Category Archives: culture

Wheatley, forward: We’ve surveyed the horizon. Where to from here?

I truly enjoyed the twists and turns of our 9/15 chat, Wheatley on Social Innovation: Do We Regroup?

Our general takeaway: social and organizational change are incredibly difficult. We agreed there is significant, in-depth discussion still ahead to unpack what this means, and how best to attack it.

As a stepping stone to those conversations, let’s tee up some potential follow-on threads, based on a few of the more provocative insights from our last chat.

We can frame the next conversation like this:

What are the ideal threads to explore and expand on Margaret Wheatley’s latest thinking, as we wrap up our 2014 #cdna series and lay the groundwork for 2015?  Feel free to move beyond the choices offered here. Are there other, better threads?  Expand!  Just note that these were stakes in the ground on 9/15, and in many cases, worth more discussion. The author and original tweet contributing to these insights is noted.

  • Q1. SOCIAL CHANGE vs. INNOVATION
    • a. Gap perception: Grappling with ‘what needs to happen’ vs. ‘what’s been achieved’ (Tony)
    • b. How do we innovate within our sphere of influence? discussing scale (Scott)
    • c. Is our dialog moving towards Asimov’s ‘Psychohistory’? (Scott)
    • d. Change v. innovation: are both like ‘deviance’ .. in the end, subjective? relative? (Kim)
    • e. Focus: Not all social change is innovative (Kim)
    • f. Midgley’s boundary critique: who decides? who gets marginalized? (Alice)
  • Q2. MOTIVATION
    • a. Harmonizing motivation (Christy); perhaps re: Maslow, focused ‘pack’ response? (Jamie)
    • b. Focus: Gaming self and team to stay in flow (Christy)
    • c. Focus: Spreading methods (Christy)
    • d. Focus: Planning for change around adoption curves (Mike)
    • e. Does economic pain trump all other motivators? (Jamie)
  • Q3. CULTURAL FORCES AND TIME DIMENSION
    • a. Cultural resistance: our brains’ firmware seems programmed to hesitate (Scott)
    • b. Prescriptive behavior (Redge); market imperatives taken to be givens (Paul)
    • c. Focus: the function of speed vs. perceived value, and challenge of normalizing (Christy)
    • d. Wheatley: we are not in charge of time arc of change, or its scope, reach or uptake (Kim)
  • Q4. CHANGE DRIVERS
    • a. Visionary leadership (Tony); capacity to see a different world (Paul)
    • b. Case studies for social change: IBM/Gerstner, Apple/Jobs, GE/Welch (Chris, Redge)
    • c. Focus: Modeling change from a place of integrity (David)
    • d. Empowered individuals as means to disrupt cliques (David)

More context? Click on the hyperlinked name to see the tweet. Or check out the cdna 9/15 transcript to see the conversation.

Very much looking forward to our next dialog.  And I truly can’t thank the #cdna crew enough. Your time, insights and positive energy are so valuable. It’s an inspiration to be a part of this group.

Chris (aka @sourcepov)


Wheatley’s Latest on Social Innovation: Do we Regroup or Redouble Our Efforts?

Most of us can name our role models, including, if not especially, our favorite visionary thinkers. Their ideas resonate. They speak, and it all makes sense. So when Margaret Wheatley shared her doubts on our ability to influence social change and social innovation on a large scale, it was more than a wake-up call for me. It was more like a bucket of ice water.

Sure, it makes sense to hedge on our boldest forecasts. But should we conclude, as Wheatley has done, that there’s no evidence for lasting social change?

Let’s challenge that.

Listen to her 2013 interview or skim the transcript .. posted on i-Open courtesy Betsey Merkel, and shared on Twitter by my friend Bruce Watluck. Wheatley’s concern centers on the ubiquitous psychological resistance to change that she repeatedly encounters in her work. It’s a resistance fueled by powerful cultural forces that feed on self-interest and narcissistic thinking. We can see evidence of this everywhere, of course. We can see it in our ads, as she says, as well as in our sports and in our leaders. It’s a sobering message.

She’s left a door open. Some light still shines through, offering some hope. Wheatley acknowledges three fundamentals that remain in her work and her vision:

  • Strong relationships based on trust
  • Deeper thinking in teams, creating “islands of sanity”
  • A personal practice of reflection

So she hasn’t abandoned efforts to inspire, or to guide deeper meaning. She still talks of embracing and advancing the human spirit. But I’m afraid the elephant is still in the room.

Let’s not retreat on the scale of what’s possible. There’s too much at stake. Education. Healthcare. Energy. It’s a long list. So let’s ask this ..

How long should social innovation take? It’s certainly not overnight. And with extended timeframes, the critical element of resilience .. our ability to sustain visionary leadership .. comes into play. It’s interesting she has written on a parallel theme, perseverance.

From what I’ve read about culture and prevailing paradigms, I think it’s likely that social change would be best measured in decades, at a minimum. The larger the ecosystem, the longer change will take. The more entrenched the social conventions, the longer it will take to unwind them and to develop new ones. A few examples of decade-plus emergent innovation I’ll offer as evidence: the transformation of IBM from hardware to software (10-15 years), the American Revolution (50-60 years), and the global Human Rights movement (100 years plus). Each of these studies in social change took a long time to happen. Each was more fragile and difficult to achieve with scale.

Yet all these examples led to lasting ecosystem change. We can trace evolution from important initial conditions, strong and persistent local catalysts, environments that allowed new rule systems to emerge and to ultimately survive. These are features of a complex social system, one that learns and adapts.

I believe emergent innovation is possible. If I’m right, we’ll have to be patient. We’re wise to start small, and build slowly. Ultimately, as our innovation expands, we’ll have to lead with incredible resolve, operating within and among strongly connected, resilient, and well-aligned communities. And we’ll have to have the long term view.

For our #cdna chat at 8pm ET on MON 9/15, let’s take apart Meg Wheatley’s arguments and my own, to see what we might make of them.

  • Q1. Is social innovation dead? oversold? not fully baked? or misunderstood?
  • Q1(b.) [emergent] Are social change and social innovation interchangeable in the context of this frame?
  • Q2. What are your views on our ability to influence change in social settings (e.g., culture)?
  • Q3. [emergent] What is your sense of Wheatley’s concerns re: cultural resistance?
  • Q4. How does the time dimension factor into our chances? Can we accelerate our desired change?
  • Q5. What are the fundamental drivers in the discussion of social change?

I’ll bring an open mind to this, as always. But so far, I’m holding out for possibility. I have a deep conviction in our ability to make things better. Let’s discuss it.

Roughly once a month, a small but growing group of independent thinkers comes together around hashtag #cdna to unpack social learning and the nuances of intentional collaboration. It seems we always take a little something home. Given time, we may just come up with some new rules ..

Join the conversation using http://tweetchat.com/room/cdna .. simply sign-in with your Twitter account, and authorize the app ..

Hope to see you there !!

Chris (aka @sourcepov)

___

Related reading:

  • Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962).
  • Margaret Wheatley, A Simpler Way (1996).
  • Margaret Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science (2006).
  • John Miller and Scott Page, Complex Adaptive Systems (2007).
  • Chris Jones, The DNA of Collaboration (2012).

The Nature of Fear: Are We Paralyzed by Conformity?

AMG121606a-dilworth-leaves

Conformity in nature and human nature. Survival is at our core. Are we afraid to be different? Where has Darwin taken us?

Understanding the notion of conformity is important when we talk about culture, inside organizations and out. It’s become a key driver in our thinking. As we’ve discussed, our mindset is subtly but deeply influenced by our own vauge perceptions of things are supposed to be, consumed by a feeling that our survival may depend on our ability to fit in.

Can we actually be paralyzed by conformity?

To Margaret Wheatley, there’s no beating around the bush. She says we are. Consider these excerpts from A Simpler Way (1999):

“We have terrorized ourselves by the thought of evolution, driving ourselves into positions of paralyzing conformity, for fear of getting things wrong .. (where) extinction will follow swiftly on the heels of any mistake.”

“.. fear is the darkest of Darwinian shadows.”

Wheatley likes to cut to the chase.

Can we find examples to support her claim? I think they are plentiful, and they are all around us. Consider:

  • a consumer culture that thrives on conformist based purchasing (think: brands, trends, styles)
  • social circles that favor (or outright demand) fitting in
  • work environments that favor the status quo, resisting alternative viewpoints
  • education systems increasingly riveted to standards
  • organizations that cling to structure/hierarchy over more dynamic/collaborative modes of interaction
  • a Western busiess culture modeled upon repeatable, uniform, mechanistic models of efficiency

Much has been written (by me and others; see also a book by C.Christensen, and a great RSA animation by K.Robinson), on the downside of our mechanistic, structure-focused paradigms. It’s thinking that makes us slaves to someone else’s blueprint. Our culture and our thought processes seem literally consumed by the conformist view.

Can we break the cycle?

I say yes. If we can find ways to fundamentally change our mindset.

I’m intrigued that in the very same book, Wheatley goes on to describe patterns and rules in nature that seek to discover what works. Conformity, perhaps, is not all bad, like a tree seeking a greater share of critical sunlight, or vying to expand its rainfall catching potential. Have a need for more light and water? Grow a little taller. Sprout some more leaves.

AMG121607a-dilworth-leaves

A better, more useful frame might be: conform if it’s working, adapt if it’s not.

Ultimately, I think it comes down to a balancing act. So often, we don’t see a choice. Conformity of purpose is important where precision, quality and scale are required. But when we limit our exploration of new ideas or way of doing things, we cut off our chance to learn, to innovate, and to grow.

Conformity can be a trap. And it can also be our saving grace when we frame it as a repeatable pattern, a platform for new possibilities.

Both. And.

The #cdna community hosts a periodic exploration of social learning, a deep dive into the factors that help us learn together. We seek to identify enablers that help us discover, and the barriers that tend to keep us from learning.  At our next discussion, let’s tee up these questions on conformity in the context of culture:

  • Q1. What reactions or thoughts does mention of comformity tend to trigger?
  • Q2. Can we advance metaphors for conformity that focus on upside (tree leaves) and caution of the downside (factory model)?
  • Q3. If you agree with Wheatley on the dark side of Darwin, why does conformist thinking carry a special risk?
  • Q4. Can we influence the cultural implications that conformity introduces? How?

I can help on that last one with a hint: if you’re a Peter Block fan, you’ll know the answer to “How?” is almost always “Yes!”  Our next #cdna chat is slated for Monday March 10th at 8pm ET.

Bring your ideas and an open mind. We hope to see you there.

Chris Jones (aka @sourcepov)


Cultures of Fear. Is ‘Old School’ still in session?

Staring up the Corporate Ladder. With much at stake, do we dare take a step?

STARING UP THE CORPORATE LADDER. With much at stake, do we dare take a step? Original art by Robert Winkler 2012.

CHARLOTTE, NC. September 2013, by

Seems risk is everywhere in the world these days, and the work place is no exception.  Not long ago we could count on the corporate world to provide a secure income and career track. Today we so often find ourselves vulnerable, unsure of our next steps, with our professional future uncertain.

SEPTEMBER FRAME

I just picked up a copy of Smart Tribes by Christine Comaford, the NYT best seller that does a great job of focusing on this topic anew. She relates traditional views of leadership to ‘old school’ management styles that are based on fear: “Perform, or we’ll remove your ability to pay your mortgage ..” (p.16).

At some time or another, we’ve all witnessed situations where fear has been a factor at work.

To me, the question is how do we escape the destructive gravity of these situations, especially when there is so often critical mass pulling everyone down. Misery, they say, loves company.  Comaford offers solutions that track well with Goleman’s Primal Leadership as well as CollabDNA .. namely .. creating emotional connections, and working to influence the culture.

Let’s frame some questions that might help us on this path:

  • Q1. What are the org dynamics or management styles that make fear possible?
  • Q2. What is the difference between ‘commitment’ and ‘compliance’?
  • Q3. When is the notion of ‘accountability’ effective? Is it sometimes misused?
  • Q4. Can you describe actions, behaviors and challenges of leaders you’ve seen who were actively working to dimantle fear-infused culture?

Thanks as always for your time, insights and energy. See you at the chat, the week of 9/16. Watch for timing.

AUGUST FRAME

As I recently turned the pages of Susan Jeffers’ classic “Feel the Fear, and Do It Anyway” I found both comfort and common sense in the logic of “pushing through.” But in the work context, it seems the risks can so quickly outweigh the benefits. Do we dare raise radical new ideas? Think outside the safety of conventional wisdom?

Can we dare to be different?

Thanks to Scott Smith for his comment in July in the post of leaders who resist change. It caught my attention, and inspired this post.

In our Monday 8/12 edition of #CDNA, let’s ask a few questions about fear in the organizational context, to see if we might bring some new light to a area so often shrouded in the dark inner reaches of corporate politics:

Q1. Argyris (1980) spoke of fear as the unspeakable; has this changed, or is still prevalent?
Q2. Jeffers (1987) spoke of the need to “unlearn negative programming” .. is it safe for us to proceed when others around/above us have not?
Q3. Which is the more difficult fear to unlearn: survival? not knowing? or not fitting in?
Q4. As a leader, what is the first step in elminating fear in the workplace?

The 2nd week of each month at 8pm or 9pm ET, the #CDNA crew seeks to bring open minds to our ongoing conversation on organization change.

Sure, we’ll try to tap industry knowledge and the wisdom of sages along the way. But we favor a common sense approach. Challenging “what we think we know” and suspending our favorite paradigms is, almost always, the first step to new thinking.

Looking forward to seeing you at #CDNA.

Chris aka @sourcepov


The Courage to Collaborate [FRI 4/26 CBODN 2013 Conference, Arlington VA]

The Courage to Collaborate

Join the conversation: Friday April 26th 1p at GMU Founder’s Hall, Arlington VA

Organizations in the 21st century have grown increasingly risk averse, causing many people inside them to take a defensive view of the world.

Small wonder that collaboration – the open exchange of ideas in an effort to solve problems – has a grown increasingly difficult.  More and more we hear about collaboration and it’s benefits, via sage advice from outsiders and edicts from above.  But there’s a simple question facing us.  It often goes unasked and stays unanswered.

Do we have the courage to collaborate?

On Friday April 26th, at the Chesapeake Bay OD Network (CBODN) 2013 Annual Conference, from 1-2:15 pm, James Alexandar and I are taking on this topic.  The conference theme is “Courageous Leadership” and it explores how OD practitioners must challenge what we think we know about achieving success in the 21st century organization.

I’m Chris Jones, @sourcepov from Twitter, and I’ll be heading up from Charlotte to join in the conversation.

James and I will explore a variety of the key elements in the equation, but ultimately we’ll focus in on Culture, lack of Trust and Fear.  These elements invariably shape and constrain behaviors in today’s organizations, in spite of efforts in the opposite direction.  Most of the time, the odds seem stacked against us.  The ability to take on the challenges requires an immense amount of courage.  Success requires leaders who are willing and able to release their death grip on control.  The discussion on Friday will explore some core precepts of OD, then tackle the implications of key barriers.  Then we’ll share some very specific insights on how collaboration accelerates in a high-trust, low-fear workplace, giving participants hands on experience with collaboration in an open exchange.  We’ll navigate from a “risk averse” mindset to a “risk-enabled” one, tapping ideas from my book The DNA of Collaboration: Unlocking the Potential of 21st Century Teams.

Continue reading


As the Spiral Turns: From Culture to Community

As we follow the turns of our spiral thinking model, no surprise that we have considerable flexibility as to “where we go next” in our exploration.

Since Astrid led us on a very productive disussion of Culture as it pertains to Learning in the last 2 sessions, let’s follow that cultural thread into the context of Community.

This now brings into focus a discussion of relationships, place, and some sense of a common good or goal or set of goals. I like the way Peter Block broadly frames the ideal common ground of a productive, engaged community, paraphrasing him:

“In terms of possibilities, what can we create in this place together?”

As we unpack the Community dimension, let’s start first in the Social Change context (column E, in the above framework), and address questions that would be associated with cell “E2″ ..

  • Q1. What cultural forces are constructive in a community vs. problematic?
  • Q2. How important are relationships in a community vs. focus on specific topics/issues?
  • Q3. When and why do community stakeholders (aka “citizens”) participate & engage?

As we wrap up discussions Monday night, be thinking where you’d like the conversation to take us next .. back into the organizational context of OD and KM (columns C & D), or staying with the Social Change and NFP context (column E), and exploring other dimenions/vectors (rows) .. spiral thinking gives us options .. !

Thanks in advance for your engagement and input. I’ll see you online!

Chris aka @sourcepov


Spiral Thinking: The Next Level

Possibilities of Spiral Thinking: CDNA 2013 (c) 2013 Amberwood Media Group, all rights reserved

(c) 2013 Amberwood Media Group

Since December, we have sought to understand how Linear Thinking and intention traditionally combine to create an organization’s culture.  Now, to get to the next level, let’s look at how Spiral Thinking and alternative approaches to Organizational Learning can help culture evolve in new ways.

You may be asking, what’s Spiral Thinking? Stay tuned for a consolidation post here in the near future, but here’s a 2009 post by Robert Twigger that does a good job of laying out the concept.

Keep in mind, our goal is to fill in the Collaborative Learning framework we started back in December, shown here. We’re continuing to explore ways to get there. We’d love your ideas.

In our MON 3/11 #CDNA chat, Astrid Kowlessar will guide a discussion that takes us to the next level of dialog, as we explore:

  • Q1. Does culture or intention change when we apply  Spiral Thinking?
  • Q2. How is creating a Culture of Learning different with Spiral Thinking?

A big #CDNA thanks to Astrid for offering to facilitate this session.  She’s our first guest moderator, and we’re hoping the first of many.

Will see you guys online.

Chris & Astrid


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