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Like A Peloton, Not A Machine

Organizational metaphors can be helpful to think about what’s going on in work culture. Gareth Morgan’s Images of Organizationis a great compendium of metaphors: organization as a machine, organism, brain, culture, political systems, etc. I also find Joanne Martin’s analysis of contending perspectives in management thinking a compelling technique (see Metaphors matter: Talking about how we talk about organizations).

Dan Pontefract has an interesting metaphor to share

Maybe if we were to act like a peloton in our organizations, we might see higher levels of employee engagement.

peloton2

What’s a peloton?

In cycling speak, it’s what a pack of cyclists are called when they ride together. Check out the photo to the right for an example.

A peloton is a massive group of riders who ultimately work together — as a team — to move from one distance to another. Take away competitive cycling competitions for a moment (eg. Giro d’Italia or Tour de France) and think about amateur cyclists going out for weekend rides or events like the GranFondo between Vancouver and Whistler.

These women and men ride together as a team but what happens along the journey?

  • Sharing The Lead
    • Cyclists take turns at the front of the pack (ie. the peloton) to both set the pace and to protect others behind them from the wind. (A process known as drafting)
    • Those in front exert extra effort so others in the back can save some of their energy for their turn at the front at another interval in the ride
  • Proactive Communication
    • Often in a peloton, cyclists are proactively communicating with each other
    • If there is debris on the road, hand signals from whomever is in front alerts cyclists in the back to be careful
    • “On your right” or “stopping” are simple examples that cyclists shout out in the peloton to inform others of their intentions
    • “My turn to share the front” or “anyone need food or water” are other proactive examples of communication happening inside the peloton
  • Encouragement and Recognition
    • Whenever there are difficult impediments like tough gradients, sideways wind, pellets of rain, or even the successful maneuvering around unforeseen wildlife, cyclists from within the peloton are quick to recognize the effort or encourage the effort to continue
    • It really is a culture of encouragement inside the peloton

I like the peloton metaphor for the way that riders take turns as leader, and then fall back after making that contribution. This aligns with the notion of leanership very well.

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

Terrible book, but a great quote.


Forebruary is a wall calendar that you do not need to replace every year. The movable frame above the surface contains the month needed.
- Ilya Birman

Forebruary is a wall calendar that you do not need to replace every year. The movable frame above the surface contains the month needed.

- Ilya Birman

Corrupt personalization is the process by which your attention is drawn to interests that are not your own.

Christian Sandvig, Corrupt Personalization

Today’s technologies – instrumented things, sensor networks, data – have the opportunity to deepen social relationships, to brings us new important kinds of social relationships that we don’t already have and to participate directly in those relations. When we start to think about our technologies as not simply providing incremental value – good recommendations or metrics for this or that problem – we give them room to grow.

Maria Bezaitis, cited in Baking behavioral nudges into the products we own by PSFK Labs

(Source: shoutsandmumbles)

Your assumptions about the lives of others are in direct relation to your naïve pomposity. Many people you believe to be rich are not rich. Many people you think have it easy worked hard for what they got. Many people who seem to be gliding right along have suffered and are suffering. Many people who appear to you to be old and stupidly saddled down with kids and cars and houses were once every bit as hip and pompous as you.

When you meet a man in the doorway of a Mexican restaurant who later kisses you while explaining that this kiss doesn’t ‘mean anything’ because, much as he likes you, he is not interested in having a relationship with you or anyone right now, just laugh and kiss him back. Your daughter will have his sense of humor. Your son will have his eyes.

The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.

One Christmas at the very beginning of your twenties when your mother gives you a warm coat that she saved for months to buy, don’t look at her skeptically after she tells you she thought the coat was perfect for you. Don’t hold it up and say it’s longer than you like your coats to be and too puffy and possibly even too warm. Your mother will be dead by spring. That coat will be the last gift she gave you. You will regret the small thing you didn’t say for the rest of your life. Say thank you.

Cheryl Strayed,  Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar 

The useless days will add up to something. […] These things are your becoming.

The Image Of Things To Come: Airbus Folding Airplane Seats

This is only slightly worse that the Ryan Air proposal for standing-only sections.

Oliver Wainwright, Airbus’s folding saddle seat could be the cattle-class future for cheap flights

If you thought low-cost air travel couldn’t get any more bleak, then Airbus has a treat in store for you. The aeroplane manufacturer has now filed a patent for the what looks like a human battery-farm, but is in fact the future of budget flights: racks upon racks of folding saddle-seats for even more passengers to be jammed onto aeroplanes, packed in knee-to-rump.

While some airlines have already removed their folding tray tables and squeezed leg-room down to brutal knee-capping levels, Airbus have gone one step further, doing away with the idea of proper seating altogether. In their ultra-economy vision, seating aisles will instead take the form of long horizontal poles, from which bicycle-like saddles and small back and arm rests will pivot out, on to which humans will be placed, skewered together like table-football players.

“The design of the seats has to be optimised so that they present the smallest possible bulk,” says Airbus, explaining that the saddle-style seat has been developed “in order to reduce the distance needed to accommodate the legs of passengers between two rows of seating devices.”

The result, according to the patent diagram, is what looks like a line of people doing a sit-down conga, perching on each other’s knees. There barely a whisker of airspace between their limbs, let alone anywhere to place their over-priced soggy sandwiches. And you can forget about having a nap, unless your neighbour has a particularly forgiving shoulder.

Here’s the RyanAir ‘vertical seating’:

I was a little bit surprised that the report didn’t spend much time tackling the hardest issue, which is why do they need to have so much revenue? It’s because their cost structure is made for print. When you look at how much revenue comes from print and the scale of their operation because of print, the challenge that they’re facing moving forward is how do they move into a post-print world….

It just seems like if you’re reading a secret internal report for The New York Times, the things that people would be stressed about, isn’t that, oh, the website’s not good enough, or they haven’t moved fast enough with this feature or that feature, but more like how do we deal with this very different cost structure of our future business, compared to our past business.

Finally getting to Felix Salmon’s really great Medium interview with Jonah Peretti. This point about the NYT innovation report was absolutely my reaction. That said, the problem is that the cost structure is both the most vital thing to address, and at the same time the one thing that never truly will.  (via markcoatney)

Elop Continues His Losing Strategy: It’s Time For Him To Go

In Stephen Elop’s breezy and somewhat callous email to former Nokia staffers at Microsoft (‘Hello there’ is a poor start to firing 12,500 people), he showed that he’s continuing the losing play of fighting against Android+Samsung (and hundreds of other Asian-based competitors with Windows+Nokia. Of course, Elop might be a bit blasé since he’s fired 50,000 since taking the job as CEO of Nokia.

Elop wrote in that memo, 

In the near term, we plan to drive Windows Phone volume by targeting the more affordable smartphone segments, which are the fastest growing segments of the market, with Lumia.

Om Malik is merciless in a recent post, pointing out that this strategy has been failing since Elop — that lunkhead — wrote the 'burning platform memo' three years ago, and pushed Nokia to drop its own Symbian OS and MeeGo activities, and adopt Windows.

Nadella’s strategy is more nuanced. He wants Windows phones to be the leader in dual use: when users need business and personal capabilities on the same phone. You don’t hear that nuance in Elop’s memo.

I bet that Elop will soon be out, and Nadella will put one of his more trusted and less tarnished executives in place.


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