The conference call is now ubiquitous in many working environments, but wherever I have worked a number of universal truths seem to apply:
The number of connectivity problems that you experience is directly proportional to the importance of the call. This rule applies in most connectivity situations, but is particularly applicable in situations where connectivity is normally reliable.
The key member of the meeting will join the meeting precisely 2 minutes after you decide to close the meeting down having made numerous attempt to try and contact that key individual. This is a two part rule. The moment that you close the call all other participants will become unavailable making reconvening the meeting impossible.
If a colleague asks you how much longer you’ll be on your call and you say 2 minutes the call will last for at least a further 20 minutes.
If you are on a call while working from home a delivery person will knock on your door at the precise moment when you need to be contributing to the call. Other distractions are available.
If anyone is going to have problems going on mute it will be the person on the call with the most background noise.
You will be speak whilst on mute when you have your best idea. When you repeat your idea once you are off mute it won’t sound quite as good as it did the first time.
If a colleague asks you how much longer you’ll be on your call and you say 20 minutes the call will only last for a further 2 minutes. In these 2 minutes your colleague will have already left or become unavailable.
The delay between the published start time and the actual start time is directly proportional to the number of people expected on the call. This has nothing to do with any technical limitation.
If the conference call has an online Q&A capability your question will be answered by the speaker at the very instant that you post the question.
Any meeting that finishes early will be closed with the words “I’ll give you XXX mins back.” This rule applies to any meeting that closes more than 4 minutes early, but may still be applied to meetings that finish up to 30 seconds early.
I’m sure I’ve missed some?
Heaver Image: This is the beach at Rossall, Lancashire which is a wonderful place to walk and watch the sun set over the Irish sea and across the Cumbrian Mountains.
There are certain phrases in the English lexicon that are almost universally known, but their history is less well known – this is one of those phrases:
“work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”
Cyril Northcote Parkinson
These words appear at the beginning of an article in The Economist in 1955:
It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Thus, an elderly lady of leisure can spend the entire day in writing and despatching a postcard to her niece at Bognor Regis. An hour will be spent in finding the postcard, another in hunting for spectacles, half-an-hour in a search for the address, an hour and a quarter in composition, and twenty minutes in deciding whether or not to take an umbrella when going to the pillar-box in the next street. The total effort which would occupy a busy man for three minutes all told may in this fashion leave another person prostrate after a day of doubt, anxiety and toil.
Parkinson’s initial observations were made in relation to the volume of civil servants and the amount of work being done. This is an ongoing discussion 64 years later, but not one that I feel in any way qualified to comment on. Parkinson was quite cynical about the reasons for an expanding civil service of his day – but I’ll let you read the original article and draw your own conclusion.
(Personally, in 2019, I find the caricatures of the “elderly lady of leisure” and the “busy man” jarring in their reinforcement of stereotypes.)
Where I can comment is in the business world where I see this law at play every day.
Meetings that are scheduled for an hour generally last an hour. This is remarkable when you consider the lack of preparation that goes in to most meetings. Interestingly enough meetings that are scheduled for 30 minutes generally last 30 minutes. Furthermore, there is, often, little discernible difference between the outcomes of a 30 minute meeting and 60 minute one. This is Parkinson’s Law at play.
Someone given a few hours to prepare material to present to a client will generally finish it in the time allocated and the material will be of a good quality. Given more time they would still produce material of a good quality.
Projects that are planned to deliver something over several months will rarely deliver anything in a few weeks, even when the project plan was highly speculative when created. Interestingly, it’s not unknown for projects that are planned for months to last several years, but I don’t think we can hold Parkinson’s Law wholly responsible for that.
I don’t think we can remove Parkinson’s Law altogether, what we need to do is to recognise it and contain it.
One of the powerful aspects of incremental delivery techniques like Scrum and Kanban is that they reduce the impact of Parkinson’s Law by breaking larger activities down into smaller constrained entities. Each entity is still subject to Parkinson’s Law; the constraint contains the impact within the increment.
The impact of constraints is easy to understand if you think about an 8 hour working day. Imagine within that day that you have 16 different subjects to discuss. Add to that scene 10 people sitting in a room for those 8 hours working their way through the agenda from top to bottom. What is the likelihood that with just 2 hours remaining there are still 8 items to discuss? Now imagine those same 16 different subjects and a schedule split into strictly enforced 25 minute slots that gives people a 5 minute break before the start of the next subject. What’s more this schedule requires conclusions to be reached within 20 minutes. Which of these two approaches will result in each of the 16 items being discussed? But will the conclusions reached be of the same quality as the ones discussed for longer? The impact of time on decision making is a complex one, and probably worth a post another day, but there’s evidence that decisions made quickly (not rushed) are often better than those made over a protracted period of time.
What I’ve outlined above is similar to the Pomodoro Technique. This techniques also utilises a set of time constrained slots, typically 25 minutes, and is often highlighted as a way of overcome procrastination, but I think it works just as well as a mechanism to constrain Parkinson’s Law.
My 25 minutes of writing is nearly up, and I want to read through what I’ve written, so I think I’ll leave it there.
Header Image: This is the view from Kirkstone Pass looking down towards Brothers Water and Glenridding beyond. These are some of my favourite hills partly because, for the most part, they are rarely visited.
I recently watched this video by Kyle T. Webster entitled: Make Time for Boredom.
When was the last time you allowed yourself to be bored? We live in a world of constant distraction, spending hours interacting with our screens, mostly doing nothing at all.
We flick from Instagram to Message to Email to Twitter to Facebook to Netflix to YouTube and back again hoping that something there will distract us. Apart from wasting time, have you ever wondered what all of that time-slicing is doing to your brain? Perhaps, if your brain wasn’t doing all of that stuff it would be bored, but perhaps that boredom would help you to be more creative? That’s what the video is about, and I think it’s a message many of us need to hear:
Header Image: a rather dull, yet pleasing seascape across Morecambe Bay from Silverdale. I stood for a while and pondered.
I really liked this book, it met so many of the criteria for a good book for me:
I like books with practical advice that is communicated as principles rather than prescriptions.
I like books with stories, we are made to remember stories.
I like books based on evidence, particularly when the author acknowledges that the evidence is indicative rather than definitive.
I’ve spent much of my life with a couple of quotations about time ringing through my head:
“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Which I didn’t realise until writing this post was simply an extension of Albert Einstein’s quotation “Time is an illusion”.
“The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.”
These two quotations are, in some regards, contradictory. Time can’t be both an illusion and a constant ticking of minutes and yet, for me, this contradiction speaks volumes. We each have the same number of minutes in a day, that is true, and yet, each of us recognises that how we use those minutes greatly influences how we perceive our day. The spending of minutes is where this book is focused, but not where most of this type of book focus their study, on our work life and how to get ahead, this book is primarily targeted at all that time you have when you aren’t working.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”
How do you spend your time? Yes, you spend a lot of it asleep and, probably, another huge section at that thing you call work, but what about the remaining minutes? Have you ever received any training on how to spend that other time? Do you know what type of activity in your free time would enrich the whole of your life? How do you avoid those times where you feel like you’ve wasted your time? How do you get the best value out of your free time? Can you really call time free?
As I look around my friends, acquaintances and colleagues I see so many different ways that people use the freetime that they have. Some people appear to achieve so much and have such amazing experiences while others have little to show for the time that they have spent. What are the things that separate these two extremes? Does it matter? Well it does if we can enrich our whole life and even extend them by investing our time in particular ways.
James Wallman’s hypothesis is precisely that, apply a set of principles to spending our leisure time will greatly enrich our lives.
The reality is, though, that many of us have a very uneasy relationship with the free time that we have. A quotation from the opening chapter of the book:
“The popular assumption is that no skills are involved in enjoying free time, and that anybody can do it. Yet the evidence suggests the opposite: free time is more difficult to enjoy than work. Having leisure at one’s disposal does not improve the quality of life unless one knows how to use it effectively, and it is by no means something one learns automatically.”
Why are we so uneasy, particularly now? This is a summary of the reasons that James Wallmam gives:
We are earning more which makes the cost of time seem higher and feel more scarce.
We think that busyness is status.
We have too many incoming messages and too many demands on our time.
Instead of helping, multitasking creates ‘contaminated time’.
We have more opportunities than ever – endlessly scrolling online, more new places to go and events to attend – and end up feeling FOMO (fear of missing out).
Smartphones and all of our digital devices now eat around 60% of our leisure time.
Leisure isn’t taught, and has become trivialised, belittled.
James Wallman likens the different ways that we spend time to the different foods that we eat, some foods being empty-calories, like all of that endless scrolling, and others being super-foods, like a walk with a close friend along a beach. The aim of the book being to teach us how to recognise and consume super-food experiences rather than flopping into an empty-calorie existence.
The structure of the book is based on an acrostic of the
word STORIES with each of the letters highlighting a characteristic of great
Story – understanding the hero’s journey and what makes a great story.
Transformation – creating personal growth leads to happiness.
Outside and Offline – there’s huge power in being outside and away from all of those interruptions.
Relationships – loneliness isn’t healthy, we are made to do things together.
Intensity – this is about flow, which is a huge subject in its own right.
Extraordinary – creating a balance between novel and ordinary experiences.
Status and Significance – creating significance by investing in others.
With a combination of stories, evidence and anecdote each of these chapters creates a set of principles that define those super-food experiences.
I normally leave this bit until the end, but it’s appropriate here:
Header Image: Today’s header image was taken on a recent holiday when I was contemplating many of the principles in this book.
The picture was taken at the Low Wood Bay, Windermere, UK – this place has been a special place in Sue and I’s lives for over 30 years, so returning was extending an already significant story in our lives.
We are stood on a jetty from where we left our wedding reception in a speedboat. As with the day of this picture, it had been a lovely day that we would remember for the rest of our lives. There are many parts of that day that I don’t remember the detail of, but I remember the feeling of stepping into a speedboat that had been kindly decorated by the staff with trailing buoys and a Just Married poster. We kept this part of our wedding a secret, so it was a surprise to nearly everyone and the look on their faces as we zoomed off across the lake is etched into my memory.
Having taken a few picture we put out phones away and we stood and remembered, together, outside, in a kind of flow as we thought about our children, the things we had enjoyed together and the blessing of seeing them both in loving relationships of their own. We thought about some of the adventures that we had been on and looked forward to adventures to come, even the very next day. We looked across the lake at the beauty of it all and held hands.
We used STORIES to extend and enrich our story.
For a slightly longer summary of the information in the book the following is a good podcast:
I’m always on the look out for books that people are reading and finding helpful, interesting, entertaining, etc. Sometimes people recommend something to me, at other times I see a video or a talk by someone and decide to read their book. I found this one via a different route.
One of the subjects that I find interesting is organisational change, particularly in large organisation. The change at Microsoft since Satya Nadella become CEO has been on of the most dramatic organisational changes in recent years. I read his book Hit Refresh a little while ago and was fascinated by the definition of the organisation as a group of warring factions. What I missed from that book and only understood later on was that he had made his entire leadership team read a book as part of changing the warring factions situation – Nonviolent Communication is that book.
This isn’t a new book having been first published in 1999 based on research and experience that dates back to the 1960s. Nor is this a “Business Management” book of the type that you may expect the leader of a large enterprise to be giving out. This book isn’t a business management book at all, really, it would be better to describe it as a “tools for life” book.
As the name suggests this is a book about communication, another subject that has fascinated me for a very long time.
As the introduction to the book says:
“NVC (Nonviolent Communication) is founded on language and communication skills that strengthen our ability to remain human, even under trying conditions. it contains nothing new; all that has been integrated into NVC has been known for centuries. The intent is to remind us about what we already know – about how we humans were meant to relate to one another – and to assist us in living in a way that concretely manifests this knowledge.”
Nonviolent Communications – A Way to Focus Attention
In these posts I normally give a bit of an overview of the book; I’m not going to do that this time because this is a book that deserves to be read and not consumed as a summary.
The other thing I normally do is provide some personal observations; I’m not going to do that either. Many of my personal observations are very personal and require a bit longer to become part of who I am before I write about the. What I will say is that reading through this book has helped me to see a number of things that I do when I communicate that I need to change, it’s also given me some tools to make those changes.
What I will do is to say what this book isn’t. This book isn’t a how-to prescriptive manual for counselling conversation, although much of what is in the book would be helpful for those situations. Neither is it a book of listening skills, although it includes many great insights on how to be a great listener. It’s not even a manual on how to be politically correct, although some of the examples could be read that way if you were so inclined. This book isn’t just about giving good communication, it’s also about receiving it well.
I started reading this book part way through a series of posts that in my head is called “fascinating conversations”. Once I’d started reading this book I felt that I needed to finish it before continuing those posts for fear of simply adding to my catalogue of poor behaviour. I haven’t yet decided whether I will restart those posts, I probably will, but I need to change some of the language.
Having read it I can understand why Satya Nadella made it mandatory reading for his leadership team.
“In our language there is a word with enormous power to create shame and guilt. This violent word, which we commonly use to evaluate ourselves, is so deeply ingrained in our consciousness that many of us would have trouble imagining how to live without it. It is the word “should”, as in “I should have known better” or “I shouldn’t have done that.” Most of the time when we use this word with ourselves, we resist learning, because should implies that there is no choice. Human beings, when hearing any kind of demand, tend to resist because it threatens our autonomy – our strong need for choice. We have this reaction to tyranny even when it’s internal tyranny in the form of a should.”
I’ve heard this phrase a number of times recently. The normal context is this:
Manager: “I must have the important widget for ABC Corporation by the end of the week.”
Product Owner: “Why?”
Manager: “Because we promised it to them last night?”
Product Owner: “I’ll have a look at the current work in progress and discuss what we can do with the team in the morning stand-up meeting. Because this is a new item, not in the plan for the current sprint I’m not sure that we can do anything by the end of the week.”
Manager: “That doesn’t sound very agile?”
There’s a miscommunication here. What the Manager has said to the Product Owner makes no sense to the Product Owner because what they have heard is “Well, that doesn’t sound very Agile?” with a great big capital “A”. What the Product Owner has defined IS Agile, it may not meet the Manager’s expectation of agile, but they are different things.
Somewhere along the road Manager Types have picked up the impression that they can ask Agile Teams to do whatever they want and it will be done at the drop of a hat. In their understanding Agile equates to “no planning” when the reality is that Agile means “planning differently”.
I suspect that this impression of Agile as ultimate flexibility is derived solely from the name and not from any study of the practices of Agile. In many situations I suspect that the Manager Types haven’t done any training on Agile and are simply fab-surfing with the hope that the latest fad will, at last, be the answer to all of their problems. What they haven’t realised is that Agile will only be an answer to some/many of their problems if they engage and embrace it, and to do that they need to understand it.
Rather than famous, perhaps a better word for the Fishergate Bollard is infamous. It’s not known for its beauty, or it’s historic symbolism, it’s known because vehicles keep knocking it over and parking on top of its plinth:
It’s garnered so much interest that someone even submitted a Freedom on Information Request to find out how much it was costing the local council to keep fixing it, the answer – about £1,400 a year.
You would have thought that this was a relatively easy problem to resolve, but this has been going on for over 3 years. Why so long to get it fixed? I’m only guessing, but I suspect that there is an ongoing tension within the roads authority between rationality and reality.
I’ve driven past the bollard a number of times over recent years and I can’t see any rational reason why people drive into the bollard, but the reality is that they do.
Some people complain that it’s not tall enough, or bright enough, which I can kind of get, but it’s not small. If this bollard isn’t big enough, how big would it rationally need to be?
The Fishergate Bollard was created as part of major road renovation scheme which some people loved and others hated. Changing it would seem like a retreat from the original renovation concept, but the reality is that cars, vans and buses all park on top of it.
There are definitely times in my life when I get stuck between rationality and reality. There are things that happen which I can’t rationally explain. There are technical things that rationally should work. There are things that rationally should only take a certain amount of time. The reality is often different and yet I plough on in the hope that my rationality will overcome the reality.
“Well this should work.” I say to myself after the fifth or sixth failed attempt. I speak the words of Robert the Bruce, king of Scotland (maybe) to myself “If at first you don’t succeed try, try and try again.” and rationally commit to persistence and ignore the reality.
I’m not sure I know the correct balance between persistence and giving in, but I do know that I regularly find myself stuck between rationality and reality. My life would be simpler if I gave in to the reality earlier more often, but I’m not sure I would have learnt so many lessons along the way if I hadn’t gone through the rational adventure.
Perhaps what I experience as an individual, many organisation experience collectively.
Header Image: This is a cove at Cleit/Cleat on the beautiful Isle of Barra in the Outer Hebrides. They aren’t visible on the picture, but there are seals basking in the sunshine on the rocks. The water was so clear that we watched other seals playing in the water.
For those of you not familiar with this saying it’s primarily referring to a reluctance to change that comes from old age. In other words, the older you get, the more resistant to change you are.
“You can’t teach on old dog new tricks” is generally referred to an idiom, meaning:
a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words.
But in practice many people treat it as an axiom:
a statement or proposition which is regarded as being established, accepted, or self-evidently true.
A conversation with a colleague got me thinking, is there truth in the saying, or is it just a rhyme that we’ve all assumed to be true and embedded it in our attitudes towards older people?
So I thought I would go on a journey of discovery because if it is true there ought to be good evidence to support such a strong statement.
My first thought was to try and define the age at which you become an “old dog”? The “old dogs” idiom was likely first published in a book of proverbs by John Heywood in 1546. Which got me wondering about how long people lived in 1546. The earliest life expectancy figures I could find for England and Wales was for 1851 when, on average, women lived to 42.2 and men only to 40.2. Assuming that in 1546 it was something similar, an “old dog” would be anyone older than 35 perhaps, but definitely 40? Or perhaps I’m messing with statistics a bit too much and average isn’t such a great indicator but it’s enough to get you thinking.
Even without a clear definition of what constitutes an “old dog” I started my search for evidence. I was particularly hoping for resistance to change in the workforce.
Can’t Teach Old Dogs: 0 Can Teach Old Dogs: 1
Starting with a search of “resistance to change” age I was presented with a study from 2013 entitled “Age, resistance to change, and job performance” by Florian Kunze, Stephan Boehm and Heike Bruch. They investigated the correlation of resistance to change (RTC) with age but also looked at the correlation with tenure in a role and job status (blue collar v white collar). This was their conclusion:
Contrary to common stereotypes, employee age is negatively related to RTC. Tenure and occupational status are further identified as boundary conditions for this relationship.
Age, resistance to change, and job performance
Just to be clear here, when is says that employee age is negatively related it means that older people tend to have a lower resistance to change. Within the report the relation isn’t huge, but it’s there all the same, and if definitely doesn’t support the axiom. Someones job status and their tenure also have an impact on their RTC, but these correlate in the stereotypical way; a lower job status creates a higher RTC as does an extended period in a role.
“late-career employees were perceived to be the most resistant to change (41%), reluctant to try new technologies (34%), and difficult to train (18%), according to the States as Employers-of-Choice survey (Fall 2008).”
So there’s certainly a perception that late-career employees are resistant to change. Treating surveys as evidence is always tricky, you have to look at the actual questions and make judgements of whether the perceptions being highlighted are genuine. You also need to look at the cohort of people who were surveyed in order to understand whether their may be bias in the data. I’ve not had chance to do this so I’ll leave the information here as potential evidence for the axiom. Another challenge with this survey is the term late-career employees, there are bound to be more late-career employees who have had a long tenure than early career employees, you have to have been around for a whole to have enjoyed a long tenure so some of this perception may simply be the challenge of long tenure.
So one report that says that age isn’t the issue and one that says that people perceive that late-career employees are resistant to change. Let’s continue our searching.
Can’t Teach Old Dogs: 1 Can Teach Old Dogs: 2
Another survey? This time looking at people in government organisations and snappily entitled: “An Investigation of the Difference in the Impact of Demographic Variables on Employees’ Resistance to Organizational Change in Government Organizations of Khorasan Razavi” (Khorasan Razavi is a region in Iran)
The aim of this study was to investigate the difference in the impact of demographic variables, including age, gender and level of education on employees’ resistance to organizational change. According to the results of Student’s ttest, the mean of variables in the groups of men and women is equal and there is no difference, thus gender has no significant impact on employees’ resistance to change. Investigating the results of correlation test indicated that since the significance level is greater than the confidence level (0.05), there is no correlation between the variables of age and resistance to change. In the following activity, the individuals were categorized into four groups, including under 30, 30 to 40, 40 to 50 and over 50 years old. The results of test analysis of variance indicate that the significance level is greater than the confidence level, thus these four groups are the same. According to the results of Duncan test, there is no difference between these four groups, thus employees’ age has no significance impact on their resistance to change.
That makes it 2 for and 2 against and perhaps that also makes it time to stop. Is this simple scoring mechanism sufficient? The first study is by far the largest with 15,243 participants and should carry more weight than the COTTCO one with 60 participants, but they weren’t asking the same questions so it’s not as simple as that. What can we conclude in this confusing landscape? There’s enough evidence to question the validity of the axiom and to question the use of age as a reason for resistance to change.
What about the other factors?
Whilst doing this research I was most struck by the idea of the other factors, particularly length of tenure, openness and role status. Whether someone becomes resistant to change as they get older, or not, would be something that was difficult to change. If it’s a biological condition, and I’m not saying it is, then it would be very difficult to change. If, however, the perception that late-career employees are resistant to change is primarily driven by factors, other than age, then organisations should take that very seriously indeed, these are things that organisations can and probably should change.
Organisations need to ask themselves whether they are creating, for themselves, individuals who are resistant to change and if they are, then what is the cost of that conditioning? Whilst I doubt whether organisations are consciously creating people resistant to change, they are creating organisational environments where that is the result.
Header Image: These are The Kelpies in Falkirk Scotland, taken on a recent visit. I left a few people in the picture so you could get an idea of the scale.
“The executive’s job is to take risks, not to avoid them.
A senior executive’s job is to manage risk. We often interpret this as reducing or mitigating risk. But really the executive’s job is to take risks, not to avoid them. Since all action directed toward the future is risky, the executive must decide which risky actions to take and how best to take them. Investing in the stock market is risky, but if you want to earn a return, you have to do it. You balance risks and returns, and choose investments.
The simple reason that the contractor-control model of IT breaks down is the presence of uncertainty. Plans are made with an eye toward the future, but the future is largely unknown. Thus, rigid adherence to a plan cannot be effective—at best, the plan is valid only as long as the assumptions it makes are valid. The seated CIO is the one who tries new foods—well, if they look edible.
The presence of uncertainty is the simple reason why Agile approaches work better than plan-driven approaches—it is also the reason why a good IT leader will often have to make “wrong” decisions. An IT leader adds business value by adopting an intelligent attitude toward risk.”
Mark Schwartz – A Seat at the Table: IT Leadership in the Age of Agility