Fred Kofman – Conscious Business

Here’s a summary of a couple of talks by Fred Kofman. Thanks to Jen Allum, now leading X (Alphabet’s moonshot factory), who I worked with when she was Director of GOV.UK, for the recommendation.

Your job is the goal you pursue – not the activity you do

What you do is only ever a means to an end. The end is what matters.

“I’m a taxi driver” vs “I help people get where they want to go”

Perfect organisation design is impossible

“In order to optimise the system you have to sub-optimise the sub-system. That’s a mathematical truth.” In assessing peoples’ performance, and compensating them, you can either measure the system or the sub-system. Both are flawed:

If you provide global incentives, then you’ll create a unified, aligned team, with cooperation and risk-pooling. But it’s harder to manage, you can get free-riders, and great performers will likely feel that their unique contribution is not recognised.

If you provide local incentives (focusing on more narrow performance goals or measures of success) then you get excellence, with focus and accountability, and can attract great people. But you get a silo mentality, with people only thinking and acting to pursue their narrow immediate interests. For example, if waiters keep their tips rather than putting them in a common pool, you’ll get good waiters – but if a waiter sees that another table is having a bad experience, they won’t be incentivized to intervene. Optimising for silos doesn’t make sense – there’s no use having healthy kidneys if the body as a whole is sick.

So incentive systems cannot drive a company properly.  You need a mobilising, cohering vision and purpose to transcend this contradiction. This will inspire people to do the right thing, regardless of the incentive system around them.) The good news is that because this is a universal, unsolveable problem, you just need to do a slightly better job at solving it than your competition.

Material compensation is only helpful to a point. People value self-transcendence more highly. So make space for people to be themselves, but bigger.

Leadership is about inviting people to follow a mission

“Leadership is eliciting the internal commitment of others to pursue a mission” – it’s about moral authority rather than formal authority.

Going further: “Don’t work for me, work for the mission.”
“A true leader doesn’t say ‘follow me’, a true leader says ‘join me and we’ll follow the mission’”

You’re a part of everything that happens to you

Everything that happens in life is a result of the challenge and your ability to respond to it.

You can see life in one of two ways, which has a big impact:

1 – your experience of life is determined by what happens to you

2 – life is giving you raw material and you have to choose how to respond. It’s like a game of chess, and you can make good things out of bad raw materials. Take responsibility for your own choices and actions, even if circumstances aren’t great.

Acting with integrity is the only solution to the problems of life.

You must accept that you are part of the problem. You need to take responsibility and work out how you can respond. “If you don’t feel part of the problem, you cannot be part of the solution.” So ask yourself:

  • How did you contribute (through action or inaction) to create the problem?
  • What can you do now?
  • What can you learn from this?

“Die before you die”

We will all die. Start from this inevitable point. What do you want to do with the time that you have left?
Heroism is living by your values, being vulnerable, telling the truth.

(Aside: I disliked how Reid Hoffman acted dismissively towards Rachelle Diamond who introduced the second session. This type of behaviour doesn’t suggest a high level of psychological safety)

Futures Thinking and Strategic Foresight – Summary of Become a futurist, by the Metafuture School

I recently completed a course on Futures Studies – Become a futurist, by the Metafuture School. Here are some of the key insights.

General planning thinks about one future. Futures thinking, in contrast, thinks about multiple possible futures. (The field of futures/foresight used to be about concrete things like predicting future demand, but there’s so much uncertainty that this was a waste of time.)

Thinking about different futures helps us remember that different possibilities exist, and that they are man-made.

We should see the future as an asset – an input into the world we wish for. It’s an input into questioning and changing today. Ivana Milovević said that “The future is not an empty space but, like the past, an active aspect of the present”.

Strategic Foresight is the creation of alternative and preferred futures, with an understanding of the worldviews and metaphors that underlie them, and the working out of what we need to do differently to manifest them. By thinking about different possible futures, we can deliberately work to bring about the one that we want to see. “The grass is greener where you water it.”

The point about worldviews and metaphors is crucial – if we ignore this, then the work is superficial and incremental. In most of our questions there are assumptions about reality, culture, and the right way to do things. If you’re doing foresight, you’re questioning these things. So we need to question the cultural basis of our questions, seeing them not as universal, but as problematic as well. “Our questions are actually congealed knowledge. Thus questioning also has to be questioned.”

Metaphors and frames shape people’s responses. If you think of crime as a ‘beast’ you will be inclined to put money into policing. If you think of it as a ‘virus’ you will be inclined to put money into education and ending poverty. Librarians are moving how they see themselves from ‘keepers of the collections’ to ‘innovators of the gardens’.

So we need to ask: how is the world changing? And do I have the appropriate paradigm or worldview to handle this? What do I need to change about how I see the world to have more choices, and see more possibilities? You need to transform your culture and your metaphors, otherwise you won’t be able to see or realise these desired futures. So you need to find a new story that will help create a new future.

The way you think about the world is a risk. It could be too narrow – so you need to involve different perspectives in thinking about possible futures. Ask: who’s not in the room?

The general approach to Futures is:

  • Challenge the Used Future (old practices that persist even though they don’t help us now)
  • Scan the environment for emerging issues and weak signals
  • Don’t wait until the bad times
  • Create alternative futures
  • Find the macro-pattern
  • Make the vision real
  • Link story to strategy
  • Focus on change agents
  • Make sure everyone is in the room. (When you’re running a workshop creating a vision, you need funders in the room. You need experts with data, citizens with ideas, administrators who can carry things forward, and funding agencies who can provide money. It’s crucial to include people who object to change – put them in charge of the old paradigm that you’re disrupting, as you make things safe in the new paradigm for them.)

The course recommends two different methods for doing this – a shorter method and the longer 6 pillars method if you have more time.

Short method

Outline the broad question that you’re interested in, e.g. ‘the futures of nursing in 2030’.

  1. Where from? What is the history of the issue? E.g. write down 3 events that led to the present.
  2. Where to? What are your forecasts and fears relating to the issue, if current trends continue?
    E.g. by year X, Y will be true.
  3. Assumptions. What are the critical assumptions you have made about the issue when creating your forecasts?
  4. Alternative futures. Develop 3 or 4 alternative futures based on different assumptions/trends.
  5. Want. What is your preferred future? Pick characteristics of your desired future. E.g. certain things that you’d like to be true.
  6. How. Create the preferred future through backcast: Imagine that we have already got to the desired future. How did we get to the preferred future?
  7. Inner story. Transform the old story to the new metaphor. What is a supportive metaphor for your preferred future?

6 Pillars Method

1 Mapping

Tool one: Futures Triangle

Label the sides of your triangle: Pulls, Pushes, Weights.

Pulls: What’s your vision of the future?
What does it look like? What are its characteristics? Where do you want the organisation to be in 30 years? Where do you want to be in 30 years?

A good vision enables, ennobles, is rational, emotive, neither too near nor too far.

Drivers / Pushes: What are the trends pushing things into this future?
E.g. new technologies, social trends, demographic, policy, legal or funding changes.

This course mentions 2 sources of insight into future trends: Futures Platform and Shaping Tomorrow. There will also be figures in your industry who are doing this type of thinking – e..g Azeem Azhar and Ben Thompson in technology.

Weights: What are the barriers holding back change?
Who benefits from the status quote – or loses if it changes? What are the deep structures that resist change?
E.g. organisational structures, policies, regulations, procedures, knowledge structures, ways of thinking, historical narratives, existing investments in infrastructure, technology, education, social contacts, demographics. Barriers might also include a paradigm fixation – a focus on what has worked in the past, or what the organisation was established to do.

Once you’ve produced a triangle, explore its implications for your strategy.

Perhaps you want to find a way to lighten the weights, or to ride an inbound wave of pushes. Or you may find that no-one really understands where you’re trying to get to, which suggests that you need to create a compelling vision. You may identify some messages that you want to communicate.

You may end up with competing images of the future.

You can use the triangle to outline desires or preferences, or for more pragmatic thinking.

An example futures triangle on China’s futures (N.B. much of this article seems suspect, and likely orientalist):

Tool two: Futures Landscape

Ask people where they are spending most of their time:

  • The jungle (day-to-day survival, competition, scarcity)
  • The chess set (strategic thinking dominates)
  • The mountaintop (broader strategic futures and the ‘big picture’)
  • The emerging future and vision (the transformative, purposeful, directive vision for the future)

Then reflect on whether you might want to change this and expand your thinking.

2 Anticipating

Ask: What might disturb things?

Emerging Issues Analysis (Graham Molitor): Spot weak signals that could be dramatic if they come to pass.

Futures wheel: take an emerging issue. As a group:

  • Brainstorm first and second order consequences
  • Then think about the wider impact that each of these would have on industry and/or society.

Then think about how we might enhance or suppress each effect.
(Disagreements are good – capture divergent understandings in separate bubbles.)

3 Timing

Ask: are there deeper patterns to the future you’re interested in?

There are 4 common patterns: pendulum (e.g. moving between centralisation and decentralisation over time), linear (things getting better over time), cyclical (rise and fall), spiral (going into the future, but with some of the past going with you).

Knowing your context will help you think through how you want to try and change things.

Aside: The Sarkar Game is a group educational roleplaying game that helps people think about group dynamics and power relations over time, through the interplay between Worker, Warrior, Intellectual and Capitalist. Here’s an article with several interesting examples of it being played (see also this overlapping writeup).

4 Deepening

Causal Layered Analysis is a great way to explore what’s blocking the success of a desired outcome – the blocker is usually at a deep level, so needs unpacking and understanding before it can be resolved.

Causal Layered Analysis suggests that there are 4 levels of reality:

  1. Litany: The data we see every day. Headlines. The surface problem. The official public description of the issue.
  2. Causes / System. Systemic – social/economic/political/technical/environmental. Incentives and structures that bring about the surface litany. How might we incentivize the outcomes we want to see?
  3. Worldview / culture/ ways of knowing. The big picture, the paradigm that informs what we think is or is not real. Sits beneath the systemic stuff. The cognitive lenses that we use to understand or shape the world. What’s the worldview that we want people to have? What are alternative discourses?
  4. Deep metaphor / the unconscious story. Myths and metaphors – you generally cannot take a rational approach here. Is our metaphor supporting our strategy? Do we need a new metaphor?

We need to work at all 4 levels. And we need to unpack how all stakeholders see the future.

Once you’ve worked out the myths, metaphors and worldview, you need to map that to systems and incentives/measurements.

You can do Causal Layered Analysis for a current situation, or for a desired future situation.

5. Creating alternatives

Create scenarios to think about risks, find new possibilities, clarify hidden assumptions, understand different people’s perspectives, or to help resolve a conflict by getting people to imagine different futures.

Some standard scenarios to think through: best case, worst case, what happens if you don’t change (BAU), outlier.

There are 5 methods for coming up with scenarios:

MethodHow to do itStrengthsWeaknesses
Assumptions-basedState the key question you wish you knew the answer to
What are the key assumptions?
Based on these, articulate 4 different scenarios.
Useful for getting out of business-as-usual thinking, and for highlighting existing assumptionsDepends on the creativity, insight and expertise of the participants
Double VariableIf there are two big uncertainties, you could plot a 2×2 grid, and explore the scenarios that emerge in each, showing the impact of low/high versions of the two dimensions with each other.

(e.g. government- versus industry-led on one axis, and social model of disability versus medical model of disability on the other)
Good at short-medium-run strategyNot as good at picking up foundational changes or outliers or thinking outside the box.
Multivariate scenarioPick a bunch of different drivers (from the futures wheel, or identified some other way) and for each of them, develop a scenario of the future.
Each scenario should be driven by a different factor or based on different assumptions. Technology. Demographics. Economic cycles. Changing consumer expectations. And it is important to have a contingency scenario that describes a dramatic system collapse. That is, where everything goes back to zero, where we all have to relearn everything.
Useful for periods of transition, to ensure that multiple perspectives are included.

Good at creating direction. 
Can be hard to select the right variables.

Less useful for medium-term strategy than the double variable approach
Organisational scenarioDevelop these from current organisational strategies.

Look at: Business as usual, worst case, outlier and best case. 
Thinks more broadly than the double variable method

Sets direction.

Easy to do
Less obviously applicable in the short-to-medium term than the double variable method

Can be hard to reach agreement
Integrated scenario methodOutline the following scenarios:

Preferred scenario (best case)

Disowned (selves and the futures that are uncomfortable, and not what you want)

Integrated (combining preferred and disowned)

Outlier (unknown unknowns and from emerging issues. Even if this doesn’t come to pass, what can we learn from aspects of this future?)
Incorporates disowned future, which makes it more plausible.

Useful for dispelling idealism.
Requires depth

Once you have your scenarios, apply Causal Layered Analysis to each of them.

(Some words of warning/advice: If you don’t think in terms of CLA, then people won’t buy in to things – people can’t buy into the story, and they can’t see themselves in that future. If you don’t follow the previous steps in the Pillars (Mapping, Emerging Issues Analysis, etc), then you just get safe scenarios that are rooted in the present.)

Ask: What’s a day in the life like in this world? This makes it real for people. What does your day look like?

This creates space for pillar 6, renegotiating with stakeholders: what is the ultimate preferred or desired future?

6 Transformation

This step entails visioning and then backcasting.

3 methods for visioning:

  1. Analytic: write down the Causal Layered Analysis for the preferred future. How is reality measured, what is the prevailing system, the preferred worldview or culture, and the underlying narrative?
  2. Interview: get quick-fire responses to get at peoples’ real thoughts and feelings. In each different future, what does your daily life look like? (Work, technology, family, nature, challenges.) What do you wish the future to be like? What is your desired future?
  3. Creative visualisation (by Elise Boulding and others).
    “Step along a path, one step per year into the future. Arrive at a hedge separating the present from the future. Travel through a door in the hedge to your preferred future. See it. Then see an ancient tree. Walk into it, and walk up the spiral stairs to the sixth floor where you meet your future self (or a mentor, teacher or loved one). This person gives you life advice, and an artefact to help on the journey. Then open your eyes and write down aspects of the preferred future.”
    Audio version of the visualisation narrative

Once you have visions and preferred futures, you can negotiate between them.

Then you can back-cast:

  • Start at the future point of the goal having been achieved.
  • Ask: what needed to be true to get there.

This helps avoid people feeling downbeat about how far away the future state is. It can also be useful for negatively-inclined people: instead of just saying “but we won’t get funding”, invite them to work out what will positively need to be true to get funding. Then work out how to make those things true.

Resolving team tension

A summary of some recent training that I attended on resolving team tension. Trust and psychological safety are central to my leadership style, so I was pleased to learn about Lencioni’s 5 dysfunctions of a team and how trust is at the foundation of effective teams.

Healthy tension and unhealthy tension

Healthy team tension manifests as:

  • Constructive conflict encouraged
  • Supportive challenge
  • People sharing positive feedback with each other, raising each other up
  • People offering help to each other.
  • Innovation, morale and productivity.

Unhealthy team tension manifests as:

  • Infighting and disputes
  • Lack of conflict resolution
  • Unfair work distribution
  • Credit not being given
  • Poor performance not being managed
  • People ignoring the elephant in the room
  • People being confused or lacking direction
  • People unable to ask for help or be vulnerable
  • Low morale and productivity.

Types of threat that people can feel

Tension often manifests because people’s threat response has been triggered. People can feel threats to:

  • Status (importance relative to others)
  • Certainty (being able to predict the future. Goals, roles, structure and process help here)
  • Autonomy (our sense of control over events. Clear objectives and boundaries help here)
  • Relatedness (our sense of safety with other people)
  • Fairness (fair exchanges between people)
  • Understanding (particularly important when things change)

Trust is foundational – Lencioni’s 5 dysfunctions of a team

Lencioni outlined 5 dysfunction of a team. They lead into each other in succession:

  1. Absence of trust (not trusting colleagues’ intentions or competence. Not able to show weakness, admit mistakes or ask for help)
  2. Fear of conflict (no healthy or open debate)
  3. Lack of commitment
  4. Avoidance of accountability
  5. Inattention to results

So the absence of trust is the root cause of all the other problems:

  • A lack of trust leads to
  • Inability to demonstrate vulnerability to each other, which leads to
  • Fear of conflict, false consensus and back-channel conflict, which leads to
  • Artificial harmony, which leads to
  • Lack of commitment to decisions and plans, which leads to
  • Ambiguity, which leads to
  • Avoidance of accountability, which leads to
  • Low standards, which leads to
  • Inattention to results. Individual goals put above team goals.

When you do have trust in a team, you get lots of good behaviours:

  • Sharing information
  • Accepting feedback
  • Accountability – taking responsibility for one’s performance
  • Open debates
  • Commitment
  • Focus on achieving results

How to deal with dysfunction 1. ‘Absence of trust’

The factors that create trust:

Credibility = your expertise and how you appear to others

Reliability = dependability and consistency. Acting in accordance with expectations. Keeping your word.

Intimacy = ability to connect with the other person. Revealing your true self, likes/dislikes, strengths/weaknesses. Being someone that someone can confide in.

Self-interest = how much you put yourself and your needs first

An exercise that can help teams build trust in the ‘forming’ stage – the Trust Shield:

A one-page document with the following:

  • Me at my best
  • Me at my worst
  • What I hope to bring to the team
  • What I need from the team

Leaders should share theirs first, to model the vulnerability of sharing this information.

In retrospect, I’d have liked to see more on trust here, and less on the other dysfunctions. The other dysfunctions ultimately stem from a lack of trust, so it seems to me to be by far the most important thing to spend time on. This article on why agile doesn’t work without psychological safety has 5 ideas for bolstering psychological safety.

How to deal with fear of conflict (dysfunction 2)

We want constructive conflict, with dialogue, rather than arguments or debates.

It brings innovation and creativity, better information gathering and sharing, understanding of different perspectives, improved communication and reduced stress.

Techniques to get constructive conflict:

  1. Separate interpersonal issues from the problem at hand
  2. Turn zero sum negotiation into exploration and collaboration (or compromise, if that doesn’t work)
    1. Focus on interests rather than positions. Ask open questions to understand why someone is behaving a certain way and taking a certain position. Summarise what you hear them say and ask clarifying questions. 
    2. Get away from the idea that the situation is antagonistic and zero sum. Invent shared interests and opportunities for mutual gain. Collaborate to create new choices for action.
    3. Make sure that both perspectives get outlined and engaged with. If either party’s views are not engaged with fully, the outcome will be suboptimal.
    4. Sometimes compromise is needed – one side experiences a mini win, and the other a mini loss.
  3. Give quieter people space to talk. Sometimes you’ll need to call on people to contribute, and hold space for them to do so safely.

How to deal with lack of commitment (dysfunction 3)

Clear communication on goals, mission and objectives. Revisit these constantly and relate all activity – and individual objectives – back to these.

Make sure that any practical barriers to doing the work are addressed.

Connect work to people’s motivations. The main motivators are:

  • Responsibility
  • Recognition (inc salary)
  • Sense of achievement
  • Interest
  • Opportunities for advancement
  • Opportunities for personal growth

How to deal with avoidance of accountability (dysfunction 5)

Increase ownership:

  • Define the outcome and trust people to work out how to get there
  • Let team members formulate their own goals
  • Use a RACI model to give clarity on roles

Dialogues need four roles to be successful

We need to constructively engage with tension, rather than ignore it. It’s always a sign of something that needs to be worked through. You can set up healthy dialogues by making sure that you have the following 4 roles being taken by participants. (These are fluid, and people can move between them over time. Nothing to do with job title, hierarchy or authority.)

1. Mover – initiates a topic or point of view, and brings focus to it

2. Follower – adds support to what is being said.

3. Opposers – challenges what has been said.

4. Bystander – listens and watches, expanding what is thought about. Doesn’t necessarily take a firm stand in support or opposition of an idea.

You want to have all 4 of these actions present, in balance.

RoleIntendsCan come across as
MoverDirection, discipline, commitment, perfection, clarityOmnipotent, impatient, indecisive, scattered, dictatorial
FollowerCompletion, compassion, loyalty, service, continuityPlacating, indecisive, pliant, over-accommodating
OpposerCourage, integrity, correction, protection, survivalCritical, complaining, blaming, attacking, contrary
BystanderPerspective, patience, preservation, moderation, self-reflectionDisengaged, judgemental, deserting, withdrawn, silent

What unhealthy conversation looks like

This happens when roles are missing or are out of balance.

Some common failure states:

  • Movers and Opposers creating and destroying ideas endlessly.
  • Someone being stuck in a single position. (E.g. someone being stuck in the Mover position, introducing more and more ideas until finally someone takes on the follower role and supports something.) This can cause the conversation to get stuck.
  • One or more roles being silenced by group dynamics. This can happen to the bystander role, especially when a group is feeling tired.

How to implement the four roles in dialogue

Introduce everyone to the 4-role model. Having a shared understanding makes it easier to notice when things aren’t going well.

Some interventions: 

  • invite a stuck mover to slow down and make space for others. 
  • Point out a Move/Oppose deadlock and allow the participants to self-remedy
  • Invite a Bystander into the conversation to share their perspective
  • Split the group into sub-groups, then bring their ideas back to the main group.

To break people out of established roles, use a liberating structure, or give people one of 6 thinking hats to wear. This encourages people to think in a way that doesn’t come naturally to them.

Cross-government design meeting #33: Measuring success – 18/1/22

The cross-government design community runs great events. Here are some highlights from my notes from last week’s session on measuring success.

Measuring the value of service transformation – Matthew Lyon, Head of Economics and Analysis, Central Digital and Data Office (Cabinet Office)

Reform of the Animal Licensing service led to a 50% reduction in processing time, and a 30% reduction in time for FOI requests. 6,600 hours saved.

User satisfaction increased 68% to 77% between 2018 and 2020.

Prepare to raise a child service – saved 12 minutes per user. As they have over c650,000 users, that’s about 125,000 hours saved.

Department for Transport research suggests that we value leisure time at about £5-7 per hour, so you can get a £ value for time saved.

The cost of failure demand: measuring the impact of poor user experiences at HMCTS – Aliane Alves, senior service designer, and Sam Brierley, Head of User-centred Design at HMCTS

“A problem for a service almost always becomes a problem for the organisation providing the service”. Stuff like avoidable contacts, unsolicited inbound emails, rejected applications, staff doing data entry, lots of manual checking and cross-referencing.

Easiest way to understand failure demand is to do contextual research with support centre staff as they are usually at the receiving end of it.

The team came up with a snappy meme to help people think about the cost of failure demand: “A typical CTSC caseworker’s time costs 50p a minute” This soundbite was much more effective than showing people a spreadsheet.

41% of calls to the Apply for probate service were from applicants wanting an update on their case. This failure demand cost £40,800 a month.

They wanted to reduce this to 20% of calls. So they started using GOV.UK Notify to tell people about the status of their case. This cost £37,000 over 8 weeks (one content designer, one business analyst, one tech lead, and one developer).

They came within 3% of their goal. (For all phone calls, they record: who, what, why, and did a quant and qual questionnaire with call agents)

Improving the quality of user feedback collection on GOV.K – Jeremy Yun, Senior interaction designer, GDS

Feedback comes to GOV.UK through several different channels and formats. The team mapped out the different ways that it’s collected and used.

They’re simplifying the frontend survey, helping people classify their feedback (to help downstream use: “can’t find”, “don’t understand”, “doesn’t work”, “other”), simplifying how information is collected and stored, using data science to help automate feedback analysis, and reviewing how we distribute feedback.

Designing and improving the TfL Go app – Hannah Kops, Head of Experience, and Dan Bean, senior product manager, Transport for London

The vision is: “A personal travel assistant for everyone in London, which helps you to make the right choice at the right time, and provides TfL with the insight to keep London moving”.

They’ve been using the pirate metrics for their MVP:

  • Awareness – app store impressions
  • Acquisition – downloads
  • Activation – complete onboarding
  • Retention – BAU, opens per day
  • Referral – telling friends, (app store ratings?)
  • Revenue – money per user

Impressive focus on accessibility from the start.

Solve deep needs, not superficial wants with Top Tasks – Gerry McGovern, author and consultant

Focus on designing for the top tasks that users have- typically 3-5 tasks account for 25% of all user activity.

You can work out these tasks by outlining a long list of about 50, then asking users to choose their top 5 from a randomised list. That gives you a league table.

Then benchmark and work to improve:

  1. The success rate
  2. The time to complete

Turn the Ship Around – summary

David Marquet’s Turn the Ship Around is a great book on the power of intent-based leadership, of working with your team’s intelligence rather than treating people as order-following automatons. Here’s a summary of the key points.

Treating people as followers or as cogs in a machine is wasteful

People acting simply to follow orders can lead to big problems:

Marquet shares a story of a time when he ordered the submarine to move forward at ⅔ speed. His officer relayed the order. The helmsman then said that it was impossible, as the setting didn’t exist. Marquet asked the officer why he’d given the order, knowing that it was wrong – the officer said that he passed it on because he was told to. 

“What happens in a top-down culture when the leader is wrong? Everyone goes over the cliff.”

Beyond this, if you treat people as followers, as cogs in a machine who are only there to follow orders, you miss lots of potential.

Marquet explains that a 135-person submarine would traditionally only have 5 people at a sufficiently senior position in the hierarchy to be expected to have “fully engaged their capacity to observe, analyse and problem-solve”.

We want to harness the brainpower, creativity and perspective of our teams

[If you’re doing knowledge work, or work that involves uncertainty or change, then you want to make the most of the understanding and experience of your team.]

“With emancipation we are recognizing the inherent genius, energy, and creativity in all people, and allowing those talents to emerge.”

So ask: what authority could we devolve to people to make their jobs easier?

“rejecting the impulse to take control and attract followers will be your greatest challenge and, in time, your most powerful and enduring success.”

Don’t move information to authority, move authority to the information

Instead of channeling information up the chain of command to decision-makers, deconstruct decision authority and push it down to where the information lives.

Focus on achieving excellence, not on avoiding errors

“Focusing on avoiding mistakes takes our focus away from becoming truly exceptional. Once a ship has achieved success merely in the form of preventing major errors and is operating in a competent way, mission accomplished, there is no need to strive further.”

One example in the book is a crew member producing an error-free but utterly useless navigation chart.

“I resolved to change this. Our goal would be excellence instead of error reduction. We would focus on exceptional operational effectiveness for the submarine. We would achieve great things.”

If you connect the work to its larger purpose, and focus on doing a great job of achieving that purpose, everything else will follow:

“Once the crewmen remembered what we were doing and why, they would do anything to support the mission. This was a stark contrast to earlier, when people were coming to work simply with the hope of not screwing up.”

“On [the submarine] Santa Fe, doing well on inspections was going to be the natural outcome of being excellent, not the goal. Operational and tactical excellence and preparedness for service to the country were what mattered. If we were excellent and prepared, the drills and inspections would take care of themselves.”

To divest control whilst retaining responsibility, you need to make sure that technical competence and organisational clarity are strong

If you give people more control to make decisions, but their technical competence isn’t strong, chaos will result. You need to build people’s technical competence to allow them to go from expecting to be told what to do, to being able to take authority and control. As competence increases, you can increase control.

A graph showing Competence on the X axis and Control on the Y axis. They scale in a linear way. More competence than control and you have wasted talent. More control than competence and you have chaos.

Marquet advises that if you want a training programme that people actually want to go to, focus it on increasing technical competence. And delegate increased decision making as a result of passing the training.

To safely push decision-making down the chain of command, you also need clarity

Alongside competence, people need a clear understanding of what the organisation is trying to accomplish.

Instead of interrogating subordinates about a possible course of action, invite them to lead the questioning process

When deciding what course of action to take, don’t ask people a series of questions that will let you, the leader, determine if the proposed approach is sensible. Instead, ask people what questions they think you will have in your head. They can surface and address these questions.

This approach gets subordinates thinking about the issues that are important to the person the level above them in the hierarchy. “In effect, by articulating their intentions, the officers and crew were acting their way into the next higher level of command. We had no need for leadership development programs; the way we ran the ship was the leadership development program.”

Specify goals, not methods

The fire hose drill used to be very opinionated about who ought to be putting out the fire. The crew decided to change this drill to be less stuffy about who manned the hose, to focus instead on being able to put the fire out. That was the single most important thing. The goal was important, the method was something that could be adapted and improved.

“Provide your people with the objective and let them figure out the method”

Being quiet is important on a submarine. They used to monitor this in a top-down way: observation by the sonar operator, then investigated down the hierarchy. They decided to change this. They started asking people to self-report, and to non-judgementally investigate causes. This led to a reduction in noise in the ship.

The ship used to be slow to submerge. Previously this had been thought of, and optimised, as a series of disparate events. But now, Marquet set an overall goal: a target time for the ship to be submerged and stable. “That forced the crew not to think in terms of disparate events (under way, maneuvering watch, shift the watch below, submerge, trim the ship), with all the discontinuities in personnel and equipment, but to think of sticking all those events together. When challenged like that, they found ingenious ways to trim seconds and minutes from the transitions, which made Santa Fe a much more effective warship.”

Change “I recommend…” to “I intend to…”

With a skilled crew working towards an understood goal, give them space to take ownership by asking them to share what they intend to do, rather than ask what to do, or just make recommendations.

Saying “I intend to…” makes people feel ownership of their actions, making action more deliberate. And by stating an intent out loud, it also gives a chance for others to challenge if appropriate.

Similarly, ahead of setpiece events, don’t brief people about what’s going to happen and what they are supposed to do – instead, invite participants to show that they are ready for the event. This gives them ownership.

“A little rudder far from the rocks is a lot better than a lot of rudder close to the rocks”

Quick, regular sense checks of work in its early stages can help make sure that what’s being done by subordinates matches with the overall intent.

These short, early conversations aren’t about telling people what to do. Instead, they are opportunities for a subordinate to get early feedback on how they are tackling a problem, retaining control of the solution, and to make sure that there’s clarity on the intended goal.

“Many lasted only thirty seconds, but they saved hours of time.”

Don’t try and change people’s behaviour by preaching – instead, make concrete structural changes that give ownership

“Don’t preach and hope for ownership; implement mechanisms that actually give ownership.”

“we didn’t give speeches or discuss a philosophical justification for the changes we were going to make. Rather, we searched for the organizational practices and procedures that would need to be changed in order to bring the change to life with the greatest impact.”

In David Marquet’s case, expanding the power of the chiefs on his submarine started with giving them control over their men’s leave – a decision previously made by the captain.

He chose to change behaviour, hoping that it would lead to new thinking, rather than trying to change thinking, hoping that this would lead to new behaviour.

One concrete structural change that gives ownership is eliminating top-down monitoring systems. (Not data collection and measurement processes, but processes whereby senior staff are checking up on and directing the actions of junior personnel.) These top-down monitoring systems have “a pernicious effect… on initiative, vitality, and passion”.

Guiding principles need to be useful, reinforced and based on the real organisation

Crowd-source strengths and guiding principles and trim them to a page.

Only include a principle if it helps you make a decision between two different courses of action.

Principles need to be reinforced and people evaluated against them.

“Guiding principles have to accurately represent the principles of the real organization, not the imagined organization” – there’s no point including principles that the organisation doesn’t actually hold to.

Managing Change

Key points from some recent training I attending on managing change.

Focus on the emotional side more than the concrete aspects of change. Don’t get stuck arguing about logic.

Anything you can do to reduce the threat that people perceive will help.

For change to happen

the Vision of the desired future state + the Discontent with the present position + the knowledge of the First steps to take MUST EXCEED Cost of change (financial, psychological etc)

People’s reactions to change can be characterised by their level of engagement, and their level of belief.

Why do people resist change?

Control, vulnerability and security.

How to deal with resistance

  1. Identify it as resistance. Give people a couple of tries first.
  2. Share you perception of resistance: “I notice/sense that…” (don’t make a judgement)
  3. Ask a question: “What’s going on here?”, “What are you really thinking?”
  4. Let them talk. Stay silent – they talk next.

The aim is to surface what’s really concerning them, rather than the resistance.

Interoperability, Open Standards and APIs

I recently attended GDS Tech Talks: Interoperability and Open Standards. Here are my notes on the sessions I attended.

What’s new in Web Standards? – Dan Appelquist

Dan is Samsung Internet Director of Web Advocacy, co-chair of the W3C Technical Architecture Group and Open Standards Board member.

Connections between the web and your device: 

  • WebNFC
  • Web Bluetooth
  • Web USB
  • Serial API
  • Gamepad API
  • SMS Receive API
  • Contacts API
  • Clipboard Access APIs
  • File system APIs

A lot of these need privacy implications thinking about. e.g. clipboard access API could be done without the user knowing what was being done.

New features that make the web able to develop a richer experience:  

  • Progressive Web Application functionality: Manifest File, Service Worker, Push Notifications, Badging API
  • WebXR
  • Web Assembly
  • WebGL
  • Web Payment

New layout capabilities: 

  • CSS Grid
  • “Houdini” APIs (let you script style within the javascript layer)

New communications capabilities:

  • WebRTC
  • WebSockets
  • Streams
  • Web Transport

Enhancements to Web Security:

  • Feature policy
  • Signed Exchanges
  • Packaging

What makes the web ‘webby’?:

  • Open
  • Linkable
  • Internationalised
  • Secure and private
  • Multi-stakeholder
  • Does not require a single authentication method or identity
  • Zero friction

What makes the web open?

  • Built on open standards
  • Based on user needs
  • Transparent and open process
  • Fair access
  • Royalty free
  • Compatible with open source
  • Multiple implementations

What makes a standard open?

  • Collaboration between all interested parties, not just suppliers
  • Transparent and published review and feedback process. Wide review is crucial when thinking about new standards. W3C look at new things and think about them on GitHub

When building new specifications, how do we make sure that they are ethical?

W3C have a privacy and security questionnaire that they encourage everyone to work through when working on a new specification

Some ethical frameworks:

You can get involved in Open Standards by joining a community group or working group.

API for Humans and the Machines – Kin Lane

Kin is General API Evangelist, and Chief Evangelist at Postman

You should follow a design process when creating an API.

That way you can tease out assumptions, and test value before carrying out technical development work. Iteration is quickest and cheapest when you do it before you write any code!

Start off by defining an endpoint for the API, the values that you’d want to send to it, and giving an example of what you expect it to return.

You can use tools like Postman, and publish this test API, giving you an endpoint for testing, and letting people try working with it.

With OpenAPI, Swagger and Postman, you can publish your documentation from the code.

Some things your API should have:

  • A choice of response format. Don’t just give JSON – let people receive CSVs if they want them. This makes things more open to non-developers.
  • A management layer: access keys, rate limits. Apigee, Tyk,io, Mulesoft and Kong are tools for this.
  • Governance
  • Monitoring
  • Automated testing in your Continuous Integration / Continuous Deployment pipeline
  • Security testing
  • A clear point of contact for support
  • A plan for communications. Announce your API and new versions. Explain the purpose and what’s changing. You should have a comms strategy around every release. Without evangelists and communications, your API won’t last.

Build a food bank API – part 3

Read part 1 or part 2 of this project to find out the background to this post.

The API now exists online.

Here’s an example request for the nearest 5 foodbanks to latitude 52.629958, longitude 1.298408. Results are returned in JSON format, which is machine-readable. I have plans for a human-facing experience too.

The service is running on an entirely renewably-powered hosting provider in Switzerland. The extra time taken to communicate with a server a bit further away isn’t significant.

Here’s what I think the next steps are:

  • Create a clear, professional homepage (rather than just a line of text!), so that new users have an idea of the purpose of the API, and so that it looks credible.
  • Produce documentation on how to use the API, so that developers understand how to interact with it.
  • Create a web page that uses the API, taking a user’s location and showing them the nearest foodbanks and what they need. Having built the API, this feels like a natural next step. Anyone who goes to this page will be able to find out which food banks are near them, and what items they need.
  • Tell people about it, so that developers can start using the API, and people can start using the service to find out what items their local foodbanks need them to donate. We’ll have two minimum viable products – one API, and one human-facing service – and it’ll be time to find out if there’s any interest in using them.

I’ll be collaborating to make the above happen, which is exciting! We’ll be doing some user testing as well, to see how people use the API and documentation.

Build a food bank API – part 2

I’ve made great progress on this work in the last couple of months. (Read part 1 of my project to create a foodbank API)

My goal was “Make an API that, for a given geolocation, returns the nearest 3 foodbanks, with a list of the items that they need.”

I’ve achieved this for something running locally (i.e. just on my computer, but not on a web server that anyone could access). You can download the code and follow the instructions to run it yourself, if you have the Python programming language installed on your computer. I actually went slightly further than planned – you can specify the number of foodbanks you want to see, and you can also find out the items needed by a given named foodbank.

The next step is to get it running online so that anyone can use it.

I’ve been testing the risky assumptions

  • If I know the URL of a given foodbank’s page on food donations, I can work out what items they need.
    Yes. I’ve written code to do this.
  • All Trussell Trust foodbanks follow the same way of organising their websites.
    Mostly. About 9% of them don’t follow the standard format.
  • All Trussell Trust foodbanks follow the same way of describing the items they need.
    As above.
  • I can access or somehow generate a comprehensive and accurate list of all Trussell Trust foodbanks.
    Yes. I stumbled across this in the HTML on the Trussell Trust’s Find a Food Bank page. I can get this list with a single GET request.
  • If I have a list of Trussell Trust foodbanks I can straightforwardly work out the URLs of their pages describing the items they need.
    Mostly, yes. I’ve written code to do this.
  • I can scrape the information I need from the relevant server/servers in a courteous way
    Not sure yet. I assume all of the Trussell Trust’s standard sites are hosted on a single web server. I make a single GET request to get the names and URLs of all the foodbanks, but each ‘items needed’ page is a separate request. I’ve included a pause between each request, but I don’t know if it’s too long or too short.
  • It won’t be very difficult to build a data representation of food banks and required items, or to store this in an appropriate database.
    This was quite straightforward. And I didn’t even need a database, as I’m going to hold all the information in memory and not manipulate it.
  • Building and running the API won’t be too much fuss. (Or, less concisely: It’s possible to build a lightweight, modern infrasturcture to host a database for this API and serve requests without too much complexity or cost.)
    I’ve built an API that runs locally. Hosting it online as a real webserver should be reasonably straightforward. That’s the next step. I’ve found an entirely-renewably-powered web host, which might help me meet my extra goal of running this API entirely renewably..

Read part 3 of this project to find out what I did next.

ODI Summit 2019 – summary

A summary of the sessions I attended at the Open Data Institute’s Summit on 12 November 2019

Tim Berners-Lee and Nigel Shadbolt, interviewed by Zoe Kleinman

Tim Berners-Lee described commercial advertising as “win-win”, because targeted advertising is more relevant. But “political advertising is very different… people are being manipulated into voting for things which are not in their best interests.”

Nigel Shadbolt: There’s a risk that people just move on to new shiny things. Creating a common data infrastructure is unfinished business.

Berners-Lee: We should be able to choose where our data is shared, rather than it just being impossible because systems can’t speak to each other. “You can share things with people that you want to share it with to get your life done.”

Shadbolt: Data sharing has to be consensual. Public data shouldn’t be privatised. We need transparency and accountability of algorithms used to make decisions on the basis of data. Platform providers are controlling and tuning the algorithms.

Berners-Lee: How might we train algorithms to feed us news that optimises for ‘aha’ connection moments, rather than feelings of revulsion?

Kriti Sharma – Can AI create a fairer world?

If you’re building tools with data, the biases of that data are perpetuated and potentially amplified, which can worsen existing inequalities. e.g. access to credit or benefits, or deciding who gets job interviews.

  • Early on in a design process, think about how things could go wrong.
  • Train machine learning or AI on more diverse datasets.

An MIT test of facial recognition found an error rate of 1% with white-skinned men. For darker skinned women, the error rate was 35%.

  • Build diverse teams. Only 12% of the workforce on AI and machine learning are women. A more diverse team is more likely to question and correct biases.

Data Pitch accelerator

A EU funded accelerator, connecting public and private sectors to create some new data-driven products and services. A 3-year project.

28 data challenges, 13 countries.

4.6 million euros invested
14.8 million euros “value unlocked” – additional sales, investment and efficiencies. These are actual numbers, not optimistic forecasts.

How do we cultivate open data ecosystems?

Richard Dobson, Energy Systems Catapult
Leigh Dodds, Open Data Institute
Rachel Rank, Chief Exec, 360 Giving
Huw Davies, Ecosystem Development Director, Open Banking

Energy Systems Catapult:
If you want to move to renewable energy, you need to know what’s produced, where, and when.

So BEIS, through a Catapult scheme, set up a challenge on this. Seamless data sharing was crucial.

360 Giving:
Help grant makers open up their grant data in an open format so people can see who is funding what, why, and how much.

Open Banking:
Catalysed by regulation from the Competition and Markets authority. UK required largest banks to fund an implementation entity, to make sure it was effective and standards-driven to set up a thriving ecosystem. So they worked on standards for consent and security. Every 2 months the ecosystem doubles in size.

When encouraging people to contribute to an ecosystem, show value, don’t tell people about it.
Don’t talk to people about organisational identifiers. Show them why you can’t see their grants alongside the other grants because they haven’t been collecting these. People had such low insight into what other people were funding, that this was very compelling. Make people feel left out if they aren’t sharing their data.

Thoughts on making a healthy ecosystem:

You need standards for an ecosystem to scale

Accept that even with common standards and APIs you’ll get a few different technical service providers emerge, then people emerge who add value on top of this. (This was the experience in Open Banking)

“You can’t over-emphasise the importance of good facilitation at the heart of the ecosystem”
(I took this as: you need investment from somewhere to make this collaboration happen)
Open Banking did lots of work to collaboratively set up standards that everyone bought into. And they did lots of work facilitating and matchmaking to get people working together, to understand each other and provide more value.

Need to move away from just thinking about publishers and consumers. Think about the ecosystem more widely.

“When great stuff happens, shine a light on it and celebrate it”

Don’t pre-empt your users. They’ll surprise you.

Work out a way to police/protect data quality without having a single point of failure

Don’t aim for perfection, aim for progress
Start with what you’ve got. Perfect data doesn’t exist.

Caroline Criado Perez – Invisible Women: exposing data bias in a world designed for men

[This was the best session of the day by far. Excellent insight and communication.]

Most data, and the decisions based on it, has been predicted on the male experience.

Le Corbusier defined the generic human as a 6ft British police detective, as the archetype to design buildings for. Rejected the female body as too unharmonious.

Voice recognition software is 70% more accurate for men. 70% of the sample databases are male.

Car crash test dummies for decades were only male. The female ones used now are just scaled down male ones. 2015 EU regulations only said that female crash dummies should be used in 1/5 tests, and only in the passenger seat. Women are 47% more likely to be injured in a car crash and 17% more likely to die.

Medical diagrams generally centre the male body, and then have the female body as little extracts on the side. Female body seen as a deviant from the (male) standard.

Yes, the menstrual cycle is a complicating factor. So you need to study it! Heart medication and antidepressants are affected by it.

How many treatments might we have ruled out because they didn’t work on men, but might work on women but we never researched them because they didn’t work on the default male body?

Young women are almost twice as likely as men to die of heart problems in hospital.

Machine learning amplifies our biases.
A 2017 study on image labelling algorithms found that pictures involving cooking were 33% more likely to be categorised as women.

When thinking about different types of use of transport, the way that you classify different types of travel is important. If you don’t bundle ‘care’ together as a category, you can undersell its importance relative to employment-relate travel. In general, we undervalue women’s unpaid care work. You should collect sex aggregated data. Be careful of not doing this by proxy.

Women tend to assess their intelligence accurately. Men of average intelligence think they’e more intelligent than 2/3 of people.

Equality doesn’t mean treating women like men. Men are not the standard that women fail to live up to. Don’t fall into this when you try to fix inequality.

Diversity is the best fix for this sort of thing.

Intersectionality is even more of a problem, but wasn’t the focus of this session. 

John Sheridan, Digital Director at the National Archives

Context in which data was created is important. 

Good quality URLs essential to data infrastructure

Good quality processes for changing. Understanding user needs better and improving the data.

Manit Chander on information sharing in the maritime industry

In maritime industry, information sharing has been fragmented, and data classification not standardised. 

HiLo gets internal near-miss data, does predictive risk modelling, and produces risk analysis and good practice.

They get messy data shared with them and then tidy it up at their end.

They produce simple, easy-to-apply, non-judgmental insights.

They focus on building trust as the most important thing to sustain the community.
The people providing the data are the key group here.

People will share their information if they can see value to them.

  • Reduced risk of lifeboat incidents by 72%
  • Reduced engine room fires by 62%
  • Reduced risk of bunker spills by 25%