Can an Old Dog learn New Tricks?

I learned a new trick this week and I am very pleased with myself for two reasons. Firstly because I had the fortune to have been recommended this trick; and secondly because I had the foresight to persevere when the first attempt didn’t work very well.  The trick I learned was using a webinar to provide interactive training. “Oh that’s old hat!” I hear some of you saying. Yes, teleconferencing and webinars have been around for a while – and when I tried it a few years ago I was disappointed and that early experience probably raised my unconscious resistance. The world has moved on – and I hadn’t. High-speed wireless broadband is now widely available and the webinar software is much improved.  It was a breeze to set up (though getting one’s microphone and speakers to work seems a perennial problem!). The training I was offering was for the BaseLine process behaviour chart software – and by being able to share the dynamic image of the application on my computer with all the invitees I was able to talk through what I was doing, how I was doing it and the reasons why I was doing it.  The immediate feedback from the invitees allowed me to pace the demonstration, repeat aspects that were unclear, answer novel queries and to demonstrate features that I had not intended to in my script.  The tried and tested see-do-teach method has been reborn in the Information Age and this old dog is definitely wagging his tail and looking forward to his walk in the park (and maybe a tasty treat, huh?)

What We Need is a Healthy Crisis!

Some years ago I read a book by John Kotter that was about how organisations get themselves into and out of trouble.  Recently I read another book by Patrick Lencioni called “Silos and Politics” which carried similar message – some successful organisations become “unfocussed” and “complacent” to the extent that internal silos and petty politics come to occupy more time than improvement – the politics and silos become a self-sustaining name-shame-blame-game.  John Kotter showed that the path out of this unhealthy state is to realise that organisational survival is at risk – and this provides a compelling reason to align efforts – usually in a dramatic and desperate exercise in organisational survival.  The term Kotter used was “burning platform” which is somewhat prophetic given the ecological, economic and political catastrophe that is currently unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico.  Patrick Lencioni takes a different tack on the same problem – and concludes that organisational silos are the result of the attitudes that filter down from the boardroom. He advocates looking for the “symptoms” and if observed in an organisation then it is a good time to engineer a crisis to focus attention on delivering one collective, qualitative, and audacious goal – something that the whole organisation will need to collaborate to achieve and one that provides a “win” for everyone.  So, before you get sucked into an unhealthy life-and-death crisis look for the early symptoms that indicate the need to create a healthy crisis: one that will require just as much passion and creativity to resolve and which will lead to a sustainable breakthrough improvement!

Are we SELFish enough?

Improvement is selfish behaviour because if I improve (win) it must be at the detriment (lose) of someone else, surely? Ergo – improvement is not an attractive behaviour because we don’t like to be regarded as selfish by others.  What assumptions are driving this conclusion? The obvious one is the zero-sum-game assumption – that if I improve (win) then everyone else must deteriorate (lose).  The Laws of Conservation give us this idea – energy is conserved, momentum is conserved, money is conserved (that’s what accountants are for – to balance the accounts). But do the Laws of Conservation also apply to qualitative measures such as happiness, fun, curiosity, sadness, anger, fear?  If I am having fun does that imply that someone else must be angry?  Our intuition suggests “no” – if we can both be having fun and we can both be angry then the Laws of Conservation does not apply to qualitative measures siuch as feelings.  Therefore, if we focus attention on qualitative improvement then we can be selfish so long as we conciously abandon the Win-Lose constraint and consciously adopt the Win-Win goal.  Selfishness is OK if your goal is qualitative improvement for everyone.  Win-Win-Win.

Sounds great! The trouble is when we look around us we don’t seem to see the Win-Win-Win principle in action very often. What’s missing? Our quantitative measures obey the Conservation Laws, our qualitative measures do not so maybe we are confusing the two somewhere? What measure can be viewed as both qualitative and quantitative? Time maybe? Time is a definitely a quantitative metric and “Time is Money” is a familiar phrase that equates these two quantities. When it is MY time we are referring to it feels different and “Quality of Life” is a phrase that springs to mind.  So is that where I am confusing quality and quantity? When I am talking about my time and my life – my lifetime.  Is it OK for me to be selfish with my life-time so long as the goal is a Win-Win-Win one?