Tag Archives: systems thinking

Listen carefully, it’s the System talking.

I’ve been interested in conversations, relationships and working together. How can we relate better at work and home. How is our behaviour affected by those around us, hierarchy, and our willingness to do emotional work – managing feelings and expressions to help a situation progress.

We often react to people  instinctively, pairing our response to their behaviour. Sometimes we choose to break a pattern of conversation, either with empathy for the other persons condition at the time, or to sabotage ourselves and the situation.

Barry Oshry has developed an incredibly useful model to discuss these situations, allowing us to see beyond the people, and to see the system talking. Of course all models are wrong , but some are useful (quote from George Box), and we’ve found Barry’s Seeing Systems model provides brilliant insights. There is a great introduction written by Barry, called Total Power Systems. Ignore the red cover and the words “total” and “power”. It’s not like that.

I worked with colleagues to develop and run workshops, asking ” could you work better with colleagues who had taken this workshop” and ” could you work better with colleagues who have not taken this workshop”. Responses are 100% positive for working better with others who have done the workshop. It seems to resonate.

Barry Oshry’s Seeing Systems Model

Barry’s Model has four conditions that we find ourselves in, in conversations and relationships

  • The conditions change regularly
  • They affect how we behave
  • They affect how others relate to us
  • The conditions are not roles, and do not imply hierarchy
  • But hierarchy is an ever preset overlay

None of the conditions is better or worse. They just are. And they are

  • Topoften overburdened and held accountable
    • Can create a system that thrives, where members are knowledgeable about the system and can use their full potential working in the system
    • When we are TOPS we often sabotage the situation by keeping responsibility to ourselves, away from others including BOTTOMS who can help
  • BottomHard done to
    • Are uniquely placed to see the problems that occur, and to identify and help correct issues
    • When we are BOTTOMS we sabotage the situation when we see problems we hold tops responsible. We don’t feedback suggestions. End of Story.
  • Middle stretched or torn 
    • Able to function as the organisations web, connecting parts and co-coordinating
    • We sabotage ourselves as MIDDLES by connecting primarily with one side or the other to the detriment  the relationship
  • Customerusually righteously screwed
    • Are in the best position to evaluate the delivery process and quality
    • We sabotage ourselves as CUSTOMERS when we hold delivery system solely responsible for delivery. We take no responsibility.

Each condition has two types of behaviour, we’ve called these balcony and basement. Balcony behaviours are positive, appropriate and “Using Yours Powers For Good”. Whereas, basement is the stuff we don’t like in others:  disruptive, argumentative, disengaged.

We move between the conditions often in conversations, and employ balcony or basement responses, usually re-actively without thinking. I’ll give examples later.

We do not act alone

The way we choose to communicate affects how people communicate with us. Hierarchy at work affects this, but we are not our role. Our unthinking reaction – called the “dance of the blind reflex” by Barry, is reinforced by  hierarchy.

  • Anyone who is responsible in a situation is a TOP in interactions
  • Anyone tasked with doing something is a BOTTOM in interactions
  • Negotiating between TOPs and BOTTOMS we are MIDDLES
  • Anyone getting something done for them is in the CUSTOMER condition

We can move between roles in the course of a conversation, meeting or day, often when walking down the corridor between conversations. The model helps us to have empathy for others in their condition. We can choose how to respond. It won’t always be easy or appropriate to respond with balcony response when we choose.


Example Situations

A tidy room.

As a parent you’d like your young child’s room tidying. You’re got hierarchy here. You can approach the conversation a number of ways.

You can tidy the room yourself. Your child is a CUSTOMER. If engaged to be a BALCONY CUSTOMER they could help, and tell you where everything goes, so all the toys are in the right place. You’re kind of both happy, but as a parent you’ve created yourself a job. If they’re not engaged, parental hierarchy may mean they don’t give you feedback, they could just wait until you’re finished, and then constantly ask where things are. If they can’t find anything, it’s your fault. Forever.

At worst, basement TOP behaviour, with hierarchy may have induced BASEMENT customer. At best it created work.

You can ask your child to tidy the room, giving instructions and guidance as the room gets tidier. You’re CUSTOMER/TOP, child is BOTTOM. They ask where things should go, and you’re there to tell them. You tell them what to keep, what to throw away and everything. They may learn after a few times to tidy the way you like it, assuming there is not too much new stuff. If anything changes they expect you to tell then what to do. Years later they may still expect to be told how to tidy their room.

By giving detailed instructions you’ve not created an autonomous system for keeping the room clean. You’ve helped  create a dependent basement BOTTOM behaviour.

As CUSTOMER/TOP you could create a system for keeping the room clean. You could encourage your child to be a BALCONY BOTTOM, by letting them tell you how the room works. What gets used the most, what they don’t like, and letting them work out how to tidy it all up, what to throw away etc. You’d need to check together  that everything looks OK, and check whats thrown out, but this feedback builds a better system, for example they learn they can’t throw out Christmas presents from Dad, no matter how uncool they are.

 


Example Holiday Advice from a Travel Agent

You want to go on holiday. Booking through an all inclusive agent you’re the CUSTOMER. You could walk in and just say “Here’s £1000. We want a family holiday where we’re all happy. Over to you. It better be good, or I’ll give you a terrible online review.” This sounds like basement CUSTOMER behaviour.

Or you could have a list of what your family like, for travel options, activities, temperature, food. You could work with the travel agent to get what you want. This may take more time, but you’ll probably get a better holiday.

From the travel agents perspective, they could behave as a basement TOP, and hold onto responsibility, or build a system that gets people the best holidays.

The travel agent may specialise in holidays for the over 50’s. When a group of young adults come in to book a wild holiday they could hold onto responsibility, and start figuring putting something together from scratch that they’re not familiar with. After all, they’re TOP and responsible. Or they could refer the group next door to the Student Travel Center. If the Student Travel Center refers groups of over 50’s back, then they’ve just created a system to get people the best holidays.

Interestingly, once on holiday, the agent is often a MIDDLE. Customers may complain about the standard of the food and accommodation. Hotels may complain about the lager louts that the travel agency send to the hotel, and the Travel agent is torn between the needs of both. Basement behaviour of reflexively siding with one or the other may not be good long term business sense. Balcony behaviour is a balance.

 


Example of Chief X Officer, working at boardroom level

A CxO is not always a TOP, despite being far up a companies hierarchical structure. For example the part of the organisation the CxO heads will provide service to the rest of the organisation. In meetings with the rest of the organisation, there could be two strategies.

When in meetings responsible for the delivery of their part of the organisation, a CxO would be BOTTOM. They need to deliver, and there is a choice of BALCONY or BASEMENT BOTTOM behaviour, that would have a different strategic outcome.

They can just do as they are told, and hold the next level up to be responsible for the outcome. This behaviour may be induced to be reflexive.

Or they may accept they are in the best place to recognise, diagnose, and get the resources to tackle the issues and work to rectify them using the knowledge and insights they have. If they are allowed. This behaviour is coupled with those in the TOP condition.

The CxO would soon leave the BOTTOM condition when making things happen, but may regularly be MIDDLE or CUSTOMER as well as TOP.


Example of calls to IT Service Desk

IT service desks staff receive calls from CUSTOMERS who often need things fixing. In the initial discussion they are TOPS responsible to the CUSTOMER. They can encourage BALCONY customer behavior where the CUSTOMER helps get their problem fixed, by providing information, feeding back on progress and being involved in the solution where required.

The service desk staff, in the TOP condition can hold responsibility for fixing the issue to themselves, when they need to involve others in the resolution. Involving others may involve moving into the MIDDLE condition to talk to others to get the problematic situation fixed, and be between the CUSTOMER, and the new BOTTOM.

The situation gets interesting if it turns out a 3rd party is involved. After being involved in a complicated problem, isn’t it just great when you can give the lot to someone else and say ‘you just fix this’. We’re in the basement CUSTOMER role here holding the 3rd party to be responsible, end of story. We’d act as MIDDLES between the Service Desk customer and the 3rd party. This is understandable, but maybe not helpful for getting the real customers problems fixed.

Silo Working

The above Service Desk shows an extreme example of Silo working – When we pass things between organisation silos we’re in the CUSTOMER condition, and it’s easy to fall into the basement. It’s often expected to behave as a basement CUSTOMER and hold the delivery system totally responsible. Helping them is not a good use of our limited time.

However we’ve all worked closely with others, times when we’ve temporarily removed barriers and worked together, as balcony CUSTOMERS, working with balcony TOPS, MIDDLES and BOTTOMS. It’s how we get important things done.


This is the goal of Barry Oshrys lifetime work, to help people understand how they relate to each other, and how their reactions can be conscious choices to work in a way that has the potential to induce positive behaviour in the people they are working with.

When we talk to other we should listen carefully, it’s often the system talking.


What can this help us with? When we hear “culture must come from the top”, we can understand “top” to mean hierarchy. ANY of the conditions that people at the hierarchical top of an organisation find themselves in, will be the basis of induced behaviour – effectively setting culture.

In this sense culture does come from the top. HOWEVER, if we apply Barry’s model to itself we find that if someone in the TOP condition and top in the hierarchy sets a direction, and “has the answer” then they may induce the basement BOTTOM behaviour of “I’ll just do what you say – and you’re responsible for the results.”

Any cultural change ideas, applied from the top/TOP down in a basement way are not likely to produce the desired change.

This induced behaviour has echos in the Theory X / Theory Y management styles. Barry Oshry’s work shows how we may induce Theory X behaviour reflexively when we may be wanting to develop relationships and create systems that utilise the resources and intelligence of the people in the system.

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Coffee and Thinking Hits

espresso_coffee2_imgI’ve had this idea for a business. I like different sorts of coffee and get a different effect from the caffeine with them. I can drink some types and be awake for hours, others I get an amazing hit that can be gone quickly. I assume this is something to do with chemistry of how the caffeine works . I’d need a business partner with a clue about this to make a coffee menu for my cafe, based on the effect you want the coffee to have.

I could sell coffee related to the activity you’re planning to do, like an ‘All Nighter Latte’, ‘Totally Wired to “Dad Nap” Espresso’ or ‘Hours Gym Class boost’. I’d just need to store and  roast the coffee beans and make the coffee in the right way to get the effect just right.

If you’re starting a cafe, you can have this idea, just let me have a few “Dad Naps” to say thanks.

Get what you want

We are what we eat, and we’re a little bit of what we drink, and we should maybe know a bit more about the effects of what we’re drinking. It’s the same with ideas. Sometimes we know what effect we want new ideas to have, to affect our mood or challenge us. Sometimes we don’t realise what we’re affected by.

We may be seeking reassurances that things will be OK, or that things are someone else’s fault. Validation for our point of view, and a prediction of a rosy future. Or an inevitable mess. Whatever makes us happy, or fuels or anger.

The is no shortage of people telling us how it’s gonna be, and moving so fast they never stop to face how wrong they were. Newspapers and politicians deal in future certainties, and explaining past complexity. It’s not surprising when that is what people are searching for. It’s what they crave, and it shouldn’t surprise us that it’s given to them.

The menu for this kind of thought contains ‘Blame someone else’, ‘You’re right to be worried’ and ‘Tell me everything is going to be OK.’.

If our current politicians and newspapers didn’t supply certainty, blame, hate and reassurances then politicians and newspapers that did would take their place. It’s how our system functions. The purpose is what it does, and we’re biased to want what often turns out to be bad for us.

What sort of thinking would you like?

So what sort of thinking is on the menu today? How did we get here? Who are we? What do we look like to other people? Are we making the same mistakes again? Why do people totally disagree with us? Could they also be right? What if we are all wrong?

Unlike coffee, we may need to create a demand for this sort of inquiry, and maybe soften the emotional hit it triggers. I can make you a coffee for that.

 

Workplace Systems Thinking Groups

This post is an overview of a talk by Tim James and Mike Haber at the SCIO open day in Manchester in October 2016. Pauline Roberts kindly made some great notes, and I’m using these notes as the basis of this post, and adding extra information and links.

At the talk in Manchester Mike and Tim gave an overview of some very powerful systems thinking work they have been doing in the workplace. Both have developed Systems Thinking groups in the workplace to share, support and learn from one another. Tim’s group is called Systems Thinkers Anonymous and Mike runs a strengths workshop. Both groups run for 1 hour per week over lunch time. 

The origin of this talk was a SCiO development day. These are days where systems practitioners meet to discuss practical problems they are dealing with. At a recent London Development Day Tim and Mike realised they were both facilitating systems thinking groups at their workplace, and although the groups were very different they had a lot of similarities. Looking at the differences and similarities has been really interesting.

Notes taken from SCiO open day by Tom Hitchman

Notes taken from SCiO open day by Tom Hitchman, @Carbonliteracy

 

How Mike’s Group Started

Mike started by running the introduction to systems thinking workshop “Draw Toast” with 45 people, and follow up sessions exploring boundaries using football matches as an example helping people start to think systemically. This was an example of using a single systems ideas, boundaries in this case, to investigate a situation. Mike had spoke at SCiO on this previously, and has a set of cards for workshops planned.

After these two sessions Mike asked a small number of colleagues who had attended previous sessions to investigate Clifton Strength’s Finder and Clean Language to see if using both ideas at the same time would be useful.

This group has been meeting weekly for about 10 months, and has moved to discuss more approaches, but in a largely unstructured meetings, using a lean coffee ish format. People bring their own ideas and situations.

Tim’s Group

Tim’s Systems Thinkers Anonymous group developed alongside a blog to engage and help others. The blog at http://systemsthinkersanonymous.com/ has helped their learning and a wide audience has now been drawn in to share learning and encourage systems practice and systems thinking. Tim’s group is more structured, and looks at systems approaches from Burge Hughes Walsh Training and consultancy.  There is a wide range of approaches and Tim’s blog discusses how the group has applied these to their problems. There is suggested work to do before each session, and a structure to the learning.

Example of rich picture from Tims group

Example of rich picture from Tims group

Tim’s blog is a great narrative of how the group has run, and has some great examples of applied Systems Thinking, including lots of diagramming techniques, Soft Systems Methodology, Rich Pictures, and guests including Jean Boulton talking about complexity

Comparisons

Whilst both groups are about drawing people into systems thinking, one is very structured and one is more organic. This demonstrated the versatility of how systems thinking can be shared at a grass roots level in organisations.

There was a discussion about “safety” of the groups, both as a protection from those who may challenge the legitimacy of the group, and the safe spaces for discussion that were created.

The branding of learning was helpful – both groups use freely available materials that helps give legitimacy and openness to the groups – the materials are available to anyone.

Content

Mike started using Clean Language as a way to model how people feel and  using Strengths Finder to understand how people work, and asked how the two pieces of information can support working relationships. The organic nature of the group allows emergence of topics for discussion that make people look at situations differently. The lack of agenda is its power. They are able to discuss things that would otherwise feel “unsafe” to talk about in the workplace. People are able to explore their own behaviour in a non-judgemental environment. Non Violent Communication was introduced as an amazing framework for doing this. He aims to explore Barry Oshry’s work next but the organic nature of the discussions will allow any topics prevail – whatever what people want to explore.

Tim has observed barriers being brought down and people feel they can talk about systems thinking in a way they never could before.

Tim noted there is a thirst for this kind of group due to the lack of training budgets in the NHS. Going into the systems thinking space is very different for those in the NHS. It is engaging and powerful and helps people look at the problems they are facing.

 

Questions

Do people think outside in or inside out? Are the groups on the outside, inside or are there some linear thinkers who are getting broader? And how this fits with the populations as a whole?

Tim – they have attracted people who would normally be attracted to the group. They have lost one or two but most have stayed.

Mike – similar to Tim, it’s people who are interested, but is quite rigorous calling out woolly thinking. There has been a definite shift towards practical systemic thinking in the group, and good practical examples of the use of the tools in work, and in other relationships.

 

Are the boundaries open?

Tim has taken in new members lately.

Mike – problems of scale as it is over lunch time. We definitely have a tight group, but are currently using the group to plan a series of three one hour workshops using Barry Oshhrys Power Systems framework.

 

Are either looking at a time when they can be an overt challenge to the organisation?

Tim- The blog – reflective text, way of engaging with other and also it can create autopoiesis – others could do the same if they wanted to.

Mike explained how people are starting to ask to be taught things about systems thinking there is an appetite for practical systems thinking, but it may need to be grass roots.

What do we get from the groups

What is emerging – fun! They are really enjoying their journey. There is a lot of work to set up a learning group but it is worth it. Whilst it isn’t for everyone most people are keen to support one another. Tim is doing project on public health, another on isolation (particularly for the elderly) and how to do commissioning for outcomes.

Shared ideas for Future Groups

Timing

Both groups meet weekly. If someone misses a meeting it’s a week until the next one, and there is a great benefit in running at the same time and day each week.

Content #1

The content of each group is sourced from books, websites and videos, and is open to anyone. There is no secrecy about the tools we’re using. Having a open source of content is important.

Content #2

The content the group discusses should reflect their interests, and if possible their issues.

Drivers

Both groups we’re initiated by a person interested in a group forming, who was able to get people interested. There may be some work involved, but both groups now meet if the initiator is not there.

Planning /Purpose

Each groups started with a completely different purpose. Tim’s group had a syllabus. Mikes started with one lunchtime meeting to look at a couple of techniques to see if they had merit – like a academic peer review. It continued and looked at other ideas because there was a interest to do so.

Official Support

Neither group has official support or funding. Margaret Wheatleys “Proceed until apprehened” works here. The groups are authentic, and are not suspect to ‘fear of missing out’, or have members who are there because they need to be seen there. A downside is a lack of direct influence. This can also be an advantage, as people can simply behave differently, and explain why afterwards which can be powerful.

Safe Spaces 

The groups are safe spaces where difficult conversations can be held. In the case of Mikes group, the group is quite tight. It would be hard for new members to join due to the shared language and understanding that the group has.

Any new group would need to be mindful of this, although it is not a negative in itself.

 

 

 

Black Mirror: Playtest

downloadBlack Mirror is a Netflix series about the near future – what may happen if some trends go in particular directions. To be believable the writing needs a systemic understanding of how things may emerge and fit together, with story and twists that systemically fit the narrative.

I’m testing my systems analysis.

Playtest

Initially, Playtest didn’t seem to have many systems to work with. It feels a familiar “what is reality?” question. In the near future we may not be able to tell virtual or augmented realities generated by ourselves from the real thing – and so how do we know when we have left them?

This is a greater dilemma when our fears create the virtual realities. Because we may fear not knowing what reality is, and we may fear loss of an anchor in our lives, a loss of control.  In this episode the main actor knows he’ll be in an augmented reality – having virtual images on top of reality – Pokemon go style. But he never leaves his chair, so is he in reality here, or are things already unreal?

A Hierarchy gives you somewhere to stand 

One way to think about reality is like a hierarchy. Real is at the top, and you can go down levels and come back up again. Back to top, which is definitely real. Having a known hierarchy is reassuring, everything’s all right, and you know where you are. There is somewhere objective to stand.

But systems are within systems. You can keep going out another layer, and this episode doesn’t let us know what level of reality we’re at, though it gives us some clues that we’re not at the top, if there even is a top.  Fear comes from not knowing where real is, realising that everything is subjective. There is nowhere in the universe that stays still for an objective viewpoint.

Journey as a Metaphor

There is a long introduction anchoring what we think as reality at the start. But could reality have already stopped? There was a traumatic event before the episode starts when the lead characters father dies. Going on a journey as he does is a metaphor. On the trip nothing seems to go wrong. Is reality already gone?

He slowly sees his reality go bad – and gets work in a computer games test lab.
It’s here he gets a medical implant, so he hears and sees, but doesn’t feel things that he thinks are on top  of reality, and not really there.

The experiment is to see how much fear he can tolerate, created by his own mind. His physical environment is real, but the frightening things in it, initially spiders and  spooky people are computer generated.

His radio connection to the game controller fails. Which is quite frightening, and is also a psychological fear of loss of someone overseeing you. Like to loss of his Father to Alzheimer’s.

This Reality isn’t reality.

There is then a twist, an unexpected ‘real life’  person turns up and tells him he’s in danger, and then stabs him – and he feels the pain for real. He then starts to hear the voice of the game controller in his ear as the voice in his head – it knows about his family, and how his father had Alzheimer’s and how he is now losing his memories.

We eventually pull back to seeing him in the experiment, having totally lost all of his memories, and not knowing who he is. And we pull back another level of reality. But are we real now? How frightening if we’re not yet real?

Finally he gets home, after a journey where he faces his worst fears, and his mum doesn’t recognise him. Another anchor to reality gone, and we go out another yet level of reality. Back to a familiar scene, but one that is still suspect, and has ties to conversations at other levels.

Onwards on shifting sands.

Despair Squid

An episode of Red Dwarf had a similar beginning. The crew  think that their lives were actually an immersion video game. And they had wasted 4 years playing really badly. They too woke up not remembering who they were (Dwayne Dilbley!), all done by the despair squid.

Black Mirror: White Bear and Nosedive.

downloadSpoiler Alerts! This post is my analysis of two Black Mirror shows, available on Netflix. Written by Charlie Brooker.

Black Mirror is about the near future – what may happen if some trends go in particular directions. To be believable the writing needs a systemic understanding of how things may emerge and fit together, with story and twists that systemically fit the narrative.

I’m testing my analysis skills, writing about the context and bigger picture that we see in the episodes. The analysis here is general. I’d like to look at future episodes using particular systems approaches that are suitable for the situation.

White Bear
Voyeuristic punishment for an evil crime. The perpetrator is punished in the same way, over and over while being watched by members of the public for their enjoyment.
At the end of each punishment day the perpetrator is given a cocktail of drugs, and appears to forget what she has done. She then re-lives the day again not realising what is going on, finally being made aware of her crime in front of an audience there to witness the event.

Apparently she was an accomplice to the torture and killing of a child, and went along with her partner, for reasons not explained.

white-bear

A plus, ‘+’ on the arrow means that an increase or decrease in one leads to a similar increase or decrease in the other. A minus, ‘-‘ on the arrow means an increase leads to a decrease, and a decrease leads o an increase. I hope this makes sense.

White Bear shows the reoccurring punishment of someone who seemed to have no knowledge of the crime, or who and where she was. Her memory is erased by those punishing her, to make the punishment worse.
This was the purpose of the system, to cause the greatest amount of pain to someone guilty of a crime, and to have a theatre of punishment where people could pay to spectate and be part of the punishment. There was not an end to the punishment, although when it stopped attracting paying customers it may close, or if a more profitable punishment theatre opportunity arose it may be replaced.

If it lost popularity, and there was no one to be punished, then would the entertainment stop? Would hatred of a criminal be whipped up in the media to keep the entertainment going? A fake crime could be created, and actors used so that money can be made?

It wasn’t clear who was profiting financially from the punishment, or how the made sure that they always had a crime that it was profitable to punish? The people attending the punishment were enjoying seeing someone punished.

The woman being punished started each day not knowing who she was. Crimes are often contextual. People can do evil things if they are in the wrong environment, and manipulated with propaganda or controlled. From standing by while bad things happen to people who have been dehumanized by propaganda, to taking part in crimes without committing them (Eichmann) through to planning and committing crimes.

If someones identity is deliberately removed, they do not know who are where they are and have no context for their life, are they the same person who committed the crime? Without the context of their childhood, their experiences, and the influence of other people, someones life take a different path.

Removing someones knowledge about themselves and what they have done seems a cruel punishment designed to inflict pain on the person guilty of the crime, forcing them to relive (via videos and narrative) the situations that led to the crime, were another totally different outcome could have emerged in a different context. They learned of the crime they had committed but not the context that led up to it.

White Bear was a punishment whose occurrence is never-ending, while profitable for the organisation running it, provides continual suffering, with no end in sight.

 

Nosedive

Nosedive is about living in a society where  human interactions  are rated, as can posted videos and photos. There is  single 1-5 star scale, and each transaction goes towards someones total, from getting good service at a café, to cutting someone up in traffic, to a pleasant but insincere conversation in a lift.

Access to housing, jobs, and services including some medical services is dependent on your rating. There is a single rating for everything reducing the variety of life to a single 1-5 scale. This simplification massively reduces  complexity, and allows for simple judgements, analysis and action. Automation of access to services, events and jobs makes life in many ways quite fair (a conclusion from David Graebers Utopia of Rules).

The program mainly has “good-looking thin people” on it with high ratings and good jobs. People with lower ratings are seen doing more menial jobs. Rating are affected by things like being on the wrong side of a relationship breakup, leading to someone losing their job. – Their ‘friends’ could help their rating, but would risk being down voted by their peers – The interactions seem quite naïve given the Machiavellian power and influence struggles that would become a part of this society.

nosedive

In this world there is a massive reduction in variety. Judging people by 1 metric. It seems to have made people 1 dimensional in their interactions, with an emphasis on getting good feedback. There are feedback loops here – people who give 5 stars expect to get 5 back and complain if not. There is deeper thought – and it’s acknowledged that everything is about ratings, but this is expressed under duress, so any discussion of this is clearly dangerous.

When people accidentally bump into each other then the person responsible gets down rated to lose points. In reality though blame is not so straightforward. People rarely admit to being wrong while driving for example, so these interactions must be lose / lose for both parties. The developing story is about how someone falls from a high to low rating rapidly by simply being annoyed in an understandable human way.

There are at least 2 types of people in Nosedive, and different types of relationships.

  • There are those who care about ratings and whose relationships are about improving their ratings average. Getting rated highly by a higher individual is a goal, but can reflect badly on the higher rated person, and interactions are all about being rated highly.
  • There are those who don’t care about ratings. We only meet one of these people, who does appear to have a job, and was, once, highly rated.
  • Relationships can be not usually rated – like close friends and siblings. Conversations here can be much more real and deeper, but can still be rated.

There are interesting parts of the show where there are discussions with experts who will help people improve their rating – there is clearly a formulae about the network graph of your interactions, and if you’re rated by service workers, family, or people with lots of connections there are different weights applied. It’s not clear if these experts work for the company who does the ratings, or are independent. Or most likely some hybrid of independent with insider information.

It’s not clear who runs the rating software, or who implements the rules. The rules have a deep influence on how the society runs – what is valued and how conversation flows. I think it’s fair to say that saying you’re not OK, need help, or have done something wrong is not going to be rated well. Yet the society still appears to function. With certain jobs, houses and products only available to highly ranked people want to be rated highly.

Similar systems already exist for Facebook, where algorithms decide who sees your posts. More popular people and posts get more exposure. People often post in a way they hope to be popular, rather than be, say, true or real. And discounts are already available if you like a businesses page, and then  use that business.  Facebook has apologised for experimenting with users emotions already. There are many ways this could be used and misused, however as a human feedback mechanism there is no time for reflection. The feedback may be done quickly by Dr Steve Peters Chimp part off the brain, which is unlikely to react thoughtfully.

Would an alternative system appear? Would there be places where you could interact with people in mean and nasty ways? Would someone sell you this service? (of course they would:-).

Would there be parts of society with no ratings? Would this even be legal? Could you buy ratings, with cash or sex rather than fake niceness?

A real ‘nasty’ exchange does occur in  a police cell at the end of the show, with a cathartic exchange of insults between people with nothing to lose, which, although authentic is still chimp talk.

Comments welcome.

Using Clean Language and Retrospective

 

Clean Change CardsI’m practising using Clean Language techniques on myself, to try to reveal the ways that I understand how I work at my best. Clean Langues is a set of question designed to get personal metaphors that help with our understanding. This video by Caitlin Walker is the best introduction I’ve found.

I asked myself  questions 8 months ago and wrote down the answers. I had the 12 clean language questions on cards in front of me, and scanned them for the next question to ask myself.

I’ll show the answers to these questions,  and I’ll look at the practical steps I’ve taken since then.

Question #1: Listening and Understanding at my best.

What would you like to have happen?

I’d like to listen and understand other people.

Listening and understanding at your best is like what?

When I am listening and understanding at my best it is like sieving information into a large bowl. I need the bowl to keep all the information in and the sieve helps me ensure that no lumpy information gets through. Lumpy information is not clear to me, so I may need to inquire the meaning of what is being said. Listening and understanding means I do not offer solutions and ideas.

Is there anything else about the bowl?

It’s like an empty container, for the persons version of reality to go into, where it will not be affected by my reality.

To do this I need to keep a quiet and open mind, and not try to be judgemental about someones situation or analysis. It is their reality.

And what happens just before you sieve information into the bowl?

I need to make sure I have an empty bowl, and that it is there for the other persons information to go into. I need to get pollutants out of the way, clean the workspace before I start.

And is there anything else about the bowl?

I’d need a lot of them, and somewhere to put them!

Things I’ve done for Listening and Understanding at my best.

I’m learning to apply the techniques from Marshall Rosenbergs Non Violent Communication, to stop making jedgements and empathise with people. This may help with understanding people – getting the sieving right.

 

Question #2 Learning at my Best

What would you like to have happen?

I’d like to be understand how I learn at my best.

And when you are learning at your best, that’s like what?

What I am learning at my best I need to be either joining the dots of things I already know, or focusing on learning a new thing, that has a boundary around it.

And when you are joining the dots, that’s joining the dots like what?

When joining the dots I feel like knowledge needs to sink in, like a stone dropping into a pond. The stone drops, falls to the bottom, and the water needs to go still, and the stone needs to sink and lie at the bottom for some time. I can put in other stones, but I’ll need to dive down later, find the stone and clean the sediment from it. I can then see the shape, colour and type of the stone and see how it fits in with the other stones I have.

Sometime I can see how a stone may fit in before it goes into the pond, but I’ll still find out new things once it’s been submerged for a while.

And whereabouts is the pond?

It’s at the back of my head.

And what happens just before you dive down later, find the stone and clean sediment from it?

I usually learn something, or talk to someone. I need to interact with other people and ideas to be able to dive down and rediscover things I have learned, clean them off and use them.

Things I’ve done for Learning at my best.

A month after this answer I asked some colleagues at work if they would be interested in working with Clean Language and the Strength Finder personal model by Marchus Buckingham. We’ve met weekly since then, sometimes running clean language question sessions, or discussing out Strengths. There have also been sessions where we apply our understanding to work and personal issues, to better understand and react to situations.

I’ve realised that I actually need someone to help me get the stones out of the pond, and having people is the most I can talk to about this is the most important thing about learning.

As a group we’re had the most sessions discussing how our strengths and models affect how we react to things, and have built models about what goes on in our heads, similar to Steve Peters ‘human/monkey/computer’ model. This all deserves another post.

Question #3 Focusing on work

What would you like to have happen?

I’d like to concentrate and focus on work without being distracted.

And what kind of focus and concentration is that focus and concentration?

It’s like immersion in the task that narrows perspective, but it’s not imposed like blinkers. It is a desirable state that I want to be in. Being in the zone.

Is there anything else about that desirable state, being in the zone?

I am in the zone like a Surgeon, focusing on an operation.

And what happens before you get in that desirable state, being in the zone?

The surgeon needs the right tools laid out, the full patient notes understood and an understanding of what needs to be done.

Preparation is important, like a surgeon prepares their tools, cleans and checks surfaces, removes distractions and understands what a good outcome is.

Like a surgeon I need a toolkit and a checklist to get the operating theatre in a known state before work begins.

And what happens next?

When I have prepared for the operation, I can focus in the zone.

Things I’ve done for Focusing on work

I’ve done quite a bit here. I recently recognised that I do different types of work well and different times of day, and I’ve started to protect and use these. So I try to do something requiring concentration  first thing, and leave brain-dead things for the early afternoon. I’ve also found I get a focus boost after a good session at the gym at work. They should really pay me to got there.

I’ve also started to using David Allens Getting Things Done methodology My brain hated this, but the contextual list and next actions help get the correct surgeons tools laid out in the right place, and makes a good outcome clearer.

 

 

 

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.