TALES FROM THE WOODS

 
 
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“When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.” 

A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Pooh and I have a lot in common, as well as the ‘Very Little Brain’ thing, we both like to think of Things. As I have travelled on this fascinating journey called Life, and I have had many but that’s another story, I have seen ‘Things’ and these ‘Things’ could easily have turned me grumpy. You see, it has raised a very vexing question for me, and that is, “How many times do we need to see a Thing happen before we learn that we need to do some Thing different?”  Now ‘something’ does not just refer to some ‘Thing’, it can mean many things.  Hence, my urge to bring fingers to keyboard and call out some of these Things.

Things Part One, being about People, Relationships and Energy

“We can’t all and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.” 

A.A. Milne

Here’s a thing, when a process is wrong we will spend an awful amount of time and money to fix the process.  When the people are wrong we will spend an awful amount of time and money to fix the process.  Some people are just the wrong people for the job. It’s a fact.  It seems obvious doesn’t it (I now have a mental image of both my readers nodding vigorously (you, dear reader, and my dog (and I am not sure that he counts))).  (Note to self, too many brackets – unless you are a programmer). In a previous Life I pretended to be a consultant.  My job was to look at contractual relationships that existed in large outsourcing deals, normally after about 18 months of a five-year deal.  I called this stage of the contract – the dark night of the outsourcer! People called me an ‘ambulance chaser’. People can be cruel.  During the ‘dark night of the outsourcer’ it would be fair to say that the relationship between client and vendor had seen better days. It was often so sour that even making the simplest and most logical joint decisions would get bogged down in a mire of acrimony and dissent.  My job was to try and find out why.  We would often have to go back to the beginning.  What we found was a consistent failure and that failure was called ‘compromise’.

Now I’m not saying that I have proof, or statistics, or even facts. I’m just saying that this is what we found.  A wise old Owl once said that compromise is what happens when both sides run out of the energy to argue.  As a Bear of Very LittleBrain I would go one step further; compromise is settling on what both sides know is just a little less than what they each think is right. It is strange how a little less right can grow into a lot more wrong.  Finding this original sin was never easy; however, I would like to say that once it was found, and rectified, they all lived happily ever after.  I would like to say that but, unfortunately, I can’t. The truth was that, more often than not, the damage was too deep.

Now what, I hear you both scream (actually one is more of a bark), could be the heinous crime that brought this multi-million dollar outsourcing deal to its knees?  I blame the telephone, no seriously, I really do blame the telephone.  In this particular example the vendor was based on the client’s site, all 178 of them. The cost of housing this small standing army had been factored into the contract; as a rebate against the monthly charge; power consumption, heating and floor space were all covered. Then came the first telephone bill.  The vendor’s view was simple, the telephony cost had already been factored into the rebate. The client’s view was even simpler, the telephony cost was the vendor’s responsibility.  The contract’s view was….well the contract chose to remain silent on the matter.  Then began the letters, the meetings, the escalations and the silent recriminations. Finally, and for the ‘good’ of the relationship, both sides chose to compromise and split the costs going forward. 

Both sides felt aggrieved, to the extent that the client brought in new processes and rigour to ensure that this ‘sort of thing’ would never happen again and the vendor chose not to undertake any activity without explicit contract coverage.  What had started as an aspirational partnering approach quickly descended into a purely transactional relationship. This loss of goodwill manifested itself in many ways; not least, in limited account growth for the vendor, loss of thought-leadership and projects to drive competitive advantage for the client. The valuable time wasted on both sides around obsessive scrutiny, unnecessary audit and constant justification bordered on the pitiful.   

So, one of you may ask, was it the compromise, and compromise alone, that was the villain of the piece?  Well no, it started well before that.  The relationship was always intended to be based on a partnering approach, with trust, risk-reward and openness being the stated tenets at the early stages of the negotiation.  There was a high levelof trust and maturity on both sides of the table.  The contract that was eventually signed was held up by both sides as being ground-breaking and true to the originalaspirations.  Then the client hired a contract manager who had only ever managed transactional relationships.  The vendor hired an account manager who was inexperienced and had not been involved in the initial contract negotiations. The rest is, as they say, history. When faced with the inevitable first issue, neither side had the right people in place to deal with it. Both sides had raised concerns about the other’s choice of managers; however, these were never escalated or dealt with, probably for the ‘good’ of the relationship.

So here’s the Thing, the lessons that can be learned from this sorry tale are manifest, and I will not insult the intelligence of my faithful reader by elaborating on them here – besides the other one of you wants to go walkies.  Suffice to say,

 “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience - well, that comes from poor judgment.” 

A.A. Milne

Things Part two, Being about dancing

Having been in the Sales Management business for some time, it never fails to amaze me how the monthly/quarterly dance known as the ‘sales forecast’ is repeatedly played out by seemingly intelligent people and always with straight faces …

“Turn around, Piglet. Step lightly, Pooh. This silly ol' dance is perfect for two.”

A AMilne

… It was a bright sunny day in the 100-acre woods.  Pooh and Piglet were leaning over the side of a rustic bridge over a gently flowing stream. Pooh was reflective.  As he looked down into the water he could clearly see a slightly wavy Pooh looking back at him. He and Piglet were playing ‘Poohsticks’ and, as always, Pooh was letting Piglet win.  

Pooh had thrown his sticks into the river three times now, but always in such a way as to allow Piglet to gain an advantage.  As he was about to throw again, which was his fourth cast, his mind drifted onto the subject of, believe it or not (and somewhat topically), four-casting. 

It all started when, on the day before today, Owl had asked Pooh how many legs did Piglet have.  Now Pooh was not particularly good at numbers. Pooh had told Owl that he was pretty sure that Piglet had five legs.  Then it was today and Pooh thought that he better check to see how many Piglet was in the legs department.  

“How many legs do you have, Piglet.” asked Pooh.

“Four!” called Piglet confidently, having done a quick count and a double check.

“What if I really wanted you to have five legs?” posed Pooh, fixing Piglet with one of his trademark glassy-eyed[1]stares.

“But Pooh, you know I only have four.” said Piglet.

“But I really, really want you to have five.” said Pooh. “What if you called your tail a leg?”

Piglet, who had fluff in his ears, did the maths.

“Then Pooh, I would have five legs.” said Piglet, changing his original call.

Even though he was a bear of verylittle brain, Pooh could see the error in his suggestion.  “No you wouldn’t Piglet.” said Pooh. “You would still have four legs.  No matter what you call your tail, it’s  still a tail.” Pooh waswhat Owl called a ‘manager’.  A manager’s job is to help people come to the right answers by suggesting really helpful stuff, even if they don’t want to[2].

Piglet thought about this for a moment, which was just about as long as Piglet could think about anything.

“Then Pooh, I would always only have four legs.”

“But I really, really, really want you to have five.”

Pooh was putting Piglet ‘under pressure’ which Owl had once told him was how managers get things done!

“What if you turned your tail into a leg.” suggested Pooh.  

“I don’t know how to do that.” replied Piglet, being simultaneously both honest and unhelpful, depending on your point of view.

“Well Piglet, things don’t just happen – you need a plan.” said Pooh, really warming up to his new management role. “A plan on how you are going to turn your tail into a leg.” Pooh wanted to tell Piglet that he wasn’t being condescending, but he wasn’t quite sure if Piglet knew what condescending meant. 

However, Piglet did know, deep down, that it was impossible to turn his tail into a leg.  But he could also see that Pooh was‘serious’ and all ‘manager-like’.  Now Pooh was a stuffed bear, he was covered in a plush yellow furry fabric and was stuffed with an abundant measure of fluff. Piglet was covered with odd bits of worn linen and was clearly not made of management material.  Despite the fluff in his ear he worked out that the only way he could make Pooh stop asking him questions was to promise him a plan.

“OK Pooh, I’ll make a plan to get you five legs.” 

Pooh was not confident that Piglet could turn his tail into a leg and he decided to ‘help’ him some more.

“I think you need two plans just in case one doesn’t work.” suggested Pooh, in a very helpful way. “You need to make a con-tingency plan.” 

Piglet was very quickly running out of things to turn into legs. However, he now knew how to make Pooh stop bothering him.

“OK Pooh, I’ll make two plans.” offered Piglet, slowly realising where the ‘con’ in ‘con-tingency’ came from.

“I’ll put you down for six legs then.” said Pooh cheerily. 

Pooh and Piglet parted company on the bridge. As Pooh walked back to his house he reflected on how easy it was to be a manager and how lucky Piglet was to be helped by someone as helpful as Pooh. He could now tell Owl with some conviction that Piglet had five legs with the possibility of it being six, which was a lot better than four!

Piglet walked away not quite knowing what had just happened, but he had an awful feeling he was somehow in trouble.  He then had a horrible thought – may behis original call of ‘four’ was wrong.  Being bipedal, a strange thing for a pig, he was not quite sure whether his top two ‘legs’ technically counted as ‘arms’ which was definitely not going to help matters. 

He then realised, as luck would have it, that his two legs when added to his ‘tail-leg’ and his con-tingencyleg made four, which was his original call and Piglet took some comfort in that!


[1]..on account of his having glass eyes and no eyelids, Pooh had only the one facial expression.

[2]In sales, this process is known as torturing the sales person.

things part three, being about why we never learn

Many of you have asked me…. well actually only one of you has asked me (but it is early days)…..whether the Pooh stories are based on actual events.  Well the answer is no…and yes.  The stories are based on many business experiences which, sadly, seem to follow the same pattern time and time again.  This is a BigThing and one that frankly has me baffled.  I’m sure I’m not the only one to struggle with this absurdity.

Which brings me to a conversation I recently overheard in the Woods……                                                                                                                         

Owl, who is a Wise Old Bird, and Rabbit, who has Brain, where sitting on and by the old oak tree.  Technically Owl was perching, sitting being beyond your average Strigiform. 

“Why do we seem never to learn.” posed Rabbit, casually playing with a yellow ribbon that somebody had tied around the trunk.  “No matter how many reports are written, books are read, consultants are hired, we seem destined to repeat the same events over and over.”

“Maybe we believe, deep down, that because we, personally, are involved it will be different. said Owl.  “Someone once said, and it probably wasn’t Einstein, that the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again expecting a different result.”

Rabbit pondered that much, much, overused quote for a moment, “I think that real insanity is doing something over and over again, but believing that because you are now the one doing it the result will be somehow better.”  

“I agree.” said Owl, “Now, having self-belief and confidence are wonderful things; however, they are really going to contribute little if you are just repeating what has been done before.”  

Pooh was sitting next to Rabbit.  He had been listening hard and understanding soft, that is to say the big words were making his brain all wobbly.  He wanted to get to the issue’s bottom.

“So what drives us to keep repeating the errors of the past?” asked Pooh.

“Well,” said Owl, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  Owl always did have a predilection for early twentieth century philosophers, especially if they  were called George.

Rabbit quickly added, “To paraphrase Santayana - those who fail to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors are destined to repeat them.”  This was really saying the same thing as Owl but different.

Pooh liked Santayana. ‘Black Magic Woman’ was a particular favourite of his.

“So all we need to do is understand what has gone wrong in the past.” said Pooh.

“And then not do them again.” added Rabbit.

“Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time.” said Owl quoting yet another George.

“Cause I gotta have faith, faith, faith!” sang Rabbit, thinking that if you can’t beat them…..

 “So the past can teach us everything?” said Pooh, tapping his paw to a catchy Latinrhythm.

 “I read somewhere that we should treat the past as a place of reference rather than a place of residence.” said Owl, who liked to quote. 

But even clever creatures get it wrong, thought Pooh, remembering when Rabbit, who is always right, thought he had made a mistake, but then found out that he was wrong.  Pooh tried to remember all the mistakes that Pooh had made, he then tried to remember all the mistakes that Piglet had made. If he was to learn from other’s mistakes it was going to take a lot of thinking and a lot of remembering.

“Learning from your mistakes is called experience and learning from others mistakes is called knowledge.” concluded Owl.

“So Knowledge and Experience are the answers.” Said Rabbit. Surely it can’t be as simple as that, thought Rabbit.

“It’s never as simple as that”, replied Owl, who had somehow read Rabbit’s mind. The most important thing you need is Courage.  When your Experience tells you some Thing is wrong and when your Knowledge tells you the same Thing has been wrong in the past; then that’s when you need the Courage to change a Thing before it goes wrong again.”

Pooh thought about all the times he had not been brave enough to change Things.  Although he was pretty sure that he could not be the only one who hadn’t had Courage when they needed it.

“You are braver than you believe. Stronger than you seem. And smarter than you think.”

A A Milne

things part four, being about leadership

It was Winter. Pooh found himself sitting in a field just outside the forest.  He had been complaining to Owl that he was having trouble thinking.  Owl had said that sometimes you could notsee the wood for the trees.  Pooh wasn’t toosure about that.  There was this one time when he could not see the wood for the bees – that particular time had involved honey, a stick and a big mistake. Owl had explained that Pooh needed to put some distance between him and the problem. The field seemed to be about the right distance; although Pooh had a sneaking feeling that he had brought the problem with him.

The problem that Pooh was trying to solve was ‘what makes a great boss?’ When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, nearly everybody is your boss especially if there is stuff to be done. Pooh started to thinks of all those Woodland creatures who had, at some time or another, been in charge.

Tigger.  They say that the speed of light is faster than the speed of sound, that is why people often look bright until you hear them speak.  Tigger bounces around from idea to idea (always someone else's idea and usually the last one he has heard).  He gives the impression of someone who is always busy, always on the move and someone who is clearly very important.  However, when you looked really close at what he is doing, the answer was not very much.  

Pooh had worked for Tigger in the past and it often made his head hurt because he had to do a lot of guessing.  Pooh was not good at guessing, there was something about not having sufficient information which made him uneasy.  Pooh realised he needed a boss who actually did work and didn’t need Pooh to guess a lot.

Eeyore. Some people have a negative personality; Eeyore’s personality was so negative that sometimes when he walked into a room you thought somebody had left.  Eeyore was hard work.  Pooh like to talk, about anything and everything, but Eeyore found it hard to relate to people.  However, Eeyore was good with numbers.  He said he could make numbers talk and that they had never let him down.  Pooh hoped they would be very happy together. Pooh realised he needed a boss whom he could talk to, about stuff other than numbers, and who understood him.

Rabbit.  Rabbit had brain. He was, as someone once explained to Pooh, an Akademik.  Rabbit liked to think and think about things. He was very good at Theory, Pooh was very good at Real.  Sometimes they didn’t see eye to eye and it had nothing to do with Pooh being a lot taller. The good thing about Rabbit was you could talk and talk and talk.  Pooh found that just talking and not resolving also made his brain hurt almost as much as not talking. Pooh realised that he needed a boss who could make decisions.

Squirrel.  Sid the Squirrel was a very good climber.  He loved to climb and every job he does allows Squirrel to climb and climb.  The problem with climbing up is it often relies on stepping on.  Sid was very focused on looking upwards which meant he often didn’t see what was downwards which is where most of the ‘stepping on’ happened.  Pooh realised that he needed a boss who would look after his team.  Pooh was also desperate to make some pun about Squirrel and his nuts but that would have to wait.

Christopher Robin walked into the field and sat next to Pooh.  “What are you doing Pooh?” He asked.  Pooh told him all about the different animals he had worked for.  Christopher Robin sat and listened.  “Maybe sometimes you have to meet your boss halfway and not be so needy,” said Christopher Robin, “It’s not all about you.”

Pooh thought about it for a while, Christopher Robin had a way of putting thing so that Pooh understood. The first flakes of snow started to fall and Pooh let out a small shiver.  Christopher Robin put his coat on Pooh’s shoulders and brushed the icy flakes off Pooh’s nose. He picked Pooh up and started to walk back to the forest. “Let’s get you home.” he said.

“Do you think there is such a thing as a perfect boss?” asked Pooh.

“I’m not sure there is.” replied Christopher Robin.

“Do you think they would know if they were the perfect boss?”

“I don’t suppose they would.”

Things Part Five, Being About meeting a need

I’ve been selling IT for far too long.  It never fails to amaze me how large IT organisations develop product and services that somehow are disconnected from the market …

"Hallo, Pooh," said Rabbit.

"Hallo, Rabbit," said Pooh dreamily.

"Did you make that song up?"

"Well, I sort of made it up," said Pooh. "It isn't Brain," he went on humbly, "because You Know Why, Rabbit; but it comes to me sometimes."

"Ah!" said Rabbit, who never let things come to him, but always went and fetched them.

A A Milne

Rabbit was very excited. As one of the few woodland creatures with real ‘Brain’, he had been spending a lot of his time inventing.  He worked very closely with his inventing partner, Dormouse, and the two of them would lock themselves away in Rabbit’s burrow and invent stuff.

Today was a big day. Rabbit and Dormouse, sometimes shortened to R and D, were showing their latest invention to a small crowd of very excited woodland creatures.

“So what is it, Rabbit?” asked Owl, always keen to get to the point. 

“It is … an acorn polishing machine!” said Rabbit, adding the pause for dramatic effect.  An audible gasp came fro the crowd.  

The ‘Acorn Polishing Machine – Mk 1’, to give it its correct title, sat in the middle of the clearing and looked very impressive. 

“Make it work, make it work!” shouted Kanga and Roo in unison.  

Rabbit stepped forward and pressed a very impressive green button under which he had written the word ‘Go’.  The APM – Mk 1 trundled forward.  Something that looked suspiciously like a vacuum cleaner started to suck up acorns from the forest floor.  Instead of being sucked into a bag, the nuts fell into something that suspiciously looked like a box with Dormouse’s cousin sitting in it.  Being armed with a duster, he took each of the acorns, gave them a real good polish and then threw them back onto the forest floor.

“It works!” exclaimed the crowd. It did indeed work.  As the APM – Mk 1 moved forward there could clearly be seen a line of acorns behind the machine that looked a bit more polishy than those around them.

Rabbit pushed a very impressive red button with the words ‘Don’t Go’ underneath it.  This was just in time as Dormouse’s cousin was looking very hot and bothered and the box was quickly filling up with acorns.  

“It’s still a work in progress.” said Rabbit, “But we are taking advance orders.”

There was a shuffling of paws amongst the gathered throng. 

“I’ve done my market research,” said Rabbit, “there isn’t another Acorn Polishing Machine in the world.”

“Mk 1.” added Dormouse, somewhat unnecessarily.

“We are going to replace Dormouse’s cousin with an Automatik Polishing Thingy.” said Rabbit. “It’s on the Product Roadmap”.

Pooh looked at the machine.  He looked at the unpolished acorns and then he looked at the polished acorns.  

“Do polished acorns grow into better trees?” he asked.  R and D looked at each other.  “I mean that would be a good thing if they grew into better trees.”

Piglet looked around the forest, they were surrounded by oak trees. “Growing doesn’t seem to be a problem.” said Piglet

“Polished acorns are better at other things.”  said Rabbit defensively.

“Such as?” asked Pooh.

“Looking Polishy.” said Dormouse.

The crowd had dispersed, leaving Pooh, R and D and the APM – Mk1 alone in the clearing.  Rabbit explained the inventing process; he had an old vacuum cleaner and a box, Dormouse had some dusters and Dormouse’s cousin was good at polishing.  “It all seemed to make sense at the time.” said Rabbit.

Pooh was a Bear of Very Little Brain and, clearly, Rabbit had Brain. It was sometimes difficult for Pooh to talk to Rabbit.  “Do you think you could invent things that people want?” he asked.

Rabbit slowly shook his head, “Oh Pooh!, my dear Pooh.” said Rabbit, “we invent things before People know they need them and then tell them!”

Pooh looked at the APM - Mk 1 and the empty clearing.  Then he said, “How’s that working out for you?”