‘T aint what you do

Last week I read two independent descriptions of the importance of business processes. As a former business analyst they were music to my ears.

The first was in an article on business innovation published by the Economist (see Companies and innovation – Less glamour, more profit subscription required):

Likewise, in the past few decades most of the companies that have created truly extraordinary amounts of wealth have done so by inventing great processes, not great products. Dell, Toyota and Wal-Mart, for example, have risen to the top of their respective industries by coming up with amazingly efficient ways of getting quite ordinary products into the hands of consumers more cheaply than their rivals.

The second was a review of The Future of Work by Thomas Malone in the Financial Times (see Corporate culture on the cusp subscription required):

There are also sections on “business process outsourcing”, “process architectures for interchangeable organisations” and “the deep structure of business processes”. Why is there this obsession with process? Strip any company of hierarchy and you are left with nothing but processes – the flow of work. In the flat, decentralised organisations of the future, it is argued, the ability to configure and reconfigure processes will be an important source of competitive advantage.

Jimmie Lunceford album

As Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra pointed out in 1939:

When I was a kid about half past three
My ma said “Daughter, come here to me”
Said things may come, and things may go
But this is one thing you ought to know…

Oh ‘t ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it
‘T ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it
‘T ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it
That’s what gets results

Lunceford should be the patron saint of business analysts. Now, repeat after me …

Import workers or export jobs?

The topic for the 2004 Shell Economist Writing Prize has been announced, and it’s all about migration:

This year’s competition poses the question: Import workers or export jobs? Should developing nations be allowed to ‘poach’ skilled professional labour from countries who have helped pay for this expertise? Or is the influx of immigrants, whether skilled or unskilled, a positive force, bringing either expertise or ambition and hard work to the host nation?

The history of the movement of people and populations shows how dynamically immigrants can change or benefit host countries. But when and how does it go wrong? Is it a question of balance? Or (and) of matching skills and needs?

The debate on movement of people ranges from the rational to the emotional. What clarity can you contribute to mankind’s choices over the freedom to move? What may it mean for the way we work? What may it mean for our sense of place, of residence, of identity and of local and global belonging?

Write 2,000 words by 20 August, 2004, and you might win $20,000.

Google AdSense

I registered for and implemented Google AdSense on this website today. So certain pages will now display advertisements related to the page content, or at least that’s the theory. In practice I’m not too sure how successful it will be. Within seconds of adding the relevant code to my carbon paper essay, Google chose to display two ads for quill pens (the essay does mention the quill pen, but I’d no idea you could still buy them).

Google Logo

I decided to sign up for AdSense because every few weeks someone writes to me via email and enquires about purchasing some carbon paper. Just today I received a request for a box of 500 sheets from someone in Alexandria, Egypt. Egypt was also the source of another request a few months ago, but that one was for 15,000 tons of the stuff!

As much as I’d like to help these people, I’m not in the carbon paper business. So I thought that the relevant ads from Google might prove useful to anyone searching for carbon paper who stumbles across my site. And who knows? It might even generate sufficient revenue eventually to cover the cost of this site.

So if you’re ever in the market for a new quill pen, you know where to come.

Alistair Cooke 1908-2004

Alistair Cooke died last month only three weeks after retiring at the age of 95, and it’s difficult to distinguish cause and effect. Did he retire because the end was so near, or did he lose the will to live because he now had nothing to do? In a prescient statement a few years ago he said “I’ve noticed that if you retire you keel over” (Alistair Cooke’s first letter). “Speak for yourself” is what most of us are probably thinking, and that’s precisely what he did throughout his long career.

Apparently, he started out with ambitions to become an actor, but decided that telling America’s story was far more interesting than anything on the stage. He fell in love with America’s dynamic spirit of free enterprise, and became a US citizen in 1941. Given his subject, it’s highly ironic that he should succeed largely through non-profit, public broadcasting. Would his career have lasted as long had he been exposed to the harsh realities of the commercial world? I doubt it. Despite a publicly-subsidised audience of millions, Cooke still appealed to relatively few. Nevertheless, he clearly knew how to make the best of both his worlds: dynamic, aggressive America and inquisitive, but world-weary Britain.


Newsmap provides an interesting view of the news media’s priorities, as captured and classified by Google News.


The news in Canada, the UK and the US as displayed on Newsmap

Each news item is allocated screen space according to the number of stories published about it. More popular stories appear larger; less popular stories are smaller. The stories are also colour-coded according to the “section” in which they would appear in a newspaper: World – dark brown, Nation (domestic news) – light brown, Sports – olive green, Business – blue, Entertainment – teal, for example. It’s also possible to compare several of Google’s national versions, all of which means that you can use Newsmap to analyse cultural differences in the world’s news media.

And what do you find if you do?

Here are the top three priorities (as of earlier today) for three countries with which I’m familiar:

  • Canada: World, Sports, Business
  • UK: World, Sports, Business
  • US: Sports, World, Nation (domestic news)

A closer examination reveals some even more interesting differences. World news receives two and half times as much coverage in the UK than in the US, and even Canada publishes approximately 30% more World news (proportionally) than the US. Instead of World news the US devotes its attention to Sports (2.5 times more than the UK) and domestic news (Nation).

Domestic news (Nation) is lowest in Canada, which also gives the most space/time to Entertainment. Business and technology are very similar in all three countries. Health is the smallest category everywhere.

So what does this tell us? Well, it would seem that the stereotypical cliches are all true. America is obsessed with itself; nothing much happens in Canada; and Britain still believes it can punch above its weight on the world stage.

Reading One Million Years

Yesterday shortly after leaving the National Portrait Gallery I came across the following scene in Trafalgar Square:

Reading One Million Years

Click the image above for a larger view

Two people sitting in a glass box and alternately reciting dates (years only) to the perplexed crowd passing by.

This mind-numbing activity was explained on the back of a postcard, which someone was handing out, as follows:

On Kawara Reading One Million Years
Presented by the South London Gallery in Trafalgar Square

8am 29 March – 8am 5 April 2004

An epic work of conceptual art by the acclaimed Japanese artist, On Kawara, is presented in the UK for the first time in Trafalgar Square. A continuous reading lasting seven days and nights from the artist’s ten-volume work, One Million Years, takes extracts from Past, listing every year from 998,031 BC to 1969 AD, and Future, listing the years 1980 AD to 1,001,980 AD. On Kawara’s work speaks simply and directly about a subject relevant to us all, the passage and marking of time.

Some brief on-line research indicates that the work was reported in the Guardian last week. Performance art that’s defiantly dated, revealed that the recital is to be released as a four-volume limited edition boxed CD set. So if you miss the event itself, you know what to put on your Christmas list.

In the meantime, a selection of the public’s responses can be read in Let us begin. When asked if it made him think about time, John, 26, from Wimbledon, said “Well, I had a look at my watch a minute ago.”

Thursday was April Fool’s Day of course.