what we lose when when we fear prolixity and live brevity

Nobody wants to be ‘that guy’ who goes on and on.  Besides, one-liners are cool.

So if you have a lot to say, maybe you should blog (kettle? black?)? Of course, that’s why I do – right now I’m channelling Seth Godin.


Yet sometimes extreme brevity is uncool. Like:

  1. More haste, less speed.
    1. Oh boy. A work colleague sends you an email. It’s 3 words. It might be ambiguous, so at the risk of looking a bit silly, you reply asking: Did you mean x or y? they reply, tersely, in what appears to be confirmation. So you then say: So what we are saying is the blah blah is x and not y because of [reason]. You don’t need me to tell you how much longer that took.
    2. And multitasking is a myth. Every time the inbox pings, your concentration on that important thing pings away. Hey.
  2.  Some things can’t be explained in a text, or a one-line email.
    1. Like love, or systems.
    2. Or why?  why usually needs space, which, increasingly, we ‘don’t have time for’.

Call me Captain Prolixity, for reasons that you don’t have time for.

Evidence you say? What is that? Away with you and your ‘evidence’! (NAMED AND SHAMED: GPs who miss cancer diagnoses)

Read this blog, please. If you value any of my bloggage, read this other bloke’s blog. We need to bring as much as we can of this level of surgical precision to management.

If psychology can be a science, (a claim I find dubious having obtained a degree in it from an excellent college ranked number 3 or 4 in the UK, Hindustani).

(Hindustani? How could this idiotphone think I meant that when I wrote incidentally? This is why the robots well not take over just yurt)

As I was saying, if psychology can be a science then so can management.

There was a brief kerfuffle in the business schools about why they didn’t see the crash coming and why they failed to teach ethics to MBAs. Six months later all forgotten. Gary Wossname would have put on a conference or earned a big fee for meaculpaing, or both. Business school profs make admen look shamefaced and moral.

I’m not advocating Taylor’s Scientific Management. We have some better science now. And proper true facts are harder to come by in management consultancy. But we could work a lot harder than we do to seek truth amid opinion and cant.

Please read the wise words of the junior doctor.


If you saw the Mail on Sunday today you would have seen the above headline.

According to Wikiquotes, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 4-time US senator and academic, once said “You are entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts”. Rather than writing an extensive counter-diatribe of rhetoric on the ridiculousness of the article, the irresponsible attitude to health reporting and Jeremy Hunt in general, I have decided to try a new form of discussion. I call it ‘The Facts’.

Fact #1
Here are the National Institute for Clinical Excellence guidelines for referring patients to a specialist with the suspicion of cancer. http://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/CG27*

Fact #2
This is how common bowel cancer is: there are 47.2 new cases per 100,000 people per year (crude). This equals around 40,000 new cases nationally, which means nearly 1 case per UK GP per year.

This is how common breast cancer is: there are 155…

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Last week I had the disturbing experience of being attacked by a mob of kids, a human flock if you will;

(https://plexity.wordpress.com/2011/10/15/just-back-from-that-london-where-i-very/) what I didn’t mention was that I was on my way down Tuffnell Park Road to visit Mark McKergow, who posted this interesting piece on complexity and emergence in conversations a few days later, coincidentally I should point out. ( http://www.synthesisips.net/blog/working-with-complexity-not-against-it-emergence-in-real-life-and-everyday-conversations/ ) All this is by way of introduction to this piece I wrote in reply to him, which describes some of the ways that I think and talk about conversation when I’m working with groups. I really ought to write this up properly.



flocking ideas in human flocking

For myself, I realise that I’m more interested in how meaning emerges than in how conversation is emergent – almost certainly because emergent conversation is an idea I have lived and worked with for a long time.

Whenever I work with a group to facilitate the conversation (aka ‘dialogue’ in the sense popularised by Senge and Isaacs from Bohm) I’m always struck by how meaning, consensus, purpose, action, plan and so on, emerge as ‘a whole thing’ from the interactions.

As you know I compare this emergence (glibly) to the emergence of swarming in flocks of birds and the like. I still find myself exhorting groups to tolerate the feelings of uncertainty for as long as they can, to delay moving to summary or action, to hold off advocating and keep inquiring (to quote Senge’s source, Chris Argyris), to let the thing emerge from our very focussed LISTENING to the conversation, whilst being PART of the conversation.

Like other practitioners, in OpenSpace and the like, I ask people to trust that emergence will happen.

I use the term the ‘cloud of contradiction’ and describe the cloud as ‘cracking’ like a rain cloud. Haven’t particularly articulated this before, but the analogy is to a super-saturated solution – like when boiling saturated copper sulphate cools and the solution cracks and suddenly crystals ‘all appear at once’. It’s this ‘all’ and ‘at once’ which characterises the sudden emergence of the ‘whole thing’ (we could chose to call it a ‘holothingon’, except that I don’t think reification is helpful – we need to stay in the realm of plain language. Shades of David Grove’s ‘clean language’).

Cracking isn’t quite right (although people seem to like it) because the emergence is much smoother than the term ‘crack’ implies. The flocking metaphor is better, because as we observe a flock (which I never tire of doing, the paradigm being urban starlings in an open space in a town centre approaching dusk) we can sense that the individuals are falling under the spell of the Langton rules at the same time as seeing the self-directedness of the individuals, then suddenly, yet quietly and unnoticeably there is a flock, glittering in the air.

Reviewing what you said, after writing this just now, I realise that I’m describing a more general aspect of interactions between entities, which is, I believe useful to us, inasmuch as it needs to be captured in description (oh yes, I’m trying not to explain, merely describe, or as I prefer ‘point to’).

Ways of seeing, ways of observing, expectations and trust.

(I’ll see if I can dig out what I’ve written on this, I think it is from internal briefing documents I produced for an MBC back in 2001.)