Minimum Viable Bureaucracy: Why have managers?

Completing the series writing up Laura Thomson’s talk.


Minimum Viable Bureaucracy: Goals, scheduling, shipping

More from Laura Thomson’s MVB talk.


Minimum Viable Bureaucracy: Problem Solving and Decision Making

My latest post writing up Laura Thomson’s ideas.


Minimum Viable Bureaucracy: Practicalities

Putting some of Laura Thomson’s ideas into action.


Minimum Viable Bureaucracy: Scale, Chaordic Systems & Trust

Part 1 of writing up Laura Thomson’s excellent talk.


On routines and rituals.


I’m a great believer in routines.

I’m a believer in them because I think that innovation is predicated upon standardisation. In other words, routines afford us the spare capacity to think about things other than (repetitive) tasks at hand.

Routines provide spare capacity by removing, or narrowing, choice.

Take my morning routine, for example. Granted, having children means that no two are identical, but every day I’m at work in the office at JISC infoNet Towers, I do the following:

  • Have a cold shower
  • Eat eggs (either scrambled on toast or an omelette)
  • Listen to the same ‘Train’ and ‘Walking’ playlists via Spotify (albeit on random)
  • Read Baltasar Gracian’s The Art of Worldly Wisdom on the train

Of course, it’s not necessary to have to undergo a commute to have routines. They’re just things you do at the same time and/or place.

So far, so obvious.

Routines gain power by becoming rituals. For example, there’s something about the first cup of coffee in the morning. It has a ritualistic element; it symbolises waking and the liminal space between home and work.

Whilst routines are easy to create and maintain on an individual level, rituals are slightly trickier. This, I believe, is because rituals involve gathering. It may be people who are gathered together, it may be thoughts. Rituals pull together and coalesce disparate elements.

Organisations and educational institutions are extremely well-placed to turn individual productive routines into collective rituals. One of the best places to start is often around food. At JISC infoNet we have a weekly Cake Club: the cake serves as a convenient hypocrisy for a kind of gathering we otherwise would not necessarily experience.

What kind of routines could you or your organisation turn into rituals?

Image CC BY visualpanic


An example of innovation being built upon standardization.

Illuminated manuscript

I’ve been reading Reinventing Knowledge: from Alexandria to the Internet over the last couple of days. It takes an interesting approach, looking at intellectual history through institutions rather than individuals: The Library, The Monastery, The University, The Republic of Letters, The Disciplines, The Laboratory.

After I mentioned my belief that innovation is (generally) built upon standardization in a blog post about the Guardian Innovation in Education event, some people asked me for examples. I’m happy to say the book provided one in the shape of the medieval monastery:

By no means the only rule for monasteries, nor the oldest, nor the most innovative, [The Benedictine Rule] nevertheless achieved authoritative status on acount of its simple practicality and realistic expectations of the average monk’s capacity for ascetic discipline. Crafted for spiritual use, tested by time and repetition, and propagated by anonymous scribes, it bears a certain resemblance to the Christian scriptures themselves. Adhering to such a text enabled communities of monks to survive and thrive desipte the personal quirks and transient lifespans of individual members. In Benedict’s ideals and their evelopment in practice we see how monastic time played upon cycles of days, weeks, and years, endlessly repeating, to ensure the survival and stability of the monastery and of learning itself. (p.56-7)

The author continues a couple of pages later:

The genius of the Rule lay in the recognition that monks needed a specific regimen to make this spiritual goal an attainable reality. It was one thing to declare the entirety of one’s life, every moment, was to be devoted to God, another to know precisely what to do during all the minutes that followed sunrise, day after day. (p.59)

We do, of course, have to be careful. As Cathy Davidson points out in her must-read book for educators Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn, your attention has to be on the right thing to start off with. Otherwise, you get what Clayton Christensen calls ‘custodial schooling’ with seat time trumping a focus upon learning gains.

The idea of a platform for innovation, I think, is sound. It doesn’t really matter what the socially-negotiated/accepted base consists of, just so long as there is one to build upon. The best examples I’ve seen are a school where there was a workflow for everything, and my current employers where we have a team-constructed wiki that serves as a knowledge repository.

Image CC BY bazylek100


How to do battle with Status Quo. And win.

FOUNDATION : SENSE : LIFE : or the sensibility of personality as a trait to overcome each day! THINK : WORLD : ENJOY! :)

There’s an underground religion at work in every institution and most organisations. It’s something that pervades meeting after meeting and interaction after interaction. People everywhere are worshipping the Status Quo.

Whilst for those of a certain age this will immediately bring to mind an ageing rock band who can be seen in arenas worldwide miming their hits from a bygone era, that’s not what I’m talking about. The type of Status Quo I’m talking about is a nebulous force akin to what Steven Pressfield identifies in Do The Work as ‘The Resistance’.

The problem is that, unlike Pressfield’s quasi-religious (objective) malevolent force, Status Quo is a monster of our own creation which can, under the right conditions, spread like a virus. Status Quo is an idea. It’s a meme. And as with any successful meme it’s a shapeshifter, having a common core whilst being able to take on many different forms. The Status Quo is an unvoiced set of assumptions that allows new ideas to be dismissed by appeals to ‘common sense’ strong emotions.

Status Quo is manifested in many different ways and in many different places. In schools it might be the idea of desks in rows. In businesses it could be detailed branding regulations. In universities it’s possibly the physical location of students. However it manifests itself, the important thing to remember about Status Quo is that it’s the very thin layer, the crust, on top of a much deeper set of opinions, policies, prejudices and practice.

So if the question is ‘How do I change the Status Quo?’ you need to ask the associated questions: ‘The Status Quo according to whom?’ and ‘Why did this Status Quo take hold?’ Once you can answer these, you’re ready to do battle. You can’t win by fighting directly, only obliquely: presenting an alternate reality is the only way to win.

You replace one Status Quo with another Status Quo.

Good luck.

CC BY UggBoy?UggGirl [ PHOTO // WORLD //