Chattering classes, professional conferences, blogging, etc.

Alex Deschamps-Sonsino linked yesterday suggesting a degree of jadedness in the design industry.

Rick Poyno wrote this about design conferences.  As most of us discover this after going to one or two professional conferences, I thought it might be worth pasting it in here to reassure ‘newbies’ that they aren’t the only ones who have noticed.

Typical professional conferences are trite and banal

“Only rarely at this kind of event will you encounter strong analysis and original new ideas. “Programmers of design conferences often appear to be unaware of the limits of their world view, uninterested in new thinking and practice, and insufficiently confident to address controversial issues,” says Nico Macdonald, one of the most active conference-goers on the British design scene. “Design conferences tend to be aimed at ‘jobbing’ designers, who the program­mers think want ‘dog and pony’ show-and-tells, maximizing presentation with minimal explanation and little” . . ?

We want our conferences to concentrate thinking and propel discussion to a higher level

“Too many design conferences don’t aim much higher than entertainment, escapism and the vaguest kind of hero-worshipping ‘inspi­ration’ – as in, “I wish I could be a famous designer like you.” What they should provide is unique occasions to concentrate design thinking and propel it to a higher level. discussion.”

Small focused conference are most likely to promote interaction and debate

The most rewarding conferences are those that succeed in promoting interaction and debate.  For that purpose, small and focused is likely to work best.

Simple rules of communication in organizations

Simplicity is a world-beater

There is a wonderful cartoon about computer interfaces doing the rounds contrasting the simplicity of Apple and Google with the interfaces most of us construct.

Simple rules of communication

That reminded me of a place I worked at for many years, which had inherited three simple rules of communication.

FIRST. Write down what you want on ONE side of a piece of paper – no more. And the top third of the side will be used for routing instructions – you don’t get more paper for that.

SECOND. Send it to me in time for me to read it before we meet.

THIRD. When we meet, explain what you want fom me verbally or through your emissary.

What I will do

If I cannot understand what you want in one minute, with a further one minute for questions, I ask you very courteously whether “you would like to withdraw your paper”.

It is possible to keep things simple!

PS The accountants had another simple rule. On no account, ever, will we approve expenditure retrospectively. Decisions occur before actions.

5 steps for rapidly understanding a task!

Do you understand everything that everyone does?

About 5 years out of college, you will begin to take responsibility for work that you simply do not understand.  Imagine ~ you are running a project and the accountants are totting up your numbers and running off terms like cashflow and depreciation that you are not really sure of.

The IT boffins prattle away about bandwith and JSON.

Anyway you get the idea.  People can baffle you with rock science and you wonder sometimes whether they are just having you on!

How do you manage someone who knows a heap of stuff that you know nothing about?

 

You want to know

  • Why this person is in your team
  • Why are they critical to your operation (why is their knowledge and judgment essential)?

5 straightforward questions to follow what they do and evaluate their contribution

1. Explain!

2. Show me!

3. What’s next?

4. When will we finish?

5. What is my role here?

Elephants shall never forget me! (Explain, Show, Next, Finish, My Role)

ReadWriteWeb has come alive . . .

. . . with great and interesting posts every day.

Today Alex wrote on the recession, which is worrying lots of people. I’m a Zimbo so I am going, ahh! this ain’t so hard. Forgive me. This is what I have to say.

1. I have never worked with a lazy person, ever.

I have worked with people who were thoroughly disengaged and very unhappy. I have worked with people who I thought were misdirected (yes I thought, they didn’t).

People like working. The great trick is integrating people. And I will be the first to say that can be hard. I always take the view that we hired someone because they are good. If we are falling out, the responsibility is mutual and we should help the person (typically with the least power) move on to a better place – where they are highly valued, better paid, etc. And if we are so far down the road of conflict we can’t see the good anymore, we should back off and let someone else manage the relationship. I want to kiss goodbye (with relief as right now we are on a path to hating each other) and recover our friendship in due course. We both mismanaged our relationship. It is time for us to recover and make good.

2. I don’t want to work in a place where some pigs are more equal than others . . .

I’m a conventional HR-based psychologist. I do selection – you know those awful tests and reports telling you who you are. I can run up a comp-and-benefit scheme explaining who gets more money and why. I predict labor demand within organizations and match supply (to make sure we don’t suffer too much when you leave). I run the hello and goodbye programs. And I bollock anyone who gets into a disciplinary scenario because of the paper work they make for us all.

But I don’t want to work in a place where one person is more important than anyone else.

Everyone is important otherwise why did we hire them? Floors are not cleaned as a luxury. Clean floors are essential to the smooth running of our business, etc. etc.

I hate the idea that we look after the top 10% of people.  Why do I select people, then, I hear you say? Because we have the technology to identify the matches that will never work – the extreme cases. Let’s make ourselves useful, folks. I am also happy when my deli refuses to sell me something because what I intend to do with their food is just plain horrible. There is nothing wrong with someone who knows, leaning over to someone who doesn’t, and saying, if you want to achieve X, do it like Y.  What a wonderful expression of goodwill. I am saved disappointment and I feel great that someone cared enough to tell me.

3. Can organizations be egalitarian? Don’t we need leaders?

I discovered Barbara Sliter’s blog Creatorship – courtesy of Galba Bright. Thank you so much.

I have stopped believing in leadership. I believe we thrust up people to represent us. It is a dynamic process, as we are seeing the States right now. The answer is not given, and the person who most respects the dynamic will win, by definition.

On a daily basis, in my conventional role as a work psychologist, leadership is shared. I deliver data, collected professionally and organized to inform action in the circumstances we are in. Our understanding of the situation evolves during discussions, as mine does. And “leadership” shifts with the part of the situation we are considering. The “leader”, be it the senior line manager present, or any one else, leads by representing our collective and considered view to us and to others.

Sometimes the senior line person is so much more experienced than the rest of us, they add an overview we all recognize immediately as bringing us together. Mostly, they are sufficiently experienced, in our line of work and in leadership roles (they probably started practicing at pre-school!) and recognize when we are reaching agreement which they sum up effectively so that we can move forward with full confidence in each other.

Often, they find the group view is very much at odds with their own, but they represent our view effectively anyway. They value their people. We are on the team for a reason. Together we will make good decisions. We won’t always be right. And sometimes we will be right, but won’t win.

But we will put our best foot forward! They know that.

Barbara Sliter puts this so much better than I do. People who haven’t had the privilege of working in professional, collegial settings are ready. Ready to co-create meaning at work.

What I can do, is add the stories and the robust HR technologies for the pay systems, etc. I’ve seen places where the “least senior” person chairs the meeting. It works. And why not? They will be the least opinionated after all!

4. Recessions offer opportunity too.

Go back to Zimbabwe I hear you say. Maybe I will. I haven’t heard that for a while – at least 6 months. I must be keeping good company.

What counts in life is finding opportunity in what looks like a negative space. A 3% downturn is not trouble, believe me! But it is disconcerting. The firms that sit down, and openly talk about what is opening up for them, will thrive.

To refer to the American elections again, I deliberately engaged with Obama-skeptics to find out their objections. They don’t want universal health insurance, presumably because it may cost them a little. My scampering mind screams OPPORTUNITY! Where is Melissa Clark-Reynolds? I don’t know if you are Kiwi, Alex, but Richard will know whom I mean.

Whomever asks the best questions under frustration wins! I’ve also just found Galba Bright’s blog. He has posted today a great heuristic for managing meetings and particularly tricky meetings. I am going to look at that more closely today.

Thanks, Alex. I liked your post. It is closer to the egalitarian world I like (provided I am in charge of course!). I like working with knowledge workers. And BTW, Gen Y really get this. I had a conversation late last night with a colleague’s son who had been deputed by his father to help me with a website. At one point the young man said to me: tell me a little more about your skill set so I know what you will be contributing. Yep, indeed. They hold their own!

Are leaders made by followers?

The first time I encountered this idea, around 25 years ago now, I found it an assault to my classical training as a psychologist.  Over time though, I have come to understand that the question of whether leaders are born or made is the wrong question.  The right question is a sociological and anthropological question:  what role does “leadership” play in organizing society and what are the different ways we use the concept?

At an organizational level, I have become convinced that leadership resides in the followers.  There are times when someone is in the right place at the right time and it all comes together.

The process begins with the people talking to each other in a bounded space, such as an organization.  These people talking together look for a leader, not to tell them what to do, but to represent who and what they want as a kind of shorthand to themselves and to the world.

The day a leader stops being representative of their collective wishes, either because s/he has stopped listening or because s/he no longer is what they want, then the relationship all falls apart and force needs to be used to maintain the position of “leadership”.

I suppose another sociological/anthropological question is the circumstances in which we allow leaders to run away with power and to use force against us.

It has long been agreed in the democratic English speaking world that the essence of good government is replacing leaders in an orderly way.  I wish we could see the same as the standard in business organizations.  The use of force against employees is a sign that something has gone wrong.  Alarm bells should go off.  And HR should be on the scene in a flash trying to understand why the leader believes so little in his or her people that s/he feels the need to bully them.

Young managers often don’t trust their subordinates.  A skill that is rarely talked about is the skill of believing in one’s people and seeing their strengths.

I would love to collaborate with someone on this.   It could make a great 2.0 app.

Agenda for the 21st century: management & leadership

Is it leadership and management ~ or ~ leadership or management?

So many people believe that management and leadership are separate, even antagonistic, activities. But I still believe that the two go hand-in-hand.  Leadership requires good management.  It is important to understand how work is organized and to shape institutions so we can make work easier, more fun and more productive.

The strategic plan for positive psychology

I’ve just tracked back to Martin Seligman’s original plans to develop critical mass for positive psychology.  It is an excellent case study of organizational leadership.  This paper was published at the outset.  It describes the inputs, outputs and processes needed to create a successful institution.  We can see the results for ourselves.

Competent positive leadership is being called for on many fronts

I couldn’t help thinking of the parallels in the Executive Summary and Barack Obama’s speeches.

“Entering a new millennium, we face a historical choice. Left alone on the pinnacle of economic and political leadership, the United States can continue to increase its material wealth while ignoring the human needs of its people and that of the rest of the planet. Such a course is likely to lead to increasing selfishness, alienation between the more and the less fortunate, and eventually to chaos and despair.

At this juncture the social and behavioral sciences can play an enormously important role. They can articulate a vision of the good life that is empirically sound while being understandable and attractive. They can show what actions lead to well being, to positive individuals, and to flourishing community. Psychology should be able to help document what kind of families result in the healthiest children, what work environments support the greatest satisfaction among workers, what policies result in the strongest civic commitment.

Yet we have scant knowledge of what makes life worth living. Psychology has come to understand quite a bit about how people survive and endure under conditions of adversity. But we know very little about how normal people flourish under more benign conditions.  .  .”

We won’t get a positive world without positive competent management too

Positive psychology is our zeitgeist.  We want a more positive world.  That doesn’t mean a “happy clappy” world. It means a competent world where we address our differences vigorously, yet with thought and compassion.

Positive psychology is an example of positive competent management

The positive psychology movement is been a masterful piece of strategic management.  Study it to see the merging of leadership and management!

Employees care!

I would be more productive if I had a different boss?

Response

Percentage

No

15.91 %

Yes

40.91 %

Don’t Know

9.09 %

Sometimes I feel that way

27.27 %

Do not Care

2.27 %

N/A

4.55 %

Interesting data from Zimbabwe. Only 1 out of 50 do not care whether or not they would be more productive with another boss.