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The wonders of simple solutions to complex issues

The entire Brexit campaign was marked by simplistic pronouncements from the Brexit side that leaving the EU would be relatively easy. (The Remain campaigners had a different problem, their lack of ability to explain why the status quo was preferable to Brexit).
Now that we are over 1 year removed from the Leave vote, and with the negotiations to leave the EU progressing at a snail’s pace, the reality ought to be dawning that the Brexit strategy was…way too simplistic. However, that does not appear to be the case based on the amount of dung being spread around on social media.
This article from the Financial Times explains the whole mess succinctly, pointing to the simple solution trap.

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Memes and slogans – again

I saw two examples of argument by meme so far today on Facebook, one from each end of the political spectrum.
Folks, don’t do this. You have your own voice. Your voice is uniquely yours. A meme is somebody else’s voice. And quite often, memes are flat out wrong, fallacious and often childish.
Use your own voice.

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Colin Kaepernick vs. the NFL – lawyer makes a big claim

Mark Geragos, the lead lawyer for Colin Kaepernick in his collusion grievance against the NFL, made a bold claim today, during an appearance on the Adam Carolla Show:

“I think within the next 10 days somebody will sign him,” he said. “I think somebody’s gonna sign him. I think the NFL has to come to their senses, and realize every day that goes by just proves the collusion case even more.”

Now…that is a pretty bold and specific claim. Several possible motives for the claim spring to mind:

1. Geragos is trolling or bullshitting
2. Geragos believes that discovery will uncover evidence of collusion against Kaepernick
3. Geragos believes that discovery will likely uncover other evidence of collaboration or collusion between teams and owners that may put the NFL in a difficult legal position

(1) still seems likely. Absent a clear communication between two teams along the lines of “remember don’t sign Kaepernick”, it is still likely that insufficient direct evidence of collusion exists. Whether Geragos thinks that the circumstantial evidence of collusive intent (via the intemperate public and leaked comments of the POTUS and several NFL team owners) is strong enough is open to debate. However, absent a “smoking gun”, the case may well become a trial in the court of public opinion. (there may well, of course, be other private comments from owners that will turn up in discovery that could be damaging. We just don’t know that those might be).
(2) and (3) would add up to multiple problems for the NFL. If (2) is proved, they would would be forced to pay Kaepernick a large pile of money for effectively running him out of the NFL – that sum could easily be more than $50m. They would end up with an enormous PR black eye.
However, (3) represents the more serious risk for the NFL owners. The NFL currently enjoys a limited exemption from anti-trust legislation via the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961. This was passed specifically to allow the NFL teams to collaborate on negotiating broadcasting deals. That is the full scope of the exemption. The NFL teams are not allowed to collaborate on any other commercial matters, or they risk being found guilty of violations of anti-trust law.
This means that evidence of collusion on any matter other than broadcasting rights carries two risks for the NFL. Firstly, it may make it easy for the arbitrator to rule against the NFL in Colin Kaepernick’s grievance hearing. However, secondly, and potentially much more dangerously, it may open the NFL to being charged with broader violations of anti-trust law. The TV broadcasting rights exemption has already come under fire on multiple occasions in the past, with threats being made to repeal the 1961 Act. A clear-cut finding of collusion on any subject could result in the entire act being nuked, leaving the NFL unable to operate as a group in negotiating distribution rights for broadasts of games.
Now…this is where it could get interesting…if the Sports Broadcasting Act was repealed, then theoretically any NFL team could do its own deal for broadcasting rights. They could sign a deal with a network or they could set up their own broadcasting operation with live streaming of games and other exclusive or non-exclusive content. For teams in big media markets (like Dallas, Washington, Seattle, New York etc.) this could actually be more lucrative than the current mechanism where all broadcasting revenues are pooled then distributed equally to all 32 teams. In other words, some of the new-wave aggressive owners like Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder might not care about the loss of the anti-trust exemption, since they may have done the math and concluded that they can make more money selling their broadcast rights direct to the public.
However, any evidence of any sort of collusion will be embarrassing to the NFL, and will increase the chances of a ruling against them on the Kaepernick issue. More seriously, it opens the entire NFL up to complaints of anti-trust violations, which could be very expensive, not for fines, but for other remedies that a court might order. Courts have a LOT of power when punishing violations of anti-trust law.

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Things I think – Monday 23rd October 2017

1. I am tired.
2. All of my encounters with airport staff yesterday were either frustrating, or an example of people granted temporary power abusing it. It seems that the less power that people have in their employment, the more they abuse the power that they temporarily possess over the public.
3. I have everything that I need in my life at this point in time.
4. The most precious commodity is the time I have left on the planet. At the age of 62 and whatever number of days, I have determined that I need to be more self-centered in the remainder of my life. I have invested a lot of effort since my early childhood on interacting with many people, and too many of the results of those interactions have been unsatisfying. Many of them devolved into relationships where I came to realize, usually after a significant period of time, that I was doing most of the work for not very much tangible reward. This will not continue.
5. I am slowly and positively embracing all of the personal quirks that people told me needed to be eliminated, such as my low boredom threshold, and my reluctance to follow group thinking and actions. Coping with your natural behavior pathology is a lot less frustrating than trying to fight it.
6. Social media is becoming a place where I will spend less time. It has become a toxic environment. I will decline to participate in interactions if I can immediately determine that the person or persons on the other side of the interaction is not interested in a good-faith exchange of views.
7. My book writing represents my chance to create something that will endure after my death. This will be my art, my children. I will devote most of my non-work energy to it in the next 3 years.
8. I will move into a new phase of my life on or before my 67th birthday, no matter what happens with book writing.
9. Music is more important than ever in my life.
10. Stuff is an encumbrance. I intend to try and dispose of it over the next 2 years.

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Innovation inhibitors in corporations – modern reality

I see “innovation campaigns” and change management initiatives all of the time in corporations. Most of them never achieve any positive results. In the worst case, failed change management initiatives increase cynicism and depress morale further.
Innovation and change, like morale, are things that all leaders in all corporations will agree they always need more of. However, innovation and change are very slippery items. Like the wind, you know they are there, but they can head in all directions, and are difficult to steer, and even more difficult to capture and grow.
Having watched the trends in IT solution delivery and service provisioning in corporations in the USA and Europe for over 30 years, I have come to some conclusions about why so many corporations are currently struggling with innovation and change initiatives.
Leaving aside the approaches to fostering innovation, which are often bizarre and superficial, there are several underlying current pervasive dynamics that have the power to totally derail all attempts at fostering innovation and implementing organizational and/or cultural change.

1. Psychological Safety
One of the best ways in which a corporation can ensure that innovation is suppressed is to make it clear that the reward for taking risks or attempting new approaches is to be penalized by Exile or by being made redundant. The organization shows little or no tolerance for failure.
This article explains the concept of psychological safety extremely well.
It is up to leaders to create a climate where taking risks is not immediately shut down, and failures of innovation are not immediately punished. Whenever I hear leaders commenting to the effect that “our culture is risk-averse”, I immediately begin to worry that they are stewards of a climate where nobody with any sense of self-preservation is likely to propose any sort of innovation or change.

2. The offshore delivery work fiction
Most IT delivery organizations have been relentlessly reducing staffing levels for decades, often sending work offshore, where it is often performed poorly, at which point the remaining onshore team members have to “paper over the cracks” in order to elevate quality levels to an acceptable level for the client or end-users. (By the way, this “acceptable” level is often way below the previous quality level that was provided to the client). The result is a corporate fiction that the work is being performed offshore. In reality it is being bodged offshore, and fixed up onshore by a small number of over-worked resources. Those resources are usually too busy to even think about visiting the restroom, never mind engaging in innovation.

3. Reduction in SME coverage and predominance of tacit knowledge
Over the last 15 years I have seen groups progressively slimmed down to the point where only one person is a SME for key areas of the solution. If that person is (say) killed in a road accident this upcoming weekend, the organization will be in a dangerous place starting on Monday.
However, a one-person SME, in the current climate, will not willingly train another person to be a SME, since that introduces a risk (as the SME sees it) that the organization can WFR them in favor of the newly-trained SME.
If the request is to train an offshore person to become a SME, well, if you are the corporate leadership expecting willing participation from the onshore resources, you are below naive.
Ditto documentation of processes. When a person perceives that their employer is looking for an excuse to WFR them, they are going to make damn sure that their business and technical knowledge remains implicit and tacit, not explicit and documented. The default in that sort of climate is that Knowledge is Indispensability. It is probably not true, but that is how employees will see it, and, like just about any employee, they will behave in a “circle the wagons” way to protect their position.

A culture of innovation, like credibility, requires constant renewal and attention to detail. Just as credibility can be severely or degraded by one perceived failure to deliver on promises or committments, innovation interest and engagement can be severely impacted and driven down to zero by one incident where innovators were seen to be punished for failures.

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So what will the NFL teams do now?

So, after a currently unanimous decision by all 32 NFL teams to not employ Colin Kaepernick because he sat or kneeled for the National Anthem, despite the fact that numerous other players also sat or kneeled that season, what do we have here?
Three more prominent players all declining to stand for the National Anthem.
I don’t think I will be holding my breath until the teams of the players suspend or sit them for this action. That is probably not allowed under the CBA, especially since SCOTUS has ruled that nobody can be forced to stand for the National Anthem.
However, their employing teams could terminate their contracts to put them into the same place as Colin Kaepernick.
They won’t do that. Marshawn Lynch is the Oakland Raiders’ local talisman, the local boy made good, returning to this hometown, where the Raiders are playing out two seasons before relocating to Las Vegas. The other players are articulate team leaders. Their teams are going to do somewhere between diddly and squat.
Which leaves us with the scenario where the originator of the protests is kicking his heels waiting for a job offer, despite having taken one team to the Superbowl.
The NFL teams, collectively, do not seem to know the First Law Of Holes.

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Denying reality has a limited shelf-life

The most interesting project manager I interacted with in the UK was a guy with a team of around 8 people at Xerox Corporation.
He had a plaque prominently displayed on his desk bearing the inscription

If you don’t get the facts, the facts will get you

He had a love-hate relationship with his team. They loved his ability to speak truth to power and back them up all the way. They HATED his tendency to quiz the entire team and seemingly play Devil’s Advocate in meetings as he argued with team consensus.
I talked to him about that process. His comment to me was if you are going to tell your leadership the things that they need to hear, rather than what they want to hear, you had better be right, otherwise you will not be taken seriously once you are found out to be wrong once. In order to be right, you have to have the facts on your side. So his “Devils Advocate” style of interaction was deliberate, a tactic to ensure that his team was not simply making decisions based on expediency and groupthink. Confirmation bias can be very distorting in members of a team.
This article in Forbes explains very compellingly why the GOP, since they took total control of the Legislative and Executive branches, has been unable to make much progress on most of their legislative agenda. Quite simply, many of their legislative ideas conflict with reality and facts. That means that sooner or later the painful reality check appears on the scene. The mess over the ACA is but one example of this.

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Aha!

Although I am by no means a geek, I am usually regarded as one by most of my immediate family.
I think that is about to change. Now that Mary is in the middle of IT training, she is catching up fast. I may yet end up building our next home server under her tutelage.
I see a long trip to some distant wilderness area to get in touch with my inner Real Man in my future…(just as long as that does not involve hunting for my dinner with a bow and arrow…)

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“I expect loyalty” and what it really means

One of the common features of communication between humans is the use of what Steven Pinker calls “Indirect Speech”. This comprises one or more statements whose superficial meaning is to be largely ignored, the recipient of the statement(s) is expected to parse and understand the underlying (indirect) meaning.
Two examples suffice:

“Bless his heart”!
Translation: My God that guy is a stupid moron

“Nice little business you’ve got here. Be a shame if something was to happen to it”
Translation: A physical threat, usually based on some combination of revenge, or extortion

Which brings us to the testimony from James Comey today. Apparently one of the things that President Trump said to Comey in his 1:1 meeting was “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty”.
Hmm.
OK.
Based on my 39 years in corporations and leadership, if a leader sat me down in a private 1:1 situation, looked at me and said “I expect loyalty”, my first instinct would be to wonder what the leader was about to ask me to do that violated one or both of (a) ethics guidelines, (b) the law.
“I expect loyalty” is not a request for support in this context. It is a demand for unquestioning obeisance.
In this context it was a demand that Comey, by the very nature of his job, could not and should not have been prepared to meet. His loyalty is to the Constitution and the law, not the President, even though he served at the pleasure of the President. Remember that government officials swear in their oath to uphold the Constitution, not be blindly loyal to the POTUS or any other leader.

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