Weblog Entries for October 2010
October 31, 2010
links for 2010-10-31
Abstract of research suggesting the more boring solitary practice is the best way to prepare for the spelling bee. Reinforces the theory in "Bounce" by Matthew Syed.
A great article on how (and this is my paraphrase, not Doc's words) much of our web experience is being personalised, but only in the sense of who the big websites think we are... based on all the behaviour they've been meticulously tracking. But that's not who we really are. And there lies a serious problem and an exciting opportunity.
Learning styles = astrology ?
Prompted by Harold Jarche, I downloaded this free chapter (pdf) from Ruth Clark's book on Evidence Based Training Methods. It provides some excellent provocative thinking, especially around the whole industry that's arisen around the notion of learning styles.
Clark compares this fixation with the idea of the four humours that preceded the discovery of circulation of blood. Basically, she suggests there is no solid evidence base for these models, and some signifcant research to disprove them. I went to wikipedia and found a similar story.
I've long had a visceral dislike of these kinds of classification systems and the way people seem to present themselves as if they have to learn things in a certain way. We're a lot more complex and versatile than these pigeonholes suggest. And I shudder to think of the money that is still being invested in profiling people and designing material around something that seems akin to astrology.
There are some other nuggets in the chapter too, and no doubt in the whole book. For instance, she delivers a fairly effective dismissal of the value of happy sheets at the end of courses. The evidence is that enjoyment is not a particular good predictor of learning value. But if you want the ratings anyway...
What factors are associated with higher ratings? The two most important influencers of ratings are instructor style and human interaction. Instructors who are psychologically open and available—in other words who are personable—are associated with higher course ratings. In addition, the opportunity to socially interact during the learning event with the instructor as well as with other participants leads to higher ratings.
Update: Stephen Downes has a few reflections on this with his usual clarity.
Good for nothing
My friends at Pipeline are doing a little barnraising on December 4th, in the form of an event called Good for Nothing. A group of geeks, tinkerers and ideas people get together for a day to play together and see if they can create useful things for some good causes.
A nice change from portentous talkfests, which is the gist of Neil Perkin's take on the idea. And a nice way to spend a December Saturday away from Christmas shopping. Hope to see you there.
October 29, 2010
links for 2010-10-29
Research suggests teen pregancies etc are far higher in the US where parents frown upon teen sex. It the Netherland where they may not like it but do discuss it and are willing to countenance it, rates much lower. Says something about the downside of moralising.
Required reading for complacent educators from Seth Godin. As I've said before, they're heading the way of the music business.
A nice little research nugget to challenge people who criticise idle social chat - it can lead to higher cognitive performance
i liked this!
Succinct pushback from a blog with a lot of provocative thinking about aid marketing
October 28, 2010
October 27, 2010
Dan Pink highlights Karl Fisch's approach to teaching: instead of lecturing them in the classroom and giving them homework to explore the subject further, he does it the other way round. Students watch his lectures on Youtube in the evening and work the problems in class the next day - where he can support them and they can support each other.
“The idea behind the videos was to flip it. The students can watch it outside of class, pause it, replay it, view it several times, even mute me if they want,” says Fisch, who emphasises that he didn’t come up with the idea, nor is he the only teacher in the country giving it a try. “That allows us to work on what we used to do as homework when I’m they’re to help students and they’re there to help each other.”Brilliant. And let's replicate this outside the classroom - especially at conference where the tired, lame convention of keynote speeches could do with similar treatment.
Hat tip: Adriana Lukas
October 26, 2010
links for 2010-10-26
Some good examples of resistance to new inventions - and boy do they look preposterous with hindsight
The trouble with techniques
In his article on the limits of feedback - Does your leadership reduce learning? (pdf), Roger Schwarz looks at feedback in the context of bosses talking to the people who report to them. This feels like the nub of his argument:
Ironically,by trying to control the situation, you contribute to creating the consequences you are trying to avoid. You create misunderstanding because you assume that the situation is as you see it, and you base your actions on untested assumptions about others. If you make negative assumptions about someone’s motives and do not test them, you generate your own mistrust of others and vice versa. This leads people to be wary and cautious in their responses, which you see as defensive. In this way, you create a self-fulfilling process, generating the very consequence you set out to avoid, sealing off the opportunity for learning how your own behavior may be contributing to the team’s reduced effectiveness. All this reduces your team’s ability to learn, its effectiveness, and its quality of work life.I think essentially he is suggesting leaders are in a status game, reinforced by their positions, in which they easily believe they see the whole, true picture and are insulated from getting other perspectives. Makes sense to me. Schwarz characterises this as a unilalteral control model, and offers an alternative, the mutual learning model, based on rather different values and beliefs.
As a way to rebalance status this seems a good idea. And there are some good principles articulated, such as the value of seeing differences as things to be explored for mutual learning, rather than easily slipping into labelling them as faults to be rectified.
I also have some misgivings, less with the ideas put forward and more with the language used. For instance in this passage:
almost everyone operates without thought or awareness from a set of values and assumptions that create these consequences. This approach is called the “unilateral control model”This sounds quite categorical. It seems to suggest that we're like computers whose every decision can be referred to some kind of rational program based on explicit assumptions and values. I'm think that's a very narrow way to represent the complexities of our minds. For instance, I find it interesting to think about the different kinds of brain, lizard, mammalian and human, all operating in different ways. And that's just one alternative way of looking at it.
Why I think this matters might be clearer when we look at Schwarz's alternative model., While quite different from the first, it also seems a rather hygienic view of how we might do things better. Oh just change your model, and bob's your uncle, your feedback will rock. For me, the stuff about values also smacks of moralising as if it's a set of bad values that leads to defective behaviour... rather than something simpler like, not really noticing our impact on people (and them colluding by not telling us). (Update: see also Dave Snowden's latest on the problem with values statements.)
This style of writing is very prevalent in Western, especially American, management. It's all very reasonable but also feels like it's not connected with the visceral reality of being a human being - dealing with other human beings who aren't machines. We may write great spreadsheets but also sit on the loo. The cumulative effect of all this reasonableness is to deny us much of our experience as sentient beings.
People talk a lot about difficult people, or (perhaps more accurately) difficult relationships. The clue is in the title. These experiences are difficult. Because there's a lot of stuff going on, much of it out of awareness and that can't be represented in a model of boxes and arrows. People have histories, vast slabs of experiences, joys and pains, successes and failures that colour how they behave and will continue to do so, whatever management technique they learn. Feelings of discomfort, anger, love, contempt etc are natural and inevitable, and will soon leak out of whatever tidy framework we put together.
In my previous post, I quoted Schwarz's excellent rebuttal of the feedback sandwich. One of the reasons people know they are being "techniqued" is that the stuff of relationships, good or bad, gets signalled unconsciously, regardless of the official protocol.
So I think the alternative Schwarz model provides some useful ways for a group to have some more useful feedback... but at another level I fear it reinforces a kind of la-la land of polite, reasonable sounding managment and hierarchy. This kind of management language feels like it reduces the complexity, joys and frustrations of being human to something tidy and polite. It's like the Victorians (allegedly) putting doilies on the ankles of their pianos for the evening recital.. then slipping into the stews of the East End at midnight to satisfy their less polite, repressed human cravings.
More to follow on finding ways to embrace our more animal ways of relating in how we talk to each other...
Andrew Rixon looks at feedback and puts his finger on one reason it is so often counter-productive.
Because as neuroscience has shown, imagination and creativity are some of the first things to shut down when we face a personal fear response, and they may also be our most powerful antidote and ally....And let’s be honest, when it comes to feedback, how often have you felt a twinge of fear? Is there something that you know needs one of those “frank and fearless” conversations?When giving feedback, we flatter ourselves that we're being rational and helpful, but we reckon without the lizard brain of the recipients. That part of the brain is not thinking about the finer points of performance, it's trying to work out whether to run, fight, eat or (we won't go there) the critic.
Good feedback can be incredibly helpful, even liberating. Bad feedback can create a lot of stress and seems to lead nowhere very interesting. But what exactly is good feedback and how do we make sure we don't just sit in an echo chamber where all our prejudices are reinforced rather than challenged? Equally, how do we avoid getting hopelessly demoralised by the stuff people sometimes dump in our lap in the name of being helpful? And what about those lizard brains? I'm going to write a few posts about this stuff. This, you may have realised, is the first.
Andrew links to two very interesting perspectives on feedback. The first, by Roger Schwarz (pdf), takes aim at the standard "feedback sandwich" formula. This is the notion that we should sandwich our critical comments between two slabs of praise. The trouble with this technique is that it's now so widely known that recipients can see it coming a mile off; the slang term in some organisations - where it's called the "shit sandwich" - reflects this.
Schwarz offers a more elegant rebuttal. He imagine what it would be like to be honest about what you were up to when delivering the sandwich:
To be transparent, you’d have to say,“Jan, I called you in here to give you some negative feedback and I want to let you know my strategy for doing this. First, I’m going to give you some positive feedback to make you feel more comfortable and get you ready for the negative feedback. I think this will make youBecause the sandwich is an established technique, the strategy is often fairly apparent anyway, hence the problem. I like Schwarz's test though, and I wonder if it might be usefully applied to a great many management techniques: would you be willing to share with the victims of this approach the strategy implicit in it?
less defensive about the negative feedback and less likely to disagree with me.Then, I’ll give you the negative feedback, which is why I called you in here today. Finally, I’ll give you some more positive feedback so you’ll feel better about yourself and won’t be as angry with me.Will that work for you, Jan?” If you’re thinking it would be absurd to share this strategy—you’re right. And
that’s the point. If it’s absurd to share your strategy in a conversation designed to help your colleague, then there’s a fundamental problem with your strategy.
There's more to this, and in subsquent posts I'm going to look at Schwarz's interesting alternative about which I have some misgivings. And more on those lizards.
October 24, 2010
links for 2010-10-24
Stirring stuff from Jeff Jarvis: "One way or another—by force of through sanity—we are at the dawn of the transparent age. But it’s not going to be a pretty or easy transition. For the first facts to be dragged into the sunlight will be the ugly ones that somebody thinks need to be exposed. Only when and if government realizes that its best defense is openness will we see transparency as a good in itself and not just a weapon to expose the bad. Only when governments realize that their citizens can now watch them—better than they can watch their citizens, we hope—will we see transparency bring deterrence to bad actors and bad acts. Then we become Big Brother’s Big Brother. Or we can hope."
Serious thinking from Ralph Stacey who takes few prisoners in challenging conventional thinking about management. Not light reading but worth the effort I think.
Against the monstrous regiment of flipcharts
Five years ago I flippantly (apols) proposed an international no flip chart week. Chris Corrigan has just written an excellent explanation of why this would be a good thing. And perhaps for more than a week.
I especially resonate with his observations that power accretes around a flip chart and that it leads to very linear ways of thinking.
Can I just add that there's a similar rant to be written about tables, especially big ones.
(Though I do have a secret liking for those flip-chart sized post-its - but I never have to pay for them.)
Agile or just being human
Neil Perkin has written a succinct post on Agile Marketing - basically applying the principles of agile programming.
Amongst other things, he contrasts a corporate obsession with measurement, documentation and meetings with the agile approach of barely sufficient requirements and allowing for multiple iterations to get closer to the customers needs.
Agile says ‘just start and iterate along the way’, and welcomes changing requirements. Digital models are all about experimentation, rapid prototyping, optimisation, beta. The idea of lighting lots of fires, gaining feedback, and using it to adapt the allocation of resources, of chunking down big ideas and long timescales to smaller pieces which might adapt and change in response to a changing environment. Small, incremental fulfillment helps minimise risk, results in better control on costs, and allows for change. Beta is good but perpetual beta is better.
Good stuff. Neil heads his post with a classic Dilbert cartoon, about how "agile" might get mangled as a concept when put into a hierarchy. So let's not get too stuck on the label agile - what I think we're really talking about is working in the ways that are most natural to us as intelligent humans keen to learn and grow.
October 23, 2010
links for 2010-10-23
Geoffrey Robertson looks back on the famous trial of 1960. The Britain he depicts is an unattractive place, ruled by comically-pompous, moralising elites. I wonder what ideas, taken as given today, will look ridiculous in fifty years time?
October 18, 2010
Getting past analysis-paralysis
Jonah Lehrer writes about the power of unconscious thought under the heading You know more than you know. The bottom line: in some circumstances, experts are more effective when they don't process information consciously for long. The more they try to work things out, the worse their judgement can become.
Thoughts that occur to me: Big organisation procurement processes put an emphasis on laborious, explicit thinking about choice of contractor. Does this screw up the value of judgement of decision-makers?
Second, I wonder about training where the model is that the expert will critique the uninitiated. Often there's a lot of feedback and the recipient is overwhelmed. The course to empower us to do such-and-such involves a big manual and it all starts to look very complicated - and harder than it needs to be.
This leads me to reflect on the workshop I ran last week with Viv McWaters and Simo Routarinne. we spent a lot of the time using a coaching format based on trying stuff rather than following a formula. Among other things, it downplayed advice and accentuated experimentation.
It's a method I use a lot when coaching, and it draws on a variety of ideas I've seen over the years - things like Forum Theatre, bits of gestalt and transactional analysis, and improv games like new choice and freezetag.
With that many influences, it's not a rigid method and we emphasised different things at different times. Our workshop was on status games in facilitation, but as if often the case most people ended up sharing stories and seeking ideas on how to deal with difficult people, or perhaps more accurately, difficult relationships or conversations.
My take on difficult issues is that the clue is in the title. They're difficult. And no amount of theories and advice for how to deal with them will change that. In fact, this stuff often only serves to make us feel more ashamed of the difficulty we encounter.
So, instead of encouraging generalisations, we asked people to give us very specific examples of difficult encounters in meetings. And then we set them up as scenes, enrolling participants to play the various difficult characters while our protagonist played him/herself. The way I work, the protagonist is invited to set the scene up and determine the focus, so they feel they're in charge of the risks they take, not anyone else.
Generally, the scene should be kept very short. Often it's just two lines of dialogue, a he-said she-said. That's enough to discover a whole variety of ways of playing the scene out. The protagonist will generally have a limited idea of all the many different ways of presenting themselves in the scene. We'll encourage them to play with a variety of different lines or ways of saying the same line, perhaps trying very high and very low statuses in different ways.
For each effort, we'll check with the protagonist how it worked for them. Usually, the first few efforts don't satisfy them. We may check with other players or audience for very abbreviated feedback - too much is not helpful. Mostly it's about getting the protagonist to try different things - and then suddenly there will be a shift. They'll know, and the audience will also sense, they've come up with something that works. It's not in response to a theory, it's less conscious than that, but we all know it works, for some reason.
We might take that approach and explore it further, with the hope of deepening a connection to the state it embodies. Again, we don't do much analysis.
Sometimes, we'll set up a tag version - with the protagonist's assent - where other participants can step in and try things out. This is particulary valuable when someone is giving a lot of authoritative advice: I'll say, come on then, show us how it's done - it's often interesting to see how much more difficult it is to play the scene than to advise on how to play it.
I find this approach works on lots of levels. It supports experimentation and heads away from over-cleverness. It acknowledges that situations are difficult and it's good practice at challenging ourselves to keep trying new things and seeing how they work. It's very practical and we often learn a lot by seeing what others struggle and/or succeed with.
As hosts, we made sure we were willing to take on roles, try things we found difficult, and be open to failure ourselves. This helps reinforce the reality of the challenge and avoid us falling into the expert trap.
Often with this approach, there are more insights that come after the workshop as we start realising how we play out patterns that we saw others exemplify in the workshop - and in spotting the pattern, realise that we have new choices.
Propserity without growth
I liked this TED Talk by Tim Jackson, especially his snappy analysis of where our current economic models go awry:
We spend money we don't have, on things we don't need, to create impressions that won't last, on people we don't care aboutHe's referring to how we try to raise our status by consuming material goods. I spent some time last week playing improv status games in the context of training facilitators. There are myriad ways to change our status in relationships that can be very satisfying and require no consumption at all.
October 17, 2010
links for 2010-10-17
"It turns out that ‘sand avalanches’ have an analogue in the brain’s ‘neural avalanches’ (that is, in the way that neurons communicate with each other). Even further, it is precisely at this critical border of disorder and chaos that the brain functions. That is to say, the brain is always on the edge of chaos. The article explains that this self-organised criticality (on the edge of chaos) is crucial for a proper functioning of the brain." HT John Hagel
The futility of Q and A
I'm not saying it's always a bad idea. But it usually is.
I mean the conventional thing we seem to do after listening to presentations: the audience is invited to take part in a question-and-answer session. We're all so used to it, it seems to go unquestioned (ironic, eh?).
Sure, like any ritual we can perform it may sometimes satisfy people but I can't remember the last time that happened for me.
Here's my beef. The presentation itself sets up a status game in which the speaker and chairperson start and usually stay high and the audience is low. Here are the various ways this gets manifested. For starters, the speakers are usually at the front of the room and often on a raised platform. Before a word is said, they're already in high status. Then the chairperson offers a flattering introduction; if we're lucky they merely flatter the speaker but a lot of them have found ways to flatter themselves by implication. The speaker gets a microphone and the licence to talk pretty much unconstrained. If there's a time limit, it's rarely enforced.
They get to use pictures too (of course that can be a great way to illustrate a point, but again it's all a raising of status). Usually their chairs are smarter or more comfortable than the ones we sit in, and they probably are able to move around if they wish - while we have to sit still, squished in between other audience members. The speaker is in the light, and we are usually in the shadows.
I can live with all that for a while, if the speaker is good and the content works (and how often does that happen?). But note that by the time the speaker finishes, we in the audience are in a very low status place. The speaker's brain and body have had plenty of exercise and freedom; our brains and bodies have been used only to heat the already stuffy room.
But although we've been forced to play low status, quite of a lot of us, consciously or not, are getting fed up by now and want to raise it. And the feeble Q&A format provides the only way to do so (other than leaving the room which becomes an attractive option, were we not all so bunched in).
But Q and A is set up to preserve, not relieve, the status game. Here's how it continues: the speaker has a lapel mike, we either don't get one or have to wait to be given one as a reward for raising our hands like schoolchildren. We're only supposed to ask a question: again, inviting us to stay in low status, rather than say, being able to protest or make a point.
So what happens? The frustrated lizard brains of those lucky enough to get to ask a question make us leak out aggression, sarcasm or self-importance. Half the time whoever gets the mike rambles on because they're giddy with pent up frustration; they're only doing what most of us want to do i.e. get to talk and not just listen.
So the questions become tiresome. And in a very human way, the hosts often then do more of what is already not working. They add more constraints to the Q and A to lower our status even further. They batch questions in threes (and then often manage to forget one of them) and they badger us to come to the point or mock us for not framing our input as a question.
Far from being the way to improve meetings, Q and A is often worse than the dullest presentation. It's a bit like tinkering with the lid of the radiator on your car when it's still hot.
It's a wretched format, and Harold Jarche offers some excellent related criticism of these hierarchical conversations. I like what he says about how twitter offers at least some partial relief to the madness.
I don't have a magic solution for this. If you're running an event you can stay in denial about the shortcomings of the format or you can take some risks, starting with abandoning Q and A and then trying something else.
Here are some options but if you don't like them, please invent something else; it is unlikely to be worse than Q and A. Option one is the simplest: end sooner and have longer refreshment coffee breaks. The energy level of these is usually massive compared to the auditorium; everyone gets to exercise their brain in groups that self-organise; and those with real questions for the speaker can buttonhole them personally.
Or you could do some hybrid of open space, taking a few suggestions for themes for break out conversations and let people do small groups.
Or you could just set up smaller group discussions some other way though if you end up giving instructions to people on how many or who to talk to you risk annoying them further.
Another thing I've tried, when the audience is not too huge, is to pass a microphone around and invite everyone to speak a sentence or two about what has surprised, puzzled or excited them about what they've heard. It's far from perfect, but it is at least a gesture towards allowing everyone to express themselves.
And if your audience is tech literate, I'm increasingly inclined to put a twitterstream up on stage.
As I say, none of these solutions is perfect but I think almost anything is better than Q and A.
And if you hate my argument, please don't get me started on panel sessions.
October 16, 2010
links for 2010-10-16
Greenwald argues that these wars are self-sustaining, enriching the insitutions which claim to fight them
October 15, 2010
links for 2010-10-15
Sharon Astyk riffs on this thought from Jared Diamond: "All of our current problems are unintended negative consequences of our existing technology. The rapid advances in technology during the 20th century have been creating difficult new problems faster than they have been solving old problems: that's why we're in the situation in which we now find oursleves." I found this a more challenging pushback to techno-optimism than Malcolm Gladwell. HT Dave Pollard
October 14, 2010
links for 2010-10-14
Oli Barrett does some rethinking of the univeristy experience, which is starting to look very overpriced for a lot of people
October 12, 2010
links for 2010-10-12
"What we’re currently terming gamification is in fact the process of taking the thing that is least essential to games and representing it as the core of the experience. Points and badges have no closer a relationship to games than they do to websites and fitness apps and loyalty cards."
October 11, 2010
links for 2010-10-11
"The question is, can we rally around this brief moment of incredible efflorescence of creativity and innovation, and say, "No, thank you very much, we want to keep it like this"? That's the project of the next couple of years." Also some good points about how customised searches on google risk putting us each in our own fliter bubble.
"Want to live forever? Break your habits. Do things you don’t know how to do and foreswear the routine." Actually, this is a deeper and more insightful piece than that quote suggests...
Shadows and status
Chris Corrigan posts this quote from Jack London's The Sea-Wolf:
I fell to dwelling upon the romance of the fog. And romantic it certainly was—the fog, like the grey shadow of infinite mystery, brooding over the whirling speck of earth; and men, mere motes of light and sparkle, cursed with an insane relish for work, riding their steeds of wood and steel through the heart of the mystery, groping their way blindly through the Unseen, and clamouring and clanging in confident speech the while their hearts are heavy with incertitude and fear.Chris talks about the power of shadow. I am reminded of how easy it is, especially for those with power, to use the language of decision and certainty to mask their feelings of fear and doubt. The other day I heard a government official talking about the faults of public sector tendering. This is a policy area that has long frustrated SMEs which he briefly acknowledged... before saying, impatiently, that it was now time to "move on" and come up with "practical solutions", implying fairly clearly that expressions of feeling were out of the question. A good way to stifle passion for change, I thought, as well as preserving his high status in the room.
October 10, 2010
links for 2010-10-10
Stowe quotes Frank Rich on The Social Network and Gladwell and offers his own take which pretty much coincides with mine: the network is an amplifier of whatever we choose to put into it.
Lovely pushback from Robert to those who love games. My view: it depends on the game, who's playing it and things like that.
Making a decision like a tribe
This Fast Company article from 1995 describes how a native American wisdom council gets taken into the corporate world. Interesting stuff. I read it with some anxiety as I fear the real wisdom behind the practice could easily be lost by corporations co-opting the ritual.
So the best bit for me were the principles underlying the process, described at the end. I'll highlight a couple of them. The first is:
Good decisions begin with listening. The Western give-and-take meeting emphasizes talking rather than listening. Businesspeople come into a meeting prepared to give their presentations -- not to listen to the contributions of others. And the debate format encourages people to begin formulating their responses while the other side is speaking, rather than listening and reserving judgment. The first element of a council ceremony, on the other hand, is careful listening.When I've worked with "no interruption" rules, I'm often amazed at the difference this simple intervention makes. Something special can happen about the way people give attention - a quality that I think is evoked, not taught by "active listening" courses. By stopping interruption, I think we help participants to develop the capacity to suspend judgement and enquire more deeply.
The second principle I wanted to pick up is this:
A slower process yields better decisions. Rather than looking for the fastest answer to a pressing problem, the council process accepts the need for careful, in-depth reflection. With the understanding that implementation is faster, easier, and more successful if it comes after all implications of an issue have been thrashed out, the process doesn't address the question of action until the latter stages of the discussion. "By the time you get around to talking about action," notes Eric Vogt, "the whole council has had a chance to speak and feels engaged in the results."I've written a lot in the past about the danger of "action theatre" and about the power games that get played out about demanding action. If we force action on a group we risk shallow commitment, passive aggression and end up with little real engagement. Taking time to reflect offers the chance of something more substantial. Chris Corrigan calls it "wise action" which is a succinct way of putting it.
Hat tip: Jack Martin Leith
October 8, 2010
links for 2010-10-08
"Malcolm Gladwell's take on social media is like a nun's likely review of the Kama Sutra — self-righteous and misguided by virtue of voluntary self-exclusion from the subject"
I'm often alarmed by people who champion execution if in doing so they dismiss important conversations about feelings and meaning.
At the same time there's a lot of common sense in Tim Kastelle's recent post: Execution is Everything. I particularly like the point that fights over intellectual property become, in effect, a tax on innovation.
The allure of certainty, and its shadow...
Last month I quoted Bill Isaacs on fixed beliefs:
Beneath the reluctance to let go of our beliefs is the fear that there will be nothing underneath - a kind of anxiety about existence itself. Perhaps we cling to our certainties because we believe this is all we may have.This may lie behind the appeal of the character Inspector Javert in Les Mis. Here's Philip Quast with a barnstorming performance of Javert's anthem, Stars.
The tragedy of Javert is that he can't cope when his certainty is undermined. His quarry of the decades, Jean Valjean, relinquishes an opportunity to kill him and instead sets him free. It's more than Javert can bear; he would sooner die than let go of his beliefs:
You may hate musicals, or this one in particular. But read the comments on YouTube and you'll see how these performances capture people's emotions. A bit like Gollum in LoTR, Javert may be cast as a villain, but there is something deeply human about him.
I decided a while back that I wanted to move out of London. I've lived in this city for over 25 years and I think it's time for a change. This week I accepted on offer on my flat. In the UK, this is the start of process that involves solicitors and stress, the outcome of which is sometimes not that straightforward. But all being well, I'll be moving out soon.
I've not decided for sure where I want to move to. Possibly Cambridge but maybe much further afield. There are times in life when you need to embrace uncertainty...
October 6, 2010
links for 2010-10-06
Research suggesting choosing leaders seems to diminish group effectiveness, compared to assigning leadership roles randomly
Action, feelings and meaning
Bill Isaacs' book, Dialogue, highlights some useful analysis by David Kantor. Kantor developed his thinking about family systems and took it into the organisational world. One of his most interesting ideas is about three "languages" of conversation.
These are the language of power or action - often the preferred mode of those in management, in part because of the pressure they are under to deliver results; then there's the language of feeling; and the language of meaning. Go to any meeting and you might notice which languages get spoken at different times, and which ones are dominant.
I'm not a big one for three part models but this one has prompted a lot of reflection for me - this post just skims the surface for a few matters arising.
This will vary by context but I often feel the language of action gains dominance over the other two. For instance, people will often mutter about "all this talk is all very well, but unless we take clear actions, it's meaningless". Taken at face value, this seems to be saying meaning is really only a subset of action. This is often followed by some nodding of heads by people who I suspect don't really agree, but think it's safer to comply with the dominant voice.
I remember attending a breakout at a large conference where a delegate held forth passionately on the importance of relationships and connection. Without trust, without connection, nothing worthwhile could happen. She was clearly holding out for feeling and meaning over action. Yet in the plenary, she gave a very watered down version of this speech, followed by something like, "of course, that counts for nothing unless we agree clear actions". I don't actually think she really meant this at all, but in a larger group felt too vulnerable to risk challenging it.
One of the interesting things I notice is that if I get a chance to talk to people who like to talk action and persuade them to talk about their feelings, and why the action is important to them, some interesting things happen. They become more accessible and their calls for action acquire a resonance they previously lacked. Without that, they tend to sound increasingly rigid, even bullying... which means they either generate open conflict (in many ways preferable) or (more often) passive-aggressive resistance or reluctant psuedo-commitment.
At its worst, the shadow of the languge of action is bullying and violence. I wonder how many unwise or unjust wars were precipitated by people demanding action over meaning or feeling?
Of course, there are shadows to other languages as well - individuals and groups so mired in their feelings that they are unable to move or act; pedants nit-picking over details in the face of the need for urgent action.
For each language there are obvious downsides: what I take from this model is the value of at least reflecting on which one we favour and what resources the others might provide us.
Harold Jarche makes some good points about the frustrations of conferences.
For instance, a problem is presented in a plenary session and participants are immediately asked to brainstorm & give feedback. Why was the issue not presented weeks ahead of time? What can be achieved in 10 minutes of thinking on demand?What is really achieved with 50 to 100 people in a room, a presenter and then questions from the floor?Harold protests at the lack of space for reflection and connection in traditional events.
I've often said that it's the desperate effort to make meetings efficient that makes them inefficient. In the rush to get tangible outcomes on the day, we're forced into a series of inauthentic, often hurried processes as if thinking and creating together are tidy, linear processes like running a train.
With all our networked technology, we have a myriad ways to transfer data and pose questions ahead of meetings, giving people time to process and reflect on them in advance, on a schedule that suits them. Likewise, we have plenty of ways to interact online after the event.
When we've gone to the trouble and cost of bring live humans together in a room, surely we should be allowing them to do things that are most satisfyingly done face-to-face: such as having conversations and not just presenting at each other or engaging in the often combative snoozefest into which "Q&A" descends. Great conversation is a much less controllable and free flowing phenomenon, and doesn't lend itself to excessive control or constraint.
In some ways conversation is the easiest thing for humans to do. In other ways it can be the most elusive - which may account for the safety-first approach of meetings-as-usual. Personally, I'm drawn to looser approaches, even if they are labelled as riskier.
October 5, 2010
links for 2010-10-05
John Hagel reviews the reviews of the Social Network and sees plenty of evidence of an old pardigm being superimposed on a new one. Good stuff.
Viv reports a few neat little games she picked up recently. Some great ideas and a lot of fun.
Leave the low fruit hanging
I have a little mantra for those who always want to pluck the "low hanging fruit" or "get some easy runs on the board", do the hard stuff first, the easy stuff is always going to be easy, but going from the easy to the hard just makes the hard seem even worse." Most people aren't interested.
October 3, 2010
links for 2010-10-03
I found this quite persuasive. The war on drugs mentality seems a rigid belief system that doesn't allow for contradictory evidence.
"By treating other people as objects or tools, the emotional consequences of the powerful people's actions are downplayed and become irrelevant,' the researchers said. 'Although this can lead people to abuse others, it may also facilitate the powerful in making tough decisions"
David Weinberger reflects on Malcolm Gladwell on social media
October 2, 2010
links for 2010-10-02
The former spin doctor goes into the classroom. Sounds like everyone learnt things!
Mickey Mouse and Social Media
Rob makes a great point in his post about Boingo's human approach to social media.
At Disney the surface of the Brand Icon never changes but inside the mask is a person who changes all the time and so is never allowed to speak... But in the new world we have to take off the costume and let the person inside have conversations with the public – HARD to do.
October 1, 2010
links for 2010-10-01
Another candidate for the department of unintended consequences...
Some nice ideas about the archetypes that keep a community project rolling along. Readily maps across to archetypes in meetings.
It's interesting to see how deviously questions are used in conversations. Lawyers can be particularly arch. This Miles Kington piece from 2002 had me laughing.