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
I have long been a fan and admirer of Andy Murray, so naturally I was delighted for him when he recently reached the pinnacle of his sport by being crowned the world’s number one-ranked male tennis player. Amazing! Perhaps even more amazing when we reflect on the fact that he comes from a small town (Dunblane) in a country (Scotland) with practically no history to speak of in the game of tennis. His journey to get to the top has been far from easy. He has played in an era which has been dominated by three other great players, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, an era that most tennis experts agree has been the most highly contested period of excellence in the men’s game – ever!
And here he now stands. On top of the world.
So, what next? Well, the only certain thing about being world number one is that the day
will come when you will no longer be world number one. Sorry to introduce such a note of pessimism to proceedings, but that is the stark reality. It’s a lonely place being out on your own. Not everyone has enjoyed it, and not everyone has coped well with it. Andre Agassi has described how miserable it made him, and John McEnroe found it lonely and exposed. He once said, “You’re out there on your own island, and you feel like you’re disengaged, not only with the rest of the world, but the rest of your competitors, some of them friends.”
This is similar to how many CEOs, Business Owners and Leaders describe the feeling of being at the top, or out in front of their organisations and companies. It can be a lonely place. Continue reading
If, as is reported, as many as one third of U.S. companies have abandoned the traditional appraisal system (ref:The Performance Management Revolution), and the signs are that more and more are joining the revolution, what is the future of performance management? How will companies ensure that people do what is expected of them in the future? How will managers know who’s good and who’s not? How will they advise on development, or decide who to sack and replace?
Major players such as Dell, Microsoft and IBM, as well as previous champions of the
forced ranking system such as GE, are at the vanguard of new approaches to retaining and developing talent. These companies are responding to many issues and criticisms which have been levelled at traditional performance management systems. In some organisations they have become enormous consumers of people’s time. With the move to
flatter organisational structures and virtual or globally dispersed teams, supervisors have had to contend with larger and larger teams. The answer to this problem in some companies has been to turn the job of performance management over to ‘specialist’ people managers, who do little else other than manage the entire cycle, quarter after quarter. Ranking, levelling, forced distributions, identifying rising stars, identifying laggards, assessing delivery against stretch targets, calculating the distribution of the bonus pot, and starting the whole cycle again. This has become an industry in its own right, and one that delivers no core benefit to the customer or the shareholder.
A number of factors have played a part in driving the shift we are now seeing. Continue reading
You could be excused for wondering whether leadership has gone out of fashion right now. Whether it be politics, business or sport, wherever you look, there appears to be a vacuum at the top, and much discrediting of those leaders who remain.
What could be going on? Well, I think one of the problems is that we are mixed up about
what we want from our leaders. Perhaps we expect too much of them. Should they have all the answers? Should they be all-seeing and all-hearing? Is it reasonable to expect them to set strategy, direction, plan, implement, review, report and make key decisions, as well as dispense wisdom to all who seek it? Of course not. But, despite recognising this as impractical, and even unhealthy, as a society we are still encouraged to demand unequivocal and unwavering surety from our leaders.
At this time, perhaps more than at any time in the past, we need a different set of skills from our leaders. We live in a VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world where knowledge is distributed more widely than ever, where more information is instantly available than at any time in history, yet despite all that information, decision-making has never been more difficult. Those who come out of the charismatic ‘all-knowing’ school of leadership present us with dangers. Continue reading
People do not go out of their way to seek data that contradicts their existing beliefs. On the contrary, they will select any data they find that supports existing assumptions. We may like to believe that we are open to having our minds changed, but the reality is that we are quite fixed when it comes to our mental malleability.
Evidence for this assertion is being played out daily on our radios and televisions, as people debate the pros and cons of Brexit. There is an uncanny collective agreement amongst the public that they do not get enough facts to help them arrive at a logical and balanced position. We hear this refrain in panel discussions, question time and vox pops. “How are we supposed to know what the truth is? One lot give us a load of statistics, and then the other lot come along and tell us that is all wrong and hit us with another load of statistics.”
I watched one such programme recently, where a member of the public made exactly this
point. He levelled his accusation at one of the ‘experts’ on the panel. His complaint centred around the costs of running the EU along with an assertion that Britain should not be run by unelected bureaucrats. The expert spent a reasonable amount of time patiently explaining the facts. He explained that calling all of the EU machine unelected was not accurate. He pointed out that the EU Parliament, which is made up of elected national representatives, does in fact have a veto over recommendations put forward by the EU Commission. And that the EU Council is also made up of one member from each state in the EU, each of whom will have been elected as part of their home nation’s general elections. This was all delivered in a tone of neutrality, and with a genuine desire to help alleviate concerns and misunderstandings. At the end, the person who had raised the original issue was asked if the information provided had helped. His response was not positive. Exasperated, he accused the ‘expert’ of simply adding to the confusion and misconceptions, and “just who was he supposed to believe?”
I suspect the data provided Continue reading
The world is faced with enormous challenges, and we need creativity and innovation more than ever. Whether today’s focus is on climate change, terrorism, economic collapse or disease, the ‘old-world’ thinking that got us here will not be good enough to lead us to where we need to get to.
No one can dispute that the growth of the internet and the explosion of personal device ownership has made available more data to more people in the space of just a few short years than was ever available in the history of humanity. The trouble is that knowledge search algorithms generally assume that volume is good. The more something is searched for, the more privileged it becomes. The information at the top of the list does not reflect quality, it reflects desirability. And, it fosters laziness. Personalisation ensures that we are presented with our ‘favourites’, the things we have ‘said we enjoy’ in the past. Despite the diversity of knowledge that is potentially available, the interfaces through which we access information, ironically, narrows our universe.
Even in the corridors Continue reading
Liberté, égalité, fraternité
Hands up if you are more scared this week than last? Hands up if you believe you are more likely to be the victim of a terrorist atrocity than you were before the Russian airliner fell from the sky? Or the killings in Paris? I see a fair few hands raised. I’m guessing that your hands are not raised having quickly calculated the complex statistical probability associated with being mixed up in such occurrences. More likely, it is coming from something in your gut, or in your heart. Somewhere far away from cognitive reason and rationality.
And, of course, that is what terror intends. To switch people off from reason, rationality, logic and constructive discourse, and switch on our more primal decision-making systems. “I feel it in my water. In my gut. I can smell it. My heart is ruling my head”. Believer v Non-Believer. Black v White. Love v Hate. For v Against. Polarisation, simplification. No room for the grey. Choose your side.
Operating in a state of fear is commonplace. Workers fear for their jobs, their livelihoods, and being able to fend for their families. Patients fear the worst when waiting their medical results. City traders fear the flashing lights on the trading board when they glow red for what it might be about to signal. Could this be another crash in global markets?
Fear serves a useful evolutionary function. It kept our ancestors alive, and we have their fear to thank for us being here today. Unfortunately it is the enemy of progress. It stunts creativity, blocks new ways of thinking. Neuroscience shows quite clearly that, when the fear system in the brain is active, exploratory activity is turned off. In other words we stop looking for new ways to solve problems. We resort to what we know worked in our evolutionary past. We either cower and hide and hope the danger passes, we flee and turn our backs on the problem, or we retaliate with force and hope to win with might. Continue reading
Perhaps ‘the’ most tantalising allure of any advancement in engineering or technology through the ages has been the promise of saving us time. Cars, trains and planes certainly get us places faster than horses ever did. Bridges and tunnels allow us to take short-cuts over rivers and through mountains, saving us hours. Advances in IT and robotics mean that tasks previously handled manually have been automated with exponential levels of increased productivity.
Why, with so much technology and time-saving gadgetry at our fingertips, do people still present at coaching sessions with issues and concerns about their ability to manage their time? After all, our lives have never appeared to be more organised ~ or perhaps I should say digitised! More and more of us are hooked up to the Net from morning to night.
Our smartphones and tablets wake us up, we check our diary for appointments and read our messages before getting out of bed. We catch up on missed shows on iPlayer or Stitcher while we commute to work. We juggle collaborating on Sharepoint, with watching company Webcasts, while occasionally dipping into our personal Instagram, Twitter or WhatsApp accounts. We may even check in on Foursquare while grabbing lunch, and be just as likely to choose where to go by WiFi availability as the quality of the food. On the way home we might burn some carbs, having gained access with our fingerprint or iris, which are digitised on the gym’s customer database. We immediately wire ourselves up to the screens on the machines so as to catch up on news, or check Facebook activity. And when we get home, after a microwaved dinner, and a quick skype chat with your mum, our relaxation and wind down time may well include logging on remotely to your work’s email to ‘finish off’ a few things, and give yourself a fighting chance of making a clean start on things again in the morning (fat chance!).
“I believe this passionately: that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out if it.” ~ Ken Robinson
We live in a world that favours conformity over diversity, despite the fact that no two people are the same. I guess we do this because it seems easier. How could we build a health system, prison system or education system individually tailored to the needs of each and every person who passes through it? That would be impossible wouldn’t it? Well, yes, at the overall organization and administration level that is undoubtedly true, but what about at the point of delivery? Is it really impossible to see each recipient of education, health care or custodial reform as individuals, with different needs and unique histories?
Enjoy this immensely funny, but deadly serious, talk by Sir Ken Robinson, as he warns against the dangers of an education system that favours compliance over individuality, standardisation over creativity.
We need curiosity for learning and for human growth. Intelligence is not simply measured by how many facts you know, but about asking great questions, being endlessly curious and making, breaking and re-creating neural connections, constantly, even into old age. A great education system will provoke, stimulate, challenge and harness people’s innate curiosity.
Creativity is being stifled in far too many of our education regimes around the world. It is, after all, what drives human evolution and cultural development. It is what has made our society what it is today. We are the beneficiaries of our audacious and creative ancestors who dared to dream big, gifting us our transport systems, our medicines, our computers and communication networks, our architecture and our libraries of information. Who will deliver the next generation of dreams?
Unfortunately, and too often, our systems drive cultures of compliance, which ignore the value of the individual in favour of the ‘hollow success’ of the system. Hollow, because no system can be deemed successful, unless the people it is intended to serve are thriving and benefiting from how it is being run. We treat education like an industrial process which can be tweaked and tuned till it is operating like a well-oiled machine. But education is a about humans, individual people, and not about the system.
It does not have to be this way. The countries of northern Europe have been daring to do things differently for some time. Robinson, in his talk, points out that Finland has no standardisation in its schools. They individualise learning, attribute high status to the teaching profession and have no pupil drop-out rate. The Finns are regarded as having one of, if not, the best education system in the world, yet their pupils do not start school until the age of 7, and are not obsessed with exams and standards. Pupils do not sit any formal exams until the age of 16. And it is not only in education that they lead the way. Finland and Sweden can measure the number of under-18s that it hands out custodial sentences to each year on the fingers of one hand. They prefer to deal with young offenders individually by providing treatment, rehabilitation and support, rather than throwing them into the criminal justice system, where they become a statistic and are much more likely to re-offend after release.
Like the rare flowering seen in Death Valley after occasional rainfall, dormant talent can
be reinvigorated. We just need to create the right climate and conditions, and focus on nurturing individual creativity and curiosity. Leaders in education, and in all of our major institutions responsible for harnessing young people’s talent, need to practise less command and control and more climate control.
About the author: Louis Collins enables people to operate more successfully. You may be struggling to implement corporate strategy, you may want to get more productivity out of yourself or your teams but don’t know where to start, or you may not be having as effective conversations as you could be. I will work with you to enable you to formulate more effective ways of leading, to raise awareness of blockers to successful ways of working, and ultimately to help you and your managers to lead more successfully.
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