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From the Trenches of Business Management Consulting

Updated: 2018-04-18T13:44:15.864+02:00


Why HR Can't Hire Pilots


I wrote a rather lengthy article about serious flaws in the recruitment processes used by most companies on Linkedin. The article is named Why HR Can't Hire Pilots.

Before I published it, I asked a few people, HR people and managers to read it and provide feedback. Despite the article being rather controversial in its conclusions, they liked it.

Five Scrummaster Toolbox Podcasts


The nice people who do the Oikosify Scrummaster Toolbox podcasts, asked me to tell you that they, very sensibly, I think, have split their interview with me into smaller parts. (When I get going on a topic I am interested in, well...let's just say we had a long talk.)

So, if you care for your sanity, I recommend you listen to their other podcasts.

If you think sanity is overrated, or if it is just too late for you, here are the ones where Vasco Duarte interviewed me:

Tonight, when things have quieted down, I will listen to a few of their more recent podcasts. They've got material there I am very interested in. :-)

The question nobody dares to ask about strategy


Picture by Henrik MårtenssonI originally published this article at Linkedin Pulse:When I transitioned from my work as a developer and systems architect into working with leadership, strategy, organization, and process improvement, I had a lot to learn. Naturally, I read a lot, I joined interest groups, and I asked questions. I soon discovered that there were some questions that, though very important, were never asked.The reason for not asking important questions is usually embarrassment. If I know I am supposed to know something, but I don't, then it is embarrassing to ask. Short term, it is often easier to hide the lack of knowledge.The downside, of course, is that if one does not ask, one does not learn. If nobody asks, nobody learns, but everyone believes everybody else knows…This can create a downwards spiral, where nobody knows anything about something, but everybody is to busy hiding their lack of knowledge to notice.I found that in business, strategy is one of those somethings. I found that nobody dared to ask a very fundamental question about strategy. I also found that the lack of an answer caused confusion, lack of direction, lack of cohesion, cost a lot of money, caused poor working conditions, stress, unnecessary layoffs… I could go on, but you get the gist of it.What was the question? A very simple one really:What is strategy?When I got interested in business strategy, I found business books about the topic confusing. Terminology was defined in rather loose terms. The definitions did not help me in any practical way. There were many different definitions. Some authors even dismissed strategy as a useless waste of time.I found this difficult to understand. Strategy is important in Game Theory (which deals with business problems, among other things), it is important in Chess, a military organization cannot survive a war without strategy, in ecosystems, animals and plants have survival strategies. Why would business, which is obviously a strategic, competitive game, be any different?Strategy is the answer to a Question!I did find one business definition of strategy that worked for me. It is from the Theory Of Constraints:Strategy is the answer to the question "What for?" Tactics is the answer to the question "How to?"In other words, a strategy is a structure consisting of an ultimate goal, and a set of intermediate objectives that, if achieved, will lead to achieving the goal.The definition also made it clear that for each goal or intermediate objective, there must be at least one corresponding tactic.Viewed through the lens of that definition, strategy and tactics in a business context made a lot more sense than it had before. The definition works for all strategic games, not just business. It also clearly separates strategy and tactics. Most other definitions tend to muddle them, and get lost in fuzzy lines of reasoning about different scale and scope.Confusing Strategy & TacticsUnfortunately, while strategy and tactics as useful concepts started to make sense, the business strategy documents I read made correspondingly less sense.For one thing, I found that most of the strategy documents I read weren't strategy documents at all. They were filled with material on how to do things, with zero information on why these things had to be done in the first place.Many strategy documents were actually tactical documents, masquerading as strategy documents. When I found tactics in strategy documents, I used to go looking for actual strategy, but most of the time, there simply was no strategy to be found, just a random collection of things to do, with little cohesion, or even working against each other.The Emperor's New ClothesOther "strategy" documents were hilariously obfuscated. Some were obfuscated so well that neither I, nor anyone else, know what is actually in them.One company I had worked for had got "help" developing a strategy from a rather large consultancy. When I had a look at strategy documents from the consultancy, I found them difficul[...]

Review: Exploring the Practice of Antifragility


I wrote a review on Amazon for Exploring the Practice of Antifragility.I am republishing it here:First disclosure: As of the 5th of December 2015, I am a contributor to this book! I do not have a financial stake in it, but I do wish the book to succeed, because I believe the idea of antifragility to be important. I won't review my own contribution, of course, but stick to the things I have read by the other contributors.Second, Exploring the Practice of Antifragility is itself antifragile! The book is a Kindle ebook, and like all Kindle books, it can be updated with new material from time to time. This means the book itself can evolve according to pressure from the environment, i.e. reviews and sales data can actually make this book better over time.Thus, if you buy the book, think of a way to improve it, and write about it in a review, your wish might come true. While this is possible to do with all Kindle ebooks, I do not think too many of them make good use of it. When Si Alhir, one of the editors, told me about the book having planned updates when he invited me to participate, I found this to be a very attractive feature.Third, the book also features another very important property of antifragile systems: Variation!The book is an anthology, with essays written by very different people, who have very different backgrounds, and who do very different things. This means you won't be interested in everything, but, if you are interested in antifragility, there will almost certainly be something in it that you find very interesting.Fourth, the book was practically useful to me! Two years ago I began building an antifragile organization. We are now more than 350 people. One of my book projects is a book about the organization, and I have struggled with explaining, in a simple way, the difference between the antifragile organization, and fragile organizations in the same domain.Todd Nilson solved the problem for me, writing about Nicholas Taleb's triad schema. It was exactly what I needed. I can borrow the idea, adapt it for my own book, and it will work beautifully.Si Alhir made the connection between antifragility and the OODA decision loop from John Boyd's Maneuver Conflict, which I find interesting, because the antifragile organization I am deeply involved in, directly uses many ideas from Boyd.Again, Boyd's ideas are echoed in Todd Nilson's: "…the purpose of the community trumps all else."I also enjoyed reading Elinor Slomba's piece about sustainability, connectivity, and diversity, and how to use simple free tools to collaborate over the Internet.Valuable ideas I can use in my own work. Highly useful.Also, Slomba's ideas about cascades the properties of aggregated and distributed systems are practically useful to me. I recently released a book about reducing lead times in the book publishing business. The method I wrote about, and use to write my own books, applies the same ideas. Slomba has given me a slightly different perspective, which will help me express the ideas in a simpler manner in my own books.So, I give this book five stars, because it actively uses the ideas it proposes, because it will get better over time, and because it was practically useful to me immediately when I read it.[...]

The season of the jolly speedwriter!


I've been speedwriting again! This time about how to write and publish a book very fast:  Skriv och sälj!: Skriv och sälj en bok på 14 dagar (Write and Sell!: Write and sell a book in 14 days) is out on Adlibris, Bokus, Dito, and Bokon.Actually, speedwriting is a misnomer. I am, have always been, and always will be, a slow writer. The idea with Write and sell! is to reduce queue and wait times in a book production process, the same way we can reduce it in software development processes (Agile), in product development (Lean Product Development), and in manufacturing (Lean, TOC).I am digging down to the queueing theory with this one, and going with it all the way to what to do, and how to do it.Writing and publishing the book took only nine days. I had planned to do it in 14 days, but the gods of time buffering were on my side this time around.Writing and publishing the book took only nine days. The reason why the lead time was so short, is that I utilized Little's Law:t = I/Twheret is the lead timeT is the production rateI is the average number of items in queueI managed to stir up a bit of controversy in two writer's communities on Facebook when I published the book.People are assuming that I worked my butt off to produce faster, i.e. increase T in the equation, and that they would have to kill themselves trying to achieve the same productivity.Of course, I am much lazier than that! I chose to reduce I instead.How did I do that? Well, one way is to write shorter books, but as it turns out, you do not have to. You can use load balancing instead!That is right, the magic stems from applying heijunka to the authoring/publishing process. Heijunka has been around since at least 1948. All I did was to apply it in a new context.I did a bit more than that. I took three other equations from queueing theory, network science, and TOC (specifically from Throughput Accounting), and worked out how to apply them too. If you are interested, well, it's in the book. (Badger me if you are really, really interested in an English translation. The main reason I am not translating the book is sales. Right now it is easier for me to build book sales in Sweden. Sigh!...That's in the book too.)Now, instead of trying to push people to learn, I intend to work with those who are curious and willing to try something new, and with those who are interested because they already know. Part of that tactic was to create a Facebook group for those interested in reduce writing and publishing lead time.We'll see what comes of it. There is certainly more "speedwriting" ahead.I haven't figured out what to call it yet, since it is not really about speed. I am pretty sure the original, Japanese terminology will not fly with writers. No, I need something else...Smartwriting, anyone?[...]

Tempo! is available at Bokus, Bokon, and Adlibris


Click the picture to buy Tempo! from Bokus.Tempo! has finally got distribution in Sweden! The printed version of the book is now available on Bokus, and Adlibris.In addition, companies hiring me for consulting work, can buy Tempo! from a special web shop, at a considerably reduced price.When I wrote Tempo! my intent was to write a practically useful business strategy book in Swedish. I did not want to tell other people what to do with their businesses, that is for them to decide, but I wanted to help out with how to do whatever it is they want to achieve.I had seen too many companies where good, smart people just ran into a brick wall when they tried to make things better, not just for themselves, but for everyone in the organization, and for their customers.Tempo! is illustrated with more than 100 diagrams and photosOriginally, I wanted to write a book about a practical method for developing strategy. I felt there was a lot of need, because I have seen many companies where strategy and tactics are confused, and where the relationship between strategy, tactics, and organization are ignored.This can lead to a world of hurt when the organization tries to do things it is not designed to do, or when it tries to do two or more contradictory things simultaneously.Another thing I wanted to provide was a means of clear, unambigious communication. Far to often I have heard people say "We want to work towards the company goals, but we don't know what the heck they are!"So, what do you get with Tempo!? Basically three things:The basics that every manager, and preferably everyone, in your company needs to know about how people work, how processes work, and how your organization works. Expect some surprises here.A strategic framework, Strategic Navigation, that is basically a civilian adaptation of John Boyd's military Maneuver Conflict framework.All the methods and tools you need to make it work. Crawford Slip lets you gather and organize information from large groups of people very quicklyTLTP, The Logical Thinking Process, lets you find root causes of problems, find solutions, and then build the project plans you need to fix them.Process Behavior Charts, a tool that helps you make sense of otherwise very difficult to interpret data in reports.The material has been thoroughly researched, used in practice, and proofread by some of the best management experts around, including Bill Dettmer, Chet Richards, Don Reinertsen, and many, many others.Now, with a much better distribution network than before, I do hope more people will find Tempo! useful.If you read the book, feel free to drop me a note, and tell me what you think of it, if you found it useful, and if you have any suggestions for improvements.[...]

Less! available on Dito, Bokus, bokon, and Adlibris


The ebook version of LESS! is now available on DitoBokus, Bokon and Adlibris. LESS! is of course also available via Amazon.

I am very proud of LESS!. I am particularly proud of the fact that I did not write most of it. LESS! is a collaborative work, and working with the other authors has been a privilege I cannot adequately describe. One of my best adventures ever.

LESS! is about building better places to work:

Have you ever had a great idea crushed by the words, "we can't do that, because it's not in the budget"? Then you really need to read up on Beyond Budgeting. Bjarte Bogsnes, VP of Performance Management at Statoil and Dr. Peter Bunce, Director of the Beyond Budgeting Round Table, have written two chapters helping you free yourself from the chains of budgeting.

If you look around you at work, and see people with great potential, but somehow things never get together like they should. The sum of the work is always less than the sum of what the individuals can do. Then Making the Entire Organization Agile, the chapter by Steve Denning is for you. Steve is a former director of the World Bank. He is a deep thinker with unsurpassed practical experience. In November 2000 he was selected as one of the world's ten Most Admired Knowledge Leaders (Teleos).

If you want to do Lean or Agile, what is you and your organization's position on Theory X and Theory Y? Why do you need to know about them? Because Agile and Lean are Theory Y based, and your organization is most likely Theory X based. X and Y ideas don't mix well. Not understanding the difference is a major cause of failure when implementing Lean or Agile. Dan Bergh Johnson's chapter Agile and Lean do not fit into Taylor's Glove will get you up to speed on the all important fundamentals.

And that is just for starters. There is lots more, by authors like James Sutton, Karl Scotland, Håkan Forss, Ola Ellnestam, Brian Hawkes, Maarit Laanti, Ari-Pekka Skarp, and me. And you might want to check out the Foreword by John Hagel III. John is a great author in his own right, Director at Deloitte LLP, and co-chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge.

Finally: LESS! hits Swedish book stores!


Recently, I wrote an article for a Swedish website about applying queueing theory to writing and publishing books. Having done that, I decided to follow my own advice from the article, and see what I could do to increase my own productivity.

The first thing to do, is to figure out whether I can do more with what I have already got. I can, and quite easily too.

If I build better distribution and marketing networks, I will sell more, it's that simple. I won't go into details right now. I have work I need to get on with, but distributing via Publit gets me access to half a dozen new sales channels in Sweden. I am also adding a couple of marketing channels I haven't used before.

The result, if I do it right, will be more book sales.

As you can see from the Publit webstore embedded in this post, the mix of books is quite eclectic: Management & Leadership, Photograhy, even a comic book.

Eventually, I will compartmentalize a bit, but for now, I want the word to spread any way I can: Some managers are also hobby photographers, and vice versa. Some comic book readers also lead business organizations.

Expect more books to hit the online, and physical, book stores, real soon.

Interview request: What do C-level executives want from middle managers?


I am working on a magazine article about what C-level executives want from the middle managers that work for them in terms of character traits, experience, and knowledge.

To make the interviews as brief and simple as possible, I am doing most of the interviews via an online questionnaire.

All information will be treated confidentially, and anonymously. Participants will receive a copy of the report I will prepare as a basis for the article.

If you want to participate, send an email to, and I will return a link to the questionnaire.

I will not put you on any email list, or spam you in any way. You will get a copy of the report, that is all.

Strategy game play - Using cheng/chi business strategy to create great photos


Can you apply business strategy principles to any strategic game? Yes, you can!Is it useful to do so? Yes, it is! It teaches you a deep understanding of the principles involved. That understanding will help you apply the principles better in business, in your personal life, and in any other strategic game of your choosing.The photo above just got selected for the 1x gallery. is the world's largest curated gallery. It has attracted some of the best photographers in the world, and it is only the top 3% of the photos submitted that makes it into the gallery.I took that shot, using strategic principles derived from Strategic Navigation, the business strategy framework originally created by Bill Dettmer. Dettmer based his business strategy framework partly on Maneuver Conflict, a military framework great for dealing with high degrees of uncertainty and complexity, and the Theory Of Constraints, which kicks ass in the domain of complicated cause and effect.I started using Strategic Navigation, wrote a book about it, and, as consultants are wont to do, tried to make a living by teaching others how to use it.I found, as many have done before me, that just because you know something really, really valuable and useful, and is willing to share it, other people will want to learn for themselves.As you may know, I decided to rethink my entire strategy a couple of years ago. I learned photography, because I wanted to build skill using the methods I advocate, while at the same time getting a visible, unambiguous track record. I did of course use the feedback to improve my skills further, using the OODA loop as a guiding framework.I employed a range of strategic principles, and tactical techniques, to learn to take photos good enough for 1x. Actually, I use as a source of feedback, which I feed into the OODA loop.I'll write only of one of them, because it is a strategic idea that is very visible in the photo: Cheng/chi.Cheng/chi is an idea from Sun Tzu's Art of War. Cheng means orthodox, and chi means unorthodox. Cheng/chi means that to win in battle, or any strategic game, you need to employ a combination of the orthodox and the unorthodox.Let's have a look at the cheng, the orthodox, parts of the picture. There are rules for what makes a good photo, and the picture follows them:The rule of thirds: The legs, or rather the knee, where it intersects the shadow, is located one third from the left edge, and one third from the bottom edge.The rule of odds: There are three, evenly distributed, vertical shadows in the photo.The rule of complimentary colors: The bricks in the background are orange, the trouser legs are blue. Orange and blue are complimentary colors, that go well together in a picture. (There is also orange and blue on my business card, and my usual business attire includes a blue shirt and an orange tie. This is not by coincidence...)That is the meat and potato part of the photo, the bits that correspond to day-to-day business-as-usual in a company.What is the chi? Better yet, why the chi? The chi part is the surprise, the part that draws attention, the edge over the competition. Everyone knows the cheng, so it is the chi that becomes the decisive advantage over the competition.The chi in the photo is the visual illusion: The legs seem to be disembodied, living their own life, independent of a torso, and other body parts. There is no image manipulation involved. The illusion worked in real life, as I captured it. (I do a lot of trick photography, but I abide by the rules of the photographic genre I am working in, and cloning out body parts is a no-no in Street Photography.)I am sure you can figure the illusion out. If you do, why not comment on this blog post?So, cheng and chi, working together, convinced the curators at 1x that my photo was in the top 3% category.&n[...]

Falsification - A gullibility defense


"When there is no time to think, you cannot think." Quote by Tim, my 9 year old son. Photo: Henrik MårtenssonUnless you live alone in a cave in the mountains, you are awash in a flood of ideas, from the time in the morning when you greet your significant other, or start up your computer, to the moment you fall asleep at night.Some of those ideas will be good ones. Once in awhile, very rarely, you will encounter a great idea. Most ideas, however, are bad ones. They range from doing minor harm, to being lethally dangerous.Unfortunately, our brains are designed to be rather gullible. We tend to believe stuff, even if there is little or no evidence. We tend to believe simple ideas, and disregard ideas that take significant mental effort. However, reality can be quite complex. Simple does not mean true, or even likely. If we want to avoid getting into trouble because of bad ideas, we need defense mechanisms against our innate gullibility.Some time ago, I wrote about why management models are useful. One of the models I wrote about, the Deming system, lists epistemology, knowledge about knowledge, as a field of knowledge vital to managers. The reason is that epistemology has some excellent gullibility defense tools, or, if you will, tools for bullshit detection.Human brains tend to favor extreme predictions, either extremely optimistic, or extremely pessimistic.  Project duration estimates are often overly optimistic. So are most people's estimates of winning big on lotterys. At the pessimistic end, we find end-of-the-world scenarios. Photo: Henrik Mårtensson One of these tools, falsification, provides a defense against a common cause of bad judgement: inductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning is the process of deriving a general rule based on a limited set of observations. Inductive reasoning is inherently uncertain, because it is always possible that if we make one more observation, it would break the rule.Here is a classic example of inductive reasoning:All of the swans we have seen are white.Therefore, all swans are white.–John VickersHowever, the conclusion that all swans are white can be proven false. Finding one black swan is enough.A Black Swan. Photo by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos. From Wikimedia Commons.As it turns out, there are black swans in Australia.This is very interesting if you are an ornithologist, but what if you are a manager?Well, companies are designed according to rules, There are rules for how to organize a company, rules for how to design processes, rules for what to do, and rules for how to do it, and rules for what not to do.These rules are rarely questioned, but most of them are "white swan" rules. That is, someone has made a limited set of observations, and then devised a general rule based on those observations. Applying them uncritically can lead to disaster.Here are some examples:Toyota did certain things, and was very successful. Therefore, if we do the same things, we too will be successful.In 1948 Toyota embarked upon a complex process of trial and error, and developed a set of tools, techniques, an organisation, and a culture, that worked for them. The end result of that process, without the process itself, is not necessarily what your organisation needs to solve your problems in 2015.If you can find a company that implemented Lean without becoming successful, you have falsified the rule.Whatever we make, we can sell. Therefore, items in stock are assets.A basic assumption of Cost Accounting, which was developed around 1920.Whatever we make is difficult to sell. Therefore, items in stock represent debt. A basic assumption of Throughput Accounting, developed around 1990.Here you get the opposite assumptions, because the rules have been induced from different sets of observations. You can't pick the ac[...]

Why smart people get depressed, and what you can do about it


About a week ago I posted an article on the IHM Business School blog about an important, but very taboo subject.  At more than 15,000 unique page views the first few days, it is probably the most read article I have ever written. With more than 130 comments on the IHM Blog, it is certainly the most discussed.I was amazed, not only that the article arose such interest, but of the very thoughtful responses, and how many people that have had similar experiences.Leif Claesson, one of the commenters, even took the trouble to translate the article into English.Because of the interest in the original article, I am publishing Leif's translation here.Here is a link to the original article on the IHM Business School blog.---This was a very difficult article to write. If you prefer reading easy pieces regarding easy subjects, you should skip this one.Robin Williams recent suicide, received a lot of coverage. The speculations with regards to why one of the world’s most gifted comedians would take his own life have spanned the entire gamut from “cowardice”, an unfortunate statement from a news anchor, to depression, resulting among other things from the fact that Robin Williams had been diagnosed with Parkinsons.“Depression is an illness” say many well-meaning people, and “we have to start talking about it”.It’s actually only half correct. Depression is not an illness! Depression is a collection of symptoms. It is however correct that we have to start talking about it.Depression can have many different causes, for example physical brain damage, and a genetic disposition for depression. That type of depression can be treated medically and therapeutically. There is a third cause. A cause that is so taboo that not even the ones who say they want to talk about depression, want to talk about this particular one.It’s a type of depression that afflicts highly talented and intelligent people. Highly intelligent people are often depressed, but certain research has shown that they commit suicide with lower IQ. One possible explanation is that intelligent people more often find concrete and workable solutions to desperate problems. They are more introspective and can monitor and understand their own emotional reactions in a way that most people cannot. Another explanation is that smart people often have smart friends. They know how to express their feelings, and they have friends who understand what they mean. This creates safety valves which not every person has.But, if smart people really have a higher than average resistance to depression, what is it that makes them depressed more often? What can one do about it as a manager?Let’s start by trying to wear a smart person’s shoes. I’m not talking about real geniuses, but about people with an IQ of about 120 and up.The average IQ level is 100. A person with an EQ of 120 is above the 95th percentile, but we all tend to use ourselves as a reference. A smart person often views himself as fully normal. For the highly intelligent, it is average people that look weird: Doesn’t like to think, has trouble with simple mathematics, cannot create logical models, does not understand elementary statistics, cannot think critically, never attains a high level of competency in any particular field, isn’t curious, has no endurance for learning new things…To illustrate the difference: Many people photograph their food and post the pictures on Facebook. It usually looks rather disgusting. I’ve never quite understood why people do that, but I figured I’d give it a try. If I did it myself, perhaps I could gain a better understanding.Just taking a picture was of course too boring, so in order to make things interesting I decided to challenge myself: Create a short cooking show. Recor[...]

Why gifted people commit suicide


Robin Williams at the Stand Up for Heroes charity benefit in 2007. Photo was taken by John J. Kruzel/American Forces Press Service, and placed in the public domain. Downloaded from Wikimedia.I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It's not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who make you feel all alone. –Lance Clayton (Robin Williams) in World's Greatest Dad, 2009. Written by Bob Goldthwait.By now I am sure you have heard that Robin Williams, a brilliant actor and comedian, took his own life on August 11, 2014. His death has sparked an incredible amount of discussion and speculation about the causes. The opinions I have seen range from the incredibly stupid (he killed himself out of cowardice), to the well meaning, but wrong (he suffered from depression, which is a disease, and it killed him).Out of all the pieces I have read about the death of Robert Williams, only one gets it right, Why Funny People Kill Themselves, by David Wong at Cracked.However, there is more to it. Wong focuses on comedians, but the causes apply to anyone who deviates from the norm. Humans are social animals. We need other people. If we cannot connect, we get depressed.This means depression is not in itself a disease. It is a symptom! Depression can have many different causes. There may be organic damage, a genetic disposal to a chemical imbalance, or you may be a perfectly healthy individual getting depressed because you are in an unbearable situation.Being isolated from other people is one of the hardest things to bear.Your default level of happiness and energy may be very high, but if you cannot build close relations with other people, you may still get depressed.People who are smart, dedicated and principled are often shut out and isolated. Thus, they are prone to depression. There does not have to be any disease involved, no genetic or physical damage. Just isolation will do the trick.Why do intelligent people become isolated? Neuroscientific research has showed that the human brain is designed to save energy whenever possible. Thinking requires a lot of energy. So does diligent practice.Thinking actually triggers the pain center of the brain. No wonder solving math problems is perceived as very unpleasant by a majority of the population.Intelligent people tend to have active brains. They delve deep into problems. They notice inconsistencies other people pass by. They come up with solutions instead of ignoring the problems. They spend many thousands of hours practicing their skills.Most people do not want to do that. While everyone loves their results, normal people do not want to spend time with people much smarter than themselves, at work, or in their spare time. It is mentally exhausting, and actually painful. Thus, avoiding smart, dedicated, principled people becomes an autonomous response to the pain caused by the thinking, and other activities, required to keep up with them.Thus, intelligent people will find themselves rebuffed or ignored, over and over again. They soon learn that reaching out, at work or in their own time, is to invite rejection.No single one of these rejections is likely to cause a significant mood change, but tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, will.Even a very resilient mind can, over time, be bent and broken by a barrage of tiny, and not so tiny, rejections.Having strong principles can cause the same kind of rejection as high intelligence. People with strong principles are often unwilling to go along with illegal or scatterbrained schemes because someone in authority tells them to. They may be unwilling to go along with group consensus, if the group is clearly wrong.Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self esteem, firs[...]

The Lost World – A vacation project


I recently had to jump head first from a cliff to escape a T-Rex. I am on vacation, and I can't stand having nothing to do, so, I decided to run a little vacation project. Because I am interested in photography, never outgrew my fascination with dinosaurs, and read the occasional comic, I decided on a Lost World photo comic project.If you are into management, I highly recommend running a non-profit, all volonteer project now and then. Because people won't get paid in coin, you have to do something else: You have to make it interesting and educational.You also have to find the right people: People who share your interests. Preferably people who get a bit obsessed when they are doing something interesting. They need to be creative, and learners willing to try new things. Oh, and they have to be able to work well together.The Plan: The Lost WorldRunning from dinosaursWhen I was a child I read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's book The Lost World (Wikipedia article) about an expedition that finds dinosaurs on an isolated mountain plateau in South america.Doyle's book spawned an entire literary genre. Edgar Burroughs (Pelucidar), Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park) and many others have written Lost World genre books. Doyles's book has been filmed eight times, directors who have made genre movies include Steven Spielberg (Jurassic Park) and Peter Jackson (King Kong).Writing a Lost world book would not be original enough. Making a movie would be fun, but also much too expensive. There was however another option. One of my little hobbies, is photography. My idea was to make a Lost world photo comic. I knew it would be possible to accomplish this with a very small budget.Putting the team togetherTeam members clockwise from the left: Petra Brewitz, Petri Olderhvit, Jesper Andersson, and Robert Johannesson. Not in the photo: Marie Eriksson and Lennart Guldbrandsson.For this project I knew I would need help. I needed to put together a team of dedicated people, willing to do a lost world project just for the fun of it.I have spent about eight months building a loosely coupled network of photographers. When I come up with one of my over-the-top photography projects, this is where I go to recruit.Anyone in the network can initiate any kind of event, ranging from having lunch, to launching a major project. Of course, most members are not interested in the more advanced, and time consuming projects, but with 120 members, we do have a pretty good base to recruit from.Thus, recruiting for the project was pretty easy. I wrote a one page proposal, and published it in our Facebook group.I also put the ad out in a couple of other forums. While a few people responded and joined, when it came down to the crunch, the people showing up where already members of the photography network. The exceptions are Lennart and Marie. Lennart is an old friend, and Marie just happened to be in a café where we held a meeting. She was interested in the project, and joined up.Prestudy and planningWe did not have the budget, nor the time, for a Hollywood movie quality project. I decided to simplify a bit. I would have liked to go with 3D dinosaurs, but we simply did not have the prerequisite 3D modelling skills.Instead, I opted for a much simpler solution: Toy dinosaurs. The toy manufacturer Schlecht makes a line of very realistic dinosaurs. we could use them, and use digital composition to make people and dinosaurs interact.Good as they are, close up the Schlecht dinosaurs are not quite photo realistic. It is possible to fix this by digitally adding skin, but it is very time consuming. Also, compositing people into a miniature set, or a miniature into a full scale set, is difficult and time consuming.A simpler soluti[...]

Management models - Why they are useful


Put yourself in the shoes of a CEO. What is your primary goal? There are many different ideas about that, but I like this one:To ensure that the organisation can survive and thrive on its own terms!Not my idea by the way, but the idea of Colonel John Boyd, U.S. Air Force.No matter what goal you, as the CEO of your organisation, subscribe to, you have a problem:How do you make the organisation move in the right direction?One of your most important tools is the set of managers in the organisation. According to Gallup, companies recruit the wrong kind of talent for management jobs 82% of the time.Why is that? Gallup puts it down to failure to identify the right personality traits, or talent. Though that is probably true, it is unlikely to be the whole truth. There is another thing that matters:Skill matters!Talent alone won't make a manager great, or even good. Talent is just a measure of the aptitude a person has for a certain kind of tasks. To be good at it, it is necessary to develop the right skill set. Before you can do that, you need to figure out what the right skill set is.That is what this article is about: How to identify the skills that will enable your managers to be really great.Try to stay in the role of CEO throughout reading this article. The managers work as an extension of your brain. (Or, you are part of the same organisational hive mind, depending on how you view the organisation.) Managers are supposed to detect and correct problems, and continuosly strive to innovate and improve the organisation.That takes skill. Actually, it requires a fairly complex set of skills. Your managers must hone their skills to a quite high level to be efficient. If the managers are unskilled, or have the wrong skills, your organisation, and your own job security, is toast.Therefore, you, the CEO, need to think about the skills you want your managers to have,That is where management models come in! Models are useful because they help us visualise, and think about things. Management models help us think about management.Specifically, a management model can help when hiring or training managers. As the CEO of a large company you cannot personally oversee all hiring and training, but you can, and should, make sure that the people who do use relevant models.There are many such models. The ones I write about in this article are models I have found useful. They are by no means the only useful models.Beware of models that don't work!Many organisations have only implicit models for how management, or any other kind of work, works. The problem with implicit models is that it is very difficult to see if they really work or not. It is taken for granted that they do. Often they don't!For example, during my more than 25 years as a software developer I maintained a work portfolio, showing things I had done, from design, to code samples. Not once in my career, not once, did any recruiter or HR person want to see my portfolio.Hiring a programmer without looking at code is like hiring a juggler without actually seeing the person juggle anything. It is completely daft, and yet it is common practice.The problem is that many organisations delegate hiring and training to separate departments, but in these departments very few people have the skill nessesary to assess the level, or relevance, of the skills of the applicant.The people who were assessing me had no clue how to distinguish a great programmer from a poor one. Instead, they fell back on checklists of tools and frameworks, i.e. things a programmer learns very quickly, and have very little to do with the ability to work well with other programmers, solve programming problems and write code that works, and c[...]

Coffee, LEGO movies, questionnaires, and complexity theory


I recently had a cup of coffee with a friend, and the discussion turned to the difference between complicated and complex, and why the difference is important.I have had reason to think about that recently, so I had a couple of examples fresh in my mind, both relating to questionnaires and surveys.As it turns out, many questionnaires you are asked to fill out have a common design mistake: The assumption that the subject under investigation is complicated, rather than complex. It is an easy mistake to make. The result is increased risk that the survey points you in the wrong direction.Let's briefly define what we are talking about before digging in to the meat of the matter:Complicated systems have many parts, but they also have predictable cause and effect relationships. For example, a mechanical watch is complicated. It is also predictable. It runs like...well, it runs like clockwork.Complex systems have parts that can adapt to the behavior of other parts in the system. A family is a complex system. All family members both react and adapt to what other family members do. Business organisations, countries, teams and workgroups, ecological systems, the scouts, my photo club, and aquariums are also complex systems.You can pick a mechanical watch apart and study each piece, that is analyse it, to figure out how it works.On the other hand, studying each member of a family, or a software development team, or each fish in an aquarium, will not necessarily tell you how the system as a whole will work. A family has emergent properties, properties that belong to the family as a whole, but not to any of its members.LEGO movies and unpredictabilityHere is an emergent property of the system consisting of my eight year old son and me: Stop motion movie making.My son asked me if we could make a LEGO movie. I said yes, of course, and we created the short movie above. It would be impossible to predict in advance that my son and I would produce a short LEGO movie featuring Thor and The Hulk.In retrospect, it does not seem farfetched at all that we would do such a thing. It would be easy to construct a Future Reality Tree explaining why and how we did it. However, the tree would have to be created afterwards. It would be impossible to construct a tree that accurately predicts what we will do.What on Earth does this have to do with surveys and questionnaires? As it turns out, a lot!Questionnaires: The art of asking the wrong questionsTo find out something about a complicated system, you can ask a question about a part of the system. If you want to know more, you can continue to ask questions about parts of the system. Eventually, you can compile the answers, and they will tell you a lot about the system as a whole.With a complex system, that does not work very well. Knowing each part won't tell you the emergent properties of the system. Another problem is that with a complex system, you do not necessarily know which parts and properties of those parts, that are important to the functioning of the whole.Systems where humans interact, are complex systems, but questionnaires are very often designed with the implicit assumption they are complicated, or even simple. Thus, most questionnaires, even the ones you pay specialists to create, are designed wrong. They do not tell you what you need to know!As the illustration above shows, asking many specific questions means you get specific knowledge of the things you assume are important. however, you have no real basis for making these assumptions, because you haven't studied the system yet.For example, some time ago a coffee shop I sometimes visit made a survey using to[...]

Systems archetype: Success to the Successful


The Success to the Successful systems archetype explains how very small differences, and random factors, can lead to one actor in a system to be hugely more successful than other actors:how monopolies are createdwhy income is so unevenly distributed in many countrieswhy success in the school system leads to success later in lifehow Microsoft became dominant in the software market...and many other phenomena. Success to the Successful provides an explanation model for the Pareto Principle, the observation that in many systems, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.To understand the causal loop diagram above: Assume that you have two actors A and B. A and B compete for resources. A and B may start out being equal. That is, there may be no observable difference that would give either a competitive advantage.As long as the system is perfectly balanced, nothing interesting happens, but, if there is a random event that either favors A, or hampers B, then A will gain an advantage over B. A can use that advantage to gain more resources. Because resources are limited, B will be starved for resources. This will mean a greater advantage for A. When the cycle repeats, A will be able to gain even more resources, and B will have less.If the cycle is not checked, it will continue until A kills off B. In cases where A and B are interdependent for survival, A will then die too.ExamplesTwo recent Youtube videos provide excellent examples of the effects of the Success to the Successful systems archetype.The first video describes how income distribution in the United States have changed in the past few decades: allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' FRAMEBORDER='0' />The second video shows the same income distribution phenomenon occurring in Sweden. The video is in Swedish, and I have included it mainly for my Swedish readers. allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' FRAMEBORDER='0' />Remedies allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' FRAMEBORDER='0' />The video above shows Warren Buffet and Bill Gates discussing a remedy to the problem of uneven income distribution. It is well worth watching.There are two tactics that can be used to restore balance in a Success to the Successful situation:Identify the resource being unequally distributed, and redistribute it more equally. For example, this is why tax scales in many countries are progressive. It has nothing to do with justice. It is a way to prevent distribution imbalances that would eventually lead to economic collapse.Separate the reinforcing structures, so that they no longer are allocated resources based on their relative results. For example, when Apple was being outcompeted by Microsoft and the PC manufacturers, Apple broke into the music market with the iPod. This reduced Apple's dependency on the computer market, a system dominated by Microsoft and the PC, and allowed it to build strength in an area where there was less competition.ReviewI have asked the very nice people in the Systems Thinking in Action group at Linkedin to review this post. The comment thread is here (for group members only). I will update this article whenever someone catches me making a mistake.ReferencesSystemswiki at KumuHigher Learning R[...]

Conflict resolution - Perhaps we should be more childish!


It is natural to want to avoid conflict, but it may not be the best way. You may be surprised to learn who had the courage to stand up in the face of anger and constructively work to resolve a conflict, and who had not. (Photo: Henrik Mårtensson Yep, that's me. Model: Ida Stranne.)You should not decide until you have heard what both have to say.–Aristophanes, c. 446 AD – c. 386 ADI have seen two interesting cases of conflict resolution recently, showing off two very different methods of resolving conflicts.Even more interesting than the different approaches, is who chose which approach. Read on, you will be surprised, or maybe not.Case 1: Scream and make upIn the first case, two people worked together on building something, but they had different ideas, and constantly got in each other's way. They took a break, and decided to go out together, to let their tempers cool off.When they came back, the conflict had escalated to the point where they were screaming to each other, and one of them left to go home.About ten minutes later, the person who had left came back, apologized, and said he wanted to make up and be friends again. He said he valued friendship more than the thing they had been trying to build.It took a few minutes, but eventually, they were both talking. A few minutes after that, they continued on their project, and it worked well. Since then, the two have worked on more projects, and worked very well together.Case 2: Repress and removeRepressing the message by removing the messenger has short term attraction, but it does not solve the problem. It often creates new ones. The problem is that excercising power is much easier than excercising courage, good judgement, and empathy.The second case was in a sales network team. A recruiter who used personality profiling in his work asked another team member to take the test. The idea was that if the second person took the test, he would then be comfortable acting as a sales agent for the first person.For this example to work, I need to delve into the background first, so you understand the full consequences of the repress and remove tactic used. I am sad to say, repress and remove is as common as it is costly.It should be noted that the recruiting agent had sold his services to more than 400 companies, and tested more than 14,000 people. The recruiter claimed that his test was an infallible way to identify top talent, the very brightest and smartest people.In this case the second person happened to be a top performer, and according to other tests, both personality and IQ tests, friendly and a borderline genius. He was exactly the kind of person the recruiter claimed to be able to identify.When this person took the test, he ran into some difficulties:It was an ipsistic test. Ipsistic tests are designed as counseling aids. They do not yield results useful for comparing different individuals. For example, a very stupid person with little empathy could get a score that says there is a 50-50% balance between intellect and emotion, but so could a very intelligent person with high empathy. (Job applicant tests usually use the Likert scale.)The test forced test takers to prioritize two different statements, without knowing the context. The test was an online questionnaire designed so you could not skip a question and continue. This is downright stupid. For example, "X is a letter" and "I need to breathe" are both true, but to prioritize them, you need to know context: Are you teaching a child to read and write vs. are you suffering from oxygen deprivation. Intelligent people[...]



I will spend the day preparing for a really fun day in Stockholm.

Starting a New Business - the Systems Thinking Way


I am starting a new business. I am not giving up my work as a business advisor, but I do need a change of pace. Ten years of working to improve other people's businesses have taken a toll.You might think "a change of pace" means I want to slow down. On the contrary, I want to speed up. The very, very slow, cumbersome, and obsolete systems and processes at most companies are very difficult to adapt to.I need to do something challenging, and I need a test bed for ideas. I also happen to love photography, especially trick photography, so, I am setting up a photography business.I am of course applying Maneuver Conflict and Systems Thinking ideas to the new business.Here are some of the things I am doing differently from other photographers:To succeed in business, you need to try a bit harder, and do things other people can't or won't do.Finding a unique segment: Most photographers focus on weddings, portraiture or advertising. I focus on trick photography. It means I do something no other professional photographer in gothenburg does.Lots of photographers shoot weddings. I am the only one that make the bride and groom fly, levitate, or be quite literally joined together. (You can do some amazing flesh manipulation techniques these days...)Lots of photographers shoot children. I am the only one that can shrink a whole class of school children and put them in a lunch box.Lots of photographers shoot products. I can make the products levitate, sparkle, etc., without an advertising agency.Lots of photographers shoot portraits. Almost everyone does it using soft light and clamshell setups. I do that too, but I also offer soft light setups, hard light setups, night setups (in broad daylight)... and I can turn you into a zombie or cat creature.Delivery: Most photographers deliver files on DVD, and framed prints. I deliver the files on USB sticks, because newer computers often do not have DVD players. I do deliver framed prints, but I also print on t-shirts, mugs, phone and tablet shells, and hundreds of other things. I bet people want to see, and show off, their pictures all the time, when they walk along a street, drink a cup of coffee, or pick up their phones.My clients can order through a web form, and they can customize items themselves if they like, for example by adding or changing text, changing colors of items, and so on. I have set up a small public store to showcase what I can do.Hadouken is a Japanese photo craze where you imitate Manga style fights, complete with Ki based energy attacks. Probably not what you would choose for a corporate group portrait. Then again, it might be...Events and courses: I have started organizing photo events. The first one is a Hadouken photo event, on Saturday, 4 May. More will follow. If a special event is successful, elements from that event will be included in photography courses.In short, I am constantly, and very consciously, looking for things I can do that will delight customers.Will I succeed? I will if what I do is interesting enough: Interesting to customers, and interesting enough so that people will want to spread the word.Here are links to my photography web site, and my photography blog.Check them out. You might like them! :-)[...]

Workshops: Values to Vision and Strategic Principles


I am announcing four workshops in Stockholm and Gothenburg.

Each workshop is limited to twelve people, and the first workshop is in just five weeks, so if you are interested in gaining an advantage over your competition, sign up now:



Why should you care about having a clear vision?

A vision is a guiding light:

The vision helps you establish a connection with your customers, it attracts the right people to your company, it sets a course to follow when developing strategy and tactics.

And yet, most companies have vision statements that are bland, uninspiring, and to be frank, not very useful.

In the workshop you will learn how to build a vision guided by your own values. You will learn how to use your values and your vision to shape your mission. And, you will learn how to create a Goal Map, a simple picture that explains your vision, and the intermediate goals necessary to achieve it.

A Goal Map is a great tool for explaining your vision, and setting a course for your organization. More than that, you can use it to define the behaviors necessary for success.

Why should you care about strategic principles?

Strategy is about setting goals, and achieving them. There is a simple set of principles that are common to all kinds of strategy: In business, war, love, games.

Unfortunately, a strategy developed without understanding the principles, will often cause more harm than good. Quite often, even large companies, confuse strategy and tactics. The result is often a gigantic  Powerpoint stack, full of lofty statements and wishful thinking, but of little practical use.

The business strategy workshop will clearly define what strategy is, and give you:

  • A simple tool you can use to develop good strategies, and find the flaws in bad ones
  • Six strategic principles common to all strategy development
  • Cheng/Ch'i, a Chinese principle for developing strategies for business, war, and love
And there is more of course. Check the links above for more information.

The Reality Dysfunction Draws Closer


The Reality Dysfunction is approaching. The picture above is the theme picture for my presentation at Lean Kanban Nordic on the 12th of Mars. I'm going for the jugular with this one...

You can read more about the presentation itself here.

Reality Dysfunction preview at Scrumbeers


The audience was great - Knowledgeable, asked a lot of questions, and there was a very interesting discussion afterwards.
I did a trial run for of Reality Dysfunction presentation at Scrumbeers yesterday. The presentation was very well received, though it was much too long. You can read the audience comments and reactions here.

The Scrumbeers gatherings are always fun. This time, it was also very, very useful. The feedback I got will enable me to make the final presentation even more fun, and shorter. Lots shorter. My presentations tend to be about as long as a Hollywood movie. I need to cut this one down to 35 minutes or less before I present at the Lean Kanban Nordic conference on the 12th of Mars.

I'd like to thank the audience not just for being very interested, kind, and fun to spend time with, but also for giving me lots of useful feedback.

I am looking forward to the next Scrumbeer.

The Reality Dysfunction - Presentation at Stop Starting, Start Finishing


The nice people running the Stop Starting, Start Finishing conference in Stockholm the 12-13 of Mars 2013 asked me if I was interested in holding a presentation.Of course I am.I am hard at work on my presentation. Here is what I am going to talk about:Tempo!: The Reality DysfunctionHenrik MårtenssonHenrik MårtenssonHow did we end up with so many dysfunctional companies? To fix the problems we face today, we must understand the causes. Tempo!: The Reality Dysfunction is a romp through the wild side of management history: It starts with a bang, a train crash the 5th of October 1841, with consequences that cause companies to fail in 2013.You will meet the unbeatable fighter pilot, who also figured out how to build an unbeatable organization. You will see what managers must know to lead an Agile development team. You will see how most companies are applying fundamental principles of strategy, psychology, and physics backwards, and hurt and disable themselves in the process. You will also find out what to do about it, and who has already succeeded.There will be a practical demonstration, with members of the audience, showing how a simple restructuring of work can reduce lead times by 60 percent or more, while increasing quality. And, you will have fun!Henrik Mårtensson is a business strategy coach, process developer, and project leader. He is also an author and presenter. Henrik began working with Extreme Programming, an agile software development method, in 2001. His interest in methodology quickly brought him to Lean, Theory Of Constraints, Statistical Process Control and Systems Thinking. Several years ago, Henrik got into contact with Strategic Navigation and a military strategic framework, Maneuver Conflict. Suddenly, all the pieces fit together.Tempo!, Henrik's first book on business strategy, was published in 2010. His second book, LESS!, published in 2012, is a collaboration between twelve thought leaders in Agile, Lean, Beyond Budgeting, Strategic Navigation, Systems Thinking, and Complexity Science. [...]