Yesterday my family and I spent the day at Movie World. At the end of the day we went to an Irish pub for dinner and talked about our favourite rides. The Superman and Batman rides were our favourites and we all agreed that the back story was an important factor. The Superman ride (rollercoaster style) starts with us being train commuters and as we wind our way through the tube an earthquake hits and the tunnel is about to collapse. Superman arrives on the scene and saves us by whisking the train into the air propelling us from 0 to 100 kph in 2 seconds and to safety.
The power of story is appearing everywhere.
I am reading The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I enjoyed his description of how history is extremely opaque; how "you see what comes out, not the script that produces events." He describes three ailments the human mind suffers when it comes into contact with history (he calls them the 'triplet of opacity'):
- The Illusion of Understanding. This relates to the pathology of thinking that the world we live in is more understandable, more explainable and therefore more predictable than it actually is. It also relates to our tendency to reflect and conclude that events had a specific cause and that events could have been averted by removing that specific cause.
- Retrospective Distortion. How we assess matters after the fact, as if they were in a rearview mirror. Taleb describes his impression that our minds are wonderful explanation machines, capable of making sense out of anything, capable of mounting explanations for all sorts of phenomena and generally incapable of accepting the idea of unpredictability. History and societies do not crawl. They make jumps. They go from fracture to fracture with few vibrations in between. Yet we believe in predictable, incremental progression. This is a slightly different take from Dave Snowden's description of 'retrospective coherence' where cause and effect in complex situations only becomes visible in hindsight.
- Overvaluation of Factual Information. Taleb also calls this 'the curse of learning', referring to the "handicap of authoritative and learned people, particularly when they create categories-when they "Platonify."" In many cases, particularly regarding complex issues, experts are no better at knowing what is going to happen than cab drivers. The difference is that the experts think they know better what is going to happen. Taleb also describes how gathering more and more facts, details and information doesn't help us predict what is going to happen.
Not surprisingly, we see these 'ailments' all the time. The trick is balancing our tendency to 'Platonify' with the need to make sense and become aware of the inherent unpredictability of our organisational environments. A bit more inquiry and listening, a little less arrogance (believing we know best). Continuing to see good data..and supplementing it with the willingness to try things and see what happens.
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I've been following Nancy's visual and graphic facilitation work with interest for a while now, and inspired by a recent conversation with her, decided to try give it a go.
So, a couple of weeks ago, when Shawn and I facilitated a workshop for a HR Practitioner Community of Practice, it was a great opportunity to capture an event using this approach.
I had great fun doing it, and I had a number of interesting conversations with participants about the process and other elements of the work. This really reinforced for me that using visuals helps people engage because it breaks the usual pattern of information transmission, and moves people away from their cognitive bias.
The approach I took was to record at the front of the room, but set back somewhat from the 'floor'. I had some reservations about this, as I was concerned about not accurately capturing what was being said. We overcome this by explaining to the participants that the resulting posters were not intended to be 'minutes', but like stories, are intended to provide a context or emotional cue to remember the conversations. My preference is to work closer to the group as I draw to be able to check what I am recording is representative of the conversation as it happens.
As the old adage goes, "a picture tells a thousand words". Graphic recording is a fantastic way of harvesting conversations, and compliments the narrative approach so well. The work was well-received so I'm confident that it adds real value to a well facilitated event.
I've decided to open up my Twitter so anyone can follow my tiny tweets. Before I only let the Anecdote team follow alog but I started to realise that there was a much wider network that could help each other out. So feel free to check out my Twitter page and if you think I should follow you let me know why. I love following people who point me to eclectic bits of information and ideas.
I've just started to read Otto Scharmer's book, Theory U, and this passage grabbed my attention.
Twenty-three hundred years ago Aristotle. arguably the greatest pioneer and innovator of Western inquiry and thought, wrote on Book VI of his Nicomachean Ethics that there are five different ways, faculties, or capacities in the human soul to grasp the truth. Only one of them is science (episteme). Science (episteme), according to Aristotle, is limited to the things that cannot be otherwise than they are (in other words, things that are determined by necessity). By contrast, the other four ways and capacities of grasping the truth apply to all other contexts or reality and life. They are: art or producing (techne), practical wisdom (phronesis), theoretical wisdom (sophia), and intuition or the capacity to grasp first principles or sources (nous).
To date the primary focus has been on episteme and we are only beginning to see leaders valuing the other approaches in a systematic way.
It's said that stories create cultures; they propagate the assumptions and beliefs throughout the group in question. But it is specifically stories that create culture or is it something else?
Before we answer this question it's useful to have a definition of what we mean by 'a story'. Here's a definition I like from Annette Simmons latest book, Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins.
"Story is a reimagined experience narrated with enough detail and feeling to cause your listeners' imaginations to experience it as real."
Hearing a story is the second-best way to gain experience and in many cases it's the only available option. Sometimes it's too dangerous to gain first hand experience or the opportunity to gain first hand experience never presents itself. So the idea that a story is reimagined experience is important and useful. And the impact of a story is heightened the more real it seems.
So imagine the following:
A group of colleagues gather around a meeting room table. The meeting hasn't started and everyone is laughing and joking. Billy, a seasoned salesman, bursts into the room with a huge grin of his face.
"I've just come from the Sam Cook meeting [the CIO of a large government department]. They signed on the original price--they didn't screw us down. We will make out quota," Billy said. "And all we had to do was offer a service they were going to get anyway.... What they don't know wont kill them right?"
The group cheers while slapping Billy on the back in congratulations.
What just happened here?
Was it the story that created the culture? Did Billy's retelling of what happened with Sam create or reinforce the culture?
No, in this case the story is the trigger, but it's the response to the story that shows everyone how we behave around here.
This is an important point for leaders. Leaders must be poised to lead a response to stories told. To disrupt a response if necessary. For leaders this is about self awareness and being aware of the stories being told (which means being able to identify stories) and observing how people respond--and being ready and willing to intervene.
In a complex environment it's important to reinforce the behaviours you want and disrupt what's unfavourable and if you want to change the culture of a group, start by changing the response to the stories being told.
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One of our dear friends, Amanda Horne, is on a mission to improve the well being of Canberra residents. As a Canberran now living in Melbourne I can appreciate what Amanda is endeavouring to do. There is much stress among federal public servants because Kevin 07 has morphed into Kevin 24/7 (translation for our OS readers: our new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd aka Kevin 07, is working the public service to the bone at the moment).
So here is the program Amanda has organised.
Bright-eyed and Bushy Tailed
(....in five easy steps)
You are invited to attend a half-day workshop that will help you to thrive and flourish. Facilitated by well-known naturopath Mim Beim, this workshop will provide you with information and tips on how you can boost your wellbeing. In her friendly, down-to-earth and approachable style, Mim will cover:
- building energy, wellbeing and resilience
- enhancing your immune system
- helping the body to minimise the effects of stress
- practical nutrition tips to boost energy and concentration
- rituals for relaxation and renewal
- attaining a healthy body weight
- tools to help you feel ‘full of beans’- Q&A (bring your questions)
Mim Beim has been a practising naturopath for over 20 years. She has written 7 books, hosted 2 TV series, features regularly on national radio and writes for ABC’s ‘Life’ magazine. Mim has a special interest in the way stress affects our health, and specialises in helping people to improve their wellbeing.
“One of the questions I ask my patients is: “On a scale of 1-10, where would you place your energy levels, if 10/10 is ‘jumping full of beans’?”. Quite often patients will respond with a 4 or 5, even when they appear to have plenty of energy, able to accomplish full-time work, family life and study. Many people push themselves to get through each day, sometimes for years on end. This can lead to illness, and it means it’s more difficult to enjoy life and to feel bright-eyed and bushy tailed.” (Mim Beim)
Workshop details Date: Either: Tuesday 1st April, 2008 or Tuesday 15th April, 2008 (*)
Location: Forrest Inn, Forrest, Canberra
Cost: $121 per person (includes GST) (*)
The workshop can also be run as a half-day, in-house corporate sessionon the afternoon of 1 April or 15th April.
Contact If you would like to attend, or you are interested in an in-house workshop, please contact Amanda Horne for payment and booking details.
Phone: 02-6239 4566 or 0402 892 698
This workshop is sponsored by Canberra-based executive coach, Amanda Horne, in the interests of helping the people of Canberra to flourish and thrive.
This year I will be speaking at KM Australia in two capacities: running a workshop on knowledge strategy, and speaking with Greg Marsh from BAE Systems about the community of practice work we are doing together.
The conference is held in sunny Melbourne (well, it was sunny yesterday), 21-23 July.
The workshop is called Involving your Organisation in Strategising Knowledge. Here is the description:
You can request a brochure for KM Australia here. It will be great to see you there.
Most times we know what to do. We know about the lack of communication across our organisational silos, we know we are constantly reinventing the wheel, we know that it’s hard to find expertise when we need it, and it’s even harder to find relevant information that’s buried in the labyrinth of file system hierarchies. What’s surprising is that we even know how to improve these issues, yet nothing changes. Consequently, we view the development of a knowledge strategy as a change project to help the organisation set a clear direction for change and develop a resolve among employees to take action.
This workshop will teach you how to tap into emotions and demonstrate why you need to broaden involvement when strategising how knowledge will be created, shared and used. This is not about creating a pristine document, but rather marshalling the energy in people to make a difference. You will learn about the Three Journeys process, how to use stories to communicate with impact, and find out what’s really happening in your organisation.
Filed in Collaboration.
Have you invested in the latest and greatest in collaboration technology but still feel people are still not collaborating? How many Microsoft Sharepoint servers and IBM Quickplaces remain relatively untouched or only used by the organisation's technorati? I think it's a big problem because this narrow view of collaboration starts to get the concept a bad name: "yeh, we did collaboration but no one used it." And then there the issue of the vast amount of money wasted and opportunities lost. We can't afford to loose faith in collaboration because the external environment is moving in a direction that mandates we collaborate. The problems we face now and into the future will only increase in complexity and it will require teams of people within and across organisations to solve them.
At the heart of the problem is collaboration culture. Does the organisation have a culture that supports collaboration? And if not, how do you change your culture to be more supportive?
Creating a more collaborative culture
In helping organisations develop collaboration cultures we've confirmed what Edgar Schein noted a decade ago: cultures are largely created and modified by the actions of the organisation's leaders. And here we view leadership in its broadest sense as someone who people take notice of and follow their lead. There are a relatively small set of things leaders do that affect culture:
- What leaders pay attention to, measure, and control on a regular basis
- How leaders react to critical incidents and organisational crises
- How leaders allocate resources
- Deliberate role modelling, teaching, and coaching
- How leaders allocate rewards and status
- How leaders recruit, select, promote, and excommunicate
The short-hand for this list is, “How do you get ahead around here?” And if you get ahead by working as a loner, shafting your team mates, taking the recognition when others were clearly a part of the success and having reward mechanisms that reward individual pursuits above all else, then your culture will be the antithesis of what's required for collaboration to flourish. So how do you turn it around?
Steps to foster a collaborative culture
Here are some of the steps we help organisation to implement to move from the state of the 'individual is king' to one where collaboration is activity encouraged. Of course this is not as simple as this list might suggest but it gives you an idea of they types of activities required. A full explanation is coming soon in a white paper Mark and I are writing with Nancy White, so here is the expurgated version that mainly links to other posts we have written.
A. Appoint a collaboration co-ordinator
If there is not a resource appointed the capability is unlikely to be implemented. Someone has to be responsible for moving the activities forward.
B. Create a network of collaboration supporters
The collaboration co-ordinator can't do this on their own so they need a network of supporters across the business lines. How you create this network and who is included is vital to your success.
C. Help people understand the process of collaboration
People will need to know what the organisation means by collaboration and how to collaborate.
D. Ensure the Collaboration Co-ordinator reports regularly to senior leaders
Find stories of success and take every opportunity to informally tell them to the leadership. Then have data and good reasoning to back up your stories.
E. Get the most from your collaboration tools
Make sure you are getting the most from your current investment in collaboration tools. Learn the techniques and practices that will make these tools truly valuable.
F. Start communities of practice
Perhaps I'm biased, but CoPs is a mode of organising that takes collaboration to the next level above team based approaches.
G. Promote good collaborators and hold back bad collaborators
No sense talking up collaboration then promoting the worse collaborator in the business. This one is simple and will have the biggest impact on the culture. Promote good collaborators and let everyone know they are being promoted partly because how they collaborate.
H. Practice collaborating for when a crises occurs
When the shit hits the fan we watch our leaders intently and we learn about their character and what it takes to get ahead around here. If you want collaboration to flourish have a plan to collaborate when a crises occurs. Demonstrate that the leadership team collaborates. A crisis is a vital moment in an organisation's cultural development.
Schein, Edgar H. Organizational Culture and Leadership. 3rd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2004.
One of the best ways to illustrate the value of Community of Practice efforts is to find stories of success and to use them. We previously posted on the publication of 'Stories from the Coal Face', a booklet produced by Rio Tinto's coal division that communicates many of the ways that CoP have added value to the business. Rio Tinto has made a short video on one of the stories and this is publicly available on their website. Well worth checking out and using as an example of how collaboration can make a big difference in unexpected ways. I particularly like how the video engages the product group CEO and sends a message to the organisation about moving to a more collaborative culture using both the people and technology aspects.
Thanks to Mark Bennett for the link and for his perseverance in achieving the production of the video.
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Last year I was given an unexpected but very welcomed opportunity to work with the Anecdote team. Over a short period of time my understanding of affecting organisational change in the most positive of ways has grown immensely. My knowledge of leadership development and communities of practice have been greatly enhanced among so many other thing that I've learned.
Because of the great work that Anecdote does, their client base and networks are full of fantastic and switched on people. Fortunately for me I have met many of these great people. I've had some really interesting conversations with Anecdoters and others I've met through them about how work together in mindful ways , and I look forward to bringing the passion and insights I've gained with me on my continuing journey.
I will miss the Anecdote team - their culture of creativity and sharing of ideas, but I won't be far away.
Thanks, Anecdote, for such a wonderful opportunity. I'll look forward to further inspiration through the website!
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Over the years we have built a good following for our monthly newsletter (over 2,000 readers and growing) and today we are re-launching it with the name, Anecdotally. Perhaps the biggest change is that we have decided not to publish Anecdotally on our site. It's only available to subscribers.
You can check out an example of Anecdotally here.
Visit here to sign up to receive monthly updates on techniques, book reviews, news, comments and advice for HR, KM, change management, business and communications people interested in the practical application of business narrative.
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Anecdote has been fortunate to have had Krista Schmeling as part of our team since mid-October last year. She has done lots of work supporting our communities of practice projects and has kept our workshop program running smoothly and added significantly to our cumulative artistic capabilities. Unfortunately, others have noticed her talents and she leaves Anecdote to take up a fantastic role managing humanitarian services for a large community services organisation. Her last day is 7 March and she has a whole weekend off before starting her new role.
Krista has been a great asset for Anecdote and we will miss her. We all join in wishing her every success in her new role.
My friend, Alison Spencer, suggested I get a copy of James Harlow Brown's book, Dangerous Undertaken, and I have to say it's been one of my best Amazon purchases in some time. It's a book about personal and organisational transformation written as a dialogue between a hot shot executive and a wise mentor he happened to meet on a flight to Sydney. Full of stories within stories. It's a wonderful example of how leaders might tell stories to help people (and themselves) to change.
I contacted James (Jm to his friends) and we talked a little about metaphors—his book is full of them. Here is paragraph from one of his emails that he said I could blog.
Metaphors are the way that human beings see and create language for things that we cannot otherwise describe, either because we haven't seen such things before or they are, in effect, beyond description. Storytelling uses metaphors in two primary ways. First, as a major "sticky" element or tag to make the story memorable. A good example is the Holy Grail, which not only represents a precious cup but also the altar cup (to Christians) that holds the holy sacrament. Because of this metaphor, the myth of the Holy Grail points to something that transcends ordinary experience when we unpack this metaphor. Second, stories themselves are metaphors, which lead us to explore deeper meaning. The story of the search for the Holy Grail becomes every person's search for transformation as they seek that which is most precious in life. Because of this dual use of metaphor, stories like the Holy Grail myth stay in human consciousness for extremely long times, far beyond their telling. The question is can professional storytellers construct stories as memorable as the Holy Grail myth through the skillful use of metaphor -- or is there something else at work in enduring myths like the Holy Grail beyond the skillful use of metaphor?