Sunday, July 06, 2008

Thinking Adaptive and Adoptive over Fish & Chips

My home village has two problems: a local bye-law prevents us form having a Fish & Chip Takeaway and, like so many other country pubs, one of the villages most important watering holes,The Cricketers is struggling to keep its business going on wet-trade alone.

Around eight weeks ago, The Cricks was taken- over by new licensee's; Andy, Colin and Debbie. Since arriving, the new management have been keen to share their ideas for revamping the pub with 'The Regulars' and very attentive to their needs and suggestions. It was their adoption of one such suggestion a couple of days ago that prompted this post.

A few of the regulars were having a moan about the lack of a Fish Chip Shop in the village, when someone suggested the pub should do take-away fish and chips. The new landlords had already decided they were going to focus more on food and said they wanted to avoid going too far down the 'Gastro-pub' route (i.e. wobbly towers of fiddled-around-with food the jus of-something-pretentious dribbled all over it), so the idea of old-fashioned fish and chip suppers wrapped in newspaper seemed to be a good fit. So a word was had with Andy and sure enough, six fish and chip suppers were sold on the first night the new kitchen opened and many more since.

Then it struck me, my new landlords were demonstrating a number of the qualities described in Dave Snowden's Havard Business Review article - 'A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making' (HBR November 2007). They were showing a willingness to experiment and the were thinking 'Complex Adaptive System' (without knowing they were!). They had come up with a set of 'light-constraints' for the new vision of the Cricks; they would focus on food but they'd keep the pub atmosphere and help the locals to adopt the new version of their pub. They listened carefully to the regulars comments, even when made in jest, and acted to try to keep the locals happy and give them a sense that 'their' pub was still theirs. In other words, they were doing 'weak-signal' detection and amplifying signals that worked within their 'light-constraints'; they were allowing the agents of the system (regular customers) affect the system operation. Andy, Colin and Debbie, also recognise that a bit of experimentation makes sense – the 'safe-fail' ( as opposed to fail-safe) trial of fish and chip take-ways seems to be a winner in just a few days. Is it reasonable to suppose that a dose of similar agility, adaptiveness, and adoption could be injected into the veins of corporate and public sector behemoths?

Visit Dave Snowden's site for podcasts that describe Complex Adaptive Systems and sense-making techniques (sorry for the indirect link via Google - got a 406 Error if I tried linking directly to

P.S. A good discussion thread based on this post is taking place at:

(cut and paste the above if clicking doesn't work)


Martin M-B said...

Mmmmmm - fish 'n chips at the Cricketers...better than a roundabout in Swindon or a Welsh hill-full of wet sheep any day!

Chris Bird said...

I must have missed something. How did they get around the byelaws?

Nigel Green said...

hi chris,
the byelaw only applied to the establishment of a take-away restaurant (shop-front) in the high street and so doesn't apply to the pub providing a take-away menu. I believe the byelaw is there to protect the 'character' of the village high street.

what are you up to these days? drop me an email at when you get a mo