Friday, June 05, 2020

Join me for Transcending The Crisis

You likely know someone who could use some help handling the unknown, unknowns confronting us in every direction right now. If this stuff excites you, you will probably come out of 2020 in a happy place. But if it scares you, you need exactly the kind of support Transcending The Crisis (a free online conference on June 19) will equip you with.

We are following up on the Leadership Through & Beyond The Crisis event held last month with a series of deep dives into the subjects raised: Transcending The Crisis.

I'll be on screen in conversation about my approach: The Responsive Organisation - how to Be Change vs trying to Do Change - and expanding on some of the concepts and frameworks for response shared in recent posts such as:

I would love for you to be there and to share with everyone you know who we could help find their happy place.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

The North Star is clearer than ever - Learn, Learn, Learn

There is a clear new goal for every organisation - a North Star of brilliant clarity.

The obscuring clouds of the old normal have been blown away by the Context Shock of Covid19 and that has revealed a simple truth: In the Chaotic-to-Complexity reality of the next two years, as my good friend Rory Yates put it, organisations that learn the most will win.

The route ahead will emerge from the weak signals of the unknown unknowns - the very things that what you think you know, will blind you to. You can never be an expert in the new. The only way you can get a handle on chaos (or seek to understand complexity) is to find ways to learn from it. Dave Snowden's probe-sense-respond in Complexity or act-sense-respond in Chaos, for example.

As we learn we can reimagine our place in what we discover.

First apply some constraints - a framework in which to learn. The two essential constraints on a global scale are those defined by Doughnut Economics (follow that link for an interactive illustration) and activated in the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. The upper constraint is the planet's capability to support us and the lower constraint is minimum standards for humanity re rights, education, food, shelter etc. The space between (the ring of the Doughnut) is A Safe And Just Space For Humanity.

My own Planet Experience framework illustrates how this can be good for the planet, good for people and good for profit. In my view it is THE business superpower of the next 20 years.

Your North Star is therefore to learn as much as you can within the constraints of making a positive contribution to an economy which has, as its purpose, not growing GDP or y-o-y growth, but the creation of a Safe and Just Space for Humanity.

It's important in the conditions we face - of multiple unknowable outcomes - to acknowledge the decision makers role is now to be the steward of an ecological system rather than the operator of a machine. Decision makers must embark on that learning journey now.

There will be specific stocks and flows in the systems of your business which allow you to add energy or seek to dampen feedback loops towards unique and valuable contributions to the Safe And Just Space. 

Applying these become your guide to how you organise, the kpis that matter most to you, how you plan, how you set targets and how you describe success. Because it's not just the amount you can learn, but how able you are to respond at pace to what you learn - how you act on the insight - that really matters.

This focus on learning was always valuable and a core part of the CX-led businesses that now dominate the planet. Amazon is not only brilliant at gathering insight, it is designed to learn from that insight. It's a learning organisation first.

Today - in a period of Context Shock, it is even more important to become a Learning First organisation - to make Learning your north star. This is not a time to make plans like you used to make plans. This is not a time to set targets like you used to set targets. This is not a time to describe success like you used to describe success. That way leads backwards.

To be a learning organisation is to make your journey towards The Responsive Organisation; Always learning from change and acting on it with rapid iterative, insight-led ways of working, lesson-seeking, value-focused people and the organisational antifragility to handle the no-normal ambiguity of the world we find ourselves in.

Further Reading:

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Being Change: A Responsive Organisation Needs Responsive People

Over the last series of posts I have illustrated the need to become, and the benefits of, The Responsive Organisation.
I have drilled into how to identify and how to respond to the Context Shocks from which a Responsive Organisation can benefit. I have provided a guide to developing and scaling its capability to benefit.

But, of course, a responsive organisation needs to be populated by Responsive People.
Indeed, from the lessons we learn from feedback loops, the responsiveness of the people who are the organisation will prove either dampener or accelerator to the responsiveness of the organisation.
I referred to the responsiveness in the individual as 'learned personal antifragility' in a previous post and recommended that those of us who had learned this, may hold some responsibility to share how, with others.

That is the intention of this post.

Engaging people in their personal journey of change is, in the reality of the complexity of organisations, entangled with the change of the organisation.

In the chaotic moments of Context Shock, of the kind we are experiencing through Covid19, the need to 'see what we do not see' is essential - and reliant upon the 'wisdom of crowds' that engaging everyone in the organisation can give you. Dave Snowden's Cynefin framework and its application to leadership through crisis provide ample evidence of the value of this.

A fine example of 'what we do not see' - and one shared by Dave - is this widely published image (below). 83% of radiologists miss the anomaly so don't feel bad if you do. Taken individually there's a very large chance it gets missed. But if you ask 100 radiologists it gets found (17 times being enough for you to take a closer look... at the Gorilla in the dark, top, right side of the lungs.

However, in the context of today's post I want to emphasise the purpose of 'asking the crowd' for its additional value in engaging people in change they can embrace.
Very simply the process for this is:
1. Identify and reach out to your crowd
2. Set the constraints of their observations
3. Capture their response as close to real-time as possible
4. Conduct your quantitative analysis
5. Spot the Gorilla and tell the crowd.

Now we have their attention (as well as useful emergence from weak signals to shape responses to the Context Shock).

The next step is to help them learn their personal antifragility. Your responsive organisation is reliant on people seeking learning experiences in change vs responding with fear. The more people you can take on the journey, the more you can amplify the positive benefits of the responsive organisation.

When Rory Yates and I reflected on what had given us some form of personal antifragility, the themes reflected in the slide above became clear (follow previous link for our validations).

With my 4-steps of Making Responsive People (above slide) I am seeking to replicate some of what we have learned from 20+ years in digital innovation and change.

1. Play: If you aren't a gamer and never have been, you missed out on some foundational stuff. We learned trial and error in a very 'safe to fail' environment. Let's close that gap in your psychological armour.
2. Feedback Loops: Properties on the web were so much more instantly measurable than anything that had come before. We learned to try stuff and saw, very quickly, what happened as and when we did. We saw rewards fast and that improved our responsiveness. So find what measures directly what you do, and measures it fast. Then, crucially, we must encourage and reward you to respond to what happens.
3. Positive Psychology: Recognise that most people fear change. They don't seek learning opportunities. They see threat in movement. It's natural. But it can be overcome. Programs which help people identify their 'Fixed Mindset' blindspots (see Carol Dweck's Mindset) can and do help us to change our approach to change. Building happiness through low-effort, high impact activities such as Yale University's (free and online) Science of Wellbeing Course gives us the tools of positive psychology to help.
4. Learn Through Doing: This is the essence of Being Change. But simply thrusting people at anything, from back to normal, to new normal, to no normal, without making them change ready, is a recipe for fear, unhappiness and dampened organisational responsiveness. You may identify some teams are ready to go straight to this step. Game-on for them . But they are in the minority. So for the rest, ensure steps 1-3 are conducted, then start your newly responsive-ready people on small, relatively low risk, test-and-learn projects with very small teams (5 works well).

Applied at scale you have tools to make your people, and with them the organisation, much more responsive.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Learned personal antifragility - if you've got it, share it

Many people you know are struggling with the rate of change coming at them through this latest series of Context Shocks (triggered by COVID-19). Some look at every experience as a learning experience - something to benefit from. Others see things to fear.

In the same way as organisations must become more responsive - more antifragile when shocks strike - so must we as individuals.

But how do we acquire the antifragile mindset if not blessed with it?
Consider the positions in positive psychology best-seller Mindset (by Carol Dweck). In Mindset we are introduced to the Fixed and Growth Mindsets.

The book offers ways to both recognise your Mindset and change it.

The Science of Wellbeing course offered online and free by Yale University is another route to changing your world-view to increase your happiness (and likely what you regard as success...).

But who reads these books and who completes these courses? I suspect open thinkers, those with a positive hunger for learning, seek these things out. There's a very positive feedback loop in play.

In discussing this with my buddy Rory Yates we wondered if one of the great advantages we had in this regard was that we were both early-in on the internet revolution.

The internet - and more specifically the measurement of web properties, offered us something that wasn't available before: really rapid feedback loops. You made a minor change - you got results in the form of clicks, visits, impressions, pretty much in real time. We had grown up playing computer games - and that, too, helped our understanding of trial and error at pace.

Importantly, for those of us fiddling around with this stuff as the internet took off, we could pretty much do no wrong. The growth of online audiences was exponential so the worst you could do was badly by comparison with others. Initially, hardly anyone cared what others did, they were wrapped up in how well they were doing. The point of this is we got positive feedback loops for almost every experiment we tried. Every learning experience was a good one!

That gave us the psychological armour to handle the tougher times ahead. But what we also learned was to approach things in a rapid, incremental, small, a/b testing, ultimately agile way. This involved giving decision-making control to those implementing and measuring - on the customer interactive edge.

This also led us to another significant understanding: When the consequence of getting things wrong is low (risk is low) experimentation should be high: The upside is considerably greater than the downside. Smart CEOs manage their businesses through this lens. See Unilever's sudden relaxation, allowing itself to become a more Responsive Organisation.

We learned this in the entrepreneurial spirit of start-ups, and MVPs, and multivariate testing.

If your experiences have been at all similar to mine and/or Rory's, you have a lot of advantages in preparing you to handle shocks with a personal antifragility - perhaps best summarised by the Growth Mindset.

It's up to us to use our positive outlooks to help others reframe the things they fear as the things they can learn from. And if we can get them to read a book and do the excercises of the Yale course, too - they'll need us less next time around.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Is furlough a glimpse of a bot-powered economy?

The Context Shock of Covid-19 is forcing underlying trends to the surface at unprecedented rates. We aren't experiencing anything that wasn't going to happen anyway - we are experiencing it faster.

Political economist Orit Gal points out: "complexity theory teaches us that major events are the manifestation of maturing and converging underlying trends: they reflect change that has already occurred within the system."

This means going 'back to normal' is a mistake. As is failing to become more responsive.

I have detailed two of these trends in distributed working, and the responsive organisation (and it can be argued distributed working is nested in and part of the trend towards the responsive organisation).

I have also documented the trend towards treating our planet as a partner, in the way we have become good at treating our customers with respect - in the concept of Planet Experience.

There are, naturally, others. The trend towards a cashless society, for example, away from traditional education (by subject and as a mass production model), for another.

I want to raise some questions about the acceleration of a significant and immediate additional trend today, because its second and third order consequences will have extreme impact on our economic model: Automation. 

As companies survey the challenges facing them over the next 12-18 months they will seek to cut costs both by scaling back on their office needs (distributed working) but also by automating everything they can. If any aspect of your job can be automated and the business you are working for is looking to survive, what it will spend on, is in ways of saving money. And it's undeniable that bots usually look like a short term win in this respect.

We can argue about the harm caused by the loss of smarts from carving people out of a business. The brighter organisations will use bots to lift and shift the bits of people's working lives that don't require creativity and imagination - so that that the people are free to create value by being more creative and imaginative. But that's looking on the bright side.

We are in a darkened world of raised drawbridges, of panic and protectionism. Fear will drive many, many struggling businesses to simply take the savings and worry about the consequences later.

Those consequences will include large scale unemployment. And for many people, pivoting to being an RPA expert (for example) will, realistically, be out of reach.

What this leads us to is the acceleration of a further underlying trend - perhaps towards some version of the Universal Basic Income. Covid-19 has given us an accelerated glimpse of that future through schemes such as the UK Government's Furlough policy. Touted as a job retention scheme on the assumption things get better again fast, coupled with the lock-down experience, it may prove a leading indicator of life after large scale automation. A taste of things to come.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with bots taking peoples jobs. The challenges are in how we judge what constitutes a positive contribution to the society we live in and the ecosystem on which we rely.

If you enjoy time in the sun, exercising, learning, baking, creating art, music, craft, and in time, spending time with friends and family - doing the things you 'enjoy' more of the time than the things that are recognised as making an economic contribution (ie working), then perhaps we should formally value the enjoyable stuff as highly as we do the 'economically valuable' stuff.

But how? How do we get paid if the bots are doing our jobs? 

Stephen Hawkins last message on the web gave us a clue. He said the problem wasn't the bots, it was capitalism - at least the form of market-first capitalism dominant today. Bots are bad if they mean the economic value they create /displace comes back to fewer and fewer owners of this new means of production. Bots are fine if the value they create is more equally distributed to the benefit of both society and planet.

Taxing bots has been suggested to tackle this in the short term, with the tax raised being available to spend on positive interventions for society. Which could include a Universal Basic Income and investment in a happier, healthier society and planet.

This trend demands something important of us - our understanding of our own value, and of what we call success. We will need to start prioritising happiness over stores of wealth.

Is that all bad?

Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash

The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?