Dave Rogers’ tweet was spot on, and found a better way of saying what I’ve felt for a long time: business cases are not a good way to make decisions. They give us false certainty and almost invariably mislead some or all of an organisation’s leadership.
Business cases are lies. Not wilful lies usually, but they end up with the same results: misleading, misinforming and hiding reality.
Why would I feel so strongly about what is a pretty standard part of modern organisational life? Because I think it’s symptomatic of the challenge we face in moving to Internet-age public services. It’s easy for folk to nod along with the importance of ‘being digital and agile’ but then insisting on a ‘layer of programme management and finance oversight’ you know, “just to make sure it delivers”. This kills the good stuff and pulls us back to the wrong, lumpy ways of doing things.
Take a business case for a software implementation project. Probably what will have happened was requirements were collected, some market engagement done with potential suppliers and then estimation on what the work requires in terms of time and people. A return on investment will have been calculated to justify the costs involved. If everything looks reasonable, leaders will read through it, perhaps asking for some contingency funds or reassurance from managers. Then the document gets approved and people run off to do stuff. Almost certainly work doesn’t proceed as expected: Requirements change, a supplier experiences delays, costs rise.
If costs are within the total envelope no leaders are bothered with this. Programme managers juggle the finances internally. If spend goes above the envelope, then a scary moment as permission is sought to spend more. But usually we experience a few questions and the green light to carry on from our leaders. How so? Because the hole has already been dug, we need to finish it, the costs have been sunk. Let’s press on.
The Requirements – The idea that we can capture all our requirements and then share them with suppliers to get answers is fantastical, and wrong. Usually the requirements are widely varying in detail and realism, furthermore they utterly fail to recognise that customising commercial software is poison. For years big vendors thought charging for customisations was a profitable wheeze for clients stupid enough to request this. But even they realised this was money they didn’t like as the cost of maintaining all these forked and patched version of their products was just too painful to bear. Customising commercial software almost never ever makes sense. Even more importantly the requirements tend to be a deeply imperfect snapshot at a moment in time. By the time any code is likely to be in use the world will have moved on.
The Cost – Software should not be a capital expenditure. It is a continuously changing, living thing that needs constant care and maintenance. The idea that a fixed price can “get us there” is fundamentally wrong. It takes us away from the power of funding teams, not projects. Business case methods massively favour capital expenditure, one-off type thinking. Yet for the complexity public servants are normally grappling with this is rarely the right approach. We need long term, patient funding for the wicked issues we seek to tackle. And also of course cost estimates for such business cases then to be wildly wrong.
The Time – Building a bridge or a school? Then a fixed timeline (with padding for slippage) makes sense. Trying to change complex systems issues like integrating health and social care? Then a fixed time business case is the wrong tool for the job.
I understand that the ‘certainty’ and ‘process’ surrounding business cases can be comforting for colleagues. But we’re fooling ourselves, we need to be courageous and hold the uncertainty as we explore the problems we face in open, collaborative ways.
Shifting away from business case culture takes time and effort – it’s a big cultural shift, as well as one that will take away a prized method some will have spent their careers on mastering. But shift this we must, otherwise we will look back in 2030 and see more wreckage of failed programmes led astray by false certainty and sunk hole mentalities. We can do this.
Georgia Catt, Jamie Bartlett and team at the BBC have made a stunning journalistic podcast. It’s made even better thanks to the wonderful sound design by Phil Channel, who also worked on the masterful ‘Death in Ice Valley‘.
They masterfully investigate OneCoin, a multi-level marketing scam which purports to be a cryptocurrency ‘Bitcoin killer’. Yet the currency can’t be traded and can only be purchased through ‘educational packages’. The founder disappears (the Cryptoqueen they are searching for) and the story gets weird and weirder as more people come forward through the series – a OneCoin beauty pageant, a OneCoin OneLife church in Uganda and so on. That OneCoin was able to reach globally, from Amsterdam to a farming village in Uganda, is remarkable. But also how the hype around technology, getting rich quick and regulatory failures all played their part in letting a few get enormously rich at the expense of so many people who couldn’t afford to lose a penny. Go listen, it’s absolutely superb.
This is a heartfelt memoir written and narrated by Michelle Parise covering her marriage, its collapse and her life after divorce as a part-time mother trying to find love in Toronto. Ethnically Italian it’s also about identity as a second generation immigrant, about what relationships can and should be in the age of app-based dating and so much more. It’s beautiful, moving and searingly honest. Don’t miss the accompanying website which has lots of lovely extra details.
This is a fun journalistic romp through a bizarre US story of a feud between a petting zoo owner specialising in big cats and an animal rights activist which escalates to hitmen being hired, fires being set and more.
BBC Radio 4 continue their Intrigue series with this fairly short series into the story of how a small team of students dug tunnels to help people escape from East Berlin. The series is filled with powerful personal testimony from participants, who suffered tunnel floods, Stasi spies and all sorts of other challenges. It is well paced, with lots of interesting detail. Well worth a listen.
This podcast, from the excellent New Hampshire Public Radio team who produced Bear Brook, is all about disease. Specifically it’s about Lyme Disease: The story of how it was discovered in… yes Lyme, New Hampshire… and the challenges early sufferers had in being listened to by medical professionals. The series patiently explains epidemiology, how ticks were found to be key to transmission, unpacking why vaccines have been hard to develop for the disease, through to various attempts to control the disease. It stops off on the way to why and how lots of dubious treatments persist at great cost to patients, and why doctors don’t agree on how to treat some patients. So yes, this is about Lyme disease, but it’s also about the modern medical model and how we don’t know as much as we think we do, which leaves us vulnerable in times of illness to quacks. A very well produced and thought provoking series.
Sara Pascoe has a book to promote, also called ‘Sex Power Money’. So rather brilliantly she decided to produce a podcast interviewing people on the topics her book explores. And through word of mouth I heard it was rather good. One of the topics I explored in my aborted PhD on government policy consultations was a Home Office one on sex work. The literature review I did on this took me into a world I had previously known absolutely nothing on, but it soon became stark that the evidence on what works to reduce harm (decriminalisation etc) was rather different to the policy options being debated in the political space (Nordic model, criminalisation etc). Sara Pascoe proves to be an excellent interlocutor talking to sex workers and campaigners to open up the many complex issues we as a society face when trying to explore how we handle the intersection of sex, power and money. I felt much better informed through listening to this short series. Give it a go.
No matter how many qualifications and professional registrations a health professional has, there is ultimately a degree of faith and trust you need to place in them. Thankfully most times that works out ok. But sometimes that trust is abused.
This podcast is an incredible story of how a celebrity-obsessed New York therapist manipulated some of his patients to gain control over their money, their businesses, their properties… their whole lives. It’s wonderfully put together to make a compelling narrative whilst also exploring the limitations of professional associations in managing such behaviours by their members. Joe Nocera takes us through the story with great personal insight as the story came to him through the key characters being his neighbours in the Hamptons. Do listen.
A sports podcast?! I know, not my usual fare but this is really more a podcast about achievement, careers and the science on performance. Some recent episodes have been utterly fascinating: Boris Becker on the price of celebrity, David Epstein on why in most cases early specialisation is not beneficial and Christie Aschwanden on recovery. Simon Mundie does an excellent job interviewing his guests, well worth a listen.
OK so it’s a documentary movie, not a podcast, still go watch it. It’s on Netflix and is an excellent summation of everything we know so far on Facebook and Cambridge Analytica worked to manipulate elections and other types of campaigns. It’s very well made, but does feel like it will need a sequel as we are still in the midst of understanding what is really being done with our data.
Last week I was very privileged to deliver a keynote to the annual SOCITM President’s conference. The last time I did so was in 2013, I’m hopefully a bit wiser since then. Also I was delighted to see the conference’s attendance grow both in numbers and diversity since my last visit.
This blog isn’t the presentation I gave last week, nor a transcript of it. It’s the distillation and iteration of those ideas.
How can we bring stakeholders with us into the Internet era for public services?
I’ve been a council leader, I’ve run a digital agency and I’ve been a senior council officer. In all cases I’ve seen the huge difficulties good people and important work can face when struggling with stakeholders who “just don’t get it”.
For those of us impatient for change, it’s something we have often wrestled with. In many ways it’s an age old issue that goes to the heart of organisational renewal. But, and I know this is (justifiable) exceptionalism, I do think the Internet era we are now in brings a new flavour to this challenge. The conversations we need to have aren’t “out with the old, in with the new” and it would be wrong if they were. What I think we often experience is a fundamental disconnect over what the Internet era means and why it changes things.
An important public service announcement:
We break for a reminder that this isn’t a breathless Wired article where “just add tech” techno-utopias will be entertained. Sadly I think that too often when there is fear or misunderstanding of the Internet era people can revert to simplistic “just be more like Amazon” talk, sprinkling tech as they go. That’s one of the reasons I try to avoid using the term digital without being sure I’m with people who all agree we mean something like Tom Loosemore’s definition of digital. Too often ‘digital’ becomes a hand waving phrase to avoid precision about what we are actually talking about.
Let’s also be clear that “not getting it” doesn’t mean people are bad, it means we’ve got work to do. Now some will be stubborn, lacking curiosity and hard to budge. But in my experience most aren’t. We don’t need 100% understanding from all stakeholders. We just need enough to swing the pendulum.
The end of the heroic leadership paradigm
I didn’t know what it was called until I saw Barbara Kellerman speak at Harvard, but now I can proudly declare that I’m a passionate student of collaborative leadership. That is to say that the heroic model of a super-CEO type leader is not one I subscribe to and I don’t think is sustainable in our modern world.
In public services I think that means breaking down the Victorian, militaristic hierarchies in our organisations. It also means helping our leaders to recognise that a mechanistic mental model of how to bring about change is deeply flawed. There may be some levers to pull on, but they aren’t connected to anything at the other end, so won’t achieve the desired outcomes. Quite simply, just because someone has a position high up a hierarchy, Prime Minister even, doesn’t mean the outcomes they desire will happen on their say-so.
Rather I think an agricultural model of thinking and leading is more appropriate. We can’t make a seed germinate. We can’t know what’s going on inside a seed without destroying it. But we know the conditions it needs to give it the best chance of successfully germinating and growing: Fertile soil, water, warmth, sunshine and so on. Creating the conditions for success, in the knowledge that we can’t control for everything is vital to the mind shift we need to achieve. This means nurturing teams, valuing staff happiness and engagement are all even more vital.
How does this help me with stakeholders?
It does. Because there are lots of excellent people, associations, companies and agencies supporting leaders on such journeys to collaboration and systems thinking without explicitly talking about technology. I think that can be an incredibly helpful trojan horse to shifting the thinking.
Secondly, this mindset really can be shifted by a small group of people. It needs resilience and some supporters at or near the top, but this journey doesn’t require your whole organisation to agree or understand before the tide will start to turn with positive outcomes. The Margaret Mead quote hits the spot on this:
I took the time to set out some of my underlying assumptions about styles of leadership and thinking because they’re important. Launching into why the Internet era is different without first being clear on the necessary common ground is, in my experience, risking a high chance of early failure.
We urgently need stakeholders to think about, decide on and support work in different ways. We need them to fund teams, not projects. We need patient supportive leaders to allow the hard work of discovery, user research and service design to actually bear fruit. We need to bin business cases: They give false comfort with lies about how much will be saved or earned in 4 years if we spend X now. As public servants we need to focus on the wicked problems which, by their very nature, can never offer certainty on costs nor returns in a fixed timescale.
So I turn to US Air Force Colonel John Boyd, a fighter pilot in the Korean War and considered one of the top strategists in modern US military history, who still has academic conferences held in his honour. In the 1950s Boyd developed the concept of the OODA loop. This describes a loop beginning with Observe, then Orient, then Decide, then Act before returning to Observe and so on.
He originated this thinking with reference to aerial dogfights. He suggested that the winner in a dogfight was the pilot who could get ‘inside’ the enemy’s OODA loop – in other words do each of the steps faster than their opponent. The simplicity of the idea, and it’s easy application to much in modern life, has given it a life well beyond aerial combat tactics.
Public sector bodies have their own OODA loops as expressed through their formal and informal decision-making. Too often they are top-down, deterministic and slow. How often have we heard the tragic “I know what the problem is, just find me solutions” guaranteeing that the speaker has no idea of what the problem really is.
In my view we desperately need to change the public sector to have rapid OODA loops which are driven by a focus on outcomes, using analytics and rapid iteration.
And this is exactly what the Internet-era enables. It makes the OODA loops much smaller. Thanks to the low costs and connectivity of modern tools we can build and iterate products and services more quickly than ever before. Whereas a trial service might once have taken 2 years to get the first meaningful feedback to know if it was worth pursuing, we can now achieve the same in weeks.
Not only does this offer us more speed and flexibility, it also reduces our costs and risks. How so?
Usually business cases are built for multi-year programmes of work. The inflexibility of the governance and the resources means it’s only worth mobilising such decisions for big programmes. Yet too often it’s impossible to know if they will really work as intended, so the costs get baked in. So we end up with big price tags, or bigger than absolutely necessary, because of governance and lag. Little and often minimal viable services are a much cheaper and faster way of figuring out what works.
With an agile, iterative approach which funds a team and not a project we can stop or course correct at any time. There’s no shame in it and so we can avoid years of spend if something isn’t working out, we just move onto something else. But if it is working, by going out with the minimal viable service we can gain benefits much earlier. I liken it to the compounding of interest. Would you rather get 5% a year for 5 years or 25% once at the end of 5 years? The right answer is 5% a year as not only is that spreading your risk – you get some return now regardless of what happens in the future – but also you get more overall as you earn interest on the interest.
Interest rates are good link to an example I like to use at the moment: Monzo Bank. Other banks are available, but thanks to their culture of being really open about how they work, it’s easy to use Monzo as an example. As an online-only challenger bank lots of people think they’re a tech company, but they’re not. They say it repeatedly themselves: technology is an enabler – a means to an end – not their purpose.
They launched with a real minimum viable product, a pre-paid debit card issued by another financial institution which gave a current account-like experience with their beta app. It was a long way from a real bank account service. Still this helped them to build up a client base, and insight, which they used to start building a real current account and other features as they went on. They also genuinely co-produce their services through their community which should be the norm for public services. If a bank, a trendy new one I know, can do it then so can we.
Making it real
Maybe the agricultural metaphor and the OODA loop are useful for working with your stakeholders? Please let me know.
I’ve considered and tried many, many ways to attempt explaining why things are different in the Internet era, and why public service leaders need to do things differently as a result. Based on years of working in this sector this is my latest, best effort. Your feedback is very welcome as I know there’s so much more room for improvement.
In my experience there are some key values and capabilities needed to go on this journey, and make it last in public services. They are worthy of several blog posts more of discussion, but I’m just going to put them out there for now. They shouldn’t be outrageous, I hope!
Culture and values:
‘Safe uncertainty’ aka risk appetite
Data Science & Analytics
Finally it’s really worth remembering why we need to do this. It’s because we’re not making enough of a difference to the citizens who depend on us, those who have nowhere else to go. Yes there’s austerity, but we still have huge resources and our outcomes need to be much better. Just shunting transactions ‘online’ is a start, not the end goal. This is about resolving the wicked issues and making a difference for those who have nowhere else to turn.
Both these podcasts are written and presented by jobbing journalists, but produced by the podcast firm Wondery. I don’t really like the excessively smooth American production values Wondery use. Somehow their work sounds too polished when compared with the visceral honesty of something like Serial or CBC’s Someone Knows Something. Still… now that I’ve got that off my chest, these are two fascinating stories worth a listen. ‘Dirty John’ is the better of the two, recounting how a serial fraudster John Meehan targeted women and controlled them to the point of terror for his pleasure and enrichment. It’s an incredible true crime story with stunning honesty and openness from his victims and their families. I was surprised that his 110% narcissism isn’t called out in the series, they struggle to know what to call his ‘issues’, but that’s a minor quibble.
‘Over My Dead Body’ is the tale of a dream couple’s nasty divorce ending in one of them being killed in an apparent paid assassination. It’s bit slow to build but stick with it, as the FBI wiretaps of some of the alleged conspirators in the murder makes for compelling listening as the case progresses. Also the follow-up episodes on the New York Rabbi who kidnaps Jewish husbands and tortures them until they grant divorces (there is a connection to the main story, I kid you not) is seriously weird.
The BBC World service have excellent form, and superb production values, on their podcasts (see Death in Ice Valley and The Hurricane Tapes) and this is no exception. With a huge soundtrack, superb access to archive materials as well as new interviews with the big names, this is a must-listen on the history of the Apollo moon landings. I love the detail they put into understanding the technology, maths and people behind the programme. Great stuff.
Culture.pl produces this series of little known stories from Central Europe, the ‘Eastern West’ as they like to call it. There’s a great variety of fascinating tales covered from the history of Esperanto to how Warsaw Zoo was used as a cover for rescuing Jews from the ghetto. The banter between the presenters can be a little forced sometimes but other than that it’s a brilliant series bringing a wonderful part of the world to greater prominence for Anglophones.
The author had dreams of a sporting career until a baseball bat came loose and landed in his face during a game, landing him in a coma. This isn’t a cheesy all-american kid come true motivational book though, thank goodness. It’s a genuinely engaging take on why we form habits and how to use greater understanding of how habits form to make positive changes for work, fitness or anything.
Essentially Clear argues that just showing up and doing something regularly, to build the habit, is enough to get you going and make a difference. So he argues that regularly doing one or two pushups every day at the same time (for example after walking the dog) is better than occasionally managing twenty. And through the cumulative impact of incremental improvement (like interest on a savings account) progress will mount and become noticeable.
Personally I love anything which unpacks and challenges the myth of ‘overnight success’. Just showing up every day, building a streak of doing the thing each time, breaks down even the toughest challenges to bite-size chunks. Some of my favourite examples in the book (of which there are many) relate to the comedians Steve Martin and Jerry Seinfeld each of whom are reported to have worked daily on their jokes in a relentless way their effortless delivery belies.
Clear’s book isn’t earth shattering, it doesn’t offer breakthrough new science. It’s a very well presented and thought through framework for understanding habits, how they form and when they can be a problem. That in itself is a valuable contribution.
I don’t think improving your habits will necessarily make you a better person, build your emotional intelligence or launch your music career. But they could make your life better by cracking a few things and just getting them done. And if you make your habit practicing guitar every day, then maybe that music career has a chance after all.
I came across Reinhard Engels through Oliver Burkeman’s book Help. Engels, a librarian turned programmer based at Harvard, is a bit of an internet legend for coming up with a range of ‘Everyday Systems’ for dealing with the challenges he faced: getting enough exercise, quitting smoking and losing weight. All of his ideas he shares freely from his websites but popular demand led to this book being published on his most successful idea, the No-S Diet. I ordered it from one of those online discount used bookstores that ship from millions of miles away so it came weeks after I ordered, and forgotten about it. By strange coincidence it landed a few days after I’d started Atomic Habits, and it turns out they’re a perfect match.
No-S is essentially a specific habit building system for controlling eating. The system is to eat only three plates of food a day with no seconds, no snacks and no sweets. The exceptions when the rules don’t apply are ’S-days’ which are Saturday, Sunday and special days like birthdays. That’s it. And indeed the whole plan is on the cover of the book.
Still the book does have value as Engels explains more on how and why he came up with the plan, and why it works. The most compelling argument he makes, based on analysis of mainly US government data sets, is that an astonishing 90% of the growth in Americans’ calorie intake has been through snacks. In fact he claims the data shows that the average calorific value of American dinners has declined in the last few decades, whilst snacking has more than made up for it. He is scathing on the diet and fitness industry which hawks snacks and health bars at the same time as telling us to restrict our eating habits. Normalising snacking, in Engels’ view, is the slippery slope to losing control over what and when we eat.
Let me repeat that as it’s stunning… 90% of the extra calories eaten through the decades when those on Western diets have grown fatter than ever, come from snacks. Wow.
Let’s be cautious with our stats though, Engels only shows correlation and not causation. Still his case is a strong one when he brings in comparisons with other nations such as France and China who have low but growing snack intakes, matched by low but growing obesity.
I’ve become a bit of a snack watcher since reading the book – and I can report that my kids are obsessed with snacking. Is this the new normal? I hope not. Measures are being taken!
I can report that since I’ve been trying to No-S habits I have lost weight, my appetite feels more regulated and I can’t take as many sweet things as I could gobble before. One plate of food is plenty enough and I rarely feel tempted to snack now. Maybe he’s onto something?
Wow. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. From the team behind Serial this podcast series is a portrait of a small town in the American deep south, a story of how family is complicated and most of all the tale of an extraordinary, eccentric, passionate man with mental health challenges.
I can’t recommend this highly enough. It is beautifully and sensitively produced as it touches some very delicate and personal matters which I won’t expand on to avoid spoilers.
There has been some debate around the morality and ethics of this podcast. I think such debates are important to have, but on listening to the whole series the producers have shown themselves to be considerate and careful. I won’t say more to avoid spoilers but after listening do have a read around the debate on the ethics of producing such series which involve vulnerable people.
Top BBC reporters like Laura Kuenssberg, Katya Adler, Adam Fleming and Chris Mason get together late at night to review another day of Brexit developments. They are tired, punch drunk from the relentless events of the day, and full of insider insight. Don’t expect a tightly edited listen of perfection, do expect laughs and hot off the press views. I’ve found it essential listening.
One of the most interesting conference panels I ever participated in was at EuroCities in Nantes. A number of city Leaders and Mayors, including me, had been briefed to talk about youth participation. Naturally we all were ready to talk about our success stories. When we sat down the moderator asked us to talk about our greatest failures in boosting youth participation. It turned into a fascinating and insightful session, far better than if we had just trotted out our polished success stories.
So when I stumbled across a podcast series on learning from failure I had to give it a shot. There’s a huge archive of episodes. So far I can highly recommend the interviews with Alistair Campbell and Gina Miller. Elizabeth Day’s humility and openness makes for a powerful interview technique. Do give it a listen.
I’m a Fellow of the RSA and have collaborated with Matthew Taylor before, so perhaps I’m naturally inclined to like Polarised. Still it’s a skilfully produced series hosted by Matthew and Ian Leslie that tackles an issue of our time – the growing polarisation of our society and how to address it. A thoughtful dose of brain food.
The story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos has become infamous – how she portrayed herself as the next Steve Jobs, with a world-changing medical technology startup. The reality was one of bullying, fraud and patients being put at risk. This fascinating podcast goes right inside the story with fascinating interviews of those who were inside Theranos at key moments in the story.
Kocienda summarises his book, and conclusions about the Apple culture as: “A small group of people built a work culture based on applying the seven essential elements through an ongoing process of creative selection.” If that sounds a bit vague to you then it summarises the book which veers from detailed anecdote to attempts at generalisable theory of Apple.
I’m not sure what to make of this book. It’s fascinating to be able to get a glimpse inside how Apple worked during the gestation of the iPhone. That’s what got this book published. Yet… it feels wrong for one person to be letting us behind the curtain when that’s just not what Apple does, and this was clearly a team endeavour. Even if Kocienda is the most benign and kindly teller of the iPhone story, it’s nigh on impossible for him to do justice to all of the teamwork involved.
There are undoubtedly interesting tales in the book, and some superb attempts to simplify complex technical issues for a non-technical audience. If I was compiling a list of must-read Apple-ology books this wouldn’t make it. But if you’ve read everything and want a bit more then Creative Selection is an interesting few hours of detail, particularly around the development of Safari and the iPhone keyboard.
I have long been a fan of Basecamp the product and company (which used to be known as 37Signals). I spent so much time using Basecamp when Head of Technology at Netmums that some nights I dreamt in Basecamp!
Fried and Heinmeier Hansson influenced my approach to development and I greatly respect their approach to business. This is their third book, and I enjoyed it immensely. I don’t think they’d be offended if I noted that all three books have been pretty similar in style and content. But Fried and Heinmeier Hansson have clearly iterated their thinking to improve and condense their key messages. This latest book is the most crisp and impactful of all.
It reads as a series of short, digestible chapters extolling a human(e) approach to business and software development. One of their key insights is to consider the company itself a product that needs to be continuously improved. There’s lots of good thinking packed in there such as “hire the work, not the resume”, “don’t meet, write” and “disagree and commit”.
A refreshing and uplifting read for anyone with an interest in how to improve work – highly recommended.
Andrew Kleine is an unabashed government budget nerd. But that’s ok, in fact it’s what has made his book so good. In it he reflects on his time as Budget Director for the City of Baltimore, taking the city government on a journey from siloed budgets as usual to ones focussed on outcomes, on value delivered for the citizen all informed by staff and citizen involvement. The book combines an engaging memoir of his time in Baltimore, a crisp analysis of why public sector budget processes often founder and a very approachable guide on how to adopt outcomes based budgeting in your own public authority. I absolutely loved it and have bought a pile of copies for colleagues at Essex County Council. It’s a journey we’re committed to going on too.
Marie Kondo is a professional tidier from Japan – yes she gets paid to help people organise and tidy their homes and offices! She has become something of a phenomenon with her own Netflix series and a range of books. Kondo tells how even from a very early age she had a fascination with tidying and organising, how she tried every trick, gadget and gimmick to keep her home and school organised. Through trial and error she has developed a very different approach to the typical keep-tidy books. This approach, the ‘KonMari Method’, provides a route map to rethinking what relationship one wants to have with our stuff. This leads one down to having much less stuff in a way that is easy to keep organised. It works – I’ve found it very powerful and useful. Watching some of the videos available online and Netflix do help to bring her techniques more to life.
What I also found interesting was – incredibly – how similar the core of Kondo’s techniques were to Kleine’s outcomes based budget approach. How so? Both are absolutely clear that nothing else matters in what they write if one cannot agree a clear sense of what the outcome you are seeking to achieve is. Obvious perhaps, but hard and it’s far too often that work sets underway before that clarity on outcome is achieved.
I’ve started 2019 with a continued appetite for podcasts mostly featuring journalists exploring injustices and unsolved crimes. I’ve had more success finding great listens in this category than the others I’ve explored such as around health or government innovation.
I know I am very seriously late to the party on listening to Serial, but wow it’s good. All three seasons are different but gripping in their own ways. Season 1 explores the apparent murder of a Baltimore high school student by her recent ex-boyfriend who claims to have been wrongly accused. Season 2 is the remarkable tale of how a US soldier willingly left his post in Afghanistan, was captured by the Taliban and freed after 5 years in captivity – and now faces prosecution through the US military courts. Season 3 is harder to describe but essentially is a year following the justice system in Cleveland, really trying to understand all the players in the system and whether the system works as intended. It’s really good.
BBC World Service sports reporters luck into some extraordinary tapes of boxer Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter talking to an author about his life. These lead them into a triple murder mystery which led Carter and another man to be imprisoned for nearly 20 years. The ensuing legal battles had Bob Dylan and Mohammed Ali campaigning for their freedom and even a movie of the trials with Denzel Washington. It’s a brilliantly produced series with cracking music. There’s also something really charming about the northern English burr of the presenter’s accent whilst interviewing New Jersey natives.
CBC do lots of excellent podcasts, as I’ve mentioned before. As a Canadian who, according to family legend has some indigenous blood, this series was particularly poignant. Each season covers the death of a young indigenous female, but also the shame of how Canada treated the indigenous communities more generally. They are gripping true-crime stories whilst deeply sensitive historical explorations of the horrors of forced adoptions, residential schools, violence against indigenous women, Police racism and more.
Another CBC podcast: Somewhat like Esther Perel’s series, this lets us listen in on real therapy sessions. However unlike Perel’s, where she doesn’t include her regular clients but specially selected couples who apply for the podcast series, here Vancouver therapist Hillary McBride has worked with her regular clients with their consent. It’s a fascinating series, particular because across the two seasons so far we get to follow the journeys of a number of her clients as they change and grow.