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Siren Songs

In Book 12 of the Odyssey there is a scene where Circe draws Odysseus away form the crew and warns him about the island of the Sirens who’s inhabitants have caused the ruin of many sailors.


I am reminded of this story whenever organizations are tempted to jump to technology solutions before thorough analysis of a process issue.  In situations where the stakes are high and there is pressure to solve the issue quickly it can be easy to be seduced by the possibility of time savings, but plenty of projects have suffered delays or failure from this temptation.

“If we do not understand the end we will make a wrong use of the means.” –Thomas Merton

20160105_111643Process problems can only be solved if there is careful and complete analysis.  Successful analysis depends on effective communication with all involved parties.



The dazzle of a new system or process can allow us to forget that processes and tools should serve the people doing the the work.  As the 1st principle of Agile asserts:  Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools.  Remember this  when solving a process issue.




Every weekend I play pick up soccer with people from Africa, North/Central /South America, Europe, Asia and the mid east, no matter the weather.  I have wondered why this works.

It is not Elysium. There are  strong personalities, and conflicts emerge, yet they never disrupt the game.  Sure, its just a game where the results don’t really matter, but  I can assure you we would all stay home on those cold, winter days if it was not important.  (Yes, we have brought snow shovels and cleared a space to play.)


Its ridiculously simple. We come together for a common purpose, and it is important enough to each of us to set aside egos, ideologies, belief systems and blame/shame habits to make this work.

As a company leader do you understand the organization’s purpose? Have you made it clear?  Would it be important to you if you were not the leader?

As an employee, have you taken the time to understand the organization’s purpose?  Is it important to you?

Mr. President, your desire to solve long term unemployment is noble but naïve.

Time is not on anybody’s side:

Although a business may have a cause they support, hiring the long-term unemployed is not one of them.  Sure the benefits could be enormous, but the pressures that drive every business will not allow the time for the benefits of this altruism to develop.

Companies do not have time to research why a person has been out of work.  They have enough trouble hiring effectively with people who are employed.  Invest time hiring long-term unemployed? “Aint nobody got time for that.”

We are becoming a disposable society:


Almost everything in a business centers on efficiency and utility.  It is coloring our view of each other.   If people are objects whose only value is utility, it can be difficult to see them as anything more than a means to our ends; things to be used and discarded (like the e-mail they send us).  Dealing with the long-term unemployed could be complicated (like all real human interactions can be).  It is hard for people to see how any of this will help them efficiently or profitably achieve their individual work goals.

Solving the challenge of the long-term unemployed is laudable and necessary. My fear is that it’s an audacity that no one can spare the time to work on, let alone hope for.

What a serial entrepreneur taught me about Christmas:


Greg Boyle successfully launched 7 start-ups in one of the most gang ridden areas in the United States.

He is also one of my Heroes.

He is the founder of Homeboy Ministries, a series of start-up businesses designed to give former gang members something they are all desperate for:  a job, purpose and a meaningful life.  He wrote a book about it (Tattoos on the Heart) which I found fascinating for several reasons:

  1. He is a Catholic priest and a serial entrepreneur. (What?)
  2. It is likely he does not know what the phrase serial entrepreneur means.
  3. If reading his book does not make you shut up and quit whining about your work life, nothing will.

Why is this story so astonishing? It defies virtually every bit of business wisdom I know.

  1. Instead of  funding outcomes, they fund futures.  They “see in people what they don’t see in themselves”.
  2. Where businesses take calculated risks, they take enormous incalculable risks.
  3. They seek out  and hire the difficult and belligerent.
  4. Money is a tool for recreating people. People are not tools for creating money.


Granted, this is not a for profit business.  But I guess it depends on how you look at profit.  It is recognized as the most successful program for helping people leave gang life; period.  It saves the State of California millions of dollars in incarceration costs annually.  It helps people become productive, self-sufficient taxpaying citizens contributing to the economy.

In a lot of our business analysis we look only at the short-term ROI.  I find it interesting, that in this instance, the ROI is very hard to calculate, not because it is nebulous but because it is so vast. What is the value of a life restored?

If you find yourself in a less than joy filled mood this season look around.  This is just one example of a  “light shining in the darkness”.  Want to really change that mood? Become one of those lights.

Merry Christmas!

Organization Lessons of “Les Miserables” wanna discuss?


Although my friends in academia made hideous fun of me for reading this admittedly romantic and emotive story when in school, I nevertheless go back to it and think there are some interesting questions for leaders. 

What does the story have to say about leadership as portrayed in the characters of: Javert, Jean Valjean and Myriel?  Is one the best? Can they all work? What are the consequences of each style?

I would like to do this in person also.  Let me know if you are up for it.

Practical Limits of Big Data

We just got hit with the second snow storm in 5 days. The forecast called for 14-20 inches of snow. I just got done blowing the snow off the driveway and it looks more like 5 inches of accumulation. I am happy that I did not have to remove 20 inches of snow.

I am also not complaining about the forecast because I know there are practical limits to predicting anything. There are so many factors that go into forecasting weather none of which anyone can control.

A good reminder when considering what (if anything) big data can do for your business.


Getting a Grip on Big Data

Here is a presentation I will be giving on Big Data this week. Let me know what you think!

Article by the Holy Father Benedict XVI in the Financial Times "A time for Christians to engage with the world", 20 December 2012

Unusual for two reasons:

1. Financial Times asked Pope for an OPED.

2. He accepted.

Good message for business people at this time of year regardless of spiritual persuasion. See in particular paragraph 2:

a.) Don’t politicize religion.

b.) Don’t deify wealth.

Article by the Holy Father Benedict XVI in the Financial Times "A time for Christians to engage with the world", 20 December 2012

Big Data and The Eye of Sauron:


“The Hobbit-An unexpected Journey” is set to be released December 14 and it had me thinking about the themes of the Tolkien Trilogy.   I have always found the image of Sauron as a burning eye a fascinating image.  It is a powerful image of fear and dread.  Its quest to see and know all made it hard not to think of “big data”.   It got down right creepy when I found these quotes in Morgoth’s Ring”. 

Sauron came to possess great knowledge of the physical substances of the world, forging, and all manner of craftsmanship — emerging as “a great craftsman of the household of Aulë”.

“it had been his virtue (and therefore also the cause of his fall …) that he loved order and coordination, and disliked all confusion and wasteful friction.”  

Roger Shattuck wrote a fascinating book entitled “Forbidden Knowledge”. In it he explores the results of different quests for knowledge from Prometheus to the genome project and among other observations highlights how the motivations behind these quests bare careful analysis. Even when the initial intentions are pure at the outset the knowledge, once uncovered and made known (not unlike Pandora’s Box) cannot be controlled. 

Yeah, yeah, our interest in Big Data can be rationalized as a desire to know more so that we can solve problems and make the world better, but we cannot deny the corrupting influence that lurks in this quest, that subtly shifts its goal from altruism to power, control and manipulation (“one ring to rule them all”).

Perhaps we should “google” the creation story, Prometheus, Pandora, Oedipus, Babel, Faust, Frankenstein, Josef Mengele, and The Manhattan Project as a reminder that quests for knowledge should never be undertaken lightly. 

Tribal Leadership parallels

Owning your place:

I was bugged by the assertion of the authors that we somehow have to own each stage of leadership before we can move to the next as if it were some kind of “holy wisdom” and there was only “one path to enlightenment”.  Then I thought about Dante’s Divine Comedy where in the very beginning he tries to “think” his way out of the “dark wood” as if he can just casually cruise through these ideas and adopt them.  It is interesting that he finds himself immediately confronted with a series of scary animals that block his way: the leopard (luxury or lust) the Lion (pride), and the wolf (greed) and is so overwhelmed he despairs.  It smacked me right in the face like a Double IPA.   It is easy and understandable when one reads about the different levels of leadership to assume we are already at the highest level; right up until the reality of how we operate and deal with others begin to bear its teeth.  Being unwilling to acknowledge where we really are leaves us beset by these beasts that discourage and burn us out.

Why Stages 4&5 are so hard?:

Assuming we can get beyond our own delusion of where we are, there is a risk of over steering into a kind of false humility that thinks “I am deluded… I must really suck”, which is not helpful either.  It is equally deluded, especially if we lose confidence in our ability to seek and understand our deepest passions and seek instead to adopt someone else’s passion or purpose.  David Whyte’s observation  captures this quite well.  “Ironically, we bring more vitality into our organizations when we refuse to make their goals the measure of our success and start to ask about the greater goals they might serve, and when we stop looking to them as parents who will supply necessities we can only obtain when we wrestle directly with our own destiny.”

Funny how the way we were educated most of our lives:

  1. Follow the (teacher approved) process/path to
  2. Find the “right”answer so you can
  3. Collect Gold Star and
  4. Move to next problem

turns out to be a little more involved…

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Dan Clark

Dan Clark

Principal of Bowline Consulting, process designer/fixer, wireless telecom veteran, addicted pick up soccer player, fly fisher, backpacker, beer brewer, guitar player, choir singer, recovering bag piper

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