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— by Fred Kofman (Author)
Our work at Anecdote is constantly evolving and the last 12 months have seen us increasingly focussed on how to get people to adopt practices that drive collaboration, build engagement, change culture ... Whatever the need, you must behave differently (using practices) in order to change anything. Kofman's book (subtitled 'How to build value through values') is based on a set of attitudes, behaviours and responses that managers and leaders at all levels can apply to become more effective. He says of the concepts in his book "they sound like common sense, but they are not common practice." Many things really struck me in this book--too many to recount. Things like, "learning is a contact sport."
Conscious Business is essentially about leadership, and how leaders need to be conscious of the impact of their attitudes, behaviours and responses. A strong thread through the book is how to manage and lead in the face of complexity. He talks about the inherent unpredictability of people and how, unlike molecules, you never know how they are going to react especially when you apply heat and pressure.
Conscious Business espouses three conscious attitudes (unconditional responsibility, essential integrity and ontological humility); three conscious behaviours (authentic communication, constructive negotiation and impeccable coordination) and one conscious response (emotional mastery). I was a bit put-off by the officious sounding names afforded these concepts, but once I got past that the content was highly engaging and insightful. It is Kofman's first book and there is an enormous amount of content poured into it. Any one of his attitudes, behaviours and responses could be a book in itself. In that respect it differs from many management tomes that attempt to stretch a single concept into a book.
The 'Unconditional Responsibility' chapter has an activity that I will be using immediately in our management development programs. The activity aims to illustrate that we can choose how we respond to situations (response-ability). Kofman stands at the front of the room and drops a pen, then asks "what caused the pen to fall?" "Gravity" is usually the first answer. Sometimes people point out that "you dropped it." Kofman points out that the usefulness of the answer is related to our purpose. If your purpose is to prevent the pen from falling again, pointing out that the pen falls "because of gravity" will not help you. Essentially this means that as long as there is gravity the pen will fall, and there is nothing you can do about it. On the other hand, if you say that you dropped the pen, there is something you can do about it. The exercise demonstrates the important distinction between self-empowering explanations ("I dropped it") and explanations that remove your power to influence the situation ("gravity caused the pen to fall"). In Kofman's words, your explanation determines if you will be a 'victim' or a 'player.'
Kofman's book is easy to read, full of examples and stories that provide concrete illustrations of his points. He introduces the concept of consciousness using the analogy of his childhood years growing-up under a ruthless military dictatorship in Argentina. Terrible things were being done in the name of 'the Western and Christian values of the homeland.' These terrible things were largely ignored by Argentinians; they were unconscious of them. It was only when people became 'conscious' of them that they became empowered to do something about them. He draws some chilling comparisons between this experience with some of the behaviour and decision-making that occurs in modern organisations.
The book is well-referenced and contains a fantastic array of quotes as epigraphs that set the scene for each chapter. The quotes come from Lao Tzu to Drucker, from David Hume to The Talmud. Many of them struck a chord and the book is heavily flagged for future use. I expect to be referring to it a lot in the future.
Do you ever have to provide direction to your staff? Are you working in a complex and unpredictable environment? If the answer is yes and yes then you might find this technique for giving directions to your staff helpful described in Gary Klein's Intuition at Work.
Gary is building on some advice Karl Weick's gave on giving directions in a complex environment:
Here's what I think we face.
Here's what I think we should do.
Here's what we should keep our eye on.
Now talk to me.
Klein translated this script into the acronym, STICC: situation, task, intent, concerns, calibration.
Situation. (Here what I think we face) Start with providing the context for the task. What has happened that lead to this need? Grab their attention in the telling. Use all the ideas described by the brothers Heath best seller, Made to Stick. It's important that the person taking on the task understand its importance and how it fits in to the bigger picture.
Task. (Here's what I think we should do) Keep it short and to the point. You can elaborate later. When describing the task avoid describing how it should be done and keep focussed on what needs to be done. People hate to be told how to do their jobs.
Intent. (Here's why) Here is where you describe the purpose of the task. Why the task/project need to be done. If you have a picture of what the end point looks like this is the time to share that vision. In a complex and unpredictable environment the best you might be able to do it describe some of the characteristics of a successful completion.
Concerns. (Here's what we should keep our eye on) Chances are you have had experiences in these types of projects and you know the sort of thing someone should keep an eye on. If you don't you might want to get someone in the meeting who does have that experience. Running a mini pre-mortem could be useful.
Calibration. (Now talk to me) This is the essential step. Now make yourself available for questions and follow up discussions. As soon as someone on a task new questions will emerge and patterns will arise. This might lead to tremendous insights and accelerated accomplishment or lighting fast pursuit of a white rabbit down a long and dark hole. Being open to get together during the task helps you act as an effective guide while enabling the person doing the task to keep on track to deliver a quality result.
Most of our work here at Anecdote involves working with tacit knowledge. But it is clear that there is a broad understanding about what's meant by the phrase. In the knowledge management world there are two camps: one that believes tacit knowledge can be captured, translated, converted; and the other that highlights its ineffable characteristics. I must admit I was for a long time firmly ensconced in the latter category and our white paper on “How we talk about knowledge management” reflects this view. But I realise now it is simply impractical to adopt an either/or perspective and so I would like to propose a way forward that focusses on why knowledge is tacit (remaining unspoken, unsaid, implied, unexpressed) and then based on these reasons we can start thinking about the appropriate approach to capturing or transferring tacit knowledge.
I think the iceberg metaphor is useful. Below the waterline lies an organisation's tacit knowledge. Near the water surface lies tacit knowledge that's easier to work with but as we go deeper the nature of the tacit knowledge changes, it becomes murkier and harder to see and grasp. As we increase in depth we can think of the different reasons why our knowledge is unspoken.
Hasn't been recorded. Most organisations put their efforts in in dealing with this type of tacit knowledge. Probably because it's easy. “Let's find out what we know and then document it.” As a result wikis are popping up everywhere. Creating more explicit knowledge then creates a new problem of findability And as Peter Morville says, “what we find changes who we become.”
Will never be recorded. There are some things you know, that you could quite easily tell someone else, that you would never want to write down or be widely known. Imagine a diplomat who has an intimate knowledge of their counterpart's peccadillos in an allied government. Perhaps not the type of thing that would be written down. More benign examples include stuff ups and when people are breaking the rules for the right reasons (or even for the wrong reasons).
Too many resources required to record. Sometimes it just takes too much time and effort to write down what you know. For one thing, when you write it down you have to assume a broad audience (not like a conversation where you are assessing whether the person you are taking to is getting it), which makes the task even harder. Imagine Einstein walking in the room and someone without advanced physics knowledge asking him to explain the general theory of relativity. It would be impossible for Einstein to provide a comprehensive answer because his knowledge requires stimulation in order to be forthcoming. Dave Snowden encapsulates this idea in his aphorism, “you only know what you know when you need to know it.”
Everyone knows it (taken for granted). Now we are getting into the type of tacit knowledge that's more difficult to identify. This knowledge often represents the core values and beliefs in an organisation. It can manifest as metaphors. For example, I visited a investment bank in Sydney and their language revolved around gambling: “We can take a bet on that.” “Let's roll the dice and see what happens.” “Everyone was poker faced.” Another organisation was fixated with traffic metaphors: “It's a real roadblock.” “We got the green light.” “We have a clear roadmap now.” No one noticed how they were using these metaphors yet it guided their actions every day. I guess we call these things 'culture.'
Individuals don't know but groups do. Have you ever read Cognition in the Wild? It tells the story of the bridge crew of the aircraft carrier USS Palau and how together they can dock this enormous ship yet no single individual could describe how it is done. Many teams have this underrated and generally unrecognised this group-based ability.
Can't be recorded. Much of our tacit knowledge falls into this category. The effects of this type of tacit knowledge (some would say the only true tacit knowledge) are displayed in our action and therefore it's impossible to capture or convert it. The approach here is to become mindful and reflect of what is displayed—conversations, coaching, shadowing. Sure, we can video tape people undertaking tasks but time and time again practitioners have discovered there are qualities that are not captured and the task cannot be completed successfully. My favourite example is those white-coated gentlemen in France who test whether those humungous wheels of cheese have ripened. Using a little hammer they tap each one and know instantly which ones are ready to eat. How do they know? Is it the sounds, the bounciness, the smell? I recall a group of scientists set about to measure all these characteristics in order to create an automatic cheese ripeness testing machine but as hard as they might try they paled in comparison to the experience of the practised cheesemaker.
Getting your presenter notes on the right screen in Keynote
This one is only relevant if you use a mac but I wanted to share it because it had vexed me since the day I picked up my MacBook Pro. I use Keynote instead of Powerpoint and it has the ability to show the slides on one screen, viewed by the audience, and the slides and notes on the computer, only viewable by the speaker. The only problem is that the two screens were always back-to-front for me: the audience got to see my notes and I saw the slides.
Well, this week I worked out how to turn that around. When you connect a second screen to your mac you can jump into Preferences->Displays->Arrangement and you will see two screens. On top of one is a thin white bar representing the menu bar on your computer. Click and drag this white bar to the secondary screen (the smaller one) and when you play your presentation it will be around the right way.