Kategoriarkiv: Collaboration

Organizing reflection 17

This is a post in my series on organizing ”between and beyond.” Other posts are here. The purpose of this post is to reflect on subjects occupying my mind. I make no claim to fully believe what I write. Neither do I pretend that others have not already thought or written about the same subject. More often than not, I take up, combine, and add to already existing thoughts and ideas.

What is on my mind?
In today’s reflection, I combine Petra Kuenkel’s (@PetraKuenkel) thoughts about co-creation and collaborative spaces with Christopher Alexander’s insights into how to create built environments that have life, well-being, beauty. Actually, Petra Kuenkel refers to Christopher Alexander herself. I simply add to it. (Here and here are my reviews of Petra Kuenkel’s two books Mind and Heart and The Art of Leading Collectively. And here is my review of Christopher Alexander’s book The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth.)

Petra Kuenkel writes in this post on Co-creation, collaborative spaces and aliveness (my emphasis in bold):

Over my years of working in complex collaboration projects and institutional change management I noticed that certain elements consistently shift actors into more collaborative spaces. …

When I looked behind the scenes of collaboration initiatives … one insight emerged. It was simple and at the same time complex.

It reminded me of the writings of the American architect Christopher Alexander. … Christopher Alexander concluded that … [the] perception of a degree of “life” in an external structure … was not arbitrary. Nor was it simply a matter of taste.

So my (rather simple) conclusions is the following:

Co-creation works best in a collaborative space where there is “life”, a sense of vitality rather than superficial harmony. … There is usually a strong feeling of igniting each other’s vitality. You have fun. You feel alive. Your energy is boosted.1

Christopher Alexander says in this interview from 2011 that (my emphasis in bold):

Make sure, whatever you are deciding, or whatever you are doing, or whatever you are making—any action you are taking—make sure that it has inner beauty.

If you take that seriously, it will change everything. … When you come face-to-face with real beauty it changes you, and it changes the other people who are witnessing it, or who are thinking it, and they will take a different road. … Although this is so simple, it’s extremely powerful, because it only comes from the heart. … If you take this advice … it will change your own life.2

And, in this interview from 1994 Christopher Alexander says:

What you are looking for is the presence or absence of life. … It doesn’t imply that it’s lively, it could be very quiet. … But anyway, that it has its life. …

You can’t do this … without being willing, in effect, to make that judgment. …

Can one make such a judgment? Is it reasonably objective? Is there really such a thing? … Technocrats will not admit that there’s such a thing. So if you have a technically organized bureaucracy, they will either refuse to perform it, or perform it quite wrong by assigning arbitrary technical criteria. …

It wasn’t esoteric at all … to perform this thing. … The kinds of questions that people were asked to report on were very straightforward. … The only operative thing … necessary is people had to be willing to record their feelings. …

So much of rule bound society, in effect, makes it not okay to do that. Of course, people have feelings, but the question is: Is it alright to use it? … The general rule of thumb has been: No, it’s not okay to do that. …

They tend to twist it into bureaucratic forms. … Things that can be quantified very easily appear, therefore, to have some legitimacy that are actually no where as near as telling these larger, more global feelings.3

So, in other words, does it feel right?

Generative organizing looks for the presence of life/well-being/beauty, rather than superficial bureaucratized order. This requires a willingness to observe and feel.

1 Petra Kuenkel, Co-creation, collaborative spaces and aliveness | Petra Kuenkel—The Future of Leadership is Collective, 2017-09-08 (accessed 2018-08-09).
2 Interview with Christopher Alexander by Hiro Nakano | YouTube,  2011-09-05 (accessed 2018-08-09).
3 Interview with Christopher Alexander by Greg Bryant | YouTube, 1994-01-06 (accessed 2018-08-09).

Related posts:
Organizing in between and beyond posts

Organizing reflection 16

This is a post in my series on organizing ”between and beyond.” Other posts are here. The purpose of this post is to reflect on subjects occupying my mind. I make no claim to fully believe what I write. Neither do I pretend that others have not already thought or written about the same subject. More often than not, I take up, combine, and add to already existing thoughts and ideas.

What is on my mind?
Today’s reflection is based on Harrison Owen’s mail to the World wide Open Space Technology email list (OSList) yesterday.

Harrison Owen is one of my favorite authors. (Here is my review of his book The Spirit of Leadership. I also write about his book Wave Rider in this retrospective.)

The following is an excerpt from Tales from Open Space. The text is written by Loyd Kepferle and Karen Main. They write (my formatting and emphasis in bold):

One might assume that an organization doing business in an open space mode would accomplish little. That does not seem to be the reality, for Open Space frames the total operation, and internally there is an appropriate alternation between open exploration of new opportunities and pre-determined, structured responses to known situations.  …

The main idea … is that ”People who care most passionately about a problem or opportunity have the RIGHT and the RESPONSIBILITY to do something about it”. This basic idea supersedes all notions of a hierarchical organizational structure …

There are only five constraints on this model of personal empowerment:
1. When a problem or opportunity is to be discussed, there must be wide notification of the meeting time and place so anyone who is interested can attend.
2. Proposed solutions/ideas must be broadcast widely …
3. Proposed solutions cannot be hurtful to anyone else.
4. Proposed solutions should channel our limited resources in such a way as to have maximum impact on achieving our goal.
5. Accomplishing the work for which we were hired takes precedence over our group work. However, if the RIGHT people (those who really care) are involved in any topic, they will find a way to make sure their work is completed and the work of the group is brought to a successful conclusion.

There are NO CONSTRAINTS on the following:
1. Who can call a meeting.
2. The type of problem or opportunity that is being addressed.
3. The availability of time to have a meeting.
4. Who may attend a meeting.
5. The availability of information necessary for a group to work.

Open Space assumes a consensual process will be observed by the ad hoc groups that form and that all ideas will be considered respectfully by the people in the group.  … The ad hoc group may choose to modify its plans based on feedback.

While we believe this is a good way to develop a truly successful organization, it is an approach to organizational behavior which is fraught with insecurity which, in the short run, may produce fear, anger and frustration. It will take a long time for those of us who have lived in hierarchical and paternalistic organizations to believe we are really empowered.

We … recognize this philosophy is somewhat revolutionary and will be uncomfortable for all of us some of the time. But we also believe people do their best when they are empowered to control the conditions that affect them. We also think that solutions which are imposed on people rather than generated by the people who are affected are doomed to failure.1

In short, open space enables generative organizing. Generative organizing requires open space. The generative organizing ceases as soon as the space closes.

1 This is a story about the use of Open Space at The University of Kentucky Center for Rural Health by Loyd Kepferle and Karen Main. See Harrison Owen (Editor), Tales from Open Space (Abbott Publishing, 1995), Chapter VI, pp.39–43. This book (and many other publications) can be downloaded for free from openspaceworld.com.

Related posts:
Organizing in between and beyond posts

Integral Management

Integral Management is a management model which addresses the question: ”What does it take to have everyone in a company wholeheartedly join forces and take on challenges that, to most companies, would seem quite impossible?” The model has grown organically for more than 25 years. It’s based on a learning dialog involving tens of thousands of managers and co-workers from around the world. There is a book in Swedish, Manöverbarhet (maneuverability), by Lasse Ramquist and Mats Eriksson, which describes the management model and its development since the early 1980s in detail. There’s also a shorter English version of the book, Integral Management (see the picture), which describes the model and how to make a company come together as One Team.

Related post:
Analysis of Integral Management

Närhet ger bäst vila för våra hjärnor

Agneta Lagercrantz skriver i SvD 2015-09-15 att närhet ger bäst vila för våra hjärnor. Tillsammans med våra allra närmaste sjunker nämligen stresspåslagen i hjärnan helt. Mänsklig gemenskap signalerar till hjärnan att den kan vila. Social närhet påverkar våra känslor, och våra känslor påverkar hjärnans aktiviteter. Till exempel beror kollektiv intelligens, förmågan till problemlösning i grupp, på hur bra varje gruppmedlem är på att läsa av ansiktsuttryck hos varandra.

Amazing discovery, amazing way of working

The discovery of Homo nadeli is amazing! The way of working has also been amazing in its openness, where scientists from all over the world came together to analyze Homo nadeli’s bones. More than 60 scientists have been examining the 1500 bone fragments from at least 15 individuals (and it is only a tiny fraction of what is in the cave chamber). As of today, there has been almost 124 000 page views and 14 000 downloads of the FREE open access paper on the Homo nadeli fossils from eLife Sciences. John Gurche is the paleo artist who gave Homo nadeli a face.

Photography by John Gurche


Book Review: Team of Teams

Teams of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by Stanley McChrystal, with Tantum Collins, David Silverman, and Chris Fussell, is a book about the restructuring of the Joint Special Operations Task Force from the ground up. The book is built upon the authors ”personal experiences”, together with their ”reviews” of ”published studies” and ”interviews” with ”experts in a wide variety of fields” (p. 5). The authors ”lay out the symptoms”, the ”root causes”, and the ”approaches” that they and others have found effective (p. 5). I think the book contains a useful blend of practical and theoretical knowledge.

The authors describe in detail throughout the book how they restructured the Task Force ”from the ground up on principles of extremely transparent information sharing … and decentralized decision-making authority”. In short, how the Task Force became ”a team of teams” (p. 20). The Task Force was an ”awesome machine”, but it was ”too slow, too static, and too specialized” to deal with its volatile environment (p. 81). Key to the necessary transformation was to understand what made the ”constituent teams adaptable, and how this differed from the structure and culture” of the Task Force at large (p. 92).

Trust & Purpose
The teams in the Task Force are forged ”methodically and deliberately” (p. 94). The purpose of the training is to ”build superteams” (p. 96). The training is all about ”developing trust and the ability to adapt within a small group” (p. 97). This is done because ”teams whose members know one another deeply perform better” (p. 98). Teams which are ”fused by trust and purpose” are much more potent, and ”can improvise a coordinated response to dynamic, real-time developments” (p. 98). ”Team members tackling complex environments must all grasp the team’s situation and overarching purpose” (p. 99). The physical hardship during the training “is a test, not of strength, but of commitment” (p. 99). Furthermore, “failure is always punished” (p. 97). The trainees who make it through the training ”believe in the cause” (p. 100), and are prepared “placing their lives at risk … alongside committed patriots” (p. 100).

Oneness & Adaptivity
The competitive advantage of teams is “their ability to think and act as a seamless unit” (p. 105). This is sometimes called “joint cognition” (p. 105). The point is that “a thorough integration of minds … can unlock far more complex solutions than a set of individual thinkers” (p. 105). Great teams are more like “awesome organisms” than “awesome machines” (p. 120). However, the challenge is that the larger the organization gets, the “harder it is for it to think and act as one” (p. 124). Team dynamics are “powerful but delicate” (p. 127), and teams are “much trickier to build and maintain than we like to think” (p. 127). Accomplishing a true “team of teams” involved “a complete reversal of the conventional approach to information sharing, delineation of roles, decision-making authority, and leadership” (p. 131).

Information Sharing
The transformation of the Task Force “demanded the adoption of extreme transparency” in order to provide “every team with an unobstructed, constantly up-to-date view of the rest of the organization” (p. 163). The critical first step was to share the “information widely” and be generous with “people and resources” (p. 167). The thinking was that the value of the “information and the power that came with it were greater the more it was shared” (p. 167). The “Operations & Intelligence brief” became the “heart muscle of the organism” and the “pulse by which it would live or die” (p. 164). The O&I, as it was commonly called, was a daily meeting “held by the leadership … to integrate everything the command is doing with everything it knows” (p. 164). Over time, the O&I began to “develop its own gravitational pull as more and more groups recognized what the speed and transparency … could offer” (p. 167). Individual and organizational “arrogance manifested itself in subtle ways as people tried to assert or maintain their preeminence”, but “eventually people either produced or faded in importance” (p. 166).

Information sharing was just a start. The next step was to strengthen the relationships “among the Task Force’s internal teams”, and between “the Task Force and the partner agencies” (p. 180). Slowly, “personal relationships” and “bonds of trust” grew between the teams (pp. 175—177). “Bonds of trust began to form” and “began to overcome internal competition and barriers to cooperation” (p. 180). The “new architecture” consisted of “extreme participatory transparency” and the “creation of strong internal connectivity across teams” (p. 197). Paradoxically, the “seemingly instantaneous communications … slowed rather than accelerated decision making” (p. 202).

The practice of relaying decision up and down the chain of command is based on “the assumption … that the cost of the delay is less than the cost of the errors produced by removing a supervisor” (p. 209). In reality, “the risks of acting too slowly were higher than the risks of letting competent people make judgment calls” (p. 209). Authority was pushed down “until it made us uncomfortable” (p. 214). On the whole, this initiative “met with tremendous success” (p. 214). “More important, and more surprising, we found that, even as speed increased and we pushed authority further down, the quality of decisions actually went up” (p. 214). One reason for this was that “an individual who makes a decision becomes more invested in its outcome” (p. 215). Another reason was that “leadership simply did not understand what was happening on the ground as thoroughly as the people who were there” (p. 215). “Individuals and teams closest to the problem, armed with unprecedented levels of insights from across the network, offer the best ability to decide and act decisively” (p. 219).

The role of the senior leader changed. The role “was no longer that of [a] controlling puppet master, but rather that of an empathetic crafter of culture” (p. 222). The focus shifted to “shaping the ecosystem” (p. 226). “Thinking out loud” and openly admitting “I don’t know” was “accepted, even appreciated” (p. 229). “Asking for opinions and advice showed respect”. The “overall message reinforced by the O&I was that we have a problem that only we can understand and solve” (p. 229). “A leader’s words matter, but actions ultimately do more to reinforce or undermine the implementation of a team of teams” (p. 232).

The authors emphasize that “there is no such thing as an organizational panacea—the details will always be different for different people, places, and objectives—but” they ”believe that” their ”model provides a good blueprint” (p. 249). I think something really important has to be at stake in order to be able to turn an organization into a team of teams. I also think you need to have true teams in place, and not just teams in name. The way of forging teams described in the book is extreme to say the least. And I think the role of senior leadership can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing if senior leadership really understands—and accepts—the central tenets outlined in the book. It’s a curse if senior leadership doesn’t, because then the team of teams will be turned into a “command of teams”, or just an old-fashioned “command” (p. 129). The book is well worth reading!

S. McChrystal, T. Collins, D. Silverman, & C. Fussell, Team of Teams, p. 129.

Related book review:
The Art of Action by Stephen Bungay

A wide-ranging hangout with Simon Robinson

Simon Robinson, co-author of Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter, shares in this wide-ranging hangout his view on holonomics, wholeness, leadership, change, human values, and the dynamics of seeing deeply. Simon says that there’s lot of talk about collaboration, co-creation, sustainability, and sharing, but that these are just words if there’s no authenticity and a lived presence of human values. I fully agree.

Related posts:
Book Review: Holonomics
Book Review: First Steps to Seeing

Become a now-ist

JoiItoFocus on being connected, always learning, fully aware and super present. In this talk Joi Ito, the head of the MIT Media Lab, shares an approach to creating in the moment. Build quickly and improve constantly, without waiting for permission or proof that you have the right idea. It starts, he says, with being open and alert to what’s going on around you right now.

Joi Ito outlines three principles for bottom-up innovation:

  1. Pull over Push: Seek the resources you need when you need it.
  2. Learning over Education: Learning is what you do. Education is what others do to you.
  3. Compass over Maps: You can’t map out everything. If you know the direction, a compass helps.

European cities do away with traffic signs

Spiegel Online reports that traffic signs are being removed in 7 European cities to good effect. ”European traffic planners are dreaming of streets free of rules and directives. They want drivers and pedestrians to interact in a free and humane way, as brethren — by means of friendly gestures, nods of the head and eye contact, without the harassment of prohibitions, restrictions and warning signs.”  Results are traffic flows better and there are fewer accidents. I think this is an example of people being autonomic.

The uncovering of the U-process

TAI Presents Joseph Jaworski who tells the story about the uncovering of the U-process. The presentation is divided into the seven videos:

Related videos:
ZIN monastry for meaning and work invites Joseph Jaworski
Joseph Jaworski speaks to the to the staff of Berrett-Koehler about his history, perspective, and new book Source

The Elements

The Elements with Joseph Jaworski is an interesting series of short videos on:

The goal of strategy

The following is from Dan Gray’s blog post about Stephen Bungay’s book The Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gaps between Plans, Actions and Results. Stephen Bungay is a military historian who has examined the nineteenth-century Prussian army. There are some unexpected strategy lessons here. At least for me.

The goal of strategy, according to Stephen Bungay, is to reduce three gaps — those of

  1. knowledge (what we would know in an ideal world vs. what we actually know),
  2. alignment (what we would like people to do vs. what they actually do), and
  3. effects (what we expect our actions to achieve vs. what they actually achieve).

Ultimately, this boils down to:

  1. Deciding what really matters. You can’t create perfect plans, so don’t even try. Formulate strategy as an intent rather than a plan.
  2. Granting people autonomy to act. Recognize the distinction between intent (what we want to achieve and why) and action (what to do about it and how). The more alignment you have around intent, the more autonomy can be granted around action.
  3. Giving people space and support. Don’t try to predict the effects your actions will have, because you can’t. Your actions are subject to the independent wills of multiple agents. Encourage people to observe what is actually happening and adapt their actions accordingly to realize the overall intent.

All this might seem obvious, but is nevertheless worth emphasizing.

Related posts:
Book Review: The Art of Action
Principles for collaborative leadership

How will companies approach the management challenge?

Here is a visionary tweet by Kenneth Mikkelsen on how companies in the future will approach the management challenge. The businesses will:

  • Have a higher purpose beyond making profit
  • Hire people who are passionate about this higher purpose
  • See all shareholders as equally important
  • Cultivate long-term relationships with suppliers
  • Have open doors and be transparent with information
  • Encourage decision-making and autonomy all the way down
  • Pay well, provide excellent benefits and be generous with training/development
  • Volunteer services to the community
  • Narrow the gap in pay

Book Review: Labcraft

Labcraft: How innovation labs cultivate change through experimentation and collaboration is a book which illustrates ways in which labs cultivate change through experimentation and collaboration. The labs themselves are part of an emerging family of hybrid organizations which create dialogue, cross-pollinate perspectives, and create space for new things to emerge.

The book was co-authored by 12 different lab leaders/facilitators of which most had not worked together before.  They were brought together and produced the book in four days using the Book Sprint methodology. The authors believe that we are living in times of fundamental transition in the way we organize our societies and economies. Furthermore, they believe that there’s an abundance of untapped energy, ideas, and potential that can be leveraged to address the big challenges of our times. The book itself demonstrates what is possible when people join forces in new, innovative, and experimental ways. The authors combine their individual experiences with a willingness to represent a multitude of voices and perspectives. Together they convey an invitation to create spaces and initiatives for innovation and collaboration everywhere.

The book is published under Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial 4.0 License. Below are excerpts (in italics) from Part III of the book, where the authors take a closer look at strategies for generating and accelerating emergent innovations. This is the part which I find most interesting. However, the book overall is well worth reading and I highly recommend the book to all who are interested in collaborative approaches!

Excerpts from Labcraft, Part III: Lab Strategies, pp. 64—114.

Seeing the Bigger Picture

Many of our labs start with stepping back and trying to understand the landscape in which we are operating, and the interconnections between various players, rules, and stakeholders. Social systems are vast and complex, and individual organizations can sometimes forget that. As intermediaries and conveners of diverse stakeholders, our labs have an opportunity to make a larger part of the system visible to all, or to help that system see itself better. … Seeing the whole system helps people and institutions that are normally immersed in it to see the forest rather than the trees. When people are able to broaden their view, even just a bit for a short period of time, and look at the system as an observer, an “aha” moment is much more likely to arise. And for any of us, it can be empowering to realize that we aren’t the only tree trying to change the forest. Finally, mapping the system can help us identify the emerging alternatives, and any barriers to their entry. …

Cultivating Connections

The practice of cultivating connections is an enormous part of our labs’ work, which begs the question: connections between whom and what? Our labs often bring together people who don’t—or can’t, or won’t—normally engage with one another. We facilitate interactions between actors from differing sectors and fields, divergent backgrounds, and distinct, frequently antagonistic factions in our societies. Often, we do this to uncover commonalities. These engagements commonly end with a remarkable alignment of needs, challenges, and aspirations. And—equally valuable—a shared understanding of points of divergence and conflict often emerges. It’s essential to build understanding of opposing perspectives, and build depth and strength of relationships. … Over time, these are the some of the most important learnings our labs have found crucial to cultivating connections:

  • Create safe spaces. In labs, participants can come and hear views they don’t normally align themselves with; be honest about the challenges they face; and show up as individuals, not the organizations they represent.
  • Take a birds-eye view. Find the parts of the system that don’t understand each other, and look for people doing similar work in different systems. These stakeholders usually learn the most from each other.
  • Unexpected connections can be the most obvious ones. Sometimes it seems to make sense that two people should work together. And yet, for many reasons stemming from hierarchies and organizational and disciplinary silos, they just don’t. At the same time, some pairings or groupings that seem unlikely can become the most fruitful. Don’t take any connection for granted; you might miss some excellent opportunities.
  • Don’t wait to be asked. Often we’re not given the mandate to convene, but do it anyway.
  • Pull experience from everywhere. We build unexpected connections across disciplines by bringing together ideas like social enterprise, personal development, marketing, design, advocacy, and education.

Staying Close to People

Another aspect of our lab approach is to work directly with ordinary citizens and users—people. Our goal is that decisions within a system emerge from the authentic experience of end users, and the professionals that represent institutions “on the ground,” such as teachers and nurses. Staying close to people isn’t just good practice, it’s about respecting the rights and agency of users to influence processes that impact them. … Some of our key learnings as we aim to stay close to people are:

  • Get immersed. The best make-or-break observations often come when the observer is embedded in the target systems and with target beneficiaries. There’s no substitute for being there. … You can also build design skills in people who are already immersed in the context.
  • Just asking might not get you what you need. Interviews are invaluable, but they’re only one tool in the observer’s tool kit. Users may lack the schema or even language to communicate their needs. And often they are so intimately familiar with—and invested in—existing narratives about a problematic situation, they may not be best positioned to see what would be clear to a third-party observer.
  • Build for the hardest to reach. …
  • Positive deviance is powerful. Staying close to users helps us fight the assumption that we must make a new thing. Instead, we commonly find that elements of the overall challenge have already been addressed by community members who successfully developed their own local solutions that deviate from the mainstream way of dealing with the problem. Hence, our efforts are better spent iterating upon and scaling these existing bottom-up solutions than reinventing the wheel.

Experimenting and Prototyping

The notion of experimentation figures prominently into how we as labs identify and conceive of ourselves. What’s a laboratory, after all, without experimentation? We don’t just use experimentation in order to develop new solutions; it’s in our DNA. The concept of experimentation in the “hard” sciences is widely understood to involve these steps: look at the evidence; propose a hypothesis that explains that evidence; create a trial that tests the ability of your hypothesis to confirm, predict, or explain the evidence; and use the results of your trial to refine your hypothesis. … Our approach to experimentation looks considerably more like the natural sciences than a cursory glance might reveal. … We create hypotheses … We translate our hypotheses into prototypes for new or improved solutions … We test those solutions through their application, often in the form of pilots or trials with users. And we use the results of our tests to iterate and to inform the creation of still-better solutions. And we develop our own strategies and programs through a trial-and-error process of experimenting and prototyping. The prototype emerges as a central feature of our approaches. … It’s vital to experimentation that we introduce some thing you can test—something real that can succeed or fail, that can go off the rails, that can have unintended outcomes, that can break! That test allows us to learn. There’s a ton of great thinking out there on prototyping, so we’ll say only this: prototypes are disposable. Create them quickly and cheaply to make your thinking tangible, get it into the hands of users and stakeholders to test it, and throw it out when you’ve extracted what you need to know in order to make a better version. Iteration is what we do with that learning: we take our lessons from trials and pilots and feedback loops built around our prototypes, consolidate them into a refined hypothesis, and build a new and improved version of that prototype. … Some of the things we’ve learned over time about experimenting:

  • Know what you’re trying to discover. There’s a lot to be said for insights that emerge from pilots, and even more to be said about being open to being surprised. But our experience suggests that our efforts are best served when we define from the outset what we hope to learn from a pilot or trial.
  • If it isn’t working, stop doing it. This may sound obvious, but continuing on with something when it’s clearly not working happens more often than you might think in almost every type of organization. One of the key aspects of rapid-cycle prototyping is that you simply stop doing something when you realize it’s not working, learn from that, and move on.
  • Don’t take it personally. Labs take risks, so failure will happen. … Make sure the culture in your organization genuinely supports the notion that things won’t always work, and backs up the individuals who lead experiments.
  • Be strict about learning. Experimentation isn’t a substitute for deeper learning. There’s no point in failing for the sake of it. It’s crucial that no matter how much you may want to forget a failed experiment, you reflect after every activity that went wrong on what went well, what didn’t, and what you’d do differently.

Enabling Change Agents

One of the most important principles underpinning our practices is “go where the energy is.” We find pioneers and help them get their work done better and faster. Change agents can come from anywhere. … They can be highly skilled or completely fresh. They may have solid institutional backing—or none. The core philosophy here is that the people ultimately best suited to make change in the system are the people who are actually in that system or those impacted by it—those who live and breathe it every day. … Some important learnings about supporting change agents:

  • Create communities of change agents. Participants can learn from each other as well as from you, and they’ll have a support system that remains long after you stop facilitating.
  • Nurture accountability. Where possible, help people who are personally committed to your cause and are truly motivated to learn. People who are “told” they have to participate can be hugely disruptive to the process. Ownership can only be taken, not given.
  • Be realistic about timeframes. Genuine capacity-building takes a long time. From the start, set expectations regarding impact.
  • Acceleration is quicker that incubation. If you incubate concepts, rather than strategies or businesses, expect that many ideas or projects won’t get off the ground. Accelerators that support scalability for pioneers who are already innovating produce much faster results.
  • Be clear about what you hope to achieve through capacity building, and let your objectives inform your efforts. …

Power and Labwashing

How do we navigate the power dynamics between institutions and labs? Central to our craft is the ability to play the game while changing it. … As a result, we constantly walk a tightrope between challenging the status quo and asking radical questions using unconventional methodologies—while not alienating our own supporters and critical stakeholders. Swaying too far one way might make us irrelevant, while moving too far the other opens us to critique of “labwashing” important issues. An exercise that superficially looks like a lab process, but really only touches the surface and avoids really challenging the status quo, actually diverts scarce resources from where they could make a greater difference. To be successful, we need to “take our own medicine” and critically reflect on how we walk this tightrope. Becoming co-opted by power players and structures in the existing system is one of the greatest risks we face. When do we become so immersed in the game that changing the rules becomes a secondary goal? What we’ve seen across our labs is that these tensions, paradoxes, and questions arise constantly and must always be addressed seriously.

Tracking Fuzzy Impact

… All labs are real-life examples of how institutions and civil society can work together in more human, democratic, and creative ways. But the reality is that many of the people we depend upon for our survival—those who help resource us—are waiting for us to explain in clear and measurable terms the difference we’re making. For some aspects of our labs’ work, this demand is straightforward; in other areas it’s significantly more challenging. … It’s inherent to the mission and culture of most innovation labs that we stay open, not draw quick conclusions, and adapt—not begin with assumptions and narrow the possibilities.  So there’s an inherent contradiction between the predictive modus operandi of the existing institutions we work in or with, and the emergent approach that our labs use to innovate. … As labs, we see that a more general exploration of the problem will allow us to understand the nuances and opportunities within the problem space, and help us to define it differently. When we do that, we’re more likely to arrive at a breakthrough. We create different levels of impact. Some are tangible, some intangible; some are direct and some indirect. … In one way or another, all our labs create impact. And in the best cases, that impact is directly measurable. … Many of our impacts are less tangible, and yet no less real. One way to understand these less tangible impacts of labs is to distinguish between four levels of impact: …

  1. [Impact at the Level of] The Lab Itself
    Creating and running a lab is in itself an outcome that we shouldn’t ignore. … The value of this work lies in expanding the climate of ideas. It creates connections and breathes diversity into systems caught in the trap of “no alternatives.” Capturing the impact of these activities in a clear narrative [is] one of our challenges. A poignant question might be “what wouldn’t have happened if the lab didn’t exist?” …
  2. [The] Spinoffs [Generated]
    Many of our labs have created new labs that focus on other themes or challenges, using a similar methodology. …
  3. [The] Innovations and Innovators [Cultivates and Supported]
    A third level of impact comes in the form of developing new solutions, policies, technologies, business models and products (the innovations), and through building the capacity of change agents (the innovators). The involvement of change agents in our programs can range from intensive retreats and long-term incubation projects to participation in a one-day event … This aspect of tracking participants is a real struggle, as resources are scarce and capturing the impact of the many participants who pass through all of our programs is impossible.
  4. [Emerging] New Narratives
    A fourth level of impact created by labs is the cultivation of new meta-narratives—the stories through which we understand society and detect opportunities for change. We act as hubs in networks of changemakers and emerging innovations, and from that unique position we can see the new stories emerging in between seemingly diverse projects and ideas.

We’re all experimenting with [finding new] ways to keep track of our impact. …

Staying Nimble

Our labs each occupy a specific position in between the old and the new, between massive challenges and emerging alternatives. These alternatives are sometimes small, sometimes even seemingly irrelevant, yet are impossible to ignore, especially in the long term. Stuck systems produce various kinds of urgencies, and one of the most prominent ones is the constant impulse to grow. … The key challenge here is to find a way to grow our impact without becoming the same rigid system we’re trying to transform. Can we work at scale and still be nimble? Or does scale imply compromise?

What our labs seem to have in common is a search to find new ways of spreading, replicating and diffusing. … We open-source our processes so others can use them, build on them, adjust them to their own contexts, and drastically improve them. …

Picture Collaboration

Picture CollaborationPicture Collaboration by Ben Ziegler and Tanya Gadsby is an illustrated guide for working together to solve problems which contains 23 collaborative practices; grouped by collaborative relationships, spaces, and problemsolving techniques. Each practice is described through: 1) an icon, 2) an illustration, and 3) explanatory text.

From hierarchies to networks‏

Even the military realized hierarchies were obsolete 20 years ago

A network has the following benefits compared to a hierarchy:

  • A robust network improves information sharing
  • Information sharing enhances situational awareness
  • Shared situational awareness enables collaboration
  • These, in turn, increase the effectiveness

Power to the edge!

Five key conditions for collective impact

The following key conditions for collective impact and shared success are from an article, which is based on a blog series from 2002 in the Stanford Social Innovative Review:

  1. Common Agenda: There is a shared vision for change including a common understanding of the problem and a joint approach through agreed upon actions.
  2. Shared Measurement: Data and results are measured to ensure that efforts remain aligned.
  3. Mutually Reinforcing Activities: Participant activities are differentiated while still being coordinated through a mutually reinforcing plan of action.
  4. Continuous Communication: Trust is built through consistent and open communication, which also assure mutual objectives and common motivation.
  5. Backbone Support: Separate organization(s) serve as the backbone for the entire initiative coordinating participating agencies.

Over the lifecycle of the initiative the backbone organization(s):

  1. Guide vision and strategy
  2. Support aligned activities
  3. Establish shared measurement practices
  4. Build public will
  5. Advance policy
  6. Mobilize funding

Reference: Shiloh Turner, Kathy Merchant, John Kania and Ellen Martin, Understanding the Value of Backbone Organizations in Collective Impact, FSG and GCF

The art of convening

The Art of Convening by Craig and Partricia Neal is a book on how to enable authentic engagement in meetings, gatherings, and conversations. Authentic engagement is defined as a genuine expression of what is true for us, and an attentive listening to what is true for others. When we are authentically engaged, we feel connected and energized, which leads to better outcomes, the possibility for something new to emerge, and true commitment from those who participate.

Convening is to move beyond facilitation. The authors make the following distinction between facilitation and convening:

  • Facilitation is the process of making something easy or easier.
  • Convening is the art of gathering and ”holding” people, in a safe and generative space, for the sake of authentic engagement each time we invite people together.

The book takes you through the following convening aspects, exploring each in detail:

  • At the Heart of the Matter. Who I am in relationship with others?
  • Clarifying Intent. What is the intention and purpose of our engagement?
  • The Invitation. Is the offering to engage sincere?
  • Setting Context. Is the form, function, and purpose of our engagement and intent communicated?
  • Creating the Container. Is there a physical and energetic field within which we can meet?
  • Hearing All the Voices. Is each person heard, present and accounted for?
  • Essential Conversation. Is there a meaningful exchange in an atmosphere of trust?
  • Creation. Is it possible for the new to emerge from our engagements of shared purpose and trust?
  • Commitment to Action. Is there an agreement to be responsible and accountable for the way forward?

The art of convening isn’t rigid or static any more than are our relationships. Rather than being limited to a sequential progression of steps, it is a journey where we can correct our course at any time along the path.

It’s a graceful book.

Principles for collaborative leadership

I occasionally see suggestions that business leaders should act more like orchestra conductors. The idea being that you as a leader should guide your business like a conductor leads an orchestra. Well, you shouldn’t!

When asked if the orchestra conductor is a good role model for business leaders, Ben Zander, a conductor himself, answered: ”It’s the worst! The conductor is the last bastion of totalitarianism in the world—the one person whose authority never gets questioned. There’s a saying: Every dictator aspires to be a conductor.” This quote is from Harvey Seifter’s & Peter Economy’s book Leadership Ensemble: Lessons in Collaboration Management from the World’s Only Conductorless Orchestra, page 10. In this book, they describe the eight core principles used by the Orpheus Conductorless Orchestra to consistently bring out the best in each musician.

The eight Orpheus principles are:

  1. Put power in the hands of the people doing the work. An organization’s creative potential can only be fully realized when its members are given the authority to make decisions that have impact.
  2. Encourage individual responsibility. With authority comes responsibility. Instead of waiting for a supervisor, individuals take the initiative to resolve issues as expeditiously as possible.
  3. Create clarity of roles. Unclear roles can lead to conflict, wasted effort, poor morale, and poor quality. Clarity of roles minimizes confusion and ensures that each individual’s energies are effectively focused.
  4. Share and rotate leadership. Encourage everyone to lead at some point. By sharing and rotating leadership, organizations can benefit from the unique skills and experience of each individual.
  5. Foster horizontal teamwork. Cross-organizational teams have wide-ranging individual expertise. Teams with individual and group authority reduce the time it takes to make informed decisions and ensure that everyone works together to achieve goals.
  6. Learn to listen, learn to talk. Everyone is expected to listen actively and intently, and to speak directly and honestly. Successful work requires a constant flow of two-way communication.
  7. Seek consensus (and build creative structures that favor consensus). The group cannot move forward unless its members agree to move together in the same direction at the same time. Seeking-and finding consensus is a vital element in how to get things done. Put clear and effective mechanisms in place to resolve deadlock.
  8. Dedicate passionately to your mission. Passion drives the decision-making. The mission isn’t imposed from above, but is determined—and constantly refined—by the members themselves.

Related posts:
Book Review: The Art of Action
The goal of strategy

How to confront complex challenges as a team?

I am now reading Leading from the Emerging Future by Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer. Chapter 4 of the book is about the Source: Connecting to Intention and Awareness. Whenever a team, or an organization, is to confront a complex challenge which requires collective creativity, the following stages emerge:

  1. Suspension. A precondition is to stop old habits of judgment and thought, breaking habitual patterns.
  2. Redirection: The next step is to start seeing reality from a multiplicity of views. This requires listening to others.
  3. Letting go: What might happen next, there’s no guarantee, is a profound moment of “quieting” which helps the team to become aware of who they really are and what they are here for. Entering this state allows the team to operate from a co-creative flow.

Reference: Otto Scharmer & Katrin Kaufer, Leading from the Emerging Future, p. 146.