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Month: April 2009

Flu, Ghurkhas, 100 days and we the people

Day Two at Xoozya

Home!  A cup of tea! Hmm, no milk.  I took out a tea bag from the pot, made some black tea.

Interesting.  Fair Trade English Breakfast tea tastes much better black.  Ta da!  Been in the UK for two years and I’ve struggled to find a tea I like.  I’d been told it is the water that makes the tea taste funny.  Maybe it is the milk.  Black tea for me from now on.

News!  The world has moved on while I had my head down preparing proposals.

The words of 29 April 2009

  • Swine flu up to level 5 – pandemic imminent.  British troops departure from Iraq is also imminent.  Odd use of words don’t you think?  Why didn’t BBC say British troops are close to leaving Iraq? Or preparing to leave Iraq?
  • 27 Government MP’s broke ranks and voted against a Government proposal to restrict Ghurka residency in UK.  BBC is saying the vote challenged the PM’s ‘authority’.  Did they mean ‘control’?   Surely I elect my MP to represent me and Parliament has greater authority than the PM?  Authority = legitimate power and all the power is delegated ultimately from Parliament?  The PM answers to Parliament surely?  Well, I grew up in a republic so maybe I have this wrong.  Correct me if I am, please.
  • Obama’s 100 days.  This time I liked the BBC’s choice of words. Something like – the sentiment in America is that “we have chosen the right person for the job”.  Yes, much better.

We have chosen the right person for the job

Feel the tension fall away.  We have chosen the right person for the job.

We the people have chosen and we are happy not just that we are right, but because in our rightness, we see, hear and feel our collective competence.

We notice the 2 long years we put into making our choice was a good investment.  We notice the American people, man and woman, young and old have good judgment.  We notice that the American people despite their differences are able to sit down and thrash out what needs to be done.  We notice that even when times are hard and it would be oh, so, so easy to get it all wrong, the American people didn’t lose their nerve.  We notice the American people invest in a collective agreement even though their own view, temporarily, may not dominate.  And so our confidence rises that we can make another collective agreement, then another, and then another.  (Yes, for the first time in my long life, I’m in danger of becoming an American groupie!)

I don’t like the current tendency in British politics to “play the man and not the ball”.  I don’t like the rendition by BBC that MP’s triumphed “against” Parliament.  No. The MP’s triumphed because they worked with Parliament.

Today should have been a celebration that we are able to discuss serious matters (very serious for the Ghurkhas and their families) without coming to blows.  Today, we should be celebrating that Parliament works.  Today, we should be should be celebrating that our chosen representatives can go to the capital and present our views.  Our views.  We the people.

A man from a neighboring village won his case last year to erect a small memorial on the bridge connecting our settlements.  This memorial is to the soldiers of Richard II and Cromwell who lost their lives fighting for Parliament.  Parliament was hard-won in similar battles all over the UK.  Parliament is a hard-won right and should be cherished and celebrated with our cup of tea (without milk)!


A play on the Greek for authority.  We the people.  We the people are quite capable of sitting down to discuss our differences, even when our differences frighten us.

And we are going to need a little solidarity if this flu breaks out.  I hope HR departments across the land are stepping up hygiene.  Tissues and wipes everywhere.  Rubbish bins cleared more often.

Time to check the share price for tissue-makers!

We the people have chosen the right person for the job.

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Work-bingeing, flu, procrastination?

Day Two at Xoozya

I strolled into Xoozya on my second day planning to spend the whole morning quietly in my office exploring the communication system and making the list of skills I thought I should maintain and those I thought I should learn in the near to medium future.

Crisis is the patron of procrastination

On my door was a yellow sticky, “Help, we have a proposal due today and we may not get it in on time.  Could you help out?  We need help proofing.  Mary, @maryjane”.  I unlocked my door and dumped my keys and bag in the bottom filing cabinet drawer, powered up my desktop, and searched for @maryjane.   Games designer putting in a proposal to use games as a research tool.  West block.  I picked up the phone and said I would be right over.  Nothing like an emergency to aid a little procrastination.

Flu – how clean is this desk?

I grabbed a pack of tissues and wipes – this is the year of the great flu epidemic and office desks are notoriously unhygenic – locked the door behind me, and headed out to the west block in search of @maryjane and her team.  7 grueling hours later, we’ve converted the files into pdf and sent them off.


Where did Day Two go?  Tired and no further forward.  That’s a terrible feeling isn’t it, and the fatigue after a work-binge is awful.  We want to work but can’t think straight.  For that matter, we can barely remember what we were doing before.

7x as productive

We don’t often apply ‘industrial management’ ideas to creativity but “Boise” has done.  He studied the productivity of academics.  People who work little and often are 7x more productive than people who binge-work.  Binge work is disruptive.  We ‘come down’ emotionally and physically, feel terrible and need time to recover.  We also have to spend time picking up the threads of what we are doing.


Little and often is the golden rule.  Write every day.  Work on your main project every day.  Gather a few resources for the next project.  Spit and polish and go home!

Go home!


Executive pornography

Did that catch your attention?  I thought it would.

Executive pornography is not my phrase.  Shocker of all shockers, it is a Canadian phrase and a Canadian metal industry phrase at that.

As I reviewed my first day at Xoozya, I pondered the difficulty we have with a blank canvas.  When we can live a life we choose with no constraint, its quite disorienting.

Yes, without being told to start, I don’t have a ready idea where to start.  So I hit the internet and media – what else?

David Whyte

First, I listened to David Whyte‘s Midlife and the Great Unknown.  He didn’t disppoint.  He describes a time when he was working for a non-profit and ‘burnt out’ rather spectacularly, as we do.  Fortunately for him, he had a working partnership with fellow scholar, Brother David, who encouraged him to step-up into the role of a full-time poet.

David Whyte discusses this incidence with snippets of poetry and as ever one from the poet, Rainer Rilke.  Rilke talks about the importance of reaping the harvest of summer.  When it is time to reap, we must reap or not have the harvest to see us through the winter.

While this seems obvious, in reality, we are often unwilling to harvest the fruits of summer.  Sometimes we are unwilling to grasp with two hands what we want so badly, even though it is all around us.

We are even unwilling to give up burdensome occupations.  Do you remember dilly-dallying over finishing your thesis?  We often think we are procrastinating out of anxiety or fatigue, but after many years supervising students, I’ve come to believe the real reason delay writing up is that we are don’t know what our lives would be like without the thesis.  When the thesis is done, what will we do?  We are deeply scared by the unknowability of the future.

So, tick from David Whyte.  Yes, we find it hard to write our own job description.  But this fear is just a class of a common dilemma.  We catch ourselves betwixt-and-between.  Desperate for a new life, we focus on all the things that will not happen so that we don’t take the small steps well within our ability, hereby trapping ourselves in a past whose use-by-date has come and gone.

Wicked Questions

Then I googled Wicked Questions to get me to the Plexus Institute which is full of case studies, theory and technique for using complexity theory in consulting.

Within seconds, I was looking at the work of Ralph Stacey of the University of Hertfordshire.  He is well ahead of the curve on new organizations and from a quick scan I was remined of two heurisitcs.  The first is not to live in the future.  He talks about having plans that respond to the here-and-now. David Whyte makes the same point.  We often frame a plan so that activity will begin after something else has happened – fueling procrastination or living contingently, as Whyte calls it.  Otto Scharmer makes a similar point about ideas that emerging from current conditions.  Strategy needs to come from what is happening now and what is emerging from current conditions.

Another phrase also caught my eye: Strength grows from contact with the environment, not from existing strengths.

The key is to look at my interactions with people and interactions between other people to develop a sense of what is possible and where we are going.  I think my heuristic is to think of five genuinely curious and exploratory questions about  Xoozya and take those to work in the morning.

As I focused on this idea I read on.

Executive pornography

The Plexus Institute has many case studies on its site.  One is of a Canadian firm, Federal metals, who regarded typical ‘strategy-speak’ as obscene – as executive pornorgraphy.  They object to the language of setting goals, communicating intent, maneovuring the organization and if they heard the term today, in all probability, employee engagement.

The important heuristic I gleaned at this stop is that strategy is concerned with making sense of the past.  Strategy is doing what I am doing now. It is reflecting on the normal stressors of the first day at work in a new place.

So I have three tasks:

  1. Master the communication system
  2. Consider why I am at Xoozya in terms of my broader life’s purpose
  3. List the skills I find essential and the skills I must develop as I look ahead.

My emotional state is considerable panic induced by the breadth and depth of freedom I have to pursue goals I believe are important.

Bringing these ideas together

So how did I get to a place that is quite so nervewracking?

  • Well, I want to work in a place that respects emergence. Of course, as Ralph Stacey says, not everything is emergent. Some tasks are programmatic and simple. I want my computer to fire up when I switch it on, of course.
  • I bring to the situation a familiarity with management literature and to that I returned for structure. What an insight! I wonder what other people use for structure?
  • In my case I dipped into the corporate poetry of David Whyte and was reminded of the anxiety we feel when we are about to step into a life that is very important to us. I looked at the theory and was reminded of the work of Ralph Stacey of the University of Hertfordshire – which is just down the road from me. From this, I invented a good heuristic. What are five genuinely curious and exploratory questions I can ask about my interaction with the environment – probably within Xoozya or as a representative of Xoozya?

Strength grows from contact with the environment.  What the five questions you would ask about your contact with the enviroment?

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‘Pull’ organizations

The military do pull management so why don’t commerce & industry?

As I left Xoozya at the end of my first day, I encountered an old college mate in the car park talking spiritedly with other Xoozyians about a concept I hadn’t heard before: “recon pull.”

I just have to hear the word “pull” for my ears to prick up.  Pull marketing vs push marketing.  Pull HR vs push HR.  “recon pull” sounds military, and so it was.  And old military too – of at least WW II vintage.  The phrase ‘command-and-control’ may come from the military but they aren’t wedded to the push models of commerce & industry.

Recon pull

“Recon pull”, as much as I have gathered so far, means local action that is taken by forces on the ground who vary their orders to suit the situation they find – within the broad framework of the “commander’s intent”.

Googling this term once I got home, I found one theorist distinguished “Soviet” and “German” models of military structure.  Interesting – I’ve always contrasted Soviet and Chinese models of insurgency and German and Anglo-Saxon models of organization.

Anyway, the Soviet-style model assumes that we plan in advance and execute the plans as agreed because it is not possible to adjust to circumstances as we go.  The German model assumes that a high degree of adjustment will take place.

Another author also attributed this school of thought to Sandhurst.

“We have learned,” responded the authorities at Sandhurst, “that a wild young man can learn wisdom as he grows older—if he survives—but a spiritless young man cannot learn the dash that wins battles.”

The German corollary is:

“The King made you a major because he believed you knew when not to obey.”

A “recon pull” model is consistent with both these philosophies.  Troops on the ground seek a weakness in enemy lines, break through, and pull the rest of the troops in behind them.  Within this model, if they are given an order and they realize it would be unwise to follow through, they stop without further instruction.  It they see an opportunity consistent with the commander’s intent, they grab it without further instruction.  Hmm, this is supposed to be consistent with English common law.  Everything that is not forbidden is allowed.  Roman law is the opposite.  Anything that is not allowed is forbidden.

The investment in ‘organization’ and ‘communication’ in the ‘Soviet’ and ‘German’ models is quite different.  In a model that assumes local decision making, everyone must be well trained.  They are also trained to act rather than not to act.  As a general rule, sins of omission are believed to be worse than sins of commission.

Well, would this idea of “recon pull” apply to other organizations?

Mmm, in the military world, there is a sense of  ‘ground’ to capture and an enemy to defeat.  Neither is particularly relevant to a young organization.  The market is not necessarily stable and consistent. (Military minds might say that about the ground too.)  There also isn’t an enemy.  In a young organization, we are rather, creating ground, or weaving a new set of relationships.

Commander’s intent

And what would be the commander’s intent?  A company like Google has a vision – to organize the world’s information.  It sounds concrete enough but it isn’t really. And it is probably also constrained by habit.  One day, someone will have a new vision that undermines the foundations of what is a fresh and innovative vision today.

The truth is that every employee has a ‘Sandhurst spirit’ to some extent or another, and every employee has a landscape in their mind.  They may not be vigorous or articulate about evangelizing their landscape but they are likely to have one.  Their landscape might also be well protected – to continue to use the military metaphor.  Or in broader terms, change may not be readily possible

Equally, lack of change may be stuckness.  Though the definition of stuckness is somewhat circular, sometimes situations can be unstuck.  This is the subject of Otto Scharmer’s presencing and of the idea behind golfing-movie “The Legend of Bagger Vance“.  Don’t force the shot. Let the shot find you.  Sitting and waiting is sometimes the correct response.  That is, the situation requires it.  Where we feel stuck (here comes the circularity), we argue for a return to listening to the environment.

So what is commander’s intent in a situation like Xoozya?

I think we each have a sense of intent and what is required is the ability or ongoing attempt to describe the world around us in a way that makes sense to others, and that highlights what needs to be done.

Shared understanding of the company

Following this thought process, part of my work as a psychologist is to highlight work in the firm so that people are able to see what is unfolding.

Old techniques for developing shared meaning

Yes, we have traditionally done that for the senior management team.  We carefully organize away-weekends with a series of presentations so that senior managers can understand each others view of the company.  We hold round-robin meetings to facilitate strategic planning to find consensus before final strategy meetings.  We might arrange town-hall meetings for staff.  We might arrange talks and training for staff.  But it is all rather piece-meal – rather Soviet?

Common dashboards

What we need is a set of dashboards so that as people look up from their own work, they can see where everyone else is, and take other people’s activity into account as they re-imagine what the world could look like.  The underlying value proposition or question is whether our own work, individually or collectively is enhanced by knowing what others are doing around us.

If I were to use a mechanical form of evaluation, it might look like this.

1   Is Xoozya committed to profiling the activities of its staff and how often are these profiles updated?

  • Because of the amount of work that this entails, it is likely that the profiles will be compiled on a Web2.0 basis.
  • As 2.0 websites as compiled by users they tend to be uneven and untidy and I would follow with this question. How is the availability of information reviewed and what is both our a prior and growing understanding of what the information will look like?

2   Do staff look at the profiles and do they feel that looking at other people’s work and having other people look at their work helps them?

  • Using an ‘extreme policy option’ technique that I learned from Professor Michael Riley at University of Surrey, are we making reasonable assumptions about human behavior?  What happens when we can see each other’s work-in-progress?  Are we competitive?  Are we cooperative?
  • Is emergent behavior more valuable or less valuable?  How can we understand this process?  Can we monitor feedback loops?  And are feedback loops the critical concept?

3  Have we seen generativity or amplification as a result?

  • What examples of value-added have we seen?

4   Are we competitive?

  • How can we monitor greater value-added?  How can focus attention on economic matters such as use of overheads, salaries, etc.  What is the big picture that we convey to members of Xoozya and does this help them focus on their work and be more creative and productive?

Applied Research of Shared Understandings

Yes, I can see potential research projects here.   For example, do University Departments have shared understandings of their work across their discipline?  Do Universities have shared understandings across their Departments?  Do students share these understandings?  Do local people share this understanding of their university?  Do professions have a shared understanding of the frontiers of their field?  Do the Departments, for example, who have common understanding of their frontiers amplify each others work more than other Departments?

And in companies, do the employees share an understanding of the common frontiers and how can we communicate those frontiers?

And is this the right way to think about monitoring shared meaning?  Or could we use proxy measures like collective efficacy – that would be easy to measure at least. Monitoring collective efficacy would entail asking which groups in the organization believe which other groups are competent?

Or should we use a model like Losada’s model of happiness?  Could we look at

  • interconnectivity of people
  • the balance of inquiry and advocacy and
  • the balance of interest in one’s own work and the work of others.

If these three variables predict the success of management teams, it is quite likely they predict the success of teams and organizations as well.

My tuppenny’s worth

Yup, this is what I would look for in an organization trying to exploit “recon pull”.

  • For substance, a vibrant 2.0 facility where we it is easy to see what other people are working on.
  • A review of process based on Losada’s work.  Do we have positivity/negativity ratios of 5:1, does our inquiry exceed our advocacy and are we slightly more interested in other people’s work than our own?

Indeed, this was a good evening’s work from a conversation in a car park.

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What are you working on and why is it important?

Day One at Xoozya (cont’d)

Back to my office with my three goals:

  • Explore the communication system
  • Catalog skills that I use and must look after, skills that I need to learn in the forseeable future, and skills that I am likely to stop using because they are no longer useful
  • Describe my current project – what am I doing by joining Xoozya?  What is important to me and why is my success important to others?

My current project

At first, I though describing my current work would be hard. How many of us feel we can explain openly why we have joined an organization?  But it turned out to be refreshingly easy.

  • I believe that the world of work is on the cusp of radical change.
  • As a work & organizational psychologist, I want to understand the changes that are taking place.  But no, that is not all.  I want to be in command of the changes.  I don’t want to be in charge of the changes, because I think the changes are emerging out of changes in the business environment.  I want to understand the changes fully and describe them to others.
  • And why is it important to others for me to have this command?  Work & organizational psychologists are midwives.  We help change occur.  Traditionally, psychologists have three roles.  When someone is facing a situation they find difficult, we provide models to think about the situation in an orderly way, we bring experience from working with people in similar situations, and we provide support while the person is working through the issue.

Being a psychologist at Xoozya

  • So what is my work here at Xoozya?
  • What models can we bring to this new organization that is determined to work in modern ways?
  • Can people cope with this open-ended assignment – describe your project and tell me why it is important to you and others?

My knowledge of ludology is not very good – that is one of the reasons I want to work on Xoozya – to learn more.  An idea from the games industry, that I read on Chris Bateman‘s blog, is useful for helping me think around these questions.

In a new environment, children, and adults, tend to play.  We take a new gadget out of a box and play around with it.  Only afterward do we say “should have read the manual”.  Bateman calls this paidia – free form play – and it is inspired by the combination of elements.  For example, pebbles and water tempt us to throw a pebble and try to make it bounce.

The opposite of paidia is ludus – or organized play, like sport.  Ludus is what Jane McGonigle specialixes in.  Play with an objective and rules.

Chris Bateman argues that a good game begins with paidia.  We are tempted to try things out in a playful way.  As we get used to the elements at our disposal, on our own or with others, we develop norms and sports-like rules.

This perspective is not very different the principles of work psychology that I grew up with.  And nor should they be. Good psychology is good psychology.

Cross-cultural psychometrics

Learning my trade in Africa where cross-cultural psychology and cross-cultural psychometrics are important, I was taught four principles for introducing people to psychological tests.

  • Give people easy obvious tasks to do directly and immediately.  For example, “write your name on the top”.
  • Begin with easy quick tasks like clerical and speed and accuracy.
  • Assume that the hardest thing to do is to find where to put the answer.
  • Show people what to do and check they’ve done it.  Eliminate strategies that are not in the candidate’s best interest.

These principles seem to represent the idea of helping people play with the elements, though in the context of testing, keeps an eye out for novel arrangements that would hurt the candidate.

Action theory

An action theory approach to work has demonstrated experimentally that the best way to train people on new technology is to introduce it as a functional level.  In other words, don’t teach people to type or to copy a letter.  Teach them how to save, to edit, to copy.  This seems to be equivalent to introducing people to the ‘elements’.

Another recommendation from action theory is to let people play with technology and to make ‘errors’.  Making errors builds our mental map of technology.  From my very limited experience of playing games, I also think free exploration makes early learning more purposeful.  We want to find out what we can do, and not do, and we adopt this broad goal without being told to.

Group stages

The five stages of group formation reminds us that in the first stage of joining a work group, people are quite dependent on the ‘leader’, in much the same way as we are dependent on a landmark for finding our way in a new city.

In the second stage, we begin to make errors and we evaluate whether we want to stay in the situation (or game).  Error recovery is central to our willingness to continue.

In the third stage, we become playful, often in groups, and are willing to accept goals.  We move from paidia to ludus, perhaps?

Then we become goal oriented – ludus? Sports-like play that morphs into work?

The fifth stage is ‘adjourning’, which is not so relevant here.

So how could I improve the induction?

What are the elements that people need to learn, explore and manipulate?  How can we bundle elements so they signal obvious affordances for the noobe?

How can we encourage a playful approach that encourages exploration and mastery?

How can we arrange the elements so that people explore them on their own, safely and profitably?

What do I want to have achieved by the end of the day?

Is it sufficient to say, hello I am Jo.  I am a psychologist and I joined Xoozya to be part of one of the most innovative contemporary experiments in management & organization.  I am interested in what you are doing and can swap the experience I gained consulting to multinationals and big organizations, where that is relevant.  What do you do here?

Is that enough for day one?  Time to go home!

And if you want to leave me a message saying what you are working on and why it is important to you and to others, I’ll read it gladly!

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What about your work is important, valuable and innovative?

Day One at Xoozya (cont’d)

“So what is my first goal”, I said to the HR Director.  “The amount of work on my desk is expanding exponentially and I’ve only been here a few hours.  I must find an avatar, explore the communication system, and map my skills set.”

What are your priorities?  I know you will say get settled, but all employers say that, and they don’t mean it.  What do you want done by when?”

Kick the habit of looking to managers for goals

“Well, Goal One” Peter said, “is to kick the habit of looking to managers for goals.  We are not here to set goals. We provide an arena or framework for you to work, alone if you like and with other people if you wish.  We are a huge company and you can work with whomever you choose and with whomever chooses to work with you.”

Acknowledge your own judgment

“That’s stressful at first because it feels as if you have no boundaries.  And to feel oriented, we all need boundaries.”

“But you do have boundaries.  You’ve made choices all your life.  You’ve attended to some things and ignored others.  In your judg                    ment, some things are important and command your attention.”

“We will ask you to do a third task.  We will leaving your avatar to the end of the month.  In addition to exploring the communication system and thinking about your skill set, you have a third task, which is this.

What it important, valuable and innovative about your current project?

“Write down what you are working on now.  And then tell me

  • Why this project is important to you
  • Why you think is is valuable
  • Why you think it is innovative.

Why do you feel vital and alive when you are working on this project and why do you believe it adds vitality and quality to the way we live?”

“Let me give you an example.

Today, a young post-graduate in Sydney, Marsha Gittens,  published a post in Brazen Careerist on what she wants from work– her career must-haves.  She wants money, good leadership, perks, etc.  We all want the same things but right now the financial benefits of the corporate world are uppermost in her mind because she is making the change from being a student, with all that entails, to being a member of the corporate world, and all that entails.

But financial rewards are not her project.  The move from the student world to the corporate world is her project and we are all better off if we acknowledge that openly.  She will spend the next year or two finding out where she fits into the corporate world and she wants to know how roles are structured, what these roles involve, and how important they are to other people.  At the end of the year she will have done well if she has gained this knowledge that she does not have now.  Much of this knowledge can only be gained from the inside.  From being in a company. From working on a team.  From doing a job and getting her hands dirty.

“So she will not move as a spectator.  She moves as a player and she is looking for assignments that will give her the combination of overall understanding and hands-on experience consistent with her skills.

“You sought membership of Xoozya for reasons you told us when we recruited you, and for reasons you’ll have kept to yourself.  Whatever has been put on the table, at this juncture in your life, there is something you want to achieve and you believe that we are the tool for you to achieve it.  There are resources you expect to find here and that you will look for.

The young Australian post-graduate wants to find her toe hole in the corporate world.  To do that she needs to understand the corporate world.”

“You are mid-career and you want . .  . what?  Describe what you came here to achieve.  What are you working on and why did you believe that we have the resources you need.”

“What we suggest you do is write down your current project and answer those three questions.

  • What about the project is important to you?
  • Why do you believe it is valuable?
  • What about the project is truly innovative?  Why is it so important to be doing this work now and what about it is so special that it cannot be ignored?

Then we’ll talk again.  How about this time next Friday?”

And if you are enjoying this series, please do feel free to join in!

  • Leave your thoughts in the comment section
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  • If you comment on this post from your blog, please link back to this post from the words Jo Jordan, flowingmotion, or Xoozya
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And PS, if you are new to this blog, Xoozya is an utterly fictitious organization. This series began on the spur of the moment as I started to explored the principles of games design and Ned Lawrence of Church of Ned mentioned how much time people put into designing their avatars, or online identities. Xoozya is an attempt to imagine what an organization would look, sound and feel like if it were run along lines recommended by contemporary management theorists.

And PPS Ned is an online writing coach and is available for hire.

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Which skills will be valuable in 5 years time?

Day One at Xoozya (cont’d)

Mary, the HR Body put her cheerful face around the door and said “Lunch”.  Yep, I was keen.  There is just so much that I can take in at one time and the Dashboard at Xoozya is pretty comprehensive.

She dangled a key.  “Bring valuables,” she said, “but leave everything else as it is.  We’ll lock the door”.

The canteen wasn’t far and I could hear the buzz as we approached.  It was just as hyped.   Salads, fruit and hot food and the refreshing absence of the cloying smell of old fat and overcooked vegetables.  Sweet.

Mary, ever the professional, asked nimbly whether I ate fish.  I do, and she said, “I’ll get two fish pies – they’re good.  You grab some salads.  I’d like plain lettuce and tomato and pear or some fruit.  Water OK to drink?”  I caught up with her at the cashier where she introduced me as noobe and I put my food on my tab.  We grabbed napkins and cutlery and she led the way to a corner table.  “We’ll join Peter Wainwright, the HR Director.  You remember him, of course?”

As we approached, Peter rose, smiled warmly, and said “Hello, Jo.  Welcome to Xoozya!  Here’s to a prosperous and happy alliance.”

We fumbled around, as one does, arranging trays and getting comfortable and he asked about my morning.  I told him it was clear I have some thinking to do to set up a communication system that leaves me informed but not overwhelmed with information.

He nodded and added: “Well, take your time.  Every minute that you spend in exploration now pays off handsomely in comfort and organization later.  We also want you to base your judgments on what matters. You’ve joined us with your skills, as has everyone else here,” he said, waiving his hand at the crowded canteen.

Future capability and value

“There are skills that are essential to what you do and there are skills that will change with technological change.”

  • “We want you to jot down the skills that are absolutely essential to what you do.  These we will nurture and respect.”
  • “Then there are skills that are going to change significantly over the next five to ten years.  We want those on a separate list because those require significant investment in time and energy”.
  • “And there are skills that we don’t use anymore.  Those we give a respectful burial.” He smiled.  “When we have identified a skill or process that we no longer use, we get an occupational psychologist to document it and we make a display for our skills museum.  Then we have a little wake,” he chuckled, “to see it off.  It’s quite cathartic.”

Nostalgia for skills & practices of the past

“So which skill in the museum is best-loved?” I asked.  “Which grave attracts the most flowers?”

“Ah, we hadn’t thought of doing that.  Good idea.  We should put the skills up on the intranet with the choice of . . . flowers or . . . a good kick . . . or a big ? mark for ‘who was this!’.  And see what we get back!”

My induction so far

Well, I obviously have some thinking to do.  It is only lunchtime and I have to think about


Which skills are utterly essential to your work?

And which will change so fundamentally in the next five years that you will need to retrain?

And which skills deserve a respectful burial?

Which are you happy to see go and which will you miss?

And if you are enjoying this series, please do feel free to join in!

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And PS, if you are new to this blog, Xoozya is an utterly fictitious organization.  This series began on the spur of the moment as I started to explored the principles of games design and Ned Lawrence of Church of Ned mentioned how much time people put into designing their avatars, or online identities.  Xoozya is an attempt to imagine what an organization would look, sound and feel like if it were run along lines recommended by contemporary management theorists.

And PPS Ned is an online writing coach and is available for hire.

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I don’t need to see my boss to communicate

Day One at Xoozya (cont’d)

While I waited for the kind HR body to take me off to lunch, I doodled away on my nice clean notepad thinking how much organizations have changed since I first studied management.

Classical organizational structure

Eight soldiers march across the country side careful to walk in a straight line so they don’t shoot each other.  They are also spread out so that no more than one soldier is hit in a burst of machine gun fire from the opposition.

And they are limited to 8, because only four either side of their leader can hear his voice and see his hand commands.

The army makes a choice to use ‘voice and hand’ to communicate and that, amongst other factors, constrains their organizational structure.

Social media is a choice and available now

Now we have social media tools available to us to communicate, our choices have broadened.  We can communicate with people out of sight and sound.  We can communicate with more people too.

If I knew more military history, I would know more about how communication has changed warfare through the ages.  I am sure the changes were huge.  And they will be huge in business with the arrival of social media.

Well lunch calls so I will think about this more later.  I wonder what face-to-face communication is like in Xoozya.

Communication channels constrain structure

How does you organization communicate and coordinate?

Have you adopted social media?

How do the physical choices you’ve made determine your structure?

Does your structure allow you to move faster than your opposition?  What structures do they use?

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Thank you for reading and do come back to here what happened at lunch.

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Conversations don’t scale: pick my team

Day One at Xoozya (cont’d)

Exploring my dashboard

The HR body went about her business, leaving me with my pencil & pad and flask of coffee to spend the next two hours before lunch exploring my dashboard.  378 hits on my CV already.  I started to look.

Open “CV”

Yes, the CEO has looked at my CV and is interested in a project I did, wow, almost 20 year’s ago.  And he is not the only one.  Ah, but this guy is interested in something else.  And this one in something else.  I might be hard pressed to find two people interested in the same thing.  So what do I do?  How do I respond?  What do I say?  What is expected of me?  What is my objective? Let me look closer.

Dashboards as open as Twitter

Well, other people can see my dashboard and I can see thei’s.  Let me look at the CEO’s profile.  Oh, how interesting.  He is following 3452 people.  He must follow everyone.  But he only as 26 followers.  Hmmph – Twitter wouldn’t like that.

Who is following the CEO and more importantly why isn’t everyone else?

I’m looking down his list of followers now.  That seems to be the PA.  That seems to be the communications secretary.  Wow, that’s his wife, and his daughter.  The Financial Director, the Chairman of the Board, the Marketing Director, the odd intern.

Why don’t other people follow him?

Follow Town Hall rather than CEO

Let me look at someone else.  Let me look for a well know name. This will do.  Hmm, quite a few followers and byt not following many people.  Ah, the CEO conundrum explained.  Following “Town Hall” – and yes 3725 people follow Town Hall.  Let’s put that on a To Do list.  Follow Town Hall because everyone follows Town Hall.

  • OK I think I am getting this.  I need to follow people whose movements I need to know about.
  • Then I probably need a sprinkling of people throughout the company to give me some idea of what is happening across the piece.

That’s enough learning for the moment.

Conversations don’t scale

  1. How do you decide who fits into your ‘Dunbar’ groups?  Who are your intimates (who probably are not part of your work group)?
  2. Who is in your hunting band of 30 and how do you know where they are and what they are doing?
  3. Who is in your tribe of around 150 and how do you know enough about what they are doing without being overwhelmed by detail?
  4. And how do you keep abreast of the greater mass of of army and world around you?

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“Open CV” and Friending at Work

Day One at Xoozya (cont’d)

Choosing an avatar to show my noobe status

The HR person was as good as her word.  My first task was to choose an avatar.  I thought for moment that I should choose carefully.

Then I realized that I had been so focused on finding out what the company wanted from me, I hadn’t been thinking about what I brought to the company and I couldn’t express my identity quickly.  So in the interests of time, I picked randomly.  I’m going to change the avatar later anyway.

It was a good choice.  When we looked at the ‘dashboard’ I would use, all the ten basic avatars have ‘noobe’ under each.  Good, so everyone knows I am a noobe.

Breakfast was good and very welcome as I had a long commute and had left home early to allow for delays.  Real coffee, fruit, fresh croissant.  And it goes down on the tab too.  So no need to fuss with cash or card.


After breakfast, we had a look at the standard dashboard that is at the heart of Xoozya’s communication system.

My avatar was already up, waiting for me.  So was my full name.  What I needed to do was choose a screen name, which I could also change later, and choose a strong password.  And the HR Advisor thoughtfully provided a little A6 ring bound notebook for me to keep notes.

The main tabs on the dashboard are similar to Facebook.  Home page which had a heap of stuff already on it, email, and profile.  And three more tabs: blog, CV, status.

Blog, I know – and there was a basic post saying “Hello, World”. Status was obvious at at glance.  It said April 1: Noobe Day 1.

CV was unexpected.  The CV I had used when I applied for the job was loaded up.  At the top of the page were links to my Linkedin Profile, Xing Profile, external blog, Facebook page with links for 30 external sources in all.

Down the right hand side was something more unexpected.   Nope, not adverts, but lists for “friend requests”.

Each request look like a tweet starting like @ceo Saw you facilitated a corporate strategy 10 years ago.  Can you make a note to tell me about it next time you see me?

There were dozens of these.  People all over the company had been going through my CV before I arrived!

What’s more, when I followed the tweet, I went through to their dasboard and their CV.

It seems I had 378 hits on my dashboard before I started work and people spent a total of 85 hours checking me out – and that’s before they followed the links outside.

Well that’s a heap of messages to answer.

And with that the HR body, put a flask of coffee, a clean A4 pad and a pencil pen on the desk and left with a few words of advice.  “Look around until I come back to find you for lunch at noon and maybe delay replying to anyone till you have a picture of who is who and what is what.”

Open CV and Friending People at Work

1   Would you like it if people knew you were coming and had looked through your CV carefully before you arrived?

2   Would you like it if people had sent you tweet-like messages pointing out which aspects of your previous work are interesting to them?

3  Do you like the idea of looking freely at other people’s CV’s (including the CEO’s)?

I would love feedback on this post.  If you liked it, would you do 1 of these 5 things, please?

  • Comment
  • Bookmark the article with DeliciousStumble, Digg or any other service
  • Subscribe using the RSS feed (top right)
  • Subscribe to me in your feedreeder
  • Blog about the post and give me some ‘link love’ by attach this url to the words Xoozya OR Jo Jordan OR flowingmotion

WordPress kindly tells me when you have done that and I’ll be over to read what you have written!

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