The penny and the bun

September 7, 2007

There is an old english saying, to wit: You can’t have your penny and the bun. It harks back to the rhyme Hot Cross Buns, one a penny, two a penny, Hot Cross Buns. It struck me this morning, as part of an interesting e-mail exchange I am having with one of the commentators to our Guest Blog, that autocratic managers and the dark side of management consultancy have discovered how to keep their penny and still eat the bun.

The way it works is this. You spend a lot of money putting in control systems based on idealised process flows and ways of working. This applies in customer relationship management and health & safety alike along with many other fields. It looks really good on the flow charts. However the day to day reality of dealing with customers, or doing the job (say on an oil rig) means that people have to break the rules. Your business depends on their doing so and as long as it has a good outcome you ignore it. However if something goes wrong, you bring out that rule book and the idealised model and now you have someone to blame: the poor smuck who has been making your business work for you.

PS (added 7 hours later) There is an interesting article on Working Knowledge with the title Are Elite Business Schools Fostering the Deprofessionalization of Management? which links in part to the above. It just popped up in my RSS feed.

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

Cognitive Edge Ltd. & Cognitive Edge Pte. trading as The Cynefin Company and The Cynefin Centre.


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