I’ve been thinking lately about the difference between business based on a model, and based on a practice. And I think I want a practice, not a model.
I’ve been wanting to write a super-coherent essay about this but I’ve noticed that nothing happens when I set that goal. So instead, I’ll just blog a few of the ideas associated with this in the hopes I might later make them a bit more coherent. Or maybe one of you will!
I’ve been influenced a lot by two books. Dan Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness and Phil Rosenzweig’s The Halo Effect. Gilbert gives a cook’s tour of many of the ways in which we delude ourselves about our experience. He does this in the context of finding out what makes us happy, and suggests we’re actually rather bad at figuring it out. Rosenzweig does something similar for our understanding of organisational success: basically, we’re prone to a whole series of delusions about what actually works.
We end up massively overstating the influence of heroic leaders and failing to understand the influence of context: what appeared to work in one situation simply doesn’t map easily to another. We busily try to “train” people to do things based on some deeply imperfect understanding of what actually works. (There was a nice story – I can’t source it at the moment – about Andre Agassi teaching someone how to serve based on his own mistaken sense of what his secret was. Only stop motion photography revealed to Agassi that what he thought he did when serving was not what he actally did.)
Now there are some big incentives to having a model for business. In the training/faciliation area, if you have a model, some people find it easier to spend money. They get a list of confident bullet points about “what you will learn”. They think they’re actually buying something real. (Ironic, really). And of course, if you have a model, you can industrialise it: you can licence it, get others to teach it and you make money in your sleep etc. There’s some connection for me to the choice between open source and conventional software: do you try to make money from freezing ideas and selling them, or from your ability to continue to develop them and make them of service to people?
Here’s a few related thoughts I might explore further later.
- As Mark argues, a lot of human behaviour does not change in response to instructions or programming. We’re not computers. A lot of our behaviour seems to be based on copying. If we practice what we believe it may be more impactful than going round telling people what we believe. (And, as hinted above, what our rational explanations of our behaviour may be pretty dodgy anyway).
- The idea of practice gives me permission to fail and learn. We all the know the saying that life isn’t a rehearsal. I think I prefer to think of it all as rehearsal, all a chance to try things and see what works.
- I often feel that folks with models, whether Myers Briggs or NLP or Shareholder Value Analysis are always going to be filtering for what fits their model. They’ll see the model but not the people; the safe and secure but not the new life and emergence.
- Research on what works in therapy seems to suggest that the relationship between client and therapist is crucial, and that the model is secondary.
Hat tip to Chris Corrigan who’s really into the notion of practice.