Monday, 12 February 2018

'Zealots, Cowboys and the art of pragmatism' (Part 1 of 2)

“Zealot’s, Cowboys and the art of pragmatism” (Part 1 of 2)

Pragmatism (prăg'mə-tĭz'əm)[1] a practical, matter-of-fact way of approaching or assessing situations or of solving problems.  It is also one of the most difficult things to achieve when working to promote 'Best Practice' and emphasise the need to do things the right way.

Interestingly having a pragmatic disposition when endeavoring to promote, execute or implement a given ‘Best’ or ‘Good’[2] practice could be one of the most valuable traits you could exercise. 

Many of us involved in 'Best Practice' initiatives suffer from the 'Curse of Knowledge'. That is   when "we know something it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it."[3]  As a result we tend to minimize the effort it takes for others to understand the ideas, experiences and consequences of a particular initiative.   It is this particular curse that causes us to underestimate the effort required to communication.  Therefore lowering our ability to empathise with the recipients of the proposed change.  Consequently any improvement or change we attempt whilst suffering the curse can go one of two ways; the path of the zealot or that of the Cowboy

In going the path of the zealot, we have the effort being run by true believers; evangelists or theorists. .  This approach most commonly manifests itself in the form of very complex and uncompromising ideas that lose sight of and fail to take into account the original organisational problem to be addressed.  One trap Zealots fall into is the tendency to often overlook the immediate maturity of the organisation they are working to change, underestimating the effort and time required to achieve the change.

Alternatively, the path of the Cowboy tends to take a myopic view of the problem focusing on ‘Quick’ wins that are not necessarily sustainable in the long run..  This particular path also has a tendency loose focus on the business problem at hand due to the conviction that doing what is right at any cost will cause others to realise the folly of their ways.  The Cowboy in pursuit of their own solution will often compromise the practices and behavior’s that are considered so crucial to the solution or change to be implemented.

Each path has it’s challenges, the Zealots path will most probably struggle to get started due to the difficulty sponsors and potential adherents will have in understanding the what and why of a given ‘Good Practice’.  Counter to this is the way of the ‘Cowboy’; who’s ideas will succeed in the short term due to the energy, drive and charisma of the lead.  Unfortunately success and sustainability of such initiatives tend to fade when the ‘Cowboy’ moves on. 

Who are they?  How do you recognise a Zealot or a Cowboy?  Even better how do you recognise it in yourself?  These are the challenging questions.  Zealots I have encountered in the past have traditionally come from the ranks.  Most probably having attended a foundations course and moved onto mastery of their given practice.  So much so that they often see the methods, frameworks and techniques they have learnt as the actual solution to all business problems.

A derivative of the Zealot form the rank is one that has transcended industries, and has a strong practical experience of ‘Best’ practice at work in their previous jobs.  As they’ve seen it work correctly they become evangelical about how things should be done, and become uncompromising in what their new organisation should do.

The Cowboy on the other hand can be an entirely different beast to the Zealot.  Possibly a Line Manager, or Project Manager with the job thrust upon them.  Or someone who sees the immediate application of the Best Practice as their next career achievement.  In reality they may not even understand the true value proposition of what they are endeavoring to do.

How do I know this (You may ask)?  I have worn the robes of a zealot and the ten gallon hat of a cowboy over the last couple of years, and have generally found that using these approaches to embed change are fraught with danger to both your career and personal wellbeing without the benefit of really achieving the change you have in mind.

On the occasions I have worn the Cowboy hat, I have had a lot of fun.  I’ve definitely achieved the change locally and it has been sustainable to a limited extent within the small group that was affected .  Unfortunately from an organisational perspective; it didn’t even get noticed.

When wearing the robes of a Zealot I’ve not really been the lead evangelist, but have had the benefit of observing others strive for sponsorship and success.  On all occasions I can vouch that this has been a resounding failure with the organisation unable to understand the vision of the Zealot and subsequently moving to remove the lead evangelist from the organisation or simply getting frustrated with the low volume (if any) of change.

It is with these experiences in mind that I have become (?) an advocate of the pragmatic approach.  That is an approach guided by practical experience and observation rather than just theory.[4]  You can in-fact view the pragmatist as someone who can effectively balance and utilize the skills of both the zealot and the cowboy. 

What if any insights do you have on Zealots and Cowboy?  We would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.  It is our intention in part 2 of this article that we provide you with some insights on a ‘Pragmatic’ approach, and some tips on how to dressing in white robes and ten gallon hats.


[2] Good Practice – Ref ITIL BOOKS
[3] Chip Heath, Dan Heath “Made to stick: why some ideas Survive and Others Die”, 2007, Random House Inc. New York

[4] LucidIT @ ITSMF 2006

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Thinking - Hanging it all together

I am in the throes of a number of projects and conversations amongst other things, and realised that I am continuously hanging things together, to come up with interesting idea's, solutions or philosophies.  I've been doing it for years.

With this in mind I thought I would put 5 Why's to some good use and capture my thoughts for later reference. (Especially as I've posted nothing here for years)

Here is an example of what I am talking about. Having read the book 'Making the impossible possible' the story of cleaning up America's most dangerous Nuclear weapons power plant sometime ago. Observing the continuing trend towards outsourcing. The advent of the marketing term 'Cloud' and what it really means.  

As well as talking to peers in the industry and challenging the idea that Cloud and Mobile are technologies in themselves but representative of changes in business operating models and philosophies.  I've come to the conclusion that wholesale divestiture of IT Groups will occur during my career.

What do I mean by 'Wholesale Divestiture of IT', much like the clean up of the nuclear weapons factory mentioned above, there will be a company or government, that at one time decides IT is too hard, too costly and too prohibitive, and not a core skill of the organisation.  Therefore lets clean the mess up and move to a wholesale service provision model.

Interestingly this is a great topic to consider, just what and how can one organisation position themselves to take advantage of this.  What does this mean for the traditional IT organisations when it occurs etc.  Note this is not intended to be the point of this post.

The point I am trying to get to here is that it was a series, no a breadth of reading, research and experiences that drove me to this conclusion. Something that I and many others do on a continuous basis.  Managers and Team leaders in particular do this.  There individual challenge though is to translate this thinking to action.

That is over the span of any given day a manager or executive can attend a multitude of meetings.  In fact so many meetings that the moment they are free their nose is immediately pointed at a PDA to see where the next meeting is, to scan emails etc. (Really where do they get the time to think - something else to write about)

Through-out this day they have to be able to pick up grains of ideas and insights intuitively and integrate/sythensize these elements into a holistic view.  They then need to take this perspective, package it into a picture that makes sense and inspires those they lead.

All, in truth, quite a challenge, and in someways an absolute mandatory activity that is more often than not seen as a luxury in this time-poor environment. This is in fact a strategic necessity that many people and organisations miss.

This of course then causes a downward spiral for organisations.  If space is not created for the synthesis, communication and inspiration of ideas or strategies we all become a little short sighted, at an individual, team and organisation level.  As an example, I recently had a client respond to one of my suggestions 'That's 9 months away, that's strategic it is out of our scope'.

Really, since when did the strategic Horizon shorten to 9 months? 

All sorts of things are causing and exacerbating this, everything from the current economoic climate through to the amount of information coming at us every day. Add to this our own personal practices and styles, how are we to ever adapt and change? Or are we all going to become mice on the proverbial wheel.

Think about it! If you've got the time, If you don't have the time i'd encourage you to make the time.  Make some space to stop and think, get it out of your head and start communicating it to others.

Here's what came to gether to make the above post - Global winds churn waters of executive poolCreative and strategic thinking - the coming competencies   8 tips for time poor executives   and of course a number of things from Endurance IT/5Why's that are definitely helpfull for this situation 

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Good Gramma

Here is something I came across on my bookshelf the other day. I thought that you may find it helpfull.

"How to write good"

Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read.
No sentence fragments.
it behoves us to avoid archaisms.
Also, avoid awkward or affected alliteration.
Don't use no double negatives.
If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times: resist hyperbole.
Avoid commas, they are not necessary.
Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
Avoid trendy locution that sound flaky.
Writing carefully, dangling participles should not be used.
Kill all exclamation marks!!
Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.
Take the bull by the hand, and don't mix metaphors.
Don't verb nouns.
Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? so silent....


I've not really been that silent, if any of you managed to read p66 of last weeks Australian Financial Review silent is not how I would be described.  (feel free to drop me a line if you are curious as I do have a scanned copy)

I've now created Endurance IT - the Site is up and running at I will keep posting there into the future.  Although I do have a little work to do to get it working effectively so please be patient.  Also there is the issue of adding a logo sometime in the future as well.

Will I post to 5why's into the future - I am unsure, maybe some things that I feel need saying but don't match up with Endurance IT may appear here.  In the meantime though keep an eye on the Endurance IT site - I will be putting out more content sometime soon.

For those of you who have been watching this site - Thank you very much.



Thursday, 15 April 2010

Short & Sweet - Slidument's

I am madly writing a white paper in preparation for the 2010 PacRim IT Service Management Forum and will subsequently be putting the presentation together.  During this riveting process of moving from a 'Blurt' to a paper of some quality and credibility I found myself not only referencing the concept of a 'Slidument' but actively avoiding this dire sin of presenting.  I do not want to be guilty of causing  Death-by-powerpoint.

Why am I telling you this?  Because the more people who start to understand and appreciate the burden that a mis-used tool such as powerpoint can create on society the better, and yes I do mean literally a burden.  The hours I see people spending working in powerpoint, printing them out to find that there is yet another change to the format, the image, the colour and so forth is phenomenal.  This all costs time, money and trees.

Anyway my short rant aside Garr Reynolds makes the point of slidument's in a much more eloquent way than myself so Please go have a read of this post.

Interestingly I have a second conference to attend later this month and Garr's post is very pertinent and has some sage advice I will be taking.



Monday, 22 March 2010

Take Back 10 Minutes

Here is a quick tip from HBR titled 'Take Back 10 Minutes'.  It is short and sweet, quite simply change your standard meeting time from 1 hour to 50 minutes.  This is very much inline with some of the ideas I mention in the Post 'Too many meetings'.  Here are a few of the tips:

1. Don't Blindly Accept - Make a judgement call if you should attend, delegate or decline. 
2. If there is no agenda - Restrict the meeting to 30 minutes.
3. State the purpose and approach upfront
4. If the delegate is not taking notes their not going to take action.
6. Sit-up Straight


Friday, 19 March 2010

Mandate Morass

Mandate Morass

Recently I've been listening to Seth Godin's Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us (for the second time).   Amazingly I bought the book as well.   Both good in their own right, although the audible version  is abridged so only takes a couple of hours to get through. It is listening to Seth that has motivated me to tackle this post about the concept of 'Mandates' that has been on my list for a while now.

Mandates! Managers need them, Leaders don't.  I have arrived at this perspective after years of comments like 'I don't have the mandate', 'If only the boss would mandate it', 'You don't have the mandate' and so on and so on.  I'm not sure if this particular dilemma is a trait of Big Corporation's, although this is where I have seen it most often.

All of these comments have whirled around my group and I as we have plowed on and made a difference.   In the way we work, how we are structured ourselves and the fund we were having in making a difference.  To us waiting for a mandate is like walking through a Morass, it is really hard work, slowing you down, if not stopping you entirely.

Even if the above sentiments are real.  I challenge you to be brave, ignore them, look at your job description or the activity you are driving and be quite literal.  For example if your title is 'Head of Technology' then head the technology, head it in the right direction, head off the challenges and problems.

This is particularly pertinent when you are trying to change an IT Organisation.  Chances are the senior executive don't fully understand technology, or if they do they are so busy trying to manage the broader scope of running a large Business Unit or organisation that they do not have the time to address it directly, and infact are assuming this is what you are doing.

Therefore you need to lead.  In reality the only form of mandate you should be obtaining is funding approval and guidance.  Even when it comes to having your leaders stand in front of the masses and re-iterate your message, chances are you will have a big role to play in defining the message, in fact even writing it.

I often tell people working with me it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission (obviously there is a caveat to this - as long as you are ethical and within the law). It's great when they quote it back to me sometime later, as challenging to me as this can be, it is an indicator that they are leading and making a difference.

So get stuck in, be brave and have some fun, lead.   If I haven't convinced you and you are going to sit and wait for the mandate from on high, could I at least encourage you to read or listen to Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us



Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Life of a Diagram.

Diagram's are central to an I.T. professionals career, be they Process flows, system diagram's, Ishikawa, causal loop etc. Interestingly as you get more experience you will become more and more reliant upon diagrams as a communication tool. In particular the informal ones.

With that in mind it pays to educate and familiarise yourself with the most pragmatic and easy to recall approaches that are out there. At the end of the day though people will argue that you really don't need formal training of any sort simply a piece of pen and paper.

So why would you need a formal approach to diagraming. The rationale behind this would be that using a structured approach to Diagram's in a collaborative session can harness the ideas and energy within a room.

For example having someone try to draw a process flow, whilst another is considering a systems thinking approach, while a third person doesn't understand either of these approaches will result in a lot of confusion beyond the normal challenges of terminology and jargon.

Before we define the life of a diagram and make some reading recommendations the key principle of diagrams needs to be stated. Quite simply diagrams are used to improve understanding and advance ideas. Interestingly people fly in the face of this principle all the time, two examples:

The first example is that of the overly complex or elaborate diagram. Interestingly I see a lot of these diagram's originate from some very smart individuals (i.e. see Zealots & Cowboys). Although they recognise the benefits of using diagram's they endeavour to interpret their thinking straight into a digital form (normally Power Point) and then cast this out onto their audience.

A second example I often see is the diagram that has achieved the goal of understanding quite quickly. The ideas are embraced and people move beyond the original diagram. Often because of the originator's attachment the diagram keeps appearing.

Both of these examples and many more resulted in the concept of the 'Life of a Diagram'. The first example can be addressed by the early stages of the lifecycle outlined below, whilst the second example is a problem that comes in at the tail end of a diagram's life. The life of a diagram concept/approach is as follows:

1. Scribble and talk, as you work through identifying the problem, opportunity or defining an approach to be taken, socialise it with your peers and co-contributors. test the diagram, get input, and then test it by talking and scribbling some more with another peer or contributor.

2. Go analog before digital, like many creative things, writing, presentations, concepts etc.. it often pays to work with good old pen and paper before you go and get digital. Doing this will allow you to further test the diagram as well as improve your understanding and interpretation.

A by-product of this approach is that you will become very proficient in drawing and articulating the diagram. Enabling you to draw it anywhere - on blackboards, whiteboards, napkins, tablecloth's etc. Something that may be pivotal in the case of a stakeholder encounter over a coffee.

3. Go Digital - when you want to communicate your diagram to a greater audience or in a formal construct such as presentations and whitepapers. Remember the KISS Principle (Keep IT Simple and Sweet). The rational for step 1 and 2 above is that starting analog keeps it simple due to time pressure and effort it takes to draw.

4. Seek feedback and suggestions for improvement, this has a number of benefits, one significant benefit is that as more and more people contribute to the concept you are presenting the more and more supporters and evangelists you have in achieving your goals.

5. Recognised when the diagram has done it's job. Retire it to your reference library for future use. Interestingly if you have followed step 1 & 2 above you're fine diagram will always be at hand (literally) if and when you need it for future conversations.

As an example to the output of this approach have a look at both the 'Process Approach' and STO Model represented on this site. Also look at other peoples diagram's, even better participate and contribute to the evolution of these diagram's.

Two books have jumped out at me recently. One prescribing a Systems thinking approach to diagrams Scaling Lean & Agile Development: Thinking and Organizational Tools for Large-Scale Scrum
and The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures.

Both books, although approaching the idea of diagrams from slightly different perspectives provide some great insights and ideas on using this extremely powerful medium to good effect. They do both emphasise the principle diagrams are used to improve understanding and advance ideas.



Friday, 5 March 2010


3 Weeks in and I miss the weekly goal!!! Wow what sort of commitment is that.

Big week this week, I've incorporated a company called 'Endurance IT', turned 39, picked up some new toys - in particular a 13" Mac Book Pro, and met with one of my first clients, with the intent of commencing work next week.

In addition to that I've just been down investigating the Antarctica trip - look like this will occur in early December. I am now taking moment to sit in a pub and create this post by way of penance for missing the Sunday deadline.

Over the coming weeks and months you will see a shift away from 5Why's and towards Endurance IT. I will shift some of the content from this site across, question is how much and in particular what.

In the meantime I will endeavour to get back onto the weekly post bandwagon. Please bear with me as I start to make these career/lifestyle changes. Coming up shortly 'Life of a Diagram' due out Sunday.



Sunday, 21 February 2010

Past Posts of Note from 5Whys

Keeping in line with the goal of a weekly post, I thought I'd take a direct approach this week. As suggested by Darren Rowse in his 31 Days to build a better blog (or was it one of his recent posts that gave me this idea), I am going to bring forward a number of key posts I have done over the last couple of years that may be of interest to you.

So here are 10 of the best in order of oldest to Newest:

1. Create and Communicate Direction - One of the handiest techniques I have come across. People who have worked with me in the past get sick of me asking 'Have you run this through CCD'

2. The Process Approach - This is an exceptionally useful tool when looking at improving or introducing new process. It keeps things nice and simple. Going analog on this can cause weeks if not months of continuous improvement

3. InBox Zero - This is more links to a really handy Site. Merlin Mann of 43 Folders provides great insights on sorting out your inbox. Something very handy when you are receiving 100+ e-mails a day. (Note - this fellow inspired number 5 on this list)

4. 5 Questions in 30 Minutes - Running a large team, or inherited one. How do you get to know your people as well as get some really valuable insights on what needs to be done. 5 Questions in 30 minutes was an approach I used to achieve just this.

5. e-mail Insanity!! - Unbelievably I still see this on a regular basis. In fact I'm probably suffering it a little myself due to the recent acquisition of an iPhone. This is something you should seriously consider.

6. The First Strategic Principle - One of the best!! Awfully simple to understand and draw with massive impact to any organisation design or strategic conversation you may be having. Feedback on this principle continues to be quite positive.

7. The GOOD, the BAD and the UGLY - Great approach to getting some feedback. I've even tested it's scalability by running it as a feedback mechanism for a group of 100 people.

8. To Many Meetings! - Add this to the InBox Zero and e-mail insanity perspectives above and maybe you can start to claw back some thinking time.

9. Elephant Spotting - An innovative way of seeking feedback from a large group of employees.

10. Philosophy of play at work - A newbie but a goodie. Real stories of introducing play at work.

Hope you find this recap on past posts handy.