The DiscWorld Principle

7 02 2012

Despite childhood injunctions not to judge a book by its cover, the covers of Terry Pratchett’s DiscWorld® novels put me off reading them for a number of decades. The covers led me to expect Rabelaisian bawdiness with none of the Frenchman’s humanist wit and intelligence; and therefore reading Pratchett always came a little lower down my to-do list than elective dental surgery or putting my wet fingers in a lamp socket. So imagine my surprise to find that Pratchett was all wit and no bawd…

Despite some totally unfair characterizations, doubtless just for comic effect (surely) – auditors aren’t grey, hooded figures trying to bring the world to a standstill, mine please note – Pratchett has a genuine fascination with how human endeavours work. Despite their shared comedic intent, there is little in common between Dilbert and DiscWorld. Dilbert is pure dysfunction; DiscWorld is razor sharp insight into how organizations – both government and business – can get things done better, as well as how they may step on… oh look, a banana skin. (Cue, the Librarian).

Here’s just one example, quoted from memory because I couldn’t track it down before heading for the airport last night: something to the effect of “losing sight of the need to organize the enterprise and instead organizing the organization”. Hardly an original idea, but a point well made. The more conversations I have with those trying to turn large organizations around in 2012, the more relevant this seems. No one, it seems, has time or patience (let alone budget) for organizing the organization in the current climate. It has to be about organizing the enterprise, in other words, delivering outcomes in line with the mission. 

If you are planning to promote self-perpetuation in HR and Talent Management or OD in 2012, expect short shrift. If you can get the right people in place (by yesterday) so that the right things get done (yesterday, today and for the foreseeable tomorrows), then you, and the enterprise, have a future.





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