How visualisation could have helped the Brexit debate

Use visualisation in your change programmesThere are still many conversations going on about the recent referendum. Regardless of who was right or wrong, how could the whole process have been improved. How could we make sure that voters had a better understanding of what they were voting for? How could the politicians have better communicated their ideas to us all?

One possible answer is visualisation. This does not mean we all have to meditate whilst listening to whale noises. It simply means that someone needs to create a descriptive representation of what they are proposing. What would life be like, feel like, smell like. What would day to day living be like, how would things stack up for workers, teenagers, the elderly or unemployed. The aim is to create something that everyone can relate to.

Those campaigning in the recent debate could have created a vivid model of the future that they were proposing. Also, the electorate in general could also have used something similar to work out what sort of future they wanted and then matched this to what they were being sold by the Remain or Leave campaigns.

Such methods are positive, building methods and may have prevented some of the negative campaigning. It is also much easier to see any common ground between your ideas and those espoused by others.

So how can we do this? Story, modelling, music, video, metaphor are all useful and one or two could have been used effectively rather than shouting at each other.

A simple example is house hunting. We can all wander around with house particulars featuring dimensions, details of kitchens and man caves etc but it soon becomes apparent where we can compromise or build so that there is a vision that everyone is happy with.

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Why We Hate Creativity

Why we hate creativityImagine for a minute that I have been asked by the top management in your company to radically change the way you work because they have bought into my philosophy about using Creativity as a serious business tool.You and your colleagues receive the following text in an email on Friday afternoon.

Dear Colleague,

Our company is going to adopt a radical business model that will help us to be more efficient, get products to market faster but above all remain ahead of the competition. As a result there will be some changes to the structure of the organisation as well as the introduction of new management and business tools and for many there will be changes to the IT services provided by our IT department.

All affected staff will receive comprehensive training commencing on Monday morning. Please read the attached notes for your personalised training programme. 

We are all excited by the forthcoming changes and we hope that you will be too

Yours,

Your Senior Management Team
(more…)

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Creativity, Gardening And Cookery – Envisioning The Future

creativity gardening cookeryProfessor Rosabeth Moss Kanter said “a clear destination is necessary to guide the journey of change. Many change efforts falter because of confusion over exactly where everyone is expected to arrive.”

Of course, we don’t always know what our final destination is. However, answering a series of questions can help us decide where we want to go and provide easy steps for getting there.

  • What problem are we trying to solve?
  • What’s the current situation?
  • What are our ultimate objectives?
  • What needs to change to meet your objectives?
  • What process should we employ?

Stop right there!

Can you see something wrong with this course of action? It is a traditional change process that has been taught on many a management course over the last 2 decades or so. The above was actually billed as ‘envisioning the future’ but in reality it is simply ‘bending the organisation to fit’

So what about the future, how do we envision it, create it and share it? There is a longer article in the pipeline but here is a summary.

The traditional methods imply a big change, going from here to there, a long or tough journey that not everybody feels is worth it. Also the journey is often forced upon us. In the embryonic creative organisation there is no journey, except through time. Instead of steps we are building an environment (think of a children’s den as a metaphor). We think of capability and opportunity and have a feeling about our new environment, but we have no concrete objectives. Because we value capability we visualise what can be done, not what engineering can be done on our organisation to make it fit our ideas for the future.

We are living in a world full of ambiguity here. What are our values, do we have a structure, have our roles changed? The only constant is change – but not as we know it.

And finally what process do we employ? A mixture of cookery and gardening!

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The Cynefin Framework

 

cynefin frmeworkThe Cynefin Framework is a useful model for describing complex systems and is particularly helpful when grappling with the complexity and ambiguity that often surrounds innovation. To do it justice requires many thousands of words but I have tried to provide a flavour so that readers can investigate further for themselves.

First of all it is a sense-making not a categorisation model i.e. our data already exists and our model is applied to make sense of the patterns that occur within it.

The model describes 3 types of systems – ordered (subdivided into simple and complicated), complex and chaotic. For simple systems the relationship between cause and effect exists and is predictable. The decision making model is thus Sense, Categorize, Respond and we tend to apply best practice.

In complicated systems the relationship between cause and effect exists but is not self evident. Our decision making model is thus Sense, Analyze, Respond and we apply Good Practice. This is because we might need to employ expert advice and there may be several possibilities open to us not a single correct course of action. The big danger is to blindly employ Best Practice here.

In complex systems the relationship between cause and effect is only obvious with hindsight. The way forward is to conduct a series of experiments, to probe our system. Depending on their success or failure we will probe further and we will then develop emergent practice. We are effectively learning!

Chaotic systems are usually where we wish to be when we are innovating. There is no relationship between cause and effect. We are normally in control of these systems but such a system can be entered accidentally and we need to know how to tackle such an issue. Because we must act quickly in this unstable state our decision making model is Act, Sense, Respond.

So how do we use this? Well depending on which type of system we are in we should think and make decisions in different ways. One size does not fit all and it should be obvious that such an approach is disastrous. Often we start off in the central ‘disorder’ region i.e. not actually knowing which state we are in. This often means we do not conduct any form of analysis and will act according to personal experience and preference.

The framework also suggests that we can move around between states.  This is true as boundaries are mostly smooth transitions except for the Simple/Chaos boundary. People working in simple (often bureaucratic) systems can become complacent and when their world becomes chaotic they suffer a rough ride as they change states. This transition has been likened to falling off a cliff!

Further reading is suggested for those serious about complexity and change, however it is a very useful tool for working out how you should be behaving as an organisation, and when it is safe to adopt best practice.

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Leading Public Sector Change

In the current economic climate the public sector in the UK is under extreme pressure to continue to deliver the services that we need while cutting budgets. The remedies adopted by those who class themselves as leaders seem to fall into two categories:

  1. slicing thorough the organisation
  2. undergoing some form of ‘transformational change’

The first remedy is easy to implement. If we need savings of 10% then let us trim 10% from everything. This takes no account of what we do, it is just simple belt tightening and when services start to suffer our leaders just cry ‘we had to do it to make ends meet’ and ‘its all the fault of the government’. For those who cannot understand why this approach is bad, let us use the metaphor of a soccer team. A club that has a large ground, a reasonable squad of players and ground and catering staff. Times get tough and the accountants in charge cut 10% off everything each time there is a round of spending cuts. What can happen?

  1. We lose seating capacity in the stadium (10% each time) so eventually we have to lock out fans
  2. We lose ground and catering staff so eventually the pitch does not get prepared and we are also unable to generate extra revenue through match day catering and functions
  3. The number of players eventually falls below 11 so that we do not even enough players to form a team
  4. We can no longer function

In these situations common sense should prevail and we should prioritise but compare this to the public sector where this course of action is being actively pursued.

And now we come to the dangerous part. For those who have realised that simply hacking off 10% is not good we now introduce the ‘Transformational Change Programme’. My own personal view is that if an organisation must change then it is up to the leaders and managers to first of all decide on the reason for the change, what the post change organisation will look like and then make the change happen. However, it appears that many public sector organisations are  embarking on a course of action that goes something like this:

  1. Decide on an arbitrary cost saving
  2. Create a transformational change programme at a cost which will save an amount equal to or more than the above
  3. Draft in one or two outsiders who have successfully achieved this elsewhere (unlikely as this is not a good way of doing things)
  4. Set up a standalone project to analyse the organisation using ‘Lean’ or similar techniques
  5. Implement the streamlined processes

On the face of it this looks like a good plan but there are flaws. LEAN is meant for manufacturing or situations which can be treated as such, with highly replicable processes and little or no scope for the ambiguity that humans introduce. LEAN does not cater for humans.

Next, because of cutbacks the composition of our change projects means that they are staffed internally. This can mean that one or both of the following happen:

  • Staff are taken away from their ‘real’ jobs, leading to an accidental accelerating of our 10% cut strategy
  • Many staff are untrained for carrying out the required business analysis or project management tasks with little context specific knowledge

This may then lead to a lean looking set of business processes which can be flawed but which are then forced upon largely unsuspecting employees, reducing motivation and increasing fear and uncertainty in the current economic climate. Many leaders will say that they will ensure that this never happens but both of the above can never achieve their desired objectives.

What does work then? Well a system that:

  1. Gains buy in from front line staff
  2. Increases effectiveness
  3. Reduces management overhead
  4. Can reduce the need for compulsory redundancy
  5. Uses your own staff with minimal outside intervention
  6. Is low cost (compared to the alternatives)

Such a methodology exists. Colleague Dr Paul Thomas has coined the phrase Simplexity as a combination of simplicity and complexity theory. It has now been successfully trialled in a number of organisations. Get in touch to find out more, or see my other blog posts Ban The Boss and Ban The Boss – update.

 

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