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

Change gets you going

I’ll go looking for opportunities outside that box again

Thre three messieurs Vassilis Samolis, Kostas Eleftheriou and Bill Rappos (pictured above) formed GreatApps last year. According to a recent story in the New York Times these three lads realised the business downhill appearing in front of them. The market was going down the drain, it was just a matter of time before they were going to be hit by the credit crunch.

Enter Apple apps (that is ‘apps’ for ‘applications’). The Apple iPhone and iPod Touch open up for add-ons or applications, programmes that the user download for free or by purchasing them through the iTunes music store. The applications have turned out as an immense opportunity for several parties:

  • Apple has managed to capitalise on an innovative eco system filled with content by enthusiastic users of Apple’s fairly costly products.  
  • Users are provided with an enhanced user experience of their products when hundreds (or even thousands?) of add-on programmes are produced.
  • Software developers are given a commercial opportunity for making a living out of what at  first glance could at best look like a diversion of time spent.

I find NYT’s story a fresh account of what may come out of difficult times if you set your mind right: creativity, new products, money and a new direction for lots of people. That’s inspiring!

Change gets you going

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

Serious play

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more about “Playful and serious“, posted with vodpod

Play more at work and create outstanding results

Tim Brown, CEO of legendary design consultancy IDEO, suggests leaders and workers must understand the power of letting go of control at work. People eager to create results and making a difference will then discover the power of free thinking occuring when letting go of control.

The video shows a speech Tim Brown gave at the TED conference in Monterey in February 2008. It is a nice demonstration of serious playfulness, engaging with the audience and enabling people to connect to his message.

Brown heads a design company. Logically he is used to be working with physical objects. Nevertheless, he also works with what he calls ‘designing experiences’. That is, enabling design to improve people’s everyday lives and user experiences. Therefore he is very concerned about how people interact with their surroundings and other people. His job as a designer is to build a bridge linking physical context and people.

In his speech he provides us with some clues of what we can do at work in order to improve our ability to view, think and work less locked.

Brown points out a couple of challenges in many organisations that should make us reflect upon how we work:

  • We fear the judgement of our peers: We are embarrassed to showing our ideas to those around us. This fear causes us being conservative about sharing our ideas. Children do not have that fear, Brown claims. They are eager to show whatever they make to their surroundings. Kids who feel secure are the ones who feel most free to play.
  • We self edit our selves too early: Instead we ought to let go, explore lots of things, go for quantity. We all constantly come up with new ideas or new angles on how to solve a problem. Still, there is a strong tendency as grown ups to stop, shake off that new idea, and return to routine. Why? Perhaps in order to get things done, even if it’s a suboptimal manner of solving a problem. Brown thinks this is wrong thinking. Challenge yourself more often!

How can we create work arenas where people can prosper?

  1. Playfulness is important: It helps people do their work better and feel better when they work. Go ahead, play around yourself and let go of control.
  2. Think as a child: a kid would rather explore a new thing when it comes across something unfamiliar. Instead of rushing into categorising and concluding when working with things alien to us, explore and hesitate to draw conclusions.
  3. Create trust at work: Never underestimate the power of creating and sustaining an ambience of trust at work. Without it energy disappears. Why? Because creative work is risk taking. Experiencing that people dissmiss your input or ideas can be difficult. Feeling uncomfortable is logical when sharing your ideas. However, creating a work environment where trust is the default ambience, ideas will prosper and value will add to the bottom line.
  4. Look for solutions in contexts completely different from your own daily work setting: Ask someone to pose silly questions about your assignment or project. Perhaps the local chef in the canteen can provide you with questions more relevant to the outcome your searching than more experienced team members.

In case you’d like to read more about how to develop your people and organisation, please feel free to check out my blog post outstanding leaders appraise their staff.

Last thing: Brown’s speech has also been summarised by Yes!AndSpace on the Flickr photo sharing site:

[click for a bigger version in order to read the text in the drawing]

Serious play

Living in a box

Think out of the box

Here are two examples of how to do things differently. One did as he was told. The other one did something completely different. Who’s right? Who’s the most entertaining one? How do you go about at your work? Inside or outside the box?

In Norway every car owner needs to pay an annual road tax. The car should carry a badge indicating that the road tax has been paid. The colour of the badge changes every year.

Living in a box