Saturday, 5 October 2019



In a previous posting I noted that the book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable the author argues that data is better than narrative. This is because we can always create a story to account for the data but in fact the explanation may not be correct. We are better accepting the data than explaining it because the explanation smooths over the rough edges and exceptions which may turn out to be really important.

I also noted that we are overly influenced by people, characters and charisma because of a bias toward trust which Malcolm Gladwell notes may expose us to risk, but perhaps is a necessary price for a workable society.

The Black Swan concludes that we should not predict but prepare.

The book A Seat at the Table argues that Chief Information Officers CIO should abandon the old [1] command and control,[2] customer service and [3] waterfall approaches to technology delivery which [a] create well intended but unhelpful barriers and boundaries, [b] focus on technology being a servant of the business rather than a leader or enabler and [c] focus too heavily on projects which plan too far ahead and inevitably fail to hit the moving target of business needs.

Here too the emphasis appears to be on ditching the adherence to plans which seek to predict and slavish commitment to requirements that are ill defined, out of date and short on vision. Instead we should be more agile and prepared to embrace small, frequent rapid and incremental change in the face of uncertainty.

It is great when theories align and compliment each-other because it gives confidence that they might be right.

The old Mission and Command and Control of 1950’s is as dead as Central Moscow planning and yet Business Planning and IT Strategies still feel obliged to talk with the certainties that offer exact budgets, delivery dates and outputs somehow ignoring that the objective is not spend but value, not a delivery date but a capability, not an output but an outcome.

A Seat at the Table: IT Leadership in the Age of Agility by Mark Schwartz pretty much turns IT on its head and is a compelling read, especially if you believe in LEAN, Agile and perhaps have read either The Goal, or The Phoenix Project, or if you are really serious about IT and business transformation all of these!

However… this point the tide appears to turn.

As soon as we abandon foolish and optimistic plans and embrace uncertainty with experimentation we move from the concept of Intelligent Design to Evolution and the latter seems more about connections, randomness, culture and back to being about circumstances and character than precision or data.

In the book A Seat at the Table it is noted that code paring, working together, sometimes literally with one programmer at the shoulder of another, instead of doubling the cost of delivery will reduce errors and increase productivity by 30%.

In the book The Culture Code it is noted that putting a difficult, lazy or negative person in a four person team will cause the whole team to under-perform by 30%. But that having someone enthusiastic and collegiate brings trust and social cohesion that can reverse the effect. This is not about the person being inspirational or a great leader. To have an effect the positive person only has to smile and listen. This is about social and emotional safety bringing trust that Malcolm Gladwell notes as being essential for a workable society.

So maybe data is great for history, markets, economies and government but culture and connection is vital for the sub-structures of people, process and technology that underpin these.

Gladwell in his boot Outliers notes the importance of connectors and connections to be the catalyst of change and notes both the Dunbar Number (that most people can only really maintain about 150 relationships ) and those rare Outliers who like the six Degrees of Kevin Bacon seem to be able to be both a super connector and use that to be a catalyst for community and change.

These communities for change whether Open Source evangelists or part of an Arab Spring seem to defy data and achieve the impossible though connection and cohesion, pairing and splitting, evolving and learning.

The company Valve literally put wheels on desks and abandon hierarchy to allow people to move to the projects and people they most believe in. In the book A Seat at the Table, reference is made to the Allen Curve suggesting that connection, communication and potentially culture breaks when you are more than 8 meters away from your colleagues.

Let’s bring all this together and consider the implications.

It appears good to measure data because explanation is generally self-serving. One can often seek to offer an explanation that is more comforting than correct. This can result in group-think, error and wilful blindness. (I recommend Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious by Margaret Heffernan)

Put more simply: It is good to measure data to really see with evidence the position or the situation at hand, rather than allowing people justify the situation to their liking.

However working in groups appears essential to getting anything done. There is more allegiance and cohesion to a colleague or partner than a plan. Anyone training for a marathon knows your training buddy is more likely to get you out on a cold and windy night than the schedule pinned to the fridge.

It should be noted that well aligned teams very often outperform more skilled teams who do not work together well.

Increasingly we need to give-up the 5 year plan and focus on 5 weekly improvement and that requires a combination of character, connection, colleagues and culture, but also some impartial, objective, challenging and possibly confusing data.

Long term plans can be a waste of time, but we have to have clear objectives in mind from which we develop potential paths for achieving them. Remember The Black Swan concludes that we should not predict but prepare.

We need to embrace uncertainty and rather than trot out a revised Gantt chart or updated budget accept that we are not there to serve solutions to an expectant CEO or demanding customer but instead become a trusted partner who delivers benefit by intelligent experimentation, feedback, learning and growth.

Perhaps we should not be measured by delivery on-time, on-budget, to-specification but instead by rapid response, adding value and delivering outcomes, whilst all the time learning and improving at all these things through dynamic teams rather than static department.

Ultimately, if a department or individuals do not add business value they become waste.


I am interested in your thoughts and experiences. Maybe you agree. Maybe you do not. Maybe you can recommend some other books, blogs or videos. Do not hesitate to get in touch, and if you are in Jersey I will happily buy you a coffee if you would like to talk about your experience.


The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell
A Seat at the Table: It Leadership in the Age of Agility by Mark Schwartz
The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement - 30th Anniversary Edition by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, Jeff Cox, et al.
The Phoenix Project: A Novel about It, Devops, and Helping Your Business Win by Gene Kim and Kevin Behr
The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle
Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious by Margaret Heffernan



@TimHJRogers +447797762051
MBA (Management Consulting) Projects & Change Practitioner,
TEDx & Jersey Policy Forum, Public Accounts Committee,


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