Administrators — June 26, 2017


The way of the administrator is to set tasks and deadlines. These will be done more efficiently by computers in future, and then those administrators will withdraw and resign quietly.

Sometimes we have administrators in senior positions, who fill the air with noise and distract attention from leaders, who are leading, and who are answering the questions: why do we exist? What does success look like? How do we get there?

Why, what and how?

Too often we mistake the simplicity in these questions for unimportance.

Academia and policy – why? — June 25, 2017

Academia and policy – why?

“…[academic] research can provide policy makers with relevant factual knowledge, provide typologies and frameworks that help policymakers and citizens make sense of emerging trends, and create and test theories that leaders can use to choose among different policy instruments.

Academic theories can also be useful when they help policy-makers anticipate events, when they identify recurring tendencies or obstacles to success, and when they facilitate the formulation of policy alternatives and the identification of benchmarks that can guide policy evaluation.

Because academic scholars are free from daily responsibility for managing public affairs, they are in an ideal situation to develop new concepts and theories to help us understand a complex and changing world.”

Source: Walt (2012) International Affairs and the Public Sphere

These reasons – about why we should facilitate the transmission of knowledge from experts (such as academic scholars) to decision makers (such as those working in policy) – are all compelling and reasonable.

But just because we know something is the right thing to do, does not mean it will be done. There are always costs involved.

The question is what trade-offs are we willing to make? And which should we not compromise on?

Not a buffet — June 24, 2017

Not a buffet

Lesson-drawing, which is the process of learning from others, should not be approached with the attitude one might use at a buffet: cherry pick and choose what you want.

You have to view the whole system, to understand the mechanics of any one part.

“…reductively technical accounts of Singapore’s policy-making practice, ignoring the historical and political complexities within which this practice is embedded, will not have much pedagogical value.”

Source: Mahbubani (2012) Lee Kuan Yew School: Building a Global Policy School in Asia


Parkinson’s Law — June 23, 2017

Parkinson’s Law

“Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”

Source: C. Northcote Parkinson

If you allow two weeks for a two-hour task, then the task may expand – in complexity – more than is needed.

If you direct an individual to do a task, on what basis are you calculating the deadline?

Are you giving two weeks, because you think the work volume and complexity will fill that timeframe? Or is your calculation arbitrary? Are you allowing additional time as a buffer for the individual’s competing priorities?

One suggestion is that instead of saying ‘can you do this by next week’ – which an individual may, as is human nature, complicate and expand, to use the full week – to instead say, ‘can you spend maximum one hour on this task, sometime in the next week’.

This indicates the time that is expected to be spent on the task, while also acknowlegding an individual has competing priorities and tasks to complete.

This way of directing individuals is also consistent with the goal of being ‘sharp and clear with your instructions’.

There are some undeveloped concepts and useful responses here – for further thought.

Charity – Social Enterprise – Profit Enterprise — June 22, 2017

Charity – Social Enterprise – Profit Enterprise

Here’s a framework that attempts to differentiate charities, social enterprises, traditional (for profit) businesses along a spectrum.

On one end, creating social value. In the middle, achieving social impact alongside financial return. On the other end, creating financial value.

  1. Purely charitable funding from grants, donations and endowments
  2. Additional market-based revenue stream
  3. Potentially self-sustaining, >75% market revenues
  4. All profits reinvested in the business
  5. Mission driven for profit enterprise
  6. CSR and corporate philanthropy
  7. Pure profit orientation

1 (Charity)… 4 (Social Enterprise)… 7 (Traditional businesses)

The giving of feedback — June 21, 2017

The giving of feedback

The giving of feedback is a practice that can differ in shades. It can be graded from good to bad.

Good feedback is supportive, encouraging, positive. But also challenging, giving context, and pushing the receiver to the next step.

In other words, feedback should be demanding (setting sharp, clear, ambitious but not unrealistic expectations) and also supportive (encouraging and positive and comforting).

Have belief and trust in the receiver of feedback – empower, support, encourage. And also push, gently but clearly and unambiguously.

These concepts above are well-settled in my thinking, so now I just look for better ways to articulate the ideas, and what other situations they might apply.

Areas for further reading and reflection are:

  • Is crappy feedback better than no feedback?
  • Who should give feedback to the feedback giver?
  • How do you get better at the practice of giving feedback?
Habit formation: 100% is easier than 99% — June 20, 2017

Habit formation: 100% is easier than 99%

When forming a habit, a ‘no excuses’ approach might be the most effective.

Because as soon as you give yourself an excuse, you pave the way for bigger excuses the next time around.

“I won’t go for a run today, because I slept late” becomes, over time, “I won’t run, because I’m lazy”.

As soon as we give an excuse to miss the mark 1% of the time, we soften our “excuse threshold”.

Sometimes, it’s better to stick to 100% when we want to form a habit.

(I read a variant on this advice somewhere else, that was better expressed. Will look for it.)