Category Archives: Uncategorized

The experience of strategy

Chris Mowles has a great post about his experience at a strategy presentation. He highlights the contrast between the presenter’s idealised abstractions and what is actually going on in the room. This bit captures that distinction:

As he proceeded to explain in rather Jesuitical fashion how he and his team had worried about the order of the words in the vision statement whether it should be ‘internationally renowned for being the leading X’, or rather ‘renowned internationally for being the leading X’ he failed to notice how many people in the audience, either literally or metaphorically, were sitting with their heads in their hands.

The whole thing is well worth your time. This is not so much a post about a dull presentation – we all know about those. The deeper point is about how management so easily gets caught up in abstraction and misses the actual life going on before it.

I feel another video coming on…

“Muddling through”

Chris Rodgers has written a couple of related posts on management as “muddling through” and the “beautiful ugly truth” of management. As usual I find myself nodding in agreement.

I’ve been thinking lately about the status we play when we use different kinds of language.  In management there’s a tendency to favour high status language because it sounds more important. This creates the kind of jargon most of us secretly dislike. So on the whole, I’m in favour of more of the lower status language. In my own line of work I often realise there’s a lot of muddling through or “making it up as I go along”.

But supposedly low status language carries its own baggage too.

I may think by saying I make it up as I go along, I am merely being honest and not making myself seem too important. However, it can be interpreted as suggesting more than this.. perhaps suggesting I am just carefree, or flippant, or disrespectful of the participants and what is at stake. When I am muddling through as a facilitator, I hope I am not just being casual, but doing something sensible and considered in the light of all the information I am receiving.

It’s a tricky business, describing what you do…


Disruption debunked

Jill Lepore has a thought-provoking article challenging the thinking behind the Innovators Dilemma. She questions the glibness with which people champion disruptive innovation.

I like a bit of contrarian thinking and this scratches a familiar itch I feel about many conversations about innovation. Lepore seems to argue that case studies about breakthrough innovation are ignoring some longer term things that don’t change so much.

We often think of continuity and change as opposites, each to be confronted or challenged or (unconsciously) denied.

Amsterdam workshops this week

Don’t know why I didn’t mention this before but Viv is doing two workshops in Amsterdam this week.

Thursday’s is called Bring Your Meetings to LIfe – I think of it as the basics of Viv’s and my approach to facilitation.

Friday’s is called Survival Skills for Facilitators. This one focuses on what to do when things go wrong. To be honest, I think the essence of facilitation is the ability to live the stage fright, the feeling of being an imposter, and keep going when things appear to be on the brink of going awry.

Each one is 145 Euros for companies, 95 Euros for independents. In a last minute change of plan, I’m actually going to join Viv on Friday. But don’t let that put you off!

Blurb here. And big thanks to our friend Raymond van Driel for hosting.

Completing each other

These two posts crossed my path recently, and seem related:

First, Quinn Norton has a terrific essay called Everything is Broken. This is the central point:

It’s hard to explain to regular people how much technology barely works, how much the infrastructure of our lives is held together by the IT equivalent of baling wire.

Computers, and computing, are broken.

In fact, she goes on to suggest that people are broken too. In the sense that we are easily confused, mistaken and not as rational nor as consistent as we’d like to think. A point made by Oliver Burkeman here: Everyone is just totally winging it, all the time.

I see a lot of relationships and organisations come to grief on unrealistic expectations of people. We set unreasonable expectations of others and blame their faulty characters for not meeting them.

I experience relief when I accept that of course things don’t go to plan. The alternative is to be yelling at my phone or computer many times a day. To say nothing of friends and colleagues.

We might, however, be mindful of language. To call someone “broken” could be seen as harsh, and since it applies to all of us, we might prefer to think of ourselves and others as incomplete. We then get the chance to try to complete each other, not in some perfect way but in the way humans do.

To me the amazing thing is that the technology, and even more the people, collaborate as well as they do, given how “faulty” everything is. And I think that while we may be “winging it”, as Burkeman suggests, we are often winging it more brilliantly than we give or get credit for, given the circumstances.

Unhurried Conversations, Cambridge, 15 and 28 May

37HAntony Quinn and I will be hosting some more Unhurried Conversations this month in Cambridge. Both are free.

We’re at the Trinity Centre Cambridge Science Park 15 May 8.30am to 10.30am Register here

And at Browns Trumpington Street, 28 May, 10am to noon. Register here.

In an Unhurried Conversation, there is time to think, and  we can experience silences as companionable rather than awkward.

Unhurried can be fast and it can be slow… the main thing is that the pace is comfortable, so that people can relax into the flow, and no-one need feel crowded out or left behind.

We think it can be a terrific pace for genuine creative thinking… the kind where we wonder if we are solving the right problem, not just churning out familiar solutions. Where listening is as interesting as talking.

Please come along, and if you like, bring along a topic than concerns or excites you. We’ll use our experience to suggest conversation formats that will make for an unusually human encounter.

The individual and the culture

In We Aren’t the World, Ethan Watters explores how profoundly culture affects thinking. One of the central points is that Western, and he suggests particularly American, minds, are much more likely to see things from an individualist, and reductionist perspective. He points out the vast majority of psychology studies are based on “WEIRD” people, in Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic countries. Turns out that the rest of the world doesn’t think the same ways.

Here’s his conclusion; the whole thing is worth reading.

And here is the rub: the culturally shaped analytic/individualistic mind-sets may partly explain why Western researchers have so dramatically failed to take into account the interplay between culture and cognition. In the end, the goal of boiling down human psychology to hardwiring is not surprising given the type of mind that has been designing the studies. Taking an object (in this case the human mind) out of its context is, after all, what distinguishes the analytic reasoning style prevalent in the West. Similarly, we may have underestimated the impact of culture because the very ideas of being subject to the will of larger historical currents and of unconsciously mimicking the cognition of those around us challenges our Western conception of the self as independent and self-determined. The historical missteps of Western researchers, in other words, have been the predictable consequences of the WEIRD mind doing the thinking.

Thanks to Lee Bryant for pointing to this on Facebook.