The City and the City by China Mieville. Mieville tries his hand at a detective story.
Has a neat concept: divided twin cities, with blocks and building intermingled, but whose inhabitants have to pretend the other city doesn't exist. Interacting with the other city risks punishment by the sinister forces of Breach.
However, the plot is a bit lacking. Things are resolved, but not particularly well, and there are no great revelations or surprises.
Overall, fairly interesting but not that special.
What I'm Watching
Saw thriller State of Play at the cinema. Started off pretty well but began to drag a bit: putting exciting music over boring scenes can only work for so long. Other minuses: chock full of heroic-journalist clichés; and an irritatingly performance from Rachel McAdams, gurning wildly as she Struggles With Her Conscience.
Pluses: a fair few twists and turns, and a nice newspaper-printing sequence at the end.
Overall: rent the DVD if you want something to watch.
What I'm Watching 2
Finally went to see Star Trek at the cinema. Pretty good, lots of action and plenty of pace. Plot relies heavily on coincidence.
Interesting the way they used a change to the timeline to make the characters more acceptable to contemporary moviegoers. They obviously felt the old Kirk was far too much of a boring conformist: fancy spending years working your way up through an organizational hierarchy when you can just get to be captain of Starfleet's flagship straight out of college by performing a single heroic mission.
What I'm Listening To
Made a brief foray into MBA territory with my latest TTC course: Art of Critical Decision Making by Michael A. Roberto. Not a total waste of time: has a lot of case studies including space shuttle and mountain-climbing disasters, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban missile crisis; not just business decisions.
Course is divided into three sections: individual, team and organizational decisions. Presents quite a few examples of success and failures, and describes different techniques to fix certain types of failure.
Overall though, it's a question of balance. Too much conflict in an organization and nothing gets done; too little and it sinks into cosy groupthink. Allow too little innovation and you can't adapt to changes; but too much and the various units can end up at cross-purposes.
One thing I thought was interesting is that he blames the bureaucratic organization of NASA for the shuttle disasters; whereas I had the impression that the basic design of the shuttle was fundamentally dangerous. Would like his view to be true, but I suspect NASA culture evolved that way because if you took a truly safe approach, the shuttles would never launch.
Also, while there are a couple of lectures devoted to office politics, overall I get an impression of a wonderful fantasy world where everyone in an organization always works for the organization's good. Whereas real-world organizations seem to me to be buildings full of people working primarily for their own ends and those of their immediate clique. While Roberto gives plenty of theories about cognitive biases, poor processes and flawed organizations; it seems to me that remarkably often seem to have the same effects as simple selfishness.
Overall, interesting in places; worth a look if you want to keep up with management practices and arm yourself with some examples and jargon.
For instance, might be useful to cite Karl Weick and Katherine Sutcliffe on "High Reliability Organizations" next time I get accused of being negative by considering ways a project might fail. From the course notes:
II. Karl Weick and Kathleen Sutcliffe have coined the term "mindfulness" to describe the 5 characteristics of most HROs.Me
A. First, HROs appear to be preoccupied with failure of all sizes and shapes.
1. They do not dismiss small deviations or settle on narrow, localized explanations of these problems.
2. Instead, they treat each small failure as a potential indication of a much larger problem.
3. David Breashears has described how great climbers are obsessed with thinking about ways that they might fail on a mountain.
4. Similarly, Toyota has a culture that embraces and seeks out small failures constantly, looking then for how these failures might indicate large systemic problems.
B. Second, HROs exhibit a reluctance to simplify interpretations.
1. We all try to simplify the messy world around us.
2. HROs recognize that sometimes we oversimplify.
3. They look for odd things that don’t seem to fit their picture of how things usually work.
4. They build diverse teams and welcome a wide variety of perspectives that challenge the conventional wisdom.
C. HROs demonstrate sensitivity to operations.
1. They do not allow the emphasis on the big picture--strategic plans, vision statements, and so on--to minimize the importance of frontline operations, where the real work gets done.
2. They truly empower frontline workers, as Toyota does with its Andon cord system and hospitals do with their rapid response team process.
D . Fourth, HROs exhibit a commitment to resilience.
1. They recognize that no hazardous and complex system will be error free.
2. They recognize that mistakes happen, and that they are not typically because of negligence or malfeasance.
3. Often, mistakes suggest systemic problems.
E. Finally, HROs ensure that expertise is tapped into at all levels of the organization.
1. They work hard to flatten the hierarchy.
2. Their leaders stay in touch with, and gather input from, people at all levels.
3. Their leaders are cognizant of the fact that key information, particularly bad news, often gets filtered out as it rises up a hierarchy.
Went to see the parents for a few days for my Dad's 70th birthday. He's getting a bit frail with all his health problems. Went to a concert at the Bridgewater hall: some Beethoven and a Brahms symphony.
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