Post by Frank Connolly 15th February, 2015
Do you keep hitting brick walls with issues that just won’t go away?
Try thinking differently to see them from new perspectives.
If we move our focus from only trying to fix our problems to fixing the ways we think, the problems will start to fix themselves.
We struggle to break free from day to day thinking habits that can inhibit us. Yet, we understand that to deliver the services that are now demanded, we must innovate and evolve at an increasing rate. We can’t achieve this by doing the same things year in, year out.
The de Bono thinking methods allow us to do this by breaking our established thinking patterns to see things anew.
We are pleased to announce the de Bono Training is again being offered across Australia & New Zealand. Each module comes with a number of new features that make this marquee training an essential item in your:
Everyone completing this training receives:
For full details on the methods select the links below:
For a no obligation discussion on how your organisation will benefit from the de Bono methods – call Frank on 0400 109727 / (03) 8502 0042 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Post by Frank Connolly 1st February, 2015
Big problems don’t always require big solutions. Small things can make a big difference. When we view our issue or opportunity, not in isolation, but as a part of a larger and very inter-connected system, new perspectives start to become visible.
With these new perspectives, new opportunities start to become apparent and new action becomes possible.
Here is one example from the natural world where one component among many, has a profound impact upon the whole. This video describes how the reintroduction of wolves into the Yellowstone National Park in the USA was a major factor in changing the river system.
Now, I don’t necessarily agree with the perspective offered about this being solely a top-down phenomena (referred to here as a trophic-cascade) but it’s certainly a good example of how a large system can be impacted in substantial ways with small, less indirect approaches. The small things can make a big difference.
Our Organisation’s have many issues that can be similarly tackled through indirect intervention that don’t involve the full-on frontal and costly approaches we tend to default to. Smaller and carefully targeted approaches are cheaper to instigate and a way to minimise the risk associated with more costly interventions. Even when the smaller approaches do fail, we benefit from the associated learnings. Given too, that small things mean only small failure failure, we do not put our organisation’s time, dollars or resources at risk.
Sometimes learning where we should not go is every bit as valuable as learning where we should go.
The video runs for 4:33 mins only – please enjoy. How Wolves Change Rivers
Organisations require new ways of seeing the world, means designing new action and making a big difference. For assistance call Frank at Think Quick for a no obligation chat to discuss your current challenges and opportunities.
Post by Frank Connolly 16th January, 2015
Our Think Quick E-letter which is a summary of the blog
with a few extras thrown in …
Post by Frank Connolly 8th January, 2015
Diversity of opinion is divisive.
Now this is a real problem! Not only does the divisiveness brought about by differing views colour and diminish the interactions we have, but that very same diversity of view is also the best means we have at our disposal to come up with the best subject matter exploration and design going forward.
So the very thing we need to work in our favour tends to work against us.
There is no getting around the fact that we do not like hearing opinions that are different to our own. Our opinion is the correct one and those others are missing the point … aren’t they? Everyone perceives the world quite differently. If we assume that we all see things similarly, or that we are all on the same page, think again.
How can we incorporate diverse opinion in a way that is accepted and considered as a natural and non-threatening part our thinking?
The Six Thinking Hats is a thinking technique used to look at things from different perspectives. It forces us to move outside our habitual thinking styles and develop more rounded views of a given situation. The Hats promote fuller input from more people and significantly reduce argument from those with divergent points of view. The Six Thinking Hats gets people thinking in parallel.
Thinking in parallel is not about thinking the same! It’s about getting people to look at issues or topics from the same thinking perspective at the same time. When this happens the “opposition” is taken out of the equation yet we still hear and can consider the divergent viewpoints offered.
The Six Thinking Hats are also a great way to help build a culture in which innovation can happen. If we can take the divisiveness out of our interaction and develop more fully rounded views of a topic, we start to see more possibilities and we are less threatened by things that are not in accordance with the way we see the world as individuals. To take advantage of this the Six Thinking Hats also incorporates a Green Hat under which everyone seeks new ideas, alternative ways forward and new possibilities. Without a systematic consideration of these innovation remains just a word!
Everyone can be more collaborative and innovative with the application of the Six Thinking Hats:
“The Director General (DG) of a large Government Department was summoned by the State’s Premier and informed that the budget was to be slashed by $20,000,000.00 in the coming financial year. Given a growing work portfolio across the State, substantial cost-cutting already in place and a pledge that there would be no more cuts, this proved to be a serious issue for the Department.
In response, the Department’s most senior executives were flown in for a day long emergency session to try and find new ways of addressing the shortfall. In spite of their best efforts the session proved unfruitful.
The DG coincidently attended a lecture by Edward de Bono the following week and decided that the innovative thinking methods presented needed to be trialed on the funding dilemma. As a result the Executive Team were again flown into the State’s capital the following week and underwent a simple facilitation applying the collaborative and creative thinking approaches of the Six Thinking Hats. In doing so, the team quickly generated a range of new perspectives and ideas to apply to their budget problem.
With the application of a facilitated and structured Six Thinking Hats session, the very substantial subject-matter knowledge of the team was fully applied and over a 3 hour period they identified a quantifiable 12.5 million dollars worth of savings that were hitherto undiscovered with their normal thinking approaches.”
Could your organisation benefit from learning new ways to:
If so, contact Frank at Think Quick on 0400 109727 or at email@example.com We are pleased to offer a no obligation discussion on exactly how your organisation will benefit using the Six Thinking Hats.
Post by Frank Connolly 6th January, 2015
Allow me to preface this post with the acknowledgement that I have worked with more “public sector innovators” than anyone else I know. The sector has a great many smart people doing a great many smart things.
However …. our public sectors as entities remain reactive, fixed in their thinking and rigid at a time when the need for more agility and pro-activity has never been greater.
Public Sectors are struggling to keep up with environments that are shifting and morphing into forms that those standard operating procedures and top down bureaucratic control mechanisms are not designed to cope with.
Bureaucracies are by definition about control, and when you are dealing with crucial areas such as Health, Justice, Social Security & Child Protection, control is a GOOD thing to have. We demand that Government maintain control over these challenging areas on our behalf because without it we’d be in trouble.
Herein lies the fundamental issue, and it’s all about the “control” we seek. The most difficult and vexing issues Government needs to address cannot be “controlled” completely as they are inherently complex and shifting. The goal posts here are constantly moving and sometimes they are not even goal posts.
Therefore “control” measures assuming cause and effect outcomes where cause and effect cannot be immediately perceived will, and do in most instances, fail. Hospital waiting lists and getting trains to run on time are but two of these instances where “control” measures have not removed the issue.
All is not lost however. The core group of progressive people we have operating in the sectors have sufficient nous and know-how to make tremendous advances in the way services to the public are delivered in terms of quality, cost and value. To allow this to happen though, the most senior levels of the sector must first acknowledge and start to address the barriers that stand in the way of these progressive people.
I make specific mention of “acknowledgement” as many of these barriers remain “elephants in the room,” behaviours that the sector finds very difficult to openly acknowledge, self-reflect upon and address.
An inability to properly acknowledge and address these barriers means the innovators of the sector remain an endangered species. They are like small mammals that scurry at the feet of the dinosaurs and try not to get stomped on or preyed upon as they go about their daily business.
"Innovation exists in the public sector in the form of a resistance movement."
I once shared an analogy with a colleague who had just been appointed an “Innovation Manager” in their Department. They had sought me out for advice and I thought the most sage I could provide was that the very second their “innovation” related appointment was made the “organisational anti-bodies” would start to gather and work away at their cell wall until the unit and role was eradicated. Therefore the thrust of the advice was to start doing things and making a difference while you can because the clock is now ticking.
I have seen this many times over my 20 year involvement and participation within the sector – from the very moment a group is formed with innovative intent the clock starts to tick on its demise and it is only a question of time before the organisational anti-bodies break through and its staff are marginalised, redeployed or leave the Department in frustration.
Ironically, the more success they enjoy as a group will only hasten their demise, because sticking one’s head above the public sector parapet with some success can be a career limiting move. This is of course a frightening and contradictory concept, but one that is all too common. I don’t understand the psychological underpinning of why this occurs, but those in the sector know the phenomenon only too well.
Many of our Public Sector people are quite brilliant in what what they do and they could achieve so much more if only only some of the key barriers they face could be removed or at least diminished. My view is lets just try and address the barriers and get the hell out of their way and enable them to do the innovative things they are capable of, and desperately want to do.
So what are the barriers that are stopping our public sectors being truly innovative?
I present a list here that is certainly not exhaustive, there is a block-buster book required to capture most of them and this is a mere blog-post! This is simply a list that features a few of the key barriers and “elephants in the room” that spring quickly to mind and have to date, been inadequately addressed.
I will not seek to simply outline the negative aspects, I will also try to suggest some broad directions that could be used to help overcome each in turn. I present these in no particular order of importance as they will vary in differing contexts.
This is possibly the most popular view in organisations as to why their innovation efforts consistently fail.
I recently worked in one organisation as a part of their 3rd attempt at “innovation”. It was universally recognised by the staff (and the leadership itself) that the primary reason previous attempts had failed was the lack of buy-in and participation of their leadership group. During their third attempt to drive more innovation we ran a dozen well received training sessions for employees and throughout these sessions only one member of the leadership team attended – Strike three!
Innovation will not take root where the senior management do not demonstrably and positively role model the behaviours and processes required.
In Government Departments we see a procession of Managers stand up and talk the innovation talk, then comprehensively fail to walk the walk. The achievement of innovative outcomes by definition involves change and to achieve meaningful change there is usually some degree role modeling and an appetite for some risk and failure along the way.
While there no serious appetite for risk or failure, the innovative action required to engender the change will not happen. An unspoken policy driver across State Government is to not appear on the front page of the (insert name of local tabloid), I’d suggest that this is no way to run a State.
Some public sector managers also like to announce that “we need to be challenged and we need to innovate” and with this comes the assumption that they can pick and choose the challenges they want to take on. When the serious challenges do manifest, they tend to default into their patterns of past experience and apply linear, assumption-laden approaches (points 3 & 7) that either do not work or don’t achieve the outcomes promised.
Insufficient leadership and role-modeling also leads us into the next barrier to driving innovation …
The inability to address and positively influence a Department’s culture is a barrier to systematically driving innovative practices.
Forget your “Innovation Strategies” – they don’t work. Build an innovative culture instead and the strategies will naturally evolve. The assumption that an organisation’s culture can be measured and manipulated in a preferred direction by external consultants is something that not only does little to improve culture, it also costs a small fortune in precious tax-payer dollars to enact.
An organisation’s culture is inherently unique, complex and shifting, therefore it cannot be “understood” nor packaged up in the ways many organisations seek to do so currently. The best people that can positively shift and impact an organisation’s culture are those within the organisation itself, not “culture experts” external to the Department.
The most senior people in each business unit have a unique opportunity to wield the greatest influence in this space through leading by example and role modeling. However, they consistently fail to do so by ignoring their responsibility and consigning “culture change” to consultants.
Consultants bring off-the-shelf approaches with surveys, crude categorisation tools and awe-inspiring coloured graphics that seem to make the complex all so simple. Such interventions can cost in the 100’s of 1000’s of dollars – never a great outcome for the Department, Council, the employees or the tax payer. I’ve seen three such interventions enacted and heard of numerous others and the ultimate outcome is that cultures are rarely, if ever improved as a result.
There are radically cheaper and more effective ways to work with culture and they can all be enacted in-house with leaders driving it and incorporating the knowledge and insights of the employees.
Staff have the unique knowledge to design it and leaders have (or need to find) the ability to role-model and drive it.
Different layers within our sectors can have very different understandings of how the world operates based upon their very disparate experiences, learning and reporting lines. Diversity of views within a Government Department should be a beneficial trait. However when you get concentrations of similar thinkers within the same management layers it is a major impediment to innovation and progress.
As a case in point we conducted a substantial narrative capture across an entire public sector 6 years ago that included the collection and analysis of over 2000 stories from every Department and Agency and the over-riding themes that emerged from the public servant’s narrative were:
Many at the top of the sector (mostly Executive Officer positions) have not been personally developed and skilled in the most contemporary management practices for many years. This is due to their incredible busyness, along with it seems, a belief in some that they are above participating in the learning that those beneath them in the hierarchy are expected to, and mandated to undertake.
During the same period, those further down the organisational pyramids have been personally developed by virtue of mandated personal development plans and they have gone out and learned contemporary and up to date management methods.
As a result of this, the now more agile thinking middle and lower layers of the sector learn and bring those learnings back into the Department in the hope of applying them to their work, but are all too often told “Sorry but that’s not the way we do things here.” (One wonderful skill-set senior people tend to have is the ability to say no, without having to actually say “no” – a great skill to have if the thinking presented to you is outside of your habitual thinking style and as such, seen as a threat.)
In frustration over time at the inability of these middle-layer employees to apply more contemporary approaches to their work, many of the best and brightest tend to move laterally within the Department, into another Department or out of the sector altogether. Their drive, experience and knowledge is lost.
Perhaps the most unfortunate by-product of this is that those staff who are most compliant and think along similar lines to those in the areas they are being promoted into are the ones who ultimately move into the most senior positions. As a result, the executive officer levels of our organisational pyramids are becoming more fixed and brittle in their thinking as the world they operate in becomes more complex and volatile.
Make no mistake, they know the “language” and how to talk the talk in the innovation space but when it comes to doing the walking, it’s a very different story.
When promoting staff there is also a very strong tendency to promote candidates largely upon technical ability which means many are prematurely advanced into management and leadership positions without the ability to lead and manage people. If a candidate has limited social and emotional intelligence then they will struggle to lead those in their charge, especially when placed under pressure from a manager above similarly lacking in empathy.
If the primary paradigm of those in supervisory positions is control and “management” (read micro-management) then staff are quickly disenfranchised and their potential is lost. A culture of bullying easily develops in a business unit in which candidates are promoted on compliance and technical ability.
Promote primarily on a candidates ability to lead and manage others, not on their technical ability. Technicalities can be learned but it's much tougher to learn how to lead people.
Driving innovation and developing a more innovative culture is an inherently complex task. When tasks are perceived to be too difficult and the potential of failure as being high, Government brings in the big consultancies. The unspoken driver behind these moves is very often “If we bring in the big boys and they fail it will be their fault and not ours, and we can’t get our rears kicked because we engaged experts.” Again, we end up with hundreds of thousands of public dollars wasted on failed projects with no one held to account.
Government wastes 100’s of millions of dollars every year on external engagements that are often ineffectual at best, and at worst a waste of precious dollars out of the public purse. When issues are truly complex the best people to design new approaches and interventions are the organisation’s own staff, stakeholders and clients. Why? Because they know their system better than anyone and have unique insights others cannot enjoy.
There are many simple and cost effective ways of engaging staff in developing more targeted and cost effective ways of addressing issues that don't involve handing the keys to the Treasury over to consultants.
Innovation will not happen with the consultant’s formulaic “off the shelf” approaches. It won’t happen by adopting the “10, 7 or 5 keys to successful innovation” or even paying heed to the “Fatal innovation traps exposed”! It will only happen when the staff themselves have new thinking methods at their disposal, carriage of design and permission to proceed.
Each Department’s culture is unique and requires significant internal design to be able to develop more a more innovative culture. Government can no longer afford to uptake safe, formulaic approaches and they just cannot keep paying for interventions that are not driven internally that leave staff increasingly cynical about the “innovation” word.
As a case in point I was informed from the most senior levels in one Department not to use the words “continuous improvement” in my project work because staff are now cynical and will not buy into anything with that title. How on Earth can we get to such a outrageous position where something that is so crucial is viewed as such a negative?
I once had an internal analyst tell me many years ago that a substantial percentage of all the Public Sector’s work involved restructuring itself and I suspect in recent years this % has grown somewhat. If a substantial percentage of all Departmental efforts are directed toward ongoing restructuring, this involves a substantial reduction in the provision of services to the public.
Political leaders assuming power need to understand that their ideology-based restructuring is all too often a major distraction to those responsible for providing public service. Non-stop restructuring is a major impediment to service delivery and stops committed and hard-working public servants from focusing on what needs to be done to provide the best possible services to the Public.
Of course some restructure is required to address changing service demands but certainly not as much as we are seeing now. Much of the restructuring is unavoidable and dictated by political masters in what is euphemistically described as “Machinery of Government” changes. Even the language here seems somewhat inappropriate, these are people and their jobs being shuffled around, not cogs in a machine. It’s even worse than referring to staff as “Human Resources”! But I digress…
Unfortunately I suspect that once “machinery of Government” changes are announced, a healthy percentage of the subsequent change is about bureaucrats then “positioning” to ensure survival as the top down change is imposed. I have former colleagues in the sector that have been undergoing restructure for years now and I’m just not sure how any sane person can stand back and say there is any value in that.
A healthy percentage of public sector employers are public servants for very altruistic reasons. They want to provide a quality services for those who most need them but are consistently impeded from doing so by endless restructures, imposed by from above by people who will disappear just as quickly as they arrive in the cut and thrust of politics and its short term election cycles.
The primary role of the public sector is to provide services to the public, not ongoing internal reshuffling.
Over the past 20 years I have seen our public servants slowly morph into Government servants. Most public sector employees can provide you with any number of stories about edicts that have come from their political masters that they know with great surety are poor decisions, and ones that will not add value for their clients and stakeholders.
When a short-term election cycle determines what is best for the public, the public do not always get the best possible decisions made on their behalf.
Are our Departments there to serve the public or to solely serve the relevant Minister? Certainly this balance needs to alter as the context changes, but when the focus is on the Minister any serious dissent is not encouraged. In fact dissent is actively discouraged.
When you have an endemic fear of risk and failure within the sector, this tends to manifest itself with a culture in which you are more likely to get a boot up the rear than you are a pat on the back, therefore your ongoing employment and career advancement demands your compliance. In a time of accelerating change and the need for the incorporation of multiple and diverse perspectives this sets a dangerous precedent. Innovation cannot happen if the “status quo” is rarely questioned.
In tough economic times the public sector has a default panic switch which automatically sets to AUSTERITY.
Now austerity absolutely has its place because the sector is very prone to “empire building,” but it should not always be the first point-of-call in tough economic times. As soon as things tighten the first things the managers of the sector seek to do is reduce budgets, reduce staff numbers, stop new developments, slash existing programmes and put a freeze on new programmes. (Colleagues in Learning & Development and Change Management are usually the first to suffer )
These are all reductionist approaches that diminish capacity to provide service. Actual service demands rarely diminish, they increase over time and the longer a service is put on ice, the harder it is for the associated Department to catch up with stakeholder and client needs once out of austerity mode.
I liken this standard approach to driving a car and trying to navigate a way forward by looking into the rear-view mirror only. Existing things that you are doing and have already planned are by definition – looking at the past and where you have been. Austerity measures use the rear-view mirror and represent short-term management thinking.
What should happen instead is the adoption of longer-term leadership thinking where we actually navigate our way forward into an uncertain future by looking through the windscreen as we drive the car! This way we engage with the immediate and near present to identify the curves, the obstacles and potholes ahead. We then design new, value-adding ways forward instead of simply looking at what exists and cutting it.
When the sector focuses on the rear view mirror its misses opportunities and increases its failure rate as it is the road ahead that demands most attention.
Looking back with hindsight will not provide the foresight needed to navigate into an uncertain terrains. In the innovation space a very healthy percentage of time must be dedicated to the windscreen and “what can be” rather that “what is” in the form of things we already know and think we understand.
The default public sector panic switch in tough times should read new thinking and design, and austerity only where appropriate.
This is an epidemic that is crushing any capacity we have to innovate. Being busy in itself is no impediment to innovation, it can in fact be a great driver. However, the inability to manage time and the preoccupation with endless tasks that are non-value adding are now used as a perpetual excuse to NOT take the time to think anew and work ON the business.
As ridiculous as it sounds it can be summed up in the following quotation, “I’m too busy to attend the time management training because I haven’t got enough time to go.”
If employees don’t take the time to get off the dance floor and take the time to pause and stand in the balcony above for a more strategic view, they will fail to discern the many opportunities to improve that become apparent when you pause to work “ON” the business. Furiously working “IN” the business has us running on a treadmill.
If we do not stop to try and discern and make sense of the patterns of activity we are seeing on the dance-floor we cannot seriously start to work out where the opportunities to improve lie and start to identify the activities that are non-value adding so we can stop or redesign them.
Many public servants are running furiously on a treadmill of busyness and and getting nowhere fast. This frenzied activity is not necessarily of their own doing, but is rather the result of being micro-managed and completing endless tasks imposed from above. If people can acknowledge that new design is needed and that doesn’t happen when you are too “busy” to do it, then innovation starts to become possible.
Use the pressure created by an excessive workload to drive innovative practice, not to close down and simply do more work.
To be continued …
Given this blog was initially supposed to be a 400 word contribution to Ed Bernacki‘s soon to be released book on Public Sector Innovation and it has now morphed into a 3700 word (and growing) novella, I will temporarily pause here and attempt to capture the remaining barriers that spring to mind in another post next month.
Comments in the interim are welcomed below …
Post by Frank Connolly 5th July, 2014
Uncertainty & Action are two words not always used in close association. Action usually implies moving forward with intent and some predetermined direction, while Uncertainty usually involves hesitation accompanied with a fervent wish to move away from the uncertainty.
There is a fundamental dissonance that has been created through the need to work in uncertain environments and the need to act and do something (anything) that is now driving behaviours not unlike that of a hamster running furiously on a wheel.
The need do something and just as importantly, to be seen to be doing something, has far exceeded the need to stop and thoughtfully design new and improved ways forward that will not involve endless running in a static wheel that is taking us to no new places.
Increasing uncertainty creates discomfort and we tend to respond by dropping our eyesight and defaulting into patterns of behaviour based on past experience. That is, we keep doing the same things we have always done. This provides the perception of action, but not the type of action we need to address the big challenges and opportunities that are hitting us. We seek to do things cheaper and faster in the flawed belief that this will resolve our issues. What we are finding however is that this is not resolving issues, simply creating an epidemic of “busyness” now engulfing so many organisations.
The usual approach to tough times when more from less is demanded, is to default into what we know, not what we need to know. I like to use the metaphor of driving a car. As you drive you need to be able to keep your eye on that which is coming toward you, the pothole, tree, curve in the road or that unforeseen obstacle. To do this we need to be primarily looking forward through the windscreen. If we simply seek to move forward based on what we already know we are attempting to drive by looking in the rear-view mirror at that which has already happened.
When we drive this way we tend to apply reductionist approaches to those things we have and know. Austerity measures are usually at the core. We are all familiar with job and budget cuts, staff freezes, project down-sizing and the list goes on. We attempt to try and do the same things better, faster and cheaper. The reality however is that faster and better very rarely equate to cheaper – unless of course the appropriate design thinking is applied. These standard approaches are characterised by short-term management thinking and very rarely lead to positive long-term outcomes.
The ability to drive while looking through the windscreen allows for greater navigation and forward design and constitutes a longer-term leadership thinking.
While both types of thinking are important we default all too readily to the former.
One of the most universally used examples of short-term, rear-view thinking is when the Learning & Development function in an organisation is the first to be “streamlined” once tough economic times hit. This is a seemingly retrograde example – Why would an organisation start to reduce their learning capacity at the very time new thinking is needed to address pressing issues? (This view is of course based upon the ideal that our L&D Departments are adding measurable business value. Perhaps one of the reasons they are the first to go is that they are not seen to do so?)
How do you know when your organisation is focused on the rear-view mirror and condemned to the hamster wheel? Just a handful of indicators are listed below, what others can you add? There’s plenty!
* Great store is placed on long-term strategic plans, aimed at idealised futures based upon the assumption that A+B will always =C
* The first (and sometimes only) port of call in tough times are austerity measures.
* The L&D function is a tick the box one & the training ROI isn’t measured in ways that demonstrate real vs perceived value.
* People are overcome with “busyness” in the day to day operational tasks and minutiae.
* The most senior people are insufficiently strategic and spend way too long on the operational dance floor and not in the balcony above.
* The senior people talk about innovation and doing things differently, but do not follow through with meaningful action and results.
Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of being too busy to engage with the present due to our preoccupation with the past, is that while there may be short term gain, the long term prognosis of rear-view thinking is almost always negative. We may have come in under budget for 5 years running, but what are the long term consequences of the cost-cutting you applied to get there? These tend to be dramatically more costly than the short term savings gained.
It’s always worth stopping and considering whether the action we are taking involves looking forward through the windscreen or are we simply defaulting to action based upon what has been happening in the rear-view mirror?
Are we running inside the hamster wheel or have we stepped outside it to come up with better ways to move us forward?