3 years, 11 months ago

An inventory of sorts

In the previous post ‘Decisions, decisions…‘, I promised to list the tools for sensemaking, strategy, modelling, metagovernance and the like, for use in enterprise-architectures and similar fields, that I’ve been working on over this past decade or so. So here

3 years, 11 months ago

Decisions, decisions – and an anniversary

One of the more challenging aspects of reaching so-called ‘retirement age’ is how much it refocusses attention towards one’s legacy rather than the new. There’s so darned much in my back-catalogue that still needs finishing before I run out of

4 years, 26 days ago

The Judgment of whole Kingdoms and Nations

@Cybersal @kirstymhall @UKParliament #Brexit #VoxPopuli


A radical Whig tract was published in 1709 under the title Vox Populi, Vox Dei. The following year, an extended version was published under the title The Judgment of whole Kingdoms and Nations. I want to use these two phrases as the starting point for my submission to the UK Parliament Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which has launched an inquiry into the lessons that can be learned for future referendums.

The first thing I want to mention is the rushed timescale. The inquiry was announced on July 14th, with a deadline for submissions of September 5th. I shall argue that this rushed timescale is symptomatic of the referendum itself, in which people were asked to make a complex decision with inadequate information and analysis.

(For the sake of comparison, an inquiry on the future of public parks was announced on July 11th, with a deadline of September 30th. So we are given more time to analyse the physical swings and roundabouts of council-run playgrounds than the metaphorical swings and roundabouts of parliamentary sovereignty and media oversight.)

To be fair, most parliamentary inquiries only give you weeks rather than months to compose a submission. This effectively limits submissions to people who have already formed an opinion, and already have the evidence to support this opinion. In other words, experts.

But then most parliamentary inquiries are about issues that people have been concerned about for a much longer time: Bus Services, Employment Opportunities for Young People, Food Waste. There is an existing body of knowledge relating to each of these topics, and it is not unreasonable to ask people to base a submission on their existing knowledge.

In contrast, nobody knew precisely how this referendum was going to be mismanaged until it actually happened. Although many people (including some Brexiteers as well as many Remainiacs) predicted that it would end in tears, and can now say “we told you so”.

I can read you like a magazine … Don’t say I didn’t say I didn’t warn you (Taylor Swift)

No doubt the Select Committee can expect to receive a number of submissions that fall under the heading of what the Dictionary of Business Bullshit calls “Pathologist’s Interest”.

But told-you-so is not a good starting point for a proper analysis, because it concentrates on confirming one’s previous expectations, rather than discovering new patterns. So the Select Committee might not get much well-grounded analysis. Partly because there isn’t time to do it properly, and partly because many of the potential “experts” are affiliated to UK universities, which are currently on summer vacation. Looks like the Select Committee is falling in line with Michael Gove’s idea that “the people in this country have had enough of experts”.

(“The Voice of Gove is the Voice of Government”. I wonder what that would look like in Latin?)

The official announcement sidesteps from “the lessons that can be learned” to “lessons learned”, which is not the same thing at all. The former suggests an open exploration, while the latter suggests merely rattling through a project postmortem for form’s sake. The timescale does not seem particularly conducive to the former. So is this apparent haste triggered by thoughts of a second referendum, or it is just intended to curtail criticism of Parliament for its earlier folly?

As I have argued elsewhere (including my book on Organizational Intelligence) complex sense-making and decision-making cannot go straight from the Instant of Seeing to the Moment of Concluding, but require what Lacan calls Time for Understanding. In this respect, the inquiry repeats one of the errors of the referendum itself.

The timescale and debating rules for the Brexit referendum were modelled on a General Election campaign. But a General Election has three important characteristics that were absent from Brexit. Firstly the electorate is generally familiar with the main parties: Labour and Conservative were around before any of us were born, and the Lib Dems also have long-established roots. Secondly, there is some rough notion of symmetry between the two main parties. Thirdly the parties make promises to which they will be held accountable in the event of victory. In other words, the General Election campaign can be compressed into a matter of weeks precisely because the rules of engagement are broadly understood, and there is very little new material for the electorate to process.

In comparison, as Kirsty Hall argues, the referendum for Scottish Independence was given a lengthy period of debate and analysis, because of the perceived complexity of the issues that needed to be considered. This would have been a much better model for the Brexit referendum.

Finally, let me return to the phrase “the judgement of whole kingdoms and nations”, which of course raises the prickly subject of sovereignty. Although we supposedly have a system of parliamentary sovereignty in this country, parliament occasionally permits the voice of the people to be heard. As the Latin phrase has it, The Voice of the People is the Voice of God; and as the Establishment has discovered, the People can be a vengeful God. Parliament is still learning to listen to this vengeful voice. But who will teach what these lessons mean, and in what timescale? Or will the Establishment just adopt a Brechtian solution?

Would it not be simpler,
If the government simply dissolved the people
And elected another?#Brechtsit

— Richard Veryard (@richardveryard) June 30, 2016


Update: Since I wrote this post, the Electoral Reform Society has published a critical report on the Brexit referendum, which makes the same unfavourable comparison with the Scottish Independence referendum that Kirsty made back in June. The Society has confirmed that it will be making a submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry.

Will Brett, Doing Referendums Differently (Electoral Reform Society, 1 September 2016)

Kirsty Hall, Brexit was a Con (28 June 2016) HT @cybersal @MerrickBadger @Koann

UK Parliament: Future of Public Parks, Lessons Learned from the EU Referendum

Wikipedia: Vox Populi, Vox Dei 

5 years, 4 days ago

Big-consultancies and getting it right

As with all small independents in just about any industry, my /our relationship with ‘the big boys’ in enterprise-architecture is, yeah, kinda ambivalent at best. It’s not just that they make the most noise, grabbing most of the attention and

5 years, 8 days ago

Big-consultancies and bridging the chasm

Like all small independents in just about any industry, my relationship with ‘the big boys’ is ambivalent at best. All those big analyst-consultancies like Forrester or Gartner, the ratings-agencies like Moody’s or S&P, the big IT- or process-consultancies like IBM

8 years, 1 month ago

Intelligence Failures at Barclays Bank

#orgintelligence @larryhirschhorn has produced a very detailed analysis of Barclays Bank, Robert Diamond and the LIBOR scandal (July 2012). He asks why Marcus Agius (Barclays Chair) and Bob Diamond (Barclays CEO) were stunned at the Bank of England’s demand for Diamond’s resignation, and suggests it was because they lacked something he calls a “political imagination”.

There is a lot of interesting material in Larry’s blog from the perspective of organizational psychology, and I don’t want to reproduce it all here. What I do want to explore is whether what Larry calls “political imagination” is an aspect of what I call organizational intelligence.

Central to Larry’s narrative is a cryptic note, written by Bob Diamond after a telephone conversation with Paul Tucker, the Bank of England’s executive director for markets. This note appears to have been interpreted by one of Diamond’s subordinates as an coded instruction from the Bank of England to lower its LIBOR submissions. However, Diamond later denied that this was the meaning of the note. As Larry points out, this kind of deniability is all too common in and between organizations.

What is more complicated is the decision by Barclays to include this note in its published account of the LIBOR affair. Why was this note relevant to the LIBOR affair, if it didn’t mean what it appeared to mean? Diamond’s self-justification and repudiation looks like what Freud called Kettle Logic – “we didn’t fix the LIBOR rate … and anyway you hinted we should fix it … and anyway it wasn’t a hint”.

The Bank of England was undoubtedly sensitive to the allegation that it had been complicit in the LIBOR affair, and seems to have reacted angrily to the publication of this note. Diamond and his colleagues may have decided to include the note as a coded message to other banks, but failed to anticipate the reaction of the Bank of England. And as one of the highest paid bankers in London, Diamond may also have failed to appreciate the extent to which the Bank of England disapproved of overpaid London bankers.

According to the Wall Street Journal, there were differences of opinion within Barclays as to whether it was a good idea to include this note in its report, and there were some who worried about the reaction. However, the decision was taken to include it. At the time, this might have seemed like a fairly small detail, but such details can sometimes have very significant consequences.

(Of course, we cannot know for sure that it was this detail that triggered the Bank of England’s demand for Diamond’s resignation, but it is a highly plausible interpretation of events.)

One of the most common limitations of organizational intelligence is that all decisions are taken within a fixed frame of reference – which I regard as a failure of sensemaking. Larry suggests that Bob Diamond was operating within a frame of reference based on “technical rationality”, within which the publication of the controversial note seemed perfectly reasonable, and that he lacked the imagination to move outside this frame of reference. Larry also indicates some of the organizational mechanisms that may have helped to reinforce Diamond’s limited worldview, including his experience of being protected by his subordinates.

In that regard, there are some strong parallels with the Murdoch empire and its recent troubles. When Diamond said (speaking to the House of Commons Treasury Committee), “When I read the e-mails from those traders I got physically ill” (BBC News, 4 July 2012), I was convinced I had heard either Rupert or James Murdoch saying much the same thing a few weeks earlier. They are obviously using the same scriptwriter.

Doubtless there will be a stage play at the Royal Court before long, showing us the tragic fall of these doomed heros.