Management techniques from the great beyond……..some useful and some not.

Cookie cutters and crazy quilts.

Well most of us know or can guess what a cookie cutter is, they are those shaped pieces of plastic or metal used to stamp out shapes from a sheet of rolled dough.

The process allows for a rapid and consistent, production of visually identical outcomes and minimises the variables, to only the thickness of dough being used.

Of course the cutter shape can be almost anything but once decided upon, can not be changed. This gives us what we want or think we want, with little to no variation; rapidly and consistently. Cookie cutters are great management tools as well, especially for simple repetitive tasks and also for highly complex tasks involving many precise sub tasks. Cookie cutter management fails to give us options, once we decide what we need, we stamp out said desire from the dough at hand. This simplistic and “efficient” management style often fools us into a false sense of certainty and control.

Strangely enough if we focus upon ever reducing fragments of a chaotic system, we increasingly begin to see commonalities which we often read as order. This is one philosophical perspective of chaos based upon chaos is only based upon our lack of understanding of the complex. That’s another topic for another day.


Crazy quilt or a Muratore’s view.

Crazy quilting is often used to refer to the textile art of crazy patchwork and is sometimes used interchangeably with that term. Crazy quilting is not technically quilting per say but a specific kind of patchwork, lacking repeating motifs and with the seams and patches heavily embellished. A crazy quilt rarely has the internal layer of batting that is part of what defines quilting as a textile technique.

Crazy quilts also differ from “regular” quilts in other ways. In a crazy quilt, the careful geometric design of a quilt block is much less important, this frees the quilters to employ much smaller and more irregularly shaped pieces of fabric. This found freedom empowers crazy quilters to use far more exotic pieces of fabric, such as velvet, satin, tulle, or silk, and embellishments such as buttons, lace, ribbons, beads, or embroidery, when compared to regular quilting. Crazy quilting is extremely creative and free-flowing by nature, and crazy quilters will often learn as much about specific embellishments as they will about crazy quilting itself.


English: Tamar Horton Harris North. “Quilt (or decorative throw), Crazy pattern”.
15th July 1877. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

So what’s the problem, why don’t more of us do quilting this way ?
Crazy quilts are extremely labor intensive. A Harper’s Bazaar article from 1884 estimated that a full-size crazy quilt could take 1,500 hours to complete. This means that with the increased freedom and creativity allowed there is a bottle neck for many, unless you have a Muratore mindset.
Muratore is an Italian term for a mason/bricklayer, it actually means someone who makes walls, which traditionally were of stone and later bricks. So why didn’t I just say bricklayer or mason. A bricklayer is a bit like a mason using a cookie cutter for speed and efficiency and the term mason can bring other distracting extraneous baggage. So I used the term Muratore because it caries little to no baggage to the english speaking readers and my father was one of the best Muratore.
So what makes a master Muratore, the ability to mentally visualise and order the materials at hand, on the fly and find a place for every piece; all while attaining your goal of a plumb, straight and solid wall, it’s like being good at playing Tetras with irregular shapes instead of blocks.

It is this type of organic and fluid management that, I believe we should all strive towards. It is this Muratore mindset that has given us the master piece sculpture by Michelangelo called David.

All the other sculptors rejected the piece of marble, that became the statue of David. In fact it was twice rejected. Agostino di Duccio gave up on a project using the flawed marble block, after which it sat untouched for 10 years. At that point, Antonio Rossellino took a crack at the block but decided it was too difficult to work with. The most famous statue ever carved was carved from a marble of poor quality filled with microscopic holes. So since Michelangelo could see what others could not we have this masterpiece. Michelangelo looked inside the marble and saw David. Michelangelo said that all that he had to do was chip away all of the parts that weren’t David to reveal him.

The interesting thing to take away from Michelangelo and the statue of David, is that he didn’t fight against the nature of the flawed block of marble or the fact a previous artist had already begun to block out the lower half of the block in 1464. In fact, he worked with what had come before and incorporated the flaws into the final design. It’s documented that on Sept 9, 1501, he apparently knocked off a “certain knot” that had been on the David’s chest. We believe this “knot” to be the flaw.


Sometimes people ask me “How did you come up with that ?” I have often responded “Step back, look, listen and it will tell you how it should be done.”

So which management style do you fall into most often ?

Polar binary paralysis, the current social condition.

So what the hell does that mean?

Well in our modern society and culture we tend to see things in Black and White. There has to be a winner and a looser. We tend to see things in absolutes, all or nothing, off or on always binary. Now if you acknowledge this basic fact about our society then you are closer to seeing the issue.

While a binary view of the world is helpful in decision making and rapid responses, which makes us feel more efficient and therefore superior, it also is a very unnatural state. The world is not binary, yes you can define parts of it that way but when looking at the entire system it is more complex and interlaced. There is rarely a binary condition, physic has understood this and made a branch called Quantum mechanic.

So what is the problem with our binary view?

When we lived isolated and disconnected lives a binary view was easy and extremely helpful but as society becomes homogenised, the binary differences become grey and complex. We enter a Quantum state where there can be complex states, off and on at the same time.

I have always explained that most of us when faced with a decision, consider there are only two option positive or negative (Yes or No) but in reality there is always a third option. The third option is actually what I call a Zero state, so instead of positive or negative we also have a Zero. This zero state can range for “wait and see” to do nothing, yet its very passive nature makes us consider this not an option.

We have been trained to polarise in one direction or another. What this means is that in our modern society there has to be a winner and a looser.

We have all seen it recently with Brexit and the US presidential election. There must be a result therefore one side wins with only a fraction of a percent more than the opposition. The winner seems also to state that they have won with a mandate from the electorate. So our desire to have a winner means we end up splitting hairs to find a winner, Polar Binary Paralysis.

There is no middle ground or balanced view only polar opposites which are often shadows and reflections of the other.

When in ROME….

When in Rome do as the Romans….an old saying that highlights more than most would ever suspect. The intention of the saying was about “cultural adaptation” and behaviour when traveling. The way I see it, is that when a traveler went to another country or even city they would mimic and behave as the locals. The goal was to blend in and immerse themselves in the cultural differences to savour the real local flavours.

The saying when in Rome, predates the modern age and is more from the era of the Grand Tours from turn of last century. The time of exploration, discovery and immersion into foreign cultures. The idea of travel was very different then and we have lost much in the desire to be efficient.

Anyway the modern idea of travel is wrapped up in tour groups, check lists, efficiency and to “see the sights”. Modern tourism and even travel is more about efficiency and being disconnected and removed from the local culture; after all we’re all time poor and very busy now days. Sort of an extension of the idea of camping with a caravan with all the conveniences verses roughing it.

We are not open to discovery, exploration and learning because our cup is already full with our own culture, technology and importance.

So why am I talking about travel and culture?

Let me first define what I call culture. Culture to me is not just about countries, cooking, dress etc. but also covers the way we conduct ourselves and interact with each other, everywhere. This means you behave according to the culture of all the influences in your life… the culture of your Country, State, Town etc.; the culture of your Family, Friends and Neighbours and the culture of your Work place and leisure spaces like Bars, Clubs and Parks etc..

So to me culture is not based solely upon location but all the rules, guidelines and implied behaviours in our lives.

The basic idea is that there has been a shift in the way our culture views itself and other cultures. We now seem to believe our culture is best and other cultures have nothing to offer, we glance at the surface and make judgements and observations based not on immersion, acceptance and understanding but upon the confirmation bias of your own culture.

We seem to have lost our cultural adptiveness and acceptance and replaced it with political correctness, minority majorities, multiculturalism and fear. You can not homogenise cultures just like you can’t homogenise a person. This leads to an identity crisis and loss.

Our ancestors knew identity was highly important to self-wellbeing, different places, different faces, different races and different paces. Differences are good and should be respected yet “When in Rome do as the Romans do”.

So next time you interact with your work colleges or change jobs, just remember it’s actually up to you to fit in with their prevailing culture. So if you haven’t found the right blend of culture for yourself by 3 to 18 months to make it work then maybe you’re in the wrong place.

The majority should not have to bend over backwards to make you feel comfortable and welcome you. You are in a “foreign land” and must accept and adapt to its prevailing culture. You are responsible for your own actions and responses; and all actions and reactions have consequences.

This is a sad reflection of our modern world view and its lack of understanding.

Just because you’re fully grown doesn’t make you an Adult !

When in Rome…

romeThere was an article about the ‘Tube Chat’ badges that caused controversy in London recently. The article explained that the cultural ‘norm’ on the London Tube is to not speak with strangers. In fact, that speaking with strangers on any train until well outside London is not normal.

So I probably should not have started that long conversation with an American until we had left London and were well on our way to Edinburgh last month – oh well, lesson learned.

How do we discover the cultural ‘norms’ when we join a new group? These ‘norms’ are not something that can easily be explained – except for the extreme ones like dress codes. So we need to observe and deduce what the ‘norms’ might be. Do people have lunch at their desk? Do they go out of the office for coffee? …and so on.

Some are better at observation than others. Is there a way we can compensate for this diversity in observational skills? And why is this topic important?

It is important because the cultural ‘norms’ are what makes relationships easier – they remove friction and provide a level of certainty about how people will behave in various circumstances. If we want to shift behaviour to support improved ways of working, then we need to understand the current cultural ‘norms’. Then we need to work through how these cultural ‘norms’ are enabling or restricting good outcomes.

When we find a ‘norm’ that is restricting, it is tempting to call it out and just tell everyone to do something different.

I tried this a couple of weeks ago on my morning commute. There was a person sitting opposite me watching a soccer game on his phone without headphones. The sound was turned down, but I could clearly hear the ‘….and he scores blah blah blah…..the crowd goes wild….’ whistles blowing etc. It was really annoying. I assumed that he had blue-tooth earphones under his hood and that they might be faulty – he wouldn’t know – so I had better let him know. Because the cultural ‘norm’ on our trains is to keep your sound to yourself. I got his attention and said that I thought his earphones might be faulty because I could hear the sound. He barely looked at me and shook his head and then went on watching the game – he did turn the sound down a little.

I was a bit upset because he ignored me and did not seem to understand that others think it’s impolite not to use earphones.

A young lady then got on the train and sat in the seat next to him – doing her make-up in the selfie camera of her phone.

Years ago, etiquette guides were published to let people know what was socially acceptable. It was also common for people to let others know when they ‘crossed the line’ outside of the cultural ‘norm’ – but recently that is not acceptable. So the cultural ‘norm’ is to not say anything which means that we no longer have a consistent cultural ‘norm’ in society.

If this is true, then shifting behaviours in the workplace by direct methods is going to be almost impossible. Perhaps it is better to focus on more concrete things like processes and policies. These things are acceptable to make explicit and the cultural ‘norms’ will adapt around them. We should still monitor the cultural ‘norms’ in case they are leading to bad outcomes in our processes – but we should not try to change them directly.