Post by Frank Connolly 24th May, 2013
I recently completed a presentation for the eclectic Cynefin Meetup Group and discussed the need for experimentation when the way forward is not clear. All too often when organisations struggle with issues that are proving too hard, the default approaches are to either repeat that which has been done in the past, or throw a consultant at it. At least when they fail you can blame them! When organisations approach complex matters in these familiar ways the result is usually sub-optimal (I use sub-optimal as a more palatable euphemism for failure!)
How then can you start to gain traction on the intractable and in doing so, start to address those complex issues that continue to bedevil us?
When exploring such issues, I like to use the metaphor of walking into a heavy fog to seek out the insights required. To take a step into a fog however, with almost zero visibility and little foreknowledge of where the next step will land, can be a daunting prospect. This is particularly so if we are used to strategically plotting and stepping out predetermined pathways. When perspectives around control, certainty of approach and outcomes are challenged, the fog seems very threatening and decisive action becomes problematic.
More managers now intuitively understand the need to let go and step into the fog, but find it difficult to alter their entrained perspectives around certainty, control, risk and failure which inhibit their capacity to act. Some might describe this as the Knowing/Doing Gap, though from experience with management I prefer to describe it as the Knowing/Doing Chasm. How then, can we start to design beneficial ways forward if we are frozen into inaction (or at best, inappropriate action) when the path forward is unclear?
We start by taking a first step. With that step starts an emergent journey more akin to navigation than a structured and bounded approach aimed at very specific and predetermined outcomes. By starting to experiment we start to understand the landscape allowing new pathway(s) to be designed. Experiments that prove successful provide a form of “proof of concept” and in doing so, the location and direction for the path ahead.
Experiments that fail are also beneficial. Just as a success can point us in the right direction, a failure can tell us where we should not be going. In a complex space both success and failure are design features. When we design our experiments, we do so in small scale for specific purpose, so a failure is not only informative but minimises any of the associated risk inherent in large scale plans. More of this type of experimentation from Cognitive Edge here.
Surely then, an approach that makes failure a benefit, minimises risk through short term, low cost intervention and helps to gain new insights must be an attractive one to managers and be embraced across the board?
Unfortunately not. Those who continue to view the world as being more understandable, explicable and predictable than it actually is will struggle to see the value of approaches where outcome cannot be predetermined. Even when an experiment yields valuable insight or answers it is viewed by many as being 100% logical in hindsight, which of course it always will be. It’s the experimentation and getting to the insight in the first place, that is not.
We experiments to see what will happen when we try something different or something old in a new context – the results cannot be foreseen. This is perhaps one of the reasons managers like to rely on logic and judgement as their sole forms of reasoning, and why experimenting and stepping into the fog is so damn hard.
Post by Frank Connolly 23rd May, 2013
Last year Think Quick facilitated an X Teams programme on behalf of the Hargraves Institute for the Department of Sustainability & Environment.
Now the Victorian Public Service Continuous Improvement and Innovation Network (VPSCIIN) is about to sponsor an X Teams programme open to all Government Departments in Victoria.
The X Team process is one run over a period of eight weeks incorporating four face to face learning sessions at two week intervals with the time in between putting those skills learned into practice to address a complex real world issue or opportunity within an organisation.
The X-Teams approach is one that delivers a team-based programme that aligns and fully supports current strategy and also assists in forward design.
Each X-Team programme is customised to business unit or organisational objectives, goals and internal programmes. The process is integrated into current work procedures, locations and staffing requirements to ensure minimal disruption and maximum contribution from all participants, sponsors and the executives involved.
X-Teams provides a cost effective means for an organisation to start to develop their own internal “hothouse” environment for testing and developing solutions to real issues as a part of normal business.
In undertaking an X-Teams programme an organisation can:
Typically in an X-Team programme the senior leadership of an organisation will determine the key areas they would like the process to address. Once these have been decided the programme is designed with the organisation’s imperatives in mind and the X-Teams are selected and formed. The teams will then over a five week period participate in a facilitated process of problem solving and design that will enable them to work with their colleagues to design interventions address their organisation’s most pressing needs.
The new X Teams programme for the VPS will commence on June 13 and is being sponsored by the State Government Departmental heads via their VPSCIIN Network.
This is a brilliant opportunity for Victorian Government Departments to nominate a team to participate and reap the benefit of this valuable sponsorship. Departments that would like to take advantage of the opportunity should contact VPSCIIN Coordinator Deb Holder on 0402 285112 or at email@example.com
Those wishing to get a sense of how the last participants viewed the process can do so with the video above!
Post by Frank Connolly 2nd November, 2012
Given that everything we do starts with some form of thought, I wonder why we don’t pay any real attention to this when we seek to develop our people?
When discussing “thinking” I like to use the metaphor of a river, that has it’s source in the mountains and then travels to a downstream plain and then out to sea.
Using this, we spend way too much time operating downstream, when the real need is for us to move our thinking back upstream to the river’s source. We find without fail, that when people have the learning and capacity to move their thinking back upstream to start off with, the downstream results are greatly improved. Suddenly, that $1,000,000 issue ceases to exist or at least becomes a $1000 issue because we improved our thinking in the first instance.
In your organisation, do your people have learned and specific thinking methods at their disposal to:
1) Design new ways forward when the old ways are failing?
2) Systematically produce genuinely new, value-adding ideas?
3) Strategically navigate ways forward through unclear territory?
4) Explore multiple options with open minds and avoid being solution oriented?
5) Collaborate in meetings with focus, action and outcome orientation?
6) Integrate your diverse views rather than have them divide?
7) Safely move past using the “fear of failure” to avoid moving to action?
Avoid simplistic categorisations and formulaic approaches to complex issues?
9) Question static beliefs and move beyond default responses?
10) See opportunities through multiple lenses, not just that of risk?
The ability to routinely address these questions will build your organisational capacity and result in significant performance increases.
At Think Quick we have proven methods and track-record in assisting with all 10 of these needs, so if you need to fill your organisational thinking tank and subsequent performance, call us and we’ll have a no obligation chat to see just where we can add the most value for you.
Call Frank on 0400 109727 or contact us via email here.
Post by Frank Connolly 15th October, 2012
Compounding this, there is the expectation from above that whatever they deliver must be certain and unable to fail. The irony of this is that because of the expectation of certainty, structured and linear interventions are being placed into shifting and changing environments. As a result many fail given they are designed primarily for ordered and static environments.
The challenging spaces Government works in are changing rapidly and there is less certainty now than there has ever been. If we are therefore unable to see and understand exactly what is happening out there because of this rapid change, how can develop services with any degree of certainty and know how they might impact?
We do much of our thinking and design the bulk of our services with the assumption of an ordered world around us. The reality is that we are confronted with complex and uncertain world which requires very different thinking and action.
This session is designed to provide insight enabling this to occur.
Think Quick is pleased to collaborate with ACIG in providing this unique seminar that will showcase theory, real life case studies and the opportunity to practice the thinking and methods in experiential afternoon workshops.
To download the Action Focused Innovation in Govt brochure.
All participants are eligible for a complementary consulting hour with one of our course directors. This unique offer allows you to follow up the seminar with a private discussion of your own circumstances and challenges.
Post by Frank Connolly 1st October, 2012
I’ll put my cards on the table up front for this one: I have an equal disregard for both sides of politics here in Australia and I view the next election as the ultimate vote between a rock and a hard place. So much so in fact, that I’ll consider an informal protest vote. Now, many people throw their hands in the air at such a notion saying “but what if everybody did that?” to which I provide an honest response mirroring Catch 22′s Yossarian saying “Well if they did, I’d certainly be foolish to do otherwise.”
The old Aussie adage of “Not voting for them because it only encourages them” as cynical as it is, has a depth of hard-earned wisdom beneath it.
An experience last week highlights my cynicism in these matters.
In my pursuit of getting a new conservation project off the ground I recently attended a function where Opposition Communications Spokesperson, Malcolm Turnbull spoke about the current roll-out of the National Broadband Network. Now I would not normally have bothered attending such a function in the knowledge that I have grass at home I can watch grow, but I was keen to touch base with the Opposition Spokesperson for the Environment who was in attendance. (In addition, Turnbull is perhaps one of the few politicians we have with the nous to understand that different contexts demand different political approaches and that any serious response to issues should be determined by pragmatism, and not solely by a political ideology.)
During his address the Opposition Spokesperson made a number of very salient points that seem to have been overlooked or glossed over by the current Government. The nature of these is not relevant here, but having been one of the very few people to have rolled out a large cable network during my days in Papua New Guinea, I can say with great certainty he made a lot of sense. At the very least, the points he raised deserved serious contemplation by those in attendance.
There was a former sitting member in the audience that was compelled to question and make accusations during the time allocated for questions (Perhaps old habits from our cringe-worthy Parliamentary Question Time die hard?) The thing that struck me was the person’s compulsion to take an oppositional and adversarial approach to many of the points raised. Not only was it very apparent to many in attendance that he had not actually listened to the speech, but it was clear that he was so intent on “opposing” everything that was said, he automatically dismissed the potential benefit contained therein.
The nature of the response and it’s adversarial intent had other unintended consequences across the assembled group. A substantial amount of time was taken up that would have been better served allowing the local community to ask their own questions of the Minister. From my vantage point I could see a great deal of frustration at a political agenda being played out, and in doing so denying the opportunity for others to interact with the speaker.
The interaction was merely one that we see played out daily in our political arenas from all sides of politics. Politicians have developed a dominant paradigm of opposition, and in fervently opposing everything their colleagues across the floor do and say, they lose sight of the very reason they are elected. The perceived importance of the political process itself has out-stripped that of the intended outcomes of that same process.
When we default to solely adversarial interaction we deny ourselves the opportunity of fully exploring the subject-mater at hand. If the argument becomes about winning, any fact unrelated to the winning of the argument becomes irrelevant and is ignored. We often see this in the judiciary where the Prosecution will be in possession of facts that would in fact aid the Defence if shared and vice versa. All of the facts will not emerge as the “winning” of the case outweighs the importance of a full exploration of the matter at hand.
Language is one of the methods through which we make sense of the world and direct our behaviour. If the language is couched in the negative it’s little wonder the resultant interactions tend toward the negative. The word Opposition readily springs to mind here. Dictionary.com defines opposition as follows:
If this is the name, language and purpose ascribed to almost half of our sitting members of Parliament, we have a system named, couched and directed toward adversarial interaction. There is of course always a place for robust, opposing views via debate, however when one side rules by majority any real debate is easily subverted.
From hard earned experience with bureaucrats I know the system will not be overhauled to make it a more co-operative and beneficial one, the status-quo good, bad or indifferent will always be defended. We might however, make a start with some simple adjustments and see what happens from there.
The first thing would be to change some language. I would suggest the removal of the “opposition” word altogether. I would instead select a word that takes the adversarial nature out of the descriptor of “those who currently do not form Government” (The Opposition). Perhaps we could use words like Alternate Spokesperson, Alternate Leader or Alternative Govt? Our language shapes a lot of our thinking, so who knows how a subtle change in language might impact thinking over time?
I wonder also what might happen if we did attempt to overhaul the system to make the Parliament a more collaborative and more productive forum? What would happen if opposition was not the automatic default position of all concerned? What would happen if we forced our politicians to think more broadly and view topics from multiple perspectives before making decisions? What might happen if they started working in unison rather than in opposition? More important still … What would happen if they actually started to make better decisions?
It is actually possible to have a more productive and beneficial Parliament despite what supporters of the status-quo say, it simply needs to be co-designed in a collaborative and cooperative manner.
Imagine our elected representatives collaborating and cooperating in the National interest? Maybe that is a bit too much of a stretch.
As a side note, within a week of writing this, the Parliament has descended into a vitriolic-circus once again with our leaders (and I use the leaders term very loosely) attempting to use the Speaker’s indiscretions to political advantage and attacking one another with little regard to their own self-respect or the job they are being paid handsomely to do.
Post by Frank Connolly 5th September, 2012
Think Quick has just released its new A3 brochure.
Organisations that would like to receive copies of the brochure can contact us here and leave your contact details and postal address and we will send them out to you.
For more information contact Frank on 0400 109727