Thoughts on a chocolate teapot

September 22, 2014

Teapot
Chocolatiers in York have produced a chocolate teapot that can be used to brew tea. A very English project?

York, home of the Chunkie bar, can lay claim to being one of the two great chocolate centres in England, the other being Birmingham, home of the venerable Cadbury site at Bournville.

Chocolate is a wondrous material for product development, being perfect for liberating the creativity of food technologists in ideas for a near infinite array of shapes, sizes, flavours, colours, and fillings of chocolate products.

The uselessness of a chocolate teapot

The uselessness of a chocolate teapot has become an ironic saying about futility. Another example is the uselessness of a concrete parachute.

The chocolate challenge

Anyway, there were these food technologists who were challenged to make a chocolate teapot to see if it could do the one thing it was reputed to be useless at, namely brewing a cup of tea.

Cue for action. With no little ingenuity the techies produced a chocolate teapot that could hold an infusion of tea leaves in boiling water until ready for pouring. The result, a nice cup of tea with a slight chocolate favour. Well done all.

The impossibility of uselessness

When gainfully employed as a new product team trainer I liked to argue for the impossibility of uselessness. A chocolate teapot might not brew a cup of tea but it might be a nice retirement gift, or a present for the cricket captain too often found in the double teapot pose.

Not so impossible, and a nice exercise for creativity workshops

Next week

Thoughts on a chocolate chess set


A few reflections on the Scottish Referendum

September 20, 2014

The Scottish Referendum ended with a win for the Better Together campaign and devastation for the devolutionists and its leader Alex Salmond. Here are a few unedited impressions of the end-game

September 18th 2014

An emotional roller-coaster of a final day of campaigning and a night waiting as the results were counted. The process is hailed as a template for democratic elections. The commitment was impressive, the over ninety percent registration, over eighty percent turn-out.

Hope and denial

Hope in bucketfuls from the Independent Scotland ranks. For that dreamed-for freedom.

Freedom from the auld enemy, reborn as ‘the politicians in Whitehall’. Denial in bucketfuls, too. Denial that Scottish leaders were of a similar moral standing and competence to Whitehall’s toffs and scoundrels. The anger of one old-school socialist brought memories of an earlier age of fire-breathing working-class Scottish Union leaders with a long rehearsed loathing of his class enemies.

The pain of loss

The expressions of a lost dream in which a free Scotland would have been free from Trident -that was often mentioned. Free from perceived unjust laws imposed from Whitehall. For some, free from fears of what might happen, for example to the NHS [National Health Service].

From under a duvet

A distraught and inconsolable young caller to a phone-in. Upset after campaigning all day, staying up all night. Polls show the Better Together win. More questioning. She is nineteen. Tearful. In bed. I imagine her curled up, foetal position, under a duvet, clutching her I-phone.

Whitehall. It’s politics as usual

Early morning. A prepared statement from David Cameron confirming concessions to Scotland but also to the other constitutive parts of the [still] United Kingdom. Seized on as an electioneering ploy.

The agony of Alex

Alex Salmond, indefatigable leader of the Yes campaign for two years. Final speech had been as confident as ever. Within hours of the result, he announces he will step down as first Minister of the Scottish Parliament. The mask of command had been wearily taken off.

World reaction

Excellent International review from BBC Scotland.

Local reaction

Just heard two Labour politicians in deeply-divided discussion [BBC Radio 5] much easier for the Better Together camp to seek reconciliation. Sad.


It depends what you mean by Independent: what you vote for and what you may get

September 16, 2014

I believeThe six words on the voting slip ask the ‘simple’ question: Should Scotland be an Independent Country? But independence is more a state of mind than a constitutional matter

The map is not the territory

When my local store sells me a copy of The Independent, its electronic screen says I have been sold an Independant. Experience, tells me I have not been sold the wrong product. Or, to use a term from the social sciences, the map is not the territory.

The independence being voted for or against is a concept constructed in the mind of each individual cross-maker. It will turn out to be the concept acted out in the future not just by cross-makers but a wider group of consequential cross-carriers.

I offer a few thoughts from the sidelines and beyond the geographic borders of Scotland.

How to become independent

Believe. Believe you have removed the ties that bind you to a state of dependency. Believe you will be independent fiscally, even if you have restrictions imposed by currency power brokers in London, Frankfurt and New York. Believe you will be independent militarily because you will not share military resources with England or America, who will not seek some compensation for the collateral damage produced through logistic disruption of their nuclear forces. Believe in the revenues accruing from oil both discovered and waiting to be discovered. And that the revenues will be directed through the wisdom of politicians to address the longer term well-being of an aging population.

But above all

But above all, believe you, the individual voter, will be liberated. You will be able to say truthfully ‘I am no longer under the control of a malign or at best uncaring foreign power. I am free and independent.’

And maybe the dream will come true.


Change at Manchester United

September 14, 2014

by Paul Hinks

Manchester United’s current turmoil provides a platform to explore how leadership dilemmas are influencing events at the world famous football club

THIS DEVELOPING STORY IS BEING UPDATED REGULARLY.  ADDITIONS TO BE FOUND AT THE END OF THE ORIGINAL POST

On the 10th Sept 2014 the BBC reported Manchester United’s annual revenues They had risen by 19% to £433.2m -but they also reported an 84% drop in Man Utd’s profits.

Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward directed attention towards a new shirt deal with Adidas. When a club of Manchester United’s stature is discussing shirt deals instead of trophies there’s implicit recognition that it has fallen below its own high standards of achievement.

Change vs Inertia

Sir Alex was manager of Manchester United between 1986 and 2013 – his teams became synonymous with success, dominating footballing headlines for all the right reasons. Trophies symbolized the success; fans and pundits alike enjoyed watching an entertaining style of football which also delivered results – to the envy of rival fans, this was the ‘Manchester United way’.

Manchester United’s culture, discourse and identity

Reference the ‘Manchester United way’ and it has a different meaning to different people – perhaps a benchmark for free-flowing attack minded football, or a fan’s recollections of an important victory against a fierce rival; perhaps somebody referencing the successful development of Man Utd’s youth into world class talent?
A great attribute of sport – and football in particular – is that it provokes opinion and debate effortlessly. For a club of Manchester United’s stature, any deviation from their own high standards of success amplifies the process of inquiry.

Alpha Males and Autocratic Leadership

The appointment of David Moyes as Manager is increasingly reflected upon as a transition period which didn’t go to plan. The swift and recent appointment of Louis van Gaal as Manchester United’s manager [19th May 2014] takes the club in a different direction again. In some ways Louis van Gaal’s leadership style has parallels with Ferguson’s: strong values; clear standards; absolute authority. In Ferguson’s time those who crossed him, or fell short of Manchester United’s standards, quickly found themselves playing for another club. Louis van Gaal maintains a similar reputation.

The ‘Make or Buy’ dilemma

In his short tenure, Louis van Gall his has spent in the region of £150m bringing in new players. He’s also started the process of shaping his team, which includes the controversial sale of highly rated home grown player Danny Wellbeck to Arsenal for £16m. Are we witnessing the start of a new ‘Manchester United way’ – one where success is bought rather than developed in-house?

The Guardian provided additional commentary on the situation:

Ryan Giggs has denied Manchester United’s recent transfer policy represents a betrayal of Old Trafford traditions, although Nicky Butt, the club’s reserve team manager, admitted promoting homegrown talent must take a back seat under Louis van Gaal.
United have spent £215m on new players over the past 12 months and off loaded the academy graduates Danny Welbeck to Arsenal and Tom Cleverley to Aston Villa on the day Colombia international Radamel Falcao arrived on loan from Monaco .

That turnover prompted Mike Phelan, United’s former assistant manager, to accuse the club of losing their identity, while Eric Harrison, the ex-youth team manager who brought through the famed “Class of 92”, said United were losing “their soul” as a consequence.
There’s a certain paradox and tension between retaining tried and tested methods versus embracing new and different ways of working.

Like any organisation, Manchester United has various metrics to measure its success – trophies remain the currency that most fans prefer to use – but perhaps here is one of the biggest misnomers of football – football is increasingly commercially focused. Sure the fans crave the bragging rights that go with winning, but there are other stakeholders to consider too.


‘Something Special’

Sir Alex had an enviable reputation for developing the potential in players, nurturing youth into world-class talent; examples include: Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Gary and Phil Neville and Nicky Butt – there are others too. Perhaps aged 63, Louis van Gaal perceives time is not on his side? Perhaps his experience helps him recognize the urgency in returning Manchester United back to be serious challengers for honours? If he doesn’t succeed quickly, perhaps another candidate will be afforded the opportunity?

Manchester United’s various stakeholders – its fans, directors, owners, sponsors – and indeed its closest rivals all expect Manchester Utd to be serious contenders for honours. Few other clubs have history and expectation to deliver success – Louis van Gaal is shaping the future of club which many regard as ‘something special’. How he delivers will be watched with great interest.

UPDATES START HERE

July 14th 2014 

The Adidas shirt deal is worth £750 million over ten years.

September 14th 2014

Manchester United beat Queen’s Park Rangers 4-0 Van Gaal’s team with its costly Galacticos win in style at Old Trafford. Move from 17th to 9th in league table.

September 15th 2014

Disenchanted Ronaldo wants move back to Manchester United.


The death of Ian Paisley

September 12, 2014

Ian Paisley died today at a time when Unionism, the cause of his political life, faces its most recent challenge in the Scottish Referendum. For decades he was the ‘big man’ of politics in Northern Ireland who was to make a remarkable transition as a supporter of the Good Friday peace process. The perceived change clinching the Northern Ireland peace process symbolized by the handshake with a loathed adversary Martin McGuinness which was to lead to an unlikely and warm working-relationship, and friendship.

In his time, he was as divisive as Margaret Thatcher, and her equal in unshakably rigid beliefs, vehemently expressed. According to friends, the two leaders shared a softer private side, some would say a shadow-self, beneath their blustering public persona.

The mix of charm and menace used to remind me of other physically formidable charismatics such as Tiny Roland and Conrad Black.

To go more deeply

An earlier LWD post looked at the period of the transformation to elder statesman and peace broker.


Jeff Tarango is the Homer Simpson of tennis commentators. Duh.

September 8, 2014

Tennis commentator Jeff Tarango wears his heart on his sleeve. At the US Open he revealed remarkable similarities to Homer Simpson

Homer Simpson is the much-loved character in the peerless comedy series The Simpsons. He is portrayed as capturing popular stereotypes of the American culture, through his basic decency, his loyalty to his family and the American dream. He is also lovably dysfunctional socially, simplistic and unreflective in his beliefs and hapless in his unconscious mediocrity.

Jeff Tarango

Jeff Tarango has Homeric aspects to his personality. Perhaps the most famous is on U-tube showing how he defaulted himself from Wimbledon after a clash with an Umpire and a very Homer-like argument that he should be able to tell the crowd to shut up as they we telling him what to do. Then his wife, as loyal as Madge Simpson, manages to seek out the Umpire and give him a retaliatory slap.

Jeff never scaled the heights as a singles tennis player, although he crept into the top fifty with a career-best of 42. But like Homer Simpson , he had his triumphs over fate and adversity. He became a tennis pundit. Among his present employers is the BBC, as much part of the British establishment as The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Club.

Tarango at the US Open

Even keen tennis fans in Europe probably missed the fantastic match at the US Open at which
Cilic beat Federer in the early hours of the morning, European time. I first learned of the result reading Tarango’s account of the match as it unfolded.

It is fair to say the Tarango is not your average neutral commentator. He wanted Federer to win. Big Time. His recorded view became more Homeric as his man struggled and headed out of the tournament.

Federer, he declared, would be back to win Wimbledon next July. In fact he would go on to win two or more Grand Slams. Most commentators were discussing whether the Fed would win another slam.

Duh

The world would be a duller place without Homer Simpson. Perhaps the same could be said about Jeff [Homer] Tarango


Is the Two Pizza team the future for project management?

September 6, 2014

Amazon Web Services believes it has found the recipe for successful innovation in Two Pizza teams which it claims have launched nearly three hundred new services and features this year

A BBC article on innovation [September 2014] pointed to the fate of once-successful companies that had lost the innovation game to more dynamic and younger competitors. It cited Polaroid, Alta Vista, Kodak among the recent casualties.

The article went over ground that can be found in textbooks of innovation management: Innovate or die. One consultant was quoted as saying “Typically, big companies are much more conservative than start-ups and won’t do anything that is untested or could risk future profits”,  It then listed an approach advocated by Amazon Web Services:

Two Pizza teams

The challenge is to find ways of recreating the energy an dynamism of lean start-up operations within larger companies. Which is where Amazon’s Two Pizza teams come in: Perhaps it is online retailer and web services provider Amazon that best exemplifies lean start-up principles in action.
“Keeping teams small enough to be fed by two large pizzas, giving them autonomy and direct access to customers, encourages risk taking and innovation”, says Ian Massingham, technical evangelist for Amazon Web Services (AWS), the retailer’s cloud platform. “AWS has launched 280 new services and features this year – it’s all about making things better for our customers.”

Most commentators accept there is no one way for big companies to innovate, but they all agree that without innovation your days at the top could be numbered.

As simple as that?

Not really. The basic point has been around as lean thinking since the 1980s and a best-selling book of that name by Jim Womack and Dan Jones, founders of the Lean Enterprise Institute and the Lean Enterprise Academy. Lean thinking is a mix of practical advice for project managers with a philosophic (sometimes evangelical) background for overcoming the functionalism and silos of large organisations. The shift is exemplified in the shift from Fordist production lines to Toyota’s dynamic small teams.

Teams shall not live by Pizza alone

But teams shall not live by Pizzas alone. Amazon already had an innovation culture before the Two Pizza concept was announced. As Massingham said, encouraging risk-taking and innovation requires more distributed leadership, and autonomy to workers. Transformation requires more than a smart name.


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