Thursday 12 January 2017

Best story ever - Lord Robert Winston

18:48 Posted by G No comments
I've just been to our Company's UK annual kick off, our theme this year being adaptability, and the Leon Megginson quote (often wrongly attributed to Charles Darwin) of :

It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able to adapt to and to adjust best to the changing environment in which it finds itself

One of the more fun elements of the launch event is the guest speaker, we've had Sir Clive Woodward talk about marginal gains (and a fascinating video story or preparing for every eventuality), Ben Hunt-Davis (GB Olympic gold medal winning rower), who talked about making the boat go faster, and how they prepared for their Olympic gold medal race.

However today's speaker was Lord Robert Winston (or to give him his full title - Robert Maurice Lipson Winston, Baron Winston FMedSci FRSA FRCP FRCOG FREng), who was a fascinating presenter, I thought his presentation covered a huge range of topics, but all fascinating.  The way he intertwined history, genetics, maths, physics and classical music, shows the size of his brain, which was one of topics he talked about.

He told the story of Albert Einstein's autopsy, when his brain was examined his brain was found to be no different to anyone else, and he made two points, one to emphasise this to our children, to tell them there's nothing physiological holding them back from being the next Einstein, but also that (while pointing to two random people in the front row), that between then they have more brian power than Einstein, and that was the power of collaboration.

But for me the most powerful thing he said was in answer to a question asked from the audience.  When asked what he was most proud of, he said (without missing a beat) was he was most proud of his kids, which as someone who has done more for fertility in the last 40 years that probably anyone else in the UK is an understandable answer.  But when pushed (and in a typically very modest English way that only people who have really achieved big things can), said...

" I met  a young lady at an event, who had waited patiently to speak to me after the event, who told me her name, which didn't immediately register with me, but when she explained her story she broke into tears, as she explained that I had modified her genes (apologies I've got the details wrong here) to remove a genetic mutation that killed her brother, and as we spoke I broke into tears, telling here when I did the pioneering operation on you as an embryo that was the first in the world and didn't become a standard procedure for another year or so, and the politicians of the day wanted to ban the operation, which would have meant you would not have lived"

I was stunned with this story of his humility, his pride and his general all round goodness, and it was just a real privilege to listen to him speak, can we clone him please ?

Without a doubt a great story, and possibly the best 'what are you most proud of' anecdote - Lord Winston I salute you !

Friday 6 January 2017

Delegate to the edge

19:59 Posted by G No comments
One of the best books I read in 2016 was Matthew Syed's - Black Box Thinking. As an IT leader reading him talk about feedback loops, the use of Agile, failing fast and learning from our mistakes was really a message that I am used to delivering. It's a really engaging book, with a really gripping (but tragic) first chapter. I was lucky enough to speak to him at a Deloitte event and got to tell him this, but it really draws you into the book. I can't recommend it enough.

Since finishing the book, I'm an avid follower of his on Twitter, and from his Twitter feed, I noticed that he recently wrote an article on LinkedIn about delegation and the power of it.  What struck me most (apart from delegation being the only way to actually get stuff done!) was using the priviledge of using our position as leaders to empower our team to get stuff done.

What I mean by that is my job is to clear the path, set long term direction and gain budget approval, but the real brains of the outfit are those that work for me, they come up with how we are actually going to achieve our goals, and executing them.

As Syed explains in his article (here), that empowering teams, and pushing decision making closer to the 'edge' of the organisation is much more effective.  I'm currently reading General Stanley McChrystal's book which delves into this and is fascinating, as clearly in his domain there's much more at stake than mine.

What is closer to home (especially as an avid hockey play) is the distinction that he draws between the England Football team and the GB (Olympic gold medal winning) Women's hockey team. Whereas the England football team looked listless while losing to Iceland (a central command and control structure - without the manager there was little leadership), to that of Danny Kerry the GB Women's coach who is quoted as :

Kerry allowed players to decide on when they train each day, codes of conduct, and they elect their captain through a vote. What happened? The players developed leadership qualities, and felt far more empowered to make big decisions on the pitch.

The article goes on to quote Eddie Jones the England Rugby coach, who says:

Eddie Jones, has become interested in the idea of “growth mindset”, trying to ensure that his players are willing to take responsibility for their actions, rather than making excuses when things go wrong. 

Which neatly joined the dots with an article that Sir Clive Woodward (England Rugby coach 1997-2004).  In an article posted today in the Mail, Jones is quoted as saying:

The only advantage you really have on the opposition is learning faster, so if you want a learning environment the head coach has got to set the example. To achieve that you have to keep improving yourself, keep gaining knowledge wherever you can and you’ve got to have a coaching staff the same

Woodward then asks : With the ideas, how much is coming from you and the coaches as opposed to thoughts and ideas from your team?

Jones's answer is : The balance probably went from 100-0 in favour of the coaches 12 months ago, now it’s probably 50-50 and we want it to be 20-80 by the World Cup.

Lots for us all to learn, but a mix of delegated leadership and delivery accountability at the edge makes good sense to me

Delivering Technology in the new digital world

09:22 Posted by G No comments
Digital, you can't move for people talking about digital, but this article in the Wall St Journal grabbed my attention. 

I like the Equifax and Liberty Mutual approach, that the command and control structures that we are used to are breaking down and new cross functional teams are being formed, and we need to adapt how we deliver technology to them.

This quote from their CIO Dave Webb is spot on in my opinion

“Companies that transition from a more traditional business model to one built around technology and IT must adopt a management practice that can support this evolution,” says Dave Webb, global chief information officer of Equifax Inc. 

The article goes on to say

Equifax in 2015 opened a technology-development facility in Auburn, Ala., the facility, which develops automation and platform services is organized into small, cross-functional teams made up of a mix of business and technology personnel. The managers include a vice president of global platform engineering, an automation lead and a cloud and systems lead.

Rather than issue top-down directives, these managers instead strive to help self- directed teams leverage digitally enabled data sources, collaboration and sharing tools, and tighter feedback loops, to “get things out the door faster,” Mr. Webb says. 

Finally the Liberty Mutual CIO James McGlennon adds :

At Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., collaboration and sharing tools powered by digital capabilities—roughly 80% of its operations currently run in the private and public cloud—are bringing business, sales and IT units together like never before, says CIO James McGlennon.

That’s shifting the role of managers who oversee those units away from “dictating how things should be done,” to acting more like coaches who guide collaborative, multifunctional teams to “get the work done” on their own, Mr. McGlennon says.

Both these CIO's are doing what we're trying to do, in trying to create coordination teams at the centre to orchestrate and cultivate communities, but with delivery at the edge where the situational awareness is best

Thursday 5 January 2017

Situational awareness at the edge

19:56 Posted by G No comments
I first saw this tweet from David Bray, CIO of the FCC : 

and I thought that made good sense. I found the article that it came from which is here : and it makes for interesting reading. I liked his comments :

"As a CIO I think the best thing I do is listen, and learn, and try to build a case as far as what are the different things needed for the different offices.

The second thing is actually to be very open that you want people to give you feedback. In a changing environment the top is only a few people, whereas an organiation has many more people at the edge. And they’re actually going to know what best fits their context. So it’s much more about cultivating and raising their insights up, as opposed to just doing things from the top.

And the good thing is I’ve now been doing what my PhD showed now at the FCC, as well as with the defense and intelligence agencies, which is about championing change agents. Change agents, I give them autonomy, I give them a measurable sense of progress, and I give them a meaningful source of work, and that intrinsically motivates them to be much more doers and getting things done at the edge, than it would ever be possible if we tried to do it in terms of command and control from the top."


"Another thing is you not only have to empower the edge, but you also have to encourage and cultivate a diversity of insights. I actually tell my team “I’m going to have blindspots”. I want them to be able to point them out. Bring data—so it’s not just your opinion—but I’m open at any given time. Come into my office, let’s have a conversation. And if you think there’s a better way we can go as an organization in terms of our strategy, please bring it.

I know I’m going to have blind spots, I’m only human, and we’re in an era of rapid, turbulent technology change, and so we all have to work together cultivating change agents."

Makes good sense to me