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As you are aware Change is all about people, and it starts with us. This is an exploration of some of the ideas and issues that I've encountered along the way. I've created this also to enable a dialogue to begin around this subject and hopefully produce a forum where we can all learn something.

Who are you… It’s all about culture

November 13th, 2014

IMG_0215.JPGI watched a fascinating program made by the artist, Grayson Perry, who asked the question “Who are you?” It is definitely worth watching, not only for the art but also for the questions he poses and the answers he uncovers. He explores with Ulster loyalists what being British means to them, why some deaf people feel theirs is a cultural issue rather than a medical one and why some Big Beautiful Women find if they can’ change their bodies to conform with society’s views of what is beautiful, they can change how they see themselves.

It made me wonder how I would label myself. What are the keys to my identity? I’m a middle aged, white Englishman who has had a solidly middle class upbringing in the south of England. I am a father of three, who was a husband for some 25 years, an accountant by training, a ‘lapsed’ Catholic, and a businessman. By choice, I’m a walker, a rugby fan (“Come on you Quins!), a music lover and whisky drinker. But which of these labels define me or am I the sum total of this patchwork? Some how, I don’t feel these capture my essence.

These days everyone from Stuart Lancaster down is talking about the importance and power of culture. However, most businesses are far better at using the word than understanding it or influencing it positively. The culture of a business is how they go about doing business, what is and isn’t acceptable, what is valued and measured. It is captured in the stories that are repeated in the business and about it. It isn’t what the bosses would like it to be, or pretend it to be, it is what they accept and what they do. Changing the culture is like trying to capture air. To do this you have to change what you do and how you do it; it takes time and focus. It takes repetition. There is no ‘quick fix’ for cultural ‘engineering’, but it is a huge and powerful weapon, once forged.

There are many paths

November 10th, 2014

Portrait-Artist I was watching a program on Sky Arts called ‘Portrait Artist of the Year’, which is well worth a watch. One of the most fascinating aspects of the competition, whereby artists must paint a portrait in 4 hours, is the sheer variety of ways in which they approach their goal.  Some sketch an initial outline in pencil, some quasi-sketch it with a paint brush, still others paint the entire canvas a solid colour first or use a palette knife instead of brushes. Some use a iPhone or iPad to help them compose or review their composition.  It is extraordinary to watch and some of the talent on view is fabulous. 

This is a wonderful example of both people’s creativity and individuality.  If you allow people to express themselves like this, they will find many ways to deliver what you or your customer wants, but it is very easy (and also sometimes appropriate) to drop into the “We do it this way..”  This can offer advantages but it is important to realise that it is easy to become stale and and allowing people to express themselves stimulates them and encourages them to bring more of themselves to bear on the job. 

Being positive isn’t enough

November 3rd, 2014

WoopAbout 25 years ago I was introduced to the whole affirmation, visualisation and positive thinking methods and I spent a lot of time and energy investigating them. In the end I concluded that they didn’t really work, at least, they didn’t work for me. Today I read an article in the Harvard Business Review, by Gabriele Oettingen, a professor of psychology at New York University and the University of Hamburg.  She has used scientific rigour and come to the same conclusion. 

However, she has helpfully come up with something that she can show works.  It is called WOOP — Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan.  It works by first being clear about what you want, then exploring the results of achieving that wish.  You then identify the various likely obstacles and then plan how you can over come or neutralise them.  This is not difficult and similar to some work I do with my clients but it is worth exploring and experimenting with.

Challenging

October 31st, 2014

I had an interesting little personal experience.  As regular readers will know, I’m not only a keen walker but on a ‘getting in shape’ challenge at present.  So, as yesterday looked like being a perfect autumn day, I decided I’d take myself off for a walk.  I thought I’d step things up a bit and do a bigger walk.  This one turned out to be 14.5 miles and over 4,000 ft climbed.  I have done this length before but it was longer than I normally do and I caught myself feeling just a little daunted by the challenge as I set off.  Whilst I ‘knew’ I could do it… what if it was longer than I felt up to once I was halfway round and other silly thoughts.  The reality and details of this are trivial but the apprehension, though fleeting was there.  It made me think about how we react when facing challenges.  A bit of me wanted some wriggle room, a way out if I didn’t ‘feel’ like it.  However, what got me round was the knowledge that I was the only one who could help and I was entirely reliant on my own resources to get home.  Obviously different people have different thresholds for trying something new or difficult, but once you have decided to challenge them, knowing how long to leave them to it is a key element of helping them grow.  It is very similar to the issues parents face when watching a child try something for the first time, if you rush in and rescue them too soon, you stop them growing up.

Food for thought… and ACTION!

October 28th, 2014

Here is a video that is well worth sharing, regardless of any editorial comment by me!  Please watch it and act if you think that is worthy of action, click HERE and share it.

Apart from it’s global significance this video shows a very powerful method of problem solving and decision making.  The thing that this shows, is you don’t need to wait to know all the facts to make a good decision.  By asking some apparently simple questions, you can extrapolate consequences and ask “Which one can we best live with?”  The other clever thing that he does is remove the emotion from the issue under question.

There’s always another way to do things…

October 27th, 2014

imageI had an interesting personal lesson over the weekend.  I was doing a drive I know very well, I have doneit every other week for a number of years now.  I don’t have to think about navigation, though I occasionally still use my satnav to advise on traffic conditions.  This weekend I did the drive again but hit a jam outside Haywards Heath.  I was on a roundabout just outside the town and saw the traffic ahead wasn’t moving.  I didn’t want to be late so I decided to chance my arm and peeled off into the unknown.  I was surprised to see my ultimate destination also signposted.  I continued to follow these signs whilst apparently driving south rather than east.  At one point, my satnav (which ironically I had updated to the ‘latest’ map the day before Sad smile) told me I was not even on a road!  I continued to emerge on the other side of the town at another new roundabout.  The new route was longer but completely avoided the town centre and its delays.  It was a salutary lesson that even when you think you know the best way to do something, there is always another way that might be better if you take the time to explore.

I wonder how often in your life or your work there might be another, better way of doing things?  If you never entertain the thought, it is certain you will never find it.  Allowing yourself (and others) to potentially make mistakes but explore, you at least have the chance to find out.  This way you either prove your way is still the best, or have the chance to modify it. Also, giving others the chance to learn by doing is the best way to instil lessons.

The nail that sticks out..

October 21st, 2014

nail sticking outThis part of the world is very popular with weekend cyclists who flock here to both enjoy the countryside and the sections of the Olympic cycle route.  We get all sorts from the mud spattered off-roaders, the grey haired gentlemen who are sensibly not trashing their knees by running, to the lycra clad racing fraternity.  One thing I noticed a lot recently is a sub-set of the latter variety clad entirely in black.  The lanes here often have high banks and what with the overhanging trees are pretty gloomy even in the middle of the day.  This means our black clad brethren are rather hard to see.  The second of so difference it takes to spot them might be the difference between an accident and safety. 

This observation got me pondering on the value of standing out.  Particularly in certain cultures, it is considered unsafe to stand out from the common herd.  The Japanese even have a proverb that covers this, Deru kugi wa utareru, which translates as “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down”.  However, sometimes you have to be different from your background if you want people to notice you, and it is hard to pay attention to someone or something you don’t even notice.  So if you are attempting to lead from the middle of the pack, or if you are a ‘me too’ competitor in a crowded market place, you need to be brave, put on your pink lycra outfit and dare to be different.  Speak out and tell people what you really see and think to help them see things from a different perspective.  It only takes one brave voice to say “The emperor has no clothes” to enable others to see this too, and that is the beginning of the change, seeing the problem.

Big Brother and why we should care

October 14th, 2014

Post the Snowden affair we discovered just how much our governments were spying on us.  We have heard about the iCloud leaks and various big companies who have had their databases hacked, so security is very much in the news.  People are talking about using Tor to surf the net, and phones are being sold & developed  on the basis that they are less susceptible to government  spying.  At the same time we have the threat posed by organisations like Isis and many reasonable people will think “We need to protect ourselves from these kind of threats.”  In fact, I caught myself thinking something very similar the other day.  Today I came across this video, from Glen Greenwald, which is one the TED talks.

He certainly makes a good case for resisting this kind of intrusion, but it also got me thinking.  One of my main jobs is to facilitate meetings which are designed to find the best solution to serious problems.  When there are strong leaders present people naturally tend to censor their opinions to avoid criticism and appearing stupid.  Instead of sharing their insights or concerns, they will remain silent.  However, the very purpose of meetings is (or at least should be) to mine the wisdom and collective knowledge of all present, so putting people in a place where they self-censor is self-defeating.  Using an external facilitator is one way to help mitigate this risk.  There are also various tools including modern technology that enables people to vote and input anonymously that can help counter this tendency.

We all know people who are ‘out spoken’, and that phrase tends to carry an implicit judgement, but it takes a brave man to just bluntly say what they think.   Those opinions may or not be correct, but once in the open they can be explored and addressed and consensus built upon them.

I don’t want terrorists killing innocent people, but neither do I want to live in a country that changes itself into the kind of oppressive state we started resisting in order to protect me.

Change lessons from the campaign to prevent FGM

October 10th, 2014

FGMI listened to an interesting article today talking about the British government’s decision to spend £35m to help counter Female Genital Mutilation.  They were interviewing Lynne Featherstone, Minister for International Development and a woman called Nimco Ali who suffered this. They were talking about a campaign that is attempting to change the culture in Africa, where some 30 million girls are at risk, and thus help the 20,000 UK girls in the same position.  Accepting this is a huge injustice to all young girls, it was the language they used that interested me.  Nimco said “If they are never spoken to, just talked about and talked at”   referring to the African girls and women, however the same is true of any group you are trying to influence.  If you don’t listen to them, why should they listen to you?!?

fGM CHANGELyn Featherstone talked about the importance of shifting behaviour which as to start with the realisation of that this is not a good thing for them or their daughters.  So first comes information, then awareness, then listening, then change.  She made the point that the laws that are already in place will make little difference until these steps are taken.  The other key part of the strategy was getting this change championed by women.  You have to have allies / champions within the group you wish to change in order to make progress.

The other element is getting this practice reframed from a cultural thing to one of violence against women, from being the norm to being unacceptable.  I thought one very good example was Chinese foot-binding which at one time was considered a thing of beauty, which became seen as a form of torture.

There are lessons here which are closer to our homes and work places.

 

 

Resources:

  1. http://www.thegirlgeneration.org/
  2. http://www.dofeve.org/

Changing times, changing me

October 7th, 2014

weigh in 2I wrote a month ago about my new regime.  I was reflecting on it today; I began when I came back from holiday in May and saw my photos.  I thought, “I don’t want to see any more pictures where I sport a Buddha-like belly!” and, thanks to my daughter started to use a bit of software to track what I did and ate.  We all know that measurement is a useful tool and for someone who has never had to worry about calories, I am afraid I discovered I was pretty uninformed about where they hid.   One key to my strategy was I didn’t want to find a new diet which magically made me thin; I needed to find a new balance point that I could maintain for the long haul.  I knew that I didn’t want to remove all those little treats we all enjoy, if I was miserable it was only a matter of time before I succumbed.  So it went in for a very slow and gentle method, which was a mixture of measuring, moderation and exercise.  I have lost around a pound a week over this period despite going on holiday, and am within 2 pounds of my original goal weight.  Clothes fit better and I am fitter too.

 

The points worthy of note if you are a business reader, rather than a slimmer, are these:-

  1. Measure where you are and your progress towards your goal
  2. Don’t be overly aggressive in your targets, real life will always intervene and blow you off track; pick something you have the resources to sustain
  3. Invest in the tools and resources you need to succeed
  4. Celebrate and enjoy your small achievements
  5. Change your life (work) style to conform with your new goals