Further to yesterday's post about the upcoming courses with Cognitive Edge, diaries have worked out such that Washington DC (Details here) will be a two-handed affair with myself and Dave Snowden teaching, while London (Details here)will be a unique one - three different presenters: Dave, Michael Cheveldave and myself passing the baton at different points throughout the course.
Given the inevitable slight differences and approaches we all take to our various projects, it'll be a chance to get three perspectives on complexity, narrative and interventions. I doubt there'll be fireworks, but it could provide for some very interesting conversations...
The blogtitle comes from the simple act of Googling "The Three..." and watching what comes up. I'll let you decide which is most appropriate...
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)
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...
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.
John Kay's column in the Financial Times today chimes with a quote that struck me recently:
"Rules are good. They define the edges of things"
It made me think, specifically, about how rules are used in different domains of Dave Snowden's Cynefin framework. In the Simple (Known) domain, rules dominate - things are completely predictable, as long as the environment doesn't change. In the Complicated (Knowable) domain, order still predominates - and the temptation of experts and managers will always be to build edifices of rules.
In the Complex domain, however, things should be different. I've tended to say that rules are not applicable here, but on reflection, that's in part a reflection on my own tendency to push back against them. What the quote above illuminated for me is that there is a place for them - in setting boundaries. Rules have a positive role to define the space in which actions can take place - making some things out of bounds.
The problem is that in an attempt to control what goes on in a complex space, the temptation - particularly for those with a background in a Complicated discipline - is to fill the space with rules. Which doesn't work - as John Kay points out in his article, using the faintly ridiculous (but uncomfortably familiar) example of office dress codes.
People will always stretch the limits of whatever specific rules are implied, and in doing so violate the spirit of the regulation as they adhere to its letter
We had a similar problem at IBM Greenock in the 1990s - dress-down Fridays were becoming the rage in many other parts of the technology industry. But we were manufacturing and engineering - dyed-in-the-wool old school management. Too difficult and contentious a decision to take from the Site Director's office, a survey went out (to managers only) asking about whether we should have dress-down days. In the comms team, we were gearing up to announce the results (a resounding no) when Lou Gerstner - IBM Chairman and CEO - appears in a Wall Street Journal front page article "IBM's not a strict dress code place anymore - we're more relaxed". Cue much gnashing of teeth in Greenock.
When we finally announced that dress-down was now an option, the tone of the communication was distinctly "...if you feel you must." And was accompanied by a clear set of guidelines to go with it. This was the start of my waistcoat phase - in part because nowhere was it directly proscribed.
As Kay goes on:
In the regulation of business affairs, from dress codes to rules on takeovers, it is always tempting to try to translate general principles – do not expose major financial institutions to excessive risks, treat customers fairly, refrain from anti-competitive behaviour, set reasonable prices – into specific rules. But the world is rarely sufficiently clear and certain for this to be possible, and if it seems so today it will have ceased to be so tomorrow. There will be many people who will stretch the limits of whatever specific rules are implied, and in doing so violate the spirit of the regulation as they adhere to its letter.
Rules, despite my resistance, have their place. Replacing common sense with rules, however, implies a lack of trust and a desire to control in areas where trust is essential and influence the better tool.
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.
The opening gambit of more than one past client project has been "help us get our story straight". Sometimes it's just that - the general story - sometimes it's something specific: "help us get our customer story straight", "our story on leadership". It's an interesting starting point, but demands a long conversation - and often a dash of cold reality - before anything else can happen.
The assumption is often that there is a story - just the one - that will be clear and simple (preferably fitting onto one or at most two sides of A4) and will convince everyone in the intended audience. There is, of course, no such thing - and nor should there be.
Stories are rarely clear at a personal level, let alone an organisational one. Think about your own "story" - could you sum up the key points of your life thus far simply and clearly? And a story is rarely clear - it depends greatly on the point of view of the person that's listening, which will be different from the person that's telling.
There's a great temptation among strategy and communications people to boil the story down too much. As strategists and planners, we spend a lot of time building plans and predictability out of mess and possibility; while as communicators, we have often come through a career in which we were taught to edit and write in the most simple possible terms. Both are quite right - in their place. An organisational story demands more.
Stories and narratives about ourselves and our organisations should be multi-layered, with strands weaving in and out as relationships build, deteriorate and drop away. Characters will change and adapt to the environment they find themselves in - a leader one day becomes a stubborn obstacle another and possibly a villain later, while a competitor in one field may be an ally in another and a customer somewhere else.
Too often - as Narrate did in the early years - "experts" try and build a fixed story against a framework, boiling down events and participants to fit into neat categories and stages. And boiling out much of the real interest and value along the way. The Hero's Journey is one such framework, but makes it all too neat.
No single story can ever convince or engage everyone. If it were possible, then Hollywood would have found that story by now - it's thrown enough money at the problem and experimented with so many variations. And hoping for a single framework story is still too much - the much-discussed (even by me) Hero's Journey structure is an over-simplified one that doesn't apply universally. The Hero's Journey is a neat framework, but overplayed - the temptation becomes to slot any event into the pre-defined categories, rather than lookin at what they really mean. Different cultures will also see the same event in different ways. (In this case, different cultures could be different countries, different departments or just different professional training.)Let's be clear - in arguing that a clear, simple, engaging story is inappropriate, I'm not advocating a deliberately obscure, over-complicated story that turns people off. What I am advocating is something that instead works the way reality works, the way we know that people work and understand the world. Not through clear statements, but through building up a picture of the world from lots of snapshots.
And those snapshots include positives and negatives, aspirations and lines drawn in the sand, examples that apply in one situation but not in others. And they move all the time, evolving to meet new environments and new challenges, not applying old rules to new situations. By taking this approach, we treat people as the adults they are - able to understand the complexities of operating in the real world, able to discern and decide in the current circumstance.
All of this leads us to what do you then do, if you're trying to get your story straight? The good news is the answer is straightforward, cost-effective and - once you've got the skills - you don't ever need to go out to consultants again.
Previous approaches have included:
Both need real light-touch facilitation and good preparation. And the results of each can be used as-is, or to fuel further communications work - like constructing archetypal characters that can be used in different media to illustrate problems/change/solutions, etc.
And both can be used in multiple audiences - and the results compared between the two. (One of my favourite techniques is to take materials collected (with permission) from one audience and compare it with materials collected on the same topic from another audience - the differences and awarenesses that come out can be dramatic.)
Once you've gathered the initial material, the next stage can begin - often it's a process on how to build and hone a story that reflects the overall situation, the changes, etc - but importantly is built to reflect the reality of situations, the context in which they happen and the messiness of real life.
It's important to have gathered plenty of raw material first - the one time I tried to construct a story cold without the material it was excruciating. The story, for all that it was built on some examples, was unrealistic and stilted. An unconvincing story will exacerbate a bad situation and will undermine a good situation - the process of gather, build, test, rebuild, re-test, rebuild, re-test, hone is crucial. And the process requires the active participation of the actual people who need to tell the story - it allows them to develop a story that fits with their personality, their way of telling. Because, at the end of the day, a good story needs to reflect the storyteller and vice versa.
What you don't need is a story of exploration told by an action hero storyteller.
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)
When did you last try something new? Or test a brilliant new insight? What have you done differently in your job recently?
There's a trap that's easy to fall into - improvement comes from just doing the same, only better/harder/more efficiently. There's so much to do, there's only so much time in the day, the only thing we can do is keep slogging away.
And our organisations don't help - by their very nature they demand success. And only consider new ventures that will succeed - fail-safe projects. But most of us work in complex environments these days - where prediction is difficult, where uncertainty is an inherent part of our worlds. And when we do produce fail-safe projects, what do we learn from them? Very little - if they succeed, we learn that our planning was good (or at least we believe it was, getting more complacent about our own abilities) and if they fail, we look for the factor that we didn't plan for and we build it into the next plan.
We need to change that - to start trying new things, testing new ideas in our jobs. But doing it sensibly - making sure that when the projects fail, they fail safely: safe-fail, not fail-safe.
I've been talking at conferences recently, calling for a new addition to the roles we give ourselves.
As Pilot Officers, we should be looking for small-scale, low-key pilot projects to run with enthusiastic people. All the time:
The final thing about pilots is around failure. Some must fail. If all your pilot projects are successful, either a) you're the most amazing predictor since Nostradamus sat down and thought "If I make this as enigmatic as possible, it'll apply to everything that ever happens" or b) you're not being ambitious enough.
Pilots are designed to test new concepts and learn in order to build larger, full-scale systems. Continuous success in a complex, uncertain environment isn't possible.
Indeed, as one current conversation on a mailing list has it:
Do we need a Minimum Level of Failure (MLF)?
Sometimes it feels like an article pursues you around until you pay attention. (The truth, of course, is far more mundane - just that it is a piece that resonates among the various media sources I go to.) The latest examples is an article in The American Scholar, originally from an address at West Point military academy in October 2009.
I'd picked it up from the ether at some point a few months ago, then when I opened my latest copy of Utne Reader* last night.
I think it's highly relevant, although I don't agree with parts of it. I do, however, think that too often we've let ourselves and our organisations off the hook. Going along with getting things done, rather than challenging, answering questions rather than answering them. From the article:
So what I saw around me were great kids who had been trained to be world-class hoop jumpers. Any goal you set them, they could achieve. Any test you gave them, they could pass with flying colors. They were, as one of them put it herself, “excellent sheep.” I had no doubt that they would continue to jump through hoops and ace tests and go on to Harvard Business School, or Michigan Law School, or Johns Hopkins Medical School, or Goldman Sachs, or McKinsey consulting, or whatever. And this approach would indeed take them far in life. They would come back for their 25th reunion as a partner at White & Case, or an attending physician at Mass General, or an assistant secretary in the Department of State.
That is exactly what places like Yale mean when they talk about training leaders. Educating people who make a big name for themselves in the world, people with impressive titles, people the university can brag about. People who make it to the top. People who can climb the greasy pole of whatever hierarchy they decide to attach themselves to.
But I think there’s something desperately wrong, and even dangerous, about that idea.
In terms of things like the Cynefin model, it feels like we've fallen back into complicated. I've done courses in the past - very powerful courses - that encouraged me to "break out of the box" in order to get things done. To go for the big goal. To charge at top speed, to get creative. But rarely have they looked at things like how to decide whether the goal is appropriate, or whether we should be thinking about goals at all. (Great in some areas, not good in others is my view.)
...for too long we have been training leaders who only know how to keep the routine going. Who can answer questions, but don’t know how to ask them. Who can fulfill goals, but don’t know how to set them. Who think about how to get things done, but not whether they’re worth doing in the first place. What we have now are the greatest technocrats the world has ever seen, people who have been trained to be incredibly good at one specific thing, but who have no interest in anything beyond their area of exper tise. What we don’t have are leaders.
What we don’t have, in other words, are thinkers. People who can think for themselves. People who can formulate a new direction: for the country, for a corporation or a college, for the Army—a new way of doing things, a new way of looking at things. People, in other words, with vision.
And there is a great pressure in organisations not to ask difficult questions - not just from those above us, but also from peers, who are scared of what happens if we rock the boat. There is too an assumption that leaders and vision only become relevant at the higher echelons, that until we reach that point we should be focussed first on tasks and efficiency, then on expertise and experience, then on managing people. The problem too often is that, having taken years to go through these areas, we have become completely moulded into habits that do not allow for real leadership.
I do, however, take on the key point that Deresiewicz makes - it echoes a point I heard made at a lecture at Templeton College on Leadership in the public sector:
It was very easy to get taken over by the in-tray - in any worthwhile top job there's enough of it to fill virtually any number of hours - and simply spend oneself entirely in dealing with the urgent, complex, interesting and inportant things of which it is always full. You may then become essentially a problem-solver and a specific decision-taker. Fine, no doubt, but however good you are at it, it doesn't amount to leadership. Leadership is essentially about setting the agenda, not merely responding to it; about setting direction and style [in public service organisations]. And hardly anyone can do that without standing back and thinking. That needs time to spare; and for senior folk that usually doesn't just happen - it has to be planned and fought for.
Read the article - it's worth it. And then find a way to block out the diary properly - not just to leave it blank and find yourself in the office and therefore available and interrupted, but to really be able to step away and think in peace.**
*A great magazine I've been reading on and off for 15 years, since it was recommended in the first MBA text I was given: "The Art of the Long View". Sadly, all the MBA textbooks after that rather paled in comparison. As did the course.
**This exhortation is meant for myself more than anyone else...
One of the main planks to our client approach is that, as part of each project, we work with willing people in the client organisation to give them the skills to continue the work long after we've left. There are two reasons for doing this that matter - an attitude of not creating a dependency on us (or any external consultant) and also forcing Narrate to keep innovating.
It does, however, mean that we don't always know what's happened after we've left - particularly once the original project team have disbanded or moved on to other projects. This year we got a great surprise when we got a call from Informatology, an organisation that shares good practice in training, HR and similar areas. Informatology run a number of events, culminating each year with their conference. On one event - a Company Raid - they had been to see a government department to look at how it was dealing with Leadership.
The department had come to us to talk about leadership a few years ago, looking to "get its story together". It's not an uncommon request, and the first thing we need to do is to dig into that and find out what each client means by that phrase. Leadership had been tagged as an area for improvement and, in response, there had been workshops presenting the Professional Services for Government model of what leadership should be.
And then they'd carried out a survey on leadership to set a baseline, to benchmark and to test where work was needed.
And the message that had come back was that what was needed was increased visibility - not of people, but of decisions, particularly the tough decisions. And that, for all the nicely-balanced model, people still didn't know what they were expected to do.
Much of it was encouraging - particularly the recognition that there should be a diversity of what good leadership practice was.
So working with a multi-department group, we ran some anecdote circles based around the model. And, as part of it, we offered participants the chance to be trained in a lunch hour on how to run the circles themselves. Over two short periods, we ran six workshops and gathered over 300 stories about leadership - good, bad, team-focused, tough decisions, positive moments. All recorded and available for training, intranet, communications and other uses.
And we noticed that the managers we'd trained up were now straining at the leash to use the techniques themselves. To start projects off (gathering people's past experience early and create a shared group understanding. Instead of three months in, someone piping up, "You know, this happened on the last project I worked on..."). To finish projects neatly. And other uses.
Until earlier this year, we had no idea whether they'd gone ahead internally - or how far. Three years on, they're clearly still at it - and still talking about it.
That's a story I like to hear...
Spent today at the Informatology conference at Russell Square today - some great conversations and presentations.
As part of the Leadership session, I spoke briefly, then we ran a 45 minute anecdote circle - some great stories coming out of it. Thanks to all who joined in!
I promised I'd put my slides ( Download 001 Narrative in leadership) on "Leading with Stories"; the ebook on Mythology, Leaders and Leadership ( Download Mythology, leaders and leadership - Narrate on leadership). I didn't mention it, but for Leadership, I'd also recommend the HBR article that Dave Snowden and Mary E Boone did: "Leader's Framework for Decision Making", available here. It's a fabulous and straightforward introduction to important concepts about complexity in organisations.
An interesting, if slightly underdone, article in today's FT: Management - The corporate memory-makers.
Some interesting points in it - the idea of using oral histories is of course a good one. (Given that I'm running another workshop on how to do them in-house on 18th February with Melcrum, I would say that.) And the idea of using retirees and frontline staff - of course both these groups tend to have informal fora to tell stories anyway - a good example being the intranet website set up by the tech-savvy young helpline staff at IBM in the 1990s, that gave them space to share all the bizarre calls they'd get looking for PC help.
What's less emphasised in the article is the learning available (it gets a mention in the last part of the article, but quickly passed over). Those same IBM call centre staff would learn from the shared stories - new techniques to deal with callers, quirks of the technology, etc - along with the shared sense of belonging it generated.
The best way I've so far discovered to collect this material is Anecdote Circles (free how-to guide from Cognitive Edge here)
And, beyond gathering material and stories, we've found they have multiple uses:
The difficulty, surprising to many people, is what you do with the material afterwards - it's possible to generate hundreds of stories in a short space of time. Listening or watching or reading them all would be impossible from a time perspective, but more importantly would be futile as we'd dismiss many and become so entrained, we'd miss the relevant ones.
It's been the thing we've struggled with at Narrate in the past decade - what do you do with a mass of stories - but having worked on projects in the past year with Cognitive Edge and their SenseMaker suite, we're now working on some exciting - and highly valuable - interactive projects. More on that later this week.
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.
Thanks to everyone who participated in last week's workshop at the KCUK conference. Various odds and sods off the back of the session:
It was a distinctly Reduced Shakespeare Company take on the subject - so we're thinking of building a full one-day masterclass around it. Thoughts to me at email@example.com
Posted by tquinlan on Thursday, 10 July 2008 at 10:21 AM in Communications, Complexity, Conference references, Leadership, Narrate news, Narrative and storytelling, Organisational culture | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)