Posts Tagged "complexity"

on Jan 23, 2014 in Blog

Recently I’ve found myself reflecting on gender diversity in business. What kicked it off was a report by Cranfield School of Management entitled Women on Boards. The headline shouted: ‘Cranfield report reveals 25% target is in sight’. A few days ago, the FT announced: ‘Proportion of women on FTSE 100 boards tops 20%’. Shortly after, we heard that the London Stock Exchange (one of the last remaining FTSE 100 companies with only male directors) had just appointed two women as non-executive directors, that the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, had claimed that Britain is ‘on the home stretch’ towards improving boardroom diversity. The gist of these stories is that progress is being made towards the target set by Lord Davies in 2011; that is to increase female board membership of FTSE 100 companies to 25% by 2015. It’s good news right? Oh, but so uninspiring… I’ve never had particularly strong views on gender diversity. Perhaps because I always thought we were aiming for a rough 50:50 split of men and women at the top of organisations, weren’t we? WEREN’T WE?? Is the best we can imagine really just a minority of women on boards? (This is not a quota, remember, 25% of women on boards is a target – something to aim for). And are we happy with that? C’mon, it’s 2014. And I’m uninspired. I sense a similar lack of enthusiasm from Lynda Gratton, who comments in her Future of Work blog: “Despite all our hopes to see more women at the top of leading organisations, the speed of change has been glacial”. And on Twitter today @duncanbhr and @MorgenWitzel seem similarly underwhelmed with progress towards gender parity in the business world. But, if we’re making progress (there were only 12.5% of women on FTSE 100 boards in 2011, and now there’s 20%), then what’s the problem? For me, there are two problems with targets that accept a lack of gender parity on Boards. The first problem relates to the societal case for diversity. Simply put, the societal problem is that ‘for society to thrive, women must thrive’. Yet, targets that accept a minority of women on boards (albeit a growing one) mean that we probably don’t have to challenge...

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on Dec 5, 2013 in Blog

The party balloon in the cupboard under my stairs was blown up on Super Saturday during the London Olympics. It’s now 489 days old, and counting… We threw a party on super Saturday – well it was just Saturday 4th August 2012 until all the GB golds started rolling in. A friend brought round some red, white and blue balloons left over from a Jubilee celebration, so we blew them up. The day after the party, there was one red, one white and one blue balloon left. In celebratory mood, I left them there to brighten up the room. They’ll go down in a few days, I thought. They didn’t. A couple of weeks later, I thought I’d get them out of the way by putting them in the cupboard under the stairs. (No, I’m not sure why either!) They’ll go down in a few days, I thought. They didn’t. Several months later, I found the blue balloon looking deflated where the hoover had been leaning against it. The others will go down soon, I thought. They didn’t. Both the red one and the white still look, well, they still look like party balloons, some 489 days later. Most of the balloons bit the dust during the party. One was popped by a surprised toddler, who promptly burst into tears, and then plucked up the courage to pop another. Many of them took a battering as we punched them in the air on Mo Farah’s 5000m victory. But, surprisingly, three survived for many months, and, even more surprisingly, two of those are still going 489 days later…. What does this tell us? It tells us about long tails and power laws. You might not have heard of these terms, but power law distributions with long tails are common in nature. Basically they tell us that some events are common (e.g. a lot of party balloons have a very short life span – they pop at a party) and some happen more rarely (e.g. a couple of party balloons are still looking like balloons over 15 months later). Most importantly, they show us that unexpected things (‘extreme events’) DO happen. And they’re not as rare or unexpected as you might think....

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on Oct 16, 2013 in Blog

 A Harvard Business Review (HBR) blog entitled The Embarrassment of Complexity concludes that we need to: “Draw on the faculty of human judgment to focus on the smaller picture in order to comprehend the larger one” But why, at a time that Big Data grabs so many headlines, should we focus on small data? Well, for several reasons, small turns out to be really interesting: As people interact over time, small differences between them can create novel patterns across organisations, industries and communities. And these can never be predicted in advance. In a similar vein, who’d have thought that flocking starlings could resemble a whale chasing a dolphin across the sky? Small events can have large consequences, known as the Butterfly Effect. Anyone remember the throwaway comment which led to the demise of Gerald Ratner’s business empire? Outliers – small numbers of odd, unexpected, unusual things, cannot safely be ignored. They deserve our attention. We can ask ‘why are they there?’ and ‘what do they mean?’, just as Malcolm Gladwell, or Sir Alex Ferguson have done. Small things can serve as weak signals – giving us early warning signs of emerging problems and opportunities. In 2008/9 we found it hard to believe that more questions hadn’t been asked about bankers’ bonuses. So big data is big, but it’s the computer analytics that help us to see patterns in that data, which are clever. The danger here is that we’re always using our old ways of thinking to make sense. So we may well miss small data and weak signals which are potentially frame changing – heralding completely new patterns that we may never have seen before. The clever thing about small data is how it can signal new opportunities and emerging problems. If we notice and interpret that data, then we can choose how we respond much sooner – helping us to capitalise on emerging opportunities and head off emerging problems It’s here, in noticing and interpreting small data, that we need to cast off our reliance on data crunching machines and start using and honing our very human skills of perception and judgement. So that’s why I agree with HBR that using human judgement to focus on the smaller picture in order...

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