Saturday, October 23, 2010

Why The Unconventional Consultant

I thought you'd never ask.

Unconventional, because the conventional is not going to be what we need to respond to the challenges we are facing.
Unconventional, because I only write in passing about the challenges we face, that I'd rather develop the process for understanding those challenges and responding together as people, as organizations.
Unconventional because my path to this point is unconventional. I have no degree beyond a high school diploma, I am completely self taught, self motivated, self driven, self directed because I feel we need to do better as a society, as people, as organizations.
Unconventional because I believe in humanity, I believe in market capitalism, but also believe we need to understand ourselves, our economic systems better if we're going to realize our potential, and the potential market capitalism has to transform the world.
Unconventional, because I want to promote and engage new theories and processes for how our organizations function. 
Unconventional because I believe we have the inner power and ability to transform the world.

Unconventional because I want to tap into the potential we have in all of us, to take you, to take organizations, to take society to the next level.

Escaping Gravity

It's not easy to admit we as people, and we as organizations are not up to the challenges we're going to be facing in the coming years and decades. In large part, because we are not hard wired to think in terms of the long term, the long horizon.
While as humans, we've been endowed with these big brains, we are for the most part driven by our millions of years of wiring--aka our "lizard brain". (Google "lizard brain" for hours of entertainment).

We are quite capable of responding to the challenges of the future, but we need the awareness and the motivation. We also need a more developed and advanced mental models and organizational theory to get there.

All this takes effort beyond our hard wired instincts for basic survival. We need to want to examine the consequences of our actions, we need to want to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions.
To get that ball rolling, we need to want to stand out from the herd. We need to want to take a stand for what is right not just for ourselves, not just for our family and immediate social networks, we need to want to take a stand for what is right for a global economic, social and environmental ecology.

Escaping that gravity isn't easy. But, if we open our eyes to the road we are on, and see that we are facing, and that we are responsible for what we are facing, and that we want to challenge ourselves to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, we can and will find the energy to escape the gravity of our past habits and mindsets.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

North America--The Next Generation

With the era of the credit economy coming to a close, it's time to think ahead. The race to the bottom is over, the chief beneficiaries  being China and India's ability to close the gap in economic output and increase of skilled labour.
While there is a lot of talk about China and India being the next economic engines--each country now has a 'middle class' that exceeds that of North America--both have a long ways to go before they establish the kind of trusted rules and legal frameworks that integrates them into a globalized economic network.

They will also compete on price for some time to come.

Companies based in North America have two basic choices:
--compete on price
--compete on value

If we want to be the leaders in creating a sustainable economy, an economy that  not only continues to be the economic engine of a global economy, but one that will be the model to follow, we need to re-think what we compete on, what kind of companies and corporations we want to transform towards, what kind of values we want to promote.

Anybody can compete on price, that's a loser's game. Competing on value takes courage, commitment and real leadership. That is where the winners of the emerging post credit economy will gravitate towards.
The next generation of North American enterprises will understand the bigger, long term picture, and recognize that sustainable business models can't rely on cutting costs, cutting human resources, can't rely on credit incentives to grow and thrive in the world we are heading towards.
Companies with true leadership, that adapt to the new paradigm of organization models, will be able to get employee buy in, consumer buy in, and perhaps most importantly, investor buy in.

For The Unconventional Consultant, that is where the sustainable future lies. A sustainable global economy, one that can meet the incredible array of challenges the future is bringing simply can not rely on the business and economic models that brought us to this point.

As a continent, we need to open our eyes, open our minds, and lead with our conscious to gain back all that was lost the last ten years, and once again become the model that all others what to emulate.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Systems Thinking--The Big Picture

All people, all businesses, all social organization public or private operate in an ecology of systems. Social systems, mechanical systems, technological, economic systems, environmental systems, political systems--a incredibly complex web of systems.
Yet few people, few businesses, few organization have any kind of systematic approach to understanding this web of systems and more importantly, how it affects them, their future, their sustainability. Mostly, they want to know or hear just so stories that fit their vision of a future they want--which in itself is not a bad thing--but without a way of measuring or gauging that against a current reality, the person, the business, the organization begins to construct a 'reality' that often has damaging consequences.
The reasons for this can and do fill books, but at the root of the problem is either not having a systematic way of constructing and measuring the vision against the current reality, or as often the case, having the analytical capabilities but having personality driven management that over-rides the nature of the current reality.

This is called gambling. During a roll, executives, management, CEOs, etc can get away with this kind of ignoring of the reality, but eventually it comes home to roost. The 'house'--that is, the "marker of current reality"--almost always wins.
This was seen in mass with the global economic meltdown where Wall St. and eventually much of the industrialized world bought into the economics of cheap credit leading to a world economy based more on speculation rather than sound economic principles and value created products and services. Worse yet, solid companies that did have solid fundamentals were getting left behind by 'investors' (that is, speculators) because their earnings were not meeting the expectations of the market speculators.
This naturally all came to a crashing end in September of 2008.

The American economy and the global economy as a whole are going to take a long time to recover from that 15 year credit bubble run that many still refer to as a "bull run".
The savings and home investments of so many of the consumers were wiped out or left thread bare, that any kind of consumer driven recovery is going to be a long ways off.

North America--I am after all Canadian!-- has all the talent, all the abilities, all the creativity and innovation it needs to once again play the leadership role of being the economic engine and generator of the global economy.
Whether this can be repeated using the same outdated economic and organizational theories and practices is what remains to be seen.
Understanding why an organization would want to adapt the newer organizational models based on the principles of living systems and biology over those based on the old principles of mechanical systems means understanding the complexities of the current realities of the 21 century economy.

Understandably, that isn't easy. Yet organizations of virtually any size could benefit from having a deeper, broader, more realistic understanding of current economic conditions, but more importantly, the larger trends that are going to be shaping the nature of the economy as it continues to evolve. Organizations of any size can benefit from understanding and adapting the scientific developments that give us a much better understanding of human behaviour, and how that behaviour affects and shapes organization culture.
Increasingly, it will be the nature of organization culture that will make the winning difference.

 Organizations that adopt a systems thinking point of view and mindset, organizations that encourage learning as both an organization and that of it's personal level, organizations that develop an understanding of the use and potential of tools and networks of social media are going to by their very nature have a broader, deeper understanding of their operating environment.
They will have the flexibility and motivated talent pool to adapt to the myriad challenges and complexities of the modern economy.
They will have deeper and broader connections not just within the organizational culture, but extended well beyond to that of it's customer base, it's suppliers, and that of the world opinion.
They will have access to knowledge and information from more sources than ever before, and the organizational culture that can process and harness that knowledge and information for their good, and for the good of society.
They will also have the transparency that will foster the kind of trust organizations will want in a world where social media can spread rumours, and truth, about your organization in a matter of minutes.

These are going to be the kinds of organizations that are the leaders and winners in the ever changing, ever evolving modern economy and social norms. 

Old styles organizational models and mindsets will not be able to keep up in that world.

News Flash--Downsizing Isn't Necessily Effective

I picked this paper up via the website of the firm Right Management the paper itself produced by SHRM Foundation

Employment Downsizing and Its Alternatives

"Studies have tracked the performances  of downsizing firms verses nondownsizing firms for as long as nine years after the event. The findings: As a group, the downsizers never outperform the nondownsizers."

This underscores my belief and philosophy that most firms and organizations have the talent already within that they need to excel. They just do not quite how to find and develop that talent.
Maybe they do not have the right incentives and motivations in place to draw that talent out.
Any organization that employed my three pillars approach would develop the culture and process to draw that talent out, and enable that talent to excel and grow the organization with it.

During tough economic times, there exists enormous opportunity to reorganize, and adapt the kinds of organizational models based the new theories of biological systems, as opposed to the old theories of mechanical systems.
We are on the leading wave of a paradigm shift, and it is up to you to decide where your organization is on riding that wave.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Systems Thinking-Point

I'm reading through Farnam Street  past articles, when I come across this piece, interviewing Risky Business: James Bagian—NASA astronaut turned patient safety expert—on Being Wrong .

What catches my attention is the opening question and his answer:
How does the healthcare industry compare to engineering and aeronautics when it comes to dealing with human error?
Not favorably. Much of my background is in what's called high-reliability industries—the ones that operate under conditions of high hazard yet seldom have a bad event—and people in those fields tend to have a systems perspective. We're not terribly interested in what some individual did. We want to know what led up to a bad event and what changes we need to make to reduce the likelihood of that event ever happening again.
When I got into healthcare, I felt like I'd stepped into an entirely different world. It was all about, "Let's figure out who screwed up and blame them and punish them and explain to them why they're stupid." To me, it's almost like whistling past the grave. When we demonize the person associated with a bad event, it makes us feel better. It's like saying, "We're not stupid so it won't happen to us." Whereas in fact it could happen to us tomorrow.

The key point here of course is "systems perspective". Systems perspective doesn't look to blame the individual. People can not work to their full potential if they're worried about mistakes, and being the scape goat. It fosters a poison culture.
Systems perspective is about improvement, not blame. It's a process that will over time produce better, more consistent results. Talent prospers in such a system.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Purpose and Drive=Opportunity

I have spoken a lot about opportunity here. Opportunity for organizations, opportunity for people, opportunity for you.
Daniel Pink in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About Motivates Us compiles impressive evidence that beyond a certain measure, it is not money that motivates us. What does motivate and drive us, is a sense of purpose, a sense of mastering something, a sense of autonomy in how we approach our work and lives.

Where then, is the opportunity?

With new philosophies for organization based on living systems, instead of the outdated philosophies based on mechanical systems. With an ever broadening of scientific understanding of how we function as individuals, and as groups and organizations. With new tools for communicating and collaboration. With new mediums for connecting people and ideas--all coupled with an economy that is based more on knowledge than on physical objects* in a recessionary economic environment presents enormous opportunity for individuals and organizations alike to transform themselves.
There is opportunity for harnessing the full potential of an organizational workforce like never before. There is opportunity for harnessing the loyalty of customers like never before. Opportunity for harnessing both of those forces into innovative new products and services. For increasing productivity, while finding cost savings. There is opportunity for creating the kind of sustainable organizations and business practices that can build the kind of sustainable communities and cities which we'll need to cope with the mega trends of the 21st century.

Organizations that take the lead in being the kinds of public and private enterprises that society will need to cope with these mega trends can harness that sense of purpose as vision for themselves, and for the people that make up the organization.
Organizations that take the lead in adapting the new philosophies and practices of living systems during periods of stagnant economic conditions--think of this as re-tooling--can not only find business opportunity that others may be blinded to, but can also hit the ground running as economic conditions improve. Great organizations will be the ones that lead society from out of the muck of the economic crash.

With fresher organizational mindsets and culture, all manners of public and private enterprise can re-invent themselves and become the dynamos that lead not only their respective industries, but also set the new standards for all business practices.
These will be the kinds of organizations that attract not just the top talent out there, but better still get more out of the talent they have.

The almost unlimited array of opportunities that exist today lie well outside the means of a simple blogpost, and, of course, of the singular mind of a consultant writing a blog.  The opportunities will not likely fall from the sky. There will be more than a few organizations that are already positioned, and those that find opportunity by luck. For almost every other organization, they'll have to re-invent and find it for themselves.
And that will take open mindedness, diverse collaboration, with cultural change and broad organizational buy in.
It will be hard work.

Tom Peters, with his seminal work Thriving on Chaos (1987) and Peter Senge with his seminal work The Fifth Discipline (1990) laid the direction and groundwork for creating these kinds of organizations. The theory and practice is not that new. Yet the standard mechanical model of hierarchy, structure and control, and our seemingly affinity for the comfort it provides is still the dominant paradigm that resists the kind of change needed to take advantage of benefits those kinds of organizational models bring with them.
Breaking free of the bonds of outdated organizational models and mindsets isn't easy. But the path is not a jungle, the theories are not fads.

We have to not only want to take the lead of our own organizations, but also open our minds to how these kinds of models can lead the way for a broader, healthier, sustainable economic society that can cope with the challenges, the change and the complexity. And harness the myriad opportunities.

We all win if we do.

* Even if making physical objects is the backbone of your business, it is the intrinsic knowledge around the making, manufacturing, and marketing of that product that makes the difference. As I say in my talks, anybody can make a widget these days, it is the value and knowledge of your work force that is the competitive advantage.

The Medium is Not The Message

I am reading through Richard Koch and Greg Lockwood's SuperConnect: Harnessing The Power of Networks and The Strength of Weak Ties, specifically right now, the chapter "Cyberspace--Brave New World".
The authors are exploring where the internet--cyberspace--fits in with shaping who and what we are, with an additional perspective of how this is changing are ability to connect via 'hubs'. After all, language and the ability to communicate have been shaping who we are as groups and individuals for 50,000 years, give or take. The difference, the authors are saying, is not in an increased ability to communicate messages, rather an increased ability to connect.
This is interesting to me on numerous levels. Many of the points of their book are not new, not novel, or earth shattering for those that have followed the whole 'internet phenomenon' over the last 15-20 years. One point of the Cyberspace chapter being that the internet is not another communication medium, but rather another dimension of existing forms of communication. The other, is that online relations cannot supplant those of face-to-face relations.
I don't overly disagree with either point. They argue that cyberspace can be as much about escapism than it is about exploring new knowledge, new connections. Again, I agree.
The world online does not have the rich texture of life in our physical world, nor does it have the rich degree of social cues necessary for connected relationships. However, these are not black and white, either one or the other options.
What the authors, and myself, are getting at, is how well we blend the two worlds is where the greatest gains are going to be had.

Without reviewing the entire book, I do want to use these points as a jumping off point to perhaps something more subtle that I continually want to bring closer to the surface.

My purpose as a consultant is to increase the abilities to adapt and thrive in these ever changing conditions of the 21st century for you and the organizations of which you are reliant upon . That means being not only being able to make us better aware of our environment, it means not only being able to shape our environment, it means being aware of and shaping our environment in a sustainable way.

The internet or cyberspace is another layer of complexity over an already existing environment. It can make us passive (escapism) or active (growth), both perhaps in the same moment. We can broadcast messages, we can receive messages. We can connect those messages.

We can do this in a manner and to a degree that is unprecedented in human history. In 1964, communication theorist Marshal McLuhan famously remarked, "the medium is the message". He was speaking in a time of the rise of television, and commenting that the medium--TV--was the "message". That is, it is the ability to mass broadcast messages that is the message, rather than being what message said.
The question than is, is the internet just an extension of that? Is the medium the message? Is it more important that you and I can broadcast messages rather than what message we broadcast?
The answer is maybe. The answer should be; "Yes, it does matter."

The point I continually try to raise, to bring awareness to, is that we are the medium, we are the message. We have the tools to both extend and increase our knowledge of our environment, of our social systems, and share that knowledge in ways that makes us better people, makes our organizations better at what they do and better to be associated with and to work within.
That power, that ability lies within each and every one of us. But we have to take leadership, we have to take ownership and responsibility of that power.

It is that ability to take the lead, to learn to share what we have to give, learn to grow from what is being given back that can shape a prosperous economic and social environment where more people 'win'.
We are that medium, we are that message.

Monday, October 4, 2010

More Evidence

Every day, the blogosphere increases it's distributed information and knowledge. On any given day I can find or stumble upon high value knowledge that in my case offers more evidence to support what I want to do to help transform your organization for the better.
Today was another case in point. I started by reading Peter Miller's "The Smart Swarm", which lead me to becoming aware of the U.S. intelligence community's "Intellipedia", a Google search in turn lead me to Radar O'Reilly's technology site, from which a blog post there lead me to this terrific post by Andrew McAfee's blogpost called Enterprise 2.0 Is a Crock: Discuss.

McAfee is responding to a piece by Dennis Howlett titled Enterprise 2.0 What a Crock.

Howlett raises what I often talk about here, but what also is a false dichotomy: the self organizing nature of social media and Web 2.0 tools are a threat to the existing hierarchy and bureaucratic order of organizations. They can  be, yes. That is a long ways away from them having to be. Howlett also raises another excellent point: companies and 'corporate America' are far more engaged with trying to deal with the worst recession since the great depression. Engaging with new social media tools may not be high on their to do lists.
That is a point. But it is also a point one would expect from the old guard.
He also misses that it was a lot of the old guard mentality, lack of foresight, lack of social intelligence and greed for short term gains over that of long term organizational and society health that brought on the worse recession since that 1930's.

It was herd mentality the lead America and many others over that cliff. Your organization could have separated itself from that herd. Your organization, your corporation can still separate itself from that herd.

Howlett is wailing the loser's cry. Leaders and winners look ahead, look for the new tools, the new science that can take them there, and forge the paths America and the world needs to create the kind of sustainable future where society benefits, and private and public organizations benefit.

Read the entire posts by both Howlett and McAfee. One is progressive and forward looking, the other rooted in an increasingly outmoded mentality, one more concerned with accounting principles than that of forging better bonds between the producer and consumer.

Howlett does not offer up any argument against being better connected, better informed, better decisions, whereas McAfee does offer up more evidence supporting that being better informed, better connected can lead to better decisions.
How well your organization can do that depends on the culture that can be fostered to harness the knowledge and human capital within.

Better Informed, Better Connected, Better Decisions 202

I'm reading through Peter Miller's The Smart Swarm : How Understanding Flocks, Schools and Colonies Can Make Us Better at Communicating, Decision Making, and Getting Things Done and was pleasantly surprised to read that the U.S. intelligence community has for four years used it's own Intellipedia!
Why? Intelligence is essentially about gathering information. What Miller does so well in his book, is look at how things like bee colonies, termite mounds, and ants produce complex behaviour with simple rules. Rules that can and do work for our complex societies and organizations. The basic principles are: Seek a diversity of knowledge; Encourage a friendly competition of ideas; Use effective mechanisms to narrow your choices.
What the intelligence community in the U.S. found in the wiki software format was a way to get closer to those principles.
What we also see here is another layer to what a process such as my three pillar approach of "systems thinking"; "organizational and personal learning" and "rich social media networks" can bring to your organization--being better informed, be better connected, making better decisions.

What is remarkable here is this is the intelligence community, which is traditionally notorious for being secretive, hoarding of information and not sharing, started it's own wiki site to do just that--share information voluntarily across a highly distributed network. Yes, it is going through the natural struggles of escaping the gravitational pull of the old guard culture.On his site on " Insight, analysis, and research about emerging technologies"  Alex Howard at Radar O'Reilly does a great job in a blog post Connecting the dots with intellipedia of gathering several insights and opinions about how well this is working, along with the challenges.

What does this mean for your organization? This is yet another example of how a very complex organization with a deep rooted culture is extending itself to broad benefits of the tools of Web 2.0, and doing so so they can be "better informed, better connected, better decisions".

Check out the Daniel Pink youtube link in the post that precedes this one. There are very likely people within your organization that perhaps already have the motivation to increase your organizational intelligence through the vast array of Web2.0 tools, creating a "rich social media network" that can be a vital source of innovation and knowledge sharing that will boost your organizational performance. This already exists within your organization. The question is do you have the leadership within to tap into this vast resource of knowledge and talent that lies dormant within?

"What Motivates Us"

I highly recommend checking this RSA Animate, from Daniel Pink's "Drive" and posted on youtube.

The surprising truth on what motivates us.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The New Science of Organization.

I say "new science" in the headline to draw attention, but really the theory behind the science isn't that new,  more and more studies are backing up the theory. What the studies and the science continually show is a growing gap between our perceptional "reality" and the "reality" of how people and organizations function. With that reality lies enormous opportunity for growth, efficiencies, innovation and healthier organizations. This means improvement in the bottom line. Better productivity, cost savings, and taking a decisive lead in the market place.

Two recent books bring this science closer to the surface. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink, and The Smart Swarm by Peter Miller cover different but overlapping topics.
Of the two, "Drive" gets more to the specifics--what motivates us--while "The Smart Swarm" by it's very nature covers the generalities social intelligence.

While two very different books, both give plenty of direction for how we can think and act differently as organizations.
With "The Smart Swarm", we get better acquainted with the pros and cons of the herd mentality I have written about here often before. There are times where following the herd is the smart thing to do, investing being one example. The trick being is having enough understanding of where that herd is leading, what it is that is protective or smart about it, and when to leave the pack and follow your own path.
Within your own organization, you can harness your own swarm, your own herd with it's own group intelligence to make better decisions on where your organization fits into the larger market conditions.
The other trick is for managerial actors to let go of ego so they can harness the intelligence within their team.

"Drive" helps us get there. The one main take away from Daniel Pink's work is that after a certain level, money is not what motivates us. A deeper sense of purpose is what really engages our abilities, creativity and desire to excel. That purpose can be with the organizations in which we work, that can be your organization.

What these two books also underscore again, is the need for fostering the right culture to let our 'drive', our 'swarm intelligence' flourish to the point where it's getting more out of the latent talent and abilities the lie within all organizations and within society itself.

The science and studies are there and growing. The question that also grows is does your organization have enough leadership within it to harness it's 'drive' and 'swarm intelligence'?