An Organisation Design Case Study: What is your Optimisation Goal?

When conducting organisation design it is tempting to jump straight in. What are the roles? How should we organise teams? What process to follow? Commonly, the latest trend such as the famous “Spotify Model” is simply copied.

Before jumping into the design, there is a critical question to be explored: What is your optimisation goal?

An optimisation goal guides your organisation design. It enables you to make decisions in context, find a coherent design that does not conflict with the goal.

Without a clear goal, “local optimisation” occurs. This is when part of the organisation works well but overall performance suffers.

A local optimisation example: optimising lines of code written by software developers.

This local optimisation leads to “busy” developers. It will likely lead to more complex solutions, with many lines of code. Harder to maintain than simpler solutions.

Another example: optimising for customer value.

This goal is much closer to the real purpose, to add value to customers. With this optimisation goal in mind, it will often have profound impact to the organisational design. For example, reduction of layers between the development team and the customer.

A final example: Large Scale Scrum (LeSS)

LeSS is an organisation design framework which is designed for organisations where the optimisation goal is adaptiveness. The ability to turn in a dime for a dime. With this goal in mind, LeSS leads to significant changes to organisational design. Fewer roles, layers and managers.

LeSS, like the Spotify Model is often “Implemented” without contextual understanding. If adaptiveness is not your optimisation goal it will likely lead to sub-optimal results. It may even harm your organisation.

Without optimisation goal clarity, local optimisations will be rampant.

Optimising goals can be subtle and counter-intuitive as this case study highlights…

Optimising for Safety at Alcoa

Paul O’Neill’s tenure at the helm of Alcoa is now the stuff of legend.

Introduced to a group of investors and analysts in October 1987, he didn’t talk about revenue and expenses and debt ratios and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation. “I want to talk to you about worker safety,” he told the Wall Street crowd.

“Every year, numerous Alcoa workers are injured so badly that they miss a day of work,” he continued. “Our safety record is better than the general American workforce, especially considering that our employees work with metals that are 1,500 degrees and machines that can rip a man’s arm off. But it’s not good enough. I intend to make Alcoa the safest company in America. I intend to go for zero injuries.”

When one attendee asked about inventories and another asked about capital ratios – the standard vocabulary for these kinds of sessions – O’Neill returned to the same theme.

“I’m not certain you heard me,” said the new CEO. “If you want to understand how Alcoa is doing, you need to look at our workplace safety figures. If we bring our injury rates down, it won’t be because of cheerleading or the nonsense you sometimes hear from other CEOs. It will be because the individuals at this company have agreed to become part of something important:  They’ve devoted themselves to creating a habit of excellence. Safety will be an indicator that we’re making progress in changing our habits across the entire institution. That’s how we should be judged.”

Ref [1]

In the example, “safety” is the optimisation goal.

Over O’Neill’s tenure, Alcoa dropped from 1.86 lost work days to injury per 100 workers to 0.2. By 2012, the rate had fallen to 0.125.

Surprisingly, that impact extended beyond worker health. One year after O’Neill’s speech, the company’s profits hit a record high.

How did this happen?

In complex systems, changes can have dynamic side effects creating a chain reaction. In this case study, safety triggered a continuous improvement chain reaction.

Systems Thinking is one way can start to explore this chain reaction. In particular, Causal Loop Diagrams are a great way to visualise these dynamics.

Here is an example:

Systems Maps - General (7)

Open in Miro

This diagram tells a story.

The headline: by focusing on safety, it amplifies other important factors:

  • Psychological Safety
  • Number of improvements implemented

Lets zoom into those areas….

Psychological Safety

Systems Maps - General (8)

The behaviours of management, especially the CEO, emphasised the importance of safety. This demonstrated to employees that safety was important. As a result they were more likely to raise issues. As issues are found, and resolved, this reinforced to the CEO the importance of safety.

The lesson here, increasing safety, not only physical but psychological, created a chain reaction. The CEO and senior management were critical in role modelling these behaviours. When designing your organisation, think carefully about the behaviours you want senior management to adopt.

Number of Improvements implemented

Systems Maps - General (9)

Safety focus increased improvement efforts engagement across the organisation. The side effect of spending more time investigating safety issues surfaced tangential issues. As issues were addressed it increased employee confidence that issues would be resolved, resulting in more improvement ideas. This success improved the trust between leaders. Improving transparency in the organisation.

The lesson here is that the focus on safety improved other areas of the business. The behaviours overtime created a culture of continuous improvement. This culture had a direct impact on the performance of the organisation impacting the bottom line.

Another lesson, culture is the result of behaviours in the organisation. In the case study they “acted” their way to a new thinking. The behaviours of continuous improvement shifted their identity. This demonstrates that culture can only change when behaviours change. Again, the leaders were key role models in enabling this change.


When optimising for one thing, we need to make trade-offs. Many leaders ignore the fact that optimising for one goal may negatively impact another. They refuse to make difficult decisions relating to those trade-offs. If the optimisation goal is only words you will not get the benefit.

A major trade off was shareholder push back. Paul O’Neill was under huge pressure from shareholders. The risk under pressure the goal dilutes.

Systems Maps - General (6)

As the pressure increases it puts a strain both on the CEO and the senior management team. The teams cohesion will determine their behaviours. If there is shallow agreement, it is likely behaviours do not match the goal. Employees will not believe in the goal either if they do not have positive role models. Key here is for the senior management team to embrace dissent as a positive behaviour. This improves their shared mental models increasing team cohesion. Done in the right way, this dissent will also improve Psychological Safety over time.

How to find your optimisation goal?

Clarity, cohesion and coherence in many organisations is few and far between. This leads to confusion and poor decision making. Hidden local optimisation is rampant reducing organisational performance.

So what are practical steps to avoid this problem?

Here are 5 questions to help:

  1. List down all of the explicit and implicit goals within your organisation Which of these goals are in harmony? Which are in conflict?
    • You can do a causal loop diagram to explore these relationships
  2. Based upon the purpose of your organisation, what goals most enable you to achieve your purpose?
  3. If you were to pick one, what would it be?
  4. What trade-offs would you need to make when choosing this goal?
    • Again, causal loop diagram is great for this
  5. Now, explore the elements within your organisation that influence this goal, both positive and negative.
    • More diagramming at this step too!

This will guide decisions to optimise your organisation.

A final disclaimer…

My analysis intends to show how to use Systems Thinking to diagnose your organisational dynamics.

The analysis is also biased to Narrative Fallacy.

However, I hope this example has shown how optimisation goals, systems thinking and causal loop diagrams can help optimise your organisation.

I’d love to hear how it helps!

Ref [1] –

My Notes from…..Complexity, Chaos, and COVID-19 Webinar – Applying Cynefin and Complexity Thinking to Navigate the crisis

3 Big Ideas

  • Embrace, enable and accelerate entanglement in systems so that it can accelerate learning for better decision making
  • Anticipatory Decision Making – Making decisions that keeps options open in the long run. This increase adaptiveness.
    • Example: stacking dishwasher. Some will stack thinking about the dishes in rest of the day. Others will stack in closest spot
  • Enable informal networks to naturally emerge within your organisations and encourage the intersections of networks to collide. This is where breakthroughs in innovation occur.


  • Systems designed for ordinary times are not suitable for extraordinary times.

  • Enable rapid formation of people networks consisting of diverse groups who don’t usually work together

1 Takeaway

If you have more time…

Definition of Terms:

  • Sensemaking or sense-making is the process by which people give meaning to their collective experiences. It has been defined as “the ongoing retrospective development of plausible images that rationalize what people are doing”
  • Coherence is the quality of being logical and consistent.
  • Epistemic means relating to knowledge or to the degree of its validation
  • Action based abstraction – ?
  • Exaptation and the related term co-option describe a shift in the function of a trait during evolution. For example, a trait can evolve because it served one particular function, but subsequently it may come to serve another
  • Homophily refers to the tendency for people to have (non-negative) ties with people who are similar to themselves in socially significant ways.
  • Taoism or Daoism is a type of belief, or a way of thinking about life. It is at least 2,500 years old and it comes from China. Taoism is now said to be a philosophy. Tao (or Dao, 道) is the name of the force or the “Way” that Taoists believe makes everything in the world.
  • Premature convergence – In genetic algorithms, the term of premature convergence means that a population for an optimization problem converged too early, resulting in being suboptima
  • Hyperlocal is information oriented around a well-defined community with its primary focus directed toward the concerns of the population in that community.

Importance of Coherence

  • Coherence is integration between parts of the system
  • Important to create coherence at different levels of the system. There are at least three levels of the system.
  • Important to look at coherence over time
  • Living things degrade gracefully where as machines die ungracefully – e.g a clock, remove a part and it stops


Metaphor for complex system – Bramble Thicket

Bramble thicket above Cockington valley © Derek Harper :: Geograph ...

  • Everyone now understands the impact of complexity and entanglement
  • Never before has the world been so obviously entangled
  • We need to enable entanglement not avoid it to embrace complexity
  • How can we take multiple timelines and entangle them to create diversity in order to build new mental models
  • For example, take the timelines/perspectives/mental models of government and entangle them that of society. That would create breakthroughs.
  • In particular we need to find 17%’ers – People who see things others don’t – Reference:
  • Embrace entanglement – create systems that can be rapidly entangled
  • Create tension between the levels of the system – but how can we create tension without breaking the system
  • Leadership message: Shift thinking from linear, sorted, clean systems and silos to thinking about entanglement. Embrace the “messy’ness”

3 rules to lead in complex situations

  1. Distribute cognition – Enable Diversity – Find the 17% who have seen something where others haven’t – Gorilla experiment – attentional blindness
  2. Disintermediation – leaders need to see raw data not abstract data -Go to the  “Gemba” important for leaders – see the problem first hand
  3. Granularity – small groups can move more quickly than large groups

Key steps to navigate a crisis like COVID-19

  • Possible steps:
    • Assess
    • Adapt/Adjust
    • Exapt (Innovation)
    • Transcend
  • Fundamentally increase learning speed
  • Push decision making to the local levels of the organisation. Best learning is at the local level. Leaders need to be able to extract the patterns from local level.
  • Building the things now for when we come out of it. Don’t approach the problem And solutions in a linear way

Enable Informal Networks

  • Enable rapid formation of people networks consisting of diverse groups who don’t usually work together. In a crisis people are more willing to work with people who they don’t usually.
  • The best organisations allow these informal networks to emerge in a natural way. Don’t make them formal
  • Build a common language to enable the network to communicate across boundaries.
  • We tend to naturally  organise into local groups – “Birds of a feather flock together”
  • How networks work:
    • Connect on similarity
    • Benefit from differences
  • Important – Innovation happens at the intersection of networks. Differences spark innovation and breakthroughs.
  • 17%’ers are important within the network
  • We need platforms that drive networks of differences
    • Existing platforms drive people to gather based upon similarities
  • Find people who are troublesome but who you respect and give them options
    • Don’t exclude these people from the system. Their differences can drive real innovation
  • Create mechanisms for the network to broadcast communication/messages transparently
  • Make feedback accessible to everyone within the system to enable systemic breakthroughs. Everyone is an active part of the system not a passive consumer.
  • In times of crisis create more opportunity for people within networks to meet outside of their tribes

Anticipatory Decision Making

  • Anticipatory Decision Making – Making decisions that keeps options open in the long run. This increase adaptiveness.
  • Some people find this more natural than others. Find these people within your network as they will enable adaptiveness.
  • People who make best decisions think about the context.
  • Decisions only matter when we have complete ambiguity
  • Anti-Pattern – All decision making is trained on the assumption there is always a right answer

Additional notes

  • In complex systems there are things you can manage and things you can monitor. Don’t try to manage the things you can only monitor.
    • Manage – Constraints, rituals, energy allocation
    • Monitor – Examples TBD
  • War Time and Peace Time decision makers are different.
  • Taosim is the closest match to Complexity
  • Storytelling is powerful because it expresses context simply
  • Work locally, think globally
  • This time is a great opportunity for leaders who want to make real change happen
  • We evolved to make decisions collectively not individually.
  • Use imagination for exploring systems – Mile 22 Quote –
  • Premature convergence – We converge on ideas too early which impacts our ideas
  • Story Telling is important for complex systems. The world view and stories of the world are changing.
  • Observation: Hyper local actions – Communities taking action in a very local level
  • We don’t have to convince people that we live in a VUCA world – They can see the impact now
  • Language used to describe the system is important. Reveals underlying mental model. Make language more precise. Language used will drive a certain behaviour.
  • Systems designed for ordinary times are not suitable for extraordinary times.
  • We are trying to extend existing systems to abnormal systems which will result in failure
  • Our leaders find it hard to change how they make decisions. A new way of looking at problems is important yet many can’t change their mental model. They are stuck.


Ego is the Enemy: The Fight to Master Our Greatest Opponent – Ryan Holiday

3 Big Ideas

  • Ego is: an unhealthy belief in our own importance.
  • Ego is primary factor in the self-destruction of many people across the world, especially those who think they have found success through materialistic gains such as money and status. Ego eats away at these people like a cancer, often with their actions fuelling the disease. Live a life that does not fuel the ego. Don’t fuel the disease.
  • Managing your ego does not mean not pursuing your dreams and goals. Managing your ego means building a compass to navigate you through life as the ego fuel becomes greater and more tempting. Understanding what is important to you, your value and reflecting regularly.


Managing your ego is especially important with money. If you don’t know how much you need, the default easily becomes: more.

Why do you do what you do? That’s the question you need to answer. Stare at it until you can. Only then will you understand what matters and what doesn’t. Only then can you say no, can you opt out of stupid races that don’t matter, or even exist. Only then is it easy to ignore “successful” people, because most of the time they aren’t—at least relative to you, and often even to themselves. Only then can you develop that quiet confidence.

1 Takeaway

If you have more time… Image result for clock icon

Part I: Aspire

  • As Irving Berlin put it, “Talent is only the starting point.” The question is:
    • Will you be able to make the most of it?
    • Or will you be your own worst enemy?
    • Will you snuff out the flame that is just getting going?
  • One might say that the ability to evaluate one’s own ability is the most important skill of all. Without it, improvement is impossible.
  • Detachment is ego antidote.
  • What is rare is not raw talent, skill, or even confidence, but humility, diligence, and self-awareness.
  • Though we think big, we must act and live small to achieve goals

Ego Talk Replaces Action – Knowing Doing Gap

  • It’s a temptation that exists for everyone—for talk and hype to replace action. Talking is easy.
  • Confusing Talk with Action: Talk depletes us. Talking and doing fight for the same resources. Research shows that while goal visualization is important, after a certain point our mind begins to confuse it with actual progress. The same goes for verbalization. Knowing Doing Gap
  • I just spent four hours talking about this. Doesn’t that count for something? The answer is no.
  • The only relationship between work and chatter is that one kills the other.
  • Now more than ever, our culture fans the flames of ego. It’s never been easier to talk, to puff ourselves up.

Ego crosses out what matters and replaces it with what doesn’t.

  • Appearances are deceiving.
    • Having authority is not the same as being an authority.
    • Having the right and being right are not the same either.
    • Being promoted doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing good work and it doesn’t mean you are worthy of promotion (they call it failing upward in such bureaucracies).
    • Impressing people is utterly different from being truly impressive.

Ego blocks learning

  • An education can’t be “hacked”; there are no shortcuts besides hacking it every single day.
  • We don’t like thinking that someone is better than us. Or that we have a lot left to learn.
  • For someone to become great:
    • have someone better that they can learn from
    • someone lesser who they can teach
    • someone equal that they can challenge themselves against.
  • A true student is like a sponge. Absorbing what goes on around him, filtering it, latching on to what he can hold. A student is self-critical and self-motivated, always trying to improve his understanding so that he can move on to the next topic, the next challenge. A real student is also his own teacher and his own critic. There is no room for ego there.
  • Without an accurate accounting of our own abilities compared to others, what we have is not confidence but delusion.

“It is impossible to learn that which one thinks one already knows,” Epictetus

Seek Purpose not Passion – The ego is driven by passion

  • Purpose is something larger than you—to accomplish something, to prove something to yourself
  • Purpose makes things easier:
    • you know now what it is you need to do and what is important to you. The other “choices” wash away, as they aren’t really choices at all. They’re distractions.
  • Purpose makes things harder:
    • each opportunity—no matter how gratifying or rewarding—must be evaluated along strict guidelines:
  • Passion typically masks a weakness. Its breathlessness and impetuousness and franticness are poor substitutes for discipline, for mastery, for strength and purpose and perseverance.
  • Passion Paradox – Staying busy doing things that pleasure our ego but don’t align with our purpose
    • Putting energy into our passions will not lead to purpose
  • Purpose is like passion with boundaries.
  • Passion is form over function. Purpose is function, function, function.
  • Fundamental realities to remember:
    • You’re not nearly as good or as important as you think you are;
    • You have an attitude that needs to be readjusted;
    • Most of what you think you know is out of date or wrong.

Focus on Helping others

  • There is constant benefit in making other people look good and letting them take credit for your ideas.
  • Produce more than everyone else and give your ideas away
  • Find canvases for other people to paint on. Clear the path for the people above you and you will eventually create a path for yourself.

Adopt tiny habits consistently and don’t be proud – Tiny Habits

  • A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts, so he loses touch with reality and lives in a world of illusions.—ALAN WATTS
  • There’s no one to perform for. There is just work to be done and lessons to be learned, in all that is around us.
  • Our ability to learn, to adapt, to be flexible, to build relationships, all of this is dulled by pride.
  • Pride takes a minor accomplishment and makes it feel like a major one.
  • Questions to manage pride:
    • What am I missing right now that a more humble person might see?
    • What am I avoiding, or running from, with my bluster, franticness, and embellishments?
  • Be patient and put in the work.
  • Work is finding yourself alone at the track when the weather kept everyone else indoors.
  • “The way to do really big things seems to be to start with deceptively small things.”

Part II: Success

Ego blocks learning – Don’t be an expert, always a learner

  • “The worst disease which can afflict business executives in their work is not, as popularly supposed, alcoholism; it’s egotism,”
  • “Man is pushed by drives, But he is pulled by values.” Viktor Frankl

  • We can’t keep learning if we think we already know everything.
  • “as our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.”

  • With accomplishment comes a growing pressure to pretend that we know more than we do. To pretend we already know everything.
  • It is not enough only to be a student at the beginning. It is a position that one has to assume for life.
  • Put yourself in rooms where you’re the least knowledgeable person.

Set your own standards, don’t copy others

  • Standard of Performance (Also referenced in Barcelona Way): What. When. How. At the most basic level and throughout the organization. Bill Walsh example:
    • Players could not sit down on the practice field.
    • Coaches had to wear a tie and tuck their shirts in.
    • Everyone had to give maximum effort and commitment.
    • Sportsmanship was essential.
    • The locker room must be neat and clean.
    • There would be no smoking, no fighting, no profanity.
    • Quarterbacks were told where and how to hold the ball.
    • Linemen were drilled on thirty separate critical drills.
    • Passing routes were monitored and graded down to the inch.
    • Practices were scheduled to the minute.
  • The deceptively small things are responsible for your success
  • Don’t Cargo Cult – Resist the impulse to reverse engineer success from other people’s stories.
  • Don’t skill the details in your own story – When we achieve our own, we must resist the desire to pretend that everything unfolded exactly as we’d planned.
  • The less attached we are to outcomes the better. Focus on your standards.
  • Make a distinction between the inner scorecard and the external one. Your potential, the absolute best you’re capable of—that’s the metric to measure yourself against.

Build your compass don’t let Ego direct you

  • It is not enough to have great qualities; we should also have the management of them
  • All of us waste precious life doing things we don’t like, to prove ourselves to people we don’t respect, and to get things we don’t want.
  • Let’s be clear: competitiveness is an important force in life. It’s what drives the market and is behind some of mankind’s most impressive accomplishments. On an individual level, however, it’s absolutely critical that you know who you’re competing with and why, that you have a clear sense of the space you’re in.
  • More urgently, each one of us has a unique potential and purpose; that means that we’re the only ones who can evaluate and set the terms of our lives. Far too often, we look at other people and make their approval the standard we feel compelled to meet, and as a result, squander our very potential and purpose.
  • “The Strongest Poison ever known, came from Caesar’s Laurel Crown.” William Blake

  • “He who indulges empty fears earns himself real fears,” Seneca

Don’t let Ego distract you

  • Find the sense of our own path and how to stay on it without getting distracted by all the others that intersect it.
  • It’s about being what you are, and being as good as possible at it, without succumbing to all the things that draw you away from it. It’s about going where you set out to go. About accomplishing the most that you’re capable of in what you choose.
  • It’s time to sit down and think about what’s truly important to you and then take steps to forsake the rest. Without this, success will not be pleasurable, or nearly as complete as it could be. Or worse, it won’t last.
  • This is especially true with money. If you don’t know how much you need, the default easily becomes: more.
  • Ego rejects trade-offs. Why compromise? Ego wants it all.
    strategies are often mutually exclusive. One cannot be an opera singer and a teen pop idol at the same time. Life requires those trade-offs, but ego can’t allow it.
  • Why do you do what you do? That’s the question you need to answer. Stare at it until you can. Only then will you understand what matters and what doesn’t. Only then can you say no, can you opt out of stupid races that don’t matter, or even exist. Only then is it easy to ignore “successful” people, because most of the time they aren’t—at least relative to you, and often even to themselves. Only then can you develop that quiet confidence.
  • Find out why you’re after what you’re after. Ignore those who mess with your pace.
    With success, particularly power, come some of the greatest and most dangerous delusions: entitlement, control, and paranoia.

You are not the centre of the universe

  • As you become successful in your own field, your responsibilities may begin to change. Days become less and less about doing and more and more about making decisions.
  • Let’s make one thing clear: we never earn the right to be greedy or to pursue our interests at the expense of everyone else. To think otherwise is not only egotistical, it’s counterproductive.
  • Ego tells us that meaning comes from activity, that being the center of attention is the only way to matter.
  • “When I look up in the universe, I know I’m small, but I’m also big. I’m big because I’m connected to the universe and the universe is connected to me.”
  • Someone recently calculated that it takes but a chain of six individuals who shook hands with one another across the centuries to connect Barack Obama to George Washington.
  • That is sobriety. That is command of oneself.
  • Courage, for instance, lies between cowardice on one end and recklessness on the other. Generosity, which we all admire, must stop short of either profligacy and parsimony in order to be of any use. Where the line—this golden mean—is can be difficult to tell, but without finding it, we risk dangerous extremes.

Part III: Failure

Build a personal compass to navigate failure

  • Failure and adversity are relative and unique to each of us.
  • “Almost always, your road to victory goes through a place called ‘failure.’”
  • Ego loves this notion, the idea that something is “fair” or not. Psychologists call it narcissistic injury when we take personally totally indifferent and objective events.
  • As Goethe once observed, the great failing is “to see yourself as more than you are and to value yourself at less than your true worth.”
  • adhering to a set of internal metrics that allowed them to evaluate and gauge their progress while everyone on the outside was too distracted by supposed signs of failure or weakness.
  • This is characteristic of how great people think. It’s not that they find failure in every success. They just hold themselves to a standard that exceeds what society might consider to be objective success. Because of that, they don’t much care what other people think; they care whether they meet their own standards. And these standards are much, much higher than everyone else’s.

See failure as an opportunity – use the “dead time”

  • According to Greene, there are two types of time in our lives: dead time, when people are passive and waiting, and alive time, when people are learning and acting and utilizing every second.
    • Francis Scott Key wrote the poem that became the national anthem of the United States while trapped on a ship during a prisoner exchange in the War of 1812.
    • Viktor Frankl refined his psychologies of meaning and suffering during his ordeal in three Nazi concentration camps. Not that these opportunities always come in such serious situations.
    • The author Ian Fleming was on bed rest and, per doctors’ orders, forbidden from using a typewriter. They were worried he’d exert himself by writing another Bond novel. So he created Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by hand instead.
    • Walt Disney made his decision to become a cartoonist while laid up after stepping on a rusty nail.
  • In life, we all get stuck with dead time. Its occurrence isn’t in our control. Its use, on the other hand, is.

Be clear on what success is to you

  • “Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”
  • This is why we can’t let externals determine whether something was worth it or not. It’s on us.
  • The bigger the ego the harder the fall.
  • many significant life changes come from moments in which we are thoroughly demolished, in which everything we thought we knew about the world is rendered false.
  • A look at history finds that these events seem to be defined by three traits:
    • They almost always came at the hands of some outside force or person.
    • They often involved things we already knew about ourselves, but were too scared to admit.
    • From the ruin came the opportunity for great progress and improvement.
  • In the end, the only way you can appreciate your progress is to stand on the edge of the hole you dug for yourself, look down inside it, and smile fondly at the bloody claw prints that marked your journey up the walls.

Don’t Hate, Love

  • Streisand effect (named after a similar attempt by the singer and actress Barbra Streisand, who tried to legally remove a photo of her home from the Web. Her actions backfired and far more people saw it than would have had she left the issue alone.)
    • Attempting to destroy something out of hate or ego often ensures that it will be preserved and disseminated forever.
  • “Hate at any point is a cancer that gnaws away at the very vital center of your life and your existence. It is like eroding acid that eats away the best and the objective center of your life.”


Training is like sweeping the floor. Just because we’ve done it once, doesn’t mean the floor is clean forever. Every day the dust comes back. Every day we must sweep.


Ego is a disease that sweeps over someone like a plague; a cancer that slowly eats you away, the symptoms developing and intensifying: success, loneliness, fear. Fear of all the bright young men that threaten to overtake you in life.

What is your life compass?


A life compass can help keep you focused and aligned to what is important. It can help you recognise when you have drifted away from your purpose and what brings joy.

I’ve been thinking more about my own life compass recently. Two areas have emerged; helping others succeed and mastering emotions. Inspired by Derek Sivers, I’ve found that these succinctly provide the minimum alignment to support my personal reflection and decision making.

Below explains a little more about each one and how they might also be areas for your compass:

Helping others succeed

It is an inbuilt human desire to help others succeed. It is also proven that through helping others it boosts our happiness and life satisfaction:

There is science also behind why this is helpful for a healthy, fulfilled life. 

Scientific studies show that helping others boosts happiness. It increases life satisfaction, provides a sense of meaning, increases feelings of competence, improves our mood and reduced stress. It can help to take our minds off our own troubles too. 

Kindness towards others is be the glue which connects individual happiness with wider community and societal wellbeing. Giving to others helps us connect with people and meets one of our basic human needs – relatedness. 

Action for Happiness


  • When did I last help someone else succeed?
  • Who can i help and what might they need?
  • What can I offer, that i know something about, that probably wont happen unless i take responsibility for it?

Mastering your emotions

A life long journey is becoming more aware of our emotions and internal processing. Much of our thinking is automatic but through daily practices of meditation, journalling, yoga and others we can become more aware of our emotions.

Managing your impulsive, emotional Chimp as an adult will be one of the biggest factors determining how successful you are in life.

Steve Peters

Do this regularly:

  • Close your eyes, take 5 deep breaths and ask yourself, how do i feel right now?


Q: What is your life compass?


Superfast: Lead at Speed – Sophie Devonshire

3 Big Ideas

  • Leaders need to learn how to lead themselves in high speed environments to lead others. Energy management in particular is essential for leaders.
  • Decide. Delegate, Deliver. These are the key focus areas for leaders in high speed environments.
  • Simple approaches, with clarity and compelling purpose are what enable organisations to move quickly at scale. Leaders need to create the frameworks and alignment to give others the ability to act autonomously at speed.


The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.

Careful of blaming the lettuce for not growing when the soil is poor

Thich Nhât Hanh

1 Takeaway

If you have more time… Image result for clock icon

Why repeated pace-setting is an essential leadership practice

If someone offers you a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask which seat.

  • You’ve got to deliver on short-range commitments, while you develop a long-range strategy and vision and implement it. Metaphor: Walking and chewing gum.
  • Pace-setting is about working out the variety that’s needed in your velocity in order to achieve sustainable success.
  • Second mover advantage; let the competition do the work and spend the money in establishing a category or changing people’s behaviour.
  • Innocent Smoothies – MVP Experiment:
    • At a music festival, we put up a big sign asking people if they thought we should give up our jobs to make smoothies, and put a bin saying ‘Yes’ and a bin saying ‘No’ in front of the stall. Then we got people to vote with their empties. At the end of the weekend, the ‘Yes’ bin was full, so we resigned from our jobs the next day and got cracking.
  • Persistence wins the race not your unique idea
  • Organise everything around Products (customers)
    • Apple had been setting up its store like any other–organized around the different products that it would be selling. ‘But if Apple’s going to organize around activities like music and movies, well, the store should be organized around music and movies and things you do,’
  • Popcorn Leaders can be confusing for teams – Leaders who fire out so many ideas the team are confused about what is really important.
  • Wall Street’s graveyards are filled with people who were right too soon.
  • Key question: ‘How much time do we have before the risk profile changes?’ (Cost of Delay)

Time – The secret to delivering with stamina and speed

I firmly believe that time management is not important; energy management is.

Paul Polman, Global CEO, Unilever

Learn from the mistakes of others. You cannot live long enough to make them all yourself.

Eleanor Roosevelt

  • Effective energy management is not something that comes automatically in today’s busy world of business.
  • Three energy actions:
    1. Exercise
    2. Scheduling around your energy levels
    3. Powering off to power on (work and rest).
  • Barack Obama incorporated at least 45 minutes of physical activity in to his daily schedule when President.
  • Many smart leaders know the time of the day they work best.

If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.

Mark Twain

  • What are your energy triggers–physical, mental, social?
  • The best way is to recognise that the week follows a particular rhythm, and plan accordingly.
  • ‘low-fi’ Fridays. Save Fridays for internal conversations and administration (expenses, emails) rather than important new business meetings or running senior leadership summits which require intense energy.
  • Zap the ‘energy vampires’ in your business
  • American study claimed that only 56 per cent of employees felt physically energized at work.
  • The smartest employers are able to consider the overall environment and design for energy.
  • Decision-making quality drops the longer people go without a break. In one study, where hospital leaders were trying to encourage the use of hand sanitizers, they found that compliance rates fell when people worked long hours without a break.
  • Time is finite. Energy isn’t.

Purpose drives pace

  • The stronger your purpose is, and the more people are aligned with it, the more it will permeate short-term volatilities.
  • Purpose (which should last at least 100 years) should not be confused with specific goals or business strategies (which should change many times in 100 years). You cannot fulfil a purpose; it’s like a guiding star on the horizon–forever pursued but never reached.
  • Purpose Blockers:
    • Confusing purpose with corporate social responsibility or with high-level generic brand slogans.
    • Purpose stays on the poster – Behaviours, especially of the leaders do not align
    • They don’t know how to measure the impact of being purpose-led, and if they can’t measure it they won’t get it done.

Just living is not enough. One must have sunshine, freedom… and a little flower.

Hans Christian Andersen

  • When your purpose is clear, every future decision becomes much easier.
  • Slow decision-making is the number-one speed-killer in organizations.
  • Questions to define purpose:
    • What does your organization do to help people?
    • What is the difference you’re seeking to make in the lives of customers and consumers?
    • Why is it good to be part of what you do?
    • How do you define this in a memorable and compelling way?
  • Purpose Organisations do the following:
    • Stand up
    • Stand out
    • Stand firm

Structure for speed Fast frameworks

  • Questioning, reviewing and being decisive about what the right structure is for your needs can be one of the most influential acts you take as a leader.
  • Organisation Design Metaphor
    • Speed is contextual and choosing the right vehicle depends on the length of your journey, your ultimate destination and what kind of bumps and accidents you are prepared to tolerate getting to there.
  • One of the most effective things we’ve done is to de-layer this organization. There are now five layers from top to bottom. When I arrived there were ten. It makes for simpler, quicker decision-making.
  • Rule of Thumb for Transformation:
    • For every layer in the company, you will need a year to change the culture.

Editing is expediting

  • Focusing on less is a radical way to make you better and to make you faster. Become an effective editor.
  • Example in action:
    • The ceramics teacher announced that he was dividing his class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the ‘quantity’ group: 50 pounds of pots rated an A, 40 pounds a B, and so on. Those being graded on ‘quality’, however, needed to produce only one pot–albeit a perfect one–to get an A. Well, come grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the ‘quantity’ group was busily churning out piles of work–and learning from their mistakes–the ‘quality’ group had sat theorizing about perfection and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
  • Constraints shape and focus problems, and provide clear challenges to overcome as well as inspiration.
  • Silent Meetings:
    • The meetings start with proposals being shared and everyone reading them then and there. They have 15–30 minutes’ silence to do so. Those proposals can be no more than six pages long, a constraint that speeds up communication. This ‘Study Hall’ start to meetings is an initiative from Jeff Bezos, who explains that it is more effective than PowerPoint: ‘If you have a traditional PowerPoint presentation, executives interrupt. If you read the whole six-page memo, on page 2 you have a question but on page 4 that question is answered.’
  • Avoid at all costs list:
    • Step 1: Write down your top 25 career goals on a single piece of paper.
    • Step 2: Circle only your top five options.
    • Step 3: Put the top five on one list and the remaining 20 on a second list.
    • Step 4: Focus on the other 20 items – Put things in place to stop doing them!

Know your audience, know your team, know yourself

  • Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.
  • Ten leader attributes (Gallup)
    1. Confidence
    2. Delegator
    3. Determination
    4. Disruptor
    5. Independent
    6. Knowledge
    7. Profitability
    8. Relationship
    9. Risk
    10. Selling
  • The more senior you are, the more important networking is in finding new roles as you move careers

Improve yourself by the writing of others, to gain easily what they have laboured hard for


Truth Candour, conflict and the helpfulness of honesty

  • Radical Candor is important when you are thinking about the need for speed. It is radically time-saving.
  • Politics = people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think.
  • Bring these out into the open:
    • Elephants = big things in the room that nobody is talking about
    • Dead fish = happened a few years ago that people can’t get over
    • Vomit = something that sometimes people just need to get off their mind
  • Creative abrasion is the ability to have difficult conversations. It’s like taking sandpaper and polishing something. You have a number of diverse points of view in the same room, and everybody is riffing off each other’s ideas.
  • Disagree and Commit = ‘Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it?
  • ‘Leaders wanting to be liked’ as one of the most dangerous traps in business.  ‘It’s much more important to be trusted and respected. If people like you as well, that’s a bonus, not an objective.’

The power of the pause

  • Typically, it takes new CEOs six months to start to affect business, so resist any urge to promise results quickly.
  • Good questions to ask when joining a new company:
    • ‘What should not change or be messed with?’
    • ‘What should be changed?’
    • ‘Give me examples of bottlenecks’
    • Do you have a talent or skill you don’t get to use now in your position?’
  • Take time; don’t make time

Hire smart, fire fast

First-rate people hire first-rate people; second-rate people hire third-rate people.

Leo Rosten, American writer and humorist

  • One of the most important things you can do to lead at speed is: find the right people (and keep them).
  • ‘careful of blaming the lettuce for not growing when the soil is poor’ Thich Nhât Hanh
  • Do not tolerate brilliant jerks–the cost to teamwork is too high,’ says Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix.
  • Rosten’s Law’: ‘First-rate people hire first-rate people; second-rate people hire third-rate people.’
  • I’d rather have a hole than an arsehole.’
  • If you join Zappos and don’t like it within a week, you can take a $ 4,000 bonus and leave.
  • Hire PANDAS (Uruly)
    • Positive and passionate.
    • Agile
      • Communication
      • Simplicity
      • Feedback
      • Courage
      • Respect.
    • No ego and nurturing.
    • Determined to deliver.
    • Action-oriented A + players
    • Social DNA and sense of humour.
  • ‘Hire fast walkers.’

Decide, delegate and deliver

  • Making decisions and executing decisions. Your success depends on your ability to develop speed as a habit in both.’
  • In any organization, clarity over who will make decisions and when they will be made is key. Time is wasted if this isn’t set up clearly.
  • Adopt an action bias. You will never have perfect information.

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do

Leonardo da Vinci

  • An imperfect decision on Monday is better than the 100 per cent perfect decision on Friday.
  • The Power of Doubt Approach
    • Scope: How wide is the implication of what we see? Is this trend/ this change purely enterprise-specific, industry-specific or more broadly macro-economic
    • Speed: This is about being less concerned with micro-managing pace and more about what uncertainties will dramatically affect us in a systematic and structural way.
    • Significance: Is it noise and chatter or a genuine shift in the way the world works?
  • Guiding Questions for Decisions:
    1. How does the decision I’m making fit with the priorities we’ve agreed?
    2. What impact will it have on people inside and outside the organization?
  • Bain RAPID ® model to identify who inputs and who decides.RAPID®: Bain's tool to clarify decision accountability - Bain ...
  • Steps to make a decision
    • Proposal
    • Argue
    • Agreement
    • Who will own
    • Timing
    • Vote – Decision agreement check
  • It took 600 Apple engineers less than two years to develop, debug and deploy iOS 10. Contrast that with 10,000 engineers at Microsoft that took more than five years to develop, debut and ultimately retract Vista. The difference was in the way these companies chose to construct their teams.

Toby’s Virtual Facilitation Toolkit

Facilitating Virtual Training and Workshops?

Here is a collection of exercises, techniques and approaches in my toolkit.

Hope it helps you!

Facilitator Techniques:

Agile Games:

Take a seat in the virtual classroom

A simple technique to create a sense of physical space in the virtual space. Add a selection of chairs to your virtual board and ask participants to place a post-it note with their name on the chair as they arrive. A great icebreaker at the start of the session to create personal connection.


Thank You Steve Hoyler for the inspiration

Organising Virtual Teams

When facilitating multi-day, multi team sessions on a board like Miro, create “team zones” with all the exercises relating to that team.

I’ve found it makes it easier for teams to find their exercises and creates an identity for the team. Colour coding makes it clearer and can also be used for team name “Red Team”

You can also use the Frames selector to quick move between the team areas.


Virtual Ball Toss using Wheel Decide

Ball Toss is a great way in person to get insights from people in the room. To recreate this experience i’ve used Wheel Decide. Add all the participants names to the wheel. In a debrief discussion, spin the wheel and ask the person it lands on to share their insights.


Scrum Roles and Responsibilities Game

Easily facilitated in Miro!


Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) Principles Card Sort

A simple card sort exercise i’ve used to help participants get familiar with the principles of LeSS. Participants match the title of the principle with description. Miro is great for any kind of card-sort exercise


Systems Modelling (Causal Loop Diagrams)

I’ve used Miro extensively for systems modelling and can be used easily in a training setting too. You may want to ask folks to get familiar with connection lines prior to the exercise: 



This can be a great way to see how people relate to different topics. In this example with Miro, you place a topic in the middle, e.g conflict, and ask people to position their post-it note in relation to it. Closer to middle = comfortable with handling conflict, Closer to edge = uncomfortable with conflict


More on constellations


Scrum Myth or Fact

Myth or Fact is a great connection activity when exploring any topic. I use it regularly in agile training sessions to tap into the wisdom of the crowd. Can be scaled up to many people.

Kahoot is my favourite form any quiz activities such as Myth or Fact.

You can find an example to my quiz here


The Leadership Energy Monitor: A self-care tool for leaders

Leaders are fuel for others so it’s important to monitor your energy levels regularly and refuel often.

This energy monitor allows you to reflect on your current energy levels and take action to refuel as required.

Toby’s Top Tip: Once a week spend 10 minutes scoring your energy across these 9 dimensions. Ask this question for each area:

Is this energy area draining, neutral or charging?

This simple exercise allows you to take any refuelling actions. It keeps your energy at the right level to lead yourself and others.

Leadership Energy Monitor (1)


Behaviour-By-Example – How to behave during coronavirus

The Coronavirus has been a great demonstration of how difficult drive behaviour change. Yesterday the UK Government mandated stricter policies to restrict movement after many people across the country continued to socially mingle.

In order for behaviour to happen the following needs to occur:

Behaviour happens when motivation & ability & prompt converge at the same moment (B=MAP)

BJ Fogg – Tiny Habits

To date the government has relied on the motivation to “protect the NHS” for behaviour change.

We see so far that this motivational plea has not been sufficient.

Motivation is the weakest of these three variables.

Our motivation comes in waves and is not reliable. We can see as soon as the sunny weather arrived at the weekend how quickly people were motivated to go outdoors.

Ability and Prompt are more powerful levers for change.

Make the behaviour as easy as possible and provide prompts that trigger the desired behaviour.

So far new behaviours have been made harder to adopt by using new, ambiguous terms such as “social distancing” and “self isolation”. Many people are left wondering what do these really mean?

To help overcome these challenges and more effectively enable behaviour change in organisations, I have used a technique called Specification-By-Example.

Typically used by software development teams, to describe how their systems should work but it’s a great technique for any behaviour change.

Examples are described through a simple language:

  • Given = The context
  • When = The Prompt
  • Then = The action (ability)

You can see this in action through a really simple example below:

  • Given i’m 70 or over
  • When I need Milk
  • Then I will ask a relative to purchase on my behalf
  • And leave the milk on door step

The benefit of this approach is it provides a concrete example for people to design their behaviour.

Importantly it provides a foundation to have a good conversation.

My hope is this post will equip you to have better conversations with parents, children and friends around the desired behaviours. Clearing up ambiguity and discussing real examples.

As coaches, facilitators and leaders you can use this technique in any efforts where behaviour change is desired in your organisation.

The key lessons to takeaway are:

  1. Don’t rely on motivation
  2. Use concrete examples
  3. Make it simple

I’d love to hear your examples in the comments below and on LinkedIn. Here are some more of mine:

Scenarios: Milk

  • Given i’m exhibiting no symptoms
  • And i’m under 70
  • And I do not live with anyone in either of those categories
  • When i need milk
  • Then I will visit my nearest supermarket
  • And maintain a distance of 2 meters
  • And get over 1 weeks of essential produce
  • And wash my hands immediately after returning home
  • Given i’m walking to the supermarket
  • And someone is walking towards me on a narrow pavement
  • Then i will cross the road to keep a 2 meter distance
  • Given I have a persistent cough
  • When I need milk
  • Then I will not leave the house
  • And I will ask a relative/friend/neighbour to bring me milk with other essentials
  • And leave it on door step

Scenarios: Exercise

  • Given I have not exercised
  • When I exercise
  • Then I will only do a walk, run, or cycle
  • And limit my activity to less than 30 minutes
  • And keep a distance of 2 meters
  • Given I have exercised today
  • When I feel restless and i need of exercise
  • Then I will not leave the house
  • And do an exercise activity indoors
  • Given I have not exercised
  • When my friend calls to invite me for a round of golf
  • Then I will say no
  • And suggest we play Mario golf on Nintendo switch


60 Second Summary: Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps – How to Thrive in Complexity – Jennifer Garvey Berger

3 Big Ideas

  1. Our default thinking patterns often lead us incorrectly in complexity
  2. There are 5 mind traps
    1. simple stories.
    2. rightness.
    3. agreement.
    4. control.
    5. ego.
  3. Mindfulness is the most powerful way to help you lead yourself and others effectively in complex environments


Too much agreement, while pleasant, makes us follow a narrow path rather than expanding our solution space. It makes it harder to create and pursue the wide span of options that will leave us prepared for whatever the uncertain future demands. With complexity, we need diversity of experience, approach, and ideas, and we need to learn how to harness conflict rather than push it away.


Experiment at the edges rather than at the very center of the issue. In complex systems the center is the most resistant to change, so it’s best to stay away from it.

1 Sentence Summary

In complex environments, leaders need to find new ways to lead themselves and others. Understanding new ways to notice and escape these mindtraps is a leadership super power.

If you have more time… Image result for clock icon

The interactions of unpredictable things creates complexity

Key challenges:

  • We evolved for a different time. A simpler, more predictable time.
  • We use default thinking patterns that were not designed for today’s complexity.
  • We rely on our intuition which is often wrong. The best course of action is often counter-intuitive.
  • We are built to simplify and segment
  • We tend to try harder rather than try something else.
  • We feel confident when something seems obvious and logical. However this is a danger sign in complex environments.
  • We try to control what will happen next; but in complexity there are too many interrelated parts. Control is futile.

Message for leaders:

  • Focus on creating the right conditions in the environment for people to succeed.
  • Increase and deepen your connections within system. This will help you lead in complexity. The number of connections matters.
  • In complex, fast-changing situations, we will not ever be able to agree on the one best thing, because that simply doesn’t exist.

Trapped by Simple Stories

Our desire for a simple story blinds you to a real one. Narrative Fallacy

Simple stories dramatically limit the range of thinking and feeling about what’s possible.

Complexity requires you to look at a broad range of options, not just a narrow perspective based upon the story you have created.

Looking back at something, we can tell a coherent story about it that makes it sound inevitable and neat.

To escape we need to find our way out of our simple stories and back into our complex real ones.

Humans are wired for stories; the bad news is that our automatic stories are probably too simple for a complex world.

Simple Story Traps:

  1. looking for a beginning, middle, and end;
  2. filling in the missing pieces;
  3. assigning roles to the characters.

We fix characters in our stories: heroes and villains. It is hard to see beyond the characters we assign people. Once assigned villains may never become heroes in our eyes. Halo Effect.

Confirmation Bias – To create our simple stories, we pick and choose the data we remember, and we add in little bits of data if it makes for a better case.

“It is the consistency of the information that matters for a good story, not its completeness. Indeed, you will often find that knowing little makes it easier to fit everything you know into a coherent pattern.” – Consistency Bias

Daniel Kahneman:

Notice and become aware of your simple stores.

“Life, so full of contradictions and surprises, rarely ever makes complete sense. The pieces of the puzzle seldom fit together perfectly.

When they do—beware!!!!”

Trapped by Rightness

Trapped by rightness. Just because it feels right doesn’t mean it is right.

We each look at the world and believe we see it as it is. – Naïve realism

Leaders often fail as they:

  • ignore data that might show them they are wrong;
  • don’t listen well to those around them;
  • get trapped in a world they have created rather than the one that exists.

Many Leaders are not self-aware of their own thinking traps. They are blind to their biases.

“we have excessive confidence in what we believe we know, and we have an inability to acknowledge our ignorance and the uncertainty of the world.”

Daniel Kahneman:

Experience locks us even more tightly into the trap of rightness. With experience comes an expectation on ourselves and from others that we will be right. Many experts are expected to be right.

We discard any data that might suggest we’re wrong. Confirmation Bias

We feel right even if we are wrong.

Scenario from book:

Imagine you’re in a meeting with the executive team and you’re presenting the final recommendations of a piece of work your team has been engaged in for the last month. You’ve been over every last piece of the data and you know exactly what should be done, and now you’re just informing the team and getting their approval. A new colleague, who has joined the team since the last time you’ve presented on this topic, begins to ask questions no one has raised before.

What is your emotional reaction?

  1. Defensive but confident. You and your team are the experts. You know how to lob answers back to all these tricky questions. He’s probably just trying to make an impression on the boss.
  2. Annoyed and offended. Who does this guy think he is to march in here and waste everyone’s time with immaterial questions? He’s so arrogant to think that he could have things to add with no knowledge about this at all.
  3. Open and curious. How great that you could have thought about it so much and still have someone who had questions you hadn’t thought about before! What a helpful addition this guy will be to the senior team with such an unusual perspective and a curious mind!

We mostly listen to win. Listening that makes you right and the other person wrong.

Listen to Learn – Holding the possibility that we might be wrong. Listening with curiosity.

Trapped by Agreement

Longing for alignment robs you of good ideas.

Connection is so important that our brains experience social pain and physical pain as nearly the same thing.

Too much agreement, while pleasant, makes us follow a narrow path rather than expanding our solution space. It makes it harder to create and pursue the wide span of options that will leave us prepared for whatever the uncertain future demands. With complexity, we need diversity of experience, approach, and ideas, and we need to learn how to harness conflict rather than push it away.

Humans are drawn to agreement as a sense of connection. We are drawn into shallow agreements to maintain connection. We fear rejection from our social group.

Leaders can mistakenly think agreeability is a virtue and that disagreement should be fixed with compromise.

Many leaders try to stamp out disagreements amongst teams. This create shallow agreements. Leaders in complexity need to embrace disagreement and be comfortable with it.

Leaders in complexity should focus on the conditions that make disagreement normal and safe for all involved. This starts with the leader role modelling and welcoming people to disagree with them. Reduce fear and increase phycological safety.

High-performing organizations use “family” the most common descriptor of their culture.

We are taught as small people that when we disagree, we should compromise. This means we are built for compromise.

In complexity, having more options is always better, because you can’t possibly know beforehand which options will actually pay off. So the urge to compromise in complexity takes you from two viable options to one potentially mediocre one.”

The keys to unlocking this mindtrap are to remake what agreement means, what conflict means.

Complex situations have so many pieces and perspectives that each one of us might see a slightly different set of possibilities. Leaders should create the conditions for these dissenting, diverse thoughts to be heard.

Trapped by Control

Trying to take charge strips you of influence.

Leadership is often assumed to be “the person in control” Our books, tv shows and films often portray strong leadership as the person on control of the situation .

Trying to control everything is futile.

We have a natural tendency to locally optimise rather than look at the more uncertain, unclear bigger picture.

We measure the easy things, rather than what matters.

We have a hero basis. We assume the senior leaders have the power to make change happen. However sometimes the more senior a person’s leadership position is, the less likely she is to feel in control.

There are simply too many intersecting factors to believe that the force of a single person, no matter how effective, can control it all.

In a complex world a broad direction (like “more self-sustaining”) is way better than a narrow target (“ take over dry cleaners”) – Leadership Intent.

Leaders should open horizons to direction rather than destination, and to influence rather than control.

Experiment at the edges rather than at the very center of the issue. In complex systems the center is the most resistant to change, so it’s best to stay away from it.

“Alter patterns, not outcomes.”

Apply systems thinking to look at the whole situation and notice patterns. Change patterns through experimentation.

Trapped by Ego

Shackled to who you are now, you can’t reach for who you’ll be next.

People have a natural tendency of “preserving their reputations, putting their best selves forward, and hiding their inadequacies from others and themselves.”

We believe we have changed much in the past but won’t change in the future

Everyone has a second job: most people are spending time and energy covering up their weaknesses, managing other people’s impressions of them, showing themselves to their best advantage, playing politics, hiding their inadequacies, hiding their uncertainties, hiding their limitations.

Ego protection is the single biggest loss of resources that organizations suffer every day.

Leaders in complexity spend less time creating and defending a particular version of themselves and more time letting life transform them.

Coaching question to raise awareness if your ego

  • What is at stake for me here?
  • What is the hardest part about this?
  • What is the best part about this?
  • How do I know this is true?

Find your growth edge

Escaping the Mindtraps

Becoming more mindful is the most powerful way to be more self-aware of how our default thinking is helping or trapping us

Mindfulness increases connection to:

  • Our purpose
  • Our bodies and emotions
  • Comparisons for ourselves and others

Connecting with our purpose

“Greater purpose in life consistently predicted lower mortality risk across the lifespan, showing the same benefit for younger, middle-aged, and older participants across the follow-up period.”

The journey is more important than the destination

“Discovering your purpose is not like finding the perfect pair of shoes”

Frederick Buechner says that your purpose, your calling, is “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” It is a necessarily interconnected dance between what calls each of us and what the world calls for.

Finding your purpose and living toward it is as much a process of discovery as it is of creation. Create the conditions for that awareness to emerge for you, and then see if it can shape your future.

Connecting to our bodies

Our bodies keep us grounded in what is rather than allowing our minds to trap us with what might or should be.

Treat your body as a source of knowledge and support rather than the vehicle that carries you from meeting to meeting and sometimes breaks down annoyingly.

Connecting to our emotions

People who can name their emotions in nuanced ways (“ I’m anxious about this job interview but also excited and energized!”) have surprisingly better outcomes in a wide variety of places than those who lump everything together (“ I’m super nervous about this job interview!”).

They are more able to recover from setbacks, can better manage their anxiety, and handle the unexpected difficulties of life.

Emotions have shades. They are not binary. The more we can notice the emotional shades the more aware we become.

60 Second Summary: How to Lead in Product Management – Roman Pichler

3 Big Ideas

  1. How Product Leaders can overcome these six common challenges:
    1. Leading a group without managing them
    2. Leading large and heterogenous groups
    3. Limited influence on group member selection
    4. Both contributor and leader
    5. Working both strategically and tactically
    6. Working with agile practices
  2. Product Leaders need to be aware of their leadership style and nuances of product leadership compared to other forms of leadership
  3. Conflict, Conversations and Decision Making are explored as key leadership skills for leaders in Product Management


“People will only follow you for two reasons—because they trust and respect you or because they fear you.”

“Mindfulness helps you make better decisions for the following two reasons: First, it helps you recognise cognitive biases. These include confirmation bias, the tendency to prefer data that confirm preconceived views; negativity bias, focusing on negative experiences; and overconfidence bias, overestimating the reliability of one’s own judgements, control, and chances of success. Recognising these biases reduces the risk of making wrong product decisions—for instance, disregarding valid data because it does not match your view. Second, mindfulness helps you to be more aware of your feelings—for example, how excited, sceptical, or displeased you are. This makes it less likely that your emotions drive a product decision—for example, that being angry with someone prevents you from paying attention to the person’s valid concerns.”

1 Action:

Explore using Non-Violent Communication when resolving conflict

Beyond 60 seconds….

Notes, Quotes, References and Related material

Product Leadership Foundations

Lead at three levels:

  1. vision
  2. strategy
  3. tactics

Leadership Styles (A product leader may flex across these styles)Image result for leadership styles affiliative autocratic

Image result for leadership styles affiliative autocraticImage result for bill campbell create environment


Empower the development team, help the members acquire the relevant knowledge, and allow people to take full ownership of the solution or, if that’s not possible, the product details.

“Manage your product, not the team.”

Managing Stakeholders – Use the Power Grid to see where your stakeholders fall

Instead of interacting with the players on a one-on-one basis, aim to build a stakeholder community whose members work together for an extended period of time and who learn to trust, respect, and support each other.



Buddhist teaching – Right Speech – five guidelines

  1. Speak with the right intention
  2. say only what you believe is true
  3. only speak if it’s beneficial for the people listening
  4. don’t use harsh or harmful words
  5. make sure you speak at the right time and place


Image result for right speech buddhism guidelines

Handling Conflict

Conflict Pitfalls

  1. win-lose—believing that there must be a winner and a loser;
  2. truth assumption—assuming that the other person is wrong;
  3. problem-solving mode—seeing the disagreement as a primarily intellectual issue;
  4. blame game—assigning fault to the other person;
  5. artificial harmony—ignoring conflict.

“To skilfully deal with conflict, we must change our attitude: We should no longer see conflict as something that produces winners and losers but as an opportunity to connect, learn, and generate mutual gains.”

Artificial Harmony causes:

  1. Fear of confrontation
  2. Not a priority to resolve conflict
  3. Work Culture
  4. Lack of Trust

Use Non-Violent CommunicationImage result for nonviolent communication

“Conflict resolution is not about winning, retaliating, or putting the other person in her or his place. It’s about developing a shared perspective on what happened, agreeing on the changes required, and re-establishing trust. This requires a willingness to forgive the other person and yourself (Amro 2018).”

Conflict resolution requires all parties to:

  1. co-operate—move beyond blame
  2. take responsibility for their behaviour and feelings
  3. embrace a contribution mindset (Open mindness)

“You can encourage change in another person, but you cannot make someone else change.”

Decision Making

“Determining who makes decisions in an organization is one of the best ways to understand who has the power—who is in control.”

John A. Buck and Sharon Villines

Common causes of poor decision making by Product Leaders:

  • Lack of empowerment
  • Lack of knowledge 

Use a facilitator to support collaborative decision making as groups may:

  1. Be used to senior leader making all decisions (HIPPO)
  2. Low trust – Groups may not be familiar with debate and disagreement – Facilitator can help bring out divergent perspectives safely

Product Leader should not act as the facilitator

Principles to support participatory decision making:

Full participation: Everyone is willing to contribute, and everybody is heard. Nobody seeks to dominate or hijack the decision-making process. Everybody feels safe to speak her or his mind.
Mutual respect and understanding: People make an effort to attentively listen to each other and appreciate the other person’s perspective, goals, and needs. The individuals intend to talk to one another kindly and to treat each other respectfully. 
Open-mindedness: The group members strive to keep an open mind, understanding that everybody holds a piece of the truth and that everyone’s perspective matters. “Ideas should not be favoured based on who creates them,” as Brown (2009, 73) puts it.

Ground Rules for Facilitators (Hartnett 2010)

  1. Always speak from a place of respect for others and assume good intentions on the part of the group members.
  2. Respect differences of opinion and value the diversity of the group members.
  3. Listen with an open mind; be receptive and refrain from making premature judgements.
  4. Speak honestly and openly.
  5. Always stick to observable facts.
  6. Refrain from judging and labelling people; separate individual and opinion.
  7. Ask questions when you sense misunderstanding or disagreement.
  8. Speak up if you have not been participating.
  9. Make room for others if you have spoken often.
  10. Do not interrupt others, but allow a brief moment of silence to let the previous speaker’s words sink in before the next person speaks.
  11. Stay present; do not engage in side conversations or answer messages on your electronic devices.

Participatory Decision Rules:

Image result for participatory decision making rules

Avoid Committees – They drive weak compromises

Image result for camel designed by committee

Tips for successful negotiation (Fisher and William 2012):

  1. People: Separate the people from the problem.
  2. Interests: Instead of arguing over positions, look for shared interests and needs.
  3. Options: Invent multiple options, looking for mutual gains, before deciding what to do. Avoid the mistake of prematurely excluding options and opting for one solution.
  4. Criteria: Use objective criteria or a fair standard to determine the outcome.

Stages of Influence (Voss 2016):

  1. Active listening: Make an effort to empathically listen to the other person while suspending judgement.
  2. Empathy: Understand the individual’s perspective, needs, and interest, thereby accepting that emotions play a major role in how we behave as human beings.
  3. Rapport: Build rapport and establish trust.
  4. Influence: Help the other person let go of her or his position, understand your needs, and look for a solution that addresses the individual’s needs at least partially.
  5. Behavioural change: Agree on an acceptable solution that can be implemented (if possible).

Techniques for negotiation: (Voss 2016):

Image result for voss negotiation techniques mirror


Mindfulness helps you make better decisions for the following two reasons: First, it helps you recognise cognitive biases. These include confirmation bias, the tendency to prefer data that confirm preconceived views; negativity bias, focusing on negative experiences; and overconfidence bias, overestimating the reliability of one’s own judgements, control, and chances of success. Recognising these biases reduces the risk of making wrong product decisions—for instance, disregarding valid data because it does not match your view. Second, mindfulness helps you to be more aware of your feelings—for example, how excited, sceptical, or displeased you are. This makes it less likely that your emotions drive a product decision—for example, that being angry with someone prevents you from paying attention to the person’s valid concerns.

Hold Personal Retrospectives

  1. What did I get done this week?
  2. Which challenges and difficulties did I encounter?
  3. What did I learn? How am I feeling right now?
  4. How did my moods and energy levels develop during the week?
  5. What changes do I want to make next week?

There is more to life than work.