Culture Change, the Dilemma of the 21st Century Organization: Can Leaders Keep Up?

How do you develop a culture that embraces and enables change? Leaders and executives are continuing their search. In fact, the dilemma of culture has been much discussed in the press, even before IBM’s Lou Gerstner took the challenge head-on in the 1990’s. He said IBM’s culture was the single biggest challenge facing the company’s gut-wrenching transformation from hardware sales to services. The company needed to rethink itself. The culture needed to change.

There are many challenges to unpacking the culture of an organization, because it is not well-defined or easily influenced. Drucker called in ‘amorphous’. There are no specific levers to be pulled, or scripts to be followed. Culture is the result of how an organization has evolved. It can be defined like this:

Culture is the set of beliefs and values that emerge when a group of stakeholders have interacted over time. They influence it, and are influenced by it. It is how the group models success, and the ground rules for survival.

With that frame, the challenge is clear. Convincing an established group that the rules have changed doesn’t tend to work, at least not on the first few tries.

The problem is further complicated by a broad lack of understanding. Most haven’t been exposed to the prevailing theories from an organizational development (or “OD”) perspective. If Drucker is right and culture resists definition, do we dare look further?

Not to challenge Drucker, but in this case, I say ‘yes’.

While no model is perfect, the theories put forward by two respected leaders in the OD space have stood the test of time. Let’s have a look at them here, so we might better understand the dilemma of culture change:

  • Edgar Schein advanced a model that cultural forces operate in layers, where beliefs and values effect us in different ways at different times, but all of them operating together. As examples, he mentioned our citizenship, our ethnicity, our professional training, and our gender, all operating in tandem with our workfplace culture. The values and behaviors passed down among each of these affinity groups play a role when we respond to a an issue, make a decision, or challenge the status quo.
  • Charles Handy is known for 4 discrete cultural archetypes, each operating in organizations, sometimes side by side with one another, but having unique properties. With 21st century forces in mind, I adapted Handy’s 4 archetypes just slightly into the categories of Command, Role, Network and Practitioner. I created a visual some years back to recap and expand on Handy’s model.  I’ll include the graphic here.
Four Types of Organizational Culture, from Handy (1993). "The DNA of Collaboration" (c) 2012.

Four Types of Organizational Culture, from Handy (1993). “The DNA of Collaboration” (c) 2012, Chapter 10, Fig. 15.

As we unpack the forces of culture change in the 21st century, we should keep Schein’s layers and Handy’s 4 archetypes top of mind. They help us understand what’s at stake.

With that as background, let’s discuss the 21st century implications, with overlays of complexity and our recent focus on systems thinking. We’ve been talking about the dual dynamics of structure and flow in the organization. This conversation should advance our thinking in all of these areas.

Here’s a discussion frame for our next #orgdna chat:

  • Q1. Layers. How do the Schein’s layers of culture interact during times of transformation? How do they effect the structure?
  • Q2. Archetypes. Can you confirm any of Handy’s 4 archetypes in organizations you’ve seen? Are they at times at cross purposes? Which archetype maps to the modern silo?
  • Q3. Network. The network model has proven well-suited to learning and adaptation. Is it necessarily the path for the 21st century organization? Does it model structure, or flow?
  • Q4. Scale. Does scale necessitate the Role/Function model, or is there another approach?

I hope you will join us Monday, August 15, from 9-10pm ET, as we discuss the Dilemma of Culture Change. Just sign onto Twitter at the appointed time, and use hashtag #orgdna in your tweets to join in the conversation.  We recommend a Twitter streaming app, like Tweetdeck.

It’s always a lively conversation. See you there!

Chris (aka @sourcepov)

Additional Reading


Wirearchy by Design: Principles of the 21stC Networked Org

The #orgdna community is hosting a monthly Twitter Chat on topics in OD, using a quarterly topic “series ” format to build on core ideas in-depth.  For 1Q16 we looked at challenges of Transformation. 2Q16 took us into System Thinking to help us understand models like the age-old silo. Now, for 3Q16, we move to a deep dive on Structure and Flow in organization design.

JULY 2016.  Most organization designers have hierarchy deeply burned-in to their mental models, so much so that anything else simply seems foreign and non-viable.  Progressive thinkers challenge those older models, helping structured thinking give way to org paradigms that are more akin to notions of flow, adaptation, and movable borders. The concept of networked structures comes into view. And things start to get interesting.

Jon Husband is a well-known leader in the global conversation of networked organizations. His concept of wirearchy dates back to the late 1990’s, when the internet was young. It provides a powerful challenge to our thinking at the outset. Can people or leaders organize themselves to do useful work if they abandon structure in favor of simple connections? Or can the structures co-exist?

Let’s find out.  Our chat for MON 7/18 9 p.m. ET sets out to explore Wirearchy, and it’s implications. We have invited Jon Husband himself to join us, and we look forward to the exchange. Here’s our high-level discussion outline, with questions actually surfaced in bold:

  • Q1. Wirearchy defined. Does a network design in itself foster collaboration? Why?
  • Q2. Can structured vs. network approaches co-exist?
  • Q3. What factors influence success/adoption of Wirearchy or principles like it?
  • Q4. Do complex problems or relationships fare well w/ Wirearchy? Does complexity play a role in this?
  • Q5. What are entry points for Wirearchy to take hold? How can understanding spread?

We hope you will join us. We’ll gather in the #orgdna “lobby” (virtual, of course) a few minutes ahead for some brief introductions, and as always, we’ll see where the conversation takes us. Send your messages via Twitter including the hashtag #orgdna; we recommend a streaming tool like Tweet Deck, to see consecutive comments as they flow in.

Looking forward to this. Stay tuned for more on structure and flow for 3Q16. We’ll see you online !!

Chris (aka @sourcepov)

 


Rethinking the Silo: New Designs for Structure and Flow in the 21st Century Organization

In our monthly #orgdna chat, we’ve been discussing the future of the 21st century organization. Some have begun to rethink what is possible. Some have argued, as I have, that leaders should orchestrate their organizations rather than trying to control them, embracing more collaborative models for getting things done. Why?

In short, dynamic models account for the need for organizations to respond to change. Adaptability is a requirement. And resources (e.g., information, people, funding) must be allowed to flow across department/functional boundaries when and where they are needed.

Sadly, silos remain predominant. It’s what everybody is used to. It’s the 100-year-old factory model still being held up as the handbook for modern business. Think about any bureaucratic organization you’ve encountered. They are built in silos that sub-optimize elements at the expense of the whole. They embrace standards, at the expense of change. And perhaps worst, they are virtually programmed to survive.

The good news:  there are some alternative ideas and models in play that set out to change the rules, topics that are worth a deeper dive. So let’s have a look.

First, lets revisit our path:

  • In April, we looked at system thinking (link) as a means to model the structure and flow of the typical silo-based organization, to identify bottlenecks and counter-productive motivators.
  • In May, we deconstructed the silo (link), looking at specific reinforcing flows that create problematic influences, beyond our best intentions.
  • Now, in June, it’s time to look at silo improvements, exploring alternatives to challenges and gaps we’ve identified.

Let’s start with a picture to get us thinking, a visual prompt for ideas that can be complex and abstract when left to words.

Here’s an excellent image offered by a regular #orgdna contributor, Valdis Krebs. The concept of Wirearchy (more) was first coined by Jon Husband in 1999. It is a useful model to explore the alternatives to the organizational silo:

With reflection on this picture, we can resume our Q&A, a dialog on silo factors and alternatives, informed by the Wierarchy idea and fueled by system thinking. Let’s consider ways for:

  • Q1. Restoring Critical Feedback. Adaptation depends on a critical feedback loop, and in silo’d orgs this is often blocked. What new mechanisms could allow feedback to flow across and within silos?
  • Q2. Freeing/Reallocating Critical Resources. We’ve all seen hoarding of financial and human resources within silos produce a negative outcome. What can be done to prevent or discourage this?
  • Q3. Solving Fragility for Resilience. We’ve learned silos that hone deep expertise are fragile or obsolete when demands change. 21stC forces demand adaptability; organizations are seeing shifts in their markets and technology base; operating units must learn to function under new rules. This can be the most daunting kind of change of all. How do we foster adapability and a new resilience?
  • Q4. Optimizing for the Whole. The classic negative silo-driven outcome is optimization at the department or component level, while hurting the larger organization. What is needed to circumvent this self-defeating path?

As we discuss alternatives, let’s continue to use system thinking as a guide. What forces are at work? What controls are increasing, decreasing, or blocking the flow of critical resources? How might these be influenced?

The #orgdna community meets monthly on organizational learning and leadership, typically 3rd MONDAYs at 10 pm ET. Simply sign on to Twitter at that time, and use the hashtag #orgdna to follow the conversation. If you can’t attend, the transcript will be captured in PDF form and linked in a comment to this framing blog post. Prior transcripts are available in a similar fashion, as comments on the respective monthly post.

It’s always a lively exchange. All are welcome. We hope to see you there.

Chris (aka @sourcepov)


Deconstructing Silos: Visualizing the Flows and Forces of Organizational Gridlock

Every organization is a mish-mash of people. From my experience, most are working very hard but still struggling to get things done. Good leaders know there are myriad forces at work, ranging from culture to incentives to policy and process, all of it strung together by the organization’s structure, the infamous org chart. Unpacking this complexity to address problems can be daunting. But there’s some hope. I believe the tools of System Thinking, popularized by Peter Senge and Donella Meadows, can help us visualize the vital flow of resources and the forces that shape them.

The classic structural curse of most large modern organizations is, of course, the functional silo. So often these common structures bring us face to face with gridlock and productivity issues. They are the essence of bureaucracy. We need to understand why.

System Thinking can help us unpack the forces that create/feed the organizational silo, with simple tools to help us understand what is causing and perpetuating them. 

With some pictures, foot notes, and conversation, we might even discover pathways to alternative models.

What exactly is System Thinking? We started unpacking this last month. To recap, let me share a few simple systems. Picture water flowing in and out of a bathtub, influenced by the spigot and drain positions. Or imagine money flowing in and out (mostly out!) of your checking account, driven by bills, purchases, interest rates, etc. While these are very basic systems, they are intuitive, helping us visualize flows we process subconciously in our day to day. They are simple metaphors to get us into a System Thinking frame of mind. The rest unfolds quickly:

System Thinking, in a nutshell, is a way to show the forces and flows that are influencing how systems work.

You’ve seen impromptu examples on white boards in every company. Often they’re pictures of how work is or should be getting done. The best ones can help us understand structural issues in our approach, helping us find ways to fix them.

Organizations are systems too. Resources flow in, through, and around the various structures and substructures like departments. Whether those resources flow or don’t flow is significant. These are factors that can determine what works and what doesn’t work in a given company. In fact, I will argue that the organizational silo is a product of good ideas (like specialization and quality control) gone too far. It’s worth a deep dive. We often engage in ritual attacks of org silos, but we rarely spare the time to understand why we have silos in the first place. What’s worse, there’s no real focus on why our silos are so hard to break through, or, importantly, what we can do about them.

This diagram is an imperfect first cut at some of the flows impacting, feeding, and sometimes fortifying the silo’d functional organization.

Key forces at work in the organizational silo, through a System Thinking lens. Discussion at #orgdna. Content (c) 2016 Chris Jones. Reuse with permission.

Key forces at work in the organizational silo, through a System Thinking lens. Discussion at #orgdna. Content (c) 2016 Chris Jones. Reuse with permission.

Let’s use our scheduled monthly #orgdna chat to attack this. We’re on tap for MON 5/16 at 10 p.m. ET.  We’ll take 60-90 minutes to discuss these forces and others. We will challenge the picture and it’s implications using the following discussion outline:

  • Q1. Discuss the reinforcing flow of reducing variance to drive improvement. Does it cause silos to form & harden?
  • Q2. Discuss feedback constraints. In the name of focus and specialization, how can this hurt adaptability?
  • Q3. Discuss communication constraints. How does this impact calcification and reduced resilience?
  • Q4. Can a manager takes steps that could allow quality & specialization but avoid silo formation?
  • Q5. What’s missing in the diagram?

I hope you will join us. Our #orgdna conversations are always lively. This one promises no less. We’ll start a little early if folks are around. Just sign on with Twitter with an app like TweetDeck, and follow hashtag #orgdna. Include it in your tweets, and join the conversation.

See you Monday.

Chris Jones (aka @sourcepov)


System Thinking in the Organization: Tracing Flows of Power, Information and Influence

As we’ve covered here and elsewhere, the mental models we hold of the organization help to shape our thinking, if not our behaviors. Models are deeply woven with the culture of our workplace, not to mention the personal mindset we bring to work. Models tell us what works, and who we are. As an organization, do we value open communication, or adhere to strict communication conduits up/down the chain? Is it ok to try and fail, or must we play it safe? Are we expansion/growth oriented, or defensive? Our mental images shape what we think about our organization, and fundamentally shape our view of our place in it. In short, they define the workplace as a container.

But what about the critical flow of resources and information inside that container? Are there models to help us understand how and why things happen internally?

The short answer, of course, is yes.

System Thinking offers numerous models that describe how critical resources flow in, out and through the workplace. Resources such as power, influence and rewards .. not to mention information itself .. move through organizations in interesting and important ways.

System Thinking, like Complexity Thinking, is a new way to look at how things work. It’s a move away from simplified, piece-meal, cause-and-effect models where one solution fixes one problem. Most systems are inherently complex. So work in the complexity space looks at a much broader set of interactions that are inevitably in play: environmental variables, resource constraints, inter-dependencies, feedback loops, and the very important impact of delayed feedback. Factors like these are usually left out of reductionist models, where problems happen in a hypothetical vacuum. Intuitively, a complex systems view can move us closer to reality than simplistic formulaic constructs.

At #orgdna for 2Q16 (April-May-June), in our monthly 90-minute Twitter Chat, we are going to tackle Systems Thinking. As we do, we will start to see why some organizations thrive while others fail, often while having similar structure, resources, and leadership methods.

To get started, let’s tee up a few of Systems Thinking’s foundational elements, taken from Meadows and other readings.  This will give us a toolkit for subsequent #orgdna chats.

  • Q1. Key #systemthinking concepts include stocks, flows, and feedback loops; how can these improve our understanding of the org? 
  • Q2. Helpful #systemthinking metaphors: (a.) bathtub (b.) checking account (c.) thermostat. Which are most useful in #orgdev?
  • Q3. Let’s explore #systemthinking archetypes for orgs:  (a.) escalation (b.) tragedy of the commons (c.) diminishing returns. Where to focus?
  • Q4. Can we isolate (a.) element inventory (b.) relationships or (c.) purpose/function as a primary #orgdev focus? #systemthinking
  • Q5. What are limitations/challenges for #systemthinking in the practice of #21stcorg and #orgdev in general?

I hope you will join us MON 4/18 at 10pm ET, as we take on these important and exciting topics.  Much to learn, and much to discuss.

For the best, most interactive experience, log-on with Twitter using TweetDeck or a similar app, and follow hashtag #orgdna.  We’ll see you online!

Chris aka @sourcepov

Further reading:

 


Transformation: Putting Stakes in the Ground for Lasting Change

Most of us have been part of transformational change at some point in our careers. Sometimes we were part of the change, and sometimes it happened to us. But no matter the scenario, one thing is clear:  high-stakes change can be traumatic and painful.

The back story of course is rooted deeply in human nature, where major change is in conflict with our instinctual goals of survival.

Reference Maslow or Kotter, and you’ll see the same answer: people don’t like change. Large groups of people .. like any modern organization .. will fight you to the death to prevent it.

21st century factors emphasize new dynamics, of course. We must be more fluid in our processes, nimble in our reaction to the market, more open when it comes to new ideas that don’t line up with our own. Change is an every day thing. Major change will come at us more often.

What’s a leader to do?

Let’s discuss some of the major factors that contribute to lasting transformative change.

  • Q1. Transformation often elicts fear of survival. How should this be addressed?
  • Q2. Can high-order needs like belonging sustain engagement when lower-level needs like security are threatened?
  • Q3. Pace of change is both enemy and ally. What dynamics shed light on the optimal target momentum?
  • Q4. What anchors are most effective when it comes to solidifying gains?
  • Q5. Can leaders ensure change will last, or is out of their control?

We hope you’ll join us MON 3/28 at 10pm EDT, as we take on these interesting and important topics. As always, we plan for a lively conversation. See you there!

Chris aka @sourcepov

 


Would You Recognize a Transformational Leader?

While the literature on leadership is both broad and deep, the special requirements of transformational change raise the bar. As the 2nd of three entries in our series on Transformation, we wanted to build on a few of the takeaways (transcript) from our January series kick-off (framing). We introduced the fundamentals, with many references to the role of leaders.

Typical business case studies include merger & acquisitions, downsizings, and adopting of new products or services. But on broader public and political scales, these demands are evident as well. Both Canadian and U.S. elections have demonstrated what traits are demanded from leaders, with evaluations being rendered in the form of popular elections.

I’ve found with transformational change it isn’t enough simply to listen or engage:

Beyond familiar keywords are significant interpersonal and motivational challenges that are daunting for anyone under pressure. Providing strong leadership during high stakes change is profoundly difficult.

So what are the traits or characteristics we’d want to see? How will we know a transformational leader when we see one?

Here are a few questions designed to explore this critical, if not timely, topic.

  • Q1. How does a leader’s integrity and character enable or block transformation?
  • Q2. Building trust is crucial in any relationship; why is it so much more important during times of change?
  • Q3. Letting go of control requires trust in team and enough humility to let go; is this possible when all eyes (BOD, Wall St., voters) are watching? How?
  • Q4. Being adaptable often loses out to consistency in the calculus of profits and Wall St. and social platforms. How do risk taking (in the form of flexibility) enable transformation?
  • Q5. Last time, we discussed ‘owning the end state;’ clear accountability is critical and often shared in successful organizations; how can a leader keep this in focus?

We hope you’ll join the conversation. We meet every 3rd Monday from 10-11 p.m. ET, though we often start early and finish late to accommodate time zones. We use hashtag #orgdna, but will often tap related tags when we’re discussing relevant topics, e.g., #leadership (this month!), #orgchange, #leadchange and #workforce.

Looking forward to what’s almost always a lively conversation!

Chris aka @sourcepov, Charlotte NC


Unpacking Transformation: What are the Critical Building Blocks?

Everybody knows. The only constant in today’s world .. and in today’s organization .. is change. More and more, however, it is transformative change. Not the gradual, barely visible, frog-in-boiling-water variety. It’s gut-wrenching change, change that that leaves you in a completely different place than when you began.

Like the farm house carried from Kansas to Oz, transformation is about a fundamentally new perspective.

Transformation is the stuff of paradigm shifts.

Organizations are complex, highly integrated things, and they’re generally quite strong when it comes to survival. But that strength makes them resistant to new rules. So transformation is always difficult .. whether the mission is to restructure the workforce, enter new markets, redefine a brand, or successfully merge existing companies.

What does transformation require? Each of the above examples begs the question. Fundamentally, at the highest level, there must be people who are focused and committed to getting the hard work of change done, in spite of predictable .. and quite logical .. reservations. So we need to unpack the necessary drivers. What are the motivators? What must leaders do?

We’ve used the metaphor of building blocks in the past to take apart complex topics, so let’s use it here. What are the building blocks of Transformation?

  • Q1. Open & Pervasive Communication. How much is enough?
  • Q2. Leaders Who Care. When does supervision transition to coaching and/or serving as mentor?
  • Q3. Trust in Those Leaders. Can we know when it’s safe?
  • Q4. Owning the End State. Is it possible for an entire organization to find common ground?
  • Q5. Freedom to Take Risks. So often, risk in business is against the grain. How do achieve something that is so often preached against?
  • Q6. Willingness to Learn. How does an entire organization learn?
  • Q7. Time. Do we have the necessary patience?

Please plan to jump in. We’re still finalizing the frame, and we’d love your input.

Also, we’ll plan to post additional Transformation-related topics and sources here, as a reference point, to energize & further inform our discussions:

For 2016, the #orgdna community is launching a quarterly theme framework, so that 3 successive chats can be used to build perspectives in one specific area of organizational dynamics. We have added a new #orgdna agenda page as the preliminary guideline for the year .. think of it as our editorial calendar .. but expect it to change, as we learn more together.

We hope you will join the conversation every 3rd Monday at 10pm ET, 7pm PT. Simply use the #orgdna hashtag to connect with participants, inquire on the topic, or participate in the chat itself at the appointed hour. It’s always a lively exchange. We hope you will join us!

Chris aka @sourcepov     Charlotte NC


Now Playing in the 21st Century Organization: Creativity, and Dialog at the Edge

Those who champion change and innovation know that open dialog is essential to spawn new thinking, deeper insights, and stakeholder buy-in. Dialog is often the spark that creates the energy needed to make things happen.

What about dialog at the edge?

By this, I’m thinking about discussions that take people and teams out of their comfort zones, into areas that aren’t traditionally aligned with their usual subject matter. Of course, we could hang this thought on the peg of “getting outside the box” and move on. But I think there’s more to it. I believe thinking at the edge unlocks creativity in the organization, the place from which true change can emerge.

A common problem of group conversations among like-minded thinkers is group-think. Everyone is biased toward agreement. Comfort is derived for sameness. Change never gets a chance. More cutting edge facilitators take those same thinkers and collaborators into less familiar waters. It might be a conversation based on improv. Or a field trip to unusual places. Anything to force a change of thinking, to bring new insights to significant problems.

Let’s take a look at some basic ideas of how edge thinking might work in practice, and explore both challenges and enablers of creativity in the modern organization:

  • Q1. Edge Thinking. Are there clear connections between creativity and thinking at the edge?
  • Q2. Boundary Keeping. Some say facilitation of boundary crossing adds value. Do we need traffic cops? Will edge explorers listen?
  • Q3. Trust. What role does trust play in orgs, as creatives seek to take risks?
  • Q4. Digression, or No? Many struggle with edge dialog’s many perceived rabbit trails. How do we know when to follow a thread?
  • Q5. ROI of Edges. It is difficult to stray from the comfortable. Can we quantify value when creative solutions are defining new baselines?
  • Q6. Design Thinking. Does it thrive on edges? How so?

Bring your ideas on creativity and edges, and we’ll work them in. When we’re in the zone, which is often of late, our discussion evolves with group input.

More? Some edge thinkers worth noting: Michelle James and Cathryn Hrudicka (creativity), John Hagel (edge strategies) and new arrival, prof. Eugene Gendlin (philosophy of edge thinking).

The #orgdna community meets every 3rd Monday from 9:30 to 11:00pm ET. We discuss challenges of leading and learning in the 21st century organization. We promise a lively dialog and a place to expand both your thinking, and your thinking network.

Chris (aka @sourcepov)


Foundations for 21st Century Leaders: Learning to Navigate Culture Change

Let’s face it. People are hard to influence. We are complex creatures, difficult to predict and downright impossible to control.

Large groups of such people only serve to compound things. Insightful leaders know this, or at least sense the immensity of the challenge. It can take years to achieve significant organizational change, if it ever happens.

New on this front is the topic of social complexity. It’s an appreciation for the many variables in play that hi-jack simple “cause and effect” strategies. As an example, say we decide to give a cash bonus to everyone who behaves in a certain way. Some will play. Many will not. But leaders will often rehash the carrot (or stick) strategy in efforts to change the organization’s behavior.

Eventually leaders tire or the bonus money runs out, and they move on to other battles. Or other organizations.

True change in an organization requires a deep appreciation of the complexity dynamic. We must setaside cause and effect thinking, to instead look at what can be accomplished when we view the organization as a network of social connections, people interacting, seeking to be accepted, seeking to learn and to grow, often in spite of the odds. Let’s attack the important topic of leadership in the context of culture change from a fresh angle. We’ll take the complexity view, and see what we uncover.

We teed this up initially 10/19, but let’s keep the focus here, as we dig deeper. Our chat on MON 10/26 from 9:30-11pm ET will use this frame:

  • Q1. Connections. Does thinking of a #21cOrg as a network of social interactions help us understand the #complexity forces at work?
  • Q2. Environment. How do initial conditions in the #workplace influence the opportunity for #orgchange to take hold?
  • Q3. Fundamental Rules. Can we identify a few specific, simple groundrules that leaders can embrace to #leadchange?
  • Q4. Edges. Does change at the edge provide new thinking on how leaders might look at #21cOrg change strategies?

I find culture change to be both fascinating, and in the right conditions, possible. No doubt it is a difficult journey. But leaders must understand people and social dynamics to drive change.

Carrots and sticks? Leave them for building snowmen.

The #orgdna community generally meets every 3rd MON 9:30-11pm ET. We use the #orgdna hashtag to compare notes and ideas, and we’ll publish a transcript right here on this post afterwards. Join the conversation. It’s a lively crowd, perched on a corner of the internet that’s prone to providing insights .. a great place to learn about learning.

Join us !! Hope to see you online.

Chris aka @sourcepov, Charlotte NC US.


The Fallacies of Control & the Quick Fix: On Culture and the Complexity of Organizations

Anyone seeking to change an organization has known the pitfalls of trying to control behavior and motivation. Setting goals and expectations is not so hard. One-off wins tied to an event or a compelling speech can move the needle. But execution over the long-term .. including any lasting, sustainable change in thinking .. is another matter.

Ask Lou Gerstner, the man who moved IBM from hardware to services in the 1990’s, who said:

Culture is not just one aspect of the game, it IS the game.

I’ve always seen this as a fundamental breakthrough, a wake-up call for change the modern organization. Yet leaders will routinely, if not obsessively, plod through short-term ideas for long-term results, without ever seeing the fallacy. What’s missing is an understanding of how people in groups behave, and the implications that complexity has on an organization.

I won’t try to unpack all that here.  Frankly, it’s enough to fill a book (or two), and the subject of some in-depth posts. But for the sake of discussion, let’s establish a premise:  people in organizations are driven more by a need for belonging and conformity with group aspirations, and less by draconian measures to direct, incentivize or otherwise control it’s members. In this light, culture can be defined (if loosely) as a set of groundrules for survival, based on what has worked in the past.  New leaders and programs come and go.  But the memory of groups runs long and deep.

Try changing the minds of an organization on how things work. Ask Lou Gerstner.

For our #orgdna chat on MON 9/21/15 from 9:30 to 11:00pm ET, let’s tee up the conversation like this:

  • Q1. If we can’t control behavior or results, what CAN we influence? Does environment play a key role?
  • Q2. Why do organic ways of thinking (forests, ecosystems, viruses) provide rich metaphors for understanding people in groups, and org culture in general? 
  • Q3. What can leaders try to do in the near-term to impact the long-term?
  • Q4. Can a culture be changed?

The #cdna community of thinkers became the #orgdna community last month, to better describe and focus our dialog.  I think we’re off to a great start. Evidence?  When one chat among a few of us creates enough ideas for 2-3 more chats, imagine what can happen if we keep going, learning as we go, even as we expand and diversify our group?

Please join us. The conversation gets more lively with more ideas in play. And lord knows we enjoy a lively conversation.

As always, thanks for stopping in.

Chris (aka @sourcepov)


Possibility and the Connected Thinker: On Hashtags, Change & the Cultural Imperative

For people to connect, they need a space to come together. It must be a distinct place, familiar to those who gather there and welcoming to visitors who may have the chance to join. Visualizing such places in the world of brick and mortar is not difficult. The corporate conference room. The town square. The coffee shop. The water cooler.

In the context of internet spaces, we must rely a bit on our imagination to craft that common space. We might use blog sites like this one on wordpress .. which we refer to as our “framing site” .. to post our ideas and frame problems to be solved.

Twitter is where we talk it out. And that demands a versatile hashtag.

The #cdna community, with this site as it’s home base, is finalizing a new hashtag for the next 3-years of conversation. Why 3 years? It makes the decision important enough to invest some time, and transient enough to allow for mistakes. On the internet, of course, nothing is permanent. Our current tag “#cdna” is 3 years old this month. As discussed last month, it’s time for a change, a new hashtag that’s more intutive in describing what we’re about. But in spite of some ambiguity, something manages to bring us back each month, bridging conversations with insight and energy, going beyond simple social media aquaintance.

Part of the equation is personal relationships, no doubt.

But another part is harder to define, because it is more capability or capacity than a tangible action. It is a breeding ground for ideas.

We might to choose to call it possibility. It’s what happens when thinkers come together, bringing a small but willing supply of insight, energy and a little focus.

To date, #cdna dialog has been about organizations at large, including how they seek to tackle change, and how they contemplate learning. It may seem a broad set of brushes, but we’ve used the rich palette of our experience to help us paint (re-paint, and paint anew) the complex problems and possible solutions that face leaders of all industries, spanning for-profit and non-profits alike, taking on the large and the small, the global and the local. For complexity theorists, a strong thread of social complexity is at work here.

Bruce and Alice said it well earlier this week, helping me define the kind of community we are talking about:

On Monday, 8/24, at 9:30 p.m. we will bid adieu to #cdna the hashtag, and finalize our go forward nom du chat from a small list of alternative finalists:

  • Q0. Which hashtag best represents #cdna interests for the next 3 years? #orgchange (or #orgchg) #orgdna #futureorg (or #futrorg) #21cOrg #nextorg (we’ll accept these and other nominations from the virtual twitter floor, but these have provided the most traction so far) ..

Care to vote on this? Try this poll, courtesy Poll Daddy:

With new hashtag in use, we’ll embark immediately on our next conversation: the notion of “Cultural Imperative” using the following frame:

  • Q1. If “Cultural Imperative” is a firm conviction that an org must have and embrace a healthy one, where do we look for it? #culture
  • Q2. How do we define culture beyond a collection or roll-up of behaviors? #strategy
  • Q3. What can happen to organizations when culture is ignored? #leadchange
  • Q3. Can leaders improve and/or shape their organizational culture, and if so, how? #leadership 

Note the crossover tags listed. These may prove important in the conversation, as we seek to further contextualize our ideas and their impacts in broader, related domains.

More on culture? Have look at my original 2010 org culture series.

Ok. Hashtag change is ambitious. Brands are rarely if ever able to pivot and survive. Can an online community pull it off? Let’s give it a go. We will continue to meet each 3rd or 4th Monday of the month at or around 9:30pm ET, to afford our west coast members a chance to get home at 6:30pm PT.  We’re still trying to solve for the global chat equation. Stay tuned on that one.

For now, we’ll look for you Monday .. let us know your hashtag preferences !!

Chris (aka @sourcepov)


Dialog for the 21st Century Organization: A Focus on Culture, Change and Learning

AMG152695b WeaveI had a fascinating exchange Saturday morning with Panteli Tritchew and Ken Gordon, sparked by a response from Mike Itzius. It was a spontaneous twitter chat (sometimes called ‘async’) that sparks from a tweet or two, aided by twitter-enabled phones with alerts on audible.

We brainstormed a few threads that run through the modern organization. Even in our short dialog, it was clear: there are so many interrelated threads, it can be hard to know where to start. That’s been a challenge for #cdna too, as it’s long been for leaders.

Where does change in an organization begin?

Since mid-2012, a group of us have chatted on these topics under the concise but obscure #cdna hashtag. The tag was short and sweet and it served us well. But with conflicting use now among genetic scientists and stock market traders, we need a new moniker.

In our impromptu Saturday chat, we touched on organization development (“OD”), change in general, and the various aspects of learning that weave in and out of these sometimes academic topics.

We didn’t mention, but have in the past, culture, the forces of social complexity, knowledge management (“KM”) and of course, the overarching umbrella of leadership. Those topics often get woven into our chats. Together, they are the fabric (resilient or otherwise) of the 21st century organization.

Add all that up and it’s one whopping hashtag.

But we must find a new one. A hashtag to focus the conversation must foster freedom and independence of new ideas. We can tap other tags (and their stakeholders!) as specific topics afford. I’ve found #orgchange #orglearn and #orgdev all have links back to individuals or corporate initiatives, and some great content. Tags like #leadership and #change need no introduction. We just need a twitter place to call our own.

What do you think? Here are some Q’s to help us sort it out:

Q1. Org Change – the action or the destination?
Q2. Org Leader – the critical catalysts?
Q3. Org Development – the practice and the mission?
Q4. Org Learning – the capacity .. & the missing link?
Q5. Org Complexity – the game changer (if we explain it?)
Q6. Org Culture – the ultimate enabler?

I hope you can join us MON 7/20 at 9:30p ET, 6:30p PT. We’ll take on each thread one by one, to see what kind of magic we might weave. By the end of the chat, we should have clarity on our new hashtag. Until then, we’re still #cdna ..

See you online!

Chris (aka @sourcepov)


Deeper in the Flow: What are the Traditional Sources of Critical Thinking?

Making Waves, Silver Turbulence (c) 2014 Amberwood Media Group, all rights reserved

Critical Thinking: Deeper in the Flow | cc3 ncu ar 2014 Amberwood Media Group

In the rapid stream of ideas rushing past us each day, there is scant time or energy to capture and distill them all.

The current runs fast.

Sometimes we’re able to break free of the digital frenzy of information, able (if only briefly) to pull against the current of our social media stream to reflect in deeper waters. Once there, though, are we ready? Do we still have the skills to discern real events from fiction? Opinion from fact? Symptoms from causes? What of the core skills required for critical thinking to take hold, and what are their sources?

This is the line of questioning we’ll bring into focus this summer, and I think we might be best served looking at these matters across a time horizon: What were traditional sources? Where do these skills come from today? And where will we get them in the future?

We’ll start with a look back, to traditional sources. Certainly public education and higher education provide fertile ground. Do we go all the way back to classic influences, like Aristotle or Socrates? From my not so long ago memory of grade school days, forms of the Socratic inquiry (marked by it’s bedeviling “..and why is THAT?”) have remained alive and well on elementary playgrounds. But to what degree does classic inquiry still infuse the learning horizon? To what desgree does it need to? Let’s find out.

  • Q1. What role did the early greek classics play in establishing critical thinking?
  • Q2. How central have the liberal arts been in teaching critical thinking at the college level, and in which domains?
  • Q3. Has public education attempted to introduce critical thinking in primary, and with what success?
  • Q4. Let’s establish a common thread: how did past learners become comfortable with ambiguity?

I look forward to an interesting conversation. This current is likely to run particularly fast. I’ll be sure to bring extra paddles.

Chris aka @sourcepov


Learning in the Fast Lane: Winning the Battle for Focus and Attention

I was recently inspired by a tweet from KQED in N. California under the brand “Mind Shift” .. and my re-tweet is shown below. Not ironically, the visual of the various aspects listed caught my attention. Many of the elements shown hail from the realm of design thinking or critical thinking. Virtually all of them are worth some reflection.

As we think about the implications, let’s focus on 4 specific examples of content triggers that seem to be in contrast with traditional education/learning norms. Perhaps we might derive some insights.

  • Q1. Brevity – in stark contrast with textbooks and 100-slide PowerPoints; can we be more succinct?
  • Q2. Controversy – it’s out of place in an orderly classroom, but don’t our best teachers challenge our thinking?
  • Q3. Contrast – a strong visual impact can garnish attention, at least for a short while; but what about contrasting ideas?
  • Q4. Emotion/Story. A great story is packed with emotional content and triggers. Can more stories drive deeper learning?

Much is changing in education and our awareness of how we learn. Is there some new thinking in this diagram. Let’s mull these points in our next #cdna.

Tuck in the little ones, and top off your beverage of choice.
We’re hoping to start MON 5.18 at 10pm.

As always, I’m looking forward !

Chris (aka @sourcepov)


Unpacking Diversity in the Organization: Implications for Critical Thinking

When we chat with co-workers and friends, it’s no suprise that different backgrounds among those in the group can enrich the conversation, introducing a depth that is difficult when everyone speaks from the same perspective. This is the notion of diversity in social interaction. It’s the case against echo chambers and group think.

But I think we should also ask: How deep does this go, and what are the forces at work?

Thanks to Jamie Billingham for teeing up 3 diverse perspectives on this:

  • Ev Williams (@ev of Twitter fame, now CEO of Medium) talks on the importance of ‘identity (or cultural, or gender) diversity’ to drive healthy, balanced discourse within a company [read more]
  • Scott E Page (a professor at U.Mich with expertise in emerging field of complexity) talks about the academic basis for diverse thinking [read more]
  • Jamie (a fellow #cdna collaborator, @jamiebillingham) offers the alternative of cognitive diversity, expanding on the others with an eye toward the implications [read more]

Add it all up, and there’s a strong case for all aspects of diversity in our organizations, as it shapes our collective mindset and influences our culture. The need may be most acute when it comes to deeper, more analytical thinking in groups.

At one level, it’s intuitive. People thinking differently generates more ideas.

To me, what’s NOT as intuitive, especially in the critical thinking context, is the importance of establishing such diversity in our organizations and teams, and the difficulty of sustaining it. Among collaborators, the forces of commonality create a comfort zone that often trumps diversity. Sameness is simply easier to manage. What are some of the factors that can make ‘nuturing more difference’ easier? Let’s have a look:

  • Q1. Types of Diversity. Why do sociology and psychology portray diversity differently? Which view is more common?
  • Q2. Recognizing Difference. We often work alongside others like ourselves. Do our shared filters and behaviors mask diverse views? What is the leader’s role?
  • Q3. Paradigm Blindness. Kuhn wrote we often can’t see past our own professional or world views. Does embracing diversity change this?
  • Q4. Managing Diversity. What are the most difficult challenges to overcome?
  • Q5. Culture. When and how does culture enter in?
  • Q6. Are there more Frames of Reference? We’ve focused so far on two major views: sociology and psychology; are there more?

As input to Q6 and to fuel a deeper dive on how we think and how we filter, consider the following graphic from The DNA of Collaboration, Chapter 3.

Shifting Frames of Reference.  Disciplines that introduce cognitive diversity, based on different paradigms of how things work, how problems are organized, and where we focus.

Shifting our Frames of Reference. Disciplines that influence cognitive diversity, based on different paradigms of how things work, how problems are organized, and where we focus.

 

Let’s discuss in our next #cdna chat, Monday 4/20/15, at 10pm ET.

Most every 3rd Monday evening a group of collaborators comes together at hashtag #cdna for a conversation on the dynamics and potential of critical thinking. Join us. We’d love your input.

Chris (aka @sourcepov)


Influence and the Change Horizon: What is our Potental Reach?

When we talk about change it’s often in abstract terms. But painting in broad strokes can work against us.

We may forge blindly ahead, embracing soothing generalities that hide (for a time) the challenges and hard work that lie on the path. Or, conversely, we may falter out of the gate, overwhelmed by the complexities both real and imagined, soon abandonning the work to braver souls with more time, money and resources.

In our urgency to divine the inner secrets of change, our thinking tends to the extremes. We land in places that are either too simplistic or too complex.

Is there no middle ground? How can we hope to influence change?

I believe the journey for achieving lasting change requires an honest and objective review of our potential (as both individuals and groups) to be effective change agents. I’m also increasingly convinced we should adopt a “walk before you run” model.

When we talk about creating environments for change, have we considered our potential reach?

When we talk about creating environments for change, have we considered our potential reach?

We all have unique talents and perspectives. We wouldn’t be talking about change so vigorously without some sort of inner energy that fuels our aspirations to achieve better things. In the diagram I’ve shown several factors that I think are worth considering as we explore this topic. How can we better define these factors, to reduce getting lost in abstract, conceptual debates? Reflect on:

  • Inner Circle. Friends, family, and colleagues. Truly our core base of support, but not a group that can scale.
  • Local Impact. Those we can see, get to know, and influence directly.
  • Global Impact.  Those we can’t see and won’t get to know .. a group which can prove daunting to influence.
  • Reach.  The degree (or scale) to which we can exercise influence, considerably enhanced by social media.

As we come together for #cdna chat on MON FEB 16 at 9pm ET, using #reach and #socialchange hashtags, let’s take apart the discussion of “reach” as a factor in social and organizational change. Our answers may help us understand whether we’re serving to empower or to contrain our chances for driving change.  Here are several questions to consider:

  • Q1. As an individual, what determines our personal influence and reach?
  • Q2. As a member of a group or community, what factors extend our #influence and what factors hurt us?
  • Q3. What are the unique qualifications for leaders in this space? #influence #leadership
  • Q4. What factors might serve as a ‘tipping point’ for broader or global change adoption?
  • Q5. What concrete steps should we embrace early on to expand (or optimize) our ability to reach others?

Props to Scott Smith (aka @d_scott) for his guest post and moderation last month on “Spheres of Influence” .. one of his ideas (and Q’s!) spawned today’s line of thinking.

The #cdna community meets every 3rd MONDAY of the month to talk about the possibilities of change. Please join us for the conversation. We are actively seeking guest topic framers and guest moderators. Let me know if you have interest.

See you online!

Chris (aka @sourcepov)


Unpacking Change in 2015: We’ve surveyed the horizon, now we tackle the topics

In September 2014, we launched a comprehensive discussion of social and organizational change horizons. We tapped insights from Margaret Wheatley, framed here: Wheatley on Social Innovation: Do We Regroup? Our general takeaway was that social change inside organizations and out remains incredibly difficult. We agreed there are many in-depth discussions ahead to unpack it all. And we shared an overarching question: How might we best make progress?

Here are the discussion threads we surfaced to guide our chats in 2015.  As you have time, review these topics, and tweet out about those you find the most interesting, useful and relevant in the near term. We’ll pick up and extend the conversation in our monthly Twitter exchanges.

Our next #cdna chat is scheduled for Monday FEB 16 at 9 p.m. ET.

  • Q1. SOCIAL CHANGE vs. INNOVATION
    • a. Gap perception: grappling with ‘what needs to happen’ vs. ‘what’s been achieved’ (Tony)
    • b. Innovating within our sphere of influence. (Scott). We discussed this in some detail during our January 2015 chat, with this frame, and the transcript here; thanks to Scott Smith for teeing this up and for being our guest moderator. What more can we learn from this discussion?
    • c. Does the conversation take us toward Asimov’s ‘Psychohistory’? (Scott)
    • d. Change v. innovation: are both like ‘deviance’ .. in the end, subjective? relative? (Kim)
    • e. 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 via Maslow’s ‘pack’ response? (Jamie)
    • b. Gaming self and team to stay in flow (Christy)
    • c. Spreading methods (Christy)
    • d. 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. 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), and a capacity to see a different world (Paul)
    • b. Case studies for social change: IBM/Gerstner, Apple/Jobs, GE/Welch (Chris, Redge)
    • c. Modeling change from a place of integrity (David)
    • d. Empowered individuals as means to disrupt cliques (David)

Click on the hyperlinked author to see the original tweet, or check out the cdna 9/15 transcript to see the conversation. Thanks as always for the investment of time, insights and positive energy. We always learn something.

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).

Patterns: Are They Keys to Unlock Deeper Learning?

Thinking in Patterns: Can they help us unlock deeper learning?

Thinking in Patterns: It’s not all that hard.  But what more can be learned by looking at the relationships between things?

CHARLOTTE, NC.  As we continue to examine what we know (and what we don’t!) about 21st-century learning, I’ve recently stumbled back upon a foundational element of our cognitive process: the search for patterns.

As adults (including those parents helping kids with homework!) we might not even call them “patterns”.  But look back. The trail is clear ..

Since our school days in math class we traced relationships, from number lines to fractions to geometry and beyond, gaining our first inkling about how our world relates. Positive and negative. Numerator and denominator. Slope and intersect. Sine and Cosine. A bit abstract for some, of course; many were happy to leave it all behind. But have we truly left it behind? In your mind, sneak back into art or music class. The language of patterns literally leapt from THOSE class rooms.  So often we were learning about relationships (across a color palette, say, or discerning nuances among different styles, or notes, or textures) .. and ultimately .. it came down to learning how to navigate similarities and differences.

Thinking in patterns lies in stark contrast to rote memorization model, where everything is classified, discrete, and frozen.  We can learn that way too, of course.  But relying upon a heavily structured, pre-defined taxonomy of knowledge (or brush strokes, or notes on a staff) can get top heavy quickly.  And it is, I think, fundamentally convergent and limiting ..

Contrast that with the alternative. There is a flow of options available when we learn through pattern matching.  In this learning mode, the flow of insights is often continuous, providing us with a steady supply of raw materials, as options.  Our thinking here is expansive and more open ended, as we seek not to classify but to connect, not to name but to relate.

It is easy to label these thinking models ‘left brain’ vs. ‘right brain’ because there has been so much historical debate.  The CW then (and sometimes more recently) would hold that left brainers seek to reason and be rational, and right brainers favor imagination and creativity. The debate hasn’t always been friendly.  More recent f-MRI scans tell a more holistic story, but the diverse brain functions are still there.  I often refer to Iain McGilchrist’s very excellent 2010 RSA piece on the topic as more recent thinking on this. It’s as good a stake in the ground as any I’ve seen, and worth a look.

My most recent personal epiphany (and the one that inspired this post) came from my piano teacher, Natalie. I was complaining about the number of notes she was asking me to play in arpeggios, and my complete inability to memorize all those keys.  Her response: “Ah yes, grasshopper” (ok, not in so many words, but I digress) “.. look closer: the interval between the 1st, 3rd and 5th of each chord repeats.  It’s a pattern, and if you can learn that ..”

And so I did. My arpeggio playing skills have improved rapidly.

Maybe we can score some more breakthroughs on the topic of “thinking in patterns” .. as we explore the implications. Seems it’s a topic with broad application.  Let’s tackle these questions:

  • Q1. How does thinking in patterns differ from learning by classifying?
  • Q2. Can we introduce pattern thinking in domains historically given to structure, taxonomies and rules?
  • Q3. Is the left-brain vs. right-brain debate still relevant?
  • Q4. Which discipline thrives in teaching patterns? Art? Math? Music? Do English and Science have a chance?

Hope you will join us for #cdna on MON 6/16 8p EDT.  We’ll discuss, reflect, and even brainstorm a bit .. in hoping we might learn a few things.  Seems we often do!

Looking forward!

Chris (aka @sourcepov)


Rough Waters: Leading and Learning in Turbulent Times

Making Waves, Silver Turbulence (c) 2014 Amberwood Media Group, all rights reserved

Turbulent Waters in the Organization. Can we still make headway when our emotions turn to survival? image (c) 2014 Amberwood Media Group

CHARLOTTE, NC.  Leadership and organizational learning are hard enough on a good day, when things are calm.

When our surroundings become turbulent the situation can worsen quickly, as we begin facing new obstacles. The rules change. Challenges arrive more rapidly. Problem definitions morph before our eyes. Goals begin to shift in real time. Team members may end up in different roles, and the opportunity to communicate with them may be limited.

Whether its new management, new competitors, or even new regulatory presures, leading in times of change places considerable demands on us (ref: 21st century Kotter; see also: Collaboration DNA). Learning focus can move to the back burner.

Out of fear, do we simply latch onto survival instincts?

Or do we manage to focus, somehow, on the challenges flowing toward us?

Too often, fear consumes us. When we most need our thinking and perception skills, the flood of rapid change can cause paralysis or panic.

I love the metaphor of turbulent water (think flood waters, river rapids, or heavy surf) because the notion of rough water demands attention, skills that favor balance, and a clear ability to react in the moment. In short, turbulent change requires all of our energy. If we apply the metaphor in the organizational learning context, what may leaders take away? Let’s discuss it:

  • Q1. What are some secrets for change and learning leaders seeking to function in turbulent situations?
  • Q2. Can an organization still learn when rough waters distract us?
  • Q3. Are there good arguments to suspend learning when focus shifts to survival?
  • Q4. As the world grows more connected and accelerated, the rate of flow can only increase; will we ever see smooth sailing again?

I hope you will join us MON May 12th at 8pET using hashtag #cdna. Water metaphors or no, we always have in-depth conversations. Bring an extra paddle, and let’s see where we might go.

See you online.

Chris @sourcepov


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