Thursday, October 29, 2009

Boardroom and battlefield "wisdom workers"

There's some uncanny parallels between the skills we now require from chief executives and the modern soldier. In a sense, both are wisdom workers., the new kind of work we can expect to see more of in the emerging Wisdom Economy.

The CEO's job is hear all the information coming in from all the parts of the organization and work out how all the bits of the jigsaw fit together. Then  to act wisely and decisively, in the interests of the organization and its' stakeholders. Not just once, but thousands of times in a career.

The task is a process of dialectical integration, to fashion from the stream of inputs a model of reality that is as close to the "truth" as possible, to reach a new strategic position which embraces and is a good fit with all the data, not just some of the data that suits your politics or world view. This kind of reasoning is often a "game changer" because you discover how to embrace the cultural lens through which competing interests view the world into a single, unified system of thought. It's how knowledge is created and evolves.

Get it wrong as the CEO and your organization is a dinosaur, like Lehman Bros, or the corporate "walking wounded" like some motor car and banking giants that are 80% owned by the US government.

The modern soldier's job is to do the same as the CEO, to create new knowledge "on the fly" and to apply that knowledge wisely. In dangerous terrain or a suburban war zone, there's a stream of contradictory data coming into your brain from many sources at the same time. Your own eyes and ears. Your colleagues and an array of powerful sensors. You assess the data against a backdrop of "cognitive templates" learned over several years of rehearsal for this very moment. Except the reality is much worse, more intense, and more complex, by many factors.

Your lookout is giving you his or her opinion about the rapidly evolving situation. A stream of visual data may be arriving in real time from a predator drone operating overhead but the operator could be 10,000 miles away in a suburban operations center. And culturally out of tune with your situation. On the road ahead it's hard to tell whether you are about to be a Good Samaritain come to save a life or the target of another "insurgent" offensive.

Your instant decision will determine whether you and your buddies live or die, if your high-value target will be captured or escape or if his fellow house guests - mostly women and children - will die in his stead. If you make the wrong decision you and your unit could be featured on prime time news on CNN and Al Jazeera, the subject of an in-depth Commission of Inquiry about what goes wrong in war, the subject of a feature article by the New Yorker, the focus of a Presidential war-room briefing, or infamy.

Sometimes the "bad guys" look like you, or your grandmother or your girlfriend.  Sometimes they wear friendly uniforms. Sometimes they change their mind. What if the guy who delivers the mail today delivers a bomb tomorrow? What if the nice girl you were chatting up at the bar really hates your guts, because you are an American or an Australian or a Brit? Often the "bad guys" are "good guys" who don't believe what you believe. They are merely fighting to protect their families or their countries from you, the invader.

So here's a workshop that will help you build the kind of high-level cognitive templates required to make sense out of chaotic situations in the emerging Wisdom Economy. It helps to have a collective voting tool to rate each possible outcome by probability (0 = will never happen, 1 = certain) and (0 = no damage to 10 = total catastrophe). Begin the session by describing the situation/scenario.

1. What do we know about the situation?
2. What don't we know about the situation?
3. How does all the data fit together? What overarching concept embraces all of the data, so every bit of the jigsaw fits?
4. What are all the possible outcomes from the situation?
5. What could we do to avoid/overcome the dangers/risks presented by each outcome?
6. What are the consequences of each course of action to minimize/avoid the dangers/risks?
7. How could we re-frame "the game" so we see the issue from a higher level and we act unexpectedly but wisely?
8. What are the probabilities of each possible outcome?
9. What should we do? And do as the next best alternatives?
10. How will we know if we made the best decision?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Creative word collections

It works like magic. You paste your text into and a few seconds later you get a picture of what you said.  The more often a word appears, the bigger the font.

It's a great way to analyze your texts. And see what the story is mostly about.

But there is a downside. When you look at texts this way, the magic somehow disappears. You discover that your cake is made from flour, salt, milk, eggs, shortening, sugar and baking powder but you do not get a cake. The combinations of two or more words that tantalize or excite the human brain, that communicate complex ideas with remarkable ease are downgraded to their constituent parts.

Those word pictures that excite our imagination dim. The lights go out. Our concepts become nothing more than a handful of grains of sand among the billions upon the beach of human creativity. We can see the edge of the water and the stretch of sand, but no swimming flags, no naked bodies glistening in the sunshine, no lifesaver in his elevated chair, guarding the beach.  The conceptual chutzpah, that audacity of lexical contradictions and extrapolations, vanishes before our eyes.

Look at what you get from these first three paragraphs:

Some words have their own personalities. They are sometimes exotic, at other time rich, tantalizing, mysterious or musical. Like beautiful flowers. Or a rainbow of colors. Or a gastronomical delight. Like Razzamataz. Exotic. Candalabra.  Hippopotamus. Incandescent. Esoteric. Serendipity. Zillion. Sequoia. Phatamasgorical.

Here's some fun workshop warm-ups based on the idea of making new combinations from interesting/unusual words:

1. Brainstorm a list of 4-5 words that for you are the most exotic or amazing. e. abracadabra, alchemical, mellifluous, then use them all in a story.
2. Brainstorm a list of words which have the same basic phoneme, but are not necessarily spelled the same way. e.g amaze, laze, phase, braise, gaze, then use them all to write a brief speech.
3. Craft a sentence where the words are alliterative, start with the same sound e.g. lighting loves luscious little leprechauns living lately in Lithuania
4. Use all of these words in the one story. Razzamataz. Exotic. Candalabra.  Hippopotamus. Incandescent. Esoteric. Serendipity. Zillion. Sequoia. Phatamasgorical.
5. If all words had their own colors, make a list of words that are "yellow".
6. Some words sound taller and bigger than others. Make a list of some skyscraper words. e.g. gigantic
7. Some words are musical. Make a list of words that have a nice sound, melody or ring to them. e.g. catatonic, whistle, fortissimo.
8. Craft a story using your yellow, skyscraper and musical words.
9. Using the word collection (pictured), write a different story using the same words.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The wise organization

In times of accelerating change, the old top-down, command-and-control organization model is looking more and more like a dinosaur.

Change too slowly and new, faster moving competitors will wipe you from the face of the earth. Think what's happening to some of our biggest and most "blue chip" organizations like banks, airlines and motor car companies.

We've had all kinds of organization designs. The Matrix. The Entrepreneurial. The Machine Bureaucracy. The Professional. The Missionary. The Learning Organization. Even the Playful Organization, which I personally favor, simply because work should be fun.

But what about a wise organization design? It could be an organization that not only creates new knowledge constantly but wisely applies it in the interests of the entire community and not just the business or government agency. It's a new kind of organization we can expect in the emerging Wisdom Age, or its' economic equivalent, the Wisdom Economy.

And what if the strategic capacity was distributed throughout the organization so that all stakeholders -staff, suppliers and customers - were each responsible in some way for creating new knowledge, and the same people who make the decisions were responsible for implementing them? Not the flawed model where management decides the "what" and everyone else decides "the how". That's just command-and-control in disguise.

Instead it's like the connected knowing model of Parker Palmer, author of The Courage to Teach, where teachers and learners are equal participants in the process of creating new knowledge or refreshing old knowledge and making it relevant to day's new circumstances, helping to create the new wave of change rather than passively following the wave created by others.

The wise organization model distributes leadership and strategic and operational capacity throughout the entire organism. So leaders at every level knows how to do strategy, innovation, process redesign, quality improvement, marketing, sales, project management, stakeholder engagement, risk assessment and so on...and over time so does anyone/everyone.

It's an organization version of "the wisdom of crowds". Capability and knowledge creating capacity is like DNA - distributed throughout every cell, able to be acted upon, anytime, anywhere.

It's a design that closely approximates Mintzberg's missionary model, where people co-ordinate on the basis of belief, like a Kibbutz, a seminary or al Quaida. Anyone can and does step in to provide leadership as and when required. But it also transcends and includes all the other organization forms under the one roof, a kind of multiply flexible structure. much like an ecosystem or a brain.

So the organization can be incredibly flexble and is "able to turn on a dime", like a shoal of fish or a flock of birds.

So here is a workshop to try this out:

1. How might a "wise organization" operate differently from other organization forms. e.g. the machine bureaucracy, the entrepreneurial.
2. What roles/functions would a leader of a wise organization play?
3. How might strategy emerge and be shaped in an organization in which capacity was distributed?
4. What kinds of products/services might a wise organization offer and how could these be different to the present, mass market or custom-mass market products/services we have everywhere today?
5. What kinds of activities would be the best fit with the wise organization model?
6. What kinds of activities would be the worst fit with the wise organization model and why?
7. Make a list of some of the features of a "wise organization". What kinds of communication would you employ? How would you pay people. How would you involve the customers, the suppliers etc?
8. How would you start? What are the first 10 steps?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Shrinkage or surgery?

When water, food and other resources become scarce in nature, do animals or plants cut off a limb to cope with the reduced circumstances or scale-down some systems so the organism uses less?

The answer is obvious. But many organizations choose to cut off a metaphorical leg or arm in an effort to reduce their need for nourishment and in doing so jeopardise the whole organism.

Better to shrink everyone back to a smaller footprint, reduce working days and lower pay until everything turns around. If the economy is down by 10%, then you shrink everyone's demands on the system by 10%, everywhere together at the same time.

Here's a workshop to explore the issue:

1. Describe what surgery/shrinkage your organization performs/is performing to cope with an economic downturn?
2. What are the consequences of your organization's economic downturn coping strategies?
3. What would you do differently and why?