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Elastic Management

SuperLewinKurt Lewin is something of a hero to me, not least as the originator of one of my all time favourite quotes:

‘There is nothing so practical as a good theory’

This appeared in my intro to The Management Models Pocketbook and a blog I posted on my birthday.

So why come back to it now?  I want to look at one of Lewin’s best known models from a slightly unconventional angle, but let’s start with the basics.

Force Field Analysis

Lewin’s language derives from the world of physics; he talks of equilibrium and forces.  His metaphor is not, however, strained and works very well for me.  In his model, we (individuals and groups – even organisations) will be in equilibrium, unless a force acts upon us.

By equilibrium, he means that there will be no change.

Let’s get real!

In the real world, there are always forces acting upon us, so there is always change.  Lewin identifies two fundamental types of force:

Driving forces, which promote change

Restraining forces, which – take a guess – restrain it


To understand the nature of change and how it is happening in an individual or a group, we need to inventory all of the driving and restraining forces, understand them, and assess the net direction and strength of the resultant force.

Under Pressure

Many of us in the worlds of business and public service are finding ourselves under a lot of pressure at the moment, and if you manage people, you may be putting them under pressure.  What can Lewin teach us about what is going to happen?

As we apply a driving force to our colleagues in times of pressure, many will respond and you will achieve the changes you need.  People are able to suppress their reaction to unwelcome pressure and hence you may not sense the restraining forces.  But they are there.  When you release the drive, as the pressure reduces, the elasticity of the restraining forces will show itself.

Two Tactics

How can you deal with this elasticity.  If you need to maintain your new productivity levels over a long term, you have only two options:

  1. You can maintain the driving forces
    We see this pretty often in organisations.  ‘Autocratic’ or ‘follow-me-the-superhero’ styles of leadership maintain long term pressure that can turn into stress and burn-out.  If you suspect you are in danger of causing this, you need to deal with it – quickly.
  2. You can release the restraining forces
    This is by far the harder tactic.  You need to understand what the forces are that pull back against your drive and address them one at a time.  So, longer hours may be mostly a problem because of a parent’s evening routine; so can you offer flexible hours to allow them to leave early?  A greater workload may frustrate someone who is angered by the slow running of an aged computer; so can you upgrade their equipment?

Welcome to the club

If you are anticipating 2011 will be a tough year for you, then welcome to a large club.  But don’t just despair or let events drive you.  Analyse and understand your situation, and take active steps to manage it.

This quarter, Pocketblog will be offering a range of solutions from the Management Pocketbooks library, to help you through.

Some Management Pocketbooks you might find helpful

The Managing Change Pocketbook

The Stress Pocketbook

The Motivation Pocketbook

The People Manager’s Pocketbook

The Tackling Difficult Conversations Pocketbook

Under Pressure? – take a break

For Queen fans

For music fans who aren’t so keen on Queen

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In Praise of Slow Management

SLOWMy friends would say that the Slow Movement is one that I honour more in the breach than the observance; but honour it I do.  I like the idea of slow food and of taking more time to do things.


I enjoy taking the time to do things really well, and wish I could be more selective about the things I do, so that I could do less.  I first came across the idea seeing a copy of Carl Honoré’s book,In Praise of Slow.’ Typically, I flicked through it, gleaned a few ideas, and moved on.   Aarrgh: the irony is not lost on me.  It’s on my desk now…

Slow down; take some time

By the way, if you want to take some time to explore this idea, here are my favourite links:

The World Institute of Slowness is taking a thoughtful and serious approach to promoting the slow movement

The witty and wise website of the IINDM; the International Institute of Not Doing Much is not quite so serious!

Slow Planet is Carl Honoré’s website, with thoughtful blogs from a number of authors – take your time over this one!

BBC Radio 4’s wonderful Food Programme, reporting on the ultimate in slow food, and the joys of food from indigenous communities.  I just happened to catch this while driving, and really did slow down, to hear it all.

Fast Change often Fails

SLOWOne of the reasons change fails is nothing to do with getting the design wrong, nor the fact of the inevitable resistance that it faces.  After all, if resistance is inevitable (and I strongly believe it is) then it cannot alone account for the failure of some changes while others thrive.

One major reason why change fails is because we try to make the change too fast.  Then, impatient for results, we try and make more change when the first fails.

I am not saying that speed in itself is wrong.  I am a great believer in making change, calibrating it and then improving, rather than going for perfect first time.

Where we need to slow down is by taking the time to communicate better.  Make time for people and they will give you better, faster, results.  We improve our management, when we slow it down.

Some examples please, Mike

SLOWHere are four situations where taking more time can make things quicker – an approach that the emerging Slow Transport approach (‘slowth’) to urban congestion is promoting.  When you slow traffic speeds in a congested environment, journey times paradoxically reduce.


Have you ever been frustrated by the lack of progress of a colleague to whom you delegated a job?  Did you really take the time to brief them carefully?


We cannot possibly support or participate properly in what we don’t understand.  A lack of knowledge exacerbates fear, so in times of change, make time to communicate relentlessly.


Who schedules the work you need, the resources or deliveries your business is dependent upon, or even your own workload?  Let’s call this omnipotent being ‘The Scheduling Clerk’.  You will want a favour from this person from time to time, so slow down and exchange a few pleasantries whenever you speak with them.  They will appreciate it and you will win in the end.


You want to make that sale.  So take the time to listen to your potential customer.  The more you can learn from them, the easier your sale will be.  If you rush to present your goods or services, you will rarely succeed.

Multi-tasking does not work

SLOWThere is a body of evidence now that multi-tasking does not work.  There are too many people getting stressed at work – so many that we need a National Stress Awareness Day. We talk about an economic slow-down, but all it means is that we all speed up.

So here’s the deal

It’s December now.  The long break and New Year are coming up.  Maybe it is time to slow down and think about next year.  Maybe it’s time to re-think how you manage.

Some Management Pocketbooks you Might Enjoy

When you slow down, you transform not just what you achieve and how you feel, but the way that others perceive you.  Cultivate slow in the right areas of your manner, and you will also boost your personal impact, as a bonus.  Learn more in The Impact and Presence Pocketbook.

You may also be interested in:

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Truly Radical!

Change is everywhere and whether from incoming governments or new management teams, one of the most ubiquitous refrains is:

‘We must be radical’

But what does radical really mean?

Let’s get to the root of this (ahem)

RadishesGetting to the root of a meaning in English, often takes us back to Latin.  This is no exception, and what we unearth is the Latin word ‘radix’.  Radix gives us ‘radical’ and also ‘radish’ the common, peppery and delicious root vegetable.  Radix means ‘root’.

Picture credit: La Grande Farmers’ Market


A radical solution is one that takes us to the root of the problem, or back to basics, you might say.  So truly radical solutions should not involve an over-throw of what has gone before; they should build on the best of what already exists.

Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry, or AI as it is sometimes called, is formal methodology for discovering the best of what already exists, and using it as a basis for designing effective change.  It has powerful links with Positive Psychology and Positive Organisational Psychology, and and rejects the language of ‘problems’ in favour of ‘possibilities’ to be explored.

The AI process has four Steps.


A systematic effort to discover the memories, stories and knowledge that captures the best of what an organisation has done and is doing.

DreamArticulate how an organisation could be at its very best, using pictures, narratives, quotes and statements.

DesignWork together to figure out how to create your dream, by designing processes, collaborations and a culture that will bring it to life.


Make things happen.  Invite others to follow, inspiring them with the dream and empowering them with the design.

While we wait

… for the Appreciative Inquiry Pocketbook, The Appreciative Inquiry Commons is the principal resource for information, ideas and tools for this extremely powerful change management technology.

Some Management Pocketbooks you might Enjoy

The Managing Change Pocketbook

The Strategy Pocketbook

The Diversity Pocketbook

The Improving Efficiency Pocketbook

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Einstein, Model building and Simplification

It’s time to come clean: I started my career as a Theoretical Physicist.  And, for all the changes of direction in my life (I’m on the third at the moment), I always will consider that as the core of my identity.

So, not surprisingly, my hero is Albert Einstein.  A bit of a cliché, I know, but he did overthrow our entire perception of the universe and, in just one year, solved three of the biggest puzzles facing science at the start of the twentieth century. Incidentally, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for arguably the least well-known, most narrow of these (Brownian Motion) – the other two (Quantum Mechanics and Relativity) being seen as too radical.

Anyway, one of my favourite bloggers (Glen Alleman – Herding Cats – a serious and heavy project management blog) cited this quote of Einstein’s:

‘It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.’

Synchronicity or Coincidence?

This came a couple of days after a reader of this blog, Resli Costabell, suggested:

‘I’d love a blog about how to come up with models.  I have all sorts of beliefs and insights and techniques, but I’m not great at translating those into nice simple models that people can mentally grab onto.’

A Blog about how to come up with models …  No

My problem is how to fit such a big topic into one blog – especially as I wittered on for three paragraphs about Einstein.  So this will be the first of a series of blogs, with other topics in between, so it doesn’t get too geeky.

Classification of Models

To help us in discovering how to create a model, I think it’s helpful to start by classifying models – a model of models, if you like.  There are many ways we can do this and, as you’d expect, a model or two might be called for!

So this first model is a model of the different purposes for which models are created and used.  There are three principal* purposes for a model.

  1. Explanation
    Models of ‘what is’ address our need for understanding
  2. Prediction
    Models of ‘what will happen’ address our need for certainty
  3. Process
    Models of ‘how to’ address our need for control

ModelTypesVennWe can illustrate these with a Venn Diagram – overlapping circles.  This makes our model less rigid, by accepting that a model can simultaneously fulfil two – or even all three – of these purposes.

We could plot each model that we have into one of the three circles and, if it fulfils two or more criteria, it will sit in an overlap.

What Mathematicians Know

What mathematicians know is that a model that does not fulfil any of these purposes will sit in the area outside of all the circles.

* Remember the emphasis on the word principal above.  Is it conceivable that a model could fulfil a different purpose?  Yes, of course it is.  I can’t think of anything significant, so I have kept my model as simple as I can.  If you build a model too complex, it hard to apply.  If you build one that is too simple, it is useless.

The Art of model Building

… is to walk that fine line.  So I will give the last word to Albert Einstein again.  The quote at the top of this blog is often itself simplified to:

‘Everything should be made as simple as possible,
but no simpler.’

Ten Recent Pocketblogs about Models

  1. The CECA Loop
  2. Management and Leadership
  3. Spiral Dynamics
  4. Mehrabian and the Feedback Sandwich
  5. Equity Theory
  6. Social Networks
  7. Six Category Intervention Analysis
  8. Mediation
  9. Logical Levels of Change
  10. Thomas Kilmann Conflict Modes

Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

As a lover of models, here are some of my favourite Management Pocketbooks:

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The World belongs to Unreasonable People

Kurt_Lewin‘There is nothing so practical as
a good theory’

So said psychologist Kurt Lewin, whose model of change is one of the most valuable resources that managers have [mental note – great blog topic].

But it is foolish to ‘swallow a model whole’, as Peter Honey points out in his foreword to the Management Models Pocketbook.


Instead, Dr Honey gives the following prescription:

Take a model

Distil it into techniques you can use

Test the techniques in practice

Review and refine

Keep practicing until you become skilled

That’s a pretty good model (a free extra in a book with an advertised ten models!).  Peter, by the way, has a new website and blog, and his thoughts are always worth reading.

The CECA Loop

The third and fourth steps of what I will now call the The Honey Model-users Model are about validating a model.  This is the purpose of a rather fine tool, developed by defence scientist, David Bryant: the CECA Loop.


The CECA Loop starts with two models:

  • A conceptual model of how you want the world to be
  • A situational model of how the world really is


First, evaluate the extent to which the two models are consistent with one another.  They do not have to be the same – one is clearly the world as you would like it to be.


Seek out information that will allow you to evaluate your models.


Now assess the extent to which the two models are the same or different.  When you understand the gaps, you can …


Finally you can change your world or change your behaviours or change the way you perceive your world, to move one of your models towards the other.

‘The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.‘
George Bernard Shaw
Irish dramatist & socialist (1856 – 1950)

So here’s the deal

Changing the world: how much more practical can a good theory get?

Some Management Pocketbooks you might Enjoy

The CECA Loop is Bryant’s modernisation of the OODA, which he believes is out-dated.  I believe that the two models can work well together, but let’s remember that both Bryant, and John Boyd, the developer of the OODA Loop, were both interested in the military context.

Their work has wider applications and, like Peter Honey, I believe that, as long as we properly attribute their ideas, we are free to adapt them to our own needs.

The Management Models Pocketbook has a chapter on Boyd’s OODA Loop.

You might also enjoy:

The Managing Change Pocketbook

The Creative Manager’s Pocketbook

The Learner’s Pocketbook

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Why Modern Management is so Hard

Modern managers have it hard.  In ‘the good old days’ managers could expect to simply dictate targets, set tasks and instruct their staff.  What a wonderful world that must have been for managers!

Leadership and Politics

The New Machiavelli, by Jonathan Powell Jonathan Powell has recently added the fourth corner of pyramid of books about Tony Blair’s administration, following those of Blair himself, Mandelson and Campbell.  It received less coverage than the others but what struck me was that he has used Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’ as his framework.  So that’s the one I’ll be hoping for come the overflowing half-price offers at Christmas.  I’ve been fascinated by the Florentine since seeing him in a walk-on part in Marlowe’s ‘The Jew of Malta’ at the RSC.  (John Carlisle played him and Alun Armstrong the Jew, Barabus.  What a fabulous year that was at the RSC!)

The Prince

ThePrince It sent me scurrying to my well-thumbed Penguin edition which, even when I bought it over ten years ago was three times as expensive at a charity shop than the cover price; which appears to make scrappy paperbacks a good investment. (Scrappy now: not when it was published, I have to add, as Pearson are also publishing two of my books later this year!)

Three passages caught my attention.  Firstly, it seems that written leadership theory goes back not to Machiavelli at all, as I would have said yesterday, but to the Bible and Moses, which Signor M cites in discussing the role of fortune.

Second – and make of it what your political leanings will – Machiavelli takes sides on the current economic debate in the UK, saying that the Prince should inflict all injuries in one go, and confer benefits steadily. So, at last we see where George Osborne’s playbook comes from.

Okay Mike, stop digressing

Third, and most relevant, Machiavelli draws clear distinctions between leaders and managers that resonate through the modern leadership thinkers who influence business training and management schools today.

I don’t have the space to recount my favourite leadership models, but suffice to say; most of them emphasise that the role of a leader is not to manage: it is to lead.

Leaders Lead: Managers Manage

A smart leader lets their managers get on with the day-to-day running of the business, and that creates an easy division which is often represented in tables like this:


I am sure many trainers reading this blog have facilitated sessions that have ended up with very similar flip charts!  This comparison between leaders and managers was first made by Warren Bennis, in response to an HBR article by Abraham Zaleznik in 1977.

So why do Managers have it so hard?

If a smart leader lets their managers manage, then they only have one job to do: leadership.  But modern managers are constantly – and rightly – being reminded that our society demands leadership at every level.

Blame Douglas McGregor if you will.  His same Theory Y encouraged both managers to stop their easy command and control behaviours (of which Machiavelli would heartily have approved) and encouraged leadership thinkers like Bert Nanus and Warren Bennis to articulate a truly modern theory of leadership.

Leadership at every level and bringing the best out of every employee goes beyond indulging uppity managers in calling themselves leaders; it demands that all managers are leaders.

So here’s the deal

So there we have it:  Leaders lead but managers manage and lead.  No wonder so many people would rather be a leader than a manager – it’s any easier job!

Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

If you are just a leader, you’ll want:

The Leadership PocketbookThe Leadership Pocketbook

The Motivation Pocketbook

The Empowerment Pocketbook



If you are a manger, you may also want:

The Manager's PocketbookThe Manager’s Pocketbook

The People Manager’s Pocketbook

The Management Models Pocketbook
(which contains two of the very best models of leadership)

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Maslow on Steroids


One of the best known, most widely used, and least researched models that managers are introduced to is ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’.

Maslow argued that our motivations and values change as our needs change.  Once a need is fulfilled, we turn our focus onto the next one, in a hierarchy from physiological needs for survival and shelter, up to higher needs that, arguably, drive those of us who have everything we ‘need’.

You can read all about Maslow’s Hierarchy in The Motivation Pocketbook.

Clare W Graves

Clare Graves was a student and near contemporary of Maslow, who wanted to produce a better model.  In doing so, he focused on different views of self actualisation and categorised a whole hierarchy of value systems.

His model, now formalised as ‘Spiral Dynamics’ sets out a series of value sets that mark out increasingly mature world views.  It takes Maslow’s model to a higher level of complexity.

Spiral Dynamics

These world views can be interpreted as personal value sets, or as group cultures.  They represent the different ways different people think about issues.  As we as individuals, organisations and societies progress up the spiral, we are coming to grips with more complex and sophisticated ways of seeing the world.

The Levels of Spiral Dynamics

In simple terms, the levels of the spiral are:

  • Beige: Need for personal survival – focus on the present
  • Purple: Need for group and family security
  • Red: Need for personal power and control
  • Blue: Need for stability, order and conformity
  • Orange: Need for autonomy and success – a capitalist paradigm
  • Green: Need for harmony, community and social cohesion
  • Yellow: Need for independence and personal responsibility
  • Turquoise: Need for global community and global survival


The usual thing

Whilst Graves originated the thinking behind the model, it was formalised and given the name ‘Spiral Dynamics’ in the 1996 book Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change by Don Beck and Chris Cowan.  As is often the way (for example, with Situational Leadership), the authors have developed the model in slightly different ways.  You can read about their interpretations at:
… the website of Chris Cowan’s NVC Consulting, and
… the website of Don Beck’s Spiral Dynamics Integral

So here’s the deal

Models are useful if they explain or predict aspects of the world.  Spiral Dynamics – in either interpretation – offers a way to understand people’s responses to situations and also the cultures of organisations and societies.  Culture clashes emerge when sub-groups are forced together, that have value sets at different levels in the spiral.

Management Pocketbooks you may enjoy

The Emotional Intelligence Pocketbook

The Working Relationships Pocketbook

The Workplace Politics Pocketbook

The Cross-cultural Business Pocketbook

The Diversity Pocketbook

The Managing Change Pocketbook

The Management Models Pocketbook

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Learning Decision Making from Dr House

At its best, television can inspire and educate.  It can also make us think.  Some of us mourn the loss of House from free to air TV in the UK – ho hum: there are always DVDs.

So what can you learn from House?  Masses, it seems and there is even a book ‘House and Philosophy’ to guide you.  It is part of the Blackwell philosophy and pop culture series.

Introducing Dr House

image For those who didn’t catch the US drama series, House is an ornery, arrogant, self-centred and devious doctor who specialises in diagnosing and treating the most mysterious of cases that come into his hospital.

He is played by Hugh Laurie, about whom one American writer said: ‘does a terrific job with his British accent on Jeeves and Wooster.’


Don’t Care

House appears not to care about his patients – his concern is for solving the case.  Whilst there are episodes with exceptions to this rule, a distinct illustration of this is when he risks brain damage to a boy in order to find the evidence that will allow him to save the boy’s life.  When challenged about this, he replies to the effect that he does not worry about things he cannot do anything about.

Agent Regret

For most of us, however, the consequences of our decisions weigh heavily.  Regardless of our intention, if the outcome is bad, we have to live with the guilt.  This is known to philosophers as ‘agent regret’.  For House, the ends entirely justify the means, but it works both ways.

Moral Luck

If House makes a wrong decision – or indeed one of his subordinates does – it is not enough, for him, to hide behind ‘we followed procedure’.  In judging responsibility, it is again the outcome that matters.

A Good Decision

When we think about decision-making in organisations, we talk about a ‘good decision’ as one that can be defended.  It requires three things:

  1. The decision maker or makers have the authority and expertise to make the decision
  2. The decision maker or makers have the best information available
  3. The process that the decision maker or makers follow is sound – it is transparent, logical, and fair

But a good decision is not the same as the right decision.  We require good decisions, because they appear to maximise our chances of getting it right.  But we also require them, because we cannot require that all decisions are right.

How much do your decisions matter?

Agent Regret seems to me to be a fancy philosophers’ phrase for conscience.  Knowing about it can have two effects:

  • It could freeze you to the spot and stop you making a decision
  • It could galvanise you to take just a little more time to look for one more fact, or conduct one more test, before finally saying ‘go’.

So here’s the deal

Of course, when House takes the latter course, it usually works out.  Real life is rarely as obliging.  But even so, what is there to lose if you make one last check?

Management Pocketbooks you may enjoy


The Decision Making Pocketbook will give you a sound process and a range of useful tools to help you make your decisions.  They won’t prevent Agent Regret if you get it wrong, but they will limit your regret to the consequences, rather than ignorance or negligence.

You may also enjoy:

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The Secret to Success

Before moving to Hampshire, I lived on the edge of Surrey and Kent, and became a Governor at a fantastic and forward thinking school, Warlingham.  Warlingham School is a Business and Enterprise Specialist School, which is very active in promoting its specialism through the whole curriculum, and through many special events for the pupils.

On one of these events, I was asked to speak to a large group of younger pupils.  As a professional speaker, this was, perhaps, my toughest gig.  I decided to tell them what every young teenager needs to know in life – the secret to success.

No Snake Oil Merchant

Before you start wondering if I was peddling snake oil, or “the secret”, or some mystical approach, stop now.  The formula I promoted requires application and effort.  It follows common sense, and it is taught in military colleges around the world.

Because of its military roots, it is not well known – yet it deserves to be.  It is brilliant for managers in managing your team and your function, for leaders in reviewing progress, for anyone who wants personal success and, of course, for young people setting out to succeed. It went down a storm.

So what are you contributing to Schools?

I learned a lot by getting involved with Warlingham School, and later, as Chair of Governors at a primary school.  And I hope they got something from my contribution.

We hear a lot about “Big Society” but the truth is that volunteering has always been a big part of British society.  And the biggest single group of volunteers is school governors.  According to School Governors’ One-Stop Shop, there are 300,000 governor places in England, with around 40,000 vacancies – that’s over a quarter of a million active governors!

… and a load of opportunities to get involved.

Make a Business Contribution


Visit our Schools and Colleges week runs from 18-22 October and offers a collaboration between schools and colleges, and business leaders and senior staff.  Whether you work in the private, public or third sector, here is a chance to spend a couple of hours helping your local school or college and I promise you will love it.


From the Visit our Schools and Colleges website:

During the week of the 18-22 October leading CEOs and other senior staff from the private and public sectors, at the invitation of head teachers, will visit state schools throughout the country. It will be chance for them to hear from headteachers and young people about their schools, to witness that work at first hand and to discuss how they could work together to help young people reach their potential.

  • It’s free to register and be involved
  • Visits only take 2 hours in October

The National Campaign, the first of its type, will harness the huge appetite across schools, colleges and employers to work together by making it easy and simple.

Hundreds of thousands of employers are already working with schools and colleges and helping young people and at the same time seeing the benefits to themselves of doing so – motivation and retention of their employees who volunteer as well as building their reputation in the community.

Learn about the OODA Loop

9781906610036You can see my original presentation to the children (with an extra page) on and read all about it in chapter 10 of the Management Models Pocketbook.


Other Management Pocketbooks you might Enjoy

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