Two upcoming courses that I'd highly recommend - and not just because I'm helping teach them these days. I've recommended the Cognitive Edge courses for years, but this year has seen a major refresh of the content and approach to the material. It's a real combination of solid theory, exercises and practical examples - all spread over four days.
What's it about? Why should you come?
Never has there been a greater need to manage more things with fewer resources. To create organisations that are resilient under conditions of uncertainty requires new ways of thinking and acting. Those who stay within the safety of the old paradigm sooner or later fail.
For more detail, have a look at the brochure here.
But for those who can't take four solid days off, it's also possible to do them in 1, 2 and 3 day chunks as well, picking and choosing the most relevant elements for your specific area.
Washington DC course is next week - 4-7th November Details here
London course is 26-29th November Details here
Posted by tquinlan on Monday, 28 October 2013 at 06:06 PM in Branding, Change, Cognitive Edge, Cognitive science, Communications, Complexity, Events, Knowledge, Leadership, Narrative and storytelling, Organisational culture, Recommendations, SenseMaker | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
As promised on Tuesday night at the Royal Society, here are my slides from the Marketing Measurement talk...
As always with my slides - highly visual. You had to be there!
I'm head-deep in my dataset of micro-narratives from Egypt today stalking results - I hope to put something up later in the week to show what emerges from all this fabulous data. (For a taster, here are a couple of quick triads from the project:
In the meantime, however, I wanted to point at two important blogs on narrative, particularly counter-narrative and the ideas around using narrative in security situations.
The first, somewhat inevitably, is Dave's blog today: Counter narratives. It's a subject I've been vocal on recently - and am writing about in a current piece - that the obsession among some groups with "developing a counter-narrative" is flawed, doomed and a waste of energy. The problem usually being addressed - the idea that some opposing group has an overarching narrative that must be resisted/countered - is in itself somewhat flawed, but the idea of a counter-narrative meeting story with opposing story will make matters worse, not better. Where narrative is concerned, you cannot disrupt a narrative with a stronger/more powerful counter. Instead you need to take a different approach - Aikido/Tai Chi for instance - deflecting the narrative and finding alternative narratives that divert, not confront.
The second blog I spotted today, was Cynthia Kurtz' piece, Narrative inquiry without participation, looking at narrative - initially in response to a recent conference on narrative in security, but with some excellent points about the more generic use of narrative and the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches. (I should say that, while I haven't ever met or spoken with Cynthia, I enjoy her blog and the article she co-authored with Dave a few years ago is still one that introduced me to much of the world of complexity and, in particular, the Cynefin framework.)
As promised, here are more details of next week's European Cognitive Edge network meeting, kindly hosted by Mark Woodman.
Date: Friday 18th February 2011
Venue: Middlesex University, The Burroughs, Hendon, London
Time: 10.30 to 16.00 GMT
If you're coming, can you please register at EventBrite here as we want to have an easier system of keeping track of who's coming than collating email replies.
There’s a Google map for the location at:
Attached is Mark's own marked up map showing Hendon Central Tube (Northern Line Edgware branch) and Hendon overground station (First Capital Connect from either St. Pancras International or Luton Airport Parkway). On my map routes from the stations are in red. There is a 183 bus near the Hendon overground station that comes right to the door of the University, but for most people the walk from Tube or train is 8-12 minutes and more predictable.
Interesting article from the New York Times surfaced yesterday - "In New Military, Data Overload Can Be Deadly". It paints a picture of a difficult situation in Afghanistan where 23 Afghan civilians died as a result of a mistaken attack by US helicopters. In some ways, it reminds me of the description of the USS Vincennes incident Gary Klein refers to in Chapter 6 of the excellent Sources of Power - another situation where information was misinterpreted in the heat of a conflict situation.
What intrigues me is the interpretation of what was at root - and what would improve the situation:
“Information overload — an accurate description,” said one senior military officer, who was briefed on the inquiry and spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case might yet result in a court martial. The deaths would have been prevented, he said, “if we had just slowed things down and thought deliberately.”
Later in the article, there's a recognition that it's not just overload - it's being able to distinguish between signal (useful, meaningful information) and noise (the stream of information). And often - as in this case - it's easier to spot the signals in retrospect.
Research shows that the kind of intense multitasking required in such situations can make it hard to tell good information from bad. The military faces a balancing act: how to help soldiers exploit masses of data without succumbing to overload.
The idea of "thinking deliberately" also seems to me to be optimistic - in fast-moving environments we are thrown even more onto pattern-matching than information-processing, as Gary Klein points out. His analysis of the USS Vincennes incident is that it was more about using mental simulation to evaluate and rule out possible explanations - this looks to be a similar situation.
One of the difficulties seems to be in presenting the information itself, rather than a combination of patterns within the information and anomalies. One of the approaches that were discussed back at the November event was for security and IED detection - capture quantities of data in advance of any event, then re-signify after an event to determine patterns that can be used later to trigger "anticipatory awareness". By dealing with patterns in data, rather than the raw data itself, should go some way to getting past cognitive biases. (They can't - and indeed often shouldn't - be dispensed with altogether.)
Across the military, the data flow has surged; since the attacks of 9/11, the amount of intelligence gathered by remotely piloted drones and other surveillance technologies has risen 1,600 percent. On the ground, troops increasingly use hand-held devices to communicate, get directions and set bombing coordinates. And the screens in jets can be so packed with data that some pilots call them “drool buckets” because, they say, they can get lost staring into them.
Which seems to call for a change in the way the information is presented to them - a la Klein's project on information presentation described in the book, or the sort of approaches we're talking about with SenseMaker™ these days.
As the technology allows soldiers to pull in more information, it strains their brains. [emphasis mine] And military researchers say the stress of combat makes matters worse.
But that assumes that you're working in a world of simply presenting dry information. From what we know about the brain, giving them "fragments" - bits of others' experiences, past mistakes and more - allows them to put the pieces together to make them relevant to their current experience. Part of the problem seems to be presenting them with information that is just that - dry information.
There is a further element that seems to me to be present here - the assumption that the information holds its own meaning, that it can be analysed to produce the answers in itself. It's the same reasoning that encouraged the development of software I saw last year that took the outputs from focus groups and presented back a representation of what concepts participants were addressing. It's too easy to miss the important (weak) signals in a piece of text or a photograph, just as it is to over-interpret meaning in trivialities. Better by far, to allow lots of people to interpret what they regard as significant, then allow patterns to emerge from the meta-data. If the emergent pattern shows up specific information, then is the moment to look at the raw data.
(It's worth bearing in mind here that the New York Times event is being re-interpreted by the journalists writing the article and any sub-editors/editors intervening in the process, so the actual military investigators' report may be rather different.)
I'd almost call this an interesting experiment: The Lone Wolf or the Support Group Enthusiast?. Except it still seems too neat and tidy in dividing up the world into two groups and testing to see how the two groups react.
In essence, the researcher looked to see whether how different people felt in response to pain stimuli in different environments. Essentially, did those who prefer to deal with things alone (the Lone Wolf) or those who prefer to talk through difficulties with a sympathetic friend (the Support Group Enthusiast) feel more or less pain when someone else was with them and when that person was had greater empathy or less empathy.
The results are somewhat unsurprising - Lone Wolves feel less pain if no-one is around, Support Group Enthusiasts feel less pain in the presence of a empathic observer. Given the subjectiveness of pain and the enforced split between people, I'm most surprised that researchers were surprised.
I'm more disappointed, given the comments I've made previously about Myers-Briggs, that some of the comments are immediately falling into the trap of making this about the introversion-extraversion axis in Myers-Briggs.
The pilots for Children of the World have been fantastic - collecting over 7,000 stories around the world. Working on them with Cognitive Edge was fascinating, challenging and fun - the ideal project!
While we gear up for the next iteration and roll-out, I'm conscious that I don't think I got around to sharing here the in-depth papers we put together as part of reports from the project.
There are three:
100816 Narrative-Research_Snowden FINAL is Dave Snowden's article that informed (and was I suspect informed by) much of the implementation of the Children of the World project.
All three are full, intelligent articles that deserve proper attention. Turn off the email and the phone, get a comfortable chair and a drink and sit back...
Two great sessions last week at the QEII Conference Centre with Dave Snowden of Cognitive Edge. The shift from theory to practical application of new management techniques based on principles of complexity, cognitive neuroscience, anthropology and others has been remarkably swift in recent years - and even for those who've heard Dave in the past few years, there was noted surprise at how far things have come and the scope of the projects where these tools are being applied.
Any 3-hour seminar will be difficult to summarise in a single blog post - and this one even more so than usual. Of necessity, therefore, this will be a skim over the highlights that I picked up - feel free to add your additional thoughts and observations in the comments. Ron's already started over at The Ecology of Knowledge. (Ron mentions the video - we (he) did record the entire session, but it'll be a while before we even sit down to look at the 5 hours of video we've got, let alone think about what we do with it. Ideally, we'll just make it available, but we need to check first. Bear with us...)
The audience was highly diverse - researchers, psychologists, communications experts, innovators, CT specialists, social media analysts and more - but that reflects the diversity of issues that the tools and techniques - in particular SenseMaker™ - is being used to address.
The session started with a short jaunt around the Cynefin framework, in particular covering the difference between Complex and Complicated domains (a detailed partum intelligendo blog on the Cynefin framework is in the works). And then we were off.
Interestingly - and in many cases challengingly - the projects each meet the needs of multiple, diverse groups. Ideal in a world of better for less, but sometimes tricky to navigate the organisational waters.
Key elements from the sessions:
Projects that were mentioned included:
A project run in a slum area of Kenya, local narratives were collected and signified. (The case study and materials on this fascinating project are at the Cognitive Edge website.) One of the interesting results from it was that, when stories were signified by development experts "as you would think a Kenyan native would signify it", there huge gaps between what locals wanted from development and what the western perspective believed. Locals wanted better social networks and relationships, Western experts believed they wanted better sanitation and clean water. (Locals believed that they would follow from a better social community.)
It's not an unusual element for this form of research to produce results that highlight the differences between expert views and those of the audiences we want to understand.
International social research
An approaching project is expected to collect day-to-day experiences from children in their communities - giving far greater insight into beliefs, mindsets and cultures than traditional research techniques. The original plan had been a small-scale pilot on a subset of European countries, but using SenseMaker the costs to cover all 27 members of the European Union were the same - so a full-scale project is planned. Schools in each country will be the conduit to collect the stories to look at gender issues - and participating schools will also have access to the material for their own use.
Employee engagement/communications research
Collecting fragmented narratives, signified by the teller, applies in all sorts of spaces. We've run projects, there was talk of more - linked to knowledge management and customer insight. An example of field engineers equipped with bluetooth pens and notebooks. Notes and stories - both from engineer and customer - made on the left-hand page, while the right-hand page holds a handful of triads and/or polarities. The stories captured are then good for customer feedback, engineer training and induction, technical support, product design and - with the addition of a single triad specifically about how the engineer is feeling - employee engagement. All with built-in context, meaning and analysable data.
Suggestion schemes and innovation
A pause to cover innovation - and its non-link with creativity - and the pre-requisites for innovation being:
Innovative people are sometimes creative, but creative people are not always innovative. One of the problems relates to mistaking causation and correlation - a frequent mistake by management writers who work from data and produce conclusions along the lines of: "Successful companies exhibit behaviour A. Therefore exhibiting behaviour A will lead to success." In inimitable style, Dave gave a specific example of Chief Executives and bowel movements. The details are unimportant...
For innovation, of course, suggestion schemes are often used - but one of the difficulties that has led to their disappearance has been the need to attend to each suggestion individually. Coupled with that, of course, is that each suggestion is (mis)interpreted by whoever is tasked with going through them. An alternative in play now is to use SenseMaker to signify individual suggestions as they come in, building up patterns of where innovation is suggested/needed over time.
Military knowledge capture and sharing - blogs vs doctrine
Experience from the US Army has shown that, while doctrine continues to be produced, the most effective way to share battlefield knowledge was blogging by Platoon Commanders. In essence, lots of fragmentary data from in situ is easier to use for decision-making than doctrine produced back at base and disseminated outwards.
One of the next steps forward is a project involving SenseMaker to collect and signify material from the field in the field and allow for real-time access to situations and reports.
As an aside, there is also a group working on metaphor-based communications - it is easier and quicker to communicate using shared metaphors and examples. Military history is ideal for the use, building with nuances of territory, geography, tactics, etc. Another example of metaphor-based communication came in the Star Trek Next Generation episode "Darmok". With metaphor-based communication, it's possible to boil down complex situations and tactics to a few words.
Two of the most interesting examples were the use of human sensor networks that have people inputing and signifying material around anomalies or anything else they think is significant. Different groups of people with different backgrounds can contribute and the patterns that emerge from the signifying data become extremely valuable. Both work not prediction of events (impossible in complex environments and spaces) but on identifying patterns and then prompting anticipatory awareness - or "keep 'em peeled" as Shaw Taylor used to say.
Child protection in Northern Ireland
Social workers and policemen and others focused on child protection are able to collect fragments and signify them as they're working using handheld devices. The combination of lots of data from different perspectives and a pre-hoc, post-hoc approach make it possible to have a confidential alert come up for visitors to at-risk houses to encourage them to stay another 30 minutes and ask some more questions as overall patterns correlate with previous experiences. It is all about anticipatory awareness again.
Security guards, IED detection
Saving one of the most interesting for last...
SenseMaker technology is currently being integrated into specific handheld devices to allow for anomaly-tagging in particular environments.
For example, airport security personnel see and tag quickly any event or situation they think important. (In previous systems, this would be discouraged - any situation you reported would require investigation, paperwork, interviews, etc) Much of the material tagged is small-scale and results in nothing significant, but the personnel become used to lots of quick and easy tagging of events. The pre-hoc, post-hoc approach means that after an incident actually happens, it's possible to build patterns of prior tagging that can lead to events.
Subsequently, similar patterns of tagging can generate real-time alerts to the hand-held devices triggering higher levels of observation, but without generating self-fulfilling states of unease.
The approach is being looked at around IEDs in Afghanistan and security guards in London.
One application suggested was also to spot bottle-necks of visitors and other hiccups around the 2012 Olympics - volunteers working around the village and events halls could use these to report all sorts of infrastructure elements that would allow for fast (and often cheap and easy) resolutions.
There was naturally far more than this, but this post should give you a sense. If you were at one of the sessions and spotted other elements, please add your comments, as I'm sure I missed much...
And I'd like to say a personal thank you to the Narrate family there - including Ron, engagement facilitator (including employees, pupils and cross-cultural programmes); Jim, communications supremo (including UN agencies, local and central government); Meg, all-round facilitator and speaking coach. The organisation of the whole piece was run, as always, with charm and efficiency (a rare combination) by Anne.
I mentioned this on Wednesday. Details are finalised:
Posted by tquinlan on Thursday, 21 October 2010 at 03:36 PM in Ah-Ha! moments, Change, Cognitive science, Complexity, Knowledge, Leadership, Narrate news, Narrative and storytelling, Organisational culture, SenseMaker | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
An interesting looking article in the email from Strategy+Business: A Better Choosing Experience. As I'm still writing my Medinge piece on Branding and Complexity, it resonates strongly - I've been saying something similar for a few years now.
In essence, one way that people talk about a "brand" is as a shortcut to a decision. (Simon Anholt's phrase, if I recall correctly.) From that perspective, however, brand extensions work directly against the premise - if I want a chocolate bar for a snack, I'm often considering a Twix or a KitKat. (Just the right amount of biscuity crunch, as opposed to a Mars Bar or, God forbid, a Milky Way.) Twix or KitKat - a quick and simple decision depending on how I'm feeling in the moment.
But with extensions, I'm in much more confusing territory. I now have to consider KitKat Chunky, KitKat Dark chocolate, Twix Extra big, Twix light... Oh sod it, I'll have a Lion bar.
Extensions make sense if you think it's a way of taking your brand and making it more available to those poor folk who haven't bought from you before because you didn't offer a Chunky/Dark/Light version. Or of creating more opportunities for your loyal customers to give you more revenue by buying more varieties of your product. But that's only from the viewpoint of increasing revenue - and can run the risk of reducing it.
So what product extensions/service products should you not be offering?
A great little story and point from Lorimer Moseley's Body in Mind blog: Does vertebroplasty for osteoporosis-related fractures work
Clear scientific trials (rigorously done with sham interventions mimicking all but the one crucial element of a real intervention) has shown that a particular treatment was no better than a pretend treatment. The results were presented back to a highly-intelligent audience, who then interrogated the results and the method. And some began to search for the reasons why the research was flawed and why their preconceptions still held.
My favourite phrase from Lorimer is:
Some of the room were observing it all and with open minds voiced that even here, amongst the keener, more learned, more expert clinicians in the country, showing that it doesn’t work, doesn’t work;
There's a part of me that wants to know, in that case, what does work - but the truth of course is that what works in one place won't in another.
But it makes me reflect on much of the work we've done in the past couple of years using SenseMaker and other research methods - sometimes the results come back and tell clients that long-held beliefs are wrong. And it's easy for the results (and the project and our credibility) to be thrown out at that point - it happened on some of the early projects. Increasingly, therefore, the project needs more touchpoints and communication with clients, so that they undertake the journey of exploration with us - meaning that there are moments early on when entrenched beliefs are lightly questioned, when the possibility of alternative options is raised, when those options start to gain ground, etc. A single final presentation (with all the tempting showmanship of "Ta-Daa!" as you throw open the curtains to display your fabulous results) is a sure way to get the results dismissed - and you with them.
The ideal, of course, would be that clients use SenseMaker themselves to explore the results and reach their own conclusions, but that's still a step further than we've managed so far. The talk is always there, but the reality is another matter...
Thanks to everyone at the Leeds Castle leadership event today - an whistle-stop challenge on communications, with an abbreviated Anecdote Circle thrown in. At the break a few of us were talking about The Future, Backwards and, naturally, I recommended Gary Klein's Sources of Power.
The slides are Download 001 Putting public in the picture.
Delighted to see this in the FT: Streetlights and Shadows, a new book out by Gary Klein. Anyone who' s seen me present or give a masterclass in the past few years will remember that the one book I recommend to everyone is Gary's Sources of Power.
For anyone who's looking to communicate to others - particularly if you want others to change or adapt their behaviour - it's a crucial guide to the reality of how people make decisions. Firmly grounded in science, full of explicatory stories, it's a very readable book.
I'm looking forward to reading the latest - my copy's on order right now.
On Monday this week, I spent the day with four smart people playing with Cognitive Edge's SenseMaker software and a collection of just over 1500 stories. What was most encouraging was that, up to that point, most of us had used it and looked at material and wondered why we didn't get it, when everybody else did.
Having been at the core of the project and therefore having a reasonable understanding of how/why the signifiers had been chosen meant that I had the context to look for meaningful patterns in the many stories.
It's a phenomenally powerful tool, and I realise that for future projects I'm going to budget a lot more time for looking through material. There are so many ways to look at the stories and see how they inter-relate and how different elements and qualities interact that it could wrap me up for days as I strive to find the one magic answer...
...which of course doesn't exist.
It taps into an old pattern of thinking/concern for me - that what I'm not looking at is more important than what I am looking at. That I'm missing something crucial. (On a bad day, that extends into "that crucial bit I'm missing invalidates everything I am looking at")
Some of the benefits of Monday - having a bunch of us looking at the same material, coming up with answers and thinking through what they meant (and sometimes they didn't mean anything) were:
All in all, a very positive experience of a great tool. And I feel less of a chump than when I started...
An interesting experience last week in one of my other identities as a school governor. There's a debate going on regarding whether or not a Trust is formed in Mid-Beds under Samuel Whitbread Upper School and whether we join it or not. So, mindful of wanting to understand different perspectives before I decide, I went along to an invited session to look at the realities of building a Trust.
I won't go into the details of much of the afternoon that I witnessed, but after presentations, the afternoon's facilitated invited us to break out into groups and carry out some exercises. I've no doubt that they were thoughtfully designed but intentionally or not, they made it appear that what had been billed as a listening/sharing thoughts event was in fact pure sales.
The exercises were:
1. On the red sheet, think about all the problems inherent in the current status quo for us, our schools and the pupils. (The focus on the pupils was high in all the preceding presentations - something that worked heavily counter to the speakers' intentions. Keep reminding us of our responsibilities to 5,400 children and we'll keep wondering whether we should entrust them to a new, unverified venture...)
2. On the green sheet, think about all the opportunities and possibilities available if we join this potential Trust.
A classic sales process - ramp up the discomfort factor in people's present state, then sing the praises of the future state under your chosen result. And even better, get them to do it for themselves, so that they own it.
If it wasn't intentional it was spectacularly naive and, once exposed (I had little option - there are moments when these things need to be said to facilitate a more honest, open discussion), served only to increase the distrust already in the room.
The facilitator, I accept, may have simply designed what he may have thought was a helpful tool to engage people in the Trust. But coming from a public sector background and, presumably, not having a sales background meant he fell into the trap of confusing engagement with persuasion.
Tomorrow should see the publication of Melcrum's Practitioner's Guide to Employee Engagement - in which I've contributed the chapter on using stories and narrative. It's been an interesting experience - having abandoned the attempt to fit a gallon into a pintpot early on, I aimed instead to convey the complexity (sic) and excitement of the issue and some hints of different approaches - only the readers can judge my success.
I also wanted to avoid too strong a focus on "storytelling" - as I say in the introduction to the chapter
Storytelling is a misnomer. It conjures up the image of a passive audience sitting listening to someone with the charismatic, persuasive power to entrance them. It revolves around a carefully-constructed story designed to carry you out of the day-to-day to somewhere else and change your thinking while you’re there.
What is on offer here is more powerful and more positive than that simplistic view. And while it involves storytelling throughout, some of the greatest opportunities for employee engagement lie in listening to stories, not telling.
The real power and opportunity for using stories in organisations is in listening to stories, helping others to create their own authentic stories and making sense of the stories told.
Even that, however, proved problematic. One of the points that I focus on early in any change workshop or project is that employee engagement and culture change do not fit straightforward, 12-step projects. And "best practice" varies - what works in one organisation will not produce the same (or, on occasion, even similar) results in another.
The editors - generous in their comments and advice - wanted something simple that anyone could pick up and put into practice. For me, it felt like the Mullah Nasruddin story that Dave Snowden references here (about 2/3rds of the way down the post). I've always liked it, but now see exactly how a propos it is.
In the field of communications, I've often felt we do ourselves disservices by dumbing down. Sometimes we need to stretch to reach that bit further. Stretch our minds in particular...
I realised a couple of years ago that, although I love the concepts of working more with relationships rather than objects and categories, my natural instinct is still to categorise and try to put things in boxes. (Reading Fritjof Capra's "The Web of Life" opened my eyes to the possibilities of, for instance, creating a business where job titles/departments were less relevant than ensuring information flows and relationships.)
It's something that comes through very strongly from the Cognitive Edge training - that tendency, particularly in Anglo-Saxon societies, to place things rather than see the interweaving relationships. I realised that recently, when working with the Cynefin framework as a tool to look at how to progress various projects with a client. Rather than looking at the dynamic movements of tasks/projects between the various domains or the transitions, I was categorising tasks and then identifying approaches accordingly.
One way of using it, but akin to using a DeLorean car as a grocery-shopping runabout. (Everyone knows they make far better time machines.)
The knock-on effect (for me) is that I'm consciously trying to change how I approach projects. I'm currently putting together some feedback for a client and find myself falling back into old habits - over here's the audience category, over here's the vehicles category. Having caught it, of course, I'm able to choose something else - audience-relationship-need-vehicle and interlinks between them all. More difficult to present and fit into PowerPoint slides, but much more helpful in making sense and taking action.
Thanks to the participants in today's workshop - it makes it so much more fun for me and useful for everyone when it's interactive and relevant rather than one of my monologues. It's always where I'm aiming, but it helps to have a great bunch of people like this one.
As promised, here are some of the references:
We've already got another Change Management in the Public Sector masterclass in the works for December - more details when I have the brochure.