The Girl Called Snowy Rivers

There was movement at workstations, for the word had passed around
the data from Old Insurance had got away
And had joined the dark web forces – it was worth a billion pounds,
So all the cracks had gathered to the fray.
All the tried and noted hackers from workstations near and far
Had mustered on the notice board o’ernight
For the hackers love hard hunting where the wild web data hides
And the server sniffs the darkweb with delight.

There was Harrison who made his pile when his Exploit saved the bank,
The old man with his screen white as snow,
But few could hack beside him even when his screen was fairly blank,
He would go where’er man and keyboard could go.
And clancy@stackoverflow came down to join the team
No better coder ever struck a key;
For no hacker could throw him while bandwidth would stand,
He learnt his hacks while coding web3.

And one was there a teenage girl, small and fairly thin,
She was something like a hacker undersized
With a touch of Marvel hero – three billion box office at least –
And such are by web geeks quite prized.
She was quiet, alert and wiry – just the sort to surprise –
There was courage in her quick impatient flair
and she bore the badge of smarts in her angular pocket size
And the bright blue colour of her hair.

Photo by Luis Quintero on

But still so slight and weedy, one would doubt her power to stay,
And the old man said, ‘That chick will never do
For a long and tiring white hat hack – girl you’d best stay away,
These hunts are far too rough for such as you.’
So she waited sad and wistful – only Clancy stood his friend –
‘I think we need her on the team’ he cried;
‘I warrant she’ll have keys when wanted at the end,
For her charms and her hair ain’t easily denied.

‘She calls herself Snowy Rivers, she’s tattooed up her hide,
she’s waited bars twice as hard and twice as rough,
Where patrons smash glasses on the walls on either side,
To discuss which crypto is strong enough.
And This Snowy Rivers on the dark web makes her home,
Where run Russians and the cartels in between
I have seen full many hackers since I first commence to roam
But nowhere yet such a hacker have I seen’

So she went – they found the data on the web marketplace
They raced away towards the servers there
And the old man gave the orders, ‘Boys lock it in cyberspace,
No use to try for fancy coding now.
And, Clancy, you must locate them, try and pin their site.
Code boldly, lad, and never fear the clock
For never yet was coder that could keep data in sight
If the crims gain shelter of the Eastern bloc .

So Clancy code to pin them – he was hunting on the sly
Where the best and meanest hackers hide their loot
And he raced his CPU faster, and he made his fans cry,
And he shouted, as he found them through their boot.
The data halted for a moment, while he tried to tie it down,
But it saw lawless Crimea across an API
And it charged beneath his blocking leaving Clancy all the clown
As off into the Eastern bloc it did fly.

And Eastward, ever Eastward, the wild data held its way,
To where borscht reddens and oligarchs grow rich;
And the old man muttered fiercely, “We may bid the mob good day,
No man can stop the canny tovarish”
When they saw the last packet leave, even Clancy took a pull,
It well might make the boldest hold their breath,
The Eastern Bloc used Cyrillic, and the hidden ground was full
Of spies and mobsters, and any slip was death.

But the Girl called Snowy Rivers left her headset red,
And she swung her ponytail round and gave a cheer,
And she launch Russian expletives like a torrent down its bed,
While the others stood and watched in very fear.
She was right among the mobsters when they threatened with a kill,
And the hackers on the speakers all stood mute,
Saw her ply the cruel quip fiercely, she was right among them still,

As she raced across Crimea in pursuit.
Then they lost her for a moment, when language changed again
Somewhere beyond the Urals, but a final wink exposes
a distant server of stolen data and hard men,
While the Girl Called Snowy River calmly poses.
She social engineered them till her mouth was flecked with foam.
She followed like the FSB on the track,
Till the mobster decided better, offered to swap the data home,
For a photo of the tattoos on her back.

And down by Surry Hills, where the coffee culture thrives
and coders collect their options at par,
Where the code is clear as crystal, and the CEOs come alive
At midnight in the cold and dingy bars,
And where by The Overflow the Ubers beep and stay
where t-shirts, and the shredded jeans are black,
The Girl called Snowy Rivers is a household word today,
And the coders tell the story of her hack.

With apologies to AB ‘Banjo’ Patterson


I had written him a email which I had for want of detail
Sent to where I’d met him down co-working years ago;
He was coding when I knew him, so I sent the email to him
Just as spam, addressed as follows to clancy@stackoverflow.
And the answer came directed in language unexpected.
(And I think the same was written by a bot gone too far.)
A MIME server wrote it and verbatim I will quote it :
‘Clancy’s gone web3 coding. This email ain’t where he are’

In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Clancy
Gone a-coding ‘down the crypto’ where the cowboy coders go;
As the market slowly crashes, Clancy types smiling at the slashes,
For the coder’s life has pleasures that the HODLers never know.

His socials have friends to meet him and their trolling greets him
In the murmur of the feeds and memes, both new and old,
And he sees the vision splendid of a backlog e’er extended,
At night the wonderous glory of coding fingers growing cold.

I am sitting in my open office where a coffee cart low whistle
struggles feebly over all the open necked shirts and chino pants,
pingpong games rebounded between the standing desks surrounded
by a whiteboard, spreading strategy nobody ever understands.

In place of a dark mode screen, I see the sticky notes’ sheen,
full of plain words, yet still a muddle to any huddle spectator,
I see ideas slowly dying and hustling staff inside-crying,
in the workshops with the muffins and the agile facilitator.

All the hurrying people daunt me, and their masked faces haunt me
As they shoulder one another in the busy queue to eat,
With their eager eyes and greedy and stunted plans so weedy,
For bizfolk have no time to code, they have only time to meet.

And I sometimes briefly fancy I’d like to change with Clancy,
Like to take a turn at coding, where the riches come and go,
While he faced the matrixed gloom of the Teams and the Zoom
but no doubt he’d scam the office, clancy@stackoverflow

With humblest apologies to AB ‘Banjo’ Patterson

Digital Communication: The Practice of Poetry

Digital communications can benefit from the lessons and practice of poetry.

In May 1991, Dana Gioia wrote an essay in the Atlantic Monthly called ‘Can Poetry Matter?’  The article was a major contribution to a long-running debate on the relevance of poetry in a modern world that appears to run on prose. Gioia’s conclusion to this long running debate on the cultural significance of poetry and its practice was clear in his summary:

If poets venture outside their confined world, they can work to make it essential once more*

In 1991, digital had only just begun its progress to its current pervasive state. Gioia does not even reference digital journals and blogs which now reinforce his point on the niche audience for much modern poetry. We have learned a great deal since then on the practices of digital business and digital communication. Two decades of lessons in digital communication is still a small fraction of the lessons learned across the centuries of history of poetry.

Why Learn from Poetry? Isn’t it Dead?

Modern digital communication can benefit from a deeper understanding of the practices and art of poetry. In many ways, poetry has been practising to refine approaches that align to current challenges facing digital communication.

Capturing The Essence: Gioia gives a strong clue to one rationale when he defines his first rationale for poetry in his essay:

Poetry is the art of using words charged with their utmost meaning.

Digital communication always faces a poverty of attention. Extracting the highest value from expression and conveying as much meaning as attention will allow is essential.

Expressing the Experience: The mobility of digital communication means that messages no longer sit apart from any experience. Digital communications must help express, support and enrich the experience. Poetry has long battled with this same challenge of capturing, enhancing and enriching the human experience.  There are lessons to be drawn in the relationship between poetry and the experiences that it captures and supports.

Poetry is an orphan of silence. The words never quite equal the experience behind them – Charles Simic

The use of poetry in ritual in human history is a sign to its power in experiences.

Leveraging Reflection: The practice of writing poetry requires observation of the experiences of life and reflection. Wordsworth described poetry as:

Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.

Similarly, Robert Frost wrote:

Poetry is when an emotion has found a thought and the thought has found words

Digital communicators can provide an important outlet from the busy pace of work. They can write from and help provoke a deeper reflection on the daily experience of work and life.

Engaging through Rythm & Rhyme: The first poets had no written poetry. Jorge Luis Borges once said

Poetry remembers that it was an oral art before it was a written art.

Homer was a bard who told his tales from memory and they were passed on in memory. Many of our literary techniques are echoes of ideas that go back beyond the Ancient Greeks to master poetry and rhetoric. Sections of Shakespeare’s plays on the page can be a struggle for a modern reader but put them in the hands of an actor who can work the structure and they sing with new meaning. Read poetry and you realise the power of the rhythm of words and rhyme structures to engage others and to support your own efforts to share the work. When much digital communication struggles to hold attention, leveraging rhythm and rhyme for engagement remains relevant.

Memorable & Memetic: Great poems and great lines of poetry are memorable. This memorability is often based in universality of the ideas. Keats said

Poetry should… should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.

The English language is filled with phrases from the iambic pentameter of Shakespeare or the poetry of the King James Bible. They are so common now we barely can trace their origins. The potential of digital communication is to find that central, shared, memorable idea, phrase or aphorism that can live beyond one reading and spread through your networks as its own meme.

Open to Experimentation: Since the beginning of human history, poetry has experimented with forms, rhythms, rhymes, assonance, visual and verbal representations of messages. The most successful forms like the sonnet, the haiku, rap or the spoken word jam were tested and refined before spreading around the languages of the world. Digital communicators have learned to measure their effectiveness using the new tools available. A breadth of experimentation will help ensure that digital communication does not become trapped in local maximums of performance like the listicle.

Bringing in the Whole Human: Communication is not just a process of the human brain. Poetry shows the ways we can communicate beyond recitation of facts and logic. We have already seen digital communicators begin to leverage visual imagery in new ways to reinforce messages. Poetry also earns its attention by reaching for a deeper meaning in what is often a brief form:

Poetry may make us from time to time a little more aware of the deeper, unnamed feelings which form the substratum of our being, to which we rarely penetrate; for our lives are mostly a constant evasion of ourselves. – TS Eliot

Emotion, experience, spirituality, beauty and more are opportunities for experimentation for effective digital communicators as well. Finding richer ways to connect with human meaning is always an effective approach to communication.

Change: In the Defense of Poetry, Percy Bysse Shelley called poets “the unacknowledged legislators of the world.’ His point was that poetry is a way in which communities share and develop norms. Digital communication must play the same role in networks reinforcing the values and creating shared connection as new communities come together. Poetry has exploited its marginal place to push boundaries as Thomas Hardy pointed out:

If Galileo had said in verse that the world moved, the inquisition might have let him alone.

Equally importantly, Salman Rushdie laid out the challenge for the poet as follows:

A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep

No challenge is more relevant to digital communicators when the virality of a message now outweighs its accuracy or usefulness.

Adapting: Paul Valery once said ‘a poem is never finished only abandoned’. The same holds true of digital communications. The work should be adapted continuously based on feedback, performance and changing circumstances. The goal is enhanced effectiveness and continued relevance.  Communication that is static is dead and abandoned.

The lessons above are but a few of thousands of years of the practice of poetry to engage the human mind and soul. Any digital communicator can learn from that collective experience. If applying poetry in digital communications seems unlikely, you can at least consider what poetry can do to improve your prose:

Yet, it is true, poetry is delicious; the best prose is that which is most full of poetry. Virginia Woolf

Always be a poet, even in prose – Charles Baudelaire


* This insight has an echo in Steve Blank’s startup maxim ‘there are no facts inside the building so get the heck outside’


Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere – Martin Luther King Jr

I don’t fear for safety
From the simplicity of evil
or complex works of good.

Beyond the neat edge
of my experience,
security is a privilege.

Fears that I don’t share
are still unendurable,
life-draining, life-ending.

My enclosed experience hints
at other works and wheels,
a shared system of society.

All that produces this world,
the light and dark, actors, victims
and passive accomplices.

We are interconnected –
This condition, this system,
this change is mine too.

The Poetry of Change


What is poetry? How can I explain it? And how do I explain it to you in prose? At moments like these prose is a brick through the poet’s window. The fate of the poet is to ignore the broken window and make good use of the brick, and of the draft. A broken window lets in a stranger world, not a familiar outside into a familiar inside, that’s gone to ruin, but rather a type of new encounter of the mind and its art—the air is welcome, the air is unwelcome. And still there’s the poet’s conductor, the cosmic madman in the mind, urging it all to poem. – Rowan Ricardo Phillips

Driving change in organisations can feel at times a little like describing the work of poetry in prose. The change agent speaks a different language and sees a different future. You are inclined to be treated as a madman. The art and poetry of change is embrace the discomfort and to leverage the opposition and disruption to creative ends.

Ignore the Broken Window

Change means breaking things. Many things will need and deserve to be broken. Some will be the things that you don’t want to lose. Many of the most difficult breakages will come from the pressure change puts on personal relationships.

Accept this breakage or jeopardise the change.

There is real personal discomfort for a change agent in this breakage. They can see different ways and want change urgently. Often it takes a long time for others to come on the journey and to ignore the damage of the path to a new future. Things might need to feel more broken before the new ways of working are embedded and effective.  If the people who aren’t coming on change are close friends or powerful players it can be quite uncomfortable.

Accept this discomfort or jeopardise the change.

A change agent understands that there is a greater purpose and benefits from better ways of working. They need to continue to act and share despite the discomfort because only conversation and example will create the path to new change. They need to communicate the change in language others can understand.

Make Good Use of the Brick and the Draft

The disruption of change will draw attention and conflict. The temptation is to seek to minimise this conflict in the approach to change. Attention is a scarce commodity. Conflict will help people focus on the changes and encourage them to understand. Don’t minimise the conflict and focus. Leverage it. Engage people in their own terms. Discuss the issues that people want to address.

Use the brick and accelerate the change.

The conflict of change is also an opportunity to leverage additional external perspective. Invite people to look outside the organisation. Let a draft of new ideas enter the organisation as people seek to understand and engage with the change. Encourage people to look to the networks outside the newly broken windows. Some of these ideas will create new conflict and new opportunities. There will be ideas there to foster and to develop new ways of working.  There will be evidence and case studies that help with the arguments for change

Use the draft and accelerate the change.

Urge it all to poem

Great change takes creativity. Great change finds a new and better ways of engaging others. Change Agents need to leverage creativity in their circumstances to make a poem of their change to a world speaking prose.

Step lightly

I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. – WB Yeats

Every day those around us spread out their dreams like Aedh from Yeats’ poem. Then we begin work to make the cloth of our personal purpose richer and larger. We must spread the cloth into an overlapping network because each of our purposes involves others. The realisation of our dreams and purposes are interconnected.

Many people don’t see the network spread before them. They focus only on their cloth. They don’t understand the power of interaction and the connected nature of our dreams. They shoo away others who must cross their cloth.

Others don’t see the impact of their interactions. Unaware, they tromp on the dreams of others in their self-centred focus on their own dreams. By design or by accident, they discourage others and damage their dreams. Hierarchal position doesn’t mean your dreams go on top or that you are arbiter of what will and won’t be realised.

Leaders step lightly. Knowing that all footsteps have consequences, leaders also enable others to walk with a lighter step.

Leaders work to realise the potential of others, connecting them, helping them solve challenges and extending their dreams. Leaders help people to stretch their dreams as far as they can go. The right coaching interactions help people learn how to bring dreams about and to invite others in to make more action possible.

Tread lightly. There is a dream beneath each footfall. How you walk in your daily interactions might make a critical difference to another’s dream.

The Choice: Two Roads or Promises?


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
Robert Frost

At times, we can reduce the challenges in leading organisations to a greeting card: There are two paths in management, a traditional one and now a better one. Pick the wrong one and your organisation will fail. The reality of modern leadership is more complex.

However, the glorification of the ‘road less travelled by’ is not the meaning of Frost’s poem. ‘The road less travelled by’ is hardly an appealing option for managers who must make decisions every moment of every day about how to lead their organisations and respond to the challenges before them. “The road less travelled by” is usually a road out of the organisation.

Frost’s subtle poem reminds us that many choices are obscure and evenly balanced when made. That obscurity is rarely resolved. We are left to define ourselves by the choices we have made and see the outcomes as results when the connection between choice and outcome is often remarkably complex.

Two Roads

Faced with the challenges of a rapidly changing networked economy many managers choose the path of efficiency. In a time of crisis, they redouble their efforts to deliver certainty, control and secrecy. Seeing threats in a digital economy these manager seek to take greater control and shore up the traditional defences that seem to offer certainty. Rather than deal with complexity, it is easy to declare a new simplicity.

Others are increasingly experimenting with experimentation, autonomy and transparency. They are seeking to create new forms of organisation from responsiveness and adaptation. However, as the use of new models increases there are real challenges to be resolved and new cultures and practices to be built.  It is a brave middle manager who chooses to introduce this approach into an existing organisation of any size. At times, the Responsive Organisation can feel more discussed than delivered.

Some times the two approaches are mixed and we don’t even realise. Our traditional ways can be so deeply ingrained that we can’t see the irony of ordering autonomy and experimentation. For a manager considering how to respond to a situation in the moment, considering new ways of working can seem like a luxury. After all, wasn’t the point of all our experience and training to give us tacit knowledge on which to rely when things get challenging?

Not Simple, Complex

Managers don’t struggle with organisation and choice in the simple or even the complicated domains of choices.  In these cases, traditional approaches work with some predictable degree of success. Recommending a responsive strategy in these examples is as wasteful as managers embedded in traditional management mindsets would see it.

However, the challenge of the modern organisation is rarely bringing complexity to simple choice. Bureaucracy may make simple management choices feel complex to implement, but the choice remains straightforward. The challenge for organisations is pretending there are simple choices when the domain becomes increasingly complex.

Complex choices are where we need learning, experimentation and new ways of working. This is the where we need to sense and respond. This is the domain in which managers see the networks around us change the nature of our traditional considerations.

Promises to keep

The nature of the complex environment in which we operate as managers is that we rarely know in advance what path will be the best choice. This can be a tough pitch to sell to your executive committee.  Worse as Roger L Martin has argued even a ultimately superseded business model may be successful long enough to make you look stupid.

We are trained as managers to define our journeys by their outcomes, just like the narrator of Frost’s Two Roads poem. This consequentialist logic is often used to justify the triumph of abstract organisational goals over personal, human or community outcomes in the process.

Perhaps instead we should define our journeys by the path.  Focusing on the process of walking the path changes our questions:

  • What management path values our personal purpose and delivers the greatest personal rewards?
  • What management path values the potential of others and seeks to maximise that potential?
  • What management path delivers on the promise to customers and the community inherent in our organisation and its people?
  • What management path maximises the net positive impact and contribution from all in the organisation?

Asking new questions is an act of leadership. The answers to these questions will help define better ways of working and new models of social leadership that can carry us through the management journeys ahead.

When we cannot know the journey’s destination, perhaps the better challenge is to walk the road well. We can run our organisations to deliver better answers to these questions.  A first step is freeing our people to contribute to their potential to these answers. We may yet find that all our roads lead to the same place, but we will arrive in better shape as managers, organisations, communities and as a planet, if we do so.

This reflection brings to mind another equally beautiful Robert Frost poem, “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”.  As we go forward into the dark and cold challenges ahead, this reflection challenges us as managers to consider the miles to go and the promises we must keep:

He gives his harness bells a shake 
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, 
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
– Robert Frost

Picture credit:

It is by imagination that knowledge is “carried to the heart” (to borrow again from Allen Tate). The faculties of the mind—reason, memory, feeling, intuition, imagination, and the rest—are not distinct from one another. Though some may be favored over others and some ignored, none functions alone. But the human mind, even in its wholeness, even in instances of greatest genius, is irremediably limited. Its several faculties, when we try to use them separately or specialize them, are even more limited.

Wendell Berry’s Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities