There’s More Than One Way To Skin A Cat

I’ve lost count of the number of managers or consultants I’ve come across who claim to have a secret “rocket sauce” that’s going to make a big difference to each and every business they touch.  Go in to a selection of consulting websites and more often than not you’ll see a specific methodology, outlined in a series of clunky coloured boxes, that’s supposedly unique and is going to save the world, so to speak.

Tom Peters regards Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” as the best project management manual he’s come across and I’d agree.  Published in 1971 this political science classic outlines what it is to organise in order to attain and wield power successfully.  Given that the really hard work on projects is always the people stuff, Alinsky’s book is probably of more benefit to a project manager in the long run than the Prince 2 manual or any of the trite click bait articles that appear on websites like Fast Company.

Alinsky was a leading community organiser of the poor and powerless in US cities in the ‘40s and ‘50s and his methods are cited as having had a major influence on both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.   It’s a stonker of a read for people involved in getting things done at any level in life and I often return to it for a browse before I start a new project.  How about this for a whopper of a quote:

“I detest and fear dogma.  I know that all revolutions must have ideologies to spur them on.  That in the heat of conflict these ideologies tend to be smelted into rigid dogmas claiming exclusive possession of the truth, and the keys to paradise, is tragic.  Dogma is the enemy of human freedom.  Dogma must be watched for and apprehended at every turn and twist of the revolutionary movement.  The human spirit glows from that small inner light of doubt whether we are right, while those who believe with complete certainty that they possess the right are dark inside and darken the world outside with cruelty, pain, and injustice.”

So, where am I going with this?  Well, there’s always more than one way to skin a cat, and as long as you behave yourself, tell good stories, and deliver great results your clients aren’t going to give two hoots about your methods.


Tactics for Change Managers

A couple of years back I was asked to put together a couple of slides that outlined useful tactics for change managers / mobilisers / business coaches when implementing a new process or way of working.  Most “change management” is fairly formulaic and once a new business design, service or system is in place the human side is ignored.  Anyway in no particular order here are some useful tactics for change managers:

  1. Make the business design viable in the eyes of all stakeholders
  2. Don’t be restricted or trapped by conventions used / adopted / subscribed to from previous projects.  What happened in the past doesn’t necessarily mean that it will happen in the future
  3. People need to be mobilised through new experiences – People believe through what they experience, not necessarily through what they see or hear
  4. Give the target constituency a compelling stake in the future of the organisation – there has to be something in it for them
  5. See the situation for what it is and don’t read too much into it either way, i.e. if it doesn’t work accept it and adapt; if it does work, well fine, but don’t get too smug and complacent.  All success is for you client’s benefit not your own self–aggrandisement
  6. Where possible let them design (with guidance / prodding where necessary)
  7. Don’t over-coach as too much coaching will be seen as interference which leads to an unnatural state of affairs
  8. Recognise when you are no longer relevant
  9. Mobilisation without measurement is pointless.  MI should not be work for the client but should be a natural part of the work which helps with its enhancement
  10. Get up to speed with the politics as soon as is practical
  11. Work out who is/isn’t on your side quickly – this is not as hard as it seems and is as obvious as it was your school playground
  12. Don’t be too proud to admit it when part of the business design won’t fly for practical reasons
  13. Recognise when it is necessary to withdraw and live to fight another day
  14. Tell good realistic stories that are not sugar-coated but acknowledge that people have been knocked out of joint and the amount of work required to re-orient them.  That way they’ll accept that you are not a bullshitter but a serious and realistic person
  15. Be flexible and move quickly as the design takes shape.  Ideally a design should be agreed and have the maximum buy-in as is politically possible before mobilisation.  Otherwise you are dead in the water before you start.  Too much change in a design will confuse both the Mobiliser and the client and will lead to a potentially fatal loss of credibility
  16. Don’t shy away from tough conversations.  You are not doing your job if you are having easy conversations all the time. ( You are most likely being taken for a ride)
  17. Welcome negativity and be able to recognise where it is coming from and why
  18. Recognise when you’re being taken for a ride, and don’t stand for it, as they’re wasting your time and your budget
  19. Solutions must be framed in a way that shows new and improved possibilities
  20. Recognise and act on breakdowns immediately – An inability to call a breakdown can have dire consequences further down the line.

Who Are You Flying With On Monday Morning?

Who are you flying with on Monday morning, and who supplies their planes?  Why am I asking?  Well I’ve just re-read Nicholas Carr’s “The Glass Cage” where he examines the impact that automation has on us, and in particular how it has caused our skills to atrophy over time.

We are not only automating the routine tasks but the more complex and specialised ones too. Carr cites a Harvard Business School study carried out by Professor James Bright which showed that automation had reduced the lot of factory workers to carrying out drab and mundane work devoid of skill thereby reducing them into being merely “pusher[s] of buttons.” This is what British Aviation researcher Matthew Ebbatson calls “skill fade.” Ebbatson was concerned with the effect that delegating more and more cockpit tasks to computers was actually having on a pilot’s actual flying abilities and skills. One of his studies found that “flying skills decay quite rapidly towards the fringes of ‘tolerable’ performance without relatively frequent practice.”

Two aircraft accidents in early 2009 were attributed to human error or “skill fade” as a result of the unscheduled disengagement from autopilot to manual. These were Continental Connection Flight 3407 from Newark to Buffalo which killed all 49 people on board, and Air France Flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on June 1st 2009 killing all 228 passengers and crew.

Due to autopilot pilots now spend more time pushing buttons and monitoring screens instead of actually flying the plane manually. It looks as though the joke that pilots are now glorified bus drivers is more than a little unfair…on the bus drivers. In fact a pilot today spends no more than three minutes holding the actual controls on a typical passenger flight. As a result pilots are making mistakes when the autopilot unexpectedly disengages thereby placing the pilot in a role with which he is now unfamiliar. “We’re forgetting how to fly” were the words of Rory Kay a former top safety official of the Airline Pilots Association. In January 2013 according to Carr, the Federal Aviation Authority became “so concerned…it issued a ‘safety alert’ to airlines urging them to get their pilots to do more manual flying. An overreliance on automation, the agency warned, could put planes and passengers at risk.”

Carr discusses the differing approaches of both Airbus and Boeing to design.  Airbus has adopted a technology-centred approach which means that the software, not the pilot, has the ultimate control, whereas Boeing has pursued a human-centred approach.  With a human-centred approach the pilot has the ultimate authority and the software is not allowed to over-ride him – even in an emergency situation.

In the Airbus cockpit the pilots use game-like joysticks which provide no tactile feedback to the pilot meaning that the pilots are reduced to being computer operators as opposed to aviators.  In the Boeing cockpit the pilots operate traditional flying “yokes” which “are programmed to provide resistance and other tactile cues that simulate the feel of the movements of the plane’s ailerons, elevators, and other control surfaces.  Research has found that tactile, or haptic, feedback is significantly more effective than visual cues alone in alerting pilots to important changes in a plane’s orientation and operation.” 

According to Carr some aviation experts blame the Air France Flight 447 disaster on the Airbus cockpit design.   The Airbus cockpit is designed whereby the joysticks of both the pilot and co-pilot do not operate in sync, and therefore it’s hard for the co-pilot to pick up on a mistake that the pilot may have made.  The “yokes” of both the pilot and co-pilot both operate in sync – i.e. if the pilot’s “yoke” moves, then so does the co-pilots.  Both pilots also have a clear view of the other pilot’s “yoke.”  The voice-recorder transcript of Flight 447 revealed that “the whole time the pilot controlling the plane, Pierre-Cédric Bonin, was pulling back on his sidestick , his co-pilot was oblivous to Bonin’s fateful mistake.”

Had Robert been aware of the mistake early on they may have managed to stop the plane from entering its death plunge.  Former Airbus top designer, Bernard Ziegler, expressed his doubts about the company’s design philosophy when he said:

“Sometimes I wonder if we made an air-plane that is too easy to fly…because in a difficult air-plane the crews may stay more alert.”

Both Airbus and Boeing have largely similar flight safety records, but all the same, the next time I board a flight to London – a flight I’ve made on countless occasions – I may pay a little more attention than usual to the make of the plane that’s carrying me.

Ryan Paetzold of chaosdesignorder – I Am Designer

Ryan Paetzold is of a rare breed. He’s a South African who isn’t at all

Ryan Paetzold
Ryan Paetzold

interested in rugby. Why? – “It’s just not that exciting man.” Maybe this need for excitement led him to eschew an obvious career path in engineering for the more colourful and creative world of industrial design.
If excitement was on his mind, he certainly picked an “interesting” time to arrive on these shores, with an economy on the verge of tipping into the abyss, along with a level of uncertainty unseen in Ireland for almost a generation. Hailing from Boksburg, Johannesburg, Ryan grew up in a turbulent era in South African history, and as a result was largely inured to the turmoil that engulfed the rest of us in 2008. He took the plunge into Irish life, found that he loved the place, and got on with it.

2008 was hardly a good time to arrive in Ireland. Why come here?
Well I grew up in a South Africa which was crippled with embargos, sanctions, and race riots. It was a very hard time, but one that gives perspective to what has happened here since the crash. I went to a multi-racial Christian Brother’s College. Every year on June 16th – the anniversary of the Soweto riots, which claimed 176 lives in 1976 – the black students would remain on campus overnight, or were hosted by ‘white’ families, in order to avoid being caught up in the inevitable violence in their townships. That’s what I grew up with, and I reckon that when times are hard and there are restrictions, well you just suck it up.
One of the main reasons why I came here was because of love I suppose. My wife is Irish, and I’ve always found the country incredibly beautiful. I could have gone to the UK I suppose, but I fell in love with this place, and the quality of life here is second to none.

Do you miss South Africa?
Johannesburg has quite a reputation, and I don’t miss the madness of the place. I do miss the open spaces, the sunsets, the smell of rain, the thunderstorms. There’s a certain electricity about Johannesburg that’s unique to the place.

Would you ever return there to live?
No, I wouldn’t go back. I made a life choice which has worked out pretty well for me. I wanted to be closer to Europe because of its variety. I also wanted to be closer to the things I studied, and there are a lot more business opportunities for an industrial designer in Europe than there are in South Africa.
When did Ryan the Designer emerge?
Well I come from a very mechanically-able background. My great-Grandfather was a horticulturist, as is my Uncle. My Grandfather ran a bone meal company, and my Dad runs a specialist concrete surfacing company. I essentially grew up with either a spanner or screwdriver in my hand, and I was always digging, fiddling, repairing, building or taking something apart.
It was inevitable that I would do something along the engineering / design spectrum, but I stumbled on my calling as an industrial designer by chance. I was on my way to lodge my application for the four-year engineering degree at the local university when I bumped into Bennet O’Connor, an old friend, who told me all about the industrial design course he was studying. It sounded like it had a mix of everything that interested me; colour, form, ergonomics, model making, and a lot more creativity than what I would get from a career in engineering.

What happened after university?
I initially set up my own design shop which didn’t work out, so I went to work for Genius Loci Architecture. Before moving to Ireland I worked for the Brand Union, who have an office in Johannesburg. This was my introduction to how design fits into the commercial environment. It’s one thing designing something beautiful, but it has to be commercially viable. We would execute a brief according to what the client wanted, but there were many occasions when our work would help the client design a proposition that was new to the marketplace. I found that very rewarding.

How have you evolved as a designer?
My design path has changed quite a bit since I arrived here. In South Africa my focus was very architectural and interior oriented, with a lot of retail, shop fitting, signage design and branding. The Irish economy nose-dived when I originally arrived in 2008, and that type of work disappeared as a lot of architects went out of business. I needed to change my focus. As a 3D designer you have a varied set of skills that can be applied across a number of domains, and I took those skills and began to apply them in the digital fields of new technology and motion graphics.

What’s the Irish design scene like?
It’s varied and vibrant! You have a very strong craft and manufacturing heritage in this country. There is everything from glass to metalwork, and jewellery to printmaking. Whenever I’ve attended design and craft shows in Dublin or Kilkenny I’ve been literally showered with information whenever I’ve enquired about where and how certain things are made. For me, being able to meet and chat with the likes of Saba Jewellery, and Roger Bennett Woodturning is brilliant and inspirational.
I’ve yet to meet a designer or artisan and receive a cold shoulder. Also, there is some extremely impressive animation and film coming out of Ireland. Check out the cool work from the likes of Cartoon Saloon, Brown Bag Films, and Windmill Lane.

Which projects are you most proud of?
I’m proud of all my work, but a few projects stick out. I had a lot of fun designing the medal for last year’s Dublin City Triathlon. In fact, when we were handing the medals out afterwards, I heard one girl say that the medal was the main reason why she did the race. I’m a member of Piranha Triathlon Club, who organise the race. I generated a digital model of the club logo and 3D printed it. I sent the files off to a manufacturer in China who then produced the medals and shipped them back.
The project I’m most proud of though goes back to my university days. In third year I designed a product for a woman who was quadriplegic with very limited movement. Transfer boards help people with disabilities to move from a wheel chair to, say, a car, and back again. They don’t look like much, but they are a very important part of a quadriplegic’s life. All the transfer boards available on the market at the time were made from heavy and cumbersome ply board that was 12mm to 15mm thick, with a sham fit edge. Believe it or not, anything that thick is akin to climbing Mount Everest for someone with little or no motor function. Funnily enough I have a mad fetish for composite and carbon fibre textiles. It’s magic plastic that you can do anything with, and I designed her transfer board using it. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever designed.

DCT Medals. Photograph: James Shelley
DCT Medals. Photograph: James Shelley

Which Designers do you most admire?
Inspiration comes from everywhere – I recently watched a video of Jean Paul Gaultier interviewing Lady Gaga, which gave an awesome insight into fashion, performance, and attitudes. Philippe Starck has always been on the top of the pile for me, as his design is really beautiful and all-encompassing. He’s designed everything from an iconic juicer to hotels.
I like the Australian designer Mark Newson’s clean style. Anything produced by the team at Italian design house, Alessi, is always worth looking at. In the world of moving images I enjoy the work of Paul Clement. He really got the juices flowing with the work he did for the Ministry of Sound. Andrew Kramer’s work on After Effects was excellent. Likewise, the work of Greyscalegorilla, hellolux, and Pariah Studios is very impressive – the list is long

Ryan In Action At Challenge Roth 2014

Outside of design what are your interests?
Bicycles!!! Bicycles!!! Bicycles!!! I’ve had a bike since I was four. I raced mountain bikes in school and I am currently trying to be a triathlete. I completed the 2014 Challenge Roth Ironman event in murderously hot conditions and am currently training for this year’s National Series.

Have you brought your design expertise to bikes yet?
No, but it’s on my list. I’m in the middle of upgrading a new 3D printer. Once I can produce stuff repeatedly, and with the same result, I’ll start realising the designs I have rolling around in my head.

I got the Silversun Pickups latest long player, Neck of the Woods, over Christmas, and it’s really good. They remind me of Siamese Dream-era Smashing Pumpkins. I like my grunge and metal, hence I love bands like Pearl Jam and Black Sabbath. In fact, I caught Black Sabbath in the Odyssey Arena in Belfast last year.

Big Bang Theory

I loved Guardians of the Galaxy and Interstellar. A friend recommended Pacific Heights, Tootsie, and The Sting the other day, and I’m going to try to get my hands on them. My all-time favourites are The Deer Hunter, A Clockwork Orange, Blade Runner, and The Godfather Trilogy. I recently picked up the Godfather Director’s cut edition, with includes a previously omitted intermission.

Thanks for your time Ryan!


What’s In a Name?


So, what’s in a name?  A number of people have asked me recently how I came up with the name Lamnos for my business.  I didn’t want the name to sound like I’d lifted it from someone else.  Also I’ve always found myself cringing at the names of technology and consulting companies that sound as though they’re named after characters in crappy sci-fi movies.

Place has always been important to me, and I figured that if I was going to work in the consulting space for the rest of my life I may as well come up with a name that sounded organic and that I could live with – never mind my clients.  I looked into the history of where I’m from in North County Dublin, paying particular interest to local townlands that I hadn’t come across before.  I also had a look at the area my mother is from in East Galway.  Nothing was grabbing me until I was out on a run between Malahide and Portmarnock.  I’ve spent a good chunk of my life admiring the sea views along that stretch and if there’s a better view on the south-side of Dublin, well I haven’t seen it.  A mate from Belgium visited in the late nineties and was convinced that the vista was more spectacular than those he’d been admiring on the French Riviera a few weeks beforehand.

I’m a keen sea-swimmer and love looking over towards Lambay Island on a sunny day as I swim from High Rock to Low Rock or Portmarnock Beach.  I was disappointed but not surprised that someone else had got to the name Lambay Consulting before I did.  I decided to dig a little deeper to see if there was anything else associated with the island that would appeal.  Reachrainn the Irish name for Lambay seemed a bit of a mouthfull.  On reading a history of the island I discovered that the ancient Greek writers Pliny and Ptolemy were familiar with the island – how they were, I don’t know – and referred to it as Limnus or Limni.  From this I engaged in what James Altucher would crudely refer to as “idea-sex” , took the “Lam” from Lambay, added the “nus” from Limnus, dropped the “u” and added an “o.”

Lamnos! Voila!

Lambay as seen in the distance from Malahide
Lambay as seen in the distance from Malahide

High Performance Idea Generation

I’m currently plodding my way through #Acumen and IDEO’s Human Centred Design for Social Innovation course which is very interesting and very well co-ordinated…Take a bow guys! I’ve read a lot of the Design Thinking literature over the last few years, namely IDEO CEO Tim Brown’s Design Thinking, Creative Confidence by the Kelley Brothers and Warren Berger’s Glimmer – which incidentally is the one I enjoyed the most.

I’ve used the IDEO approach to brainstorming quite a bit on my own projects – these being:

  • Defer Judgement
  • Encourage wild ideas
  • Build on the ideas of others


When I started using the approach people were often surprised that I was asking them for ideas, and took to building on other people’s ideas with more enthusiasm than I would have expected. A key learning was to always leave their direct reports out of the room as it led to a freer and less stifled environment.

General Leslie Groves and Robert Oppenheimer
General Leslie Groves and Robert Oppenheimer

I came across Boynton and Fisher’s Virtuoso Teams concept while reading Roland Huntford’s “Race for the South Pole: The Expedition Diaries of Scott and Amundsen” and I picked up a copy of the book as soon as I could – The book by the way is far more insightful than the HBR article. The chapter on the Manhattan Project is possibly the most interesting of them all with regard to a High Performance team’s approach to idea generation. The following quote is particularly revealing:

“In an effort to keep alternative ideas flowing and perspectives fresh, [Robert] Oppenheimer forbade the originators of ideas from claiming ‘ownership.’ Everyone was forced to work on the ideas of others. Revealing his frustration with this policy, [Edward] Teller wrote: ‘Almost constant collaboration was necessary, all the work done at feverish pace, and one’s new idea, once hatched, could be taken away and given to others to develop…[It was] a little like giving one’s child to someone else to raise.”

Both Oppenheimer and Leslie Groves – the Project Leader – championed the generation of wild ideas and as a result Seth Neddermeyer came up with the “Implosion Model” which was initially ridiculed by a number of his colleagues. Though Oppenheimer was also sceptical he asked Neddermeyer to continue to develop the idea in isolation from the rest of the project. It became clear early in the second year of the project that the originally favoured “Gun Model” wouldn’t work and that the “Implosion Model” was the only viable alternative.

Though Neddermeyer had generated and developed the idea, new input was required to make the option workable. As a result “Neddermeyer was asked by Oppenheimer to give up his leadership role on what was originally his idea, and pass this project on to others for completion.”  A bit like John Lennon finishing off a Paul McCartney song maybe – then again their solo work wasn’t up to much was it?

Tommy Ramone Passes

Tommy Ramone
Tommy Ramone

They’re all gone! Tommy Ramone – born Tommy Erdelyi – , the last of the founding members of the Ramones, died yesterday from cancer at the age of 62.  So passes our final physical connection with the founding fathers and progenitors of punk rock – the genre of music that moves me more than any other.  Regarded as possibly being the only “normal” and “sane” member of the band Tommy played drums and co-produced the first three Ramones albums.  Tommy didn’t enjoy life on the road and alot of the peripherals that rock bands sometimes endure and stepped aside before being replaced by Marky Ramone – real name Marc Steven Bell.

Why am I putting this up on a blog that is primarily concerned with high-performance?  Well, it was worth putting up as for many Tommy’s passing would be as significant as say that of a Neil Young – don’t want to even think about that one…Long May He Run – or a Bob Dylan.  But also because in a world where it’s regarded as best if you fit in, toe the line, and listen to muck like Coldplay, the Ramones were true innovators.  They didn’t try to out do what every one had done before…They didn’t like what they heard when they turned on the radio and were compelled to strip away the fat and deliver the basics of  rock ‘n’ roll but with a grit and speed that was fresh, in your face, brimming with vitality, and always catchy and melodic.  No guitar solos for the Ramones, no drum fills either, just two minutes of a catchy verse or two with a chorus and that was your lot.  A Bay City Rollers on acid so to speak.

Without the Ramones, it’s hard to imagine how bands like Green Day, Nirvana, Husker Du,Sugar, Rancid, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Black Flag, The Dead Kennedys, Blink 182, The Offspring, The Misfits, NOFX, The Damned, The Buzzcocks, Social Distortion, and the entire extreme metal movement would have sounded.  Bono constantly yaps on about their influence, and yes I can see it in the first three U2 albums.

The approach  of stripping everything down to the bare essentials and focusing on a bands real strengths, while also being conscious of obvious limitations has been copied by producers such as Rick Rubin who has been responsible for the production of some of the finest albums across a number of genres over the past three decades.   I doubt the Ramones were overly conscious of the need to be innovative, but like all great innovators, they noticed an itch, identified what was causing it, and acted on it.  Rest in peace Tommy.