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shutterstock/Tatiana Shepeleva

I’m increasingly concerned by the problem of human-AI relationships. Like most small children during the 1980s, I thought that robots were cool. I took it further than most, and did a couple of artificial intelligence subjects at university; that was when I started to get worried.

In a genetic algorithms class, I asked “What do you do if the algorithm does something you don’t want?” The lecturer replied, “That’s easy. You just punish it.”

I was not satisfied with this answer, and when I say “I know why Skynet wants to kill us, I’ve met his parents,” I’m never entirely joking. My main comfort has been the idea that machine sentience would not be achieved in my lifetime. …


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Henrik Mårtensson

Like many fads, ‘mindset’ is an old idea in new clothing. We’ve called it ‘faith’, we’ve called it ‘alignment with the universe’, we’ve called it ‘attitude’. If you believe in TED talks, then it is “everything”. There’s no shortage of experts in the world who are keen to tell us that if we can ‘adopt the right mindset’, then all of our problems will disappear. There’s a problem and a meta-problem with mindset.

The problem is simple enough: magic isn’t real.

The meta-problem is one that I haven’t fully come to terms with: just because it isn’t real, doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. (I was confronted with this problem when studying acupuncture, when I learned that studying the mystical life energies allowed me to make unnervingly accurate statements about people’s health. …


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shutterstock/Roman Samborskyi

Having an idea is often a painful and frustrating experience. The people who don’t turn away from you often ignore you; it can be hard to tell which is worse. I didn’t really understand why people reject ideas until I was on the front lines of a technology company collapse. It was a company that was full of great ideas and drive: the things that should bring success. But it invested heavily in great ideas that didn’t pan out, and doesn’t exist today.

This motivated me to try to understand what happens in companies that are sustainable in their innovation: that have great ideas but are not torn apart by them. I worked out a pattern that you could use to govern innovation in a sustainable way. To make sure that you don’t commit too hard to something that tears you apart. …


The last time I tried to understand Dave Snowden, I accidentally came up with a new idea. So it’s wonderful that he’s working on a new project now: since he shares many of my concerns, I hope that I can misunderstand him in an interesting and potentially valuable way (again). He is “… starting to develop an anthro-complexity theory of organizational change. As such I am working through some of the basic science relating to the constraints within which such a theory can be developed.”

If that sort of thing interests you, then his blog post is worth reading. Having worked on this problem myself for several years now, I have some thoughts. It’s very difficult to have my own thoughts with Dave’s post open on my second monitor, though, and if I start responding to his thoughts then the result will be a multi-hour ramble that attempts to encapsulate all of human history and prehistory and ultimately reaches a conclusion of “Yeah, it’s kinda tricky.” In order to do better than that, I have to focus on the question and pretend to ignore the thinking. …


Everyone in the office is ignoring the elephant in the room.
Everyone in the office is ignoring the elephant in the room.
shutterstock/vectorpocket

I received a really important piece of feedback on my last article. I was asked:

Hey Nick, we all had to deal with this kind of people, but after reading your article, I am left with the feeling that this is about how I can lower myself to their level. Is that what you intended?

Reading the article again, I can see how headings like “Keep your bribes small” do paint a picture of someone who is being deliberately and cynically manipulative. I spent a section of the article criticizing Dangerous Unpredictable Manipulative Bastards (and quietly feeling pleased with myself for coming up with a DUMB acronym), but I also positioned myself pretty effectively as a Manipulative Bastard. …


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shutterstock/elnur

The idea that managers are going to save us all is a twentieth-century fad that nobody mentions in polite company anymore. ‘Leadership’ was supposed to save us from management, but (despite our best efforts) most people don’t seem to be able to simultaneously embody Genghis Khan, Gandhi, and Steve Jobs. Today’s fad is the ‘self-organizing team’ — although exactly how self-organizing these teams are supposed to be is questionable: searching for “self organizing teams” yields the delightful headline “Self-Organizing Teams Don’t Just Happen by Chance”. (And yet, if they don’t happen by themselves, are they really self-organizing?)

In theory, putting people into self-organizing teams will unleash a wave of creativity, innovation, and productivity. Just like managers were going to do for us in the 1980s, and leaders were supposed to do up until recently. The early adopters of the current fad (the ones who immediately saw that it was relevant to their needs) have already adopted it and reaped the benefits. Established organizations that are switching to self-organizing teams this late in the piece have my sympathies, because they’re unlikely to get much else out of it. …


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fizkes/Shutterstock

Imagine that your CEO asked you to build a paved road from New York to London. How would you respond? It’s easy enough to write something clever about how you would try to achieve a more enlightened perspective (which is the point that I illustrate in the linked article). But how would you do it in a relatable, real-world scenario, as opposed to a clean and simple fiction?

Daniel Mezick put forward a real scenario in a LinkedIn post whose popularity (tens of thousands of views) shows very clearly that he struck a nerve. …


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ineersk/Shutterstock

The job of the second-in-command is to forgive, to reason, and to be ruthless. The fascinating and contradictory nature of those demands is a large part of why I love doing the job. It’s also a job where, if you’re doing it well, nobody notices that you’re doing it.

My objective in this article is to provide an inside view of the Agile20Reflect sausage factory, as we make some rather small and unremarkable sausages. Because it’s only now (when I’m completely confident in my ability to do the job) that I feel like I can start to explain the job with any confidence. …


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Photo by Aurélien — Wild Spot on Unsplash

What I am trying to do with my work is to create maps that will help people have productive and peaceful relationships at work. There’s a fundamental problem with this endeavour: the reason people go to war with each other is that they disagree about how the map should be drawn. The key to peacemaking is to be able to navigate without a map.

If the key to peacemaking is to be able to navigate without a map, then it’s difficult to draw maps which help with peacemaking. Because sooner or later, the map is going to be irrelevant and wrong: otherwise, you’re not actually peacemaking, you’re just doing something that resembles peacemaking. …


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Photo by Frida Bredesen on Unsplash

Many observers predicted that the problems endemic in the Agile community would be a powerful influence on any attempt to understand and improve the Agile community. Now that they’ve been proven right, the question is what we are going to do about it. But before we can plan our way out of the maze, we need a map of the maze.

Fuel: Pre-existing feuds

One of the problems that we are facing is the fact that many people have had painful previous experiences with each other. Two of the people who have been very vocal in the planning process are people that I’ve had removed from projects that I was working on (I told the boss ‘you need to get rid of this person’ and it was actioned): this has contributed to a fair amount of anxiety on my part. …

About

Nick Argall

Nick Argall is an organization engineer, structuring activities to help businesses achieve their goals. nargall@gmail.com

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