And the award for the best …. is

Occupy London

Now is the time of many retrospectives including Charlie Booker’s Words of the Year 2011. I imagine the awards being announced. Best newcomer: “Merkozy”, with the word trailing its expensive gown onto the stage to accept the award and thanking their producers, the euro crisis, and all those who have used the word. Word of the Year is, apparently, “OCCUPY”. Many of us would agree with that, and with the accompanying nomination of Giles Fraser for the Twurch of England’s Priest of the Year. Mercifully there is no award ceremony. Imagine trying to get Occupy off the stage.

Janine caters for all tastes at

 We have our own Herbert Awards, which reflect a local viewpoint. Community of the Year is awarded to Hollymere for developing a community of care and promoting independent living for those who would otherwise be heavily dependant and cut off from others. Hollymere represents a new design for living for older people, with its own “high street” open to the wider community, community rooms, restaurant and gym. Designers, carers and residents should come to the stage together to receive this award.Our prize for Butcher of our world doesn’t go to some toppled tyrant, but to our local butchers, Drury’s, who bring life, custom, humour and service (as well as some quality fresh food) to our local parade of shops.

In the sports category, Andy Murray has provided many moments when it has been hard to tear ourselves away from the set (!). There is only one team ever up for nomination: Leicester City. This year the only prize they win is Most Disappointing.

Our Concert of the Year was Paul Simon at the Manchester Apollo, though Take That take it for Extravaganza of the Year. Earworm is a word that took my fancy this year, and although I have been introduced to some good new (to me) music, such as Noah and the Whale, John Martyn, P J Harvey, the Earworm Prize goes to Fleet Foxes‘ Helplessness Blues.

Nominations for Film of the Year are disappointingly few. Once again we failed to deliver on our intention to get out more, which for us means going to the cinema. Yet we have seen some outstanding films, including The King’s SpeechBlack Swan, The InbetweenersWe Need to Talk about KevinHugo and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. For us there wasn’t anything to choose between them. We enjoyed them all, though not sure enjoyment is the word to use in relation to Kevin.

dunnock's nestWhile everyone was watching Arab Springwatch, we had our own springwatch, which began with the discovery of a dunnock’s nest in the back garden, and then a robin’s nest in the bush at the front of the house. We kept an eye on the hatchlings and fledglings and felt personally responsible when they flew their nests (on the same day).

Theological Find of the Year is awarded to Paula Gooder for sharing her research findings that ancient Hebrew cosmology shows a longstanding theological enterprise to bring God down to earth, and to Ivan Illich and his conspiracy “theory”.

Ginger posing for photoMost Creative Moment was putting together a series of photos for Ginger’s Day Out (in Llandudno) for children at Christ Church School, Ellesmere Port. There’s a book inside everyone – or, so they say. I think I’ve found mine!

Blogging Moment of the Year was getting feedback from Vic Goddard, Headteacher of Passmores Academy, the school featured in Channel 4’s Educating Essex for a post I wrote in response to that series.

There are joint winners of the prize for Most Helpful Intervention in my Thinking about Leadership. Heather Gold helped me to understand the importance of giving in her instructions how to be a tummler. Meg Wheatley is helping me to understand that we have to change our mind about leadership and organisation. Dee Hock led me to her, and also wrote of what he learned about organisation and leadership from the ground beneath his feet:

Billions upon billions of self-organising interactions are occurring second by second in the square yard of soil, each inter-connecing, relating, creating,and shaping self and others. Every particle is inseparable interacting and relating to others, and they still to others, unto the remote reaches of the universe and beyond – beyond knowing – but not beyond awareness, respect and love. The mystery of it all is overwhelmingly beautiful. Birth of the Chaordic Age. page 288.

IMG_0019Comedy of the Year goes to Rhod Gilbert for his routine about the tooth brush. There were many other contenders.

I am going to give my Mum the Lifetime Achievement Award. You have to be frail to qualify for lifetime achievement awards. She is now frail enough and now is more naturally retrospective. I have been surprised by some of the things she has got up to. For example, going into her city centre on her own at 3 in the morning to look for someone addicted to heroin on behalf of her worried parents (and finding her). She has also helped me understand that the delivery of a child isn’t a once in a lifetime event, but a lifetime’s work.

hoist with our own petard

The essential thing to remember is not that we became a world of expert managers and specialists, but that the nature of our expertise became the creation and management of constants, uniformity, and efficiency, while the need has become the understanding and coordination of variability, complexity, and effectiveness, the very process of change itself. It is not complicated. The nature of our organisation, management, and scientific expertise is not only increasingly irrelevant to presssing societal and environmental needs, it is a primary cause of them.

Dee Hock. 1999. Birth of the chaordic age, p.57

Community and proximity

Community is not about profit. It is about benefit … When we attempt to monetize all value, we methodically disconnect people and destroy community.
The nonmonetary exchange of value is the most effective, constructive system ever devised. Evolution and nature have been perfecting it for thousands of millennia. It requires no currency, contracts, government, laws, courts, police, economists, lawyers, accountants. It does not require anointed or certified experts at all. It requires only ordinary, caring people.
True community requires proximity; continual, direct contact and interaction between the people, place, and things of which it is composed.

Dee Hock, 1999, Birth of the chaordic age, p.43

institutional crisis

We’re in an accelerating, global epidemic of institutional failure … [with] organizations increasingly unable to achieve the purpose for which they were created, yet continuing to expand …
schools that can’t teach
universities far from universal
corporations that can neither cooperate nor compete, only consolidate
unhealthy health-care systems
welfare systems in which noone fares well
farming systems that destroy soil and poison food
families far from familial
police that can’t enforce the law
judicial systems without justice
governments that can’t govern
economies that can’t economize …

Dee Hock – 1999 – Birth of the chaordic age – page 28.

>Dog nose

>Dog nose macro close up

With ears pricked and nose to the ground, dogs create a mental map which we can never know. Dee Hock asks the question: “how many ways of knowing are there which escape human perception?” His probing of organisation is spurred on by such considerations – together with the awareness that institutional failure will continue to escalate, and the prediction of social carnage and the development of even more dictatorial institutions in response to that carnage.

Organisations, organisers, institutions would benefit from following the dog’s nose, in realising that there are many ways of knowing, that progress isn’t along straight lines. Scratch beneath life’s surface and we see a totally different reality which defies the truths of our mechanistic planning. We know in our heart of hearts that “life isn’t that simple” and we become more intolerant of institutions and responses that pretend that it is. Hock writes (after he scratches the forest debris under his do’s nose):

Billions upon billions of self-organising interactions are occurring second by second in the square yard of soil, each inter-connecing, relating, creating,and shaping self and others. Every particle is inseparable interacting and relating to others, and they still to others, unto the remote reaches of the universe and beyond – beyond knowing – but not beyond awareness, respect and love. The mystery of it all is overwhelmingly beautiful. Birth of the Chaordic Age. page 288.



Ken Dodd

We took my disabled mother in law to see Ken Dodd at Parr Hall, Warrington a few weeks ago – thank you Warrington for the parking ticket. Ken Dodd is still wielding his tickling stick aged 83. On this occasion his concert ended at 1.00 in the morning – perhaps rather insensitive given the age and circumstances of his audience. He still has the ability to make people laugh – we should always give thanks for people who can make others laugh, even if, by  now, the joke “have you ever had a tickle, missus” is wearing extremely thin.

His tickling stick reminds me of Dee Hock’s maxim:

You can’t tickle yourself. It’s a social act.

So, who’s tickling me today? I think it haas to be Hock’s reflection on his efforts to develop a new sort of organisation (from the same page as his maxim – p284: Birth of the Chaordic Age):

In the darkest times, and there were many, I could never look out at so many wonderful people and engage with them in laughter and give and take without walking from the room filled with wonder at the human spirit. They could do anything! Anything! And so can everyone, everywhere, if our minds are open enough, and our spirits strong enough to conceive of institutions that enable us to do so.

I’m not giggly, but giddy with that. It’s very ticklicious.

>a story worth telling


I was in tears re-reading Dee Hock’s account of the efforts to create an international banking organisation now known as VISA. His own passionate commitment had helped to take the process so far, but then an impasse was reached when certain people were not felt to be operating contructively and openly. It looked like the effort was going to end in failure. At that point Hock reflected about what had helped “such a complex, diverse group over insurmountable obstacles”. It was that “at critical moments, all participants had felt compelled to succeed. And at those same moments, all had been willing to compromise.”

In the teeth of failure a plan was hatched.  A fine jeweller was asked to create a set of cufflinks for each member of the organising committee. On one half of the committee was inscribed, in Latin, “the will to succeed” set around half of the earth. The other half of the cufflink was inscribed “the will to succeed” set around the other half of the earth. The cuff links were presented at a slap up meal on the final evening of the conference which seemed to be heading for failure. Here’s what Dee Hock said to them:

“We wanted to give you something that you could keep for the remainder of your life as a reminder of this day.” He then explains the gift, saying “We meet tomorrow for the final time to disband the effort after an arduous two years. There is no possibility of agreement. As organising agent, we have one last request. Will you please wear your cufflinks to the meeting in the morning? When we part, each of us will take them with us as a reminder for the remainder of our lives that the world can never be united through us because we lack the will to succeed and the grace to compromise. But, if by some miracle, our differences dissolve before morning, this gift will remind us to the day we die that the world was united because we had the will to succeed and the grace to compromise.”

There was silence which was shattered by one member exclaiming “You miserable b…….!” at which the room dissolved in laughter. Members did arrive to the morning’s meeting wearing their cufflinks. Within one hour agreement was reached on every issue – and a few months later the international organisation (which was to become VISA International) came into being.



This diagram describes the ratio of noise to wisdom and the descending volume and value from noise to wisdom. According to Dee Hock “Noise becomes data when it transcends the purely sensual and has cognititve pattern.
Data becomes information when it can be related to other information in a way that adds meaning.
Information becomes knowledge when it is integrated with other information in a form useful for deciding, acting or composing new knowledge.
Knowledge becomes understanding when related to tother knowledge in a manner useful in conceiving, anticipating, evaluating and judging.
Understanding becomes wisdom when informed by purpose, ethics, principle, memory of the past, and projection into the future.” 

At one end of the spectrum, data is increasingly abundant, whereas wisdom (which is “holistic, subjective, spiritual, conceptual, creative”) seems to becoming scarcer.
We watched Lark Rise to Candleford last night. Based on life in bygone Buckingham (Candleford) and Juniper Hill (Lark Rise) the series reflects a time when there seems to have been a far higher ratio of understanding and wisdom to data and information. Wise counsel seems to have been part of being in settled communities slowly facing up to change. The wisdom is captured in the winning entry to last night’s poetry competition:
     As I went on my way,
     Gossamer threads span from bush to bush like barricades,
     As I broke through one after another
     I was taken by a childish fear
     They are trying to bind and keep me here
     But as I grew from girl to woman, I knew
     The threads that bind me were more enduring than gossamer.
     They were spun of kinship and love
     Given so freely that it could never be taken away from me. 
They were the days before the coming of the railway – a back story of Lark Rise. The coming of the railway meant increased communication, which meant more noise, which meant more data, which meant more information – and before we know it, we are too tired and overwhelmed to process it any further. Now we contemplate rail journeys of  only two hours from London to Glasgow – though wisdom may have gone out the window.
I am in the process of exploring the world of Facebook and Twitter. I now have the knowhow – now I am looking for the understanding and the wisdom to discern how to use it. Though there is a lot of noise and chatter going on I think I can now see a point to Twitter – I travel slowly! So I have changed my profile to “Cascading Insight – a dealership in second hand views” – and I am thankful for the tweets of others which have pointed me in the direction of understanding and wisdom. I will not be tweeting about my moods, where I am, and what time I’ve gone to bed. That is definitely too much information and just adds to the volume of noise we haven’t got a hope in hell of managing.

>I bean a-countin’

>I have been guilty of disparaging accountancy. (For example, see here). I know I am not alone! Ever since Monty Python we have suspected that accountants all need a humerus implant. But, not so. Leicester accountants, Mark J Rees, have their own accountantjokesite with jokes such as:

The doctor comes to see his heart transplant patient. “There is good news. It is very unusual but we have two donors to choose form for your new heart.” The patient is pleased. He asks, “What were their jobs?” “One was a teacher and the other was an accountant.”
“I’ll take the accountant’s heart,” says the patient. “I want one that hasn’t been used.”

I’ve been reminded by Dee Hock this morning that accountancy is an old and honourable profession. In ‘Birth of the Chaordic Age‘ Hock traces the phenomenon of accounting to the tribal storyteller whose role was to accurately portray “their tribe as it was, as it is, as it might become, and as it ought to be”. Unfortunately, the primary language used for accounting for present day community is the language of mathematics and number. Consequently, the story is made up of measurements of what was, what is, and what might happen. The really important issues of what we ought to be is beyond the reach of accountancy speaking only the language of numbers.

Hock quotes H. Thomas Johnson, an economic historian, CPA, and former president of the Academy of Accounting Historians: 

“The language of financial accounting merely asserts answers, it does not invite inquiry. In particular it leaves unchallenged the worldview that underlies the way organisations operate. Thus, management accounting has serbved as a barrier to genuine organisational learning… Never again should management accounting be seen as a tool to drive people with measures. Its purpose must be to promote inquiry into the relationships, patterns and processes that give rise to accounting measures.”

Sorry accountants.

Blackbirds and Hock

I am back with Dee Hock this month as I reread his book ‘Birth of the Chaordic Age‘. What a treat that is for me. Dee Hock has spent his life considering these important questions:

  1. Why are organisations, everywhere, whether political, commercial, or social, increasingly unable to manage their affairs?
  2. Why are individuals, everywhere, increasingly in conflict with and alienated from the organisations of which they are part?
  3. Why are society and the biosphere increasingly in disarray?

He contrasts the ways of nature with the ways of institutions. He describes his own childhood discovery of the lack of generosity and respect within institutions by telling the story of a disastrous event in church in which he was scapegoated for the spilling of the communion (and he was not guilty!) He writes:

What is this chasm between how institutions profess to function and how they actually do; between what they claim to do for people and what they actually do to them? What makes people behave in the name of institutions in ways they would never behave in their own name? Church, school, government, business – all the same…. Nothing in nature feels like church or school. There’s no ‘principal’ blackbird pecking away at the rest of the flock. There’s no Super frog telling the others how to croak. There’s no teacher tree lining up the saplings and telling them how to grow….

 Nothing in the early years prepared me for the shock of institutions. With school and church came crushing confinement and unrelenting boredom … It was as though everyone began to shed wholeness and humanity at the door, along with coats and overshoes, and, one by one, to cut the threads of connection to the inner spirit, the world of nature and the humanity of others.

Hock’s response was the creation of VISA for which he is renowned and from which he turned to work on land savaged by over-cropping from a culture of command and control. He translates his learning from nature into his thinking about organisation, and the “birth of the chaordic age”.

Tyranny is tyranny no matter how petty, how well rationalised, how unconscious, or how well intended. It is that to which we have persuaded ourselves for centuries, in thousands of subtle ways, day after day, month after month, year after year. It need not be so, ever. It need not be so now. It cannot be for ever. (p24)

Tyranny’s culture is reversed, nature is respected and chaordic organisation is celebrated as Hock reports that “soil is building as thousands of gophers, mice and moles work assiduously carrying grass underground and dirt to the surface. Beneath us, billions of worms, ants, beetles, and other creatures till the soil round the clock. Trillions of microscopic creatures live, eat, excrete and die beneath my feet, fulfilling their destiny and mine as well, just as surely I fulfil theirs.” (p21)