Friday, May 22, 2015
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A lot of my time is spent listening to people sharing their challenges and frustrations. Lone voices in their organisations, who can see a better way of doing things, they get ground down by resistance and inertia. Knowing that others feel the same, and that people around the world share their vision of what is possible can be very sustaining.
Just having someone listen helps. I can see them clarifying their thinking or stiffening their resolve simply through the process of articulating their thoughts and sharing them with someone who understands.
We don't often need people to fix things for us, we just need someone to help us work out what to do and find the motivation to do it. This is why a coaching or mentoring relationship is so powerful. Not the dependency model of old style consulting where you would pay others to come up with solutions and deliver them for you, but a way of building your own skills and insights and becoming better at using these to make a difference.
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Friday, May 15, 2015
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Saturday, May 09, 2015
Wednesday, April 01, 2015
We all want to make a difference; to "put a dent in the universe", however small. Some days we manage it and we feel good about having a sense of purpose beyond survival, beyond just making a living. Other days it can feel as if someone is following along behind is filling in those small dents and sanding them over.
Why bother? Why not reduce our aspirations, do no more than is expected of us, avoid rocking the boat and enjoy an easy life?
Because there is no such thing. There is no such thing as stasis. If we are not nudging forwards we are going backwards. The world keeps moving relative to us and time and progress wait for no man.
Sometimes what appears the safest thing is the riskiest. Getting a good steady job used to feel safe. Nowadays those jobs can disappear with frightening speed. The longer we've been "safe" the more devastating this can feel.
Keeping your head down used to feel safe. Nowadays if your'e not seen to be adding value, seen to know what you know and be willing to share that, then what's the point in keeping you?
Making small dents, sharing our knowledge, making a difference, is part of what we are. Forgetting this is one of life's great sadnesses. Whether we are recognised or rewarded is not the point. We are not doing it for others, we are doing it for ourselves.
That's the point.
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Monday, March 30, 2015
Thursday, March 26, 2015
Saturday, March 14, 2015
Yesterday professional services expert George Beaton and I ran the inaugural Clients and Firms of the Future: How to Compete conference in Sydney, bringing together around 100 senior leaders of professional services firms to look at the future of the industry. It is just over 15 years ago now that my first book was released
The post Three critical domains of change driving the future of professional services appeared first on Trends in the Living Networks.
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Friday, March 13, 2015
Mitchell B. Weiss has heard it too many times: government doesn't work. Too slow. Too bureaucratic. Too burdened by procurement rules and performance measures.
"Some of that is fair, and some of that is unfair, but it adds up over time," says Weiss, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School who has created a new MBA course, Public Entrepreneurship. "The course allows students to consider the alternative that government can work—or they can help make it work."
Once chief of staff to the late Boston mayor Thomas Menino, Weiss isn't just engaging in wishful thinking. He's seen firsthand how entrepreneurs within government can cut through red tape.
Weiss co-founded the Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics, which among other projects produced the nation's first big-city 311 app that allows citizens to alert government to potholes and graffiti. He also helped cut through zoning laws to create the Boston Innovation District on a vast and underdeveloped swath of waterfront in South Boston, attracting hundreds of startups.
And when the 2013 Boston Marathon was attacked, Weiss helped establish the One Fund within 24 hours to serve as a central pool for donations to victims. "The One Fund ended up channeling $60 million to survivors and to the families of the victims in 75 days. That speed is virtually unheard of," says Weiss.
<divstyle="width:562px;"> A new Harvard Business School course inspires students to be
entrepreneurial leaders in government. Pictured: Government Center in Boston. ©http://ift.tt/18uORPL
Not that producing such results comed easy. As One Fund was being established, the IRS determined that the organization was not eligible to receive nonprofit status—which meant donations would not have been tax-deductible and likely caused many potential donors to not contribute. "The One Fund team made it known we would proceed without nonprofit status rather than agree with its finding," Weiss remembers. "Eventually, the IRS found a way to grant the status."
In the past five years, cities around the world have increasingly become laboratories in innovation, producing idea labs that partner with outside businesses and nonprofits to solve thorny public policy problems—and along the way deal with challenges of knowing when to follow the established ways of government and when to break the mold. States and federal government, too, have been reaching out to designers, engineers, and entrepreneurs to help redo their operations. The new US Digital Service, for example, follows other federal efforts like 18F and the Presidential Innovation Fellows to streamline government websites and electronic records—adapting from models in the UK and elsewhere.
"We have many talented people in government, but by and large they have tended to be analysts and strategists, rather than inventors and builders," says Weiss, who hopes his course can help change that. "One reason we didn't have them is we weren't training them. At policy schools we had not been training people to be all that entrepreneurial, and at business schools, we were not prepping or prodding entrepreneurial people to enter the public sector or even just to invent for the public realm."
Government entrepreneurship takes many forms. There are "public-public entrepreneurs" who work within government agencies, as well as "private-public entrepreneurs" who establish private businesses that sell to government agencies or sometimes to citizens directly.
In Philadelphia, for example, Textizen enables citizens to communicate with city health and human services agencies by text messages, leading to new enforcement on air pollution controls. In California, OpenCounter streamlined registration for small businesses and provided zoning clearances in a fraction of the usual time. In New York, Mark43 is developing software to analyze crime statistics and organize law enforcement records. And in Boston, Bridj developed an on-demand bus service for routes underserved by public transportation.
The innovations are happening at a scale large enough to even attract venture capital investment, despite past VC skepticism about funding public projects.
"There was this paradox—on the one hand, government is the biggest customer in the world; on the other hand, 90 out of 100 VCs would say they don't back business models that sell to government," says Weiss. "Though that's starting to change as startups and government are starting to change." OpenGov received a $15 million round of funding last spring led by Andreessen Horowitz, and $17 million was pumped into civic social-networking app MindMixer last fall.
DOESN'T NEED TO BE PERFECT
Governments could attract even more capital by examining their procurement rules to speed buying, says Weiss, giving them that same sense of urgency and lean startup practices needed to be successful in entrepreneurial projects.
"In government we announce something and wait to get it perfect. By using more experimental approaches, some public leaders are achieving success by testing and learning instead of writing a plan in stone before executing it."
In the HBS case study More Citizens Connect, Weiss details some of the learning challenges involved with Citizens Connect, the 311 app produced for Boston. After the successful rollout in that city, project creators Chris Osgood (Harvard MBA 2006) and Nigel Jacob, faced the challenge of scaling it to serve other cities in Massachusetts. Along the way, they ran smack into state procurement rules that forced them to open the contract to other bidders.
As with the IRS and the One Fund, sometimes entrepreneurs question the rules and push on barriers to achieve results. "But we must wrestle with the downsides of that, too," says Weiss. "On an individual basis, it might seem OK to say this rule doesn't make sense, so we won't follow it, but at what point does this practice become a problem?"
One company running afoul of the rules is private taxi-on-demand service Uber, which has disrupted the highly regulated and often inefficient taxi industry, and expanded to hundreds of cities worldwide. At the same time, the company has been criticized for "surge pricing" that jacks up rates during rush hours, as well as its lack of background checks on drivers and alleged evasion of local taxes. The Uber case brings up thorny questions around when pushing legal or policy boundaries becomes a public hazard rather than public benefit.
PERMISSION OR FORGIVENESS
"We address this in the course in a session I call regulatory permission, forgiveness, or neither?" says Weiss. "Boston was one of the early cities where Uber was allowed to operate. I ask students whether they think we did the right thing."
Other aspects of working with government, such as requirements for openness and public scrutiny, could be seen as opportunities as much as impediments.
"Nowadays, companies are desperate to have a huge community of innovators looking at what they are doing and offering ideas," says Weiss. "For centuries government has naturally engaged people in what it is doing. Government should be naturals at crowdsourcing."
In exploring these challenges and opportunities, Weiss believes the public entrepreneurship course can help make working in government a viable alternative for innovators looking to effect real change. Noting that HBS offered pioneering courses in private entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship, he is hoping that eventually public entrepreneurship will be seen as just as legitimate a field of enterprise.
"For 200 years, we've had a sense of how private entrepreneurship creates and delivers value, and for the last 20 years, we've seen the development of the idea of social entrepreneurship," says Weiss. "I told my students on the first day of class [that] we didn't invent public entrepreneurship, but together we could help make public entrepreneurship the third leg of that stool. We could help show the huge opportunity that exists in government to invent a difference in the world."
About the author
Michael Blanding is a senior writer for Harvard Business School Working Knowledge.
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Friday, March 06, 2015
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Thursday, February 26, 2015
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw famously wrote, "He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches." But it's often more accurate to say, "He who can do can't teach."
It's natural for novices to seek out experts for guidance. That's why many organizations adopt formal mentorship and training programs. Unfortunately, though, experts frequently make lousy teachers.
Experts are sometimes so steeped in expertise that they don't remember what it was like to be a newbie—in terms of both how much they knew and how they felt back then. The memory gap leads to an empathy gap.
"Having a lot of knowledge and skills can make it harder for these experts to transfer what they've learned to people who know very little about what the experts do," says Ting Zhang, a doctoral student in the Negotiation, Organizations and Markets unit at Harvard Business School.
Researchers refer to the problem as the "curse of knowledge." Zhang is on a mission to break the curse. In her research on the psychology of rediscovery, she's looking into how experts can rediscover the experience of inexperience.
"There's one underlying question behind this research," she says. "How do you help experts help novices?"
According to Zhang, experts can rediscover inexperience in two key ways. One, when they are still novices, they can proactively document their own early-stage learning process from day to day, anticipating eventual proficiency. Later, when they become masters, they can look back and reflect on what they wrote as novices. Two, experts can actually re-experience how it feels to be a beginner.
Through a series of experiments in 2014, Zhang investigated the efficacy of each rediscovery method.
Documentation vs. recall
In one experiment, Zhang hired 169 college undergrads to keep daily diaries of their summer internships, with the understanding that Zhang would hold on to the diaries in a "time capsule" to be opened at a later date. The interns were told to record surprising experiences, unforeseen challenges, and meaningful interactions with colleagues.
Two months after the internships ended, the participants received a follow-up questionnaire about their summer experiences. Half of them also received copies of their summer diaries, reminding them of how they had felt as new interns. The other half did not gain access to their diaries; they were told to recall their experiences from memory.
After completing the questionnaire, all the veteran interns were asked to provide some advice to interns of the future. Zhang then hired 93 other undergraduates (who were seeking internships for the following summer) to review and evaluate the advice.
As a whole, the young advice recipients gave higher ratings to the advice from the experienced interns who had "rediscovered" their own summer diary accounts. Zhang was not surprised.
"The people in the recall group would give vague advice like, 'A meaningful summer internship experience is one where you can learn a lot,'" she explains. "Whereas the people in the 'rediscovery' group were more likely to say things like, 'Make sure to seek out a mentor, and get that person to explain exactly what you'll be doing.' They would give advice that was relatively actionable."
The upside-down guitar effect
The next experiment explored how experts could experience the feeling of inexperience without the benefit of past documentation.
Zhang hired 74 skillful right-handed guitarists to record themselves playing the guitar for one minute, any song they liked. Half, the control group, were told to "play as you would on a typical day."
Expert guitarists in the control group were told, "Play as you would on a typical day."
The other half were told to flip their guitars around and play with their non-dominant hand, strumming with the left hand and forming chords with the right. This was the "rediscovery" group. The idea came from Zhang's personal experience.
"I used to play the violin," she explains. "During orchestra practice, sometimes we would turn around our instruments and play them that way. It's a really bizarre feeling. It makes you feel like a beginner all over again."
Indeed, the rediscovery group in Zhang's experiment reported that playing with the non-dominant hand made them feel (and sound) more like beginners.
Experts in the "rediscovery" group played with the non-dominant hand, making them feel and sound like beginners.
After playing for a minute, all the expert guitarists watched a YouTube video clip of a true beginner, who struggled to play a series of chords. They each wrote a few sentences of advice for the beginner, and then reported the extent to which they related to his struggle. Playing backwards proved to be an effective rediscovery technique for the experts. Compared with the control group, the rediscovery group reported feeling more empathy for the greenhorn.
Next, Zhang hired 75 beginner guitarists to evaluate the advice from the experts. (The novices read each piece of advice at random, knowing nothing of the previous experiment.) Indeed, novices favored advice from those experts who had played their guitars backwards—and thus rediscovered the feeling of inexperience.
Overall, rediscovery experts gave advice that was more specific and actionable. Experts in the control group offered comments such as, "This player's hand placement is wrong." In contrast, those in the rediscovery group gave more constructive advice; for example, "Have that right hand flowing on the strings, and suspend the hand using your pinky finger as a swivel on the body of the guitar."
The advice from the rediscovery group was more encouraging, too. ("Play slower and work your way up to full speed," one expert wrote. "Kirk Hammett didn't learn it overnight!")
"The experts who felt the experience of inexperience ended up seeing more potential in the beginner they were evaluating," Zhang says. "Their advice reflected that."
Corporate field studies
Zhang and her faculty advisors hope to study the effects of rediscovery in a corporate setting, where mentorship and training programs are often integral to everyday operations.
"We'd love to understand how managers can understand the feeling of being a novice in the organization," she says. "This is a really important problem in organizations because transference of knowledge of skills and expertise is critical to helping new employees learn."
The field studies will include hospitals, where seasoned physicians routinely mentor brand-new doctors through life-or-death situations. "There's a huge learning curve in medicine, and teaching is highly variable in terms of training," Zhang says. "Some attending physicians really prioritize mentoring, while others think students should fend for themselves. If these people can rediscover what it was like to be a medical student, can that change the type of training that goes on in a medical context?"
Zhang acknowledges that the rediscovery process might be uncomfortable for experts. But her research indicates that it can yield positive results for any organization where leaders pass their knowledge on to followers.
"It's not something we do naturally," Zhang says. "Once we get good at something, our intuition is not to say, 'OK, let me go see how it feels to be bad at it again.' But the findings suggest that if you get people who are experts to rediscover the feeling of being a beginner, that could actually have powerful implications for how advising takes place in an organization. It has implications for how experts can better understand those who have less experience than they do."
Note to managers: If your organization is interested in participating in a field study on rediscovery, please visit The Research Exchange, or email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "Research Exchange Field Study."
About the author
Carmen Nobel is senior editor of Harvard Business School Working Knowledge.
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Sunday, February 22, 2015
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