They did not respect or sit still for the devotional sacrifice

October 10, 2006

This is simply the most witty, erudite and brilliant reworking of my children’s party story that I have seen or ever expect to see. The original story satirizes an over structured approaches to management by hypothesizing a childrens party run on the basis of learning objectives, milestones, KPIs (linked to pocket money)m motivation video’s etc. A full version can be found here.

Today Christopher Bellavita , who teaches homeland security in a graduate education program at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, sent me his excellent article applying the Cynefin framework to homeland defense. We hope to publish it on the web site shortly if he is given permission. It is being presented to a Department of Homeland Security sponsored conference this week. I am really looking forward to meeting him in a few weeks time when I am in San Jose for KM World.

If you read nothing else on this blog – read this. The story opens as follows:


Socrates: What is your thinking thus far?

Glaucon: Well, we have a birthday party strategy. The goal is for everyone to have a safe and enjoyable time. We have specific and measurable objectives we want to accomplish. We have identified the key milestones from now until the party. We have a timeline to follow, including a tabletop exercise. We are assuming a three-hour operational phase followed by a two-hour recovery. That evening, we will conduct a hot wash to identify any lessons learned to build into next year’s birthday party planning.

Socrates: That appears to be an efficient and sound strategy. Why do you want my advice?

Glaucon: In our past conversations, you have disagreed with everything I said. You have talked me out of all my initial beliefs. I thought I would use you as quality control, just to make certain I did not miss anything.

Socrates: I really do not have anything to add. Your strategy appears to be rational and well conceived. I cannot imagine anything could go wrong. Shall we have lunch after the party so you can tell me how your strategy worked?


Socrates: How was the party?

Glaucon: If I have to do anything like that again, I will drink hemlock.

Socrates: It did not go well?

Glaucon: Let me count the ways. It rained for most of the day. More children and parents attended than we planned for. Some of the people arrived hours before we were ready. They brought food, gifts, and animals and changed our careful arrangements into utter chaos. Some of the animals went into my study and scattered my projects everywhere. Organizing the children was like trying to get puppies to march. They did not respect or sit still for the devotional sacrifice. The boys constantly hit and wrestled each other. Many of the girls insulted and then shunned the daughter of Panagiotis, the wealthy merchant. The child did not stop wailing. Her mother yelled at my wife. They cursed my family and left. One of the children painted his face and hair with our clothing dye. Then all the children did. And the parents blamed us for not hiding the dye. No one followed the order of the games we arranged. No one wanted to weave. Instead the children threw sticks and baskets at each other. They screeched like sea birds. The chaos went on forever until one child, unnoticed, left our house, walked to the end of our garden and fell into the sea. I have now made an eternal enemy of her father, the Tyrant Adamidis, and I fear for my life.

Socrates: I see. Truly, that was a surprising outcome. Why did your strategy not work? What was revealed in your hot wash? Were there any lessons learned?

Glaucon: I am saddened to say it was a repeat of the lessons we have learned before: inadequate leadership, poor communications, ineffective planning, inadequate resources, and poor public relations. Can you help me understand why my strategy did not work?

Socrates: I am wise. But I am not that wise. Have you asked the women?

Glaucon: The women? Why would I ask the women?

Socrates: Talk with them and discover. Will you come back one year from today –if you are still alive, of course – and tell me what you have learned?


Socrates: How was your son’s birthday party?

Glaucon: How did you know there was a party?

Socrates: Are you not still alive?

Glaucon: It was a glorious and treasured day. All the guests were ecstatic. The children were filled with joy. The gods have smiled on my family. I no longer fear for safety or security.

Socrates: And the cause of this surprising change in fortune?

Glaucon: I did what you suggested. I listened to the women

Socrates: What did they tell you?

Glaucon: Many things. But in short they said to make boundaries, create attractors, stabilize the patterns we desired and disrupt the patterns that threatened danger and harm.

Socrates: I do not understand. Is there a story here?

Glaucon: We held the party at Panathinaikon Stadium. We set up places to eat, a site for crafts, a tent for shelter and rest, a station for music, and a space for art. Singers wandered and told stories. There was a field for wrestling and running and flying kites. We encouraged the children to try what they pleased. We helped if they asked, then we stepped back and watched. When there was hitting or crying or harsh words – and there was – we immediately spoke sternly or separated the offenders. Then we redirected them toward an established activity. In sum, our strategy was to control only that which could be ordered. For those activities in the realm of that which is, and must be, unordered, we watched and we shaped – gently, but with insistence. Because I have learned to know the difference between the states of order and unorder, I am now seen by all Athens as the wisest of men. Second to you of course.

Socrates: Truly your ideas appear to be sensible and well conceived. I cannot imagine anything ever could go wrong with that approach.

Glaucon: Yes, truly, the gods be praised. I cannot wait to use this strategy at the Agora.

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