A doorstop versus relationship rules


September 23rd, 2009

Many years ago I read a very good article about the differences between a Big Mac and the Naked Chef by Joel Spolsky. It was 2001. It’s about scaleability, and quality. And surprisingly, it’s still on the web, hence the link. The main premise was this:

  1. Some things need talent to do really well.
  2. It’s hard to scale talent.
  3. One way people try to scale talent is by having the talent create rules for the untalented to follow.
  4. The quality of the resulting product is very low.

Now Joel was talking about IT companies. I think this can be applied to anyone, anything. Especially organisations that want to control the quality and outputs of their workers. It is, of course, possible. The price is quality and innovation.

Fast forward to 2009 and the book In Pursuit of Elegance by Matthew May that I wrote about here.

My heart sinks when I see the manual – the guide on how to do things. There’s a belief that if we have a manual (or rules of engagement, or accredidation, or similar) we can minimise risk and ensure quality. Matthew May argues the opposite. If we have the rules all set out we stop paying attention. And we are less engaged with the task at hand. He cites Hans Monderman, a Dutch road traffic engineer and innovator.

Hans Monderman is behind the design of Laweiplein in Drachten – an unregulated traffic intersection that accounts for 22,000 cars, thousands of cyclists and pedestrians.

One of the reasons this works is because “…you are not just another adherent to an imposed order, but rather a fully engaged and contributing participant in the emerging self-organisation.”

What Hans Monderman discovered is the same as what Jackson Pollock discovered. And is also true for flocking birds. “When you are fully involved in a process governed by very simple relationship rules, a natural inclination takes over, and a self-organised pattern emerges that is far more orderly than anything legislation could produce. Under those circumstances, you’re connected and interacting with what’s around you.”

Now let’s apply that to organisations. Is it possible that a handful of relationship rules, that are interpreted by people, would be more effective, engaging and purposeful than a doorstop of a manual full of do’s and don’ts?

3 Comments so far

  1. Tweets that mention Facilitation - Evaluation - Beyond the Edge - Viv McWaters -- Topsy.com on September 23, 2009 10:26 pm

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Viv McWaters and marynations. marynations said: keep it simple and engaging RT @vivmcw: What we can learn from Big Macs, traffic, artists & birds [blog] http://bit.ly/WEFIK […]

  2. Psybertron Asks on October 20, 2009 11:36 pm

    […] This particular post caught my eye because amongst other things it includes specifc links to the Dutch Road Traffic approach – of removing all instructional road-traffic signs – improving road safety. I frequently quote it, but was beginning to think it was apocryphal, something I’d maybe imagined. Hell no. Wikipedia has the specifics. […]

  3. How can you grow without becoming McDonalds? « Net-Map Toolbox on November 20, 2009 2:25 am

    […] without becoming McDonalds? Posted on November 19, 2009 by Eva Schiffer Viv McWater’s blog is one of the places I go to for inspiration. And she got me again. This time with her thoughts […]

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