directed opportunism: a summary of the art of action for the sydney limited wip society

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Post on 23-Aug-2014



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A summary of the Art of Action for the Sydney Limited WIP Society. How to create aligned, autonomous action to achieve a collective goal.


  • Directed Opportunism A Summary of the Art of Action for the Sydney Limited WIP Society Jason Yip @jchyip [email protected]
  • Does your org have these problems?
  • We know what we want to do but we are unable to do it.
  • We have many things happening but were not sure if theyre the right things.
  • Weve done many things but were not sure that theyre effective.
  • The very business of getting an organisation made up of individuals, no matter how disciplined, to pursue a collective goal produces friction just as surely as applying the brakes of a car. -- Stephen Bungay
  • A lot of things cause friction
  • Friction creates gaps
  • Our plans are imperfect because we lack knowledge OutcomePlan What we actually know What wed like to know Knowledge Gap
  • Our actions dont match our plans because its so difficult to align everyone who needs to act PlanAction What people actually do What we want people to do Alignment Gap
  • The effects of our actions may not be what we want because the environment is non-linear and unpredictable OutcomeAction What we actually achieve What we hope to achieve Effects Gap
  • The usual (and wrong) response
  • Specifying too much detail creates confusion when the situation demands one thing while the instructions say another
  • The right response
  • In plain English... 1. Decide what really matters 2. Get the message across 3. Give people space and support
  • Rather than a plan, a strategy is a framework for decision making. It is an original choice about direction, which enables subsequent choices about action. Stephen Bungay
  • A strategy enables people to reflect on activity and provides rationale for deciding what to do next. Stephen Bungay
  • Good strategy is realistic and coherent
  • Strategy versus leadership Leadership is a moral activity involving relating to people and generating emotional commitment Strategy is an intellectual activity involving discerning facts and applying rationality
  • Even if our destination is unclear, we need some sense of the end-state to be achieved which gives our current actions a purposeeven if the current situation is volatile, we need to decide what to do next in order to get into a better position than we are in the present. Stephen Bungay
  • Strategy is not what are the components of the problem? but what is the core of the problem?
  • The purpose of briefing is to enable people to act independently
  • Instructions should contain all, but also only, what people cannot determine for themselves to achieve a particular purpose
  • As long as higher intention is made clear, individual initiative can be relied on to adjust actions according to the situation
  • The more alignment you have, the more autonomy you can grant
  • Intent vs Autonomy Express intent in terms of what to achieve and why Grant autonomy in terms of what to do and how to realise the intent
  • Elements of a briefing 1. An account of the situation 2. A short statement of overall intent 3. Extrapolation of specific tasks implied by the intent 4. Any further guidance about boundaries
  • 1. Account of the situation Essential features of the situation which are relevant to the action to be taken State of knowledge: what is known, what is probable but uncertain, what is unknown but could be relevant What are the implications for what the organisation has to do End-state, if this is distant
  • 2. Short statement of overall intent What we need to achieve now and why. The main effort. The Spice Girls directive...
  • So tell me what you want, what you really, really want
  • 3. Extrapolation of specific tasks implied by the intent Responsibilities, themes, and priorities for the next level of the organisation.
  • 4. Any further guidance about boundaries Constraints Future decisions to be taken Anti-goals (whatever you do, dont allow this to happen)
  • Translating intent
  • Freedom of action in organisations is mostly determined by structure and policy
  • Structure only works if it encompasses appropriate decision rights and responsibilities
  • Can the person or group with the best knowledge and expertise in any given area act in a timely manner without asking for permission?
  • Specifying boundaries is like marking out a minefield. If mines are known or rumoured to exist but are unmarked, people will not advance.
  • When boundaries are unclear most people will not explore, but rather keep their head down and play it safe. Stepping over invisible boundaries invites punishment.
  • ...peoples convictions tend to correlate with their interests. Their interests are largely determined by the structure and the compensation system. Stephen Bungay
  • The more objectives someone has, the harder it is for them to focus on what really matters and the more their freedom of action is constrained. Stephen Bungay
  • Dispensing money and medals is part of corporate body language. It reveals what is really valued, whatever people say. Stephen Bungay
  • The ultimate judgement of performance should be about the fulfillment of intent
  • Summary We are finite beings with limited knowledge and independent wills The business environment is unpredictable and uncertain, so we should expect the unexpected and should not plan beyond circumstances we can foresee
  • Summary (cont.) Within the constraints of our limited knowledge we should strive to identify the essentials of a situation and make choices about what it is most important to achieve To allow people to take effective action, we must make sure they understand what they are to achieve and why
  • Summary (cont.) Everyone must have the skills and resources to do what is needed and the space to take independent decisions and actions when the unexpected occurs, as it will As the situation changes, everyone should be expected to adapt their actions according to their best judgment in order to achieve the intended outcomes
  • Summary (cont.) People will only show the level of initiative required if they believe the organisation will support them
  • Directed Opportunism
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