Towards a Human Way of Working

A sort of manifesto.

Here are some things I have come to believe to be true about organisations and work, and how I choose to respond to them.

What I Think is True

1. The easy problems are already solved

The easy problems are solved. What is left are the hard ones. To provide solutions for these problems, we must look beyond the obvious.

Tackling difficult problems is the true essence of our journey.

We must tap into new sources of creativity and understanding.

We have to embrace Complexity.

2. Curiosity is a Super-Power

When working on non-obvious solutions for complex problems, we are creating a new path.

Curiosity is the best way to deal with this type of uncertainty. Daring to say I think instead of I know. Working on a series of experiments that maximise learning instead of taking the first idea and running with it.

Curiosity trumps the ability to execute. You will want the latter, too, but curiosity is the super-power that makes people really good at figuring things out; Including how to deliver great value.

Curiosity will super-charge your ability to deliver the right thing to the right people.

Create Openness. Without it, there can be no true creativity.

3. People Want to do Outstanding Work

People want to do the best work they are capable of. If they find an environment that supports them, they will accomplish outstanding things.

Give them the tools they need, and then let them work.

Empower teams and individuals and listen to them.

4. Delivering Value is the Only Way to Build Thriving Organisations

Creating great things for customers, employees and organisations is not a zero-sum game. Emergent solutions will make everyone thrive. Organisational goals, customer value and employee satisfaction are not at odds with each other, but a codependent triangle, where you cannot have one (in the long-term) without also having the other two.

It helps to establish a product mindset that takes an holistic approach to creating value.

5. Making Mistakes is Making Progress

In a world where we can understand the consequences of our actions only in hindsight, making mistakes is inevitable.

Instead of instilling fear of mistakes into our minds, we need to learn how to make mistakes that are designed as learning opportunities. We have to create environments in which mistake-making is a sign of strength, not of weakness.

Be kind.

6. You're Never "There" (And That's OK)

One day you're the Agile Manifesto incarnate. On the next, you feel the urge to plan out the next six months in detail and jump to conclusions as if you're competing in the jumping-to-conclusions world championships. This is normal. Letting go is a process, not a destination.

Improve continuously. As a human, as a team, as an organisation.

What I Do in Response

1. Embrace Complexity

Complexity cannot be managed away, and it cannot be outplanned. It is the very essence of our work. Don't see it as a problem, but rather as something beautiful, full of energy and possibilities. To tap into this energy is to embrace complexity.

Understanding the problem and creating solutions cannot be confined to a small part of the larger organisation. Everyone involved in creating and delivering customer value is welcome — and needed — to contribute.

Groups of very similar people have the problem-solving capacity of roughly one individual. Diverse groups just make better decisions, find more answers, and create the best questions.

Complex systems cannot be reliably predicted and behave in notoriously non-intuitive ways. The best way to navigate such a system is through a series of controlled experiments tailored for learning. This is true for your product, and your way of working.

2. Create Openness

"Why?" is a pretty good question, and "I don't know, but let's find out!" is a great answer.

Not every environment allows such a dialogue. To make great things happen, we need openness and transparency.

Being open and transparent means talking to each other. But even more so, it means to listen to each other.

Openness charges our curiosity.

3. Empower Teams and Individuals

People doing the work know best what they need to be successful. Effective structures enable people, instead of managing them.

Pushing decision-making processes and capabilities to the edges of the organisation drastically reduces your response times, increases your ability to deliver and uncovers new pathways for innovation.

4. Establish a Product Mindset

Take a holistic approach to building products that focuses on creating user value through continuous learning, incremental delivery, collaboration and a combination of short-term and long-term thinking.

Establishing a product mindset throughout the organisation means to encourage ownership, strengthen customer-focus, enhance data-driven decision making, increase risk-taking and innovation skills, and build collaboration across the organisation.

5. Be Kind

Kindness is a powerful thing.

Kindness comes from vulnerability and deep respect. It creates a special environment, one in which people feel genuinely safe to express themselves authentically.

People who are open, curious and who embrace complexity will operate outside of their comfort zone for a significant amount of time. They will make mistakes. This is not bad news. People who never make mistakes never push their abilities, never try to discover new ways of doing things, never stretching themselves. People who make mistakes grow. People who make mistakes create opportunities to learn.

When we are kind to each other, we allow each other to make mistakes. We allow each other to grow.

6. Improve Continuously

Discovering better ways to do things means unlearning many things we've been told.

It's not a switch you can flip. Just like developing a great product, developing a great way of working is a long journey full of setbacks, leaps of faith, tiny improvements, and huge steps forward.

For individuals, teams, and organisations.

The important part is to keep going. And taking as many people with you as you can.

Published 2024~02~13