Weblog Entries for July 2011
July 31, 2011
links for 2011-07-31
Contains this quotation "Like animals and cities they do grow more efficient with size, but unlike cities, their innovation cannot keep pace as their systems gradually decay, requiring ever more costly repair until a fluctuation sinks them. Like animals, companies are sublinear and doomed to die."
July 29, 2011
links for 2011-07-29
Matthew May suggests paying for ideas massively reduces the number that people submit
July 28, 2011
links for 2011-07-28
I agree with a lot of what this guy says. Via David Gurteen.
It's perfectly simple...
I'm enjoying Duncan Watts' Everything is Obvious. It's a lucid takedown of the many easy mistakes we make in explaining how things happen in the world. To summarise it very crudely, we come up with simplistic explanations for complex phenomena and ignore evidence that challenges our view.
It reminds me a great deal of the friction that arises in meetings, especially when things get sticky. There's usually someone who impatiently and/or patronisingly announces that we're wasting time and there's obviously a better way of doing things. We humans so easily forget that we're only small parts of complex systems with rather limited information about what's really going on. We miss the distinction spotted by Oliver Wendell Holmes
I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.... and end up like John Cleese's schoolmaster.
July 24, 2011
Design thinking and its pitfalls
Helen Walters scratches an itch I've long felt about design thinking:
A codified, repeatable, reusable practice contradicts the nature of innovation, which requires difficult, uncomfortable work to challenge the status quo of an industry or, at the very least, an organization. Executives are understandably looking for tidy ways to guarantee their innovation efforts -- but they'd be better off coming to terms with the fact that there aren’t any.
Hat tip: Lee Ryan
July 19, 2011
He tells the story of the voice coach that he had when he was singing in a band. He’d have Sivers sing a song an octave higher, then an octave lower, then fast, slow, like Tom Waits, etc. After doing all of that there was always a choice about the best way to sing each song.Sivers then says you can apply that to business ideas: how would you do it with only $1000?.. how would you do it without a website?.. how would you do it with 10 times the customers?
I sometimes try this kind of thing when doing performance coaching. Quite often very small "tilts" can be quite illuminating. I got someone struggling with a speech to try it with his hand in his pocket - suddenly he went from strained "announcement" mode to something friendly and conversational.
Terri Griffith asks: Do you really need a meeting?. Most people in organisations will tell you that meetings are the bane of their lives and wish they could avoid more of them.
This picture, which I've blogged before, periodically gets picked up and retweeted, for that reason:
Terri goes on to suggest some ways of avoiding meeting hell - in particular pointing to ways to get things done without meetings. As I said here, sometimes the act of calling a meeting can actually get in the way of anything being done before it.
On the other hand, I'm a bit cautious of Terri's suggestion not to go a meeting that doesn't have an agenda. I don't think an agenda provides much certainty that a meeting will be satisfying. I'll try to elaborate.
I quite often hear people anxiously demanding agendas at the start of meetings. This can be just a status play, and I notice that these demands are often not backed up by any specific statement of what that person wants for themselves. We risk ending up posturing over abstractions about "actions" and "priorities" as if these can ever really happen without people taking a stand for something fairly specific that they want.
Quite a lot of the best meetings I go to are where something suprising happens that isn't on the agenda. It often happens when people are willing to take a more adventurous or playful attitude. I discussed this more here. Our vigorous efforts to make our meetings efficient risk killing off the things that can actually make them most worthwhile.
I also dug up some great quotes from Patricia Shaw which elaborate on this, in this old post.
Hat tip: @elsua
Update: After writing this, I wanted to add that refusing to show up for a meeting can sometimes be a useful intervention, at the very least for the person doing it. It's certainly an option I exercise on a regular basis!
July 18, 2011
Everything a remix
I really liked the series of videos at Everything is a Remix. Here's the third one:
I think this really cuts through a lot of views of creativity that are really just attempts to grab power - including many of the assumptions implicit in intellectual property.
Hat tip: Tom Eldridge on G+
July 17, 2011
Khan Academy and linear teaching
Wired has a great article about the Khan Academy. The Khan Academy has assembled a mass of online videos, each a short lesson on an aspect of maths, science and a sprinkling of other subjects. The article is a good review of what he Khan has accomplished, and of what his fans and critics make of it.
What I like about what Khan is doing is that it supports people in learning at their own pace and starts to really mess with way schools try to teach a class of pupils as if they are all the same. There are lots of parallels here for they way organisations hold meetings - and connections to what I've blogged before about the teacher trance.
I thought this paragraph got to the heart of how Khan threatens serious disruption to at least part of the school system.
Even if Khan is truly liberating students to advance at their own pace, it’s not clear that the schools will be able to cope. The very concept of grade levels implies groups of students moving along together at an even pace. So what happens when, using Khan Academy, you wind up with a kid in fifth grade who has mastered high school trigonometry and physics—but is still functioning like a regular 10-year-old when it comes to writing, history, and social studies? Khan’s programmer, Ben Kamens, has heard from teachers who’ve seen Khan Academy presentations and loved the idea but wondered whether they could modify it “to stop students from becoming this advanced.”That echoes what sometimes happens when organisations start to get Open Space and similar processes... they start to sense how radically disturbing they can be.
The piece has some interesting reflections on whether Khan's approach may be liberating at one level, but possibly rigid at another - has he busted rote learning or simply repackaged it with gamification? I quite liked Khan's perspective here:
Though the ranks of reformers include many Wall Streeters and Silicon Valley honchos, Khan himself winces when I apply the label to him. He says he has no particular animus toward the public school system; in fact, his experience with Los Altos has shown him that public school teachers can be as innovative as anyone else. “Don’t call me an education reformer, all right?” he says. “We’re not out to fight some political battle. We’re out to build stuff that’s useful.”I like that attitude: he's not affecting to have some grand overall solution for a system, he's focussed on trying stuff out. Good improv practice.
Hat tip: @davidgurteen
July 15, 2011
July 14, 2011
Organising for flow?
Most businesses are about identifying a few important patterns, determining that the patterns are viable and sustainable, and reducing the patterns to an algorithm which can be improved and made more efficient.In a nutshell, we invest in deepening ruts. There's big money in ruts... and breaking out of them costs money and at least initially can sound terrible.
Tim then links to John Hagel and John Seeley Brown's article in The Economist blog. This also pushes back on the benefits of efficiency, arguing we should organise for flow. They cite (keep up at the back) ideas from constructal theory. Here's how Hagel and Seeley Brown put it:
In order to survive, all systems must evolve by providing greater and greater access to the currents that flow through them. This applies to all physical, biological and social systems that survive and thrive. Whether we are talking about river basins, trees, lung design or our cities, it turns out they all obey this constructal law.That has shades of Margaret Wheatley's line about connecting the system to itself.
I see some of these tensions being played out in workshops and meetings, where we seem to get into all sort of ruts - powerpoints etc. Often, it's only when these break down that we get what might be called a breakthrough. I'm not sure we can really organise for this to happen but we can at least try to be open to it rather than resistant.
July 13, 2011
links for 2011-07-13
Lovely bit of contrary thinking
I have more to say on PowerPoint as the scourge of creativity, but for now I like the sound of this!
July 9, 2011
More on the peasants...
How could I miss the opportunity presented by my last post to include Monty Python's brilliant exposition of how those in power can't stand it when the peasants fail to conform?
Why I hate panels, in a nutshell
I'm not a fan of BBC's Question Time although this week's was more than averagely entertaining.
There was a moment which captures why I don't like it, and why I dislike panel formats at conferences and elsewhere. Much as I like Shirley Williams, she lets slip how the show makes the panellists believe they are superior to the audience. It's why I think this format is basically "peasant participation": ostensibly about democracy, it really keeps the rest of us in our place.
If you watch it on iPlayer (sorry, may not work outside UK), it's the little segment from 34m15s to 34m50s. A slightly nervous audience member makes a point, and Shirley Williams replies. Off camera, as she replies, he responds by raising his hand. This is the learned behaviour for audiences, showing due deference to the panel. Yet she rebukes him even for this small show of dissent: "Don't put your hand up yet, I haven't finished".
That's the trouble with panels. They evoke teacher trances and some tedious status play.
Meetings, grooming, decisions
The pictures contrast two alternative views of organisations/networks/the world. The first, reflects what I think is the unconscious default view of many:
This reminds me of the stuff Viv and I have been talking about in relation to meetings. A huge amount of time in meetings appears to be spent with one person talking at length, and others listening. It reflects this hierarchical view of the world. Quite a lot of facilitators seem to revel in being the red dot in the middle of the room, orchestrating events, "capturing" things on flipcharts and organising festive displays of post-it notes.
And people often expect meetings to do things like "make decisions" as if the participants in the room (ie on the picture) have the power to do so.... rather than being connected to all sorts of other folks outside the room to whom they have to relate and who may or may not cohere to what this meeting "decides."
I think the truth of most organisations, especially in our networked world, is more like Valdis' second image:
You may flatter yourself that you can be the red dot still, if you like, but the nodes you are trying to reach are organised in a beautifully complex way - and most of them are not in the room with you.
This is one of the reasons I'm cautious about "convergence" processes in meetings. I'm all for people in a room discovering consensus, but an attachment to this outcome leads to things like commitment ceremonies. I've been to too many of those.
If we focus too obsessively on "deliverables" we may not be paying sufficient attention to what Rob focusses on in the first part of his post: the grooming. Meetings, especially the fabled coffee breaks, allow for lots of informal connection which may be of more value than the official business.
Alongside the grooming, there are, of course, the many status displays and I think these tend to become more pronounced and awkward in more formal sessions. More on that in another post...
July 5, 2011
links for 2011-07-05
Typically thought-provoking stuff from Annette Clancy
The shadow side of networks... do they colonise us?
July 3, 2011
links for 2011-07-03
"A decade of psychobabble, coaching and 360-degree feedback has made no difference. It has not changed the most basic truth - people never speak truth to power."
I enjoyed John Hagel's latest post, Resolving the Trust Paradox. I do think paradoxes are interesting; shifting perspective to paradox from contradiction often seems to open up new possibilities.
I think I broadly agree with John that the way organisations can build trust is shifting away from claiming status and authority towards showing vulnerability. I noticed a while back that it used to be that videos with high production values conferred status, whereas in recent years, we might be more trusting of something rougher and (possibly) more authentic. But there are loads of exceptions and context, as usual, is king.
I'm going to reflect further on what John says about passion - the gist of which seems to be that passion has some causal relationship with trust. I'm a bit wary of the whole passion meme, I often squirm at being asked what I'm passionate about, and I'm not convinced vehement people ooze trustworthiness.
On the whole, I think the direct pursuit of trust can be a mistake; it's probably more something that emerges from the messy business of collaboration.