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!
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!
One of the key concepts in dealing with complexity is the need to be indirect in pursuit of our goals. I often refer to John Kay's book Obliquity - but here is the original article from the Financial Times from 2004 on the topic.
It suggests an idea that is very difficult to anyone who holds to beliefs that things are ordered and repeatable - that process and best/good practice are valid - and who doesn't perceive the shift to other, more complex environments.
Oblique approaches are most effective in difficult terrain, or where outcomes depend on interactions with other people. Obliquity is the idea that goals are often best achieved when pursued indirectly. Obliquity is characteristic of systems that are complex, imperfectly understood, and change their nature as we engage with them.Strange as it may seem, overcoming geographic obstacles, winning decisive battles or meeting global business targets are the type of goals often best achieved when pursued indirectly. This is the idea of Obliquity. Oblique approaches are most effective in difficult terrain, or where outcomes depend on interactions with other people.
Kay uses forest fires as an example of a complex situation - and illustrates new approaches and flexibility needed as overly fixed procedures cannot cope with the evolving situation.
But, lest hardline managers dismiss this approach as not business-oriented, he then goes on to use ICI and its rapid demise as a good example of how direct pursuit of a goal - in this case shareholder value - can be highly negative, not just in terms of unintended consequences, but also in terms of the goal itself.
Success through obliquity is a product of natural selection in an uncertain, but competitive, environment. It is almost certainly true that, on average, profit-oriented companies are more profitable than less profit-oriented companies. It is very likely that on average people who are interested in money are richer than people who are not. But at the same time that the most profitable companies are not the most profit-oriented, the richest people are not those most interested in money. Outstanding success is the product of obliquity.
The article is all-round excellent, covering issues on causality vs correlation, the problems associated with Collins & Porras' Good to Great research approaches, and far more.
Obliquity is relevant whenever complex systems evolve in an uncertain environment, and whenever the effect of our actions depends on the ways in which others respond to them. There is a role for carrots and sticks, but to rely on carrots and sticks alone is effective only when we employ donkeys and when goals are simple. Directness is appropriate. When the environment is stable, objectives are one dimensional and transparent, and it is possible to determine when and whether goals have been achieved. Obliquity is inevitable when the environment is complex and changing, purposes are multiple and conflicting, and when we cannot tell, even with hindsight, whether they have been fulfilled.
There's a rare opportunity coming up in a couple of weeks in Belfast. In fact, there are two:
Cognitive Edge Complexity Masterclass, October 24th, 8:30-10:30am - a brief introduction to the theory, principles and concepts of working with complex systems/environments and their associated problems.
Cognitive Edge SenseMaker® Foundations, October 24th, 11:00-October 25th, 17:00 - a two-day course giving a really strong foundation in how to use SenseMaker® most effectively - covering why you might use it, how you would run a project and in-depth details of sense-making/analysing the final data - and then turning that into real actions and projects.
For anyone who's been looking at SenseMaker® and toying with the idea of using it, this is a fantastic opportunity and the first time a workshop like this has been run. Both Anne and I have run multiple SenseMaker® projects in recent years, so we'll be sharing the opportunities and excitement of what it offers, along with sharing a few war stories so that others don't fall into the pitfalls we have!
There will be a number of people there from the recent Belfast health-oriented projects, so this will be a great opportunity for anyone in the NHS to see some of the real opportunities available with this radical tool. (That said, you don't have to be in health to come along - just in good health!)
Registration details for both courses are at the links above.
The venue for both sessions is Knockbreda Wellbeing and Treatment Centre, 110 Saintfield Rd, Castlereagh, BT8
I've just seen another article about how social media caused change in Egypt. (I'm not going to link to it - or any of the others - as I don't want to encourage the causal thinking behind it.) The other element I've seen mentioned as important in the Egypt changes earlier this year is that "everyone stayed on message."
Now, the former element had a role to play - but it's too tempting to assign it too much importance in the piece. The second - staying on message - is just wishful thinking on the part of someone who wants to convince their salary-payer to stick to the script - which is a dangerous and seriously wrong interpretation that doesn't stand up to any scrutiny of the facts.
There are two important elements here that intertwine:
While this doesn't apply everywhere - bounded applicability after all - I do think that if you're facing a dynamic, fast-moving complex environment, planning can only show you roughly what not to do and broadly what might be worth saying. More specific than that, I don't believe that analysis and planning can take you.
Instead, I think a better, faster and more effective route is to take an evolutionary approach - diverse (but coherent) vehicles and messages, fast feedback loops to show what effect is being had and then rapid adaptation. Not with the goal of finding a single message or a best practice, but to develop a constantly evolving, more resilient approach.
*Which I would disagree with at the most basic level - the appearance of a clear message is more down to misinterpretation from a non-Egyptian cultural perspective, missing nuances and differences in varying communications.
When we do SenseMaker™projects, one of the things that regularly crops up is the difference between correlations and causation. It's often the case that people read more into correlation numbers than is appropriate. And I always like having good examples for strong correlations that can be over-interpreted. Up until now, I've tended to fall back on divorce rate and national statistics.
But now, courtesy of the excellent Tim Harford (who's "Adapt" I'm enjoying as a well-written layman's guide to approaches to complex systems and environments), I've got a new one. I won't spoil the surprise - go read it here. The cheap and short version - size matters...and correlates.
It's been a busy couple of months - with a number of things that I'll be putting up here in the coming weeks. Including, excitingly, the next pilots for the Children of the World project...
In the meantime, however, some apposite quotes around ways of making changes and the work we've been - and are - doing at the moment.
"[He] started in the wrong place. He didn't look around, and watch and learn, and then say, 'This is how people are, how do we deal with it?' No, he sat and thought, 'This is the people ought to be, how do we change them?'
Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
"'A healthy galaxy is forever poised on the edge of chaos, transixed between the sterile wasteland of order and the mad wilderness of rampant entropy.' ... [The organisation] was structured to thrive on diversity, multiplex thinking, multicultural societies.
"Nice trick. Starting is easy.
"It's keeping it going that's so hard."
Heaven, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen
"In a world where everything is connected, advance signs of change, of turbulence, are likely to appear only when we look in unexpected places."
The Age of the Unthinkable, Joshua Cooper Ramo
"Narrow-gazing not only leads to kinds of misfires, it also fatally constrains the ability to imagine good ideas or policies. The chance for real brilliance or flair is usually best seen out of the corner of the eye."
The Age of the Unthinkable, Joshua Cooper Ramo
"[Chinese students instinctively knew] the environment contained clues to what was about to happen. If you stared at a single spot in the world around you, that incipient sensibility would be dulled to the point of uselessness."
The Age of the Unthinkable, Joshua Cooper Ramo
Yup, as I've said before, Joshua Cooper Ramo's book is great - my copy has pages and pages of underlined phrases. Read it. Just read it.
Firstly - thank you to Harold and apologies to others: the link to the slides that I posted on Friday didn't work. It's fixed now, so they're accessible from Capturing an organisation's narrative.pdf (3573.9K).
There's an excellent new video up at Cognitive Edge's website and on their YouTube channel:
Today Cognitive Edge is happy to present a short video introducing the importance of organisations making strategic moves from systems built around principles of robustness, to systems that are built on the principle of resilience.
Traditional management has tended to focus on developing robust systems which try to prevent failure. However, in light of increasing interconnectedness of events and the complexity this introduces, the ability for systems to plan for the avoidance of all foreseeable incidents has become limited.
In this video from Cognitive Edge, called Risk and Resilience, Dave Snowden highlights the strategic importance for organisations to refocus on the creation of resilient systems. Whereas robust systems try to avoid failure, and become crippled in the event of it, resilient systems accept that failure is inevitable and move from focusing on prevention to focusing on early detection of events and fast recovery from them.
This video can be found in our Videos section. You may also follow this link to all the Cognitive Edge videos on YouTube, for our previously released videos on Introducing SenseMaker®, How to Organise a Children's Party, and the Cynefin Framework, amongst others.
Details of Dave's regular one-day seminars entitled "Leading Through Complexity" can be found here.
Resilience is a topic I've been thinking on recently - and there's a blogpost due on exactly that shortly. (But there are a couple of projects that need attention first...)
It's a business piece talking about how new complexity-based approaches can offer major benefits in terms of better insights, reduced costs and greater customer loyalty over the traditional approaches to the problems. In particular, we talk about:
And how the same, radically-different approaches offer better results than standard research/survey instruments for lower long-term costs.
We're building European capacity for our clients and our projects!
I'm delighted to make the official announcement that UK-based Narrate and Netherlands-based Top Innosense are partnering to create the sense-making capability that can support the projects that we're seeing across Europe. With experts like Harold, Ton, Erwin and Aart-Jan, we're looking forward to sharing some of the projects we've each been doing for clients around customer insight, employee engagement, social media and more.
The Top Innosense team describe themselves thus (via the not-entirely-clumsy Google Translate):
Reduced budgets are producing some interesting approaches to the necessary decisions to be made.
A recent visit to the Blackberry Clinic in Milton Keynes showed me one of them: it turns out that the local PCT, having to cut budgets by a substantial percentage, had gone for the simple approach - stopping all treatment in the last couple of months of the financial year, no matter what stage patients were at. The first cutoff came for referring patients from GPs, the second a few weeks later when treatment itself stopped. It meant, of course, GPs handwriting letters to take straight into the clinic on the last day, desperately getting people in ahead of the deadline.
It's a similar situation to that being considered in North Ayrshire - if the education budget's too small, make the school week four days instead of five and raise the starting age to six.
In terms of the Cynefin framework, both strike me as being at the extreme of simple responses to making necessary cuts. Many other organisations (and probably other areas within those organisations mentioned above) are taking a more complicated approach - analysing, streamlining - but staying within the current structures and bounds. Still working on the premise that these things are predictable.
A complex approach might offer something new - but requires a shift in thinking. It offers, ultimately, the potential for substantially new ways of providing services with fewer resources. It is not, however, entirely possible to predict at the start of the process precisely how the service will be provided at the end - it requires a degree of perspective shift that can be uncomfortable and a willingness to trust early on - it demands courage of those leading an organisation.
The best place to start is small for many of these projects, of course. Develop the tools and attitudes needed for radical complex change in niches where it can provide major benefits, but where the difficulties will not impact too strongly on either people or reputations. With the learning that those early projects bring, it becomes a more confident and straightforward act to start on more significant projects - where the impact and the payback starts to show.
There is potential to take the cutbacks and develop very different delivery services - but trimming away, whether done at the most basic level or after much analysis, is unlikely to bring those benefits.
I ran an innovation session recently for a client's senior management team that featured an exercise that a lot of people shy away from. There is a great tendency for lots of people to stress positivity - building on ideas, reducing criticism, etc. I can understand that - but it's also unrealistic to stay in that positive mode. It creates an unrealistic situation, but more importantly it means that ideas and proposals are not robust, the people owning them are unrealistically optimistic and that there are traps in store.
I liked this recent article in the FT: Employee ideas thrown to the dragons - real challenge to the ideas, once they've been put together and had a chance to hone them. I suspect that one of the elements of this that works is making the challenge fun, making it part of the game.
The exercise I used is a Cognitive Edge one called Ritual Dissent. As the name suggests, it works by making it all part of a ritual. My experience has been that, once everyone's over the initial shock of "no positive comments, just criticism", the process turns into one that's full of fun. People can give full rein to their inner cynic, people don't take offense at the criticism because they know that's "just part of the game".
The room the other week was full of laughter, challenge and, by the end, more realistic, robust ideas that had been through an initial picking-apart and already knew what elements needed further work.
And let's face it, it's not as if new ideas won't get challenged anyway once they're presented to senior managers to try and secure budget. If they've been living in a little zone of unrealistic positivity until then, that challenge will hurt...
In rules-based organisations, there is a real tendency to add new rules to suit new situations and when things are not going according to plan. It's not, however, effective.
Rules are like scaffolding around a building - they should be used for a while to support the building of the main structure, or in specific circumstances but not as a long-term strategy. Adding scaffolding to scaffolding creates a more rickety structure, increasingly unstable and susceptible to changes in the overall environment. And for people within the organisation, more rules simply gets more and more confusing.
[Picture from Britain being overrun by street signs | Reuters]
The other problem with lots of rules is that the response is usually to try and look for opportunities to get round the rules, as however well-intentioned they may be, they get in the way of the actual work getting done. They indicate a lack of trust - that people won't do the right thing without being told exactly what to do/not to do.
So (with notable exceptions that are genuinely complicated, not complex) more rules will reduce people's engagement/morale/whatevernamewe'regivingitthisweek and will make the organisation more brittle.
The alternative? Foster a culture that is mostly ideation(based on obligation to each other in a social environment), with rules saved only for particular rare instances.
Last Friday saw what was by all accounts a great Cognitive Edge European network day in London. And there was general agreement on the next one - Christoph has volunteered to investigate venues and host the next one:
Date: Monday 16th May 2011
As always, more details will follow, along with confirmation shortly that that's where we'll be. For now, put it in the diary...
I was talking with a client recently who asked me about the internal comms masterclass where we first met. Ark Group had asked me to run a masterclass that had got some great feedback and he wanted to know when he could send some of his team on a similar one.
We're talking about running a tailored version of the original one in-house for him, but I've decided that we'll run a public masterclass ourselves as an experiment as Ark have pulled out of the communications arena altogether.
As it's the first one and we want to keep it tailored to participants' needs, we're going to limit attendance to 10 people in the first place. I'll be leading it, but we'll be having some guest speakers along the way.
Date: Tuesday 22nd March 2011
Venue: Central London
Early bird registration (before 8th March): £250
You can book online at Eventbrite: More for less - a one-day masterclass in internal communications
And we can adapt and offer it for in-house communications training - just ask.
In the current climate, individuals and organizations are under increasing stress. As a communicator, you are being asked to deliver more results in less predictable environments with fewer resources. Whether an experienced professional or a recent recruit, this masterclass will equip you with ideas, practical techniques and clear next steps.
It is perfectly possible to deliver "more for less" - what it requires is a new set of persepectives and tools to address employee engagement and internal communications.
This one-day masterclass will help you
Previous comments about Narrate masterclasses:
• Totally innovative! I’ve never done anything like this and enjoyed it. Am bursting with ideas for how I can apply this in my workplace – thanks for showing me all these things!
• A total life-changer!
• Excellent away-day. Practical and theoretical. Grounded in lots of examples and stories. Liked that it was a small group as lots of opportunities to share and network.
• A very useful course and I have learnt a lot of things that I can take back to the office re. communications.• A very good course that I will recommend to colleagues.
An interactive day, focused and adapted to meet participants’ specific situations and challenges, it includes practical tools, principles, guest speakers and examples of communications from different sectors – to ensure that as a participant, you come away with pragmatic, useful material to put into action the minute you get back to your desk.
Tony Quinlan, Principal Consultant and Chief Storyteller, Narrate
Tony is a business alchemist who founded Narrate in 2000 to create more effective, healthier organizational cultures and communications. He’s passionate about breaking out of rigid, purely rational communications to create real cultural and behavioral change. A member of the Cognitive Edge network, he is always exploring new ideas and practices, looking at current business practices from a different perspective. If you want 12-step models and the “same old, same old”, then you’ve got the wrong man.
A frequent keynote speaker and conference chair, Tony writes on communications, branding and culture for international publications and blogs at www.thenarrateblog.com. Today, he is a writer, keynote speaker, communications coach, masterclass presenter and international consultant. But he has also been a radio presenter, radar designer, TV tuner, dishwasher, lift attendant, software programmer and presented live public roadshows to 8,000 people at a time. Needless to say, he has stories about all of them.
9:30 Registration and refreshments
10:00 Introductions and objectives
10:15 Thinking about internal communications
10.45 The role of the internal communicator
11:20 Morning Coffee Break
11:50 Communications in challenging times
12:30 Innovative internal communications
14:10 Dealing with major comms projects
14:50 Understanding the internal audience
15:30 Discussions and Next Steps
16:00 Close of Masterclass
Customers (or clients or patients or...) are naturally full of stories about services that an organisation offers. And they regularly share them, particularly the stories from which we can find opportunities for improvement - complaint stories or call-centre phone calls.
These are actually more valuable than most focus groups or questionnaires - they reflect actual day-to-day usage and experience, rather than prompted specific examples. There are, however, two difficulties with them:
With a high volume of negative customer feedback, the learning opportunities are therefore lost.
But with minor modifications, it's possible to get some highly valuable feedback from this, including:
Ultimately, for an organisation suffering from a groundswell of complaints, it should be possible to see fast, low-cost potential interventions to turn around a declining perception.
Signification - when done properly - means that it can't be re-interpreted in the organisation. And also means that overall patterns can be built up - and then only significant stories reported and addressed, rather than having to deal with each complaint on an individual basis.
Equally, where there already exists a large volume of customer responses, a different approach could be taken:
Often, from these emergent patterns and the qualitative information beneath come solutions that are substantially more straightforward and effective than traditional system-wide approaches. It is one of the perversities of working in complex rather than complicated problems - the answers can be simpler and cheaper to implement.
For instance, a batch of stories that address a fundamental misunderstanding of the product (perhaps due to over-enthusiastic advertising) might initially appear to be about a product defect. Spotting a correlation or cluster of stories of significance and then examining only the handful of stories at the centre (rather than having to trawl through the thousands that might come in from a global customer relations site) would provide context for how the product is perceived, along with qualitative information to show where the misunderstanding came from. And a discussion can then take place - it may be that, now they understand what customers expect of the product, designers can easily introduce new features that will meet that expectation; or it may be that an advertising campaign needs to be amended, or different responses needed in the call centre when customers call in.
Having real customer feedback that shows the problem from the customer's point of view that is difficult to re-interpret or twist for internal politics and that includes context can therefore make for a faster, more responsive, more customer-focused organisation. The potential is huge - generating real and lasting competitive advantage from a pile of customer complaints!
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.
Slightly brain-fried after two and a half days of an excellent conference - great minds, lots of challenge, but just enough gaps between the discipline/subject experts for me to ask questions. And now on my way to the House of Lords for a lecture by the excellent Peter Hennessy (now Lord), so a hastily typed note that will need unpacking at some point in the future.
One of the applications we've talked about for SenseMaker is the pre-hoc/post-hoc approach. Collecting large volumes of signified data from the day-to-day experiences of a group to see general patterns is useful and illuminating. Where it becomes more interesting is after a major event has taken place within the group - and then having experts and/or decision-makers revisit the micro-narratives and then signify them with the benefit of hindsight.
From there, it should be straightforward to build algorithms that spot emergent patterns within a large dataset that then issue alerts - emphatically not prediction, or even anticipation, but "anticipatory awareness". It's been a project that excited me, but requires a degree of serendipity for it to happen.
I was enjoying the conference so much, it didn't dawn on me until this morning that in December 2009, as part of the Children of the World pilots, we collected almost 2,000 narratives from pupils in Egypt. To my naive eye, in the space of 10 minutes, I could see some significant signals within the data, but this requires some more analysis - particularly to compare those patterns with others that might be in the Jordan and KSA data that we also gathered for Children of the World...
If I'm not going into the local schools on Friday for National Storytelling Week (which I may), you can expect to find me in front of a SenseMaker screen shouting each time I spot something.
Can you tell how excited I am at this??
A colleague in an organisation I partner with recently asked me for a CV for the website. So far, so normal. Then they asked for a list of presentations - something I've never really pulled together before. So I delved through the conference folders to find those times when I've stood at the front of a conference hall.
It turned out to be broader than I remembered and I'm rather proud of it, so I thought I'd share it. (I've taken out duplications like all the multiple workshops on storytelling, internal communications and change, along with repeat appearances at conferences.)
I'm on the train to Gatwick Airport for an interesting conference over the next three days. The topic's going to be interesting - covering social media, behaviour change and, one of my current interests, how you work with a group who have a fixed narrative - a conspiracy theory of one sort or another - that misrepresents what is happening.
I've got a couple of initial propositions on that that I hope to be exploring:
My feeling is that conspiracy theorists tend to see results they do not like and assume that what they see was the result of deliberate, predictable action. To my mind, there are three places that this thinking is often flawed as over-rational:
The other week, while researching this post, I came across some fantastic additional resources stemming from the GlobalGiving project.
This video is great
Even better yet, the GlobalGiving team have been very generous in putting up a complete overview of the project - from how they worked, to how they used SenseMaker and looked at the stories (complete with examples), some examples of how they're feeding back to the original communities and, most generously and invaluable to practitioners, the "Real Book" for Story Evaluation methods.
It's a wonderful and invaluable resource. Set some time aside (I'm hoping for June 2011, but that may get pushed back) to properly go through this.
Thank you to Irene, Dave and Marc for sharing it all.