The black market in common sense

Last week I caught up with the enlightening Morten Elvang, who introduced me to a powerful metaphor: the black market in common sense.

Morten describes this as a “shadow organisation”, an organisation within an organisation, populated by people who are working round the system in order to get their work done. Perhaps you’ve seen organisations that have this—I know I have—or perhaps this is happening in your organisation. Systems, processes and customs have grown up over the years that collectively stifle productivity and innovation. Many people see through this, refuse to be bound by it, and work round it. Hopefully they do so with organisation’s best interests in mind.

The black market in common sense might mean moving a PC yourself rather than wait two days for Facilities to send someone up to do it. Maybe it involves stopping a bad project immediately rather than letting it run on until the next project board. Perhaps it involves speaking to someone directly rather than going through an approved but uninformed intermediary.

Those stifling processes and customs grow slowly, often unnoticed. Sometimes someone in a position of authority needs to take a step back and reset things. But that’s hard, because each of those processes and customs will have come about for a good reason, and now there are some people who are invested in maintaining them. I think that—used at the right time—the image of a black market in common sense might help people see things a bit more clearly.