Posted by: Tony Shannon | December 29, 2011

Big or Small – A Few Bright Minds

As the year of 2011 comes to a close, I’ve been considering some of the stories I’ve come across that have left me thinking.

  • 2011 was a tumultous year across Europe, with no clear end to the financial drama in sight.
  • The loss of Steve Jobs will likely be remembered in history for a long time to come.
  •  “Big and Clever: Why large firms are often more inventive than small ones” was particularly thought provoking.

The common thread that crosses these stories?    Conceptual Integrity

“Conceptual integrity in turn dictates that the design must proceed from one mind, or from a very small number of agreeing resonant minds” (Fred Brooks of the Mythical Man Month)


If you’ve looked across my Book of Thoughts, you’ll have seen mention of the chaotic/ complex/ complicated and simple parts of our work, as a means to understand the world.
The ongoing Euro mess is clearly a complex system on the edge of chaos. I’ve made the point that there is a lack of effective leadership on the worlds economic stage, from any angle (EU, UK, US, Asian or other). My view is that most/all those political leaders involved can’t/don’t understand the complexity of the mess on their hands and really struggle to develop solutions.
The most recent EU meeting and plan for a treaty within a treaty struck me a over-complicated approach to the complexities involved, which will be difficult, nigh impossible to implement. I hope I’m wrong.
The key issue here is that at the top of the tree there seem so few folk who understand the common patterns, across continents and history. Most political leaders lack the “conceptual integrity” to develop solutions that work.  So their plans struggle can be difficult/impossible to implement.
The only voice I’ve come across that makes regularly sense of the current mess is a lone voice, an Irish journalist named David McWilliams. His commentary usually explores the current financial crisis from an Irish perspective, but he has a big world view. For some time now he has forecast a breakup of the Eurozone now and championed the value in  controlling ones own currency.  Time will tell if his world view is correct but the conceptual integrity in his logic seems hard to beat from what I have read.

At the other side of the Atlantic, Steve Jobs passing was a major loss.
His personal story, told in an authorised biography, clearly demonstrates the “conceptual integrity” in his work.
It was his passion and vision for changing the world for the better that meant he focussed on changing the complex computing, movie,  music ,  phone and publishing industries.  Most of the breakthroughs he drove seem to have been driven by himself/very small team.. he was not a management by committee type..he was a champion of his own ideas.


Which brings me to the third story/article. In “Big and Clever: Why large firms are often more inventive than small ones“, the recent interest in fostering innovation and industrial growth via Small to Medium Enterprises is challenged in an unusual way. The argument is that the biggest companies can afford to be the most inventive (Apple, Google etc).  Its an interesting point.
Yet again the theme of leadership and conceptual integrity returns here.. most of the big inventive companies seem to begin with a leaders(s) with vision and passion (Microsoft- Bill Gates & Paul Allen, Apple- Steve Jobs & Steve Wozniak, Google- Sergey Brin &Larry Page, Facebook- Mark Zuckerberg). These individuals seem to have shared a vision that allowed for disruptive innovation in their chosen fields.
Many of these same companies now work to foster independent thinking from within their ranks and channel champions and their ideas into the greater organisation, by moving away from pure hierarchies and towards ecosystems of competing and collaborating units..


So whatever 2012 brings, the best solutions will come from a few bright minds..



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