work done to being opportunities for real work to be done. You switch from the sense of tensions having negative drag on you to being a forward force drawing forward to more and better work. Here is where deep internal understanding has developed. Here is where the process is no longer a rote step by step process, but more of an energy flow.

Is this last stage where you can say that you are starting to really practice Holacracy? In my opinion, this may be the point where you can look back to where you first made the commitment and stuck with the practice and say that in retrospect that the point of commitment was when you really started to practice.

Keep practicing and everything will develop!