Homologation, Rule Changes and Forcing Innovation


A quick multiple choice test; What is Homologation?

  1. The process for making fruit smoothies,
  2. A delicious new yoghurt using Greek Honey and Goats Milk, or
  3. Approval being granted by an official body.


Congratulations if you chose Number 3. Homologation is indeed the process of an official body (Government, Court of Law, Academic Body, Professional Institution, Industry Body etc) granting approval for something, a bit similar to accreditation. Not a word I knew of, and something I’ve only learnt about for 2 reasons:

  • An explanation from some mechanical engineers of how innovation is ‘forced’ into F1 Motorsport, and
  • A short conversation with Sheldon Steed at People Driven Digital (#pdDigital15) about how big institutions get to recognise and accept novel products, ideas and innovation from small organisations.

F1 Racing and Homologation.  If you want to get a feel for the technical regulation of Formula 1 Motorsport have a read of this article ‘Arms Race? Game Changer? What do the Latest Changes to F1 Engine Rules Mean?’ by F1 broadcaster James Allen. Homologation gets mentioned a lot.

Back to where this started for me, I was listening to a group of very experienced Mechanical and Electrical Engineers talk about innovation in F1. The gist of the discussion was as follows:

  • The razzmatazz of a Grand Prix Race, Television exposure, Superstar Drivers and massive sponsorship deals are just a side-show (in their view),
  • But a side-show with a purpose – it funds the really interesting engineering innovation behind F1 that makes the cars achieve incredible things,
  • It’s the engineering innovation that stops F1 getting boring (really?) and in particular the frequent rule changes that the governing body introduces – this is where homologation fits it.
  • Basically the governing body changes the rules – for example on how energy is recovered from the brakes to feed into electric motors on the car.
  • The engineers come up with their solution and before the car can be raced, the solution has to be homologated (approved).
  • That all sounded very clever and sensible to me. A good example of where a governing body, the Federation International de l’ Automobile (FIA), is forcing innovation by changing the rules – and example of disruptive innovation (something that gets talked about so much at the moment).
Red Bull Soap Box races - not sure if this reaches F1

Red Bull Soap Box Races – not sure if this technology ever reaches F1 cars

Upsetting the Hierarchy. The Engineers I listened to were an interesting bunch and they didn’t stop there. The other important part of the world of F1 rule changes they spoke about was “upsetting the hierarchy”. They explained it as follows;

  • The ‘big’ companies in the motor-sport world are brilliant at all sorts of things like maximising the efficiency and effectiveness of existing systems and products. They have enough money and resources to ‘squeeze’ the existing design/product/system to get that last few percent out of it.
  • This ‘last few’ percent will get them to first past the winning post in a stable system.
  • What they are not so go at is; agile, creative, innovative solutions when the rules of the game change. This is where the smaller organisations seem to have the advantage.
  • When the rules change, the smaller organisations come in with the radical new solutions, and have them tested in a rigorous/brutal environment (the homologation process and the F1 races).
  • Where things work the small organisations have a competitive advantage and are able to upset the hierarchy – for a short time.
  • Quickly the big organisations are able to identify what the others have done, standardise and improve it to ‘squeeze the extra few percent’.

This all sounded very convincing and very effective to my ears; change the rules, force innovation, upset the existing hierarchy. A really interesting approach from the Governing Body (FIA) who change the rules and impose homologation to; keep F1 Motor-sport interesting, feed innovation into domestic car production, and maintain a bunch of very happy engineers.

IMG_3500The link with People Driven Digital. At the People Driven Digital I heard about how people who are developing new/innovative solutions are finding it a challenge to engage with big organisations like the NHS or Pharmaceutical Companies. The sense I got was that some big organisations tend to only want to talk to other big organisations.

In the conversation with  Sheldon Steed, we talked about the challenges he faced with the digital phone app he had developed to manage diabetes for his sons. It is worth looking at the video he has posted on his blog about the app mumoACTIVE.

The point I’m getting at here is, can we learn something from rule changes, homologation and the disruption of hierarchies in F1 motor-sport? Is there an opportunity for the big organisations in health to find a different way to talk to the smaller (possibly more agile and innovative) organisations? Can things like People Driven Digital in Leeds and the NHS Hackdays in Cardiff (which I was fortunate to attend) provide the ‘safe’ space for it to happen? I hope so.

So, what’s the PONT?

  1. Changing the “rules” can force people to think differently and develop innovative solutions (disruptive innovation).
  2. The approach can disrupt hierarchies, where existing ‘big players’ get overtaken by ‘small fry’ with better solutions (this can have consequences for ‘small fry’).
  3. Can things like People Driven Digital in Leeds and NHS Hackday in Cardiff provide the space for ‘big organisations’ to engage with ‘small organisations’

Friends Don’t Let Friends Have Rubbish Meetings. Peer Pressure to ‘Do The Right Thing’

A greeting card you can send to fellow knitters

A real greeting card you can send to fellow knitters*

Friends don’t let Friends …. Knit Drunk. Sorry to start a post with such a disturbing image.

It all started with a schooner of sweet sherry, now just look at those loose stitches, and the wool colours. All so preventable and very wrong.

Sometimes it is necessary to share startling graphic images to highlight the consequences of doing the wrong thing. Only then your friends might step in and ‘nudge’ you in the right direction.

After dabbling with Behaviour Change Science in the last post, ‘Meeting Lemmings and Choice Architecture’, I’m sticking with the topic. This time it’s about using peer pressure to ‘nudge’ people towards having better meetings….

Friends Don’t Let Friends…. Do Lots of Things. There’s a lot of material on the internet about Peer Pressure and the ‘Friends don’t let Friends…’ campaigns. Alongside the dozens spin-off T-shirts, posters and other paraphernalia there are plenty of papers and articles describing the effectiveness of the approach. A great deal of it is linked to the world of social marketing campaigns in Public Health, aimed at areas like; preventing drink driving, anti smoking, anti drugs and general ‘improve your lifestyle’ messages.

Possibly the most well-known campaign and character is Smokey Bear, who started life back in 1944 as part of an initiative to reduce the number of forest fires in the USA. By 1983 Smokey Bear had expanded beyond Forestry, into the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, to head up the anti drink driving campaign. During the period 1983-1999 alcohol related road fatalities in the USA dropped from 21,000 a year to 12,500. The success of the Smokey Bear, “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk” campaign led to Smokey being inducted into the Advertising Week Walk of Fame in 2014 (have a read of the article, it is interesting).  There are plenty of videos of Smokey Bear online if you fancy.

So what else can Peer Pressure do? Getting back to where I started, could peer pressure be used to help nudge people into having better meetings? Is there room in the corporate world for a ‘Friends Don’t Let Friends Have Rubbish Meetings’ campaign? Could we have T-shirts, posters and lapel badges to support the campaign?

Obviously the office isn’t the forest, and we don’t have bears we could enlist in the campaign. However, I have been reading some serious research (from the Journal Nature you know) which talks about examples of how peer pressure has had the desired effect of changing behaviour. Inducing Peer Pressure to Promote Cooperation, describes how social mechanisms (mostly peer pressure) are able to encourage cooperation between people and promote different behaviours.

There are some interesting examples in the paper like:

  • Micro-lending – where there are higher rates of repaying loans because people know each other and feel peer pressure to pay back what they have borrowed.
  • Water Use – people putting pressure on neighbours not to water their lawns when there is a water shortage.
  • Lobster Fishing – the Maine Lobster Fishery as an example of a successful sustainable fishery operated through the involvement of the fishermen in regulating the fishery and each other (peer pressure).

Lobster on Nova Scotia

Lobster in Halifax Airport, Nova Scotia

I’m particularly interested in the Maine Lobster Fishery as an example of successful ‘co-management’ between the Government and the Lobster Fishing Businesses. This may be an example of ‘co-production’ which is talked about widely in Wales at the moment.

This article by Monique Coombs in Grassroots Economic Organising  explains the organisation and the self-regulation of the Maine Lobster Fishery

Whilst I was in Nova Scotia last year some people I spoke to said that elements of the Maine peer regulation model had been adopted there. I apologise for the half tartan lobster picture. It’s from Halifax Airport and I’ve been desperate for a chance to use it….they do love their lobsters in Nova Scotia.

Will ‘Friends Don’t Let Friends Hold Rubbish Meetings’ work?  I think there is a good chance. There is sound historical evidence that the approach works (Smokey Bear), academic research into the theory, and practice from the extremely difficult world of catching lobsters.

Dealing with a few office workers cannot be that difficult in comparison? Most people want to have better meetings, they just need some help from their friends. All we need are some lapel badges, posters and T-shirts, and we should start the better meetings revolution.

So, What’s the PONT?

  1. Peer Pressure has a powerful effect on changing people’s behaviour.
  2. Campaigns like the Smokey Bear “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk” are recognised as being highly successful.
  3. Everyone wants to have better meetings, we just need some help from our friends, “Friends Don’t Let Friends Hold Rubbish Meetings”.

Linked Post: A while back I wrote about social marketing being used to prevent deliberate grass fires in Wales – ironically we’ve just had the worst period of deliberate grass fires for years. http://whatsthepont.com/2011/07/14/bernie-the-sheep-social-marketing-tackling-social-problems/

Picture Link: *Drunk Knitting http://www.paradisefibers.com/itty-bitty-witty-knitties-cards-friends-don-t-let-friends-knit-drunk-swatch-is-full-of-knots-etc.html  I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but I’ve just found a community for Drunk Knitters on Facebook.

Choice Architecture; how to avoid being a ‘Meeting Lemming’

Beware Weasels! Obviously not a Lemming, but I saw this while cycling in Austria and had to use it.

Beware Weasels! Obviously not a Lemming, but I saw this while cycling in Austria and had to use it.

This post follows the one I wrote about meetings being a virus that use human hosts to reproduce.

Paul Taylor rightly questioned; ‘we know meetings are a problem, but why are we unable to do anything about them?’. Ultimately there’s something strange going on with meeting attendance; people cannot, or do not want to, change their behaviour. No matter how bad the meeting promises to be, no matter how much we recognise this; most of us still turn up to suffer.

The sort of behaviour you might expect from Meeting Lemmings*.

Why?…. Is it just too easy to make the wrong decisions and ‘jump’ with the rest of the Meeting Lemmings? Well this might help…. Choice Architecture. I’ve recently been learning about Behaviour Change Science (and Choice Architecture), with people from the Wales Centre for Behaviour Change at Bangor University, North Wales.

Old Wine in New Skins? Behaviour Change Science (sometimes called Nudge Theory) has probably been around for ages, just called other things. Anything that involves trying to get people to behave in a certain way, or do different things would probably count as ‘behaviour change’. If you think about why many people participate in certain religious practices (roots in ancient history), or how marketing and advertising influence the products we buy (also quite historic), there’s lots of ‘behaviour change science’ going on out there.

At the moment in the world of public services, there is a huge desire to try to move people away from dependency upon services, and towards greater self-reliance. With this objective in mind you can see the attractiveness of ‘behaviour change science’. You may also have spotted ‘nudge’ and ‘behaviour change’ popping up on your ‘Buzzword Bingo’ cards at meetings?

IMG_3406The idea has been popularised in books like ‘Nudge’ (Thaler & Sunstein) where the idea is that you ‘nudge’ people in the direction of making the ‘right’ choices – you definitely don’t force people (that would be bad, the sort of thing Dictators do).

This is all part of an idea called ‘liberal paternalism’ which you can read about in this helpful paper; Choice Architecture by Thaler, Sunstein and Balz.

Choice Architecture and Meeting Lemmings? In the spirit of sharing, here is some of what I learnt about behaviour change science in Bangor, and how I think some of it could be applied to meetings. In particular I’m thinking about Choice Architecture.

The basic idea is:

  • We have a number of choices we could make around meetings.
  • How these choices are presented is called the Choice Architecture.
  • The choices we make are influenced by the Choice Architecture we face.
  • By presenting ‘choices’ in a certain way, people will be ‘nudged’ to make better decisions.
  • Better decisions will lead to better outcomes (hurrah!).

For meetings, I’m assuming that better outcomes would be: no meetings in the first place, much shorted meetings or alternative (better) ways of holding a meeting. This isn’t perfect logic, but please bear with me.

Boiling the meeting choice architecture down into its essential components, I reckon you have 4 key areas where you can influence choice, the core of most meetings:

  1. Attractiveness – what attracts people to your meeting?
  2. Timing – finding the time for people to meet
  3. Venue – the physical space where they meet
  4. The Paper Trail – proving your meeting achieved something useful.

Making better Meeting Choices: Here are my suggestions for improving meeting choices architecture. If you want a more detailed explanation of why I think these would work, the attached mind map hopefully explains it.

#1 Attractiveness – meeting attendance is always optional – people are free to choose if they attend. They will need to be convinced, ‘will it be useful to do so?’.

#2 Timing – prohibit the use of meeting planners and other ‘productivity tools’. It is a physical and mental hassle to plan a meeting. It’s a choice, do you really want that meeting? Have a look at Matt Ballantiine on Efficient Unproductivity which nicely describes the problem.

#3 Venue – keep it basic. Meetings shouldn’t be about the luxurious surroundings, the focus should be in getting business sorted. Also, spaces can only be booked in multiples of 15mins, with a limit of x8 units (120 mins/2 hours). Your choice of how long to stay in the meeting space is decided by business need, not comfy surroundings.

#4 Paper Trail – you are required to provide ‘written evidence’ that your meeting served a useful purpose – but there is no administrative support for this. Again, a choice with consequences.

My Mind Map - trying to explain the logic behind my thinking, good luck!

My Mind Map – trying to explain the logic behind my thinking, good luck!

That’s not going to upset anyone….. I appreciate that these might look like extreme options and difficult choices. I would however argue that we already know ‘the right thing to do’.

Articles like the Harvard Business Review, ‘All the Charts, Tables and Checklists you need to conduct better meetings’ summarise exactly how you should approach meetings. What all this good practice and advice hasn’t done is affect our behaviour, many people still behave like Meeting Lemmings. Maybe what we need is a different (and possibly difficult) Choice Architecture to ‘nudge’ us in the right direction?

So, What’s the PONT?

  1. Meetings are considered a waste of time by many people. But despite ‘knowing better’ they still attend, a case of Meeting Lemming behaviour.
  2. Behaviour Change Science and the use Choice Architecture can be used to influence the choices people make.
  3. The Choice Architecture around meetings could be changed to ‘nudge’ people towards making better decisions about avoiding/improving meetings.

*Meeting Lemmings. Lemmings are a rodent like mammal which is popularly (and falsely) known for a suicidal tendency to rush off the edge of cliffs and end up dead. They really should make better choices, it doesn’t make sense. The ‘Meeting Lemming’, should also make better choices:.. “this meeting will be a complete waste of time”…. but they turn up anyway, or worse, they organise it.

An actual Lemming - not as impressive as a Weasel.

An actual Lemming – not as impressive as a Weasel.

Meetings are a Viral Lifeform. How to Avoid Infection and Practice Sabotage

Dilbert by Scott Adams 15th December 2001

Dilbert by Scott Adams 15th December 2001

Meetings are a type of Virus that use humans as hosts to replicate…..

That might strike you as an odd statement; but have a look at the Dilbert cartoon and think about how you would answer these questions:

  1. Have you ever gone to a meeting where you have no idea why you are there?
  2. At the meeting people speak your language, but use words and expressions you don’t recognise?
  3. Throughout the meeting some people speak, just for the ‘joy of hearing their own voices’?
  4. At the end of the meeting you feel a deep relief it has ended and wonder, ‘what on earth just happened and what did it achieve?’

If you have answered yes to all of those questions, the only logical conclusion must be that there are factors beyond rational human control that have caused the meeting to happen. Something we cannot quite control through the power of efficient business processes and synchronised Outlook calendars. The Dilbert suggestion that meetings are a viral life-form doesn’t seem so strange now……. does it?

It’s Open Season on Meetings. Just to get serious, everyone seems to have turned their sights on meetings at the moment.  I’m just as guilty and I’ve written a few posts about meetings (available here) where I’ve put the point across that, despite the problems, meetings are very valuable part of doing business. Face to face contact is invaluable in helping to develop relationships and build trust, and sometimes meeting face to face is the only way to get agreement over difficult issues. But that doesn’t count for every meeting.

Just to prove it’s a serious ‘grown up’ issue, the Harvard Business Review (HBR) have produced ‘All the Charts, Tables and Checklists You Need to Conduct Better Meetings’. Despite the 1st April publication date, this is a good summary of the things you need to consider, it is worth looking at. You might have seen this ‘Should I Hold A Meeting’ decision tree from the HBR Article which circulated widely on Twitter (thanks to Paul Taylor where I first saw it).

Harvard Business Review Graphic - Meetings go grown up  and serious

Harvard Business Review Graphic – Meetings go grown up and serious

Virus Control in Meetings. In the spirit of meetings being viral life-form, I thought it would useful to apply some anti-viral techniques for keeping them under control. So here goes with; avoiding infection; escaping the Infection zone and slowing down virus replication.

  • Avoiding Infection – this is easy, just don’t go to any meeting that doesn’t look useful. Obviously this is easier said than done, especially where some organisations enforce ‘mandatory’ meetings. However it is worth persevering, the HBR checklist is useful, particularly when you have the power to call the meeting. Just think of taking the decision to not call the meeting as the metaphorical equivalent of a good dose of extra strength hand sanitizer. A bit tingly, but worth the effort.
  • Escaping the Infection Zone – this particularly applies to the meetings where you are at the mercy of someone else. The longer you stay in the ‘zone’, the more likely you are to become infected with the ‘meeting virus contagion’. You can use multiple excuses to escape and ‘slip away’ for a while. Urgent telephone calls are a favourite, so are lavatory breaks. People will generally be too polite to ask why you’ve been away for ages, and its also a chance to use the hand sanitizer.
  • Slowing down replication – only one thing to say here, SABOTAGE. If you become a complete meeting nuisance, in a non-specific sort of way, there’s a good chance you won’t be asked back. There are a few approaches you can take, asking awkward questions is always good, but can be counter-productive. You don’t want to be routinely brought in as the ‘critical friend’ or ‘voice of reason’.
  • Be boring – It’s a definite ‘anti-viral’ meeting killer and might get you permanently excluded. If you want some more detail have a read of ‘A Guide to Boring’ from Helen Reynolds.
  • The Field Sabotage Guide. The Simple Sabotage Field Manual is a practical guide to basic, but effective meeting sabotage. Produced in 1944 by a predecessor organisation to the CIA it was declassified recently and is applicable 70 years on as it was on the day it was written. You might recognise some of the behaviours from meetings you’ve attended. I have written about it previously (Spotting Field Sabotage), and the picture below clearly explains what you need to do.
Simple Sabotage Field Manual. Section 11, Page 28. Declassified

Simple Sabotage Field Manual. Section 11, Page 28. Declassified

 So, What’s the PONT?

  1. Meetings can be a highly effective way of building relationships, developing trust and getting things done.
  2. Not all meetings are organised to make the most of the valuable resources they attract. Sometimes you can wonder ‘why are we here?’
  3. Always ask why do you need this meeting? Use things like the HBR ‘charts and checklist’, but if all else fails you could use sabotage to slow down the replication of the meetings viral life-form.

Picture sources:

Dilbert Cartoon: 15 December 2001.  http://dilbert.com/strip/2001-12-15

Simple Sabotage Field Manualhttp://www.gutenberg.org/files/26184/page-images/26184-images.pdf

Harvard Business Review Meeting Charts, Tables & Checklists: https://hbr.org/2015/04/all-the-charts-tables-and-checklists-you-need-to-conduct-better-meetings

5 Monkeys, Bananas, Ladder, Water. Why do we comply with daft rules in organisations?

IMG_3141A Question: Can you think of an organisation you have been part of, one where there is an unwritten rule that almost everyone complies with, and nobody really knows why?

This rule dictates how people behave and is often about stopping people doing something. The reasons why the ‘rule’ exist are unclear, and nobody can adequately explain the behaviour.

It is part of “the way things are done around here”. 

Information Governance, Data Sharing, IT Security.  Just to help you, here is a situation you might have experienced. You know the sort of thing “you are not allowed to read that very valuable information because it is on a WordPress Blog. There are ‘security issues’ with WordPress. The IT department will cut and paste the text into a word document and will email it to you …… it will be available in 10 working days”.

I’m not making this up, I have seen this happen in recent history. The justification is always some hazy requirement to comply with ‘IT security’ and is justified by referring to some terrible incident (usually not explained) that happened in the past.

Too many episodes of The IT Crowd

Too many episodes of The IT Crowd

I had occasionally (very unfairly, in dark moments of frustration) thought this sort of thing was down to some IT people, in some organisations, being more interested in job protection, the joy of sheer awkwardness and making everyone play by their rules; rather than treating the users as customers.

This was probably as a result of me watching too many episodes of The IT Crowd. I realise now I was very wrong, sorry.

 5 Monkeys and the Path to Enlightenment. I’m grateful to my friend Geof who helped me with my unjustified prejudice and pointed me at the 5 Monkey Experiments. This gives an explanation of why groups of people might do things (comply with rules) for reasons they don’t fully understand. There might be a good logical explanation for the behaviour, but it is buried in the mists of time. Way back in the ‘corporate memory’ if you like.

A quick way of explaining the 5 Monkeys Experiment is this graphic.

The text is also at the bottom of the post. If anyone has the original source for this I'd be grateful

The text is also at the bottom of the post.
If anyone has the original source for this I’d be grateful


If you prefer here is a 90 second video of the 5 Monkeys experiment. However if you want an even better explanation, get Matt from Complex Care Wales to describe it – with full Kung Fu movements!

Detecting  5 Monkeys Behaviour? Does any behaviour that might fit the 5 Monkeys theory come to mind after those explanations? I’ve heard of a few over the years, and would be happy to add to this list:

  1. IT Security – the one above, WordPress poses a dangerous risk to security so we cannot let you read blogs….
  2. More IT Security – Skype is really dangerous. There are ‘security risks’ so you are not allowed to have a business meeting using Skype.
  3. Staff Surveys – “it’s all about 5 Monkeys Behaviour…..the reason why everyone is unhappy here is because of some terrible thing in the past. It’s nothing to do with the current regime.”
  4. ‘Signing The Book’ – my favourite example of this is an establishment (in Cardiff) where people who cycled or walked to work dutifully signed a special book. This practice (which only stopped in the 2000’s) dated back to the Second World War and was linked to an entitlement for extra canteen rations as part of the war effort. 50 plus years of compliance and signatures for absolutely no purpose.

Is this all too good to be true?  The 5 Monkeys Experiment does provide a very helpful to explain away some features of organisational life. There are plenty of examples of compliance with rules you cannot explain and behaviours that fit the 5 Monkeys model.

I am however just a bit sceptical.

Firstly because I’m not a monkey, and I don’t really like getting compared to what happened in a monkey experiment. Secondly, there is a bit of doubt about the experiment taking place as described. Have a read of this thread on the Skeptics Website which questions the source of the information. I’m hoping Matt from Complex Care Wales will zoom in at this point and fill in the gaps in my knowledge.

Finally, despite my scepticism, I do like the metaphor it provides….if you spot a new colleague (new monkey) having their new ideas crushed by existing staff (being beaten up by the old monkeys), step in and tell them the 5 Monkeys Experiment story.

So, whats the PONT?

  1. People in organisations do comply with rules and behave in certain ways, without fully understanding the reasons why they are doing it.
  2. This can be for good useful reasons, or others that are not so useful. The key thing is to ask questions like, ‘why are we doing this?’
  3. The justification of ‘it’s the way we do things around here’ might just be because you are acting like a 5 Monkeys and ignoring the bananas for reasons that are no longer relevant.

Thanks again to Geof and Matt for prompting this post.

Sources: Skeptics Website http://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/6828/was-the-experiment-with-five-monkeys-a-ladder-a-banana-and-a-water-spray-condu 

Here is the full test from the graphic - via the Skeptics Website

Here is the full test from the graphic – via the Skeptics Website














Social Movements, The Slime of Bureaucracy and SHEDS!!!!

My T-Shirt - worn to important meetings (under a shirt - obviously!)

My Kafka T-Shirt – worn to important meetings (under a shirt – obviously!)

“Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy”.

There is a point to the Franz Kafka quote, which will be explained later. In the meanwhile I’ll stop being pseudo intellectual and resume normal service….

Last week I was at this Working With Not To event, learning about Co-Production and Asset Based Community Development. It was great to meet Cormac Russell and even better that he mentioned MEN’S SHEDS!  I’ve been desperate to talk about sheds for ages, so here goes.

Men Sheds Australia. Cormac told the story of how the Men Sheds movement in Australia had grown from a small social movement, into something that attracted the attention of large government institutions. The key points were:

  • Many Blokes like to mess about in their sheds – fact – no further explanation needed.
  • During the 1990’s in Australia a few Blokes started to informally gather together in sheds and do ‘shed based activities’ – you know the kind of thing, fixing lawnmowers, repairing a bookcase, making new things etc etc.
  • The activity became popular and spread by ‘word of mouth’ around Australia. Men Sheds started to pop up everywhere.
  • Some people (Academics) started to notice that the Blokes who got involved in Men Sheds were healthier and happier than those who didn’t.
  • Proper scientific research followed which tried to understand if there was a clear link between better men’s health and Men Sheds. The research wasn’t completely conclusive (is it ever… ha ha), however the general view is that Men Sheds are beneficial. This report by the Lancaster University Centre of Ageing Research summarises the ‘shed loads’ of research into Men Sheds.
  • Scientific research led to government bodies taking an interest and now Men Sheds features prominently in the Australian Government Department of Health Policy.
  • A small social movement has grown to global success with a 1000 Men Sheds in Australia and expanding networks across the globe in countries like the UK, Ireland, Finland and Greece.
  • Have a look at this video of an example from Age UK (Bromley & Greenwich) which has been funded by the National Lottery.

Where does this fit with the Slime of Bureaucracy?

If you look at any of the Men in Sheds websites and you’ll see a fair few references to ‘Health and Safety’, Insurance and ‘guidance’ for operating a shed.

I suspect that when the first Men Sheds started as a Social Movement in Australia there wasn’t a Health and Safety Policy in sight. Cormac Russell made the point that with the growth of Men Sheds they attracted government attention, and MONEY.

The money is quite necessary, sometimes essential. It helps to keep the sheds viable, particularly those where opportunities to raise funds by selling products and services don’t exist. However, money, particularly if it’s been provided by the taxpayer, usually comes with a bunch of rules and regulations attached. There might even be a Manager,  a Coordinator, a Liaison Worker and even an Evaluation and Reporting Officer attached.

I’m not sure if any of these things actually harm the Men Sheds movement, but they do add a layer of something that didn’t exist when the first ‘social movement’ started. Maybe this is the ‘Slime of Bureaucracy’ that Kafka spoke about?

Whatever it is, I hope the revolution of Men Sheds doesn’t evaporate before I get a chance to get a saw in my hand and put some overalls on.

So What’s the PONT?

  1. Men Sheds are an activity that helps many men to socialise and make a positive contribution to society.
  2. Whilst the research doesn’t seem to have absolutely proved the link with better physical health, they are undoubtedly a very good thing (in my view).
  3. With any revolution (or social movement) I think a bit of ‘the slime of bureaucracy’ is probably inevitable if the movement becomes highly successful and grows significantly beyond it’s original community.

Here are some useful Shed based links:

 Mens Sheds UK: http://www.menssheds.org.uk 

Age UK Men in Sheds: http://www.ageuk.org.uk/professional-resources-home/services-and-practice/health-and-wellbeing/men-in-sheds/

Age UK Cheshire – Men in Sheds: http://www.ageuk.org.uk/cheshire/our-services/every-man-needs-a-shed/  (where I first heard of Men in Sheds)

And a Shed Locator Map – to find your nearest shed: http://www.zeemaps.com/view?group=598561


10 of My Development Needs and Cardiff NHS Hackday

Cardiff NHS Hackday 2015 - from above

Cardiff NHS Hackday 2015 – from above

I was going to call this post “Don’t worry about the slashed training budget…. Send your people to NHS Hackdays and get them trained for free…”.

However that gives the wrong message and would send some Organisational Development Professionals into a bit of a ‘tail spin’. The idea doesn’t quite fit with conventional thinking.

The point I’m trying to make is that NHS Hackday is much more than a bunch of enthusiasts getting excited about technology and fixing medical problems. It exposes the people who participate to a wide range of ‘development opportunities’ that you might wait a lifetime to experience in many traditional personal development programmes.

I should say that I have been very lucky over 20 plus years to experience a wide range of training and development courses. Everything from online Health and Safety compliance courses through to Raft Building with ropes and logs (the dreaded team-building) and ‘Speaking Confidently’ with an opera singer. Most of the experiences have been very good, and I would like to think they have helped me become better at my job(s). However, nothing comes close to 36 hours of NHS Hackday when you are fully immersed in trying to make something that is real. Something you believe will make a difference. If you could transfer that essence into other training and development situations I think it would have a huge positive impact.

Here's some paper and pens - explain your idea!

Here’s some paper and pens – 2 minutes to explain your idea!

What about My Development Needs?: Just to prove I do think about this stuff, and don’t swan off to random gatherings on the weekend, this I how I thought the NHS Hackday helped with 10 of my development needs (it’s also annual appraisal time, and my Boss might read this).

  1. Networking Skills. I bet there isn’t a single organisational competency framework that doesn’t have ‘networking skills’ featuring somewhere. Well, Hackday is the perfect place to practice these, 36 hours to network with a 100+ people. I must admit to drawing comfort from the fact that although I might have the lowest IQ at Hackday, I probably wasn’t the most socially awkward person in the room…
  2. Speaking Confidently in Public. Always tricky to develop this skill, well try this….. the Saturday Morning Pitch! Getting your point across, in 60 seconds, to a packed lecture theatre of 200 really clever people, beats anything I’ve ever experienced on a training course.
  3. Visual Communication. “Here’s a sheet of flip chart paper and some pens. You have 2 minutes to create something that explains your idea, and then post it on the boards”. It really happened! Again, a skill I often use in real life, and there’s nothing like practicing it under real pressure. I could name and shame someone here who cheated – and turned up with printed posters, but I won’t…..I’ll be doing it next year.
  4. Influencing Skills. Now you have to convince some people, over who you have absolutely no power, to come and work with you for the next 2 days. It was at this point I was wishing I’d done training in hypnosis and mind control. This is one of the toughest things I’ve done in ages.
  5. Teambuilding. No empty barrels, ropes and logs to help out; just a table, some chairs, an extension lead and flipchart paper. All that stuff you learn about setting the vision, working to people’s strengths, communicating clearly and respecting the needs of all team members are used in overdrive at this stage.
  6. Project Management. ha ha ha, there wasn’t a PID, Gantt Chart or a Prince2 Manual in sight! With less than 24 hours on the clock we were ‘stripped down, flexible and outcome focussed’. I’ve not yet done ‘Agile’ Project Management Training, if I do, I hope it’s a bit like this.
  7. Problem Solving & Learning from Failure. This alone would sum up the Hackday experience. As it turns out my original idea ‘needed some work on the detail’ to put it mildly. Approaches like ‘brainstorming’ (in a non obvious way) get dragged out as part of the creative thinking process. We did try some things that didn’t work, learnt from failure and moved on (quickly).
  8. Time Management. Did I mention we had less than 24hours on the clock? The prospect of presenting our working solution to the other Hackers at 3pm the next day is a great incentive to manage the time effectively.
  9. Decision Making & Prioritisation. It’s easy to delay decision making and do more fact-finding when there is no pressure. The urgency of Hackday meant that we made rapid decisions about what we were going to do and stuck with them. Prioritisation meant that some of the things we could have done, or were ‘nice to do’s’ were put aside for another day.
  10. Thinking On Your Feet. If the 60 second pitch on saturday morning had felt like a challenge, the 150 seconds to present your working prototype to your peers on Sunday afternoon was on another level. Then to top it off you get questions from the Judges. Cue what you learnt on the ‘thinking on your feet’ course.
  11. Dress For Success. A long time ago I really did go on a course like this, well it was the 1990’s. The observant will have noticed that this is number 11 in my top 10 list, which is a deliberate mistake. I just wanted to point out that not every course you attend will be effective. It’s clear, from the picture below that I didn’t take on board the lessons from ‘dress for success’. What was I thinking keeping that hat on?

So, whats the PONT?

  1. NHS Hackday was about so much more than a group of enthusiasts fixing some problems.
  2. The act of working with other people to make something real creates a sense of enthusiasm and commitment that is impressive.
  3. For me, it tests and develops all of the things I think are important in my personal development, and I would recommend it to anyone.

Links to other NHS Hackday Posts I’ve written here:


Picture via Paul Clarke https://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_clarke/12153390494/in/set-72157640139264593/

Failure to learn lessons from the 'Dress for Success' training

Failure to learn lessons from the ‘Dress for Success’ training

Our product partly developed.

Our product partly developed.