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

Work as most of us know it

How would you challenge default work tools as email, telephone, face to face interaction and saving ones documents on your local drive?

I’m a strong believer in the power of web 2.0 tools. They can offer leaders and workers the possibility of increased transparency in organisations, better transfer of knowledge and better products and services. Not to forget about revenues – o la la.

Transform the way we work, please

However, if you were to take on the challenge of transforming these fundamental ways of work, where would you start? Is it possible to change our ways of work as dramatically as I guess is necessary in order to change these four powerful streams of work routine? I’m not sure if it is necessary to get rid of them. However, alternative tools for cooperation and communication must prove more valuable in order to be viewed as relevant alternatives.

The reason I’m asking is that I’m currently involved in a project that is about to roll out a set of online collaborative tools that will hopefully alter the way we work across our company. I find it quite hard to actually believe that the majority of people will actually switch to sharing their work documents online, collaborating online, edit a common workspace (wikis, if you like), leave their email behind and unless it demonstrates quickly that it contributes financially or practically to improve the end product or service. I think this is the core challenge of social media: it hasn’t yet proven relevant to most of the people.

I’d be happy to listen to feedback and ideas on this.

Work as most of us know it

The change monster: how to domesticate it

Boston Consulting Group and Jeanie Daniel Duck shows how organisational change can be tamed.

Duck has written a wonderful book about how people can experience change as a dreadful force. Even thought it’s academically not the most perfect book written on the topic, the author’s use of plain drawings and vivid, corporate examples all makes it an enjoyable read.  She makes you realise that it is perfectly possible to control the fear of change. Her book may be useful for anyone in charge of managing an organisational change process.

Check out a rather critical review or take a look at the main ideas put forward in the book.

The change monster: how to domesticate it

Online collaboration: I’m a believer

I was about to loose my faith in online collaboration as a tool for driving corporate change. Now I think there is hope.

A couple of weeks ago a lunch conversation brought forward an interesting Wired article on organisational transparency. I had shared my frustration about the hype of social media and online collaboration. To me these phenomens looked like brilliant, fun and incredibly useful for people and business relying on capitalising on their insight into users’ behaviour online. However, as a tool for driving forward organisational change I had become a sceptic.

Simply put, my frustration goes like this

  1. Why bother to apply social media tools and IT resources that enable people to solve problems together in a company if there is no culture for change?
  2. Why bother to challenge the employees to work differently if the leadership segment don’t give a damn about organisational development?
  3. How can companies tap into the potential of the social web as a strategically smart, collaborative tool when companies continue being closed to the outside?

At this moment I don’t have fully fledged good answeres for this. However, after reading Clive Thompson’s Wired article The See-Through CEO I believe there is hope for all of us. Any corporation can change, open up and become more collaborative.

Online collaboration: I’m a believer

Creativity at Pixar

What makes Pixar a creative company? Here are a three suggestions to what provides the company with its corporate culture.

In the September 2008 edition of Harvard Business Review Pixar’s CEO Ed Catmull wrote a piece on how his company constantly is reinventing itself. How is that possible and what does he do?

Catmull claims that ‘talent is not equally spread among all people’. Therefore Pixar has three operating principles for constantly reinventing their corporate culture and I’ve seized the opportunity to associate on my own around his headlines:

1. Everyone must have the freedom to communicate with anyone

First, I believe it is crucial for leaders to constantly demonstrate the importance of having freedom to communicate with anyone within an organisation.  Most organisations are by default separated in silos. People act out work within these silos. Naturally, this is because it may be hard keeping constantly in touch with everyone across an organisation. Thus, silos establish themselves as social patterns guiding the flow of (or lack of) knowledge between the silos.

Brilliant people challenges the habit of silos. They move freely as they like and ask anyone they believe may add value to their work independently of their position.

2. It must be safe for eveyone to offer ideas

Sharing ideas and inviting people to give feedback on your ideas can be a rush – and it can end up being uncomfortable. Any leader should to as much as possible to enable co-workers a climate of well functioning feedback.

Sharing ideas can make people proud and grow. However, it will require leaders willing to display vulnerability, listen actively, acting out the ability to change and admit mistakes and wrongdoings. Only then a climate for sharing ideas will occur. Why? Well, growing up turn us into adults not being used to freely tossing arround ideas and reflections without backing them with reasoning. At least, compared to children, we tend to be more restric about sharing without the fear of being judged by our peers. This point is well illustrated by Tim Brown in one of my previous posts on design thinking.

3. We must stay close to innovations happening in the academic community

Ed Catmull works in a sector where innovation takes place in close collaboration with the technological forefront within animation techniques. Thus linking up with academics may serve useful. Other sectors may find this point of less relevance. Nevertheless, I’d translate Catmull’s claim into a more general statement about ‘active bumping into people you wouldn’t necessary think would serve useful to you’.

My point is: I believe spending time with people who are different from oneself professionally will always be useful and intellectually stimulating. Silos occur and smart thinking slows down because we stick to our cubicles for too much time in a row.

So, what sums it up:

  • leave your silo: discover people adding value to your projects
  • show courage: share ideas without fearing judgement from peers
  • talk to everyone: people you never thought would challenge you will turn out brilliant
Creativity at Pixar

What is a learning organisation?

Look, understand, act.
Look, understand, act.

Ask yourself what you did and what could have been done differently at the end of a project. Then act upon the findings.

In March 2008 Harvard Business Review published the article Is yours a learning organization? by David A. Garvin, Amy C. Edmondson, and Francesca Gino. There is a lot of learnings about how to implement findings in evaluation after having completed a project, speech, etc.

I would like to highlight one specific output easy to apply to everyday management: four questions you can ask yourself after having completed a mission or task. The questions are normally used by the US armed forces when returning from any operation, be it small or big, in order to know what can be learnt here and now.

  1. what actually happened
  2. why did that happen
  3. why was there a gap between what was planned and what actually happened
  4. what do we do next time: A. What do we continue to do? B. What do we do differently next time?


Harvard Business Online podcast no 83, ‘Is yours a learning organization?’, published online in March 2008.

Here’s the conversation on film:

What is a learning organisation?