Closing up at No.9 Park by Peter Hall. (CC BY SA-2.0). Via Flickr

Closing Time (or “So long, Elliot Jaques”)

Forrest ChristianAdmin 5 Comments

It’s closing time.

After spending almost all of the last thirty years of my worklife as a consultant, I finally walked away. As of last week, I have returned to the risk career I left a long time ago. I joined a large financial company’s technology risk management oversight group where I’m an internal consultant.

As a part of this transition, I need to shut down my other business activities.

I’m also leaving behind Requisite Organization.

For the handful of you who know me, you are familiar with my reasons.

Perhaps I should reflect on these years and what I’ve learned and lost, before I sell off all this IP.

Warren Kinston, the polymath responsible for THEE Online, once told me that if things are hard to push forward with effort then it’s a bad fit. Maybe it doesn’t fit you and your native work languages. Maybe it doesn’t fit the times, because no matter how good something would be, if it doesn’t go with the flow of the current dominant reality of your culture, it won’t go forward. If it is natural—for you, for your society, for your times—then success flows from your effort. When it is unnatural, you are blocked, constantly struggling for every step. Sometimes you must continue to fight, but you should know that it will produce little fruit. But most of the time doing that which is unnatural is stupid.

For me, creating a business around Elliott Jaques’s stuff was unnatural: for me, for my culture, for my times.

And so I came to the point where I had to face facts and write it all off as loss.

It’s not because of bitterness that I’m leaving. It’s just that it didn’t work out. These things happen, and we have to move on. It just took me a long time.

But there were some great things and great people.

For a few years, my blog was third in Google searches for “Requisite Organization”, right after Dr. Jaques’s Wikipedia entry and his old firm, Requisite Organization International Institute. I showed that I could take what everyone thought was an intellectually thorny subject and unpack it into elements that normal people could discuss and argue.

A handful of people I respect cited conversations with me as influential on their thinking when they wrote their acknowledgements sections. I just reflected what I was hearing and asked stupid questions. It was very humbling to be mentioned.

The late and sorely missed George Reilly is arguably the man who introduced Canadian mining to Requisite Organization (although back then it was just Stratified Systems Theory). He would later leave organizational psychology, perhaps completely disgusted with managers who rejected making things less “paranoiagenic”, preferring to spend most of his time with individual clients in psychotherapy where he would subtly use Jaques’s ideas to help his clients move forward. He kindly mentioned our conversations about his book in his foreword to Finding Our Way: Bringing the Past and Present Together Through Personal Growth, a book that I think is flat out amazing and which is back in print. George was likely the deepest person I’ve known. His book is deeply and profoundly spiritual, but done so skillfully you don’t have to see it. Dearly missed for all he brought to this world.

George’s long-time friend, Darwin Mott, was not only a member of the famous (at least in the Toledo area where I went to high-school) championship Goaldiggers team. He was working with George when they brought Elliott Jaques out to metropolitan Sudbury. Darwin and I had several great conversations about his book, The End of Management Alchemy: Some Fun with the Findings of Elliott Jaques and How Requisite Organization Began. It may be the best introductory book on requisite organization ideas. If you’re interested in using these ideas, you should have his book on your shelf. He provides consulting, too.

I even got to do a little bit of work with Steve Clement of Organizational Design, Inc., whose book with Jaques, Executive Leadership, was the first book I ever read on worklevels and it changed my thinking permanently. He and his son, Chris Clement, updated these ideas with twenty more years of research and heavy praxis in their 2014 book, It’s All About Work: Organizing Your Company to Get Work Done. It could easily have been a series of books and it packs an intellectual wallop. This is the textbook of putting the ideas to use and it’s invaluable. Listening to Steve explain things is like having your windshield cleared. I started one way, asked Steve to provide some more, and suddenly the skies cleared, the sun shone, and what was murky was completely clear. Our project together didn’t pan out—which is really just my own damn fault—but working with him is one of the highlight of my work history.

Amit Aurora and I worked long and hard to put together something we could work on together. His ideas for combining Agile software practices with the rigor of Requisite Organization seems like it would turn both on their heads, but doesn’t, combining both. Through him I finally talked long with Peter Friesen about the Law and RO. His unpacking of requisite ideas in basic systems (and I mean basic) is a stunning exercise of a strong intellect.

Glenn Mehltretter of PeopleFit USA, very early in my writing about Requisite Organization (RO) and Stratified Systems Theory (SST), invited me to one of his classes on evaluating people’s current level of capacity for information processing (CIP) through interviews ala Jaques & Cason. He introduced me to almost everyone in the requisite world, and I’m deeply grateful. I used the material he thought me a lot over the years and I can still catching myself “listening sideways” from time to time. For my money, Glenn understands things as well as anybody today. More even than his intellect, I have benefited from Glenn’s deep spirituality. Our shared Christian faith is not being written off.

Michelle Malay Carter, another eastern North Carolinian, was the one who introduced me to Glenn and really the entire RO community. When I started writing about Elliott Jaques’s and Clement’s requisite organization ideas (from Executive Leadership), she discovered the discussions I was holding on my original blog. I was trying to explain to people what I was learning because I had never heard of it and I found it revolutionary. She joined in and showed me that there were people using these ideas.

Through Glenn and Michelle, I got introduced to Ken Shepard, President of the GO Society in Toronto. Ken invited me to do a lot of work for the society, including inviting me to the GO Society conferences. They’re incredible opportunities to learn and talk with people who started doing worklevels work back in the 1960’s. They have a conference coming up: Building Trust-Inducing Agile Organizations for ToMoRrOw, July 22-25, 2017 July 22-25 at the BMO Financial Group Institute for Learning in Toronto. Highly recommended.

Ken invited me to help the many authors of the GO Society book, Organization Design, Levels of Work & Human Capability: Executive Guide, providing writing consulting and draft reading. I got to work with some great people, help make their articles really shine, and even saved one from the cutting floor by some clever footwork. I think what I did turned out very well, and I am thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this historic book.

It was through the conferences that I got to know Nick Forrest (no relation) of Toronto’s Forrest & Company. We had some great conversations that I hope were helpful. His book, How Dare You Manage: Seven Principles to Close the CEO Skills Gap, is the next step after Darwin’s book. It’s snappily written and Nick’s personality jumps off the page. When you start towards CEO, this is the book to read. Nick started off by doing some work for Jos Winterman’s transformation of Canadian Tire Acceptance, Ltd. to requisite organization. He’s how I got to talk with Jos, another amazing experience that I’d not have had otherwise.

I also got to know Jack Fallow. Jack has even come by my house here in North Carolina. It’s unfortunate that we never got to do our skit at the conference that one night. I still use it as a way to explain how not to do requisite organization, and how the ideas can be hijacked for ill. Jack understands more than I’ll ever forget and it is a masterclass every time I speak with him.

The conferences also allowed me to meet Paul Holmström. He and I have had many long conversations, both live and via various internet-enabled technologies, and I always came away better for them. It was through Paul that I got to know Robbie Stamp of Bioss, who also happens to have been Douglas Adams’s partner on the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy site (surely that’s an insufficient term). Through Robbie I met Louise Stafford of Bioss North America. It would have been grand to have worked with Bioss: it felt like their values expressed my own. Bioss continues to do some great work, very humanistic with a strong understanding of the spiritual context somehow. Gillian Stamp remains how I see management. It reminds me of George’s way of thinking.

I even got the chance to work with T. Owen Jacobs, albeit him in an advisory role on one of the projects I did. I would send Dr. Jacobs a question. He would reply that this wouldn’t be a real answer as he didn’t have time to pull sources, and then proceed to write a thousand words off the top of his head that were both cogent and well referenced.

At some point I saw that Lord Wilfred Brown didn’t have a Wikipedia entry. So I wrote one. I also wrote his entry at the GO Society. Meeting his son, the Hon. Richard Brown, was a great treat. I think it was through Richard that I met Alistair Mant.

It was at one of the GO Society meetings that I also met Warren Kinston, he above mentioned. Our work together was another project that didn’t quite make it. My brief working with him took years to unpack. He’s probably the smartest person I’ve ever worked with.

I also met Johan du Toit. Our conversation at one of the GO Society conferences stretched into the wee hours, only stopped because I knew I had an eight hour drive the next day. You don’t meet too many people like that.

I also got to meet some grand “normal” people, like Mary McQueen who became the “Crazy Bird Lady” of Canada’s Dragons’ Den. (She got the investment and Hand and Beak, her company with partner Luigi the Lovebird, continues to amaze.) It’s amazing who you can meet on Mulberry Street. I got to know Michael Bates, the Tulsa blogger of note, as a result of this blog, and many times that I have visited family in Tulsa he’s gone out of his way to meet up with me. There were also a sluagh of other bloggers who I got to interact with, and even sometimes meet, although more rarely than I would have liked. I had “famous” programmers and thinkers reply on my blog, all very cool to experience even if it did nothing for the coffers.

All this writing and editing led a mutual friend to introduce Herb Stepherson to me, and he and I had a few discussions about turning the amazing writing he did on his blog into a book. He even asked me if I’d contribute the blurb for the back cover for his amazing Junkbox Diaries: a day in the life of a heroin addict. I said that Herb “writes with a visceral immediacy that grabs your eyes and tapes them open.” It’s a crazy-good book (you should buy it) and I’m glad I know him. De colores, amigo.

The list could go on and on. I apologize for overlooking you. So many wonderful people, and my brain is not what it used to be.

But you can see the pattern of “that project didn’t work out”!

So I’m returning to something I’m good at, making someone else look even better and being the wet blanket by pointing out where things can go wrong.

For everyone who has argued with me, left a comment, sat down for a conversation, been a client, or just read a post: thanks. It’s been a pleasure to have worked with you.

For the couple of private coaching clients who still have “money in the pot”: all contracts are going to be fulfilled. You don’t lose everything and keep an almost perfect credit rating by reneging on an agreement.

As the closing to the post entitled, “Closing Time”, how about Semisonic’s meditation on birth:

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”.



Image credit:Closing up at No.9 Park” by Peter Hall (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Comments 5

  1. Forrest

    Thanks for sharing your Jaquesian “swansong”. It evoked some great memories for me. Although I met only a small handful of the RO luminaries you cite, I nonetheless experienced a vicarious thrill from simply reading the vignettes you shared.

    I trust you still find frissons of delight in your internal consultant world (in addition to a steady income 😉 .

    Cheers, mate!

  2. Why can’t RO be explained in terms of an ROI? Can results be shown in a financial statement? It’s frustrating to see it go down the tubes like this. Has it *ever* been successful in terms of growing a company?

  3. Hi Forrest – I hope you saw my tweet about how much I valued your blog (I hope it will stay archived!).

    Thank god for mavericks who help to move things forward – who just don’t align with some cold functionalist successful fit that would never make any leaps at all..
    And, seriously, you can’t take advice from Warren. The THEE Online site seems almost designed to be beyond what *any* human could cope with currently! ????
    I only wish your Jaquesian endeavours had as much benefit for you as they perhaps have had – and will have – for the wider world.
    That said, I’ve – largely – played it safe so far myself (give or take some dalliances with Holacracy). But I think your influence on me may still bear unexpected fruit… Maybe my own foolish 30 year journey is soon to really begin. Hope so! ????


  4. It is truly unfortunate that Elliot’s human capability work is held hostage in managerial science. When it was learned the earth was spherical, the notion was shared with all of humanity – instead of kept close by the shipping industry. So far, most people are denied the human capability, or Requisite, lens through which all of life is made more clear.

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