‘Process literacy’ 101


Mild process (Credits: Wassily Kandinsky, 1928) Mild process (Credits: Wassily Kandinsky, 1928)

Today I just sat through two very good – erm let’s say ‘very typical’ – examples of moments lacking ‘process literacy’:

  • A seminar that I had to leave after 50 minutes and hadn’t yet started the questions and answers session (like a penetrating and Q&A is totally ‘rad’ from an engagement point of view, right?)
  • A cool networking moment with a group which subtly moved on to a presentation that we were promised would be “only 5 slides, only 5 minutes” and turned out to be a lecture of 30 minutes and nearly as many slides, to a group of us feeling completely trapped by this unwanted PowerPoint invitation.

And these are not just two isolated incidents. They happen all the time! To you, me and the rest of us all…

I mean: what is wrong with you people? You don’t even need to be the highest process literates in the world to understand there is a slight glitch there, right?

So, at the risk of repeating a couple of things I’ve said in the past, let me spell it out for you right there: get process literate please! You will benefit from it but certainly others will benefit from it too!

What is ‘process literacy’ though?

Process literacy’ is a new term for an old practice. And it revolves around understanding and maximising the dynamics between people and what connects them to what it is they’re supposed to do together – whether they already know it or not. It is the weaving pattern that nests purpose in conversations and vice versa. It’s what makes human connections richer than ‘just a nice chat about whatever’.

Process literacy is about connecting the dots, the circles of people and conversation together, the energies and interests, in a time pathway, and in full realisation of where this is happening. It’s the travel training kit that prepares you for the richest adventures. And somehow refusing to see this means you will keep stuck with not so rich, not so amazing, not so long-lasting, not so effective results in your interactions with the brave whole world (or with your direct neighbour) and/or in any of your work involving others, other times, other spaces…

Even commercial companies have understood something needs to be done about process to gain value…

…although I think it’s a reductionist view.

Peeling this onion off a little more, being process literate means…

  • You don’t just care about yourself but also about others, about their opinions and feelings, their motives and motivations;
  • You don’t just care about ideas and whatever you’re focusing on but also how that focus content relates to a wider context;
  • But you also know that the process is only one aspect of it and that you should not focus only about it all the time;
  • You don’t just care about what you’re doing or talking about now – even though you should fully be present there – but also about how it relates to a wider objective;
  • You actually know where you are in this journey and you pay attention to explain to others what they are doing in this spot with you, why and what’s coming up next;
  • If you have no clue why you are at that spot, you actually try to understand this to relate ideas and actions together and shape a way forward;
  • You really care for that collective adventure people are on and you strive for engagement, individual and collective betterment, and collective action and change;
  • You pay attention to time and to the capacity of the people around you to be able to undertake that higher level calling;
  • And because all this ‘process stuff’ matters to you as something eminently important, you try understand it better by continually reflecting on the little and big details that make the process fly…

So it’s very much about the practice SMARTS – and about our lifelong learning.

Lifelong Learning

What to do about it? Learn process facilitation perhaps? Groups like Community At Work, Liberating Structures and many others can offer great starting points (and training!).

But you don’t need to be an ace facilitator to work on and care for process literacy. Great leaders know this as it relates to their imperative of empathy, to their social leadership skills, in normal times or in times of change.

Want to find out more? Hey the good news is there will likely be a session on ‘process literacy 101’ – which may go in other directions than this post by the way – at the upcoming AgKnowledge Innovation Process Share Fair. So join us there (and register here).

Meanwhile, what is coming up for you, thinking about this process literacy?

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Agile KM from ‘SMART goals’ to ‘practice SMARTS’


The game of knowledge management has changed.

Despite the definitions given to knowledge management (see this useful post by Stan Garfield – and my own definitions of knowledge and knowledge management), KM really is no longer about managing knowledge-related assets as a taxidermist. It certainly is no longer about databases and catch-all portals (despite some tendencies). It’s not even really about communities of practice anymore either (however great – and tricky – these are)…

Change from SMART goals to SMART practices (Credits: Simon Webster / FlickR)

Change from SMART goals to SMART practices (Credits: Simon Webster / FlickR)

Instead, KM now has to be agile – not like a prescribed Agile / Scrum / Kanban kind of way (though each methodology has useful ideas). No, it’s about being generally agile, a combination of resilient and innovative, ever-adaptive, embracing perpetual beta as Harold Jarche would put it.

It’s about being smart, individually, and smarter, collectively – or smartest as we develop healthy human systems.

But SMART here is not the same as the monitoring acronym standing for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

What I propose instead is to think of SMARTS as a practice code to turn useful habits into our behavioural identity and eventually let us all become a strong network node in our collective sense-making. The practices mentioned below can actually change our identity towards:

  • Speedy
  • Multi-purpose
  • Anticipating
  • Reflective
  • Trustworthy
  • Sharing and showing this approach together

Speedy is because we need to react quickly. Agile KM for collective SMARTS is about turning things around quickly, fast iterations, fast failure, fast improvement, reacting on the dot, not letting information go through the endless tunnels of polishing and editing to publishing perfection… It’s about quick & dirty for faster and stronger feedback loops and acting upon the opportunities right at the moment when they present themselves.

Multi-purpose because agile KM (and innovation) is not about reinventing the wheel – despite its occasional usefulness – but about applying and recombining existing bits. Reformatting for different channels (PC, mobile, tablets); versioning for different audiences based on the same raw information. And with multi-purpose comes multi-perspectives, the multiple knowledges that matter when dealing with complex problems as IKM-Emergent pointed out.

Anticipating change is the name of the game. Always being on the lookout for what is going to affect you next, what is going to create tradeoffs. Individually we must be aspirational in our decision to move somewhere, towards a certain direction and objective, and develop our pathway to get there. Collectively we must be inspirational for each other, modeling useful positive deviance and visioning a common future that looks brighter than the here and now. But remaining realistic as to where on our journey we are, and what obstacles lie ahead on the way. Anticipating is about visioning that pathway for a positive change, at all times.

Reflective is our modus operandi in the social age and the world of change. Not only to anticipate future changes, but also to absorb the maximum learning from what just happened, and generally to learn how to sail along pattern currents in the sea of change. Being reflective is about documenting the change affecting us personally and the ecosystem around us. And it moves to becoming increasingly reflexive, learning to reflect about our reflection, moving through learning loops

Being Trustworthy is an imperative in our individual quest to becoming ever better networked. Trust is the currency of the social age. How do you generate trust? Dave Pollard suggests it is developed at the junction of positive chemical/sensory signals, shared/appreciated world views and positive collaborative experiences. In the social SMARTS age, trust also happens through consistency, quality (of the stuff we develop or share) and authenticity.

Sharing and showing this approach with/to others is the final stage to make sure we are not just SMART ourselves, individually, but we develop our collective SMARTS as these human systems we hope to improve together – because we care. We are eminently social but that social nature still requires active, a sense of purposeconsistency and working on changing our habits and behaviour, so we don’t revel in the happy square of wishful thinkers – for others (I want YOU to change). And building habits together is easier, as every fitness starter knows. Our habits can start there.

As IBM would put it: let’s build a smarter planet together… also through agile KM practice SMARTS.

Let's build a smarter planet together (Credits: IBM)

Let’s build a smarter planet together (Credits: IBM)

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Put your knowledge work on turbo mode: Ask for help!


In his seminal post Rendering knowledge, controversial and inspirational KM thinker Dave Snowden says that “in a context of real need, few people will withold their knowledge”.

From personal diaries to social diarrhea... but that's not what I'm talking about here (credits: 91 9 Sea FM)

From personal diaries to social diarrhea… but that’s not what I’m talking about here (credits: 91 9 Sea FM)

And it is true. Only few people will proactively, continuously care for others enough to share their knowledge regardless of circumstances. Well, of course the evidence seems to suggest otherwise…

…but that’s an egoistic act of sharing stuff related to you and your fabulous life. What I’m talking about here is the stuff that people can use in their life, work, ideas, knowledge ecosystem. And one of the surest ways to put the turbo on your knowledge work in that ecosystem is to ask for help.

This begs the question: How much will we help other people who are (or may be) trying to improve their knowledge work? It depends on several factors:

  • How much time do we have available?
  • Do we have what it takes -technically – to help them?
  • How much do we care about these people?
  • Have they even asked for help?
  • Have they insisted to get help?
  • Do they seem resolute about what they want to do/improve?
  • How much potential do we see in them?
  • Does our helping them impact us over a longer period of time too?
Asking for help from the sources of light (Credits: Keoni 101 / FlickR)

Asking for help from the sources of light (Credits: Keoni 101 / FlickR)

The bottom line, for the people to be helped, is to voice their need for help out loud. And preferably to tell those who helped them how their support actually helped or not.

What’s more: we should all ask for help, as it shows or vulnerability and highlights or need for connection – and that is part of our networked economy and ecology.

Proactive sharing and reactive help-seeking are two sides of the same coin and count among the currency of the social age.

So pay it forward and ask for help, it’s never too late!

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Enabling change: a manager’s choice (and a leader’s decision)


People don’t resist change. They resist being changed! – Peter Senge

I’ve covered individual change on this blog though various writings (on the willingness or difficulty to change, recognising that the process of changing is slow, wanting others to change), but hardly done justice to the management side of change. And management has a lot to do, and even more to say about change. Particularly about the kind of change that has negative consequences for people (reorganisations, redundancies)…

Are you going to do anything about that change? (Credits: Patrick Mayfield)

Are you going to do anything about that change? (Credits: Patrick Mayfield)

So what are the choices of managers to enable or disable change?
Before we start let’s distinguish two different situations – that often need to be balanced:

  • Change that is internally driven – i.e. decided by that management, or any other group internal to an organisation or an initiative.
  • Change that is externally induced – as a result of signals that were not created by the group themselves.

Recognising this context is essential because it has repercussions on the way other people feel about the change and who they perceive as major beneficiaries or victims of change. Dealing with this well means management can show true leadership. And we know for a fact that complex development work requires many factors to deal with change well.

Internally driven change

What can ‘management’ do here to enable change:

Bring their team on board about the change, as early as possible, to let them see the change as a whole, appreciate positive aspects of that change and how negative ones are really going to affect them – and crucially to let them voice their questions, concerns, feelings, ideas, suggestions.

If even possible, co-create that change and get their ideas on board to shape that change into something very positive that brings everyone’s ideas in the mix to understand the bigger picture – sometimes (often) it is only through this approach that a change can be gauged in its wholesomeness.

Understand that we all have to take consequences of the change and that ‘I WANT YOU TO CHANGE!‘ is not a viable way forward.

Brainstorm (and at the very least, if there is no manoeuvre possible, communicate) about what can be done next, and particularly for that team or group. And also communicate what is not known – but commit to finding out more.

Draw lessons about what happens with that change for the next time around, to be better prepared and to develop the collective capacity to adapt and recombine;

Later assess how the change influenced everyone and what new lessons or measures can be drawn from the whole experience several months after the deed.

The tao of change management (Credits: V. Kotelnikov)

The tao of change management (Credits: V. Kotelnikov)

Externally induced change

This type of change is a result of an external shock or circumstance, and can have either positive or negative consequences (or both – think tradeoffs). All of the above applies here too, but in addition management should:

Analyse with the help of all those who think they understand some of that big picture, what made this change happen, to better understand that whole change and determine with more accuracy how the change will affect everyone. Lead with patterns – and follow some ideas of this Cynefin framework adapted for management.

Management / Leadership in the Cynefin framework (Credits: Cognitive Edge)

Change Management / Leadership in the Cynefin framework (Credits: Cognitive Edge)

Help (and encourage) sharpening the foresight capability of the team to ensure everyone contributes to forecasting the next external changes.

In contrast, what can managers do to muddle everything up?

  • Not change anything (about themselves) – and ignore the famous quote “change leader, change thyself“. On the other hand, change brings wonderful opportunities for innovation (and innovative) leadership.
  • Not anticipate change or keep an old lens (used for previous changes) to forecasting. But even change changes and takes different shapes. “Yesterday’s thinking will not solve tomorrow’s problems”…
  • Not cultivate collective foresight. Not investing in foresight capabilities is signing an organisation’s death certificate. Not doing so with a wide group – ideally based on the entire collective’s capacity (strengthened by PKM and personal learning networks) is only postponing the delivery of that certificate…
  • Not communicate: nothing about the change, nothing about how it affects people, nothing about the measures taken admit this
  • Not learn: no drawing lessons about drivers, initiatives taken or results recorded, just being affected without any sense of agency… Are you learning as fast as the world is changing?

    The process of transition and the feelings this inspires in us (Credits: JM Fisher)

    The process of transition and the feelings this inspires in us (Credits: JM Fisher)

  • Not involve: no taking into account the opinions, experiences, feelings (and there are many – see the picture below) and capacities of all those affected by the change – even in times when change is not happening. And down with your problems with empowerment, please, you don’t have a real choice.
  • Involve and consult but ignore anything coming out of that. In some ways this is even worse as it tokenises participation and instils longer term defiance viz. future attempts at engaging with the same people.

Taking these principles into account should become the ABC of today’s managers, and change management is the one specialised field they should focus on (and here are some quotes that will help them). Did I hear anyone say ‘process literacy’?

In summary there is much that managers can do to deal collectively with change, and it all has to do with the leadership rules for healthy human systems: involve, communicate, listen, encourage, mobilise, reflect, expand, multiply, respect…

Of course, at our individual level, we also have much to do in order to see change in its whole form. We may still not welcome this process but we can nevertheless always decide to seize the opportunities it brings to do something different, and better. But that is another story.

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