The Knave’s had it…

Happy Boris-bashing day!

I read the report straight away. I will keep this brief, and cite from the report with good humour. Much as whoever wrote from page 62, titled “Mr Johnson’s resignation as an MP and his attack upon the Committee”. Nothing spared there – well worth a read {here}

In a full blooded reply to Boris’ resignation low blow, the Committee state, “Mr Johnson’s incorrect assertion that the Committee’s powers are new, and its procedures unfair, is a continuation of a pattern of statements which are bald expressions of opinion without justification” [para. 221]. The claimed lacking integrity inviting the strongest response, “Mr Johnson does not merely criticise the fairness of the Committee’s procedures; he also attacks in very strong, indeed vitriolic, terms the integrity, honesty and honour of its members“, a few lines on concluding such remarks, “...amounts to an attack on our democratic institutions. We consider that these statements are completely unacceptable” [para. 222].

Nothing Churchillian to see here

“…I owe my advancement entirely to the House of Commons, whose servant I am…”

Winston Churchill

If ever a Prime Minister has failed so miserably to acknowledge the weight of commitment of that role – it is the now “contemptable” Boris Johnson. Churchill he was not.

In Boris, we instead got a cad – now a knave. Belligerent to due process right the end, “we conclude that either Mr Johnson was being deliberately evasive with the Committee or that he has deliberately failed to abide by his undertaking to be candid” [para. 175]. Kicking the bin by way of resignation, he “broke the confidentiality of the process by revealing the contents of the warning letter and linked material, and attacked the Committee” [para. 215] – later confirmed as “a serious further contempt” [para. 222].

“He ought to question them upon everything, and listen to their opinions, and afterwards form his own conclusions”

Niccolò Machiavelli “The Prince”

From this report we also have the means to know Boris as the defensive decision-maker, extraordinaire. This is useful to see tell-tale behaviours. e.g., not asking the tougher questions, and asking only those people we know will say what is easiest to hear. In this instance “…from his then Director of Communications, Mr Doyle, and his previous Director of Communications, James Slack” [para. 176]. Further evidenced by those he did not seek out, “Mr Johnson himself told us that he does not claim Mr Case gave him an assurance” [para. 174]. And selectively ignoring the harder but better advice, e.g., when Boris “reiterated this assertion [of following all guidance] despite having been advised by his Principal Private Secretary not to make this claim” [para. 181].

“It is necessary for a prince to have the people friendly”

Niccolò Machiavelli “The Prince”

His friendlies have come to his defence of course, but these seem lame in the face of what is reported – and what is plain to see. Three examples. [1] Nadine Dorries (MP…?)- taking time out from her oddly extended resignation process – warning backers of this report will be “held to account by members and the public”. And adding starker warning to Tories still in post, “deselections may follow. It’s serious”; [2] The pro-Boris, anti-much else, Brendan Clarke-Smith MP reading all as “spiteful, vindictive and overreaching conclusions of the report”; [3] Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, offering his ‘voice of the people’ perspective from his seat at GB noise, “this report is in danger of making the House of Commons look foolish…”. All as reported in The Independent

Will this make the House of Commons look foolish, Sir JRM? Some may say from what baseline do we measure such remarks? Reclining from the front-benches, I suppose.

From The Independent Sept 2019

As to the attempts to discredit the process and the committee, the report addresses the resignation attack head-on. It makes explicit the processes in place, the extra measures taken to ensure the full disclosure and rights of reply provided throughout. The report also demonstrates an early anticipation of just such a rebuttal:

the Committee took the additional step of appointing Rt Hon Sir Ernest Ryder, former Senior President of Tribunals and former Lord Justice of Appeal, to advise on the fairness of the process

paragraph 218

Boris the Knave

The first modern era UK Prime Minister to be found so contemptibly short – and so personally far from his Churchillian idol. He is perhaps also the second to claim that undignified King-of-the-World fall (if we count the post-resignation contempt too). We will soon find out if the House agrees. His actions last Friday a legacy low-point perhaps. Lowest of this most indignant of dignitary.

PhD and me – community

A PhD journey involves plugging into a unique type of community. One worth fighting for

Ruth Winden and I speak about collaboration: “researcher culture uncovered” podcast s4ep5
If research community perspective interests you, perhaps also listen in to this recent podcast discussion I had with Ruth Winden – Careers Research Consultant at the University of Leeds. This blog intentionally contrast those podcast sentiments with the competitive challenge in a modern academic marketplace. I conclude that academics are, by-and-large, collaborators anyway.

scholarship is about advancing knowledge, not merely solving problems

These are wise words, offered early in my PhD by my supervisors. It nicely frames the priority of the research community, too. This is a community that I am beginning to feel more connected to, and relating more coherently with. If you are considering a PhD; or are curious to know what academic life feels; or if are also early in a PhD and are yet to connect more fully with your community, this blog is for you. I hope to convince you it is a worthy battle to enter – because of (and not despite) the conflicting nature of this world

The fog of war

I use the word “battle” provocatively. Primarily because there is an element of conflict that lives well in academic place. In the above flagged podcast I speak of the productivity of conflict, as a tool or communication device that has potential for positive ends.

The primary reason for using the word “battle” therefore, is to make plain this active engagement with debate. Get used to receiving criticism, because it is never short in supply. Harder still, is learning how to offer it back. Giving it back with all the same good intentions, and appropriate tone toward better outcomes both sides seek to collectively find.

I use the word “battle” also because it also points to an active role of conflict. Active, meaning that a vibrant research community is actively engaged in these productive challenges one writer/reader to the next writer/reader.

This positive battle is described as the “conversation” in academic journals. Each researcher is required to arrive with a paper that contributes to this conversation. The author therefore needs to know what has already been said, and be clear on which discussion they are placing their embattled position within. We are required to progress that conversation, or if we can be appropriately controversial, within that context, all the better. However, as was delightfully said by Dr. Tim Brady this week, “but only place your head in one guillotine at a time”. To extend the “battle” metaphor, this is to say, invite conflict from just one frontier at a time.

Next, I wish to highlight a second battle. One less wholesome, and I think one that is ultimately counter-productive to that first priority. This is the battle for attention, relevance, and (like most all public arenas) a tendency towards singular notoriety. I will first characterise a little more the first battle (i.e., referenced above). This offers a more concrete comparison to this less wholesome second battle. The first battle – that of a community in active constructive conflict – is paramount, and lives to the “scholarship is about advancing knowledge, not merely solving problems”. That means scholarship is about a clarity, or a revealing. Clear in research focus; clear in positioning toward betterment by a constant refinement, debate, or empirical accord. It implies that actions are directed toward something bigger than oneself. Therefore, for us wannabe scholars, before I can contribute to that bigger purpose I must arrive with capability – not just willingness to be involved. That means a hefty amount of groundwork I must commit to (mostly on my own). It is then a privilege to be invited to add to the discussions that are already going on. This is to the heart of peer review, and the difficulty and time needed to (perhaps and only eventually) add to what has come before. It is also the barrier to entry of this discourse.

“Battle” I now use in a sense more akin to the zero-sum game competition notions it more usually relates to (i.e., if I win, it means you must lose). This is the second priority, the business of academia.

This second battle, is the enabler of the first. That is to say, the academic institution is itself supporting that means to keep going. The business of academia is on the one hand an income, to finance all else; and on the other it is an output, being rated by standardised metrics of value. In this first hand, students pay to be taught; funding councils pay research grants – and both are matters of competition in finite pools. In this respect, all is standardised towards comparable metric. And as an academic, attracting funding and elevating the prestige of the school add self-evident value.

The relationship to incoming means is not new, nor a surprise. My 30 years in industry can be regarded in much the same measure. But revenue is but one metric; other metrics are also equally important as a means to keep going. This is the rating of universities, fields of study and research quality. It is student feedback; it is academic results; and, most markedly, it is now citation counts – the modern make or break of academic careers and institutions alike. These latter day metrics, are the more recent attempts to make the future user-comparison less arduous. The consumer metric, as if buying a commodity. These metrics have exploded into a binary of meaning in perhaps the last 20 years. And there is now plenty that is made plain to compare. This relates year-on-year, peer-to-peer; with a number attaching to most all scales and every career. The metric rated better universities, the metric rated better journals, the higher the ground from which to stand. The louder the voice in the debate. These factors now matter. They attract the incoming attention. If wishing to make meaningful the notion of “advancing knowledge, not merely solving problems”, it seems now that this is how the research community must more realistically relate.

There is of course nothing wrong with competition to keep matters effective and optimised. If value for money is the goal, then such metrics are all. However, is this really what we want research enquiry to be? Cheap and rated based on popularity? That’s not me. For me, I want to learn to make the harder more discerning choices. I am just about anti-establishment enough to see quantity over quality as something to be rebuked. To see institutional conformity to both be rules to learn, to more mindfully test to see if they break. I am also playground bruised enough to know popular is not always right, but more typically just an easier means to have less fights. Thankfully, that gives me grounding in confrontation and moments of diplomacy. I am however, now back at school and learning to fight more collaboratively. What excites me most in that regard is the realisation that once hubris is overcome, we can be so much more.

But enough about me, let’s talk about you… what do YOU think of me?

CC Bloom in “Beaches” 1988

Nine months into my PhD now, and I am beginning to feel like I belong. I am quietly going about my business, and seeing a glimpse of academic business, too. Academia, more than ever, is now a business. And this blog briefly outlines what that means. In my opinion it is an uneasy marriage of priorities: individual relevance; alongside knowledge creation. That is however a reality of a conflict that is unlikely to change any time soon. Any change is going to be in facing up to new emergent problems that are building from this unsteady foundations. We (you and I as wannabe scholars) are required to be known for our personal contribution and be unique; but we are most productive as a collective of conflict making the better ends meet. This is a contemporary source of many pressures and realities facing all in the academic community – a community who are first and foremost required to be knowledge seekers (not owners). This business end of academia seems to me a most distracting second priority. I think perhaps, it will nonetheless be a defining aspect the resulting pressure upon that community.

If you are therefore on the fringes of academia – if you have read this far, I suspect you are – and are thinking about diving in, this offers you a naïve perspective on what awaits – i.e., naïve as a perspective from a first year PhD (not a seasoned academic career pro). But if one thing is taken from this observation, make it this. In the modern era of landgrabs, and silos (and in most all walks of life) this academic community is one space where the people are not just here for the money, but are “advancing knowledge, not merely solving problems“. By-and-large therefore, this is a community that are all too willing to work collaboratively – and increasingly this means as cross-disciplinary and globally integrative ways. Very much the language I choose to speak. If you want more evidence of that community, just listen to what many have to say from within. Accessible here

The University of Leeds, Centre for Projects

I consider myself very fortunate to have landed in the Leeds Centre for Projects, part of the School of Civil Engineering. Both live within the natural sciences faculty at the University of Leeds. This centre for projects has only just launched, but it is filled with the sorts of people I like most. Highly collaborative, generous with their time, and clear in setting an agenda that relates to real world concern. There is no bigger concern than sustainability in projects (in my opinion). My research is motivated by that. The department I have joined lives by it, and populated by academic professionals driven by that same sentiment. My supervisors are also first rate – and as is their critique. The wider business of academia is one I am only just starting to see. I am minded to conclude that it is one of those places worth fighting for. You can find out more about Leeds Centre for Projects, here.

…to be continued


💩 Cancel culture or a dirty protest 🪧

I suspect my decision to deactivate my Twitter account will be almost universally unnoticed. But occasionally it feels good to just severe ties. To see enacted sociopathic attitude, malevolent intentions, and belief so opposed to my own that it was time to pull the plug.

Bye bye Twitter. You were my least liked platform of misinformation, anyway. Bye bye to the baiters, the denigrators, and the hateful propagators. And thank you Ego Must for making such an overt effort to confirm the lack of humanity and humility by such an exemplary disregard for care. I understand the reasoning but deplore whole heartedly the callousness – the classlessness – in how the deed was done.

Those were human beings waiting for those emails. How ridiculous that redundancy pantomime was.

Get yourself to Mars, Elon. You’ll be happier alone…

Random invites

Three reasons random invites fail, and why you should be worried if they succeed…

This blog is prompted by a noted increase in the number of random invite connections received on LinkedIn this month. I love connecting with new people, but some basics can be identified which seem to offer a universal truth.

visibility | behaviour | trust

I conclude this is principally a question of trust. But this connects to visibility, and to behaviour, with both necessarily increased if trust is to be found.

v | b | trust

Random invites. Context free and no prior history. Unless of course they can find you off-guard, but that is intent (i.e., behavioural) which should be inviting more than distrust because of the hidden truth that reveals (i.e., visibility).

v | behaviour | t

This is the behaviour of someone in a rush; or grouping you with many others; or hiding their intentions, concealing their real identity, and/or attempting to appeal to vanity where the less information offered is enabling more directed distraction. As such invites are also more likely part of a cluster, this offered more indicators that the invitation is intended for spamming or farming or otherwise hidden intent (i.e., purposeful low visibility)

visibility | b | t

This random invite is offering minimal visibility. With no note to bring to attention toward the intent of the invite. Less information, offering more uncertainty. Or targeted information without intended subterfuge (i.e., negative behaviour). Perhaps this is overtly using a profile title or photo image to attempt to skip past checks. Note how much more suspicious it is when with minimal extra effort you reveal there is limited information in the profile to offer context.

These are three categories to consider why random invites fail. Low trust, reinforced by minimal information or positive action.

The intentional deceit. And so what of covert attempts to overcome these signals? When might these random invites succeed? How about appealing to that covert side of our own behaviour, using that same overtly visible shallowness against us. Why might that work? I think deep down, we all know. It’s the means to override our more attuned sense of when to trust. Am I alone in being doubly suspicious when an unnecessarily dressed up face wants to say hello? Too right, I am. And if you are selling yourself by your image, that’s precisely the unsaid term I have just used. Without apology. Without limitation to ones preferences or bias. There are plenty doing this from all sides. These seem to me the most common-sense flags to avoid the many fake accounts that overtly play this game.

Examples of invite warning signs:

  • reliance upon shallow appeal (e.g., photo, title, pod followership)
  • offering little in way of content or prior chat
  • nothing relatable in profiles
  • industry or geography that seems completely left field

The interaction of visibility | behaviour | trust

So let me finally return to that telling lack of a note. That should say plenty. Why would you think someone is going to accept an invitation without a note that has something that connects you?

Conversely, I do actually send invitations without a note. But only because prior discussion has made that blatantly unnecessary. But then that’s increased trust, built via prior visibility and relatable behaviours.

Trust is built upon these principles, but should also be where it is lost…

Change control

…review structures and processes that could make a difference…

Lindsay Hoyle – Speaker of the House

This is a quote from today’s news. In my project world this kind of review is about matching the framework to the range of influence it intends to control. From the world of insuring construction projects I observe this matching of control to need is not done well. In project management academia I think we miss this point when considered holistically. In psychology this assessment of behaviour to aid control is understood in part, but typically only observed in simple settings and in a lab.

Sir Lindsay wrote: “In my opinion, it is time to consider radical action, and review structures and processes that could make a difference…”

“…serious allegations have been made, and we must address them as a matter of urgency. It is imperative we do the right thing by staff and MPs as well.”

BBC “Westminster reform: Lindsay Hoyle and Andrea Leadsom call for urgent changes” 1st May 2022

How control, influence, and intended change interact is what my research is all about. I am researching this in projects of construction. It is what I do in my consulting work. It is how I now orientate my own life.

At its heart, my research is directed toward a simple explanation that enables us all to ask more…

v | b | t

Here are some simple metrics of in applying this to the question of Parliament:

v | b | trust

We are directed toward lost trust. Where there is failed intent, we trust less. Establishing better frameworks for the intended change seems to me the sensible first assumed move to make. It is how to enable the electorate and the stewardship that serves us to regain some shared trust.

v | behaviour | t

We are addressing self-serving behaviour being empowered to serve itself. We are required to challenge innate motivations and compare what is happening to what is required. It instils the accountability of decision-makers and removes the defensive-decision making they hide behind. But more than that it so considers the suitability of their agendas, their capacity and capability, their judgement and the support systems they need. So that leaders can be what they intended to be, as servants to us all; not have what they intended to have, as servants to themselves.

visibility | b | t

We are seeking better visible to us all. An electorate that currently just has visibility of the indifference shown by the power-base. Visibility of deceit, misinformation, and calculations of what needs to said rather than what needs to be done. Legislation passed to protect past error in response to the questions we ask. Repeating evidence of leadership being the opposite of integrity and in not leading by example. What is needed is greater clarity on what is being intended. What vision is being worked towards. And what independent governance from independent source, ensures accountability of all.

Three possible latent origins of failure

Across each of these metrics we appear to have a failing framework of control in government. Beyond the personalities and party colours of the day, it is to our Administration that we should expect permeant control. I see three likely sources of failure that allow the wrong influences to reign:

1. the control of the internal system is failing

2. failure in the policing, the governance, or assurance of appropriate control

3. the clarity of intended change and to whom benefit is the primary goal

Either way the framework needs to have measure of all. Able to have account of all influences redirecting intended change. Thereby protecting the collectively agreed goals and/or the means to adapt such goal to the novelty of new or that which was previously unknown.

Projects | Within Projects

Whether in politics, or in charges of failure by the United Nations or World Health Organisation. Whether we are considering major projects like HS2 or Crossrail. If we are focused on decisions of priority to feed the hungry, or house the homeless, prevent needless bloodshed; or empower the entrepreneur, realign relationships with Europe, intervene in Ukraine, tackle climate change; or ensure our own growth upon a polluted home. Or, if we are addressing our personal purpose and how best to get there. All such intended change requires the appropriate selection of control, and account for all actor interests that may influence this goal for better or worse.

At its core, that is what is being called for here. At its heart, I contend that this is what we are all really asking for.

PhD and me

Learning by doing

I had to give this one a try. It came to my attention too late but I tried anyway. My first PhD proposal has now been submitted. Let the learning begin.

Written in three days is not the ideal preparation. But as a forced period of solid focus and serious questioning of what I’m trying to contribute as research and how it fits to wider academic research overall, was useful reminders of what it’s all for. My passion lives here. I just hope that shines through.

18 pages of my heart and soul. A baseline reset that serves as a useful confirmation that my research, my study, my consulting, and my life choices, all still sit well upon long-term goals.

That’s a good weekend, come what may. Learnt much by learning how much more I have yet to do.

If I had my time again I’d {insert here}

Finding your project

Finding my project

visibility | behaviour | trust

It took me quite some mental rebuilding before I was able to look this question in the eye. Not a day goes by now that I am not reminded of my answer. My answer from asking the right version of myself. It has become my means of innate motivation, intention, direction, and goal. It is how I have defined my project.

For me this is the visibility I needed. To what I direct my behaviours. What gives me a regained trust in myself. From which I have built critical controls to both enable and protect my project goal. From which I now proceed, mindful of external influence, and internal need.

What does this question mean to you?

Projects | within projects

Ssshhhhh … listening is a spectator sport

Less ask: more time to grasp

My ego is still a little raw from my self-flagellations on Twitter two weeks ago. I am observing I am far from alone in being turned upon by a minority voice. But such scenes present a different challenge to our selves. Resist the temptation to ask questions.

Hardly the way of discourse, but I think that is perhaps the point. We should perhaps see ourselves as an audience to presentations. Minimum disruptions, so as not to disturb the flow.

Why do we always think we are ready to ask? Social Media is an angry place. All of us seeking to be heard. It’s becoming louder, and quicker to bring to the boil. As a global society I wonder if we are yet to find our maturity on these platforms. I wonder also if it is not free speech we should be demanding. Not free speech, but freedom to just listen and learn.

That is my realisation this week. That I have been operating under false beliefs. The belief that I am ready to ask questions. To redirect a discussion towards my interest, curiosity, or perhaps even my agenda. Particularly on subjects as emotive, delicate, and incendiary as sexual difference and gender identity. Religion and politics. Dare I also include vaccination here too.

As a majority voice we should perhaps be saying nothing at all. Taking our majority of eyes and ears and putting all to better use. Inviting the quieter voices to speak, plus the angry ones in minority place.

Follow more people you don’t understand. Organisational groups beyond your own identity and kind. Then do nothing. Literally nothing. Other than sit and listen. No questions. No responses. Just take some time to observe, listen, and eventually understand.

Maybe all majority voices should feel compelled to do this. Saying nothing. Until people feel they are being listened to. And not immediately having to explain themselves when seeking a platform on which to take a stand.

The sucker punch

Hidden malevolent intent

Surprise attacks are effective because they take advantage of situational dissonance, i.e., actions by one party not anticipated by the other. Without offering much detail of events, I attempted to give this some thought across three media events that caught the headlines yesterday.

  • A slap in the face
  • Poison served as peace
  • Safe harbours no more for employment law pirates.
P&Ouch (created via MSWord)

Here I attempt to talk in terms of all three within categorical parameters I am using elsewhere to described project relationships

v | b | t

Hopefully familiar to anyone reading my blogs regularly, these are the interrelationship variables that represent a shared or separate set of interests namely, visibility | behaviour | trust. In the surprise move, we have:

  • One party disguising their intent (visibility | behaviour)
  • The other party perceiving no threat from the first (trust)

Additional factors in play

This gives me cause to revisit other factors in play in assessing threat. These are factors I have identified previously in the context of projects. Each seems to apply equally well here.

Influence – as Action Potential

Think of this as the spectrum of possible behaviours of each of the two or more parties. Typically dynamic, and therefore changeable over time. These are matters such as intent, motivation, belief, by which one party may find reason to choose or feel compelled to direct their energy. In neuroscience this is Action Potential. It is measured at cellular or neuronal level, but perhaps is an apt description between situational actors as well.

Right arena, right rules

In each of the three examples here, we have a definable space, and conventions that apply. The examples here:

  • confines of a spotlight;
  • a banner of truce;
  • legal employment frameworks deemed to be breakable rules.

But if we have the wrong arena in mind, we may have the wrong rules to apply. This highlights the importance of perspective or modal clarity.

What this additionally highlights is a threat to one actors safety, enabled because the wrong arena has been assumed. In these examples:

  • a single safe spotlight becoming a shared stage;
  • a table of negotiators but needing to see a wider arena concealing snipers, poisoners, or media spin:
  • a marketplace as a transport operator but finding safe harbour no more

Control environment

We have the perceived safety of a control environment therefore proved false:

  • A comedian’s sanctuary to say anything without reproach;
  • Rules of combat that may not prevail under a banner of diplomatic truce;
  • Legal rights of employees, legal expectations of ship owner and port authority.

Dynamics of change

To which we can then revisit influence and the appropriateness of control. Perhaps these two factors can be linked as situational awareness. Influence as an observable variable, positively or negatively directional towards self-interest or shared goal. To which the assessment of totality of range of possible behaviours, and appropriateness of controls can then be compared.

v | Behaviour as covert action | t

I need to now extend the range of behaviour. Not only is self-interest vs shared interest now possible. We now have shared interest defaulting to self-interest deteriorating to intentional harm of another. This requires visibility to be intentionally obfuscated and an illusion of trust to be maintained. This means we can have completely the opposite of full information i.e., [-1, 0, +1]

The hidden truth

Together these factors in each arena seem to help explain what was perceived versus what transpired. And how combative aims were concealed. By breaching the perception of trust we have a means to consider a bigger range of action potential as hidden intent.

Accordingly, when there is covert (as opposed to overt) action potential, this is beyond a poorly shared truth. This is concealment, and acting within a lie. Self-serving, self-justifying harm.

Is it too much to suggest in a caveat emptor project world, we occasionally fit this expanded mould?

One more?

And what of today’s headlines? Knock-knock Prime Minister. Plenty of eyes are now looking behind your door.

Uncertain relations

My visibility | behaviour | trust in you

My thanks to Chris Bragg for a line of questioning that prompting these prose; Jason Hier for promoting the dialogue from which I repeat my part in here; and Dinah Turner who generated the original visual prompt. All of which started {here}, a discussion on LinkedIn. My thanks also to Bill Sherman. Another LinkedIn thread {here}, one with a challenge I accepted yesterday, and answer at the end of this blog.

Visibility of what? v | b | t in context

Visibility for my project purposes i.e., Visibility | b | t , is addressing transparency between parties. Directed towards what is known and what remains uncertain. In our projects, how much visibility are we sharing one party (project actor) to the next?

This is how visibility relates behaviour i.e., v | behaviour | t , as transparency by one party to the next. This transparency reveals or hides certain behaviour. That could be our intentions, motivations, or actions. Derived perhaps from something as simple as our hubris or belief that we are surely right. Or something more self-interested or malevolent. From these two variables we can ask if we are affording the right level of trust i.e., v | b | trust , to the exchange. Assessing all three presents an indication of collaborative nature, as it relates to all parties supporting the intended change, as project truth.

How are we safeguarding a project from what we do not know?

This sketch, from Dinah Turner, prompted the wider discussion I refer to above. If the dot was the minimal amount of necessary information, Jason Hier teased us with asking what if it was as little as 1%, then let’s respond with the question as a percentage of what? We need to have more awareness to the reality that somethings are not knowable – but that our processes need to have the adaptability to manage these later realisations.

Image used with permission from Dinah Turner

As a graphic to reflect our limited availability of information, what was prompted here was a discussion around making best use of the little information we have. From my perspective (as related to project knowledge), the diagram also presented a third area of interest. (1) the spot of what is known; (2) the assumed everything there is; (3) a challenge to the assumption we can ever bound everything there is to know – beyond the circle. This is what Gigerenzer (2014) would reflect upon when comparing risk vs. uncertainty. It is the difference between working within a closed system vs one that interrelates to more. Or Engwall‘s “no project is an island” from which we can remove ourselves from closed system thinking in any project situation. Combining these two principles, we always have some uncertainty. I suggest the circle in the above graphic houses “the question we asked”. But outside the circle is “the question we wish we knew to pose”. From here we can hope to critically appraise the manner of any decisions being made, for what purpose, and from an information perspective we can ask “based upon what?“.

Being able to seek clarity on what the 1% represents enables better questions. Anyone who knows me, will know that my most likely answer to a question, is another question. This is because a question directs our attention to a set of assumptions and constraints. Are these parameters intended to facilitate an open dialogue, or are they intended to funnel and dissuade a wider perspective? Is this reflecting behaviour of the person posing the question, that we trust to have this right?

It is at these earliest of moments – in defining both problem and constraints – that we can begin to become unstuck. And why we should all therefore be first challenging the question, to see what visibility, behaviour, and trust, is represented. See other blogs on these areas individually, including for example sensemaking and wider problem solving perspectives.

Projects as time bound intended change

This is a dynamic position, and therefore change. In the modelling idea I have in mind, this is where my attempt to define everything by a project definition comes into play: as time bound intended change. And that any change, even one of enquiry, can be captured by this project definition.

Projects within projects

This also challenges us to consider if our collaborative practices are ever actually aimed at the same project. Or are two project actors working on their own projects and attempting to direct outcomes to their own intended outcome – even if that is at the expense of the other. I have in mind here game theory models that represent zero sum outcomes (winner:loser); or those where lesser outcomes emerge because of failures to cooperate (see prisoner’s dilemma, or tragedy of the commons, as examples).

Other factors are then able to be introduced:

  • direction of influence. Interests directed into the one project, or away from the project and directed instead toward the party with most momentary influence.
  • manner of project control to support the retained inward influence of both the one project aim and protection of all project actors.

These are factors that relate to potential outcomes. The one shared outcome, if we are claiming to be in the one same project. Each factor (visibility, behaviour, trust, influence, and control) the aggregation of contributing factors. So, if a question is asked with a hidden or misguided agenda in mind, the project of enquiry is immediately more likely to fail. Failure because it fails at least one participant, and probably the project overall. Or if the intent was misdirection, there was never a single project with the two parties in mind.

At bigger scale, this is why the inevitable uncertainty that exists is eroding this collaborative endeavour if it is simply defined and offloaded in contract. This is not the same as project outcome control. It is more simply a financial risk transfer with increased likelihood of dispute. Arguably a later revelation that project truth never existed. Only the roughly aligned interests of the two separate projects and outcomes each party was interested in, influencing, and operating with suboptimal visibility, behaviour, and trust.

I would argue this is the default position in construction. As one example where hidden agenda is almost always assumed, even if not shown. Low visibility as data is filtered between commercial boundaries. Malevolent behaviours. No trust. Contracts attempting to replace trust, but therein failing to regain control.

If this observation is accepted, then it offers an rough guide to likelihood of project success. If we see a project with inadequate control of its truth (the totality of visibility, behaviour, and trust) it is a riskier project than it needs to be. It is representing a project at risk of unseen influences, permitting malevolent interests, and abuses of empowerment bestowed. Therein is the prospect of increased potential for dispute, plus missed opportunity to intervene.

Are we one project? My ongoing hypothetical

I am yet to be convinced we can ever truly be one project. It is why this entire blogsite is called Projects | Within Projects. But I do think we can seek to ensure our own projects are more closely aligned. As well as all the other project assessments we undertake, I am suggesting this v | b | t assessment of the many influences, directed at the appropriateness of controls containing them, can be one of those higher level quick indications of the human made threats to success.

This affords a simple question, “why say yes to this project?“. Why as a potential project actor agree to enter this enterprise if the divergent interests are not a central focus of control? Why insure it? Why invest in it? Why be party to it? Why approve it? If one can heuristically identify this increased chance of failure, the questions you ask can all be directed this way.

This is visibility | behaviour | trust as a rule of thumb. A heuristic tool, directed at the overall collaborative interest at a project’s core. A work in progress. One that keeps me returning to first principles, new discourse, and regular revisits to this hypothesis as I go.

Agreed or not agreed – is that my question?

And finally…to the challenge I am responding to.

Can you distil your best ideas down into a simple question?

asks Bill Sherman via LinkedIn

Bill Sherman – a writer of thought leadership, and taking ideas to scale. His post yesterday was quite different. He compared NASA mission statements to those we each set ourselves. He offered contemporary examples of the questions NASA set to define their missions. Each a single question – pithy and capturing the imagination of any five year old or older still living with a sense of wonder. His challenge, which I agreed, is to set my idea into a single question. What is the essence of what this big idea is trying to do?

Bills advises us to be guided by the following:-

What’s your big idea that you’re pursuing?

How are you staying connected to your sense of wonder?

Are you able to explain that wonder to others?

Here’s a quick way to check:

1. Write your big idea in one sentence that evokes joy/wonder.
2. Then, test it out. Ask people what they think.
3. Keep going until people say “wow.”

I will confess to writing this entire blog with this question in mind. So here goes, attempt number one.

Can our modelling of projects be linked, to better guide all scales of intended change?

Version one

Can success or failure be gauged by a simple assessment of external influences and resulting appropriateness of project controls?

Version two

Projects are jeopardised if rogue influence gains control: can we avoid the invitations to fail?

Version three