#OneDSplit, business and #Google

The heartbreaking news that One Direction might be taking a sabbatical is one full of lessons for organisations.

Within any system there are recognisable patterns and phases that emerge in commonality with other systems.

The recent decision by Google to split the organisation into separate identities (under the umbrella of Alphabet) is the most immediate parallel for One Direction, another illustration that the component parts of a system need space to realise their own potential.

As organisations evolve it is a requirement of leadership to appreciate the growth and uniqueness of different segments and the potential need for shared purpose to be realised through independent growth.

In many ways Harry Styles is most like Google’s core search engine business, with Louis being an approximation of Google’s forays into driverless cars. The other one is probably Google Glass or something…

How many are there? The other guy left before didn’t he…and he split with that one from Little Mix. I’m not sure what that makes him? Google Plus? And the one from Little Mix is Uber or something?

Sorry. I can’t do this. Can someone finish this please?



Swallows and Amazons

Interesting take on this from Simon Jones.

Ariadne Associates

You may have missed it, but the New York Times published an “exposé” of the culture and working practices at online retailer Amazon at the weekend. If you did miss it, then you can find it here. It’s caused quite a furore, with lots of condemnation of Amazon, and company founder and CEO Jeff Bezos having to issue a formal statement in response.

I don’t know anything at all about Amazon’s working conditions and culture. However I can spot emotively manipulative journalism when I see it, and the fact it’s in what is apparently America’s “newspaper of record” doesn’t make it any more palatable.

Let’s leave aside all the “they texted me on Thanksgiving Day” “I saw grown men cry daily*” “I was criticised for having poor wi-fi on holiday” stuff which may be true incidents but are simply anecdotal evidence (*As an aside, presumably women crying at work…

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Arrogance – can it be useful?

Sukh Pabial wrote a post on speaking Truth to Power. It’s worth checking out here as it raises a very interesting question about how you can cultivate organisational voice and how organisations can create conditions for individuals to speak out.

It also raised for me the interesting concept of which individuals are most likely to speak out – and so I suggested that this might be a situation in which someone who is arrogant might be ‘organisationally useful’. It is fair to say that this did not go down well with people… Or it went down very well in the way that a lead balloon goes down very well. The idea of arrogant people being anything other than an organisational liability was not one of my more popular proposals.

I’m not writing this blog in defence of arrogant people, I’m writing this because I think strengths and weaknesses are largely conceptual and contextual.

  • One person’s attention to detail is another person’s micromanagement
  • One person’s clear vision is another person’s lack of flexibility
  • One person’s charisma is another person’s attention seeking behaviour
  • One person’s unswerving mission to be heard is another person’s arrogance

If I was looking for one person to speak up in an organisation and ignore the constraints of hierarchy then I think a likely candidate to do that would be arrogant. They would be a person who just had to be heard and was convinced that the boss is wrong (even if the boss was more experienced and had more information than them). That’s my greatest percentage chance of success.

I don’t, in general. like arrogance as a trait – but I’m not willing to write off anyone in terms of usefulness. In a position where people are scared or unwilling to speak up having someone with the arrogance to insist on their voice being heard could be useful. There are a few corporate catastrophes over past years caused by arrogance, but perhaps some arrogance and bloodymindedness in the lower ranks might have helped raised the voice of dissent slightly earlier. It could hardly have made things worse.

If you want people to speak truth to power then an arrogant person armed with the truth is really quite a good one to deploy. A bit like knowing someone who can’t be concise is quite useful if you are in a position where you are stalling for time. It wouldn’t be a trait you would normally want someone to possess, but it can be handy in the right situation.

It’s a bit unpalatable thinking that people’s worst traits might be useful – and indeed most of the time people’s worst traits are just their worst traits, but I do think it is worth thinking about strengths in the workplace in the richest sense – and that includes being open to bad things being used in good ways.

The fattening of the rush hour

This is genuinely fascinating. The future of work is more crowded tube lines.

Flip Chart Fairy Tales

Five years ago I asked whether people were starting work earlier. Based on my own observations and anecdotes from others, it seemed to me that roads and railways were packed with commuters at times of the morning when they used to be almost deserted.

Thanks to an article in the Economist, retweeted in the context of yesterday’s Tube strike, I now have some data to back up my hunch. Since 2001, the number of people using the Underground has increased and so has the length of the rush hour. It’s more like a rush three hours now. As passenger numbers have increased at peak times, the number of  people leaving early or delaying their journeys has also risen. In just over ten years, the volumes have shifted at each end by about half to three-quarters of an hour, so 6.15am now looks like 6.45am used to.


This example from the article reflects many…

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Red flags, Risk Appetite and Tank Shells

“Stop trying to convince some people we don’t know to drive onto a potentially active military firing range…”


One of the hardest parts of joining a new organisation or team is working out how to match your risk appetite with theirs. The statement ‘I think we should …’ often depends on an understanding of mutually acceptable risk.

On Sunday morning I drove with my brother and family towards St Govans Chapel in Wales. It is a place that represents magic and fun for us – as when we were children my brother and I competed to see who could stay out on rocks longest before the tide washed over them. It was a game of brinkmanship and risk management that we turned into an art form. It was ridiculously dangerous.

If the tide was right we were going to play the same game this week.

The plan deviated from its expected course when we approached St Govans only to be met by a red flag flying on the narrow lane to the car park. A red flag that meant the land ahead was being used as a firing range by the military and was therefore not accessible.


So you would think that would be that – except we really wanted to go.

“Do you think the red flag really means stop?”
“Don’t know, haven’t seen it before, it says on that sign that it means the range is active.”
“But anyone could have put the flag up?”
“True, but it would be quite an elaborate prank”
“Anyway we saw a car come down the road away from the car park so it must be open”
“Well, technically seeing someone drive away from something isn’t a great guarantee it’s open”
“Shall we just drive up the road and see what happens?”
“I’m up for that, but what if what happens is that we get shelled by a tank?”
“We could outrun a tank”
“Yes, but we couldn’t outrun a shell”

After about five minutes we defaulted to the option of asking my sister-in-law as to what we should do. Her view was, quite sensibly, don’t run the risk of getting blown up by a tank on the first day of your holiday. A relatively sensible maxim. She didn’t actually really see as much of a choice as my brother and I did and, after a brief protest, we had to agree she was probably right.

We drove back down the road, disappointed and grumpy until we passed a sign that said ‘Open’. The road was open!

So we turned around and headed back up the road at speed – whereupon we met a car coming the other way. The car stopped us and said ‘It’s a red flag so it’s shut’.

That should have been it, but my brother at this point didn’t want to hear that. So he started to explain to a couple that we had never met why we thought that they should probably turn around and head their car back in the direction of a potentially live military firing zone.

“We know there is a red flag, but there is also a sign – and the sign is probably a better indicator than the flag…We used to come here all the time and we’ve never been shot at”
“We are just going to go by the flag…the sign next to the flag says ‘live firing zone ”
“Yeah, but the sign we saw comes first on the road, so it’s probably more accurate ”

At this point I intervened to tell my brother to let the other car go. It hardly seemed fair to get them to risk their lives based on our conviction that it might be safe to continue onwards. He reluctantly agreed and we also turned back.

I won’t labour the organisational parallels too much – but it is fair to say that a bit of adrenalin is a dangerous thing and it is important to have whatever the organisational equivalent of a sensible sister-in-law is.

It turned out that we could access St Govans today. I took my daughter down for a scramble over the rocks and to see where my brother and I used to play. She loved it.

I hope when she is older she stops for red flags, but I also sort of hope that she wants to continue past them. That’s where the fun happens.