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Alligators and swamps: 10 rules for change

“When you're up to your arse in alligators, it's sometimes hard to remember that you're here to drain the swamp.”

I’ve had many conversations about making change happen within organisations. There’s so much noise going on (especially if it’s a problematic customer-facing process) that you spend all your time trying to put failures right and don’t have time to fix the root cause (product design, business process, skills, whatever). Likewise you’re pretty much guaranteed a failure if you put people onto the change project who aren’t ultimately responsible for the new process, who aren’t skilled and talented, who can’t make decisions on design and implementation, and who are tied up in doing their day jobs.

Assuming you are addressing the right opportunity/problem (and that's a whole subject on its own), here are 10 rules learned from running or helping several organisations to effect change in difficult circumstances:
The best person to lead a change project is the person…
Recent posts

Understanding the Chatham House Rule

A common phrase often used at large meetings is that they're being held "under Chatham House Rules", which some people seem to think is an agreement of complete confidentiality. This isn't so.

As Michael Gregg once politely reminded me, there is only one Rule. Quoting from Chatham House itself:
“When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed”. Whenever I chair a meeting or conference under the Chatham House Rule, I tell everyone precisely what I mean.
"After this meeting, you are free to talk about the ideas you have heard here, but without reference to people or organisations." The Chatham House Rule is  usually invoked by the chairman, the speaker or via the invitation.  Normally it is only a gentlemen's agreement.  If you need more certainty, either get people t…

2018 Year of Engineering

To mark The Year of Engineering, here's  Sydney Padua's envisioning of my personal engineering hero, the one and only Isambard Kingdom Brunel:



If you haven't already read it, check out Sydney Padua's comic novel The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, featuring the founders of computing and other Victorian engineering heroes in all kinds of bonkers derring-do. (T-shirts, coffee mugs, etc. are available from Zazzle).

The UK Government has designated 2018 as The Year of Engineering, and launched a campaign to promote engineering in all its forms as a career.  I still think of myself as a systems engineer; the skills I learnt have been invaluable and widely applicable throughout my career as an executive and director.

In which I talk about life, the universe and everything

Access Granted, the online podcast channel, focuses on NZ tech sector and related themes. They interviewed me recently. We discussed change, tech, research & education, construction, and directorship. We covered a lot of ground. If you've got a spare hour, here's the link: http://www.accessgranted.nz/episodes/2018/1/9/jim-donovan-professional-director-changing-the-world-in-big-ways

Is innovation sufficient?

Governments, business theorists and business media are obsessed with innovation. Vast sums of money are expended on government-sponsored research. Something’s bound to pay off with a ground-breaking new technology that will increase jobs, wealth and foreign-exchange earnings, won’t it? However, innovation is only the start of the process. We’ve got plenty of innovation, and we aren’t short of new businesses either. The problem is creating better, larger businesses that can foot it internationally (with full overseas operations, not just exporting).

The Economist explored the same issue, reporting on those who question the fear of US companies being overwhelmed by technological innovation coming out of India and China.
So does the relative decline of America as a technology powerhouse really amount to a threat to its prosperity? Nonsense, insists Amar Bhidé of Columbia Business School. In “The Venturesome Economy” ... he explains why he thinks this gloomy thesis misunderstands innovation…