Thursday, 5 November 2015

Crispbread, Meatballs and erm, Chaos.

Sundsvall A.M. by Peter Johnson
I'm sat in a busy hotel in Sundsvall. I've just finished a series of four talks in different parts on this country which were organised by the lovely people from itSMF Sweden (special big shoutout to Daniel Billing).

I was of course here to flog my Control-Chaos-Values approach to the workplace. What I love about doing this in public is the range of responses that one receives. There are still too many of the folded-arms, rigid expression variety, which generally tell me that I'm either being boring (sorry if that was the case), or that these individuals are simply not prepared to countenance such radical change to the way things are currently done.

I sometimes daydream. When I encounter individuals of this latter type I tend to go a bit Reginald Perrin (<<Brittisk humor>>). Unlike Reggie, instead of visualising hippopotamuses, I imagine brontosauruses, pterodactyls, triceratops or some other large beast from the mesozoic era (I had to look that up). Now, I have no intention of being rude. I am very sympathetic towards those who don't want to change, and who are wary of the risks. I often have great debates with, and do in fact respect, such folk. They might even be right and it may indeed be my theorising that is completely flawed. But I can't help it. I fear for them, for their genus. I still believe they might, at some point in the not-too-distant future, go the way of the dinosaur. That is, extinct.

I've taken the philosophy classic Fear and Trembling with me on this trip and the following passage certainly echoes my resignation to the rejection of my chaos, control and values thesis by ITSM diehards. Kierkegaard writes that "his fate will be to be completely ignored".

(I also have John Wyndham's novel Plan For Chaos in my bag. My wife gave it to me for this trip. I think it was her idea of a joke.)

My situation isn't as bad as that of the Danish philosopher. I haven't been completely ignored. I've received enough positive encouragement to keep me going. There is always a small cluster of individuals who approach me warily after a talk and mention in (often) hushed and conspiratorial tones that they agree (to varying degrees) with the heresies that I am propagating.

A lovely man in Stockholm explained to me that the reaction I encountered was an offshoot of Swedish culture. The Swedes he said, love order. He might have had a point. In virtually every talk I gave in this marvellous country, at the point where I announced that the solution to the myriad ITSM customer experience and innovation woes was chaos, I heard a collective murmur; a nervous giggle; a sharp intake of breath.

I use the word chaos as a placeholder for the more developed science of complex adaptive systems (see: Stacey et. al., 2000). However the meaning outside academia is the same: a lack of order, of determinism and of predictability.

But if you panic over the idea of new and unexpected things, how exactly are you going to innovate? Also, what novel solutions will you produce if you shy away from the unexpected? The idea of personal computing was new and unexpected when it came to prominence in the nineteen sixties. The industrial revolution was hardly created out of focus groups and meetings. Think about the pivotal moments in science - the discovery of oxygen, or the creation of the periodic table or the dawn of understanding of the quantum nature of sub-atomic particles.

New and unexpected all, and they emerged from the chaotic ferment which characterised the various human activities that were taking place during each of those periods.

To be fair to the wonderful Swedish people that I met during my travels, I should say that this resistance to change is not limited to Scandinavians. I often receive the same reaction in the UK. People everywhere I think, like familiarity and comfort. Paradoxically perhaps, homo sapiens as an species are driven to innovate. Look at how we transitioned from stone to bronze to iron to steam to the internal combustion engine to the space age, the information age and to... ITSM.

Do you really think that human progress will stop there?

I like to think I'd have been one of the bronze smelters, desperately arguing to blank-faced cavemen for the benefits of the new way. They might have looked up at me, while continuing to slice the mammoth hide with their flinty implements. "No thanks mate," they might have said. "these tools do the job, thank you very much.".

As I would walk wearily back to the small community of bronze age early adopters that I'd taken up with, the others would shake their heads and mutter darkly "Metal? What a ridiculous idea..."

Thank you Sweden for allowing to me to talk and debate with you.

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