Fixing before disrupting

July 17, 2017

It didn’t take long and now “disruption” has entered the lexicon of paradigm shifting scene-shifters. A whirligig for every new idea* (*includes every not new idea) ensuring nothing is taken to market without its very own bullshit badge.

I know I am in danger, if not long past the point, of being considered a grumpy park bench dweller, shouting at the pigeons; but I can’t help it. I feel like we are slightly mesmerised by a need to be endlessly innovative, but it’s like catching smoke.

New Law had to be “agile” even before it could stand on its own feet and now New Law has to be disruptive too. It risks sounding like a metaphorical toddler with a fist full of blue Smarties hanging upside-down from the banister and way past its bedtime, while tired parents cry with exhaustion trying to do the right thing.

What next after “disruption” I wonder? Stand back and crank-up the random adjective generator to find out. However if another macho, slam-dunk adjective is not your thing, there is always the limitless possibility of christening the next new kit and caboodle with a reassuringly unthreatening human name.

Well intended and expert providers currently leading the space and investing significantly to build their reputations need to be mindful that any johnny-come-lately chancer can mock up a glorified spreadsheet and imbue it with a little Silicon Valley kool-aid by following the same approach. It feels like an AI system/process/transformatory toolkit called “Dick” is only a breathless press release away.

The reason I sound grumpy however is not because we don’t need more investment in IT, or smarter systems or better infrastructure, or suppliers with integrity and the patience of saints (because we need these things more than ever); the reason I sound grumpy is because we are all mostly screwed and what is needed is not a new agile Dick but a proper sorting out.

Ten things that can screw things up:

  1. If HR keep on creating ever more elaborate ways to make leading teams soul-destroyingly bureaucratic.
  2. If the IT folks rank your modest systems upgrade 763rd in their list of priorities and make you work on laptops so heavy they could clad a battleship.
  3. When the only relief from email is to put up a defensive “out of office” message.
  4. Those lawyers who generate even more demand for their time knowing there is already too little investment in systems, process and training.
  5. …and spend far too little time building a kinder, more resilient place to work in.
  6. When teams struggle to describe their contribution beyond “we work bloody hard” and “you’d be stuffed without us”.
  7. When everyone wants a fulfilling career, but there’s about £25.70 in the training budget so development depends on free law firm seminars with a two-day old croissant.
  8. When everyone* (*not everyone) says “but the lawyers are great” and the lawyers use this insight to argue that it’s the rest of the world that should change not the lawyers.
  9. When lawyers do not make time to make a decent business plan and then find it is really hard to change anything.
  10. When the world seems to talk about agile AI thruster rockets, but deep down you know most 8-year olds have a better grasp of the possibilities than you do.

This is why we are mostly screwed. It isn’t for a lack of Dick.

My fear therefore is that we don’t fix the things that need fixing and I really want those things to be fixed. What we need is a little more courage. We need courage to call things out for what they are (even if it is against us) and then to act:

  1. We may need more help, but let’s not buy help until we have a better idea of what we want to achieve. More than anything we need some time. Bluntly, we need to stop answering so many emails and going to so many meetings. We need time to make our ideas come to life. They won’t be perfect and sometimes they will not work, but we will learn more from doing something. Sometimes we just need to give ourselves permission to experiment.
  1. I am doubtful about the need to attend any more events about agile, AI, thruster rockets, at least until we know what we want to do. My suggestion instead is to bring our network together and reassure ourselves that we are all sharing the same boat. The boat floats, but the maps need updating. With like-minded people we can share, talk, encourage, be vulnerable; and help each other to create a new map we can trust.
  1. The difference between stressful uncertainty and calm progress is having clarity of purpose. I really do not think that something so achingly self-regarding as “disruption” can be a purpose. While purpose is not easy to describe, with care and focus it can be nailed in a few weeks and it will change our work life for the better forever.

And finally, my plea is to be a bit more human. Agile thruster rockets have their important place, but it is much more important to ensure that colleagues are not unnecessarily stressed, or worse made ill by the fact we have been too slow to make the workplace a better place with all the opportunity we have to make a difference.

Take care. Paul

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