Anecdotally- January 2009
Date Published: 15-Jan-09
The days of the lone genius are long gone
January 2009 | Published by Anecdote - Putting Stories to Work.
Happy New Year !
We start this year with new ideas and energy to embrace the changes the year will bring. It's another opportunity to do something good!
This quote from Steve Forbes is a good reminder of our ability to turn the tide.
"The real source of wealth and capital in this new era is not material things.. it is the human mind, the human spirit, the human imagination, and our faith in the future."
We hope that you enjoy reading this issue. Feel free to pass this email on to your colleagues and friends if you think that they would enjoy it too.
In this issue, we have
- Book Review - Brain Rules
- Breaking News - Six trends that encourage enterprise collaboration
- Technique - Name badges as conversation starters
- Productivity Tip - i-clickr
- What's happening - What we're up to this month!
- Blog posts you might have missed - Imbuing your workplace with stories
Please write to us with your comments, suggestions and ideas.
by John J Medina
The fact is our brain's evolved just like our species (a concept worth celebrating in the 150th year since Darwin published The Origin of Species). And if you consider the time we've walked this Earth as Homo Sapiens (200,000 years) and subtract the time we've sat on our backsides for a living (say the last 30 years), you can safely assume that our brains have not been fined tuned to today's challenges. This fact and its ramifications are the core of John Medina's book, Brain Rules.
European scientists gathered together 54 of France's wine connoisseurs at the University of Bordeaux. The scientists wanted to know whether these wine experts could correctly describe a wine when one fundamental characteristic of the wine was changed: its colour. The test was possible because wine judges describe white wines quite differently to reds. They use quite a different vocabulary.
The scientists lined up the white wines for tasting and added a tasteless, odourless red colouring to each glass unbeknownst to the tasters. Each wine judge took a sip of what looked like a red wine and proceeded to describe the wine in the typical red wine vocabulary. The perceived taste of the wine was completely over-ridden by the colour.
This story illustrates one of Medina's 12 brain rules, namely, Rule #10: Vision trumps all other senses.
Rule #4: We don't pay attention to boring things, is highly relevant in our world that's oversupplied with information. Our brains evolved to help us survive which often meant running like heck from things that were trying to eat us and chasing down something to eat. Both activities only require a relatively short amount of attention. So it turns out 10 minutes is about how long before we get bored with one type of information. This is important for how we present and run our workshops. Medina uses this rule to structure all his lectures. First 10 minutes of the overarching concept and where he was taking the lecture. Then something to grabbed them emotionally that shakes them up, a hook, and buys another 10 minutes of attention. Stories are perfect but could be a photo, a video. Next 10 minutes of detail building on the basic concept then another hook. To keep people interested you must include the hook.
Here is some rather distressing news, especially for all of us who believe they can do a multitude of things simultaneously: it's impossible for the brain to multitask. Sure, you might be able to chew gum and walk or even play a piano and sing, but when it comes to taking in ideas and attending to their meaning then the brain must disengage from one information flow and re-engage in another. So while you read this newsletter make sure you disconnect from the internet and find yourself a quiet corner. You don't want to miss anything.
Dr John Medina is a developmental molecular biologist and the director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning and every rule is backed by published, peer-review research. But at the same time he has a tremendous wit and puts into practice his ideas in the way he writes the book. There are stories, facts, summaries and on the companion web site you can see videos that cover the same rules (Rule #5: Repeat to remember). All the references and footnotes are on his website, which is a little annoying for people like me who like to dig around the original research.
Here are the 12 Rules
- Rule 1: Exercise boosts brain power.
- Rule 2: The human brain evolved, too.
- Rule 3: Every brain is wired differently.
- Rule 4: We don't pay attention to boring things.
- Rule 5: Repeat to remember.
- Rule 6: Remember to repeat.
- Rule 7: Sleep well, think well.
- Rule 8: Stressed brains don't learn the same way.
- Rule 9: Stimulate more of the senses.
- Rule 10: Vision trumps all other senses.
- Rule 11: Male and female brains are different.
- Rule 12: We are powerful and natural explorers.
There is so much interest recently in how our improved understanding of our brains is changing how we view leadership, learning, and change, to name a few. Brain Rules is an accessible and thorough exploration of some of the important characteristics of our brains we need to consider when we are designing practically anything for humans to do or use. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and highly recommend you get a copy.
Reviewed by: Shawn Callahan
Six trends that encourage enterprise collaboration
The beginning of the year is a good time to take stock of where things are going and try and get a handle on the macro trends affecting our work. For us that means enterprise collaboration in all its forms. Here are six major trends that will encourage leaders to take action and help their organisations to be even more collaborative.
- Global financial crisis. Customers are tightening their belts in preparation for a tough year. Companies are looking for ways to reduce costs, and importantly for collaboration, this also means getting the most out of what they have already invested in. Sometimes this investment is in collaboration technology, which to my mind mostly under-performs because it's often implemented without supporting practices and processes. Mostly, however, the investment is in the salaries paid to their people who could become more productive with a systematic approach to team, community and network collaboration.
- Increasing speed of business. Things will continue to speed up and it looks like, despite the GFC, economic growth is likely. This means opportunities will appear and disappear in a flash. Competitors will appear from nowhere and only the fleet of foot will survive. But organisations can't move fast enough by merely building their own capabilities. They'll need to partner and collaborate to create new products and services faster than their competitors.
- Rise of Gen Y. By some accounts Gen Ys make up a third of the population and are pouring into our workplaces. These guys expect to learn, to change, to have responsibility and they are already using a range of communication technologies to collaborate and expect similar capabilities in the workplace.
- Information explosion. This trend has been in play for sometime and it doesn't look like it's slowing down. It's a fact of life: we will never know everything and the percentage of what anyone knows is diminishing. At the same time, as our next trend describes, problems are getting trickier, more intractable. The only way we will be able to make progress is to combine our collective intelligence to nut these tricky problems out.
- Increased complexity. The world is getting more connected in all sorts of ways. We know more people, we visit more people, organisations are partnering, flights are increasing, information networks are getting more joined up and so it goes. When we increase the connections in a network things become more unpredictable. Small things in one part of the network can have a disproportionate impact in another part. There are no single rights answers in these situations. But groups of people can come together and work out initiatives to make progress. When things get complex, collaborate.
- Outsourcing to Asia. Dan Pink observed that outsourcing to Asia is a solid trend. Last week I heard a good example of collaboration directly related to this phenomena. Sony has been outsourcing some of its customer service functions to a range of outsourcing companies in Asia. The people in each of the outsourcing companies thought it would make sense to get together to share what they knew about being a Sony customer service representative, so they established a community collaboration initiative.
Are there other macro trends that will encourage or discourage collaboration?» Back to top
i-clickr remote for PowerPoint
Here's a neat application that lets you use your iphone or itouch to navigate your presentations: i-Clickr
» Back to top
- You can walk around the room and still read your presentor's notes on your iphone or itouch.
- You can track time as you present without having to look at your watch on the sly.
- It's free! The website has free downloads for Mac and Windows OS.
- Simple to install and the instructions are here.
Name badges as conversation starters
This is an interesting ice-breaker that would work well with a group of people who don't know each other too well or perhaps have met only for the first time. We blogged this technique in November 2007.
Ask everyone to write something interesting or quirky about themself on a name tag or post-it and wear it as a badge. It could be one word like 'Blue' or 'Led Zepplin 1989'.
Allow 10 min for the group to mingle and hear as many stories they can that reveal the choice of words people have used and in doing so learn something interesting about each other.
You could have a lot of fun with this and spark some great conversations too!
Here are a few possibilities from the conventional to the quirky:
- your nickname
- sports you love to play or watch
- the footy team you follow
- your favourite biography
- what's on the cover of your diary
- a thought provoking quote
- your personal motto
- the beginning of an interesting story
So this year, create a name badge for yourself for all the conferences, seminars and workshops you attend and let the conversations flow.
Maragaret Moon suggested an interesting variation of this technique that can be used for an in-house team building activity. Ask people to write a fact about themselves (a skill or talent) that their team members may or may not know about. Cluster the post its on a wall. Invite participants to guess who the post-its might represent. That will surely get the energy going in the room and might even get a few laughs!» Back to top
- Helping an engineering company kick-start a CoP for users of a specialised analytical tool.
- Working with a large Australian insurance provider on a narrative inquiry into their leadership and values
- Training a group of Australian scientists on the nuances of storytelling
We are running two workshops in London this June:
Read more about the workshops and register
- Narrative techniques for business (story-listening)--24th June 09
- Storytelling for business leaders (storytelling)--25th June 09
If you are on facebook, join us on Friends of Anecdote» Back to top
Imbuing your workplace with stories
Shawn blogged this in August 2008.
A company that values customer service should be teeming with customer service stories. But what do you do if this is not the case? The Ritz-Carlton has developed a narrative-based approach for ensuring customer service is in the minds of all their people. It was described in this Business Week article but I first discovered it reading Maxwell and Dickman's The Elements of Persuasion. This is what the Ritz-Carlton has done.
Everyone in the company is encouraged to submit stories of RC people going above and beyond. Each week a story is selected and sent out to all the RC hotels around the world and this story is read out at the Line Up meetings, the gathering of staff before starting a shift. Here's an example of one of these stories as told by Richard Maxwell and Robert Dickman, which RC call their WOW stories.
Like a lot of good stories, it starts on a dark and windy night. In this case, a blustery February when the downstairs bar that Fran tends was largely deserted. "The only one in the room was an older gentlemen, the sort of executive that has been drinking the same scotch for the last fifty years." A young, good-looking couple--we'll call them Dick and Jane-- came in dressed in laua shirts despite the weather and ordered mai tais. They seemed a little morose, but Fran is the sort of bartender who can get anyone to open up, and soon they told their story. Dick and Jane had just been married. They had always planned to honeymoon at the Ritz-Carlton in Kapalua, Hawaii. In fact, they had a reservation already booked for six months in the future, but Dick had just been diagnosed with cancer--a particularly nasty form of Hodgkin's lymphoma--so they pushed the date forward and were in L.A. for chemotherapy. This might be as close to Hawaii as they ever got, so they were bravely trying to make the most of it. When Fran tells the story, at this point her eyes take on that slightly stunned look that comes to cancer patients as they struggle to find the right balance between hope and denial. Obviously, the couple's story touched her deeply.
Fran got someone to cover the bar and sprang into action. She found Don Quimby, the manager on duty and together they went to the banquet hall prop room and collected anything that reminded them of Hawaii--a fishing net, a collection of starfish and seashells, a poster of Hawaiian hula dancers at a luau--and quickly gave the couple's room a make over. They even filled a cooler with sand and stuck in a sign that read "Dick and Jane's Private Beach." Then Don found an electronic key from the Ritz at Kapalua that a previous guest had left behind by mistake and reprogrammed it so it worked on Dick and Jane's room door. Don put on a Hawaiian shirt and went out to deliver this new key to them. He led them to their "new Hawaiian Honeymoon Suite," where a complimentary bottle of champaign was waiting. And for the next three days staff of the hotel did everything it could think of to make the couple feel like they were on a Hawaiian honeymoon of a lifetime.
Three times a week staff recount WOW stories in the Line Ups, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Each time a WOW story is told it triggers a conversation about what everyone sees as significant in the story and often prompts the retelling of other stories of things that have happened in their own hotel. So rather than receive a corporate directive on how to behave staff vicariously experience behaviour that everyone recognises as exemplary.
You receive a $100 if your story is selected and at the end of the year there is a competition to select the top 10 stories.
This approach has many of the features of Most Significant Change except that the conversation around the stories happens at the coal face rather than among the decision makers. Mind you, someone in HQ is selecting the stories and this process could be expanded to include a MSC style selection process with the decision makers.
If done well your organisation would definitely be teeming with values in action stories.
Thanks for your continued support. The Anecdote team.
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Copyright © 2008. Anecdote Pty Ltd. Australia's Business Narrative and Collaboration Specialists: Consulting Services, Workshops, Seminars and Evaluation Tools.