Uncertainty & Action in the Hamster Wheel

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?



Where is your attention now?

Post by Frank Connolly 16th February, 2014

Our society is increasingly focusing its attention on areas that it is directed to do so by the mainstream media.

Despite the proliferation of social media and a dramatically increased access to alternate information sources, society is being increasingly homogenised because we quite obligingly look and pay attention to the things we are told to pay attention to.

How much of our thinking and how much of how we view the world is driven and directed by the agendas of others? I’m going to suggest that a possible answer to this is – An unacceptably high percentage.

Before I provide any examples however, I want to stress that I am not describing any orchestrated conspiracy here, simply that the evolution of the media and how we interact with it has taken us to a point where our thinking and understanding of what is going on around us in the world is limited and biased by the things we are presented with daily on our TV screens.

Popular culture is determining where we direct our attention and how long we do so for.

Without producing an exhaustive list that could go on forever I’ll use just a few discreet examples to illustrate the point. Having recently touched on conservation in a recent post I’ll stay with the broad theme here.

Sometime ago, the Four Corners programme on the ABC reported on the terrible animal cruelty our live animal exports were being subjected to before slaughter in Indonesia. This (quite rightly) sparked an indignant public response across the entire country and vigorous debate in Govt about the very future of live animal exports. The issue however is that the moral outrage soon subsided as our attention was soon directed elsewhere with the next piece of programming content to grab our interest. The point I’d like to make here is not that there is anything wrong with what transpired. I’d simply like to pose the  question: Once the issue left our TV screens where did the public indignation go?

The media tells us where and when to look, we then notice and react to what is presented, we then move onto the next area our attention is directed to. I’m sure the livestock still suffer terrible cruelty in primitive abattoirs overseas, but now we are looking in other places. We actually do care enough to pay attention to this issue again, but we’ll do so only when our attention is directed toward it in the mainstream media.

It’s possible to site an endless array of similar examples of how our attention is directed including the annual dolphin slaughter in South Western Honshu and the “scientific research” into whales conducted most years in the Southern ocean. (The latest round of which we are told is to establish why a whale dies when a harpoon is driven into its heart – one of natures enduring mysteries.) Those of us who become rightly indignant at the practice and post Facebook links at the horror of it all, tend to do so only while the media keeps us focused upon it – for the rest of the year we do precious little to save these creatures. (But we will look at the issue again passionately in 12 months when we are directed to do so.)

This is not a critique of our passion and belief in such issues, rather of our shortening attention spans and the way we allow mainstream media to determine what is important and when it is important.

The places the media direct our attention to vary from the very good to the very bad with the space between is populated with a lot of the very indifferent. This doesn’t constitute a critique of the media (many have covered-off that topic far better than I ever could) this is about how we allow it dominate our time, how we allow it to play a disproportionate role in the way we think and the way we allow it to shape our views of the world along with our reactions to it.

If we knew the mainstream media was truly altruistic in providing us balanced and objective content with a view to helping us to understand the world better and make better decisions, there would be no issue with it dominating our lives the way it does.  If it was, we’d be presented with a broader world view and not one viewed solely through a western pop culture lens. We’d know more about the what is going on with human rights in Venezuela than we do about Justin Beiber’s latest traffic infringement. We’d care more about the imminent extinction of important species than we know about who’s bonking who in Hollywood. We’d pay more attention to long term issues than ephemeral fashions and we’d know more about what’s going on in our own backyard than what brand of beer Shappelle Corby drank by the pool upon release.

More importantly we’d have greater control and understanding of what is happening in our own lives if we just walked away from the flat screen a bit more often and looked up and around at the real world.

DIY Innovation (Wed Apr 16)

Post by Frank Connolly 3rd February, 2014

"Practical Innovation" Wednesday April 16

How to move from talking, to Doing Innovation?

Organisations are attempting to do more with less in a sustainable way, while still needing to improve service delivery and profit. A tough ask, even at the best of times. The thinking that worked well enough in the past is no longer sufficient to ensure long-term survival and relevance into the future.  We can either tread water and reduce service delivery or, we can think differently and design new value-adding ways forward.

Practical Innovation has been designed to add this value.

We struggle to break free from day to day habits and procedures that can inhibit us. Yet, we all understand that to deliver the quality services that are now demanded, we need to innovate and evolve at an increasing rate. We can’t achieve this by doing the same things year in, year out.

Practical Innovation will provide participants with a range of methods to help address current organisational needs, improve business efficiency and help identify new and emergent opportunities.

Participants will learn and practice a range of practical frameworks, tools and techniques that will enable them to think and design actions in a more focused, strategic and creative manner.

Session:  "Practical Innovation"

When: Wednesday April 16, 2014

Where: Airlie Leadership Development Centre

Value: $495/person or $450/Early Bird rate or for groups of 3 or more

Enquiries can be directed to Frank on 0400 109727 or at

This session will also incorporate a practical work-portfolio for participants to complete on work-related issues to help ensure the learning sticks and the practices are embedded.


Practical Innovation Flyer Apr 16

“Frank  is one of our most successful trainers and facilitators and I have recently acknowledged him as one of the worldwide winners for the best, real-world, practical application of the Lateral Thinking methods. Not only is he an accredited trainer of my Lateral Thinking, Six Thinking Hats and Powers of Perception methods, he also has some renown for the practical application of the methods to real world issues. To date he has successfully applied them across a range of industry resulting in substantial commercial outcomes and is now designing unique elephant conservation projects using lateral thinking, which should save both elephant and human lives into the future.” (Edward de Bono)

Navigating Complex Organisational Issues (Wed Apr 23)

Post by Frank Connolly 2nd February, 2014

"Navigating Complex Issues"  Wednesday April 23

What can we do to draft policy and develop strategy when the goalposts won’t stop moving?

The world is fast becoming  interconnected, uncertain and complex in ways previously unimagined. Doing business, whether Public or Private is getting tougher …

Organisations are struggling to keep pace with this complexity and require more contemporary skills to make sense of their shifting landscapes.  This full day workshop will assist participants to build greater insight around complex issues so that more meaningful design and action becomes possible.

We can no longer assume that the methods that worked in the past will work as well, or even work at all.  The future is highly unpredictable as patterns of activity, behaviour and interaction continue to shift and change. Creating organisations that remain resilient and agile in times of uncertainty requires new ways of thinking and acting. Those who stay within the perceived safety of the way things have always been done will, sooner or later, fail.

This session will outline a number of ways of working that are more akin to how we operate naturally as human beings, rather than how we try to operate in rigid corporate hierarchies. In such complex environments we need to manage the potential of the present by thoughtfully navigating our way forward, rather than putting plans in place for idealised future states that in all likelihood will never be attained, or even remain relevant over time.  We need new approaches to enable better navigation of our uncertain community and business environments.

The premise behind this hands-on experiential training is that if an issue is truly complex, A+B will not and equal C, therefore the manner in which we need to move forward becomes quite different to that which we might be used to.  The session will provide participants with a range of methods to increase their ability to navigate and gain traction on their complex issues, so that pragmatic action can evolve and progress can be implemented.

Session: "Navigating Complex Issues"
When: Wednesday April 23
Where: Airlie Leadership Development Centre
Value: $495/person or $450/Early Bird or group rate

Enquiries can be directed to Frank on 0400 109272 or at


Complex Navigation Flyer

“The “Navigating Complex Issues workshop” was an exceptional activity to make sense of the concept of complexity and gain practical tools for navigating complex issues. I appreciated the meaningful opportunity to interact with other participants and deeply question the what, why and how of the tools we explored. I ended the day with confidence in my emerging capability to navigate complexity and new contacts. An excellent professional development session masterfully facilitated by Frank Connolly.”  (Helen Palmer – Change Facilitator)

DIY Conservation

Post by Frank Connolly 10th January, 2014

The recent decision of the WA Government to start culling sharks off the Western Australian coast means the world as we know it is fast disappearing. This seems such a monumentally ignorant decision given the state of shark populations worldwide. Clearly, we are dealing with people utterly immune to what is happening in the world around them and completely oblivious to the long term consequences of their actions.

Conservation efforts worldwide are in big trouble.

In Australian politics we are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. With the governing Coalition we have arrogance and intransigence, the Greens are dangerously naive and give the “fairies at the bottom of the garden” a bad name and the ineptitude of the ALP when it comes to designing and implementing anything practical is well demonstrated. All exhibit fixed and ideological perspectives that they are unable to modify, and this brings them all into conflict and unable to cooperate on anything meaningful.

Once upon a time, short-lived creatures such as ourselves could have been excused for being unable to appreciate the long-term impacts we have on the systems that support us. Now we have no excuse. We have vast amounts of new knowledge and understanding about our environmental systems and an abundance of appreciation of the potential dangers we face should we continue to degrade these systems. The changes being wrought in our living systems through our action and inaction are now demonstrably occurring within the space of years and decades, where similar changes in the past have taken 1000’s of years.

We have placed our foot on the accelerator and we are on a downward slope.

Extinction rates are accelerating, natural habitats are diminishing, human populations are expanding at an insupportable rate, soils are being lost and the oceans are being acidified and poisoned. To top this off, there is now evidence to show that we are unfavorably impacting the very climate of the Earth due to the continued dumping of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and still the penny is not dropping.

The instability that these phenomena will bring about could have unpredictable domino effects worldwide that will impact us dramatically. Extreme climate conditions combined with population, food and water security issues in various parts of the world could have devastating and unforeseeable impacts here in safe and complacent Australia. Interconnected and brittle world economies ensure we are all in the same boat.

These sorts of concerns and a big picture item like “the Environment” is the type of thing we generally leave to decision makers high up. It is after all, so crucial to our future existence they must be taking care of business … Right?


The “environment” has been politicised and it’s no longer about meaningful, focused action to address issues, it’s about political point-scoring within short-term election cycles and proving the party line correct, while the others are all wrong.

The climate-change debate serves to illustrate this adversarial approach nicely. The semantics and chicanery being applied by both sides of the political divide around this issue is shameful. One side remains very much intransigent in their view of the climate change as something that just happens naturally. The other side consistently attacks them in response citing “definitive scientific proof” of man-made climate change, but in doing so make a mockery of their own “scientific” stance by consistently confusing potential correlations with actual causation.

Just once I’d like to hear reasoned scientists having this discussion instead of politicians reinterpreting their views for political mileage.

Right and wrong is now irrelevant and it matters not which ideology you favour.

If there is even the slightest of possibilities that human activities are a contributing factor to climate change we must ACT now and make a serious attempt to modify or remove these activities from the equation.  But no, we continue to talk about it, devise protocols on and sit on our hands. It is a pointless exercise to produce policies for long term and sustained change if they are not going to be supported by consecutive Governments.

A new bipartisan approach is demanded for serious issues such as the environment, but cooperation is at complete odds with the notion of winning and losing – so it isn’t going to happen.

If we were serious about means of generating clean, non-greenhouse-gas generating sources of electricity other than coal, surely we would encourage the adoption of solar and wind technologies more? The efforts made in this space have been token only. We are happy to hand out baby-bonuses and yet scale back subsidies for solar because “we can’t afford it”.  We can’t afford NOT to keep encouraging alternate energy sources.

While climate is the big ticket item at the moment, it’s of equal importance that we tackle the myriad other deadly issues that are so far being bungled. We have become afraid to speak out against population growth because it’s viewed as politically incorrect for a first world country to impose their views on a developing one – even if that developing one is going to hell in a hand basket due to population issues. Water is another topic that not enough is being done about. Globally, we do not have enough to service our growing populations, and what we do have we are badly contaminating. Bio-diversity is another crucial battleground, the numbers of plants and animals now extinct or on the endangered list are out of control.

Seriously, how can we condone the slaughter of sentient species such as Elephants, Rhinos and Tigers because of a fondness of ivory trinkets or primitive belief systems around powdered animal product providing improved erectile function? The list of greed-based, senseless and unnecessary killing goes on and it seems there’s little we can do about it.

But maybe we can do something …

We know now that little meaningful action will come in time from a political level. The Nero’s will continue to fiddle while Rome burns so it is beholden upon everyone do do something to ensure future generations experience the many wonders of the world that we have taken for granted.

There is only one person who can make a difference and that is you – we all have a responsibility to become involved irrespective of our “levels of busyness” and start doing things. A reactive one-off letter to an MP protesting the inhumane treatment of cattle because we saw it on Four Corners is not enough, we need to be aware and we must be proactive.

To assist in this I have pulled together a few broad rules of thumb based on real life experience in this space that may help. They are not a recipe for success but your additions, deletions and adjustments to suit your context could potentially make them so!

How to make a difference …

1) Accept Responsibility. Others are not going to be able to all that is needed. If only a couple of million more people around the world started to become active and accept responsibility for what is going on, a huge difference could be made. It can no longer be left up to those already in the game because they are swamped. Everyone needs to start contributing. If the state of the world itself is the end-game here, we will never find a greater motivation to become involved.

2) Get some skin in the game. Not all environmental issues will “float your boat” so find something that you have an interest in and concentrate your efforts there. It could be climate, the preservation of a certain animal you are fond of, fund raising for favored issues, raising awareness of key issues or even a local issue around planning – it really doesn’t matter – just get involved. Do what you are comfortable doing and enjoy doing it. Personally, I like the idea of saving the Asian Elephant from extinction so that is the field I have become involved in without any prior insight or knowledge about elephants. We are all part of the problem – that is the problem! We need to ALL become part of the solution too.

3) Don’t to it alone. Seek out like minded people who are willing to give something a try and do it together. Rope in friends. Tasks are easier when shared and conducted in a cohort. Most importantly involve your children, they have more skin in the game than any of us.

4) Meet regularly. Momentum is important, meet, discuss and get to know your issue and put some thinking into it. Turn your meetings into a social event. Talk to experts and get their advice. Don’t make it onerous, make it a pleasure.

5) Design and Do Things. Unless we move to action we are wasting our time. No matter what area you wish to focus on, put lots of small actions in place. Trial different things, it doesn’t matter if they don’t work because you learn from the failure and that informs your subsequent efforts. Try not to reinvent the wheel.  Your time, and that if your colleagues is precious, so try new things and break new ground. Others are drawn to action and people are influenced positively when they see momentum.

6) Collaborate & Share. There will be other groups working in similar areas  – Don’t compete with them, work with them or at least in parallel with them. Maybe even join together – don’t be precious about “ownership.” Ideally we should have many small groups slowly coalescing into larger more influential ones. The environmental space is littered with groups working on the same issues yet competing against one another for scarce dollars. The end result is many disparate and uncooperative groups with insufficient influence to do anything meaningful. Work out who else is in the space and work with them wherever possible. Other groups will learn and benefit from your experiences. Learn from them too.

7) See what happens. There is no way of knowing how your efforts will impact on the bigger picture. You don’t have to be an expert. Small things can make a big difference and you may surprise yourselves. You may not save the world or even a single species in the space of a few meetings and projects, but the benefits of involvement can be manyfold.

Seriously, it’s time for everyone to get off their collective rears and start doing something about the state of the world, because if we don’t, no one, but no one, is going to do it for us. If suddenly however we have another few million active in the environment space there is no telling what might be achieved.

What is your skin in the game?

Where did 2013 go?

Post by Frank Connolly 19th December, 2013

So much for 2013!

Many thanks to our supporters and clients for our work together over the year.

It has been gratifying to see so many focusing on embracing the uncertainty of the future and start to design and navigate their way forward instead of looking into the rear view mirror for inspiration.

I’d like to end the year with a quote from Brain & Culture by Bruce E Wexler that I think goes a long way toward explaining the “deceptiveness” of our thinking and why we struggle to make the best possible decisions when confronted with difficult issues.

“During the first part of life the brain and mind are highly plastic, require sensory input to grow and develop, and shape themselves to the major recurring themes of the environment. By early adulthood, the mind and brain have a diminished ability to alter those structures … much of the brain activity is then devoted to making the environment conform to the established structures.”

We wish you a Happy and Safe Christmas and New Year and look forward to catching up and doing even more different things in 2014.

Think well & Prosper!

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