three pillars of leadership

“Hierarchical authority is much more effective at securing compliance than it is in fostering genuine commitment.”Peter Senge

Senge and his team have identified three types of leadership in organizations.

  1. Local level — to experiment
  2. Executives — to support local level & model behaviour
  3. Networkers — to make connections between people

Leadership today is all about making the network more resilient. It is helping the network make better decisions. Executives can ensure that local leaders have the time and space they need to experiment. Executives can appoint and support networkers or community managers. Then they can focus on setting the example, modelling and not shaping their enterprise.

“network leadership is about working together to make sure that people in the network are connected in a way that encourages flows of resources, information and support to every part of the network” —June Holley

This is a cooperative model, where executives set the example and exert influence through reputation and not positional power. This is a model that promotes diverse thinking and therefore drives innovation. (more…)

meetings, bloody meetings

My introduction to organizing meetings was in the military, where different types of meetings had standard structures. The Orders Format was something any officer could recite from memory. During officer training we were shown the 1976 John Cleese film, which was updated in 1993 — Meetings, Bloody Meetings. Cleese, a manager, is convicted in a dream of the following:

  1. Chairing without due thought & preparation.
  2. Failure to signal your intentions for the meeting.
  3. Negligent ordering of the agenda & criminal misallocation of time.
  4. Not being in full control of the discussion.

In conversations with friends and colleagues in many organizations over the years, it seems that not much has changed since the 1970’s. Now we can add in the standard conference call scenario of constant interruptions as people check in after the meeting has started and the chair starts all over again. (more…)

movements and rackets

Every fortnight I curate some of the observations and insights that were shared on social media. I call these Friday’s Finds.

“Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” ―Eric Hoffer, The Temper of Our Time

@EskoKilpi — “When managers think about diversity they typically look for diversity of gender and race but the real goal should be diversity of thinking, diversity of mind.” (more…)

“the strategic and purposeful production of ignorance”

You will not achieve an informed public simply by making sure that high quality content is publicly available and presuming that credibility is enough while you wait for people to come find it. You have to understand the networked nature of the information war we’re in, actively be there when people are looking, and blanket the information ecosystem with the information people need to make informed decisions.” —danah boyd

So concludes danah boyd in an excellent piece on what lies beneath the current flood of fake news: agnotology — “the strategic and purposeful production of ignorance”. Anyone who is concerned about the erosion of democracy as a result of the fragmentation of society through fake news, propaganda, or conspiracy theories should read this article. The conclusion is that we cannot achieve this by merely spreading good information. (more…)

workers are already mature

“Growth is not linear and it doesn’t happen in discrete phases marked by convenient external characteristics” — which is why maturity models are wrong — according to Christiaan Verwijs, specifically looking at agile models.

“Of course, maturity models are meant to simplify the complexities of reality. But what is gained by squeezing such a messy, non-linear thing as the professional growth of individuals, teams, and organisations into an easily digestible model that allows us to feel like we’re making decisions based on something tangible? Oh, wait ….
Maturity models are the best friend of consultants. They are easy to understand and may seem very profound at first. It’s an easy way to make a good impression. This makes them excellent snack food for consultants, and for the organisations that are looking for easy answers to their complex problems.” —CV

Are maturity models useful? Is there a more useful model we could use?

“Remember that all models are wrong; the practical question is how wrong do they have to be to not be useful.”George Box (more…)

beyond the solutions at hand

“There is a need to deal with the problem independent of the solutions at hand. We have a tendency to define the problem in terms of the solutions we already have. We fail most often not because we fail to solve the problem we face, but because we fail to face the right problem. Rather than doing what we should, we do what we can. In the systems view, it is the solution that has to fit the problem, not vice versa.” — Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity: A Platform for Designing Business Architecture

Systems thinking seems to be missing in many parts of our society. For example, green energy proponents refuse to consider low carbon nuclear power as an option, including new nuclear technologies like molten salt. I am not sure what the optimal solution is but there is a significant cost to solar energy. Using only “the solutions at hand” can blind us to other options. Once we have taken up our positions, we seldom question them. This is one of our greatest mistakes, especially since more of our challenges will be complex in a connected world of seven billion people with degraded natural resources and facing climate change. (more…)

learning with complexity

Two technologies — machine learning, and the internet — are changing our understanding of the world by showing that we really cannot understand large scale complexity.

“We don’t use these technologies because they are huge, connected, and complex. We use them because they work. Our success with these technologies — rather than the technologies themselves — is showing us the world as more complex and chaotic than we thought, which, in turn, is encouraging us to explore new approaches and strategies, challenging our assumptions about the nature and importance of understanding and explanations, and ultimately leading us to a new sense of how things happen.” —Dave Weinberger

Sensemaking is becoming a critical skill in our complex world. We can do this with the assistance of statistics and algorithms, as with machine learning. We can do this between ourselves by connecting and engaging with a diverse network of knowledgeable people using the internet. We definitely cannot do this alone. (more…)

changing structures

“For the first time since the industrial revolution, organizations are changing at a fundamental level. The change is very much a work in progress in most organizations. But we now have many examples of organizations that are fully functioning in an entirely new way — that is, new ideas about how the organization is designed, about how work gets done, how people relate to each other.” —Nancy Dixon


social learning is innate

Social learning is a key theme of mine because imitation is how we learn as a species. Social learning is best explained by Albert Bandura, recognized as the most eminent psychologist of the modern era.

“Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.” —Albert Bandura

Making our organizations open to social learning fosters innovation. Nobody works in a vacuum and we all build upon past ideas and achievements. Open structures that distribute authority can lead to more transparent knowledge sharing which promotes social learning. This open sharing can foster more diverse perspectives which can fuel active experimentation. Innovation emerges from this constant flow of ideas and experiments. (more…)

fahrenheit friday

Every fortnight I curate some of the observations and insights that were shared on social media. I call these Friday’s Finds.

“Nobody listens anymore. I can’t talk to the walls because they’re yelling at me, I can’t talk to my wife; she listens to the walls. I just want someone to hear what I have to say and maybe if I talk long enough it will make sense.” —Guy Montag, in Fahrenheit 451,  via @RossDawson

Sarah Cone — “Under ancient Jewish law, if a suspect was unanimously found guilty by all judges, he was acquitted. Why? The legislators noticed that unanimous agreement often indicates the presence of systemic error in the judicial process, even if the exact nature of the error is unknown.”

Bruce Schneier” … we need to decide if we are going to build our future Internet systems for security or surveillance. Either everyone gets to spy, or no one gets to spy. And I believe we must choose security over surveillance, and implement a defense-dominant strategy.” via @aukia