May the Best Ideas Win

Does it matter who has the best ideas?  As long as we get to the best solution why should we care who thought of it?  This seems starkly reasonable.  If you were in a group, and unfortunate enough to find yourselves in a life or death situation, and someone (perhaps someone you don’t much care for) comes up with a plan that looks like it has a good chance of saving everyone, I presume you wouldn’t hold out for a better plan from someone else that you like better?
When people make observations on the state of politics around the world these days, one word that comes up over and over again is ‘polarised’.  Our politics, our societies and our debates are becoming ever more polarised. Extreme stances are being taken around fixed positions and there appears to be little appetite for compromise, let alone collaboration.
All sound evidence suggests that breakthroughs in thinking come from people sharing ideas and building upon each other’s contributions. Just look at the progress of ideas within science, where painstaking research and gathering of data to refute, or confirm previously held theories is the life-blood of the discipline.
Retreating into smaller, like-minded, groupings does not serve advancement of ideas well.  Fear and mistrust causes people to seek out their own tribe and be suspicious of ‘others’, and, while it may provide short-term safety and comfort, the security blanket of familiarity does not encourage exploration and discovery.

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Can Emotion Recognition be Taught?

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Being able to accurately process emotional cues from others is a critical ability that underpins effective and appropriate interpersonal relationships.  If we misread signals, or miss cues from others altogether, it can lead to some embarrassing and uncomfortable moments.  We are neurologically wired to scan the faces and body language of others in our social groups to help us determine emotional states, providing us with clear survival value. Detecting anger or fear is useful, not least in helping us avoid getting too close to danger or making situations worse, while being able to identify happiness or joy in others is key to establishing or enhancing positive connections and initiating relationships.

Some recent studies on emotion recognition have concluded that individuals with conduct disorders (CD) and antisocial behaviours (ASB) are significantly worse at recognising emotional signals associated with sadness, disgust, anger and fear, relative to controls.

source: http://sse.royalsociety.org/ source: http://sse.royalsociety.org/

It perhaps wouldn’t come as…

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Get Vulnerable and Get Curious.

I accept that my perception of what is going on the world is tinted by the lens through which I find myself viewing it.  Brexit, Trump, Knife Crime, The Wall, Gaza. The daily menu for rumination is endless.  But what worries me most are the reactions I see and hear around me; in the street, on the train, in the barbershop, on radio phone-ins, and on social media. People sound angry. Angrier, it feels to me, than just a few short years ago.  Not just a good old-fashioned straightforward type of anger. The anger that wells up in our chest when we observe an injustice only to dissipate soon after.  No, the current anger that is milling around among us is more impatient, more intolerant and much more pervasive.

What’s going on?  We hear the cry around us all the time for greater certainty.  I hear it everywhere.  People demand answers and they want them now. They want decisions and they don’t understand why decisions are not being made, now. They have had enough of politicians, they have dismissed experts, indeed they feel that the whole ‘establishment’ (whatever that actually is) has let them down and they have simply had enough.

This is unfortunate timing, as we are living in an era that is arguably the most volatile, uncertain, ambiguous and complex period in the history of the planet.  The term VUCA has been coined specifically to capture this and has become something of a trendy managerial acronym.  If there was ever a time when we humans need the capacity to live with, and cope with, VUCA conditions, then this is it.

image by Alexey Kljatov // creative commons

But this growing intolerance is not happening simply by chance or because the world has hit a particular high water mark of VUCA. It appears to me to be more sinister than that.  It is being fueled by politicians and governments, ably supported by elements of the media, to generate populism and simplistic thinking.   Arguments are reduced to ‘Yes versus No”. “Us versus Them”. “Right versus Left”. Social media often gets blamed for causing shallow analysis and lack of critical thinking, and I have some sympathy with that view. But, let’s be clear, social media has exaggerated and amplified things, it has not created the problem. When we are engaged in our social bubbles we get fed more of what we already believe. Information comes to us, not as conversations with arguments and rationale, but as  soundbites, as snippets, as shock headlines. We become more and more lazy in the way we consume data. Continue reading

Slow Down, you Move too Fast

I have arrived at the conclusion that as humans become ever more globally ‘connected’ in the digitally networked world, they are becoming alarmingly ‘disconnected’ and isolated on a personal level. While access to data has never been so immediately accessible, the quality of our conversations, the incisiveness of our problem solving, and our collective ability to focus on what really matters, and reach universal agreements on what actually needs to be done, are all in sharp decline.
Six years have passed since I wrote this piece. It was brought back to my attention this week by someone, and I decided I didn’t need to update a single word.

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“Slow Down, you Move too Fast”… so go the wise words of Simon & Garfunkel’s “59th Street Bridge Song” ……

Many people are inclined to jump to action rather quickly.  After all, isn’t this what people feel they are being paid for? To make decisions, to be decisive, to act !

Acting, in my experience, is rarely the biggest problem we face within our boardrooms, executive groups and operational teams. Our businesses and organisations are replete with people who plan, manage tasks, monitor activities, schedule, organise and control. I don’t sense that we need to build more skill in these areas.

The bigger challenges that face our business leaders are in the quality of conversations they undertake, their depth of problem analyses, and their ability to reach universal agreements on what actually needs to be done to bring about the major changes that will transform our businesses and organisations to turnaround…

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Are we ready for the Future?

Are we failing our children by what is taught at school?  How much has the basic curriculum changed in the last 30 years?  Are our children still having to endure an education program designed for the 20th Century?  I believe so.

credit: Inc.com

There is little evidence that governments around the world have really got to grips with what is happening right underneath their noses.  It is perhaps little wonder, as the politicians and leaders of our states, institutions and corporations are, almost exclusively, products of the 20th Century.

The steady spread of computers and mobile devices that we have become used to over the past twenty years has lulled the baby-boomers into a complacency. A state of believing that this pace will continue, and that they, as the first generation to really get to grips with the IT revolution, have a handle on it and can even teach the youngsters a thing or two about programming or big data. Continue reading

Spark Inside

This blog has been copied from a blog written by Jack Merritt on The Exceptionals, an organisation that helps businesses employ ex-offenders by connecting them with relevant organisations who provide training, recruitment and ongoing support.  

“Sometimes when we talk about prisoners and prison, we forget that we’re talking about people. These are parents, siblings, children.” – Baillie Aaron, Spark Inside Founder and CEO

Spark Inside Founder Baillie Aaron: ‘Why we need to rethink England’s prison system.”

“Spark Inside’s work is vital and unique. It is the global pioneer in offering life coaching to young people in prison, enabling those facing the most significant life obstacles to have more fulfilling, purpose-driven futures. Spark Inside provides that rare antidote in today’s complex criminal justice climate: hope.” – Rt. Hon. David Lammy MP, Member of Parliament for Tottenham

According to Spark Inside, prison doesn’t work, because it isn’t effective in reducing crime. Although 97% of prisoners say they want to leave crime behind, 49% will go on to reoffend within one year. This figure increases to 65% for 15-18 year olds. Spark Inside wants to see people leaving prison break this cycle of reoffending. Founded by Baillie Aaron in 2012, Spark Inside aims to bring about a criminal justice system which prioritises rehabilitation.

How do they plan on doing this? Through two innovative and effective coaching interventions.

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You’ve got 8 seconds to get my attention!

“The average attention of a “millenial” is 8 seconds”.

Who said so?  Well, a “millenial” of course!  Not just any “millenial”.  This attention-grabbing claim was made by an impressive young man who was a presenter at a conference I attended this week in London.  Billed as a ‘disruptor’, (credit: Ilias Vartholomaios, Co-Founder of Owiwi) he spoke about the realities that those of us who identify with the 20th Century (I’m one) will have to come to terms with as we live out the remainder of our lives in the 21st.

Young people born after 1995 have not yet become part of the mainstream workforce. He informed us that, by the time they reach the age of 21 they will have spent (on average) 10,000 hours playing online games. As a comparator, that is pretty much the same amount of time an average US student will spend in high school between fifth grade and graduation, assuming a perfect attendance record.

So what?  Continue reading

The Power of Deep Democracy

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I recently experienced my first Deep Democracy workshop as a participant and it was a real eye-opener.  It is simple yet powerful, and has the potential to create real transformation, not just routine actions for improvement. It was born out of  South Africa’s transformation from apartheid to democracy, and is used by leaders and facilitators from all walks of life. The process enables voices to be heard that are often left unheard, and mines the inherent wisdom hidden within the system by resolving tension and conflict.  (see Deep Democracy).

The process invites people to step into different perspectives or roles, some of which they may not be in agreement with.  The conversations that emerge from these different perspectives are illuminating. New information is surfaced, new possibilities emerge and collective wisdom that has been buried within the system is given an opportunity to reveal itself.

At a time when people all around the world are questioning what is real, what is true and what is fake news, the very meaning of democracy is under challenge. Who runs things? Is it the politicians?  What is the role of the media? And what about the technology giants, such as Facebook, Google and Amazon?  Where do we go to seek our answers and who can we rely on to reveal the truth about what is most important for us?  Continue reading

Don’t give me bad news

A recent discussion with a client about a business problem they were facing prompted me to dig out this blog post that I wrote back in 2012. It would appear that the problems organisations face as a result of people ‘avoiding’ difficult conversations is as rife as ever. I should not be surprised. People do not like giving or hearing difficult messages, and even those who know that to be true, often lack the skills required to overcome their natural instinct to ‘avoid’, ‘deflect’, ‘normalise’ and ‘tolerate’ the unacceptable. More work is needed in this vital area to raise capability.

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Nancy Kline in her superb book Time to Think describes a conversation with a senior civil servant whose department was going through wave after wave of changes to the way work was done and how things were structured. When asked how his managers were coping  with all of this, he responded, ‘I have no idea.  I don’t ask them.’  When asked ‘Why?’, he said, ‘They might tell me. We couldn’t have that.’  As Nancy goes on to explain, what he was really saying was thathe couldn’t handle that”.

source http://www.biffsocko.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/ignore.JPG

How common is it for managers to shy away from facing up to the reality of what is going on around them, particularly when it might involve a face-to-face conversation with someone?  Very common, in my experience.   Confronting bad news, delivering home truths, providing feedback on performance, addressing inappropriate behaviour, or challenging resistance to change.  All…

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Who Do You Think You Are?

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“Dad! Dad! Can I be an astronaut?”

“Don’t be stupid son. You come from Doncaster.” ~ Steve McDermott

Last month I published a post in the wake of the killings in Paris called Hands up if you’re scared. The thrust of the piece was about fear, and the natural (and adaptive) reactions we have to dangerous situations. It was also about the exploitation of that fear, by both terrorists and political hawks.

In addition to those external voices of doom, we also have to be on our guard against our own internal enemy. The voice from within plays into the hands of the arguments of external fear-mongers. Many people have studied and written about the many forms our internal voice takes. Sometimes we can think of it as our conscience, our guide, our fairy godmother, looking out for us and keeping us on the straight and narrow. Or it may manifest…

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