Experiment, please

Two people building metaphorical models in Lego

In year 2000 I stumbled upon David Gauntlett’s exploration of creative methods applied to sociology and media studies. Gauntlett is currently a Professor of Media and Communications at the University of Westminster. Back then he was teaching at Leeds University in Northern England.

I was instantly captured by his inspiring attitude to mixing a variety of research methodologies, even when they did not seem ‘proper’ or sufficiently academic. As long as it strengthened the research process and his objective of connecting better with the people being studied, he seemed to be fairly open to basically applying anything to improve the understanding of a phenomenon, context or human interaction.

Be bold

It took me several years to realise that this kind of ‘mix it and then just do it’ actually takes some guts to carry out. Since year 2000 I have worked in public and private sector in Norway. My impression is that generally speaking, there is little degree of acceptance to experimenting with status quo in the majority of the organisations I have come across. I believe lots of human capital (or people’s motivational drives at work, if you like) goes to waste due to this.

I don’t get it.

Sharing with a purpose

I composed my first post on this blog in March 2008.  That first post was titled Visualise your problem and people will get your point. It was based upon a YouTube video by Gauntlett. I was thrilled by his practice of sharing good stuff online. I was surprised that few people understood the enormous potential of going online, co-producing or making your thoughts available to others.

During almost eight years after having finalised my MA degree in the UK in year 2000 I had barely come across people like Gauntlett within the sectors I had been part of. People generally seemed sceptic or anxious to share anything online that was not a properly finished product. That drove me crazy. So I started writing my own blog in order to see if I was capable of producing content over a certain amount of time and grow.

It is up to others to decide if I have managed to produce anything of joy, depth or relevance. Nonetheless, I’m sticking to people like David Gauntlett who provides me with enlightening input on how to let go of control and start experimenting in everyday life, both at work and at home.

Design thinking

In 2011 I joined a design company in Oslo, Norway: Halogen. It is a design company populated mainly by designers and a mix of other people like myself. I am trained within social anthropology, sociology, and strategic HR. I was drawn towards Halogen because the company enjoy solving problems, making things work, inspiring customers, and delivering relevant and smooth services and products to our customers’ end users.

Normally that is not a straight forward thing to do. Still, after having joined forces with designers I have found a better context for experimenting. Designers experiment by default. In particular I enjoy the following philosophy:

  • lots of different eyes: engage different people’s views on a problem
  • look at the service or product from the customer’s point of view (they are your best witnesses)
  • think with your hands: make something quickly – a model, drawing, photo, etc. Simply something tangible to represent your idea.

These bullet points are stolen with pride from IDEO, another design company. The Economist has explained the IDEO method more in detail. They call it design thinking. Gauntlett calls his way of working for ‘creative explorations’.

I believe they are both right as long as they enable others to talk about themselves, move forward and create impact, pride, and development.

The end

I’m writing every now and then at the corporate blog of my current employer Halogen: Kjøkkenfesten. Experimentation to be continued. Thanks for now.

Experiment, please

Finally focus on failure

Ed Catmull (CEO of Pixar) explains how he cultivates trust in teams

It took three years after the credit crunch before the masters of leadership development, Harvard Business Review, to offer us a major exploration into the art of corporate failure (April 2011 issue of the journal).

Now the respected business journal has finally set aside a complete edition of its wondeful magazine to failure. Respect to them. But it was a slow response.

Ed Catmull on learning from failure

In 2010 the Economist interviewed the CEO and President of Pixar, Ed Catmull. He talks a lot about learning from failure, enable peers to develop each other and get things right sooner.

Read highligts or watch the interview

Scott Burkin provides a splendid summary of the conversation.

Finally focus on failure

Train consultancy skills

Harajuku Cowboys

Sharing knowledge and training internal consultancy skills

Below is a half-day workshop design I prepared for a management training a couple of years ago. I believe it still works. I found it useful when there was a need for both training people in acting as internal consultants as well as providing problem owners, those sharing a business challenge, with some useful input.

Workshop purpose

  1. Enable people to get help dealing with a specific business challenge they are currently facing
  2. Increase participants’ insight across units
  3. Build corporate pride

Participants’ profile

Participants can be experts, managers or regular employees. For instance, if you design a training for managers, politics will become an aspect more important to manage. If running the workshop for regular employees, make sure to have dead specific tasks written down on handouts.

Time needed

Three hours for a group of 20-40 persons. It’s flexible, of course. However, squeezing it below two hours will make participants frustrated due to time constraint. In addition, there’ll be a danger of ruining the group dynamics.

Workshop design

1. Articulate a problem statement [two weeks prior to the workshop]

Invite a selection of the participants (for instance half of the group) to articulate a specific business problem they are currently facing in their daily work. The statement should be brief, ideally a one sentence ‘elevator pitch’ understandable to everyone (avoid internal jargon).

Some ideas for topics:

  • how to manage communication related to an upcoming downsizing process
  • identify new revenue streams within division’s strategy
  • cut costs in a way that makes sense to employees
  • how to become more efficient in day to day business within xx unit

What is important is that those you invite to articulate a ‘problem statement’ should be motivated for sharing their challenge. Thus, consider who you ask. Depending what your additional objectives for the training are (build team spirit, make some junior managers visible, enable women managers to take the stage, etc), you can make a selection that makes sense in the group as a whole.

2. Organise participants into problem owners vs consultants [in the workshop]

Sort participants into smaller teams of, say, three problem owners and three consultants. Allow each problem owner to present their challenge to the group in 5 min.

When all three problem owners have presented, ask the three consultants to reflect upon the three pitches. Which one do they want to go for. They can only choose one problem.

The two ‘left over’ problem owners joins the group.

The group (of roughly six persons) spends the next 60-90 minutes discussing the problem decided upon.

3. Problem cracking, caramba!

Each group works on the problem chosen in 60-90 minutes, depending on the complexity of it.
Make sure to dedicate one person per group who is charge of documenting the work (flip charts or similar tools). Unless something is decided during the group work, this person will at least have to present a synopsis of what took place in the group when all partcipants come together in plenary by the end of the workshop.

4. Plenary sharing

When groups return to plenary after having worked on their group task, it is time for sharing some reflections, both on the challenges decided upon, as well as the consultants’ input.

Please note that the result, advice or specific outcome of the session is not necessarily the most valuable aspect of the group work. Do make sure to challenge the groups on other things, such as work process. For instance how did they cooperate, listen, decide, discuss and prioritise?

An ethical note in the end: Make sure to remind participants in the end that information shared may be sensitive. Thus, show respect and be cautious about sharing if so is necessary.

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Advice for the facilitator: Make a role description for ‘internal consultants’

It’s vital that consultants understand their role when they enter into position of internal consultant. Please provide internal consultants with an A4 sheet describing their role, beneficial attitudes, as well as what to avoid. For instance:

  • The internal consultants are supposed to help the problem owner to open up the problem, not solve it. In the end it is the problem owner who will need to do the hard work.
  • Challenge the problem owner to frame (and reframe) the problem in simple terms
  • Take the problem owner’s point of view: what would you do in his or her position?
  • Avoid rushing for conclusions. There’s no speed competition to complete first.
  • Be aware that feedback can be interpreted differently from person to person. Frame your input in a specific and constructive manner. Be respectful.
Train consultancy skills

Influential uncertainty

Demonstrate uncertainty and structure brainstorming

Two pieces of insight struck me this week:

  • a fresh take on sometimes being open about your uncertainty
  • make brainsteering, not brainstorming sessions

Dare to be uncertain

A podcast by Harvard Business Review this week puzzled me: Experts are more persuasive when they’re less certain. Zakary Tormala, a Stanford professor in marketing, explained how his team had researched the power of experts expressing uncertainty in certain contexts. It was an eyeopening experience.

Tormala claims that experts can engage their listeners by expressing uncertainty rather than the ‘I know it all’ attitude. The research had demonstrated that people being exposed to experts opening up for pondering and hesitation actually paid more attention, became more engaged and trusted the expert more. Why? Because they were not expecting an expert to do so. They were surprised, the different attitude represented a fresh contrast to conventional behaviour.

Brainsteering is focused brainstorming, not ranting

I must confess that I have initiated my share of brainstorming sessions that did not materialise into more than endless post-it notes on a wall or a flip chart ending up in the bin afterwards. Apologies.

Therefore I was delighted to come across McKinsey Quarterly’s post on brainsteering: Seven steps to better brainstorming. The main point in the article is that simply by posing more focused questions a huge improvement in the output quality is likely to happen.

Instead of cheering a team into brainstorming by enthusiastically claiming ‘anything goes!’ or ‘the more questions, the better!’, rather make it easy: Strip it down to a few sharp and well articulated questions. Then make small teams work on one question (yep, that is one as in ‘1’) for 30 minutes. That’ll get some real and valuable output from a team’s work on a question.

For a more detailed how-to-do-it description, follow the steps in the article linked above.

Photo: Cop Call / Originally uploaded by antonkawasaki

Influential uncertainty

Great tool for challenging status quo

Volkswagen demonstrates how to think outside the box

An acquaintance of mine was asked to challenge the management of a classical orchestra on how they could attract new audience. That challenge made me think of Volkswagen’s initiaive ‘The Fun Theory’. The company has produced a fresh and eye opening experiment on how to make people change behaviour.

My experience is that people stuck in a corner normally will not appreciate a quick solution to their problem. They want help to think out of the box. Since they are often better equiped to tackle their issues than their helpers are, providing a hand in order to change focus can free up lots of great perspectives.

The woman gave her speech, showed the Volkswagen video and asked the listeners to reflect upon how they could apply the wisdom to their own problem. It worked.

Great tool for challenging status quo

Feet on the ground in Uninor, India

Seizing telecom market share in India

A couple of weeks ago I spent ten days training my colleagues in Uninor in facilitation skills. The company is a telecom operator in India partly owned by Telenor.

Great fun and challenging

I realise that preparing and running good meetings can be challenging. Entering into a business unit from the head quarter situated far away can be tricky. Hopefully we got some of our messages across. The groups of HR and Learning professionals were eager learners.

All for the customer
At the end of the stay I was eager to leave the class room and feel the vibe of the sales’ people. Thus, my colleague and me joined two of the sales’ managers and drove into the slum areas of Mumbai. Brilliant!

The picture above shows one of Uninor’s crucial stakeholders in the Indian market. He is a shopowner in the vibrant slums of Mumbai. Every time he convinces a customer to invest some rupis in the Uninor sim card instead of competitors’ sim, he helps us develop and build our brand as a preferred partner for people of the streets.

That’s how we can make clients happy and share holders content.

Feet on the ground in Uninor, India