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Friday, July 13, 2018

The Enthusiasms of Tom Peters

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Re-Building Trust in Our Institutions

I wrote about the trust paradox about 8 years ago. The paradox is that we all say that trust is increasingly important, yet trust is rapidly eroding in all institutions worldwide. How could that be? If trust is so important, why are we not building institutions and adopting practices that can amplify trust, rather than erode it?

In my previous blog post, I tried to explain why we’ve been unable to resolve this paradox. At a high level, my explanation suggested that the very practices that helped us to build trust in the past are now contributing to the erosion of trust. The harder we work at building trust, the more rapidly it erodes. I went into a lot more detail in that blog post on why this is the case.

In the intervening years, trust has continued to erode in all our institutions globally. What surprises me is that, while this erosion is widely reported, few people seem to be focused on understanding why this is happening, much less addressing the issue. Of course, there’s a tendency to focus on slices. Liberals and socialists tend to put all the blame on corporations and greedy capitalists. Free market advocates tend to blame the government. What everyone seems to ignore is that this is a much broader issue, extending across all institutions around the world. Effectively resolving this paradox will require re-examining the foundation of all our institutions, not just a segment.

In the years since I wrote my original post, I’ve continued to reflect on what is fueling this paradox and what will be required to resolve the paradox. I stand by the perspective that I offered in the original post but, as always, there are more dimensions to be explored.

Fear and trust

In my earlier post, I didn’t highlight the psychological dimension that is contributing to the erosion of trust. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, we are in the earliest stages of a Big Shift in our global economy that produces mounting performance pressure on all of us, as individuals and institutions. As humans, we have a natural psychological tendency when confronted with fear to magnify our perception of risk and discount our perception of reward, we therefore tend to shrink our time horizons, just focusing on the present and, as a result, we tend to fall into a zero sum view of the world (it’s a win/lose proposition) and trust erodes because at the end of the day we know only one of us is going to win and the rest will lose. At an emotional level, fear begins to prevail.
So, part of the erosion of trust is that we, as individuals, are becoming less trusting. But that’s not all.

The trap of scalable efficiency

As I’ve written elsewhere, all our institutions today have been built on a model of scalable efficiency. The key is to tightly specify all tasks, highly standardize them and tightly integrate them. It’s very much a command and control model – the best way to be efficient is to tightly control everything. It prompts institutional leaders to look inward because that’s where the efficiency gains are greatest. Since the key to efficiency is tight control, everything outside the firm is viewed with suspicion and fear – it’s far better to bring everything inside so that it can be tightly controlled.

In the scalable efficiency institutional model, asking questions is a sign of weakness. You don’t know the answer? Go back and read the manual.

All these tendencies are reinforced in an environment of mounting performance pressure. We need to squeeze harder and become more self-sufficient if we’re going to survive. We also need to get bigger as institutions so that we can squeeze everyone outside our institution harder as we gain more scale and bargaining power. We can’t trust anyone that we can’t control, so is it any surprise that those outside our institutions lose trust in us?

The big shift from scalable efficiency to scalable learning

If we’re going to extricate ourselves from this spiral of eroding trust, we need to undertake what I call “institutional innovation”, reassessing at a fundamental level the core rationale for our institutions. We need to challenge the prevailing rationale – scalable efficiency – and replace it with an alternative rationale – scalable learning. In a world of accelerating change and increasing volatility, if we’re not learning faster, we’ll be increasingly marginalized.

To be clear, when I talk about learning here, I’m not talking about training programs or reading books. That’s about transmitting existing knowledge. In a more rapidly changing world, the most powerful form of learning is creation of new knowledge. If we’re serious about creating new knowledge, it increases the importance of learning through action since we need the feedback loops to help us gain even more insight and ideas. It also increases the importance of learning with others since, no matter how smart any one of us is, we’ll learn a lot more if we come together with others from different backgrounds and perspectives in a shared quest to achieve growing impact. Most importantly, scalable learning requires us to reach out beyond our institution and to find ways to build deep-trust based relationships with others who have relevant expertise and knowledge so that we can learn with them.

A commitment to scalable learning helps to build trust because it inherently requires us to acknowledge that we don’t know everything and that we want to address questions, problems and opportunities for which we don’t yet have answers. In other words, we have to express vulnerability and, as I suggested in my earlier post, that's a key to building trust.

The role of narratives in building trust

That leads me to the topic of narratives, something that I have written extensively about, starting here. For those who haven’t followed me on this journey, I make a distinction between stories and narratives, even though most people treat these two words as synonyms. For me a story is self-contained – it has a beginning, middle and an end. Also, stories are about me the story teller or some other people – they are not about you in the audience.

In contrast, for me, narratives are open-ended, there is no resolution – yet. There’s some kind of significant opportunity or threat out in the future and it’s not clear whether it will be effectively addressed. The resolution of the narrative hinges on you, the listener. It is a call to action since your choices and your actions will help to resolve this narrative.

So, what’s the role of narratives in building trust? As I’ve suggested elsewhere, narratives express vulnerability. They’re a call to action because the individual/institution framing the narrative is at least implicitly acknowledging that they can’t address the threat or opportunity on their own. They need help and they’re asking for help.

And, by the way, opportunity based narratives are far more effective at building trust because they suggest that everyone can benefit from the opportunity. Threat based narratives play to the fears that many of us already have and tend to make trust more challenging – if my life or well-being is at stake, can I really afford to trust those who might be part of the threat? Opportunity based narratives, on the other hand, can be very effective in overcoming the fear that more and more of us feel as we experience mounting performance pressure. Yes, there are challenges ahead, but there's an opportunity that can significantly improve our condition.

At the institutional level, narratives also shift the focus from inside to outside. By (my) definition, an institutional narrative is a call to action to those outside the institution. It defines an opportunity that's inspiring and motivating for those outside the institution and calls them to come together to help achieve the opportunity. If framed in the right way, it also builds trust in the sense that the institution is not just focused on its own needs, but on the needs of others and is committed to investing time and effort to help others to achieve some meaningful opportunity.

Opportunity based narratives are also a powerful way to unleash scalable learning. These narratives define an opportunity at a high level, but tangible enough to be credible and inspiring. They leave a lot of room for learning what that opportunity truly requires and, most importantly, for learning about the actions required to ultimately achieve that opportunity. By focusing on a meaningful opportunity and inviting others to join together, narratives provide motivation to learn faster, together. As people find that they are learning faster, together, they develop a deeper trust in each other, as well as in the institution that framed the narrative that brought them together.

The bottom line

Institutional narratives can be a promising way to build and sustain trust with people outside the organization. They can also be a powerful catalyst in helping to shift institutions to a scalable learning mindset and model. But they cannot do this on their own. Avoid the temptation to pick up the phone and call your PR agency to craft a narrative for your institution. To be credible, narratives must be lived every day by the people in the institution. Words don’t persuade people to trust; actions do.

Opportunity based narratives will require institutions to embark on a transformation journey in order to be credible. Unfortunately there’s a very powerful immune system and antibodies ready to mobilize to crush any attempts to transform an organization. Never, ever under-estimate the power of that immune system. It is a key reason why all institutions have remained wedded to the scalable efficiency model for so long, even as evidence mounts that that model is less and less effective. To succeed in the transformation journey, institutions will need to find ways to scale the edge, rather than trying to transform the core. The good news is that a powerful narrative can be very helpful in scaling the edge much more rapidly and with far less resources than might have been required even a few decades ago.



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You can stimulate curiosity for self directed learning

This morning I cycled in the sun to a school for higher eduction to a look back at a fun and successful project. A team of teachers and staff have organized a SPOC (Small Private Online Course), supported by me and Sibrenne from Ennuonline. Within the SPOC, on the Curatr platform, sources like short video clips or cartoons were shared as conversation starters on topics such as classroom atmosphere, structure, variety in lessons and attention to individual students. The innovative thing is that the focus is on exchange and learning from each other and not on learning new knowledge, more "how do you do that in your class and what can I do better?" Some 30 eager teachers were very active. It was noticeable that this is a well-known group, a group of

knowmads

who are curious and want to invest in their own professionalization and are able to self direct their learning activities. One of the teachers told me that she would get bored during the holidays after a few weeks and then engage in some distance education. At the same time, there is a group of lecturers who seem to invest less in their own professional development. 

For this type of online learning you need a certain level of capacity for self direction. 

How to stimulate the second group who will not spontaneously engage in a SPOC? How to stimulate self directed learning? 

Is everybody (unconsciously) a knowmad?

Accoding to 

Forbes

 there is a strong relationship between learning and happiness on the job.

"There's a strong positive relationship between how much people learn on the job and how much they love their job"

This shows that with a high level of learning in the workplace, the knife cuts both ways: innovation is evident and the professional is also happy. It raises (again) the question whether every professional has an intrinsic motivation to develop and learn. Or are some just happy to run the same lessons for years? In other words: is self directed learning for everyone? This is a question which keeps coming back to me. Can you encourage professionals to learn formally or informally? The crux may well be in curiosity.


Curiosity: the book 

In his book 

Why? What makes us curious

 by Mario Livio curiosity is analyzed in depth. A simple definition of curiosity is: the desire to know why, what and how. It is a craving for information. Everyone is curious, although the degree of curiosity varies from person to person. In Why, the lives of Leonardo da Vinci and Richard Feynman are described as examples of extremely inquisitive persons. Feynman even seems to have been lying in a coma on his deathbed and said: "This dying is boring, I would not want to do it again!" Curiosity is a feeling: it can be a feeling of excitement (for discovering something new) but it can also be a feeling of discomfort or even fear. To a certain extent, uncertainty about a subject leads to curiosity, but if the uncertainty becomes too great, it can become so overwhelming that it feels uncomfortable. If something is totally overpowered, the uncertainty can become so great that people would rather avoid the subject than dive into it. This reminds me of a question Ger Driesen asked a few years ago:

do we need to feel pain in order to learn

?


What makes us curious? - excitement versus anxiety

Litman

 states that curiosity can emerge from two different emotions, an action to reduce a sense of insecurity, or an intrinsically motivated state of excitement to get to know something new. An example of the first one is reading the sign of an animal in the zoo when you feel stupid that you do not know this animal. The second may be my feeling of excitement when I discover a new tool. Furthermore, we become more curious when we know something about a subject and discover that there is more knowledge than when we do not know anything about a subject. Whether something arouses curiosity has also been studied by Berlyne: it depends on novelty, complexity, uncertainty and conflict.


  • New may be a new phenomenon such as a new species
  • Complex is when something follows an unexpected pattern
  • Uncertainty is when you can not predict the outcome
  • Conflict is the fact that new information is contradictory to old information, this makes you feel 'ignorant' and to remove that feeling you will look for additional information

Two different types of curiosity 

To be curious you do not have to be good at mathematics or the arts, but a condition seems to be the capacity to process information. There is a difference between perceptual curiosity and epistemic curiosity. Perceptual curiosity is curiosity triggered by things that happen around you that are different than expected, eg the curiosity of a class of children who get a new pupil in the classroom. It can also be a situation that you do not fully understand. Epistemic curiosity is a desire for knowledge and knowing, the driving force behind science. Furthermore, you can distinguish diversive (broad interest) and specific (looking for specific information) curiosity. An example of diversive curiosity is, for example, checking your phone for new messages. You are not looking for specific information but are curious about something. Berlyne hence put this diagram with four quadrants together.

 Source: Siobhancribbin.wordpress.com

Interesting: brain research has revealed that these two types of curiosity reside in different parts of the brain.


Strategies to satisfy curiosity: overview and from easy to difficult

Jacqueline Gottlieb has researched the strategies of the brain to satisfy curiosity through open exploration. 52 people were asked to choose a short computer game to play. There were two different series of games and the level of difficulty varied. The strategies of the 52 people were strikingly similar: they started with the easiest games and proceeded to the more difficult ones. In addition, they looked for an overview of all games. The games from medium to high degree of difficulty were played several times. Interesting for epistemic curiosity: people like to see the whole landscape. This phenomenon is called 'knowledge-based intrinsic motivation'.


You can learn to be curious or stimulate people to be curious

What is my conclusion? That every professional is curious, but the extent to someone is curious may vary. What I learned from reading Why is the focus on emotion. Ask people what they are curious for in their work, what new information makes them feel excited? What makes you feel uncertain in your work? This is a different set of questions than: what would you like to learn?

You can actually trigger curiosity in professionals and I believe with curiosity comes self directed learning, provided people have the information processing capacities. If you look at Berlyne, the perceptual curiosity is easier to stimulate than epistemic. Examples:

  • Introduce something completely new, for example a new theory or a new technology that will be of influence
  • Present data that shows an unexpected pattern. An example of this approach is benchlearning
  • Let professionals put their teeth into a wicked problem, a challenge for which the outcome is unpredictable  
  • Look for information that is contradictory to what people believe in the organization
  • Encourage curiosity. 

A side idea: I got away with reading this book with a large question for adaptive learning systems: within these systems, the learning will automatically receive new information or assignments. From the need to get an overview of the whole field (from easy to difficult) this can be rather frustrating. It coincides with a remark from users, that they would like to know what the subjects are that they have not received.

Overall, it reassured me that everybody has a native type of curiosity and that with the right stimuli this can lead to self directed learning.



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Think big, start small


To achieve democratic renewal we should learn from previous unsuccessful attempts. The whole system needs to change but we must choose our point of attack carefully.

In a week’s time I will use my annual lecture, which we are co-hosting with Involve, to call for a national campaign to strengthen our democracy, a campaign which I hope the RSA and its Fellows will spearhead. I will argue that this campaign should have only one top line demand. That demand is for Government to host at least three national citizens’ juries every year on topics chosen, respectively, by Parliament (through a free vote), by the public through a process of open on-line consultation, and by Government itself. Further, Government should commit to make a formal response to Parliament on the outcomes of each jury, both immediately after it concludes and later when the Government has decided whether and how to take forward the jury’s recommendations. In this way we will take our first, small yet decisive, step to incorporating deliberate democracy into our unwritten constitution.

My speech may be a lead balloon and even if it goes well it will take a few months to plan the campaign, but if you would like to hear more or be involved please sign up here.

I have made the case for deliberative democracy in earlier posts (which have elicited some great responses including the surprising statistic that deliberation is now so mainstream in Canada that it is estimated that 1 in 67 households have been asked to participate at one time or another), so here I want to explain why I am choosing what might seem like very narrow answer to the very broad problem of democratic legitimacy.

Although doughty campaigners have been calling for years for specific democratic changes such as electoral reform, reconstituting the House of Lords or state funding of political parties their arguments have rarely reached far beyond the folk interested in this kind of thing. But in my lifetime the wider question of democratic renewal has twice moved more centre stage.

The first occasion was in the late ‘80s and early ’90s with the Charter 88 initiative. This started in the pages of the New Statesman and was loosely based on the Charter 77 movement for political freedom in Communist Czechoslovakia. The initiative is best understood as a response to both Labour’s crushing defeat in the 1987 General Election and the centralising tendencies of the Thatcher Governments. For a short period Charter 88 and its demands dominated coverage of the 1992 General Election. Indeed some people subsequently argued that it contributed to Neil Kinnock’s defeat by implying a Labour Government would be distracted by constitutional reform. 

Then in 2004 in the wake of the disastrous General Election turnout of 2001, the Power Inquiry was established. The Inquiry was well funded and reasonably high profile but it achieved little traction after its final report in 2006 despite the attempt to relaunch its demands ahead of the 2010 General Election.

The characteristic both initiatives had in common – apart from their ultimate lack of impact – was the ambition of their vision. Charter 88 had ten concrete demands ranging from proportional representation and a reformed judiciary to devolution and freedom of information. As the last of these indicates, some of the Charter’s demands have been enacted to some extent, but I suspect few of its authors would say that today’s democracy embodies their vision.

The Power Inquiry was even more extensive with thirty recommendations ranging from the very broad such as electoral reform to the oddly specific; ‘The citizenship curriculum should be shorter, more practical and result in a qualification’. Again, a champion of the Inquiry could claim that it influenced some subsequent reforms but, equally, as an attempt to win a consensus for radical change it failed.

The intent of both these initiatives to develop a new design for the whole political system was intellectually commendable but was it also perhaps tactically inept?  On the one hand, more demands made greater the danger of alienating people who happen not to agree with the whole package; there is almost certainly a strong overlap between people who want an elected Lords and more devolution to local government (a demand of both the Charter and the Inquiry) but it isn’t absolute. Secondly, opponents of reform can credibly argue – as they did in 1992 – that any Government pursuing the whole agenda would have little time for the kind of things most people care about such as improving public services or growing the economy.

At the RSA we talk about ‘thinking like system and acting like an entrepreneur’. While the Tory hegemony of the eighties and the low turnout of 2001 proved to be temporary phenomena, the crisis liberal democracy is now facing could prove terminal. The election result in Turkey provides further evidence of the popularity of what Yascha Mounk has called ‘illiberal democracy’, a system in which elections provide a mandate for authoritarian rule. If we think democracy should be about how power is exercised and not simply how it is gained, our system does need root and branch reform. But with little political muscle at reformers’ disposal the best way to smash this wall is not to run at it but to search for a loose brick. Acting entrepreneurially means focussing less on what we want to change and more on where change may be most possible.

The demand for deliberative democracy has a number of advantages. First, we can show that these methods already work all around the world. Second, there is no reason why greater use of deliberation should be an issue that divides people ideologically. Unlike electoral reform or party funding, as examples, very few people have a fixed view. In the last few weeks I like to think I have convinced both some Labour and some Tory supporters to take deliberation more seriously. Third, unlike most other democratic reforms, it is easy to do. Although I would like to see deliberation set in law, the first few rounds of juries could probably be enacted immediately without any legislation. Crucially it is also a gateway reform in that once we have citizens’ juries they would be the perfect forum to frame and advance the debate for other constitutional changes, just as has happened in Ireland.

In the face of populism, public disenchantment with politics, and policy failure, democratic deliberation may seem like terribly modest answer. But whatever ideals we might ultimately aspire to in our democracy, it is not hope that leads to action so much as action that leads to hope. Better to aim for a small victory than to march toward another heroic failure.  



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Changing Organizations One Conversation At a Time

 

Organizations are all looking to transition from being hierarchal, with a focus on accountability and control, to being agile, high engagement, participatory, and innovative. That change can’t happen top down, because it is too much of a paradox.  It begs the question; shouldn’t we be able to participate in the decision about whether to be participative? 

The City Government of Utrecht found a way around that conundrum – involve the people that are supposed to change in designing the change. In 2014 it was clear that the internal departments of the city government were too siloed to serve the citizens of Utrecht effectively. Internal problems were taking too long to solve, and the same problems kept reoccurring year after year. A transformation was Screen Shot 2018-06-18 at 1.02.56 PM in order.  The newly hired City Manager, Maarten Schurink, spoke of the transition as “via B.”  But, he refrained from identifying what “B” was, saying employees themselves would invent the new organization. And he noted that “B” would probably continue to move as employees in conversation discovered new ways to improve their effectiveness. To support these efforts, he made available coaches and facilitators, as well as providing opportunities for employees to come together to participate in organizational issues, but with no requirement to do so. The following story, about one of many such conversations, illustrates the approach.

The city employees who operate the street cleaning machines – the ones that have those large scrub brushes – came together to talk about how they might be more effective and efficient in their work. Traditionally, each employee had been assigned a weekly route, for example, on Monday Peter would clean streets A through F, on Tuesday clean G through K, and so on.  But when the street cleaners got into a conversation about their work, they said, “Well, some streets need to be cleaned every 2-3 days because there are of lots of leaves or kids dropping trash in the streets. But other streets really don’t need to be cleaned very often, so driving the machines over those streets every week is a waste of time and energy.” Out of that conversation, the street cleaners created a plan that made each employee responsible for keeping a specific area clean but leaving it to that employee to establish the schedule of when and how often each street was cleaned. They took pictures of clean streets so everyone would understand what the standard was for “clean.” The employees are now able to use their knowledge of what is happening and changing within their area to establish their schedule. It worked because the street cleaners had local knowledge that the city planners, who developed the original schedule, lacked. 

Research* overwhelmingly shows that employees are more willing to support a change when they have a voice in deciding about that change. That is true, not just for a system-wide change, but for change at the division, department and team level as well. It is not only research that supports employee involvement, it is also the deep-seated human desire to be responsible for our own actions - self-efficacy as it is called in psychological terms. As Weisbord wrote:

Democracy is a tough way to live. With all its flaws, I think it beats the alternatives. I do not wish to have someone else, no matter how educated, well intentioned, wealthy, or wise, decide unilaterally what is best for me. Unless we are deeply involved in our work, we cannot feel good about ourselves. Unless we work with others toward valued goals, we cannot infuse hope and aspiration into our lives. Unless we treat one another as equals, we cannot find dignity, meaning, and community in work. Unless we make our own mistakes, and learn to forgive ourselves, we cannot learn at all. Unless we cooperate we cannot survive.                                                 

From my work with the City of Utrecht as well as with many other organizations, I have found that the way to bring about change is to create conversations within an organization about what needs to change and how to do it.   And in this time of rapid technological advances and increased complexity, where change is continuous, those conversations need to be on-going to course correct and respond to new demands. But not all organizational issues require conversation.  A useful rule of thumb is that employees need to be involved in the conversations about issues that impact them directly.

To change an organization you have to change the conversation, that is,  what is talked about, who is invited into those conversations, how frequently those conversations occur and even the space in where those conversations take place.

In studying organizations that have made such a change I have identified a core set of propositions that guide the change. They include:   

  1. Employees come to work wanting to do a good job.
  2. Employees possess the collective knowledge to solve the difficult problems they face in their work.
  3. Problems/issues get solved through conversations. It is where we discover what we know, share it with our colleagues, and in the process, create new answers and insights.  
  4. Employees are more committed to change when they have a voice in planning that change.
  5. The deepest and most generative conversations occur in groups where members feel psychologically safe. To feel psychologically safe members need to have a strong enough relationship with each other to learn each other’s strengths, weaknesses, expertise and abilities.
  6. A scaffold is needed to support organizational conversation, but it requires a light scaffold, not one that is completely filled in. Whether that scaffold is based on Agile, Appreciative Inquiry, Theory U, the Toyota Production System, or Via B, it must be flexible enough to adjust and improve as the organization learns.

The City Government of Utrecht started with this set of propositions and over the next four years changed the organization one conversation at a time. 

 

* Anderson & Adams, 2016; Turco, 2016; Pentland, 2014; Argyris 2012; Block, 1993; Ackoff, 1981;



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Read about it here – you won’t anywhere else


I hope my annual lecture last night will prove to be a significant moment. There seemed to be real enthusiasm in the packed room for our putative campaign with Involve to promote deliberative democracy.

There was lots of very positive social media activity too and even the video of the event is already nudging up to 800 views. I will be posting again soon about how we intend to take forward the campaign

This post contains the full text of the speech with one substantive amendment (apart from removing the jokes). As I left the Great Room last night two people made almost the same point to me; ‘that was great and I understand now, but you should have told people at the outset what deliberative democracy actually is’. I have added a paragraph which does this. But their comments highlighted a growing frustration.

Lack of awareness is a fundamental impediment to deliberation. When people understand the concept, and hear about how widely and successfully it has been used across the world, most are enthusiastic. But even people who should know a lot better – like a lot of politicians – not only fail to understand what deliberation means but often confuse it with much less rigorous and creative forms of engagement like consultation, focus groups and on-line polling.

I am usually sceptical when policy advocates blame the media for them being misunderstood. But in this case there is real problem. Most of my twelve annual lectures have received some media coverage ranging from Today programme interviews to newspaper columns to short films on Daily Politics. But even though my lecture this year was arguably more provocative and more concretely focused than other years, our excellent media team could not summon up an iota of interest.

This isn’t just my problem, read this BBC item on a joint local government and health and social care select committee report on funding social care.  What you won’t find is any reference to the fact that the select committees had undertaken with Involve a highly innovative and successful citizens’ assembly to help them shape their proposals, and that the committees had said that their recommendations had been strongly influenced by that assembly. This three minute video made by Involve tells you the things the BBC couldn’t be bothered to report. 

As our national public service broadcaster the BBC may be particularly culpable but the unwillingness to report deliberation at all, let alone positively, is a characteristic of most of the mainstream media. The excuse no doubt is that it is of no interest to the public. Presumably people are much more engaged in reading and hearing endlessly about the bewildering, depressing and pointless Brexit shenanigans in the cabinet. I’m tempted to argue that it is the media’s job to make important stuff interesting but there is a deeper point.

I suspect the other reason journalists are averse to reporting the successes of deliberation is that it is all about people behaving decently, engaging with detail and reaching consensus. For a media that thrives on polarisation, conflict and opinion where’s the story in that? After all, if we understood that, given the support and opportunity, ordinary people from all walks of life can be thoughtful, constructive and open minded we might realise that formats like BBC Question Time are skilfully designed to make the public look like a bunch an aggressive, ill-informed, dogmatists.

So, enjoy the speech, a lot of what it contains you won’t read anywhere more mainstream.

Read the transcript of the Chief Executive Lecture 2018 below or watch the whole event on YouTube.

Learn more about our campaign for deliberative democracy and sign up to get involved.


 

 

Chief Executive Lecture 2018:

In 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall still echoing, Francis Fukuyama prophesied the global triumph of liberal democracy and the end of history. Thirty years on it is not history in jeopardy but liberal democracy itself.

China - the rising global power – is thriving with a system which combines economic freedom with political autocracy. There is the growth of what Yascha Mounk calls illiberal democracies – countries with notionally free elections but without the liberal foundations of accountability, civil liberties and cultural openness. The issue with nations like Russia, Hungary and Turkey, and with those exhibiting a backlash against liberalism like America and Italy, is not just how they operate but the tendency for populism - when given the excuse or opportunity - to drift towards authoritarianism.

While the alternatives to the liberal democratic system grow more confident the citizens living in those systems become more restless. Politicians and political institutions in countries are viewed with dismay and contempt. We don’t like them, we don’t trust them, we don’t think they can solve the problems that most matter to us. The evidence, particularly from the US, is starting to suggest that disillusionment with politics is now becoming indifference towards democracy itself.

Will liberal democracy come back into fashion – is this a cycle or is it a trend? Behind the global patterns each country is different, but think of what is driving anger and disillusionment in our own.

Living standards flat-lining for longer than at any time since the industrial revolution. A decade of austerity leaving our public services threadbare and in a mode of continual crisis management. From social care to gangs, from cybercrime to mental health, how many of us think Government is facing up to the problems let alone developing solutions? 

Inequality, having risen precipitously in the 1980s, remains stubbornly high, fuelling anger about elites and making not just the economic divide but all divisions worse.

Social media – where increasingly people get their information and engage in political discourse – has the seemingly in-built tendency to confirm prejudice and polarise opinion.

The great intertwined forces shaping the future – globalisation, unprecedented corporate power, technological change - continue to reinforce a sense in people, places and nations that they have no agency. Yet the hunger to take back control which started as tragedy is rapidly becoming a farce.

If this is the warm climate in which disillusionment has taken root and grown it shows few signs of cooling.

For all its many failings, I have always believed that over the long term liberal democracy would carry on making lives better for most people most of the time. As a progressive my guiding star is what Roberto Unger has called ‘the larger life for all’. But for the first time, I view the future with more fear than hope.    

There are those who disparage pessimism. To them the backlash against liberalism, the signs of a declining faith in democracy, are passing responses to failure and misfortune. Populism will give the system the wake-up call it needs. In time a new generation of leaders will renew the system. Populism need neither be extreme nor beget authoritarianism – look at Macron.

This underestimates the dangers that face us. It is too reminiscent of those who believed, until the results came in, that the British people would not take the risk of Brexit or that the Americans would reject the madness of Trump. It underestimates too how the turn against liberal democracy in one country can beget it in another. Paradoxically, today nationalists seem more able to collaborate with each other than countries ostensibly committed to internationalism. Chaos spreads more quickly than order. Global treaties and institutions take years to agree, they can breakdown overnight.

Of course, liberal democracy has failed over and again to live up to its own promise. But the fact that things need to change doesn’t mean they can’t get a whole lot worse.

We are also in danger of underestimating the coherence and confidence of liberalism’s critics. Last month Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban made a powerful speech defending his brand of nationalist populism and boasting of his growing alliances across Europe. He appealed to the continent’s centre-right to recognise that it has more in common with conservative nationalism than the EU’s liberal establishment. There are aspects of Orban’s analysis which have an understandable appeal to the mainstream, but remember this is also a man who is unashamedly hostile to Islam, contemptuous of humanitarianism, and who is playing fast and loose with democratic safeguards in his own country.

We may disagree about how malign or dangerous are figures like Orban or Erdogan, or Trump or Salvini, but surely we can agree that those who want to defend the open, pluralistic, inclusive values of liberal democracy must try to make a better case for what we believe?

In part this involves defending the record of liberal societies in improving lives, creating opportunities and keeping the peace, at least between themselves. But it also means facing up to what is going wrong and what must change.

Complex problems are rarely addressed with a single solution. To ever again achieve the remarkable and unprecedented economic and social advances of the three decades after the Second World War, liberal democracy needs profound renewal. But change must start some place. This evening I want to argue that place should be the way we do democracy itself.

The idea that our democracy and the norms, institutions and processes that comprise it are in need of reform is hardly new. Doughty campaigners have been calling for years for specific democratic changes such as electoral reform, reconstituting the House of Lords or state funding of political parties. Their arguments have rarely reached far beyond the folk interested in this kind of thing, but there have been two concerted attempts by civil society institutions to move democratic renewal centre stage.

The first was in the Charter 88 initiative. This is best understood as a response to both Labour’s crushing defeat in the 1987 General Election and the centralising tendencies of the Thatcher Governments. For a short period Charter 88 and its demands dominated coverage of the 1992 General Election. Indeed some people believe it contributed to Neil Kinnock’s defeat by implying a Labour Government would be distracted by constitutional reform. 

Then in the wake of the disastrous General Election turnout of 2001, the Power Inquiry was established. The Inquiry was well funded and reasonably high profile but it too achieved little traction after its final report in 2006.

The characteristic the initiatives had in common was their ambition. Charter 88 had ten concrete demands ranging from proportional representation and a reformed judiciary to devolution and freedom of information. Some of the Charter’s demands have been enacted to some extent, but few of its authors would say that today’s democracy embodies their vision. The Power Inquiry was even more extensive, with thirty recommendations ranging from electoral reform to citizenship education, but its call for radical change fell on deaf ears.

The aim of these initiatives to design a whole new political system was intellectually commendable. In hindsight it was also tactically ill-advised. The more demands a campaign makes the greater the danger of alienating people. There is no doubt a correlation between people who want more devolution to cities, an elected Lords and proportional representation but it isn’t absolute. Also, opponents of reform can credibly argue that any Government pursuing such a broad agenda would have little time for the kind of things most people care about more such as improving public services or growing the economy.

We love big ideas at the RSA and we are also obsessed with change: not just where we want to go but how to start the journey. Our analysis has led us to a strategy we call ‘thinking like system and acting like an entrepreneur’. To renew our democracy we need system change but acting entrepreneurially means focusing not only on what we want but on where change may now be most possible. With little political muscle at our disposal the best route to reform is not to set about the whole edifice but to search for a loose brick.

This is the thinking behind the campaign we hope to pursue with our partners from Involve.

It’s why I am not proposing the kind of root and branch reform programme of Charter 88 and the Power Inquiry. Instead our core demand is simple and modest. Every year the Government should sponsor three national deliberative processes on topics chosen respectively by Government, by Parliament and by the public. To make sure these processes are seen to have impact ministers should be required to respond in full to the citizens’ deliberation, outlining to Parliament the Government’s response to its recommendations. Through these initial small steps robust citizen deliberation could in time become an integral part of our unwritten constitution.

Deliberative processes have various forms but here I mean citizens’ juries or assemblies. These typically bring together between twenty and a hundred ordinary people representing a cross section sample of the population. The group spend around three or four days (consecutively or over a couple of weekends) hearing prepared evidence from all sides on a specific topic (anything from abortion reform to public spending priorities) and at the end after facilitated questioning, investigation and debate, the group comes up with concrete recommendations, usually based on consensus. Deliberation is not an alternative to representation but can powerfully enhance it, as I will explain. 

But why is the greater use of deliberative democratic methods the best starting point for reform and renewal?

To start with, deliberative processes directly address two of the most fundamental problems with our representative system. These are problems which we were perhaps willing to overlook when politics was more class based, when citizens were more optimistic, and when we had lower expectations of choice in the rest of our lives.

First, representative democracy provides an incredibly blunt mandate. Every five years a government is elected with the support of less than a third of the population on the basis of a take it or leave it manifesto containing hundreds of policies. Then, in power, Governments have to respond to a whole new set of issues. Generally we prefer shopping to politics, but imagine what we would think of supermarkets if we had to elect a single brand every five years and then we were not only compelled to use that store but it could decide what to put in our shopping basket and how much it wanted to charge for it.

Second, the tragic irony of our system is that as soon as someone becomes a formal representative we are inclined to believe this person is no longer a representative of ordinary citizens. Such a perception may seem harsh but it is contains truth, and in one aspect particularly. Generally, politicians and certainly those with any ambition, are in their day to day dealings more beholden to their Parties than to the electorate. Yet in terms of values, habits and make up political parties are highly unrepresentative of the public at large.

Democratic deliberation addresses both flaws head on. First, it can help to provide a direct mandate, not only strengthening accountability but legitimising the kind of difficult choices that politicians try hard to avoid. Issues ranging from drug regulation to road pricing, from the ethics of AI to social care funding - the last of which was recently the subject of a very successful deliberative process designed by Involve on behalf of two select committees.

Second, by bringing the views of ordinary citizens to the heart of policy addresses the problem of representation. Citizens’ juries like legal juries – one of our few historic institutions that have not come under sustained reputational attack – rely on a simple and powerful assumption by the public, namely ‘if I had heard the same evidence I would have reached the same conclusions’.

There are other reasons too. We can show these methods already work all around the world. Something I’m sure Tim and Clodagh will want to underline. Taking deliberation seriously in the UK isn’t a leap into the unknown, it’s finally catching up with what other countries and cities have already shown to work.

Also, there is no reason why deliberation should be an issue that divides us ideologically. Unlike other constitutional issues, like electoral reform or party funding, few people have a fixed view. In the last few weeks as my obsession with the subject has grown, I like to think I have convinced both some Labour and some Tory supporters to take deliberation more seriously.

Also in contrast to other democratic reforms, our proposals are easy to enact. Although I would like to see deliberation set in law, the first few rounds of juries could start now without any legislation.

Deliberation also connects democracy to people’s day to day concerns. Often democratic reform can feel obscure and irrelevant. The low turnout in the 2011 referendum on electoral reform can be explained by the absence of the kind of groundswell of support that citizen deliberation can build, but also because it seemed irrelevant to the issues people care about most.

In contrast, deliberation is never just about the process but also the substantive issue that is being explored. It connects better process to better outcomes. Deliberation is also a gateway reform. Once the role of citizens’ juries is accepted they are the perfect forum to frame and advance the debate for other constitutional changes, just as has happened in Ireland.

At the moment deliberation is not widely understood or accepted. This isn’t only a problem for the layperson. We recently hosted a speech by the Leader of the House – currently presiding over national democracy week. In questioning it became painfully clear that she didn’t even know what democratic deliberation meant.

The proposals I am making tonight can help us develop a deliberative habit. The evidence suggests that once we have that habit we won’t want to give it up.

In the face of populism, public disenchantment with politics, and policy failure, democratic deliberation is a modest answer. But whatever ideals we might ultimately aspire to for our democracy, it is not hope that leads to action so much as action that leads to hope.

Rather than giving in to despair or marching toward another heroic failure let’s aim for something achievable, something that could give us the confidence and the means to build a liberal democracy fit for the opportunities and challenges of our tumultuous times.



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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Ten Rules for Succeeding as a Leader in an Age of Turbulent Change

Turbulence

The future ain’t what it used to be.

Known for his pithy and often mangled quotations, New York Yankees catcher and manager Yogi Berra nevertheless ended up making poignant observations. In this instance, the future keeps materializing in a typically different form than what “experts” have predicted. We tend to think that today’s society is under an onslaught of change. Indeed it is. However, huge change faced people living in Great Britain and Europe during the start of the Industrial Revolution in the mid 1700s. The same with the late 1800s.

Rather than compare past change events during different periods over the past few hundred years, what’s more relevant is to talk about change adaptability. In this post, we’ll look at 10 rules for successful personal leadership in the age of turbulence. Hopefully, they’ll assist you in your personal learning and leadership journey.

Rule #1: Commit to Your Job. There’s a saying that people don’t quit their jobs but rather their bosses. Fair enough. However, there comes a time when commitment to our work and employers must be reconciled with the propensity to leave jobs when we become frustrated and fed up. I learned many years ago that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. What may appear to be Eden often turns out to be a worse situation – from the frying pan into the fire, as the expression goes.

This prompts a sidebar comment: if you’re in a position of hiring staff, whether as a manager or business owner, the worst thing you can do is make empty promises to attract new employees. My maxim with customer service is always under-promise but over-deliver. I would argue that this is what those who engage in hiring should practice; over-deliver by providing excellent leadership and an engaging workplace.

To commit to your job means aligning yourself with your organization’s mission (why it exists as an entity), understanding who are the customers or clients, and determine where you add value. If you find that you’re not adding value, then some personal reflection is needed.

Management guru Tom Peters commented once that you should only take on work that adds to your resume. Now this may startle some people, with the response: “Yeah right, I’ll tell my boss that I’m not going to do a certain task because it’s useless.” What Peters is actually suggesting is that we need to continually seek to learn and improve ourselves; his statement, in typical Peters’ fashion, was aimed to be provocative.

Committing to our jobs does have the element of an opposing tension to look after our own self interest. However, being only half present at work because we’re day-dreaming or commiserating in our self-perceived sorrow helps no one, certainly not our personal growth and career development.

Rule #2: Adapt Quickly to Change. 
When a big change hits your organization, emulate Superman by quickly shedding your old corporate duds for the new approach. If you can’t find a phone booth, any office will do.

The key point here is to understand that your organization is about to go through some whitewater change (e.g., merger, acquisition, downsizing, or new technology introduction) and management won’t have all the answers. However, by adapting quickly to the change, you’ll significantly reduce your stress while simultaneously showing management that you can be counted upon when the going gets tough and ambiguity is the daily challenge.

Rule #3: Learn to Focus and Go for Quality, Not Quantity
. Okay, I admit to being a multitasker. How about yourself? When in the elevator at work or waiting in the coffee line, are you texting and checking emails on your wireless, while attempting to acknowledge coworkers and friends at the same time? What about while driving? Are you checking for emails or text messages while at the traffic light?

I’ve seen people reading books while driving on the highway, or juggling a cell phone, coffee and a cigarette. My favourite story is from the Ontario Provincial Police who pulled over a motorist who was doing the ultimate in multitasking. His crime? He had a Coleman propane stove on the passenger seat and was cooking bacon and eggs. Now that’s commitment to multitasking.

All joking aside, multitasking performed while driving or walking across an intersection can have disastrous consequences. In the context of organizational work, multitasking has the negative effect of valuing the superficial and mediocrity. In what has been labeled the knowledge age, in which employees are supposedly knowledge workers, my view is that multitasking is dumbing down organizations, in particular those individuals in managerial leadership positions who parade around with smart phones stuck to the sides of their heads.

A key competitive asset resident in Canada and the United States is their well-educated populations. If our economies are to evolve to respond to the sweeping effects of technology, it’s vital that people are engaged to use their brains in meaningful ways in order to stimulate creativity and innovation. Go for quality, not quantity. Strive for the deeper solutions (see Rule #8).

When it comes to leading people, being present is a vital element of effective leadership. If you’re trying to multitask while speaking to one of your staff who’s dropped by your office, you send out the message loud and clear that the individual is not important. Focus on what your colleague is saying; at that moment he or she is the centre of your attention.

Rule #4: Be a Promise Keeper. One of my admitted pet peeves is people who make promises only to break them. None of us are perfect, especially yours truly; however, I’ve always made an effort to fulfill promises or commitments to others. No, my batting average is not 1000, but it’s pretty high.

With that said up front, keeping promises to others–whether at home, to friends or workers, or in our community–is an essential part of who we are as leaders.

Over my 35-year working career I witnessed too many promises that were broken, and I’m not even referring to those that people broke to me. It never ceased to amaze me how, for example, a manager could make a string of promises to staff, only to not fulfill them. On too many occasions I moved in to manage a unit whose manager had left, for whatever reason, leaving the carnage of poor morale among staff because of broken promises. It’s not a pleasant situation to be in as a manager.

When you keep your promises and commitments to your co-workers, staff and bosses, including those with whom you interact in your community, you’re viewed as someone with integrity and whose word is gold. And when the occasional situation arises where you’re unable to keep a promise, then it’s essential to take the time to explain what happened to the person or people who were affected. Refrain from making up excuses; just be up front and people will be much more likely to be understanding. They may even respect you more when they see you admitting a mistake and acknowledging that you’re human.

Rule #5: Embrace Uncertainty and Ambiguity–Ride the Wave. Trying to resist the onslaught of whitewater change is futile. The metaphor of learning to ride the wave is very apt here, one that creates a positive and energetic outlook. Throughout history since the start of the Industrial Revolution, people have fretted about the introduction of new technologies and how work is performed. They adapted quickly, however, moving forward to create new inventions or adaptations of existing technologies.

At the organizational level the effects of globalization–characterized by most work being capable of being done anywhere around the world, thanks largely to communications technology–are having profound effects on workers. Depending on what you read and from what vantage point, the offshoring of work is viewed as ranging from being a pernicious practice imposed on North American workers to improving the distribution of wealth globally.

What’s important to keep at the forefront is not who’s right on the job distribution issue, but rather to identify what YOU control and do NOT control. You control your morale, willingness to learn and adapt, and desire to seek out new opportunities.
By assuming the identify of a change master, you’ll greatly reduce the stress that’s generated when your organization goes through the gyrations of major changes. And you’ll signal to senior management that you’re equipped and ready to contribute to helping the organization meet its new challenges.

Rule #6: Be a sponge for learning–and then SYNTHESIZE
. The amount of information is growing exponentially every day. It’s no doubt overwhelming with the massive onslaught of information we must try to absorb. As much as it’s important to keep learning (as the mantra goes) and to expose ourselves to new ideas and perspectives, my view is that the critical skill to acquire is how to synthesize this data overload. This is my personal daily challenge, being a voracious reader and keen observer of geo-political events.

The opposing tension to developing your synthesis skills is the superficiality created from multi-tasking (see Rule #3). Again, this is part of my personal daily challenge. Go for the deep perspective–find your a-ha! moment, when you discover that gem of wisdom or burning idea that catapults you to another level. Ensure that you take time to reflect and explore possibilities.

Every morning I go for an hour-plus walk, which includes enjoying some wooded areas. These morning walks help slow down my thinking, which tends to race, and enable me to look at solutions to problems I may be facing or what I should write about in my next blog post.

Rule #7: Own your attitude and behaviour. When I was doing my Masters in leadership residency back in 1998, we spent a lot of time in action learning teams. This was one of the more profound learning experiences of my long working career. As with any team there are sometimes dysfunctional people. What became apparent as my cohort of 55 mid-career learners went through the first of two residencies was that several of the 10 teams encountered serious problems.

My team was no exception. Fortunately, as we realized that one of the male learners on our team was imposing his baggage upon us, a female team member who was well acquainted with this type of behaviour stepped up to the plate and called him on it. Her many years of working as a social worker in maximum security prisons had sensitized her to manipulative behaviour. We got through our action learning project in better shape than other teams, due largely to her intervention. But I never forgot her words: “You have to own your own shit.” Crude, but true.

How often have you seen bosses or co-workers trying to dump their problems on others? What was the effect? Did anyone call the individual on it? What was the response from management?

When behaviour like this occurs it can have a corrosive effect on the team and even more broadly on the organization. Don’t turn a blind eye when you see it happening. Speak up and empower yourself to help correct the behaviour. Lead by example.

Rule #8: Be a problem solver, Not a finger pointer. It’s really easy to identify problems and complain about them. Some people excel at this. The bigger challenge is exploring solutions to problems, and especially doing so in a collaborative manner. When you approach your work from this perspective you automatically start adding value to your organization.

Avoid the finger pointers; instead seek out people who want to be part of finding effective solutions for organizational issues and problems. You’ll be seen as the person who makes things happen, who fixes problems and, especially, adds value to your organization.

Rule #9: Practice what you preach. Treat people as how you like to be treated, whether it’s responding to a request for information from another unit in the organization or serving a customer, client and supplier. When others see that you act consistently in accordance with what emanates from your mouth, they’ll take you more seriously and respect you for your judgement and views. Aligning what you espouse and what you actually practice is a cornerstone to leadership integrity, one essential to creating a loyal followership.

Rule#10: Become a barrier buster
. Avoid becoming entrapped in silo thinking, in which people hoard information, reject ideas from other parts of the organization (as well as from outside) and attempt to protect their turf. Rise above this and get known for being a barrier buster who openly shares information, connects people and communicates effectively across organizational boundaries. You’ll get noticed by management as someone who understands the bigger picture and is contributing to the organization’s mission and vision.

Wrapup

Of course this is not a definitive list of ways to cope effectively with change. These 10 rules are merely my interpretation of how people can approach change, based on my experiences. Each of us has acquired our own knowledge of ways to adapt. Therefore, please take a moment to add your own rule for being a successful leader.

When you come to a fork in the road, take it. —Yogi Berra


holisti-leadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.


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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Personal Mastery: The Never-Ending Quest for Self-Discovery

Personal Mastery.jpg

Personal Mastery is the expression used to describe the discipline of personal growth and learning. People who possess high degrees of personal mastery are continually increasing their abilities to create the results they seek. Their never-ending quests for self-improvement and self-discovery underlie the spirit of organizations that buzz with excitement and creativity.

When we speak of personal mastery, it’s important to be clear that we’re not just referring to skills and competencies. Personal mastery includes spiritual growth and approaching life as a creative work. It means that we continually clarify what’s important to us and continually learn how to see the real world more clearly.

People who possess a high degree of personal mastery share some basic traits.
First, they have a strong sense of purpose that supports their personal visions and goals.

Second, they’re individuals who work with change, not against it.
Third, they feel connected to others and to life itself. And perhaps most importantly, they live in a continual learning mode.

Systems thinking brings out the more subtle aspects of personal mastery; for example, combining reason and intuition, seeing the interconnectedness of events in the world, compassion and commitment to the whole. To embark on a journey of personal growth means that one has made a conscious choice. It’s impossible to force an individual to engage in personal growth. As Peter Senge says, “It is guaranteed to backfire.”

There’s a key lesson here for managers: you can’t push against a string. People must want to change. Managers help create the environment, which includes modelling the desired behaviours.

Managers must work daily at creating a climate that promotes personal mastery. They must, above all, establish an environment in which people feel safe to create their personal visions, where they can challenge the status quo, and where inquiry and commitment to the truth are the norm.

If managers live this on a daily basis, personal mastery will be strengthened in two major ways. First, it will reinforce the notion that personal growth is indeed truly valued in the organization. And second, it will provide a sort of on-the-job-training, an essential part of personal mastery. The manager who is serious about her own quest for personal growth will send a powerful message to her followers.

Think about learning plans, a concept that many public and private organizations have adopted in recent years. Unfortunately, in many cases learning plans are done TO employees instead of WITH them. People thrive when they’re given the chance to empower themselves; when they’re controlled they shrivel up in spirit and performance.

Last, personal mastery is seen as one of the two individual disciplines. The other one is mental models. However, it’s important to remember that the five disciplines are interrelated. In the case of mental models, they’re also intertwined with systems thinking because they deal with how we view the world.
People don’t grow old. When they stop growing, they become old. —Anonymous

Next Post: Mental Models


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Tuesday, January 09, 2018

How Siemens build Knowledge Assets

Knowledge adds value when it is current, useful, validated, acccessible, combines knowledge from many sources, and is packaged in a usable format. Here's how Siemens does its knowledge synthesis and packaging. 


Siemens define a knowledge asset as being Validated Explicit knowledge on a value-adding Business processes.  I like this definition, as it implies that knowledge becomes an asset when it is validated, and when it helps the business.


However creation of such an asset requires a creation process involving the main knowledge holders from across the organisation. From this source, here's a diagram showing how Siemens goes through the synthesis and validation process.

You can see from the diagram that a knowledge asset takes about 3 months to build, and involves three workshops involving the relevant subject matter experts, plus a final review workshop.


  • A strawman of the asset is prepared before the first workshop, at which the SMEs agree the content structure, the scope, and the key knowledge to be included (in the form of processes, products and roles).

  • At the second workshop, the SMEs start to populate the content with processes, work products, and best practices - namely, searching around for good Explicit examples. They may provide practice guides, methodology, business frameworks, example work products, case studies, templates, architectures and role descriptions.

  • At the third workshop, the tacit knowledge is added in the form of tips and guidance, checklists etc.


The validated knowledge assets are stored separately from non-validated project documents, therefore making a clear distinction between project information and cross-project knowledge.

Once the knowledge asset is in place it is continually improved through work experience.



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Thursday, January 04, 2018

Organizations That Breathe In and Breathe Out

The more virtual an organization becomes, the more it needs to put into place periodic opportunities for workers to come together to renew relationships and cement their commitments to each other and to their joint goals. Think of it as breathing out and breathing in. Organizations breathe out by spreading across the globe, they breathe in when teams come back together to have human interaction. Oscillating between the two provides the best of both worlds.

But many organizations have decided they need to do one or the other. Some think that after spending all that money on software, team members should have no need to come together. Others like IBM, Bank of America, and Yahoo, having tried being virtual, have called workers back to the office to strengthen collaboration. Both have an “all or nothing” way of thinking - when the answer is really both!

Virtual (breathing out) contributes:

  • The ability to draw on the global talent pool
  • Reduction in the cost of office space
  • Autonomy that provides workers greater opportunity to experiment and try out new ideas
  • Being able to respond quickly to local customers
  • More satisfying integration of work and family life.

In-Person (breathing in) contributes:

  • Commitment to jointly made decisions
  • Shared understanding of goals/purpose
  • Parts smoothly come together into a meaningful whole, despite having been developed independently
  • Innovative solutions to complex issues that are arrived at through collective sensemaking
  • A sense of community, cohesion, and belongingness

I envision a future in which organizations that breathe out and breathe in are the new normal. A future in which organizations make full use of the unique attributes of both virtual and in-person.

“Office buildings” will have become “convening centers.” No longer will they be they places where individuals enter one by one, each heading to his or her assigned cubicle, instead whole teams will arrive together, greeting colleagues they have not seen over the past few months. Convening centers will be conducive to renewing relationships but also to addressing difficulties that have arisen related to the joint task a team is engaged. There will be spaces of all sizes, which are easily re-configurable with moveable furniture to accommodate groups of five or fifty and lots of open space for putting chairs in multiple small circles or one large circle. There will be rolling whiteboards and wall space for making joint work visible. There will be large windows with no need to worry about having too much light to see the screen because convening will be about conversations, not PowerPoint presentations. There will be lots of comfortable, informal space, ideal for chatting over coffee and snacks.  

When breathing out, I see organizations using advanced virtual tools to collaborate and stay connected. Tools that, with just a click of a button, a team member can be virtually in another member’s office, or all ten team members can be developing a plan in a virtual space. There will be effortless ways to view what others are working on and to contribute to each other’s work. There will be visualization tools that allow everyone on the team to see each member’s progress toward getting the group’s task accomplished, so team members can reach out to help where and when they are needed, and so that accountability is visible. Team members will have learned to be proficient in their use of virtual tools; able to make sound judgments about when to use what form of media to address different types of issues, e.g., decision making, brainstorming, requesting information. And they will recognize when an issue is too complex to try to solve virtually, so will schedule that issue on the agenda for the next in-person meeting.  

Look around! It’s already happening at the edges!



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Thursday, December 21, 2017

10 community principles to make your MOOC stronger



In January we had a lot of fun facilitating our 

knowmad MOOC.

 600 people participated and we had quite intense exchanges. We received many compliments for the way we facilitated it: personal and quick responses. A social MOOC requires a good design of the learning activities, design of the platform and spacing of activities. I think there were many details in our MOOC that made it a success. If you want to read something about the content, check out my

 some of my blogposts about the knowmad.

An example is our online network café and the wrap up with a meetup. It is nice to see that the network café idea and the 'space for informal conversation' have been copied in many other MOOCs. Do you recognize this: sometimes you can not even properly say why you are doing something, at time it is so instinctively or a gut feeling.

Hence it was a good idea of Jos Maassen from MOOCfactory to invite 

Peter Staal from Bind

 and myself to exchange about the design of a social MOOC and what you can learn from the way you facilitate a community. There are definitely parallel processes. This conversation has produced an article called:

10 community principes to make your MOOC stronger.

The 10 tips are:

1. Size matters. Keep the MOOC small (couple of 100rds) or work with subgroups in which people with a specific interest can meet each other.

2. Build trust. Under the guidance of a reliable and present moderator, participants are more inclined to share information, to express their doubts, to stimulate discussion, or to ask questions.

3. Develop Tacit knowledge. People in a community share knowledge with each other by entering into conversation, the so-called tacit knowledge. Facilitate a process in which people with similar interests find each other in forums to engage in discussion.

4. Find a balance between 'Connecting and collecting'. In the case of a social MOOC, participants want to gain knowledge (collecting) and get to know new people (connecting).

5. Use Peer pressure. Group pressure is a well-known phenomenon that can also strengthen the learning process. For example, state how many people have already responded or are 'through the gate' to stimulate engagement.

6. Involve experts and key persons in the domain. A cMOOC is not about transferring knowledge from you to novices. You do need experienced people and thought leaders. To make the discussions interesting, it is important to involve the experts and key figures (influencers) in the MOOC besides novices.

7. Allow for reputation building. Once people are together in a group, they build up a reputation. A social MOOC must facilitate that people can also build up online reputation by recognizing contributions or eg through leadership boards.

8. Connect online and offline. In this digital era, the online section is the most important in a cMOOC. But the offline aspect also remains utterly important, arrange for meetups or facilitate that people who live together can look for each other. Incidentally, this can also be looked up online via skype or zoom.

9. Provide public but also private spaces. Many people find it difficult to share their thoughts with a community of roughly a thousand people and prefer to do this in a smaller group or one on one. In this way trust and social capital are built up.

10. A warm but obligatory welcome Important in a new community: the feeling of coming home. A personal welcome and a good follow-up are therefore crucial.


You can read the whole article on the site of HT2: 

10 community principes to make your MOOC stronger.




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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Book review: 'Fast/Forward, make your company fit for the future' by Julian Birkinshaw (keynote speaker at KIN Workshop Spring 2018)

There's been some push-back recently regarding the benefits of the digital revolution. Julian Birkinshaw's book Fast/Forward suggests that organisations that embrace 'adhocracy', make smart intuitive decisions and act decisively will be the best prepared for uncertainty. Whilst it would seem that this almost defines small, agile firms, the book is full of examples of large corporations that have done this successfully.

The core principles of Fast/Forward are built around what he calls 'The four paradoxes of progress'. 

1. Creative destruction. A heretical idea challenges orthodoxy (Darwin or IKEA), disbelief of the establishment (Nokia), followed by the innovator becomes the establishment (Microsoft).

2. The more we know the less we understand. 'Whilst the human race is becoming collectively more knowledgeable every year, each of us (as individuals) is becoming relatively more ignorant'. 'Relatively' is the key word here due to the exponential increase in digital information available, compared to the linear rate of learning by us as individuals. Birkinshaw makes the case that team and networking can to some degree mitigate this paradox.

3. Connectivity and unpredictability.  Competing on computational power has become a race to the bottom when it comes to solving complexity. 'There is a risk that the combination of new technology and old questions means that you end up with answers that are exactly wrong, rather than roughly right'. This is where the book makes the case for more agile management, particularly experimentation and learning.

4. Knowing and believing. Ironically, the torrent of data pouring into our lives may mean that we may inadvertently be making decisions by 'appeals to our emotions, our intuitive beliefs and our hidden values'. Fast/Forward suggests that this is no bad thing and may be a way of business leaders differentiating themselves. The example cited is Apple, where product design was as much about beliefs and emotions as it was about hard-headed business.

The concept of 'Adhocracy' is not new. Alvin Tofler explored the idea of flexibility in dealing with uncertainty in his 1973 book Future Shock. Birkinshaw updates the concept for the big data and machine learning age. He also neatly contrasts it with meritocracy and bureaucracy. 
I was glad to see that rather than dismissing bureaucracy as an outmoded concept, he considers the merits of each and proposes a 'Trinity in Reality' model. 

The main call-to-action for me is in the chapter 'Linking Strategy Back to Purpose'. 'Leaders need to make a stronger emotional connection to those around them, rather than allowing sterile, data-driven decision making to dominate their actions, reactions and responses'. Birkinshaw suggests that organisations should put 'pro-social' goals first, for example hire for attitude and train for skill (most organisations do the reverse). There are many examples cited of large organisations that clearly instil a sense of moral purpose (Tata, Arla, SouthWest Airlines) whilst innovating to break orthodox organisational models. 

With all the excitement (and fear) around AI, big data and machine learning, it is easy to lose sight of vital business principles and values. The first half of Fast/Forward can be seen as a useful playbook for leaders wanting guidance on how to meld a technology revolution, give a clear sense of purpose for their organisations in an increasingly complex world and to embrace disruption.

Julian Birkinshaw is keynote speaker at the KIN Spring 2018 members' workshop 'Reimagining the Innovative Organisation'. This will take place at The Shard in London on 22nd March 2018.

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Fast/Forward 
Authors: Julian Birkinshaw, Jonas Ridderstrale
Published 2017 
Stanford Business Books 
ISBN 9780804799539




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