The Vulnerability of Trust

If we are to trust, we are vulnerable.

In The Monarchy of Fear, discussing democracy in contrast with monarchy, Martha Nussbaum highlights that with the trust that is required to support an effective democracy comes a vulnerability to others.

Trust means being willing to be exposed, to allow your own future to lie in the hands of your fellow citizens.

Effectiveness in our newer patterns of work is increasingly dependent on greater trust. That also means we must all work at a higher level of vulnerability and dependence on others. That’s not a comfortable place for many people. Vulnerability is not a value that many organisations embrace.

If we don’t explicitly embrace the relationship between vulnerability and trust we are likely to engage in a cycle of counterproductive behaviours. Our rising discomfort at vulnerability leads us to implement systems to remove the discomfort. These systems, because they are controlling, unilateral or misaligned, in turn undermine the trust we are seeking to foster.

How do we grow trust?

To grow mutual trust we must recognised that it is a human characteristic, not a mechanical one. There are many definitions and drivers of trust but each individual makes a trust assessment in each moment individually. They are supported in this by the values of community but they make a decision alone. Some people will never trust others.

If we are to grow trust in our work communities, we must embrace its humanity first. That’s one reason that the Value Maturity Model starts with human trust building actions like connection and sharing. Understanding each other and our shared context is a foundation for trust.

Working out loud can play an important role to build this connection and shared context. It is also a chance to practice the vulnerability of trust.

We must act with reciprocity. Trust is reciprocal. To win trust, we must give it. This is one reason why we must allow degrees of freedom in our work. Command and control is not reciprocal and cannot build trust. It may be predictable, but inequality and control are not signs or facilitators of trust.

We must challenge the systems that undermine trust. This will challenge us to lean into our vulnerabilities and pull down some of the hallmarks of the mechanistic scientific management that we have created. That system is based in hierarchy, fear and control to maximise repeatability and predictability.

Lastly we must have a belief in human potential. We trust because we believe our colleagues have the potential to surprise us on the upside. It won’t be every time and they will often disappoint us. However the gains from the collective human potential of the organisation must outweigh individual achievement or we wouldn’t have an organisation. Our challenge is to trust in that outcome, trust in our peers and manage the balance of risks.

The power of new ways of working are to better leverage human potential. We must embrace trust and its vulnerabilities to achieve that outcome.

Fixes, Solutions and Services


Digital technology has enabled business to operate at new levels of speed and deliver new levels of capability to address old challenges. However, it also makes it more important than ever that business understands what it is doing. There is a big difference in outcomes and ongoing costs between choosing a fix, a solution and a service.

Fixes, Solutions and Services are Different

Let’s take the example of a leaky pipe to draw the difference between the three categories:

  • A fix is anything that will stop water leaking now:  You might be able to block the whole by wrapping the pipe in tape.  It is quick and cheap and it will get the job done.  There is no guarantee it will last. You can get very wet and spend a lot of time taping pipes if all you rely on is quick fixes.
  • A solution is something that addresses the whole problem in a sustainable way:  Bring in a plumber to replace the pipe or rethread the join with some plumber’s tape. A solution is usually more expensive and a point in time action. The leak will stop and you have put in place a solution that will deliver no leaks ongoing.
  • A service is when you shift from fixing a problem to realising and opportunity by creating a sustainable and systemic solution to the underlying capability: Most of us aren’t experts in plumbing or water delivery. Just because pipes aren’t leaking doesn’t mean they are right. A pipe that doesn’t leak may have restricted flow, be poisoning the water or have other issues. We aren’t sure how best to manage water delivery but we could contract someone to do regular testing, maintain the infrastructure and upgrade as and when needed.

These Differences Have Implications

The differences between a fix, a solution and a service are significant and have important implications:

  • Organisations don’t ask themselves what they want between the three choices and what the business case justifies.
  • You don’t always need the most expensive or fanciest option: If you know the pipe is in a building that will be demolished next year, what is the point of a fancy solution or service? Tape works fine. You might even prepared to get wet.
  • Organisations confuse the cost, durability and outcomes of fixes, solutions and services.
  • Many clients buy a solution thinking it is a service, because they have confused the tool and the result. They are then perplexed why the solution has ongoing supplemental services, like adoption, maintenance and other costs.
  • Many vendors and the organisation’s internal specialists are unclear whether they are offering a fix, a solution or a service. It is common for them to sell the cheaper and promise the more expensive.
  • Most startups fail because what they think is a service is at best a fix or a solution.


Chat, Conversations and Collaborations: A Productivity View

We need to break some default practices at work to improve productivity. Stop making everything a meeting. Stop assuming the best interactions are in the same place. Both of these practice waste a great amount of time in our organisations.

Friday morning was one of those mornings where there was too much to do. As the saying goes, ‘if you want something done give it to a busy person’. The good news was that I had only two appointments: a physical inspection of an office for 15mins and an introductory meeting with partners for 30 mins. Having not locked my time into one hour blocks of meetings I was able to maximise my personal productivity. Even the travel time could be used to advance work.

Between 9 and 12, I managed to complete my two appointments, reshape two projects, answer a half dozen queries, plan a new project, have calls with colleagues and chat online with others. In 3 one-hour blocks, I achieved at least a dozen things.

Keys to Productivity

As noted in the tweet above there are some keys to improving personal productivity:

  • Understand the purpose of the interaction: What do you want out of each an every interaction?  That will help you assess how much time it needs and how best to conduct the interaction.  It will also help you assess when it is over or when to stop because the goal can no longer be achieved. It also helps you understand what should not be a meeting.
  • Separate Chats, Conversations and Collaboration: Each of these interactions has different time demands.  Make sure you allocate the right approach for each. If you just need to answer a quick query or exchange information, do it in a chat and you will be able to manage many chats asynchronously. For conversations the time is extended but usually less than you expect.  A lot can be discussed in 15 minutes if both parties are focused and prepared. Collaborations may not even need conversation. Perhaps you are best to jointly work on a document before getting together to have a conversation about open issues.
  • Move away from the 1-hour paradigm: Most conversations take an hour. Few take an hour exactly.
  • Use the tools to be convenient: If anyone has to travel to a meeting, then everyone loses time. The person who has travelled is going to get their value back by talking. Tools now offer a multitude of different ways to connect, to share and to shift between chats, conversations and collaboration. We need to pick the tool that best suits the result we are trying to achieve. One size does not fit all in interactions. At least one of my conversations on Friday, started as a chat thread and included two short Skype calls and an exchange of documents for shared editing. That was a very efficient way to manage the time of two busy people.
  • Use ‘in-between’ time: Weaving tasks around each other can enable you to use in-between time effectively if there are short and long waits in your work. To avoid the productivity penalty of multi-tasking each activity needs to be a complete unit of work.  However, managed well you can get a lot done ‘inbetween’ tasks, meetings and interactions.  Walking to the office inspection, I made quick calls, sent messages and answered emails, advancing a range of projects and learning more for my other meetings and conversations.

Personal productivity is personal. Because we each have different preferences and styles of work, collaboration and interactions, each of us will work most effectively in a different way.  The challenge we each face is to keep challenging the accepted way of working, to use the tools available to us to their best advantage and to keep learning better and more productive ways of working.


The screaming voices surround us. Fingers point out the Other and invite us to alienate them. The only way to go forward is as a human being engaged in a diverse world of unique human beings. There is no Other way.

We are human. We make tribes. Social research tells us we can make tribes on the flimsiest of perceived differentiation. In a war of exclusion, some of the most fanciful boundaries are the most fiercely fought. Those outside our tribe run the risk of becoming Other, the alien enemy. The basis for the differentiation matters little the Creation of the Other, with its dehumanising violence is the first step.

We begin the violence when we define a line and put unique human beings on the other side. We back these imagined lines with all kinds of violence, physical, mental, systematic, casual and political. The Other becomes a group to blame, a dog whistle message to our tribe or a call to hate and violence.

The technology of global connection, whether it is transportation or communication, has made once distant Others more visible and accessible. These technologies have supercharged the advocates of the Other in all dimensions. The changes in society and our economies wrought by these technologies has created and promoted resentments and fostered fertile ground for the politics of the Other.

Unravel the stereotypes, the myths and the lies. Demask the Other and you will find a human being just like you. We must engage human to human as we go forward. Fictional Others do nothing to enable us to address real issues in our society, our economy, our planet or our polity. To begin to address issues we need to unravel the first act of violence, the creation of the Other. We must engage in human ways with the real diverse and unique individuals if we are to solve problems together and move forward. The Other defines everything and solves nothing.

There’s no Other way.

The Aching Amplitude of Change

Let’s begin at the beginning
We’re lovers and we’re losers
We’re heroes and we’re pioneers
We’re beggars and we’re choosers

Frank Turner ‘I knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous’

My shelves are full of books about artists, poets, politicians, entrepreneurs, rebels, change makers and revolutionaries. I am drawn to conversations with people making change happen in all facets of our world from the arts to zoology. The work that I want to do most and do most often is work that changes the world to make it more human. The company and community I keep is called Change Agents Worldwide. I am in more communities of change makers than I can count. Every business I am involved in is working hard to change the world for the better despite the complex and dreary challenges that change makers face. This morning, driving to work listening to music, an insight dropped .

Maybe, just maybe, there is a pattern in all this.

The pattern is that change is life. Change is the vitality of growth. Change is the everpresent battle against the decay that settles on the static and the passive. Change is the opportunity to see the unrealised potential, here and now. Change is what the living do.

Change makers see problems and know their job is to make things better. They don’t complain (much) and they don’t expect complaints to be an answer. If you want change, you get on with the challenge of bringing a better world into this one. Nobody will do your work for you.

Changemakers don’t expect perfection. They start where they can. You can’t accept dead history as an excuse when you demand life lives up to exacting standards and are prepared to exhaust yourselves trying.

There is an old phrase that we are the company we keep. I will happily keep leaning into my communities of rebels, change makers and entrepreneurs. Let’s hope their energy, passion and life keeps rubbing off on me. I’ve got a lot of change left to make and a lot of living left to do.

And I know I’m not the one who is habitually optimistic
But I’m the one who’s got the microphone here so just remember this
Yeah, well life is about love, lost minutes and lost evenings
About fire in our bellies and about furtive little feelings
And the aching amplitudes that set our needles all a-flickering
And they help us with remembering that the only thing that’s left to do is live
Yea, the only thing that’s left to do is live

Frank Turner, ‘I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous’

Thanks to Frank Turner for the song:

Thanks also to Helen Blunden for her discussion about art and architecture this morning that prompted this meditation.

Collaborating with Everyone

As collaboration platforms respond to the demands of C-suite executives for new tools for digital communication, two themes have risen to the forefront of debate. Everywhere we turn at the moment we have the twin topics of:

  • 100% Adoption
  • Collaborating with Everyone

Both targets are counterproductive illusions. They aren’t as attractive or as realistic as they seem despite the many people promising miracles to eager executives.

100% Adoption as a Measure

That we are even discussing adoption shows the growing maturity of the collaboration technology market. In the early days, there was too much expectation that the tool itself would deliver magic and users would automatically interpret how and when to use the tool as they change their work.

Now that we are focused on and measuring adoption, we are confronted with the inevitable race to 100% adoption or similar goals.  We have reached the point where the goal has taken over and the logic for the goal has been lost.

Increased purposeful use of a collaboration platform is valuable. However, much that is measured in measuring adoption is not purposeful use and has little business value for the organisation or for users.  Likes on the CEO’s live video or a post that gets no engagement does not guarantee any business value.

More importantly, the purpose of all this adoption is often vague. Big adoption numbers make community managers feel great when performance measures are often uncertain.  They provide marketing for tech companies. They also stroke senior executive egos as they falsely correlate adoption to engagement. As I have repeatedly stressed, we need to move beyond adoption for its own sake to creating value for the business and in line with its strategy. A cavalcade of GIFs, likes and chatter can be the exact wasteful time suck that many executives fear. Pointless activity driven by platform features or campaigns will ultimately drive rational users away. Employees are sensible enough that they will choose to spend their time creating value for the business or their own work instead of delivering work to a meaningless metric.

Collaborating with Everyone

As a passionate advocate for working out loud, many people may assume that I would encourage collaborating with everyone. I don’t because you can’t collaborate with everyone and it is generally counterproductive.

Research has consistently shown the value of psychological safety in high value collaboration. We just aren’t safe if the network universe must be everyone. This is a key reason why I stress that working out loud is ‘Sharing work in progress with a relevant audience’ (emphasis added).

Relevance is also a key element for the ability for a collaboration opportunity to find someone who can help or learn from that message. Messages in bottles send out into large expansive networks often struggle to find relevant partners and responses without the support of community manager and other champions to guide them to relevant parties. Smaller groups closer to a team or a clan scale are much more useful launching pads. People can assume that a message sent to everyone is not relevant to them. It gets less attention in the fast flow of broadcast communication.

Another key reason is that much of the focus on ‘collaborating with everyone’ is really about communication, not collaboration.  There are real human differences between chatting, communicating messages, having a conversation and getting down to the task of working together. If you are focused on broadcast communications then you can target everyone but expect to get the usual low engagement that you see on any other broadcast communication channel. Forcing broadcast messages into the streams of people busy doing work is not a solution. It is counterproductive because it either disrupts the flow of employee’s work, they miss the messages or they disengage from the communication channel. Worse establishing that broadcast is the leaderships’ preferred mode of engagement encourages others to model that behaviour too. Collaboration is far more effective when people check egos and listen.

If the digital era has taught us anything, it should be that perfection is overrated and learning and adaptation is a far better approach to work. We don’t need 100% adoption of a tool. We need the adoption of the collaborative work that will help realise our business goals. We don’t need collaboration with everyone. We need collaboration of the specific groups and teams that will realise our desired forms of new business value. Collaborative teams learn by doing and learn from the role modelling of others. If the strategy is not clear now, then the work of the community will be to learn and adapt their way to fulfilling these objectives.


Communicate Early and Often

The challenge with change is that communication can be complex. Often communication is hard when things are uncertain or it might make things more uncertain by raising issues. The answer is to communicate early and often.

Communicate Early

We often wait to share messages. We want things to be more certain. We want things to be perfect.

There is no way to prepare a perfect communication. Communication is a two-way exercise. You can’t perfect communication without the active participation of the other party. As George Bernard Shaw said:

The greatest issue in communication is the illusion it has taken place.

We are often reticent to share a message of change because there will be initial emotion, difficulties and resistance. Change always gets harder before it gets better. However that difficulty is a critical part of the change process. Questions, pushback and emotions are all part of finding the right change and getting your message across.

Delaying communication because of the initial difficulty is misconceived. The further you progress your change without communication and engagement the bigger the initial pushback will be and the longer it will take to resolve. Worse it is also likely that you are more deeply committed to your change and reluctant to take feedback or listen. I’ve seen too many situations where late engagement lead to a total breakdown in trust. Treat people like adults and engage them early.

Communicate Often

Once change has begun people are hungry for information. Gossip, guesswork and assumptions will fill the gaps in understanding. Close up the space for troublemakers with regular communication to build understanding and trust.

If nothing is happening or nothing is changing say that. People do not assume silence is good news. A regular drumbeat of communication will enable people to reflect, build understanding, make suggestions and ask questions.

We can all communicate more about the changes going on in our work and organisations. A culture of Working Out Loud is one approach that help makes this an ongoing dialogue in organisations.

Management Best Practices: Let’s All Be Finnish

Adopting management best practices is like asking your company to all become Finnish. All these best practices are more complicated than they seem, others are evolving the practice and the best practice is not why others were successful.

Our Finnish Initiative

Every day a CEO is fired up on the need to implement a new best practice across the organisation. They may have been to a conference, spoken to a competitor, read an article or listened to a consultant. For argument’s sake, let’s assume that the best practice is ‘Being Finnish’.  The CEO has heard that companies that are Finnish are global success stories and wants everyone in the organisation do their work using Finnish and reflecting Finnish culture as soon as possible. You are tasked with delivering the Finnish initiative companywide as soon as possible. You happen to like Finland and the Finnish people but have your doubts for a few good reasons.

Best Practices are history, an unreliable predictor of future success

By the time management practices have industries of consultants built to promote them, there is a very good chance that practice has a lot of history. The practice has gone through pilot, rollout, a period for measurement of success in a lead organisation. It has then been shared on the conference circuit and built its own community as it spreads to other organisations.

After that consultants have picked it up from the community and begun to turn it into a practice that can be sold as a simple package. At this point, there’s no guarantee that the originator is still even using the practice. Practices often outlive the failure of the original organisation.  There are many successful Finnish companies but would your CEO have a different perception if he or she knew that the Finnish case studies were based on Nokia’s growth in the mobile handset business? Being Finnish may or may not have contributed to Nokia or any other Finnish company’s success or failure. We will never know exactly.

Best Practices are Simplified Practices that Aren’t Simple

To implement Finnish in your organisation, it is likely to be simplified down to a few practices.  Let’s say you settle on speaking Finnish and adopting a short list of Finnish values and cultural practices.

Even the simplified versions prove to be trickier than people expect. Finnish is a language that’s from its own language group. It will take people years to come up to competency and then there’s all the processes and documentation in the organisation that needs to be translated and realigned with the new strategy. There is a real danger that your performance will decline as everyone builds competency in Finnish, miscommunication occurs and the clashes with your current approaches are resolved.

Why Catch Up?

Even if you execute your project perfectly. There is always others who have been Finnish for longer and will have a richer history of learning through the application of Finnish. While you are still implementing simplified Finnish, they will have a rich adaptive culture of Finnish. Best practices are often racing to where someone used to be, not to an advantage.

Every New System is a Culture Program

No matter how well you learn to speak Finnish, do Finnish things or follow the Finnish values, it is not what makes you Finnish.

Imposing a whole alien cultural system on your organisation is a difficult challenge. Finnish people are proud of their culture and they have grown up in it. It is not an imposition. Your current systems and culture don’t disappear just because everyone’s trying to be Finnish.

The system likely has elements and relationships that you and your users won’t understand because you are not from within the culture. Many simplified versions of Finnish are unrecognisable to those who are Finnish because those new to the practice leave out elements without any understanding.

Your Problems and Opportunities are Unique

Management is about responding to the challenges and opportunities unique to each organisation. Effective strategy is tailored to the organisation, it’s position and capability. Being Finnish because Finnish is the new management fad is abdicating the responsibility to manage the actual circumstances of the organisation.

So the next time you consider implementing a management fad, consider it as implementing Finnish, or Faddish, and see how the views change.