Sunday, December 06, 2015

Review: Exploring the Practice of Antifragility

I wrote a review on Amazon for Exploring the Practice of Antifragility.

I am republishing it here:

First disclosure: As of the 5th of December 2015, I am a contributor to this book! I do not have a financial stake in it, but I do wish the book to succeed, because I believe the idea of antifragility to be important. I won't review my own contribution, of course, but stick to the things I have read by the other contributors.
Second, Exploring the Practice of Antifragility is itself antifragile! The book is a Kindle ebook, and like all Kindle books, it can be updated with new material from time to time. This means the book itself can evolve according to pressure from the environment, i.e. reviews and sales data can actually make this book better over time.
Thus, if you buy the book, think of a way to improve it, and write about it in a review, your wish might come true. While this is possible to do with all Kindle ebooks, I do not think too many of them make good use of it. When Si Alhir, one of the editors, told me about the book having planned updates when he invited me to participate, I found this to be a very attractive feature.
Third, the book also features another very important property of antifragile systems: Variation!
The book is an anthology, with essays written by very different people, who have very different backgrounds, and who do very different things. This means you won't be interested in everything, but, if you are interested in antifragility, there will almost certainly be something in it that you find very interesting.
Fourth, the book was practically useful to me! Two years ago I began building an antifragile organization. We are now more than 350 people. One of my book projects is a book about the organization, and I have struggled with explaining, in a simple way, the difference between the antifragile organization, and fragile organizations in the same domain.
Todd Nilson solved the problem for me, writing about Nicholas Taleb's triad schema. It was exactly what I needed. I can borrow the idea, adapt it for my own book, and it will work beautifully.
Si Alhir made the connection between antifragility and the OODA decision loop from John Boyd's Maneuver Conflict, which I find interesting, because the antifragile organization I am deeply involved in, directly uses many ideas from Boyd.
Again, Boyd's ideas are echoed in Todd Nilson's: "…the purpose of the community trumps all else."
I also enjoyed reading Elinor Slomba's piece about sustainability, connectivity, and diversity, and how to use simple free tools to collaborate over the Internet.
Valuable ideas I can use in my own work. Highly useful.
Also, Slomba's ideas about cascades the properties of aggregated and distributed systems are practically useful to me. I recently released a book about reducing lead times in the book publishing business. The method I wrote about, and use to write my own books, applies the same ideas. Slomba has given me a slightly different perspective, which will help me express the ideas in a simpler manner in my own books.

So, I give this book five stars, because it actively uses the ideas it proposes, because it will get better over time, and because it was practically useful to me immediately when I read it.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

The season of the jolly speedwriter!

Bokomslag Skriv och sälj! (e-bok)

I've been speedwriting again! This time about how to write and publish a book very fast:  Skriv och sälj!: Skriv och sälj en bok på 14 dagar (Write and Sell!: Write and sell a book in 14 days) is out on AdlibrisBokus, Dito, and Bokon.

Actually, speedwriting is a misnomer. I am, have always been, and always will be, a slow writer. The idea with Write and sell! is to reduce queue and wait times in a book production process, the same way we can reduce it in software development processes (Agile), in product development (Lean Product Development), and in manufacturing (Lean, TOC).

I am digging down to the queueing theory with this one, and going with it all the way to what to do, and how to do it.

Writing and publishing the book took only nine days. I had planned to do it in 14 days, but the gods of time buffering were on my side this time around.
Writing and publishing the book took only nine days. The reason why the lead time was so short, is that I utilized Little's Law:

t = I/T


t is the lead time
T is the production rate
I is the average number of items in queue

I managed to stir up a bit of controversy in two writer's communities on Facebook when I published the book.

People are assuming that I worked my butt off to produce faster, i.e. increase T in the equation, and that they would have to kill themselves trying to achieve the same productivity.

Of course, I am much lazier than that! I chose to reduce I instead.

How did I do that? Well, one way is to write shorter books, but as it turns out, you do not have to. You can use load balancing instead!

That is right, the magic stems from applying heijunka to the authoring/publishing process. Heijunka has been around since at least 1948. All I did was to apply it in a new context.

I did a bit more than that. I took three other equations from queueing theory, network science, and TOC (specifically from Throughput Accounting), and worked out how to apply them too. If you are interested, well, it's in the book. (Badger me if you are really, really interested in an English translation. The main reason I am not translating the book is sales. Right now it is easier for me to build book sales in Sweden. Sigh!...That's in the book too.)

Now, instead of trying to push people to learn, I intend to work with those who are curious and willing to try something new, and with those who are interested because they already know. Part of that tactic was to create a Facebook group for those interested in reduce writing and publishing lead time.

We'll see what comes of it. There is certainly more "speedwriting" ahead.

I haven't figured out what to call it yet, since it is not really about speed. I am pretty sure the original, Japanese terminology will not fly with writers. No, I need something else...

Smartwriting, anyone?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Tempo! is available at Bokus, Bokon, and Adlibris

Bokomslag Tempo! : Praktisk strategi, organisation och ledarskap i en kaotisk tid (häftad)
Click the picture to buy Tempo! from Bokus.

Tempo! has finally got distribution in Sweden! The printed version of the book is now available on Bokus, and Adlibris.

In addition, companies hiring me for consulting work, can buy Tempo! from a special web shop, at a considerably reduced price.

When I wrote Tempo! my intent was to write a practically useful business strategy book in Swedish. I did not want to tell other people what to do with their businesses, that is for them to decide, but I wanted to help out with how to do whatever it is they want to achieve.

I had seen too many companies where good, smart people just ran into a brick wall when they tried to make things better, not just for themselves, but for everyone in the organization, and for their customers.

Tempo! is illustrated with more than 100 diagrams and photos
Originally, I wanted to write a book about a practical method for developing strategy. I felt there was a lot of need, because I have seen many companies where strategy and tactics are confused, and where the relationship between strategy, tactics, and organization are ignored.

This can lead to a world of hurt when the organization tries to do things it is not designed to do, or when it tries to do two or more contradictory things simultaneously.

Another thing I wanted to provide was a means of clear, unambigious communication. Far to often I have heard people say "We want to work towards the company goals, but we don't know what the heck they are!"

So, what do you get with Tempo!? Basically three things:

  • The basics that every manager, and preferably everyone, in your company needs to know about how people work, how processes work, and how your organization works. Expect some surprises here.
  • A strategic framework, Strategic Navigation, that is basically a civilian adaptation of John Boyd's military Maneuver Conflict framework.
  • All the methods and tools you need to make it work. 
    • Crawford Slip lets you gather and organize information from large groups of people very quickly
    • TLTP, The Logical Thinking Process, lets you find root causes of problems, find solutions, and then build the project plans you need to fix them.
    • Process Behavior Charts, a tool that helps you make sense of otherwise very difficult to interpret data in reports.

The material has been thoroughly researched, used in practice, and proofread by some of the best management experts around, including Bill Dettmer, Chet Richards, Don Reinertsen, and many, many others.

Now, with a much better distribution network than before, I do hope more people will find Tempo! useful.

If you read the book, feel free to drop me a note, and tell me what you think of it, if you found it useful, and if you have any suggestions for improvements.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Less! available on Dito, Bokus, bokon, and Adlibris

The ebook version of LESS! is now available on DitoBokus, Bokon and Adlibris. LESS! is of course also available via Amazon.

I am very proud of LESS!. I am particularly proud of the fact that I did not write most of it. LESS! is a collaborative work, and working with the other authors has been a privilege I cannot adequately describe. One of my best adventures ever.

LESS! is about building better places to work:

Have you ever had a great idea crushed by the words, "we can't do that, because it's not in the budget"? Then you really need to read up on Beyond Budgeting. Bjarte Bogsnes, VP of Performance Management at Statoil and Dr. Peter Bunce, Director of the Beyond Budgeting Round Table, have written two chapters helping you free yourself from the chains of budgeting.

If you look around you at work, and see people with great potential, but somehow things never get together like they should. The sum of the work is always less than the sum of what the individuals can do. Then Making the Entire Organization Agile, the chapter by Steve Denning is for you. Steve is a former director of the World Bank. He is a deep thinker with unsurpassed practical experience. In November 2000 he was selected as one of the world's ten Most Admired Knowledge Leaders (Teleos).

If you want to do Lean or Agile, what is you and your organization's position on Theory X and Theory Y? Why do you need to know about them? Because Agile and Lean are Theory Y based, and your organization is most likely Theory X based. X and Y ideas don't mix well. Not understanding the difference is a major cause of failure when implementing Lean or Agile. Dan Bergh Johnson's chapter Agile and Lean do not fit into Taylor's Glove will get you up to speed on the all important fundamentals.

And that is just for starters. There is lots more, by authors like James Sutton, Karl Scotland, Håkan Forss, Ola Ellnestam, Brian Hawkes, Maarit Laanti, Ari-Pekka Skarp, and me. And you might want to check out the Foreword by John Hagel III. John is a great author in his own right, Director at Deloitte LLP, and co-chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge.

Finally: LESS! hits Swedish book stores!

Recently, I wrote an article for a Swedish website about applying queueing theory to writing and publishing books. Having done that, I decided to follow my own advice from the article, and see what I could do to increase my own productivity.

The first thing to do, is to figure out whether I can do more with what I have already got. I can, and quite easily too.

If I build better distribution and marketing networks, I will sell more, it's that simple. I won't go into details right now. I have work I need to get on with, but distributing via Publit gets me access to half a dozen new sales channels in Sweden. I am also adding a couple of marketing channels I haven't used before.

The result, if I do it right, will be more book sales.

As you can see from the Publit webstore embedded in this post, the mix of books is quite eclectic: Management & Leadership, Photograhy, even a comic book.

Eventually, I will compartmentalize a bit, but for now, I want the word to spread any way I can: Some managers are also hobby photographers, and vice versa. Some comic book readers also lead business organizations.

Expect more books to hit the online, and physical, book stores, real soon.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Interview request: What do C-level executives want from middle managers?

I am working on a magazine article about what C-level executives want from the middle managers that work for them in terms of character traits, experience, and knowledge.

To make the interviews as brief and simple as possible, I am doing most of the interviews via an online questionnaire.

All information will be treated confidentially, and anonymously. Participants will receive a copy of the report I will prepare as a basis for the article.

If you want to participate, send an email to, and I will return a link to the questionnaire.

I will not put you on any email list, or spam you in any way. You will get a copy of the report, that is all.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Strategy game play - Using cheng/chi business strategy to create great photos

Can you apply business strategy principles to any strategic game? Yes, you can!

Is it useful to do so? Yes, it is! It teaches you a deep understanding of the principles involved. That understanding will help you apply the principles better in business, in your personal life, and in any other strategic game of your choosing.

The photo above just got selected for the 1x gallery. is the world's largest curated gallery. It has attracted some of the best photographers in the world, and it is only the top 3% of the photos submitted that makes it into the gallery.

I took that shot, using strategic principles derived from Strategic Navigation, the business strategy framework originally created by Bill Dettmer. Dettmer based his business strategy framework partly on Maneuver Conflict, a military framework great for dealing with high degrees of uncertainty and complexity, and the Theory Of Constraints, which kicks ass in the domain of complicated cause and effect.

I started using Strategic Navigation, wrote a book about it, and, as consultants are wont to do, tried to make a living by teaching others how to use it.

I found, as many have done before me, that just because you know something really, really valuable and useful, and is willing to share it, other people will want to learn for themselves.

As you may know, I decided to rethink my entire strategy a couple of years ago. I learned photography, because I wanted to build skill using the methods I advocate, while at the same time getting a visible, unambiguous track record. I did of course use the feedback to improve my skills further, using the OODA loop as a guiding framework.

I employed a range of strategic principles, and tactical techniques, to learn to take photos good enough for 1x. Actually, I use as a source of feedback, which I feed into the OODA loop.

I'll write only of one of them, because it is a strategic idea that is very visible in the photo: Cheng/chi.

Cheng/chi is an idea from Sun Tzu's Art of War. Cheng means orthodox, and chi means unorthodox. Cheng/chi means that to win in battle, or any strategic game, you need to employ a combination of the orthodox and the unorthodox.

Let's have a look at the cheng, the orthodox, parts of the picture. There are rules for what makes a good photo, and the picture follows them:

  • The rule of thirds: The legs, or rather the knee, where it intersects the shadow, is located one third from the left edge, and one third from the bottom edge.
  • The rule of odds: There are three, evenly distributed, vertical shadows in the photo.
  • The rule of complimentary colors: The bricks in the background are orange, the trouser legs are blue. Orange and blue are complimentary colors, that go well together in a picture. (There is also orange and blue on my business card, and my usual business attire includes a blue shirt and an orange tie. This is not by coincidence...)
That is the meat and potato part of the photo, the bits that correspond to day-to-day business-as-usual in a company.

What is the chi? Better yet, why the chi? The chi part is the surprise, the part that draws attention, the edge over the competition. Everyone knows the cheng, so it is the chi that becomes the decisive advantage over the competition.

The chi in the photo is the visual illusion: The legs seem to be disembodied, living their own life, independent of a torso, and other body parts. There is no image manipulation involved. The illusion worked in real life, as I captured it. (I do a lot of trick photography, but I abide by the rules of the photographic genre I am working in, and cloning out body parts is a no-no in Street Photography.)

I am sure you can figure the illusion out. If you do, why not comment on this blog post?

So, cheng and chi, working together, convinced the curators at 1x that my photo was in the top 3% category.

 This is just the top of the iceberg, of course. For example, humans learn best when learning with other human beings, and when certain conditions are right. I, with several close friends and colleagues, have spent a year and a half building an organization for learning photography and other media skills, and executing advanced media projects.

Without the mentoring I have got from great photographers, like Petri Olderhvit, and Julia Reinhart, in that organisation, I would not have had the technical skill to capture this photo.

Without the skills I have learned from my business strategy mentors, I would not know enough about serendipidity to be able to stack the odds in my favor, so that I can take interesting street photos, not only once, or twice, in a good while, but repeatedly.

Working with photography has also allowed me to build contacts of a kind different from those I make as a business consultant, but at least as useful, and fun.

I will write more about that, but not now. I have got tons of work to do.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Falsification - A gullibility defense

"When there is no time to think, you cannot think." Quote by Tim, my 9 year old son. Photo: Henrik Mårtensson
Unless you live alone in a cave in the mountains, you are awash in a flood of ideas, from the time in the morning when you greet your significant other, or start up your computer, to the moment you fall asleep at night.

Some of those ideas will be good ones. Once in awhile, very rarely, you will encounter a great idea. Most ideas, however, are bad ones. They range from doing minor harm, to being lethally dangerous.

Unfortunately, our brains are designed to be rather gullible. We tend to believe stuff, even if there is little or no evidence. We tend to believe simple ideas, and disregard ideas that take significant mental effort. However, reality can be quite complex. Simple does not mean true, or even likely. If we want to avoid getting into trouble because of bad ideas, we need defense mechanisms against our innate gullibility.

Some time ago, I wrote about why management models are useful. One of the models I wrote about, the Deming system, lists epistemology, knowledge about knowledge, as a field of knowledge vital to managers. The reason is that epistemology has some excellent gullibility defense tools, or, if you will, tools for bullshit detection.
Human brains tend to favor extreme predictions, either extremely optimistic, or extremely pessimistic.  Project duration estimates are often overly optimistic. So are most people's estimates of winning big on lotterys. At the pessimistic end, we find end-of-the-world scenarios. Photo: Henrik Mårtensson 
One of these tools, falsification, provides a defense against a common cause of bad judgement: inductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning is the process of deriving a general rule based on a limited set of observations. Inductive reasoning is inherently uncertain, because it is always possible that if we make one more observation, it would break the rule.

Here is a classic example of inductive reasoning:
All of the swans we have seen are white.
Therefore, all swans are white.
–John Vickers
However, the conclusion that all swans are white can be proven false. Finding one black swan is enough.
A Black Swan. Photo by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos. From Wikimedia Commons.

This is very interesting if you are an ornithologist, but what if you are a manager?

Well, companies are designed according to rules, There are rules for how to organize a company, rules for how to design processes, rules for what to do, and rules for how to do it, and rules for what not to do.

These rules are rarely questioned, but most of them are "white swan" rules. That is, someone has made a limited set of observations, and then devised a general rule based on those observations. Applying them uncritically can lead to disaster.

Here are some examples:
Toyota did certain things, and was very successful. Therefore, if we do the same things, we too will be successful.
In 1948 Toyota embarked upon a complex process of trial and error, and developed a set of tools, techniques, an organisation, and a culture, that worked for them. The end result of that process, without the process itself, is not necessarily what your organisation needs to solve your problems in 2015.

If you can find a company that implemented Lean without becoming successful, you have falsified the rule.
Whatever we make, we can sell. Therefore, items in stock are assets.
A basic assumption of Cost Accounting, which was developed around 1920.
Whatever we make is difficult to sell. Therefore, items in stock represent debt.
 A basic assumption of Throughput Accounting, developed around 1990.

Here you get the opposite assumptions, because the rules have been induced from different sets of observations. You can't pick the accounting model appropriate for you unless you understand which assumption is true for you. Even then, you cannot be certain one of the assumptions is always right.
Whenever I praise people their performance gets worse. Whenever I yell at them, their performance gets better. This is always the case. Therefore, I should yell at people, but not praise them. 
When a person performs a task exceptionally well, it is likely future performance will regress to the mean. The same thing happens when a person performs a task exceptionally badly. Future performance regresses to the mean. This is just statistics.

The rule above is completely false, and the long time effects are the opposite of what the rule says. See Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, if you are interested in more details about this example.

However, this observation is one of the underlying assumptions of Scientific Management, and it is related to the idea of enforcing compliance, which is something many companies do routinely.
I used a homeopathic remedy and got well. So did Susan, and Patrick, and Jane. Therefore, homeopathy works. 
Confusing correlation with cause-effect. Can be caused by apophenia rather than inductive logic.
We increased cost effectiveness, and profitability increased. We increased cost effectiveness again, and profitability increased again. Therefore, we should always increase cost effectiveness.
Works only up to the point where reduced capacity costs are balanced by increased queueing costs. 

All of these rules are either completely invalid, or valid only under certain conditions. Working out a better mental model can be difficult. For example, working out a better rule than "increasing cost effectiveness will always increase profitability", or "homeopathic remedies work", requires a fairly sophisticated understanding of mathematics, in the fields of queueing theory, and mathematical variation respectively.

However, finding a clue that something is wrong with these ideas is much easier. If you can find a single instance where the rule did not work, then the rule is under suspicion. That is falsification.

Here is the essence of falsification:
No matter how many observations you make that confirm a rule derived from inductive reasoning, the rule may still be false. You need only make one observation that does not fit the rule, to prove the rule wrong.
Thus, if you can find an instance where a company could not sell what they had in stock, or could sell what they had in stock, or a case where someone was praised, and went on to do something very well, or was yelled at, and still continued to perform badly, or used a homeopathic remedy that did not work, or a company that increased cost effectiveness without becoming more profitable, then you have managed to falsify at least one of the rules above.

Falsification can be a powerful defense against management cargo cult, but also against pseudo-science, racism, sexism, idiotic legislation, empty election promises, propaganda...

If you can express something as a falsifiable statement, you can test it. Falsification won't tell you what is true, but it can clue you in to what is false. This makes falsification an important tool for distinguishing between facts and false beliefs.