September, 2011 | Published by Anecdote - Putting Stories to Work.
We've certainly been spending a lot of the time in the air over the last few months. From Perth to Sri Lanka, from Brisbane to Singapore, we have been criss crossing the globe working with some amazing people, teams and organisations helping them use the natural power of stories to make a difference for them. The global nature of our work continues this month with Shawn about to depart for the United States to do some work with a Fortune 500 financial services company to help develop their storytelling capability as well as run our world renowned 'Storytelling for Business Leaders' course in New York. For more details about the course and to hear all of our latest thoughts and insights please enjoy our latest newsletter.
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Learning from Experts
Last week I had the pleasure of designing and running a workshop with renowned psychologist Gary Klein and KM Guru Patrick Lambe. The workshop was on insight and storytelling and if you are interested I wrote a short paper with Mark on some of the ways stories affect insight. You can download it here .
The guys shared so many good ideas it's hard to single out one to share with you, however, when Gary told us all about this new training technique developed by his friend Neil Hintze in the New York Fire Department I immediately knew it was a winner. This is how it works.
You start with a complex scenario (a story) where ultimately a decision (or perhaps many decisions) is needed. The scenario should span over four or five pages including illustrations and photos and it might be about how a fire fighting team conducted a rescue, or how a mining company conducted an unscheduled maintenance on a major asset, or perhaps it's about how the owners of a company created the deal to sell their organisation. The scenario should be complex, unpredictable and lacking a single right answer; sounds like a good story, right?
Imagine a group of 50 people who needed to know how to respond and decide in these types of complex situations. You hand each one an A4 booklet and ask them to open it up. On the left page is the scenario and on the right is a one inch empty square for writing in. The instruction is simply: "read the first page of the scenario and then write what's most significant in the scenario so far in the box on the opposite page." Keep the time limited.
There is one constraint, once you've turned the page you cannot turn back.
So everyone fills in the first box and turns to page two where the scenario continues and there’s an empty box on the right hand page and everyone is given the same instruction as page one.
They all then turn to page three. Now they notice two empty boxes on the adjacent page. For the top box they all have to do what they did before, describe what's significant in what they've just read. In the second box they have to describe what's missing in the scenario.
They now come to the last page and they now see three empty boxes. The first two are the same as before but in the third they're ask to write down the piece of information would they like now.
Now they get to see what an expert wrote in the same boxes with the expert’s explanation. Everyone goes back to the first page of the scenario of compares their answer with what the expert wrote. There is no need to share these comparisons but you want people to understand why the expert differed from their choice. It's not saying your choice is wrong just that a highly experienced practitioner might see other things in the scenario that less experienced folk might miss. That’s what makes them an expert, right?
The research on expertise also shows that experts notice what's missing because they have more patterns to match with the current situation
Gary was watching Neil conduct this method in a lecture room full of fire fighters. When the 90-minute session finished and they audience were reluctant to move on to the next exercise. They were learning too much.
We believe that to create change in organisations you must focus on changing behaviours.
Research by the authors of Influencer show that those who have been consistently successful in creating change, all different kinds of change, at all different scales, have one thing in common - they focus on behaviours. They’re inflexible on this point. They don’t develop a change strategy until they’re carefully identified the specific behaviours they want to change. They start by asking; "In order to improve our existing situation, what must people actually do?"
However in our work we have found that a large number of people are unclear of what a behaviour actually is, and therefore find it very difficult to concentrate on changing them.
"Behaviour is how I act in the world. It is what I do, and what is visible to others."
Behaviours are therefore actions, not results. They are not values. Behaviours are repeatable. If it isn’t actionable, it isn’t a behaviour. If you can’t go and “do it”, it’s not a behaviour. If I could walk into a room could I see it? Can you teach it to someone else and they could do the same thing?
From my experience, people make three main mistakes around identifying behaviours:
1. Confuse results with behaviours
One of the first big mistakes we make when we’re looking for behaviours, is to transpose results with behaviours. We look at the outcome or the result and say; "Ah, that’s what we want people to do". However, remember behaviours are actions, not results. This is particularly true for something like weight loss. People focus on the result they want (i.e. lose one belt notch or lose 5kg in weight), but what they then don't do is follow this through to the actual behaviours that will achieve this result (i.e. always eat breakfast, or exercise for 30 minutes a day, three times a week etc.).
2. Confuse behaviours with values
I have done a lot of work on culture change in organisations and they often focus on values, e.g. integrity, courage, desire to succeed. It’s absolutely right for organisations to have, and to live, these kinds of values but what these are not are specific behaviours. The downside of a focus on values such as these is that they don't inform people of what you want them to actually do differently. If you don’t take the next step and define the behaviours that sit under these values, then it becomes more difficult to create real change.
NB: There are some really interesting articles on the Anecdote website about bringing values to life. Shawn has written an article about getting everyone to know what your values really mean, and Mark has also written about values in action
3. Not being clear enough on the behaviour required
I was diagnosed as being a insulin dependant diabetic about three years ago and was doing some research around behaviours that would help me make the changes I needed to due to this. I was quite excited to find a website which outlined three 'behaviours' to successfully manage diabetes.
It listed them as:
Monitor blood sugar.
Do you think these three things gave me anything to focus on to actually change what I did? They are probably the right three 'themes' (e.g. diet, exercise and monitoring blood sugar levels) but they were not specific enough and did not focus on actions I could do to manage my diabetes.
Identifying behaviours is not easy. From my experience, it has been of the hardest things to get people to understand and put into action. However it is the key to create real change and make a difference in the changes you are trying to achieve.
This very short post is one of the most read postings on our blog.
It's easy to talk about what collaboration is or is not or the types of collaboration. What's difficult is to change your practices (read behaviours) to improve your chances of an effective collaboration. Here are seven personal skills that we all need to master to give collaboration a chance.
How to apologise
How to advocate your point of view without harming your collaborator's feelings
How to spot when a conversation gets emotional and then make it safe again to continue meaningful dialogue
How to listen and get into the shoes of your collaborator
How to define a mutual intent that will inspire action
How to tell and elicit stories
How to get things done so you have something to show for your collaboration
What are some of the fundamental characteristics of a great collaboration? And how does my list of seven stack up against your experience?
You cannot see the future, if you cannott see the past
A key question people often ask when they hear about a new strategy is “Why?” “Why are we focusing on acquisition?” “Why are we outsourcing?” “Why are we going to buy not build?”
A story best answers these “Why?” questions because it tells us what caused the change and what’s going to happen next. A key aspect of translating strategies into strategic stories is therefore to get people to think about what has occurred in the past to help explain the decisions for the future. This becomes even more important when you consider the research has shown that if people can't remember the past, they can't envisage the future.
According to Tali Sharot's fascinating new book The Optimism Bias the term ''mental time travel'' was first coined by Canadian psychologist Endel Tulving to refer to our capacity for revisiting the past ''and'' imagining the future. Tulving claimed that these two abilities are related; they rely on the same cognitive and neural mechanisms.*1
In 1985, he reported a case of K.C, an amnesiac patient who had suffered damage to his hippocampus. K.C not only found it impossible to remember his past but was also unable to say what he expected to do in a year, a week or even the next day.
Two decades later Professor Eleanor Maguire examined amnesiac patients who also had suffered damage to their hippocampus. She found that those patients, like K.C, were not able to construct detailed image of the future scenarios. Without a working hippocampus the patients were unable to revisit the past mentally or explore the future.*2
Around the same time, a series of brain-imaging studies conducted at Harvard University by Donna Addis and Daniel Schacter showed that the hippocampus is engaged when we recollect our past and when we imagine our future.*3
Therefore to infer what may happen in the future, we need to access the past. This step is vital in translating your strategy into a story that can be told and understood by everyone in your company.
*1: Tulving E (1984). "Precis of Elements of Episodic Memory". Behavioural and Brain Sciences 7 (2): 223–68.
*2: Hassabis, D; Kumaran, D; Vann, S and Maguire, E (2007): "Patients with hippocampal amnesia cannot imagine new experiences".Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA. 104, 1726–1735
*3: Schacter, D; Addis, D and Buckner, R (2007) "Remembering the past to imagine the future: the prospective brain". Natl. Rev. Neurosci, Volume 8, 657-661