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

Pimp your PowerPoint

CIMG0504 / Originally uploaded by duartian

Reset your way of designing presentations

A couple of weeks ago I came across Nancy Duarte’s book Slide:ology. It is a wonderful book! Her mission is to drag people away from designing dreadful PowerPoint slides. She rather wants us to dive into more visually tasteful (and powerful!) way of communicating with our audiences.

Duarte’s attempt to sensitise us to the fact that bad design can ruin the message. She is somewhat in line with what Marshall McLuhan, a social researcher, did almost half a century ago: McLuhan coined the expression the medium is the message. His contribution to media theory was to pinpoint that you cannot ignore the medium, because it flavours and often speaks louder than the content of what one is communicating. While McLuhan’s point of view today is a widely share matter of fact, Duarte’s call for better business communication still rings true.

Do without PowerPoint while you are thinking

Duarte suggests that PowerPoint heroes should consider putting away the PowerPoint tool for a second and rather think and work for a while without the tool. Instead,  start workin on your key message without letting the communication tool mess up what is on your mind.

She encourages her readers to learn to think like a designer:

  • Reflect upon the shapes and forms you use in the slides
  • Concentrate on your key message: how can you build a bridge to your audience rather than alienate them with your slides?
  • Does content and message make sense the way you present it?
  • Don’t start working in PowerPoint until you’ve doodled around with a colleague on a piece of paper or a white board first. The ideas and message is inside your head, not inside the computer tool.

The photo above is taken from one of her presentation (with Ms Duarte in front of the screen). The illustration is taken from her book and shows an interesting case of brainstorming upon the classical issue of how to illustrate a term like ‘partnership’ well. A traditional way of illustrating it could for instance be a handshake. I did a quick Google search for ‘partnership’. The photos below are two examples of what I found at the top of my search. I find the pictures terribly dull, though quite typical for lots of poorly done slides presentations.

Think in metaphors!

One of Nancy Duarte’s key point is to think out of the box when designing your slides. If you want to illustrate a partnership with a business companion, don’t use a photo which literally spells out ‘partnership’. Think in metaphors, use your imagination, play around for 10 minutes with a colleague. That’s what she did in the illustration at the top of this post. She asked herself: “What’s complementary to each other in sports, food, work, domestic scene, and so forth?” She came up with lots of complementary examples.

Duarte inspired me. Therefore I shot a few photos according to her suggestions. My idea was to look for what elements are complementary to each other in some of the categories she mentioned and illustrate elements that turn fairly useless without the other.

Pimp your PowerPoint

Find Waldo in your organisation

Where is your organisation in this picture?
Where is your organisation in this picture?

A children’s book with bizarre and overloaded drawings may prove useful in order to trigger organisational reflection among your colleagues.

Roughly 20 years back Martin Hanford created the children’s books Find Waldo (‘Find Wally’ in the UK).  In a nutshell his books challenges the reader to truly consentrate in order to spot the main character Waldo in the drawings. That is no easy task.

Hanford’s idea of creating miniature universes may come handy in case you would like to get your colleagues reflecting upon how your organisation, team of workers, etc, are viewing their roles at work.

Why bother to do this excercise?

Allowing people to think visually may unlock loads of reflection around people’s work and ways of solving problems. David Gauntlett, a British social researcher has developed this claim further and developed ways for people to think and create metaphors in order to get a message across to someone else.

The point Gauntlett wants to make is that people are different. While the ruling language of business and research is mainly text based, this language does not allow all kind of knowledge, insight and reflections coming to the surface. Thus you will need to involve people in several ways: ask them to create what they think in physical manners. They can draw or build representations of what they think. Restricting people only to write or talk is not sufficient. You may learn more about Gauntlett’s work on visual tools at his web site.

IBM has also proved visualising parallel worlds as incredibly powerful tools for leadership development. In the May 2008 edition of Harvard Business Review Byron Reeves, Thomas W. Malone and Tony O’Driscoll of Seriosity, a consultancy, suggested that the online gamers’ world is a perfect example of how young people today train leadership skills in multiuser online worlds. Bottom line in the article is that today’s business scene demands new leadership styles that are able to get a grip of the immense pool of knowledge and expertise present among people who are not in managerial positions.

You may read a longer piece on online gaming’s consequences for leadership development at Seriosity web site, the consultancy commisioned by the IBM in 2004 to carry out the research on possible links between online gaming and contemporary leadership tendencies.

Find Waldo in your organisation

The Blocket success story

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “The Blocket success story“, posted with vodpod

Never underestimate the power of disciplined collaboration

In the 1 minute video above Richard Bergmann, COO of Blocket,  explains how the company has reached its success in the world of online classifieds.

The company holds roughly 12 software programmers who are using extreme programming as their methodology when developing new features for their web site.  The guiding principles for extreme programming alows the team of programmers to constantly developing web code in pairs and thus openly discuss their doubts and questions about the progress of a specific project.

There is one aspect of the way Bergmann and his crew of programmers which I find particularly inspiring: their use of index cards. When the team get together at one of their ‘planning games’ – sessions where the manager and programmers cooperate on developing a problem description and a time line for a specific project – they write ideas and steps forward on A5, old fashioned index cards. Throughout the process partcipants pin the cards on the wall. This way of working enables the whole group to see, literally in front of them, how the complete team is reflecting upon the process and ideas as they move forward.

When the idea process (the planning game) has been completed, the team will prioritise the ideas and task. This is where the manager takes a more managerial role than during the planning game. After all, the manager is the one who at the end of the day has to decide what will have to wait and what is in a hurry. Then pairs of programmers will pick tasks to do. A pair will pick a card and return to their computers, do the programming together and when the task has been completed, return to the wall and pin the index cards once again back at the wall – indicating whether the task needs further work or if it is all settled.

The Blocket success story