Author Archives: make10louder

Was the #brexit vote democratic?

Screenshot from 2016-07-03 22-18-52Was the recent UK referendum democratic? Everyone had a vote, but a vote reducing a complex situation to a binary choice. There was no option to treat the situation as complex, with good perspectives and arguments on both sides. Commentators acknowledged the messiness, but then re-framed the discussion in a single metric, it’s about ‘sovereignty’ or our “ability to make our own laws”. Whatever the result, the carefully chosen frame was noble and defensible in hindsight.

I think the vote was wrong. Not the result, the entire referendum. Engaging in binary arguments about complex political situations is the domain of ignorance. When we ignore perspective and context, we reduce our democracy, and move our society in a dangerous ugly populist direction.

Nora Bateson says the root of fascism is “this habit studying and making sense of things by taking them apart”. Eventually getting a simple answer blaming someone you’ve separated from yourself.

By even engaging with the binary question we are arguing on terms that agree that there is a separation, that “I” separates from “we”. After the vote, we can’t continue the separation, we should understand the perspectives and context of others, and acknowledge where there are valid arguments. These argument may be at odds with what we believe. That’s fine, in any complex situation there are conflicting valid viewpoints. Anyone who begins to understand a truly complex situation will hold unresolved conflicting ideas in their own mind. Any change has winners and losers.

Europe is connected by global industry, markets and consumption. But we’re also connected by friendship, love, human struggle and a need for dignity and to belong.

We can’t continue being separate. Leave votes aren’t all racist xenophobes, but binary politics is a slope to fascism.

I’ve used a lot of Nora Batesons ideas and words here. I hope that’s OK.


For me, dyslexia is great!


Image: Huffingdonpost

I’ve just written and recorded a video about dyslexia, after I was send a link asking for contributions for National Dyslexic Week.

Here is the script. I should be able to find it here 🙂


I’m can be quite disorganised, all information goes into one big bucket in my head, rather than being sorted in some way.

But because Dyslexia puts everything in one big bucket I can see patterns and similarities and connections between things really easily.
I can model complicated systems in my head, and see the differences between the models and what must have happened for a situation to occur.
It also makes me great at problem solving, I tend to look at every problem using all the information in my head, not just a limited selection.

So what I lack in organisation, I make up for by being able to think about organisation in a unique way.

I naturally see things from many conflicting perspectives, and understand that the perspectives are all real. This allows me to make sense to situations where other struggle. Dyslexia allows me to dissolve difficulties by thinking solutions around them. I’m always looking for a better way to do something,
For me, it’s a positive.


Systems Thinkers need a Posse


obeyAndre the Giant has a posse. Public Enemy have the S1Ws. Radicals throughout history had a crew, an entourage, a crew. The Misfit Economy by Alexa Clay and Kyra Maya Phillips details types of people who did things differently, from pirates to gangsters and hackers. And they all had a posse.

It’s hard to stand on your own, against the grain. People carry hammers to knock in any nails that dare to stick up. Sometime this is just a put down, a career blip. Maybe what you say means you can’t walk the streets without watching your back.

Clay and Phillips don’t mention systems thinkers in their book, but they are out there, from a voice in a dysfunctional organisation, to revealing the structural racism inherent in a dysfunctional society.

Some run towards the danger, up for a fight. Others see the danger and wait or give up. Seeing systems can be a hard, lonely place full of compromise and disillusionment. We need friendly people to talk to, who have been there, who can see the patterns that may be too close for us to focus on.

For a group who are arguably all about they way things connect, the systems community are a fractured bunch. Academia values novel research. Just connecting other people works doesn’t carry much weight. What should be a strong backbone of theory is a silo factory. Consultancy is as bad. There are people who attack others work as a way of promoting their own. Of course they need to pay the rent. The problem is structural as much as human.

We need a community, for support when it goes wrong, to build ideas, to talk, laugh and develop. Ideas are free, but alone I’m useless. I need to talk, how else do I know what I think? And sharing means more ideas, not spending my time defending what I have. We need safe spaces to think, grow and change. Safe from attack and ridicule, and safe from being used as a step to make someone feel taller.

What would a systems thinking community value, and how would our current interactions compare to an ideal that we can all theorize about, but we sometimes work to destroy.

Are we too fractured to have an identity?

Why are people replacing robots?

Mercedes-Benz is replacing some of the robots in their factories with people.

3127953038There had to be some passionate conversations between factory managers, and executives at Mercedes-Benz with this one. Replacing some robots with people has caused all sort of problems. If the factories are quite new, and were built for automation they probably don’t have many toilets near the factory floor. Or a large car park, or canteen. Robots don’t drive to work, and need to eat. Factory managers will take personal and professional pride in running efficient operations and automation has made cars affordable, reliable and available.

What is going on when the factories start employing people to replace robots? Wearing an efficiency hat this doesn’t make sense. Robotic factories have been the only future imaginable for years.  What has changed? Does the factory rulebook need to be rewritten?

Increasing pace of change and complexity 

From the Guardian article:

The robots cannot handle the pace of change and the complexity of the key customisation options available for the company’s S-Class saloon at the 101-year-old Sindelfingen plant, which produces 400, 000 vehicles a year from 1,500 tons of steel a day.

We need to be flexible. The variety is too much to take on for the machines. They can’t work with all the different options and keep pace with changes.”

Robots can’t currently mange the complexity of the customisation options. People are currently able to outperform robots at tasks requiring variety, at least until the robot manufacturers catch up.

Managing Variety 1: Making something you can sell

To find where this variety has come from, we can start in sales. Mercedes is in business to sell cars to customers. To do the sales folk need to offer what the customer environment wants, a…

… dizzying number of options for the cars – from heated or cooled cup holders, various wheels, carbon-fibre trims and decals, and even four types of caps for tire valves –

There may be customer demand for these, or marketing could have created the demand. Either way, with a lean, efficient production line, the sales folk are selling something the robotic factories can’t make.

Variety 2: Selling something you can make

Mercedes need to reduce the variety their customers demand to a level their factories can cope with. Balancing this equation is essential. Of course the ultimate offer would be a custom Mercedes for each customer, but this is not possible for the cost of a Mercedes.

To do this marketing and production have to work together to design and market cars that they can make in their factories. Mercedes-Benz are a luxury brand, so cost efficiency is not the sole purpose of the factory.

Marketing has to create and manage demand for the sort of customisation that their factories, restructured with people and robots, can produce. People can cope with the operational variety that robots, or people behaving like robots can’t.

Using robots, machines or computers increases efficiency, but reduces the ability of the system, in this case a factory, to cope with variety in an fast changing environment.

At every level we must ensure that the variety equations balance. If a car dealer can’t supply what the customer is asking for, they will buy elsewhere. If the factory can’t make what the car dealer is selling then the business won’t last long.




Why we need Models, and why it’s hard to change them.

  •  It’s 460BC. Your job is a map maker, and your maps show the world to be flat. You’ve a lockup garage of flat earth maps to sell. But you also like astronomy, and understanding the planets.
    • Is a model of a flat earth of any use? Is it good?  It was good enough for me to get to work, and to drive a cart to London.
    • But it’s not good enough for astronomy, you need another model.
  • You hear of the model of the earth as a sphere. Hmm, this fits simple astronomy, but does it make your lockup full of flat earth maps worthless? Which model do you believe? How hard is it to change your mind to a new more complicated model?
    • Is the model good enough? It’s great when thinking on a global scale – like where is Australia relative to where you are.
    • But maybe it’s a bit complicated for driving to London. A flat earth map will be fine for that.
  • From the international space station, is the model of the earth as a sphere good enough?
    • Maybe not. Gravity may be affected by the shape of the earth, and the movement of planets may need more complicated models. But perhaps you don’t need a model of the earth that shows the Himalayas.
  • Is that enough models?
  • What if you are cycling to London? A flat earth map won’t show you the hills, but a spherical model with enough detail is far too much information. You like to avoid hills, so you need another model.

Using the examples above, I think we can learn:

  • We need models. A model is a synonym for an understanding
  • Multiple models of the same thing exist at the same time
  • New models should compliment existing ones
  • We should use the simplest model we can, but no simpler
  • We need awareness of other models
  • Believing in one true model is an Anti-Pattern
  • If you have an interest in a model being true (like a business selling flat earth maps) it could be hard to learn a new model. The greatest resistance against a new, different model may be those who currently benefit from an existing model.
  • All models are wrong, but some are useful. Is the only up-to date model of the earth the earth itself?

This cartoon shows Calvin explaining his simple model to his toy tiger.


This model of how to make toast is sufficient unless:

  • Calvin starts to sell toast in his yard and
    • He may be asked to contribute towards the electricity bill
      • “There is electricity and you have to pay for it?!”
    • He may have to buy his own bread
      • “Can’t I reuse the bread I just put in somehow?!”
    • There is a drought and the price of bread rises
      • “So I’m losing money on everything I sell?!”

Systems Thinkers love models. It’s how we understand the world, and different perspectives and contexts.

We can also see that if you insist on using a simple model, for example one that will fit on a napkin, or can be explained to a 6 year old, then you can only use it in simple situations. More complicated systems need bigger models.

My Strengths vs Your Strengths. Pleased to meet you. Let’s build something amazing.


We all have strengths. Some people are fortunate enough to find their skills and use them in life and work. Or we may never recognise what we’re good at, or find our skills are not required or appreciated. We’re quick to label the behaviour of others as wrong or stupid. We may not understand what they are doing, and why.

How do we recognise each others abilities, and talk about how we can work together? Can we understand which strengths we don’t excel in, and when they’re more useful than our own skills?

How do we recognise that some behaviours are strengths at all? People may be too controlling, too keen on harmony, can avoid facts to concentrate on ambiguity, or seem to enjoy the complications. I annoy people by abandoning plans at the first sign of a better way. Colleagues see my critical views as criticising plans to destroy them,  when I want to test and improve the foundations.

Recently I took the Strength Finder 2.0 online analysis to find my strengths. I found this through one of Tobias Myers posts. Tobias says a lot of great things so I though I’d see what insights came with this.

Out of 32 possible strengths my top 5  fit me pretty well, describing someone systemic, interested in ideas and learning. it also suggested I was a people person, able to understand and design how people can do things better. My number 1 is Strategy. Which means I can figure out a way to make it work too.

The 5 strengths were Strategy, Learner, Individualization, Ideation and Arranger. There are many more details available online and on youtube about these strengths. I’ve also started to create some mind maps of the strengths videos. Available on git. But my strengths are not the point.

For a few weeks after the test moved on, content with having some great new phrases for my linkedin profile. Then I realised this was a sharable understanding of how I work at my best and a way I can understand, appreciate and work with others. Boom.

I have no affiliation with Strengths Finder, the basic test is $15. I prefer open tools and ideas, but this tool seems so powerful, and I’m not sure it would exist otherwise.

I hope to get some colleagues to take the test.

If we can

  • talk about out strengths using a common language
  • understand the wide range of skills people have
  • recognise how we can work together, on purpose,

Then we can build amazing things.

Modelling, not measurement makes things happen


Tom DeMarco  wrote  that “you can’t control what you can’t measure.”measure

It depends what you mean by manage. Often management is to have the situation understood with metrics, and improved with targets. That was a neat trick of this argument. It’s “my way or the highway”, and if you’re not measuring, you’re not managing. A highway is pretty measurable though, distances, speed limits, number of cars per hour. So measurement is really useful, but maybe not for managing complicated things.

If you’re not Modelling, you’re not Managing

I believe that you can’t manage what you haven’t modelled. This is much harder than collecting numbers to compare to baselines, standards and SLAs. What modelling means is not always straightforward. Your understanding of an organisation is a model. If you have a incomplete model you cannot understand. Your metaphors about your organisation and your relationships affect how you understand and respond. They restrict how you understand and respond.


Calvin and his tiger have an incomplete model.


There are a few types of systems models, that provide different views. There are two I’m current interested in. Whole systems models, show how an organisation achieves its purpose. Some theory behind these models is the Viable Systems Model. Symbolic mental models reveal powerful insights into how people understand and act. Mental models using Clean Language, and use the language of metaphor reveal powerful understanding. I’ll be posting about how I use each of these in the future.