Weblog Entries for January 2004
January 29, 2004
Hutton and faith in authority
I've just had a conversation with my colleague Chris Pearse about the Hutton report. (Just published, Lord Hutton's report into a scandal surrounding a government weapons expert, Dr David Kelly, his leaking of information/opinion, the BBC's reporting thereof, Kelly's suicide)
Hutton has, in essence, cleared Tony Blair and his team of wrongdoing, and pointed the blame at the BBC. The government claims vindication; its former spin doctor savages the BBC. Some agree that the Beeb has been wicked; and others say the whole thing is a whitewash.
Whatever you may think of the content of the report, it's already very apparent that its publication has not closed the book on the affair. What interests me is that people are surprised and upset that it hasn't. I am no fan of our legal system and it comes as no surprise to me that a lawyer produces findings that cause a storm of protest. In fact, why do we create the expectation that any one person has the wisdom to deliver a defining view of complex evidence, as if somehow it's not actually for all us to make our own mind up... as if we could all agree if only someone really clever could deliver us an absolute, unifying truth?
It seems to me that the inquiry itself was quite helpful, bringing into the public domain a whole mass of information about the normally opaque dealings of big organisations. That part I give Hutton some credit for. But do we really need him to interpret the evidence for us; and if he chooses to do so, wouldn't it be better if he - and we - acknowledged that this is, of course, just his opinion. Of course Blair and his cohorts are now blustering about Hutton's eminence, but they would say that wouldn't they? Perhaps we're now learning a lesson about the foolishness of believing in totally impartial justice from judges that the US learnt in its last presidential election.
Clearly, the UK is still in transition from the time of deference and trusting authority to the more exciting if challenging world of networks and conversations. Some regard this with dread and concern, I mostly celebrate it.
And I wonder how often organisations waste time waiting for "definitive reports" from expert consultants, in the false faith that someone else will solve the problem... instead of engaging in the far more interesting challenge of moving together with goodwill through the uncertainties of tribulations of our daily lives?
I also note the energy wasted in the adversarial bluster where people try to make others good or bad, instead of attending to the richer, less sharply defined truth... or indeed to the more interesting question of - where do we go from here? That is where the British legal and political systems, with their emphasis on an adversarial model and a celebration of "forensic" approaches to living systems, fail us quite badly.
The BBC, Tony Blair, the David Kelly's family... they all have the same task today as they did yesterday... how do we move on from here productively? Was it really worth waiting for Lord Hutton's personal judgement before doing so? I think not.
Authenticity, democracy, engagement
Chris Corrigan has posted a very stimulating set of reflections on what causes democracy to emerge, which seems to relate closely to themes that preoccupy me - authenticity and engagement. It's an excellent piece; perhaps my favourite insight is this:
Dig this:Chris also refers to this paper on the theme of empowerment: (pdf) Free to do our work It's a very evocative piece, one that touched me and connected to my passion for facilitative work, and my fascination with its potential and pitfalls. Here are a few of the bits that most engaged me, but I urge you to read the whole thing if you can find the time.
By living within the lie - that is, conforming to the system's demands - Havel says, "individuals confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system, are the system." A "line of conflict" is then drawn through each person who is invited in the countless decisions of daily life to choose between living in truth and living in the lie. Living in truth - directly doing in your immediate surroundings, what you think needs doing, saying what you think is true and needs saying , acting the way you think people should act - is a form of protest, Havel admits, against living in the lie, and so those who try to live in truth are indeed an opposition. But that is neither all they are or the main thing they are. Before living in truth is a protest, it is an affirmation.
-- Schell, p.196
If that doesn't blow your socks off, check your pulse.
Living in truth is an everyday act. Accessible to anyone.I'm really struck my Chris's advocacy of the power of invitation, since first hearing it from him, I've noticed myself approach challenges more in that spirit, and I like how it works.
As you know, Open Space Technology works with passion bounded by responsibility. Passion is captured in the question "What do you really want to do?" and responsibility by "Why don't you take care of it?" The law that animates all of this is the law of two feet, which states "if you find yourself in a situation where you are neither learning or contributing, go somewhere where you can."
When I see others I think need empowering, I have to first ask myself if
I know what I'm looking at. Sometimes it's clear, sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's just me thinking that someone should be different.
Whatever the case, starting with awareness of my attachment to the situation is
profoundly important, because if I am not aware of where I stand, I run the danger of committing the most profoundly disempowering act I can think of: trying to empower someone else.... I think invitation is the key. Hard to know what exactly the details of your situation are, but for me, invitation is the gentlest and most profound way to bring someone into a mutual journey of exploring possibilities.
And I'm thinking, this may provide some insights to Tony Goodson's question about how to change a company culture.
The revolution will not be televised...
Eloquent polemic from Chris Lydon: After New Hampshire.
Here's what I'm learning: For those of us who like the sound of "Internet democracy," who yearn for political and cultural renewal and "transformation," the entrenched obstacle is not the old politics. It's the old media.... It's a dismal moment in American media, and just the right time to be developing a real conversation on the Web. The revolution will not be televised, but maybe it will be blogged.
From an article in Business 2.0, an endorsement of blogging:
Thanks to the combination of using a newsreader and plugging into a few good blogs (which then plug into more, and so on ...), I've created a hot list of business-oriented information that doesn't just rival my old information-gathering habits, it blows them away. Not only do I spend less time searching and more time learning, but I've also joined a challenging and diverse community of minds and business interests. Once you're in this kind of web, you don't leave it -- you'd be out of the loop. And in business, being out of the loop means death.(Thanks to Robert Scoble for the link)
January 27, 2004
Further to my comment below, and in pursuit of my dislike of brandspeak, here is my diagram of how people respond to the abstractions of brand experts. Especially designers of "brand architecture".
The language of branding, continued
My earlier post on the language of branding seems to have resonated with a few people.
Tony Goodson comments and relates it to an excellent Simon Caulkin piece from the Observer.
I bet Martin Johnson never went on a leadership course
And also bet that he doesn't write down his values and seek out other team member's values and then have a set of team values. Forget Leadership and Values. Ants don't have Leadership and Values, they just get on with it.
Uncommunicative, less than media friendly, Johnson is pitch- rather than book-smart. He is, as he would say himself, an ordinary bloke. An accidental, initially reluctant captain, at first he was too taciturn to be a really good one.
Jennifer Rice comments:
You just verbalized what I feel on a day-to-day basis. I want to make a bigger difference than coming up with a new tag line. But companies who understand real, authentic branding don't need me.... and companies who don't understand it, can't (or don't want to) be helped...Sometimes I think it's just us consulting folks sitting around reading each other's books and blogs. Oh well, don't mind me... just another jaded marketing/branding personI really understand Jennifer's frustration and I really like her for voicing her frustration, I believe that is partly how we get ourselves out of abstractions. And, I'm a little more optimistic about the outlook for her as I'm finding that many executives are actually longing to get away from the abstractions of brandspeak and will embrace other ways of doing their work. My own view is that a conversational approach does work, I'll blog more on that later probably.
Earl Mardle elaborates on his experience:
Here's the nasty secret of branding; It Happens One Contact At A Time and nothing you can do will shortcut that. And the people who make the contacts, from sales and delivery to training and support to the accounts department can make it or break it. Then the boss gets all swish and gives everyone email as well without knowing how everyone actually feels about the company.And I think that good conversations quickly reveal that the CEO really does want to know what's going on, and his swishness is partly a result of no-one taking the risk of challenging him. In Earl's own blog, he elaborates on his frustrations with the B word. There's a comment there from Marc Orchant:
My company spent a year (just prior to my coming on board) thrashing about its "brand" and even commissioning a "brand architecture" study. Fortunately, it's a really smart group of people and sensibility won over styling.That's one of my hot buttons, this phrase "brand architecture". It seems to suggest brands are fixed things, like buildings, which emerge exactly according to the architect's blueprint. It's an abstraction that seems to ignore the reality of brands and their social nature. Of course, it's a way of seeing the world that allows the authors to think of themselves as rather powerful, which may be part of the appeal.
I'm being spoofed
Oh dear, the contents of my inbox show that some spammer is spoofing my email address in his or her efforts to plague the world. I don't suppose there is anything I can do about this, but any suggestions would be welcome... UPDATE after 30 mins. No it's not spam, it's the MyDoom/Novarg virus which is now doing the rounds.
Worryingly, some emails bearing this have eluded my installation of Norton Anti-Virus, even though I have their latest definitions which include Novarg. That's the first time this has happened so it's just as well I was suspicious. I got the diagnosis from my web host.
And I notice that it's hard to find a way at the Symantec site to actually report a virus their software hasn't found... So that's another two small dents in the Norton reputation for me...
January 25, 2004
Satir Change Model
Surfing around I found this elegant description of the Satir Change Model by Steve Smith. I'm fairly phobic about "change models" but I've worked with this one and sometimes found it helpful - and human. For instance, it acknowledges the role of chaos in change and the wisdom of not ending it prematurely... (Apols to whoever's blog it was that linked me to this, I got lost somewhere)
Sleep on it
Piers Young blogs on the sleep advantage.
The hard (and repeated) lesson seems to be this: if you want to be creative, you need to do whatever you can to stop thinking about the problem. Get some rest, go for a walk - anything - but if you stay up all night working on it, chances you'll be a blank slate.
I've been reflecting on a meeting I facilitated last week. About a dozen friends and acquaintances met above a local pub to talk about our common interest in authenticity in organisations. I must say it turned into one of the most satisfying meetings I've been to, with a lot of good conversation and a willingness to debate and engage with candour and a distinct absence of posturing. So a good experience of authenticity.
Tim Kitchin was there and has written an interest blog of his experience here. I don't share his anxiety about the dangers of authenticity...
Preaching authenticity could be interpreted by many people as an endorsement of primal self-indulgence, towards gratification of our most visceral desiresalthough I realise that it's a concept which may lend itself to hijacking. This quote does sound a bit like the words of a hellfire preacher itself... all it needs is the congretation trembling at the prospect of all that gratification of visceral desire. (Sorry Tim). Still, that's the trouble with authenticity, talking about it can not capture what it's like to experience it. So I'll stop there for now!
More on language
Jon Strande sent me a very nice email about my blog on the language of branding. I don't know about you but it always brightens my day to get compliments about my blog, and I get a childlike delight at finding my words read in other parts of the world.
Anyway, Jon keeps a pretty nice blog himself, and I appreciate his link here and here to this pdf article: Notes on the role of leadership and language in regenerating organisations from Sun. It begins...
An organization is a living system.This feels along the lines of what I was blogging about. I've not fully disgested this interesting document yet, and I like that Sun are fomenting conversations in this way. There are many thought provoking insights here... and I do have some concern about this bit of it.
To survive in a highly competitive market,
it strives to increase its efficiency.
Language is the defining environment
in which these systems live.
It is how those in the system reach agreement.
It is also a medium for organizational growth
It is possible for an organization to learn and grow,
but only if it creates conditions
that help generate new language.
Using new language,
an organization may create new paths to productivity,
and regenerate itself.
Leadership is the reduction of uncertaintyWhilst that sounds very appealing in some ways, I don't think leadership is always about reducing uncertainty; sometimes it is about more about embracing it. Scary thought that is; indeed by arguing for change in conversations, Sun are introducing uncertainty about the current conversations. And when I read this
in an organization.
It comes from clear messages,
which lead to focused actions
that cannot easily be misinterpreted.
It comes from developing channels
for continuous feedback.
Some within SunI worry a little more. I don't believe that we can clinically separate the daily doing of business from the reinvention of language. The Academie Francaise tries this model with its bans on Franglais, and frankly it looks a bit foolish.
are tasked with improving performance
of the present-day business.
They use the current language
to increase efficiencies.
Others are tasked with generating opportunities
for Sun ’s future business.
They recognize new domains of invention
and translate them into new language
that may lead to profitable new endeavors.
These caveats may well be pedantic but I like to focus on the fact that each of us, in any conversation, are shaping the culture we work in by the way we choose to converse. Brands are not created by Brand Managers but by everyone in the system. They are created partly by the organisations politics which many brand writers exclude from their descriptions of how brands are built. In doing so, they present ideals that are not true to what's really happening and to that extent are no longer talking about the real brand out there.
I'm warming to this theme and plan to build on it.
Donald Duck hijacked by Child Catchers
Olaf Brugman is not happy with his child being on the receiving end of direct marketing:
I have spend hours over the past couple of days explaining to one of my children that he cannot expect to receive a Donald Duck clock, a PC game, a DVD/video recorder and a stack of leather-bound Donald Duck volumes for only € 3,90!...I must admit my thoughts went to the Childcatcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The sort of thing that would make anyone wary of the marketing profession.
But this is seduction pure, an attempt to make a sale by keeping transaction implications as shady as possible. Donald Duck as a force-feeder aiming to turn their subscribers into 'paté de foie gras'.
I wonder how anyone working for a publisher inventing these sales campaigns can come home in the evening and say to his kids he had a great day at work.
January 21, 2004
Chris Corrigan on gossip...
When I am working with organizations who complain that they have communication problems, I always ask about gossip. I ask how long it takes for a juicy rumour to propagate through the organization. People usually respond with some lightning fast time.
I always point out that this means that there is no communication problem, the problem is that people are just not passionate enough about issues that are "communication problems." This always leads into nice discussions about working with more passion, rather than devising some useless set of easily broken communication commitments.
The language of branding
I don't use my Dr Rant category very often, but I'm doing it today. The following is intended as a provocation rather than a definitive position. It may not be totally logically coherent... but then you'll see that that's the point.
I'm feeling more and more uneasy about the language of marketing/branding. I've felt this unease for a long time, but I'm finding it harder and harder to ignore or even tolerate.
Many marketing people constantly try to present marketing as a very rational business. I think this is largely scar tissue from so many encounters with finance directors and analysts who insist on proof, ROIs etc. I notice my own fear in making that comment is that readers will lecture me about the "realiities" of business. But I'm not arguing for an irrational approach, just challenging the rational, mechanistic way in which we talk about the business of marketing.
What I notice is that many narratives in marketing blogs about "how to" are accompanied by epilogues like... "well it didn't actually happen because of budget cuts/that fool CEO/black Wednesday etc." It seems to me that in presenting this rationalist approach the narrators are constantly rubbing up against the actual day to day realities of life... that it's complex and unpredictable. They get angry with people who argue for a more emotionally authentic approach (nice irony there).
This is NOT an argument for the kind of hot headed, hey wow!, glitzy stuff that I've just blogged about at Mutual Marketing.
But I do think folks talk about marketing as if it is this mass of matrices, "value propositions", and descriptions of "brand architecture". These things may be ways of desribing brands but I don't think they capture at all authentically how real brands actually come into being, which is always a far more chaotic or complex process with false starts, blunders, arguments, misunderstandings etc. And the excessive use of such approaches blinds us to the REAL world we're actually dealing with.
I have sat through too many meetings where values are talked about and conceptualised but not actually practised.
I am weary and sometimes repulsed by the model of the world that marketing language imagines. Here are some typical topics from a flyer for an upcoming conference I've been invited to:
Equipping your leaders with tools and techniques... for Successful Delivery of Brand Values
Achieving consistency.. to ensure everyone is speaking the same language inside and out... ensure management team are using the same vocabulary, look, feel and tone of voice in all forms of communication from post-it notes to emails
Driving change in colleagues behaviour
This "rational instrumentalism" describes a world where people are just objects we do things to. It describes a world far more fantastical than Tolkein or Harry Potter. Brand values are not "delivered" like a FexEx parcel. The middle one of the three is the most astounding. It seems to me to descibe an Orwellian vision of regimentation. What kind of dead organization is it where everyone uses the same language and tone of voice on every post-it note? I find such language absurd; if I thought the speaker really meant it I would be offended.
The bookshelves heave and my aggregator is flooded with seven-point plans and how-to-do-it essays, and I confess I have written a few myself in my time. I just searched on "business definitive" at Amazon and there are 128 hits. But the real world is not definitive, it is fuzzy and weird and perplexing.
Jim Berkowitz highlights a day-to-day example of Branding reality:
The experience I had occurred during a recent visit to a large Rite Aid store in Littleton, Colorado. I've visited this store a number of times because the bank branch I go to is right next door; so it's a convenient stop for me. My experience of this store is that it is never well stocked and service stinks; they never have any staff people available to assist you on the floor, there can be long lines at a single check-out counter while 5 Rite Aid employees are milling about who will not open up another check-out station and the employees are not at all customer-centric in their behavior. For example, I went to a check-out station where 2 employees were standing and was told to go to the other end of the store to check out because they were doing employee training; they couldn't be bothered with my needs, they were too busy with their own.Now to me, that's an easy to understand narrative that tells me something about the store in question and about Jim the narrator. Great.
Well, I nearly s... my pants when I saw this huge banner at the exit doors: "It's not just a store, it's a solution! Service, Selection, Quality, Price, Savings, Value - The Rite Choice."
First of all, I think that their tag line (about a "solution") stinks. Secondly, as I mentioned, their service and selection is lousy. And finally, isn't price, savings and value really all the same thing?
Jim wonders, so how do companies come up with their branding strategies and messages? Interesting question, but then I notice how the business-speak comes in and my sense of engagement drifts. I hope Jim will forgive me for this, and let me say that you may well find plenty of examples of me doing the same thing...
Next, I'm having them build a "Marketplace Value Proposition Matrix" that includes their company as well as their top 5 competitors. The matrix identifies the value propositions that each company is emphasizing in their branding messages.... Finally, we are asking several questions in the customer survey in order to measure the loyalty of each customer so that we can segment the customer base into several loyalty categories
Here are two different ways of representing the world in words. The first I find engaging and affecting; the second I find somewhat disengaging. That's just me, you be the judge. But I don't think that Value Proposition Matrices lead to great brands; I don't think Richard Branson aged 17 wrote a Value Proposition Matrix for his first foray into record retailing. I don't get pissed off with BT because I don't fit into their value proposition matrix.
I just don't believe that brands - or indeed life - actually happens this way. And I wonder if a lot of dull and lifeless brands have some terrific matrices worked out. This language may be useful as a way of post-hoc rationalising a brand, but to my mind it cannot describe the true, unmappable, complex challenge of taking one forward.
The question is: do matrices and maps contribute to our ability to explore that unknown future together, do they support us in dealing with the anxiety and excitement of going forward, or do they just suppress these emotions? Do they create the engagement that comes from a sense of venturing forth together?
Actually, I don't know for sure. It could be that filling in the matrix is an engaging activity for the folks Jim works with... and so much depends on context... but I do sense that we need to pay more attention to the way we are talking about branding as a clue to the sort of branding we are creating together.
January 19, 2004
Even more on "What is marketing?"
Jennifer Rice continues this dialogue.
I've been thinking about the term "relationship catalyst" as it applies to the marketing department.... I see marketing's role as catalyzing communication and relationships between stakeholdersI think I like this a little more than my earlier offering of "resolving the conflicting needs and interests of stakeholders"; it encompasses that function but sounds a bit more exciting and a bit less problem-orientated. My take on marketing is strongly influenced by my training in facilitation as well as my more conventional marketing background. I see the two as very closely related. Bad marketing, like bad faciliation, tries too hard to make people do things; good marketing, like good facilitation, allows people to realise the value of collaboration...
Ten tips for facilitators
January 14, 2004
More on what is marketing...
"I think it's a stretch to say that "marketing might think of its task as resolving the conflicting needs and interests of stakeholders.." That's the responsibility of the chairman and the CEO (or, in a multidivisional company, the division general manager). Attempts by marketing people to claim such a broad scope would disperse efforts and by perceived by many as a territorial grab."Very interesting. First, let me say that I don't claim the rights to say what marketing means, and different people quite fairly use it to describe different things. And yes, I think my suggested definition would be a stretch and is more ambitious in its scope.
David's comment focuses on the politics, and other people's anxieties. I hope that marketing does its job tactfully and openly so that it doesn't create undue fear; but getting some organisations to act with integrity means scaring some people. I'm not arguing for a "land grab" by marketing; but I'm asking for it take responsibility for the promises it makes to customers by making sure that the company delivers sustainably, in a way that works for everyone.
I agree with David that ulitmately this IS the CEO's job, in which case, the CEO is the top marketing guy. That's fine with me. Hey, at a stroke we no longer need to listen to those industry hand-wringers who say it's terrible that marketing doesn't get enough representation on the board; at a stroke every organisation is headed by a marketing guy. Less facetiously, I think that any function in a business has to get better and better at cooperating with its neighbours, and to do your job really well, you need to be collaborating and overlapping well with other functions.
Jennifer goes on to give an example of a Health education agency whose stakeholders don't have conflicting needs. I think maybe we're using different interpretations of the idea of conflicting needs, but I think Doctors and Patients often have conflicting needs - at least in the Health Service over here. Doctors are overworked and need to get through appointments quickly, patients want personal attention and to be listened to. A doctor's needs for information about eg drugs will be different from those of most patients. I assume this agency has funding needs, so it has to reconcile its target groups thirst for knowledge with the capacity of fund raisers to pay for it all. But I may be mssing the point here... hope Jennifer will forgive me!
Jennifer considers focussing marketing on communicating and that's an interesting variation, one that I guess makes marketing's job a bit simpler. Mind you, once you start getting really clear communication between groups, I think you are getting into resolving conflicts. My concern is that marketing people who see it as their job only to "communicate" might interpret this as an excuse to pass on half-truths and say, hey, don't shoot the messenger. And as Jen says, there's stuff like pricing to think about too.
Reflecting on this, I want to emphasise the need to recognise and deal with stakeholder conflict skilfully, rather than sweep it under the carpet and spin too many plates. My beef with so much marketing is its tendency to spin wild fantasies by simply avoiding internal conflicts and indulging in wishful thining.
I don't really mind the label we give to that conflict resolution process providing it's done; my disillusionment with a lot of marketing is that it really fails to deal with conflicts and often no-one else steps up to the mark.
Or am I getting all too theoretical and pedantic? Maybe. In which case, let's end on Tom Asacker's comment:
If the circus is coming to town and you paint a sign saying, "Circus is coming to Fairgrounds Sunday," that's Advertising. If you put the sign on the back of an elephant and walk him through town, that's a Promotion. If the elephant walks through the Mayor's flower bed, that's Publicity. If you can get the Mayor to laugh about it, that's Public Relations. And, if you planned and coordinated the whole thing (including naming, pricing, events, location, concessions, souvenirs, spin-off products, licensing, etc.) that's Marketing!
The Corporation is comprehensive, damning, brilliant and insane, all at once. The producers have put their money where their mouth is, dared the big boys to find fault in their arguments, and laid themselves bare to be sued if legal action is warranted.
One to watch.
January 11, 2004
I'm with Chris when he says "As a facilitator, I mostly design my own processes and tools for meetings depending on what the client wants" and like him, I like this community chest of ways of engaging people as a source of inspiration.
More on engagement and marketing
The fact is, marketing is usually not allowed to participate in creating engagement for its stakeholders. The employee stakeholder is in HR's territory, and all too often the HR director/team is busy with paperwork and not with engagement. The other problem is that employee motivation is often at the bottom of management's priority list. A C-level client recently said to me, "Why should we motivate employees to do what they're already paid to do?" Ouch. Employee engagement happens during the brand-building process, when the brand promise is actively infused throughout the corporation by the entire leadership team.This certainly reflects my experience and I think marketing people need to challenge the kind of pigeonholing that limits them to addressing customers. Julie Anixter in her chapter in Beyond Branding (Transparency or Not) suggests that HR and marketing should merge budgets, an idea I'd go along with. And/or marketing might want to reframe its purpose.
Which coincidentally, Jennifer also comments on today. My thought on this is that marketing might think of its task as resolving the conflicting needs and interests of stakeholders. I suggest this because a focus on the word customer risks oversimplifying the real challenge. (I really hestitate to accuse anything of oversimplification as I think mostly business folks makes things too complicated, but I think I'm right to in this context). And as Jennifer's comments suggest, if marketing is limited to pleasing customers, without having either the power or responsibility for squaring that with everyone else at the party, then it is likely to waste resources.
Does this mean I am against customer evangelism? Not necessarily, because actually over time the best deal for customers comes from businesses that make a decent fist of creating win:wins for all their stakeholders.
My thinking on this is strongly influenced by doing marketing work with independent schools. They start with an interesting challenge defining customers anyway - are they the parents (who pay) or the pupils (who get the education)? And obviously, they would have a very hard time if they simplistically sought to give customers what they want (which might be: 45 weeks of holiday). Actually, successful schools have always managed to balance a whole range of competing interests.
I also think my suggested redefinition of purpose is better suited to the much more fluid world of a networked economy where conventional distinctions blur. For example, in Open Source work, the customers and the makers often overlap. It seems to me that what Linus Torvalds has managed to do is to conjure Linux out of a web of overlapping interests and needs.
January 10, 2004
More thoughts on thinking or doing...
I've found that by settling on a new concept can sometimes change the conversation, which can create action. When someone uses the word "user" in a meeting I'm in, I'll actually stop them and say "you mean our 'customer'?" Everyone chuckles, but I've witnessed the conversation shift to be a bit more human, a bit more about the experience, a bit less about the "feature".I realise that this conversation starts to overlap with the theme of thinking vs doing (see eg my entries here and here). This topic has been rattling in my brain for the past few days.
One of the interesting things about the anecdote that sparked the thinking/doing debate was the amount of interest it generated... lots of comments and links and trackbacks. It became a mini viral story, I think because it touched a nerve with people, a commonly held frustration with a sense of analysis paralysis. Bloggers then chipped in their own interpretations and anecdotes in a kind of collaborative sense-making. The zeitgeist could be interpreted as a groundswell against rumination and in favour of activity. And here is the irony... we were all, in a sense, having an conversation about talking less and doing more.
As in so many things in life, what seem initially like opposites - talk vs action - aren't. John P's recent entry gives an example of conversation that changes the way people make sense of a situation and no doubt affects their action. (Meandering digression: the email I blogged yesterday tends to suggest we must always choose between love and fear; whereas life is more paraoxical - even though I still enjoyed the idea).
Then I think of the times in meetings I've done what John P is talking about - said something that disrupted the apparent consensus (in varying degrees). The effect is usually energising. But also, what precedes my interruption is not a merely mental process; usually there is a growing feeling of discomfort in my gut in response to the conversation I'm listening to. Now for that to happen, some physical action has to take place, some muscles have to contract. When we look at the human detail, in this talk, there is action. And vice versa. (Chicken vs egg). )And by the way, when I stay silent, or when I go along with the consensus and don't speak up, other muscles contract in other ways...
So instead of dividing into two camps.. the mesomorphs who celebrate action, and ectomorphs deifying thought/conversation, we may not be as divided as we think. And then the focus shifts from talk as opposed to action to looking at the quality of our actions and conversations. This is the area of work that really gets me going; how much time do we spend reflecting on the quality of our engagement when in meetings as well as the content of the conversation.. and how often do we jointly reflect on that experience?
My experience in business is that shared reflection happens relatively little because people think they don't have time. But in a networked economy, I think that creating conversations of great quality is largely what marketing must do. And if marketing people (and I daresay anyone else) aren't reflecting on how they converse, they may be missing some pretty useful - and actionable - information on how to do their job better.
Perhaps this partly explains why bloggers blog. Because blogging does provide one way to create reflective space for ourselves.
Thanks for listening.
January 9, 2004
Fear State or Love U ?
My friend Jack Yan sent me this, which has been doing the email rounds. At first, I felt a bit squeamish reading it, but once I got to the curriculum for Fear State I started laughing out loud.
I'm not, by the way, wearing sandals and chanting as I post this. But I'd enjoy having less of the Fear State curriculum in my life (and other people's).
Decide what you are a student of.
When people enroll in college or other institutions, they decide what courses they would like to take, assumably because they have interest in the subject. It would not make much sense, to be conducive to learning, to randomly go from class to class each day with no direction or purpose.
Think of your life as a place of education where you have the opportunity to choose between two curriculums: One is taught at Fear State, the other at Love University.
To attend Fear State, the only requirement is for you to believe that you are separate from God and therefore your essence is not love.
To attend Love University, your only requirement is for you to believe there just might be another way to go through life. No matter what you may have done in the past you will never be rejected from Love U. Also, Love University allows transfers from Fear State at any time, no questions asked.
The curricula at the two schools are quite different and lead to very different realities and experiences. Fear State is based on the philosophy of the ego, which teaches that you are alone and separate in a cruel and harsh world. Love University is founded on the truth that all beings are created in love, and that this love is within you now.
Take a look at the courses each offers, and decide where you want to spend your time learning. Note that Fear State describes its courses in a way that might initially sound attractive. Like any relentless recruiter, Fear State tries to sell you by saying that following its path will ultimately make you safe, powerful, and secure. When reading its course offerings, ask yourself if the recruiter might be trying to pull the wool over your eyes.
Fear State Course Offerings:
Fear 101. The Use of Guilt and Judgment:
This course teaches numerous ways to beat oneself and others up about things the student may have done in the past, and about who one believes one is. The premise is that one does this so as not to make further mistakes.
Fear 102. The Use of Blame
This unique course offers the student ways to avoid just about anything. It teaches that if one doesn't feel peaceful, all one need to do is find what is wrong in the external world and blame it. This course is prerequisite for Fear 105.
Fear 103. The Use of Time:
Students will learn how to dwell on problems and will learn that trust is a foolish thing. In the second part of the course, the student will learn a variety of ways to worry about the future. None of the material teaches about the present, because, to the fearful mind, it is dangerous and uncontrollable.
Fear 104. Desire and Scarcity, the Greatest Motivators
The student will be taught that the more one has and accomplishes, the happier one will be. Emphasis is on the belief that as long as the student wants more, the student will be motivated to achieve. Scarcity will be taught by demonstrating if one gives away what is believed to be important, one will have less.
Fear 105. Control All and Be Safe:
The central teaching of this course is that if one can always be right, one can always be happy. The first part of the course teaches that if one can control others one will achieve great success. The second part shows how to use guilt, intimidation, fear, domination, manipulation, conditional love, and criticism to get what it is that one thinks one wants.
Love University Course Offerings:
Love 101. Acceptance:
This course teaches that the only thing one can really change is one's own mind. The student is taught to accept what cannot be changed, and change what can be, thereby achieving peace of mind.
Love 102. Forgiveness:
Through seeing no value in holding on to guilt the student discovers the essence of all beings is love. This is the foundation of forgiveness.
Love 103. The Use of Time:
Participants will learn how to discover love by letting go of the past and ceasing to worry about the future. Participants remove all limitations from themselves and others by practicing the core teaching: "Now is the only time there is. This instant is for giving and receiving love."
Love 104. Abundance:
Participants learn that giving and receiving are one in truth. Through ongoing demonstrations, everyone joyfully learns the important equation that what is most important, love and compassion, increase as we give them away.
Love 105. Service:
Participants learn that the greatest source of joy comes from sharing Love. Through service, students learn that assisting others in loving ways gives purpose and meaning to their existence.
Each minute of every day you are deciding upon what you want to learn. Both Fear State and Love University are possible choices, but only one is worthy of your investment. The more you can consciously turn your back on the loud recruiter of Fear State and walk toward the gentle guidance of Love University, the more you will discover the dividends of joy, happiness, and self-acceptance.
You choose your own curriculum. Do you want to be a student of love or a student of fear?
January 8, 2004
Chris Lawer points to Prahalad's new book, The Future of Competition: Co-creating Unique Value with Customers. The blurb for this says it's about
the evolving role of the consumer from passive recipient to active co-creator of value. Managers need a new framework for value creation. This book is about the emerging "next practices" in value creation.Beyond Branding is on to this already; for instance there's a chapter "Whose Brand is it Anyway" about co-creation, as well as thinking about how valuation methods must change to reflect a changed, connected economy.
Increasingly, individual customers interact with a network of firms and consumer communities to co-create value. No longer can firms autonomously create value. Neither is value embedded in products and services per se. Products are but an artifact around which compelling individual experiences are created. As a result, the focus of innovation will shift from products and services to experience environments that individuals can interact with to co-construct their own experiences. These personalized co-creation experiences are the source of unique value for consumers and companies alike.
Coincidentally, Ton Zijlstra does a clear diagnosis of an event that does not seem to have figured out the co-creation of value. Commenting on last years KM Europe event, Ton unravels why it didn't work to well for all involved. It's a good example of the way thinking needs to change.
January 7, 2004
I found this on a table in a pub in Camden this lunchtime.
"Life can only be understood backward--but we must live it forward (Soren Kierkegaard)"I have nothing to add.
January 6, 2004
Lilia Efimova comments on my entry on Doing vs Analysing and links (via Martin Dugage) to this Fast Company article: Why Can't We Get Anything Done? This is a good summary of the points made in the book, The Knowing Doing Gap (actually, having read the book, I think the article is a pretty good substitute for reading it!). Martin focuses on this point from the article:
Mistaking talk for action is worse than just a simple error: Talk can actually drive out action. Studies about the way that meetings actually work demonstrate that negative people are perceived as being smarter than positive people -- that is, being critical is interpreted as a sign of intelligence.I know that I can easily get into that critical mode myself and my education seemed to emphasise criticism rather than action. I also think I need to watch the "Blogging-Doing" Gap. Tony and I were talking on Skype today, wondering where people get the time to do all this blogging... where do I get the time?
And I see that in organisations it's easier to talk about change than to embody change in the way we converse.
On a tip from Tony Goodson,I've added my OPML file to Dave Winer's "Share Your OPML" I've heard about OPML for a while and now I realise what it is - it's a file containing the RSS feeds of the blogs I subscribe to. Another way for bloggers to keep tabs on each other ! (What's RSS?)
January 5, 2004
Doing vs analysing
The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the quantity group: fifty pound of pots rated an A, forty pounds a B, and so on. Those being graded on quality, however, needed to produce only one pot -albeit a perfect one - to get an A. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the quantity group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes - the quality group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.Following the train of comments in the various blogs, this has been a very inspirational story. Perhaps in part because it challenges a commonly held but often oppressive idea: that we need to analyse before doing. Actually, in complex systems (and being human is complex) it's vital to try stuff before analysing. (see my entry on Dave Snowden)(Or more subtly, it is a mistake to separate the doing from the analysing).
This also resonates with the fabulous book I'm reading at the moment, Changing Conversations in Organisations by Patricia Shaw. This is such a fantastic book I can't do it justice here, but essentially Shaw discusses
(moving from a) thought-before-action, design-before-implementation, systematic, instrumental logic of organizing, towards a paradoxical kind of logic in which we see ourselves as participatingin the self-organizing emergence of meaningful activity from within our disorderly open-ended responsiveness to one anotherShaw is talking about how we talk to each other, the story is about making pots; they're both about recognising that it is misleading to think we can entirely separate thinking from doing - an insight that may trouble a great many management thinkers. Anyone who loves Improv work (eg me!) wouldn't bat an eye though.
January 4, 2004
Entertaining comment from Will Davies in The Work Foundation'siSociety Blog
Futurology hits the mainstream media at this time of year. Witness this from Peter York, via the BBC:Making predictions is fine, I know I like to indulge. But so often this can lapse into something more like cod-astrology. Also, making predictions is sometimes a way of avoiding saying something more personal and authentic (for example saying "that won't work" is a cop out from saying "I feel threatened by that idea".) I daresay Peter York thinks the whole Cool Britannia thing sucks, but maybe making a prediction of a mysterious defining event feels more important?
Trends which started in the mid- to late-90s, such as the "dome-fever, young country, Cool Britannia" sort of thing will come to an end [in 2004], marked by a single defining event. "I can't say with clarity what it will be," he says, "but some event will happen to set the seal on it."
Well thanks Peter, but excuse me if I don't rush straight down to Ladbrokes clutching a fist-full of twenties. Below are some critical reflections on futurism.
Firstly, its always amused me that many futurists base their case upon two entirely contradictory claims, these being:
a) That we live in rapidly changing times, meaning that the future is less and less certain.
b) That despite the future being less and less certain, futurists are somehow able to unlock its secrets!
(err... so how come people didn't used to go around making endless predictions, if things were once so much more predictable?)
(And thanks to Lee at Headshift for linking to the NEF blog)
Norton Antivirus and the times we live in
I've got Norton Antivirus and have always thought it was good, admittedly from a position of non-expertise on viruses. Each year, I upgrade to the new version instead of just buying a year's subscription to virus updates.
So I check the cost for doing this for 2004 at Amazon. And then Whoa! It gets a lousy 2.5 Star rating from reviewers. That's odd. Then I read some of the reviews, esp the really low ones, with comments like:
I always install the latest versions of Norton products and have always been happy with them.and
This time is different - this product is not ready for release. Since I installed it my PC is running very very slowly. I intend to remove Internet Security 2004 and reinstall Internet Security 2003 - it really is that bad.
Like most people who like to surf and bank on line I wanted to ensure good internet anti-viral protection etcAnd these are previously loyal customers. Then there's a guy who discovered that it's very difficult to uninstall Norton automatically (his PC wouldn't restart and he was lucky to get it working again, with a lot of effort).
I already had installed the 2003 version and checked all was OK via Symantec web site and all seemed fine
Like other reviews mentioned, on installing the 2004 version I now appear to be at risk from hackers with 3 ports open, oh dear, not exactly a leap forward in technology.
The 2003 version is back in the computer, the 2004 version is a new coaster for my coffee!!
Also interesting... the really negative reviews tend to be rated way more useful by Amazon users (eg 23 out of 23 for a couple of "don't buy this" comments).
Just a workaday example of the network phenomenon. How bad news travels fast - and how valuable it is to get the downside on products, a perfectly understandable response given marketing's love of only giving us the hype. And I'm passing on the bad ones too, cos they are more interesting. Now there are also some very positive reviews, but before I stick something in my PC I need a lot more convincing.
Time for relationship
Tom. A lot of what you said made a lot of sense, and some of it I have come to realize over time myself. I remembered a time when I was working in Vermont where I arrived at the appointment and the guy was too busy to see me, as he had to put up some shelves. Now I offered to help him put these shelves up, and later that day he signed an annual contract with me without really discussing my company at all. I knew there was a fit, and I could help his business, and now that we had a relationship he trusted my judgment to make that decision for him being that I know my product and business.Chalk that up as another argument for relationships before ideas.
Over the years though I have started doing less and less of this as you could consider it 'Not the best use of time.' We are in a business world now that preaches streamlined efficiency. The easiest time to cut time is in the relationships. That is the one place where you see an opportunity to shave an hour here and an hour there so you can go on more appointments or make more phone calls. I think this is a huge mistake that is made by people every day.