The top 10 posts of 2016 on this blog


It’s that time of the year again. I’m going on leave right before Christmas and won’t (likely) resurface before January 2017.

So as usual with my ‘point in time’ blog posts, here’s the top 10 blog posts, but this time with the special emphasis on looking back at the whole year. 2016 has been a less prolific blogging year for me with about 21 posts published ‘only’, though on the other hand I’ve also made a real splash with ‘Agile facilitation‘ my other blog dedicated to facilitation for collective action.

In any case, here is the top 10 posts for 2016. Only a couple of blog posts published this year (marked in bold) made it to this top 10, which is a reflection of my less disciplined blogging this year, and perhaps also that the quality of my blogging is declining ha ha ha?

  1. Knowledge management in cartoons – A selection
  2. Managing or facilitating change, not just a question of words
  3. Share Fair Addis: Fishbowl and fishbowl battle
  4. A knowledge management primer (1): KM as simple as ABC
  5. Putting learning loops and cycles in practice
  6. Merry Christmas! (Credits: Nuwandalice / FlickR)

    Merry Christmas! (Credits: Nuwandalice / FlickR)

    Settling the eternal semantic debate: what is knowledge, what is information…

  7. Revisiting the links between communication and knowledge management
  8. Portrait of the modern knowledge worker
  9. Good bye acute meetingitis! Plan your day-to-day meetings as a true KMer…
  10. Learning cycle basics and more: Taking stock

With this post, that’s it for me in 2016.

See you in 2017 with hopefully renewed energy, ideas, enthusiasm, here and on Agile facilitation!

Have a merry Christmas!

 

Of ‘toxic micro cultures’


‘Culture is a hypothesis’, as a friend of mine would say.

Culture is a fuzzy concept (Credits: LPK 90901 / FlickR)

‘Culture’ is a fuzzy concept (Credits: LPK 90901 / FlickR)

And by that I mean national/regional/ethnic cultures. As for me, with that kind of culture it’s a case of ‘Mind your culture, and mind that I don’t mind it 😉 ‘

But in any human group, in addition to this overall layer of culture, there tend to be micro-cultures that are shaped by ongoing, recurring practices. Some of these micro cultures are really toxic, getting everyone further away from building and cultivating healthy human systems.

Here’s a gallery tour of some toxic ‘micro cultures’.

 

High flyers can be arrogant bastards (Credits: Jamie Thingelstad / FlickR)

High flyers can be arrogant bastards (Credits: Jamie Thingelstad / FlickR)

The empty-headed high flyers

This lot is made of people usually evolving in high circles – please note that it’s not the same as saying that all people in high circles are ‘high flyers’ – and now that they have made it to the elite, they are thinking that their end game is to renew their platinum card every year and -even better- achieve lifetime platinum status. And certainly fly as much as possible to prove to everyone that they are indeed very important (duh!).

Mind that it’s a great thing to have the frequent flyer gold and platinum cards. Nothing wrong with that – and travelling is not as glamorous as everyone might believe. What is not so great here is the tendency of these high flyers to find any excuse to travel around and pretend to be busy on ‘strategic matters’ only to find themselves bitching about the luxury hotels they might be frequenting.

But more importantly: they are missing the point of having an intentional (and incidentally ecological) approach to choosing the meetings and missions they attend. It costs money, time, sometimes even peoples’ jobs, and certainly ozone to travel nearly every week.

An idea to deal with them: Ask them when was the last time one of their trips or meetings really made a difference. Consider building a collective club to share/pool frequent flyer miles and have cheaper tickets for the rest of the company. Help them say Good bye acute meetingitis and plan their day-to-day meetings as true KMers.

 

Conference Goers, all melting in a blur (Credits: Dave Shear/FlickR)

Conference Goers, all melting in a blur (Credits: Dave Shea/FlickR)

The mindless ‘conference tourists’

A very similar group to the previous one is the ‘conference tourists’ – except here the traveling is the bonus and the conference is the purpose. These people are specialised in travelling to conferences and events ALL. THE. TIME. Just find any conference that’s remotely connected to their field of work and they will appear. I used to have a colleague like that, he was travelling 9 weeks out of 10. I mean how many conferences are really meaningful to what you do? How many times do you play an active role there?

This class of folks tend to be chronic name droppers and (useless) networking machines doubling as business cards collectors. They may even be ‘conference paper milkers’ ie. with one paper written they will try and present their paper to as many events as possible. No focus, no discernment. Shoot in the dark and hope for the best.

This wannabee culture is not only superfluous but it’s also costly and dangerous for the role model it offers to other people in the same organisation. Will someone tell them conference tourism just ISN’T ok?

An idea to deal with them: Pretty much the same strategy as the high flyers, but also ask them what role they are playing, make them get aware that they are more often than not only of peripheral interest to the events they’re attending. Work with them to make their participation meaningful.

The insipid ‘gossip broth’

Gossiper (Credits: Rui Fernandes / FlickR)

Gossiper (Credits: Rui Fernandes / FlickR)

This group sticks to the office, where they have the comfort of their little routine. So much so that whatever is not part of that routine becomes both suspicious and excitingly ‘gossip material’. They spend their time meeting each other at whatever coffee corner to just talk about all the stuff that really doesn’t matter (so much) in a workplace: who is possibly enamoured with whom? Who said what about who? How is this and that person dressed? What are the manners of the new person?

No remote sense of building anything meaningful here. Just pure waste. And toxic waste at that, as usually the gossip broth don’t really back their opinions with facts, but they are very keen on spreading rumours as quickly as possible. I mean, you know them right? It’s a soup of bad comments and bad intentions. BAD ATTITUDE. Difficult to redeem.

An idea to deal with them: Do not join in gossiping, bring back the conversation on constructive matters, or simply shun these people. They’re not worth that attention.

 

Not communicating, an ideal, really? (Credits: Evo Terra / FlickR)

Not communicating, an ideal, really? (Credits: Evo Terra / FlickR)

The annoying ‘communication agnostics’

Perhaps a bit of a pet peeve here as a communication specialist but I’m so so jaded about people that make it their pride to say “I just don’t like to communicate”. I mean: do you work in total isolation? Do you live in the Arctic? Or on Kerguelen Islands? Do you never need anyone? Are you trying to build something useful to no one else but yourself at all? Unless you say Yes to all these questions, how can you remain in your splendid isolation?

We are a system, you cannot I-solate yourself, so surf and co-create the wave of our collective grace

So rub it in and do your share on communication! Because ‘We need more / better communication! But not from me…‘ is no longer acceptable.

An idea to deal with them: Try and understand their lack of motivation for communication. Is it a question of not seeing the point, not knowing what to start with or what to communicate, not knowing how to communicate and use platforms, anything else? And also find out if they are any likely to move a notch in the direction of communication or not. Some people are desperate deep-divers…

 

Are you a whiner or winner? (Credits: tlm Milburn / FlickR)

Are you a whiner or winner? (Credits: tlm Milburn / FlickR)

The eternal whining victims

Ah, this is a difficult group. This group of folks are complacent with all the stuff that happens to them. They feel it’s all a plot from outside. Nothing that happens ‘to’ them is their fault. It’s others, the environment, it’s always outside. Poor victims you first think, until you realise this is an eternal spiral they are getting themselves caught into, and if you don’t pay attention they will swallow you into their depressive and deceptive reality.

Sometimes, these whiners are doubling up with natural born boasters who think that everything they do is great. That’s a dreadful combination because it means they live in delusion at both ends of the spectrum, in what good and what bad happens to them.

An idea to deal with them: I’m not particularly good at dealing with these so I can’t give you much advice, except that having other (non victim) people in the conversations with these folks helps objectify their dialogue.

 

SocioPath (Credits: OfficialGDC / FlickR)

SocioPath (Credits: OfficialGDC / FlickR)

The sharky ‘society capitalists’

A different breed. The terroristic sociopaths. All that matters to them is money, status – acquired in whichever way – and stamping on each other’s feet to establish their power. Did I hurt? Good, because I’m the boss and you’re a door mat meant to be stampeded by superior beings like me.

The capitalistic society inherited from Taylorism and Fordism has nurtured this type and though times are changing and it’s increasingly conspicuous to be a sharky society capitalist, they are still coming forward. And they don’t care even if they’re a dying breed because they know-it-all.

An idea to deal with them: Giving them some constructive feedback on how their behaviour impacted you or others might be very good to let them see the social picture that is their blind spot, though the feast of fools of feedback might be a step too far. And perhaps if all else fails motivate to change their behaviour out of their thirst to be more effective.

The destructive ‘serials cynics’

Skeptical cynics, cynical skeptics (Credits: Jonny Goldstein/FlickR)

Skeptical cynics, cynical skeptics (Credits: Jonny Goldstein/FlickR)

This is perhaps the worst group of this lot! They love to sit on the fence and make snarky comments. Want a selection of those?

“This is not how you do business here”

“This never works”

“It won’t work with our culture”

“Been there done that, proven wrong”

“Why bother?”

“Where’s the evidence in what you’re saying?” (this one can be a very helpful question btw).

“I don’t believe it”

“Prove your point, here and now”

… These people have made their life’s trademark to make smart comments that are basically preventing anyone from attempting anything. I’ve already blogged about ‘Radical ideals and fluffy bunnies‘ and this lot are the archenemies of fluffy bunnies and idealists. They are, on the other hand, the best friends of depression, fear, immobility, and they’re perhaps the open doorway to many of the other toxic cultures mentioned above.

An idea to deal with them: FIGHT OR FLEE THIS STUFF. Snarky cynicism has never built any civilisation. A healthy dose of criticism is a worthwhile approach, but get the balance wrong and you’ll end up swimming in a tank of acid that will corrode your heart, your soul, and even your body.

A general word about changing toxic micro cultures

In addition to the tips given here, there are a couple of things that work generally to fight toxic micro cultures: One is to lead by example (With KM, life, it’s all in the attitude, so ‘JUST DO IT’ (Nike does it)), i.e. incarnating the change you want to see in the culture around you. The other is to reveal the group norms that you observe and to consistently offer alternative group norms when the existing ones verge on the toxic side – which is what facilitators do in their groups when establishing ground rules and the likes. If you believe in healthy human systems, you can propose group norms for how to give feedback, for how to make decisions, for how to discuss things, for how to listen to each other etc. These participatory values really help.

In my case this is what I try to do by cultivating the process literacy of the people and groups I work with. It is part of my own ‘contribution statement’ (covered here).

What are the toxic micro cultures that evolve too close to you? How do you deal with them?

Related blog posts:

Use a precise language for precise results


Language is a challenging issue.

People have different relations to it and different abilities.

Language

From which it results that, we more often than not, not quite understand each other the way each person talking is hoping to get understood. Which is why, by the way, paraphrasing is a good idea for today and every day.

We aren’t all native English speakers (to take the example of English). I am not. We aren’t all paying attention to how detailed someone says something. We aren’t all ready to take the time to discuss ‘semantics’.

Yet having a precise language is really important! All the more when we give feedback to each other. Here is why:

  • Detailed language allows us to be very precise and focused about what we are talking about, thus it eliminates a lot of unnecessary vagueness and generalities around what we are discussing. “The table of contents of this document is missing a couple of key items, let’s get back to the author Michael M” is vastly better than “There’s something wrong with the table of contents” (of what by the way)?
  • Detailed language can give much more information than just the ‘what’ we are talking about, it gives information about the kind of statement or question, the intention, the focus, the scope, the kind of response it pitches for etc. “What I mean to say here is that it saddens me to see you struggle with putting together the pictures for that information brief because it’s not the first time I’ve noticed this and I would like to offer my help to avoid falling back into that trap” is again vastly better than “You’re not dealing with that job well”.
  • When giving feedback to each other, precise language zooms in on the one ‘technical’ area that we are focusing on, which means it’s easier to accept than receiving general feedback e.g. ” Your presentation was good” – erm what about it was? The technicality of the content, the pitching, the tone used, the delivery of the presentation, the length, the visuals, anything else from wow presentations?
  • More generally, while semantics can lead to tiresome conversations, a decent measure of it helps develop enough common ground for a ‘working definition’ that may not be perfect but should be good enough to work with for a given group for a given time. Putting semantics under the carpet is only inviting more and more and more questions, acrimony and waking the dead man from the carpet up again.

So it’s really useful to invest in sharpening our language. And here are some tips for both speakers and listeners.

Speakers:

  • When talking about someone, be considerate enough to be precise about WHO WHAT WHEN WHERE WHY and HOW. A statement like “He did that to him” is considerably less clear than “John Doe charged Bob Smith 200 USD extra”. Even if the statement is obvious to you, it may not be to your listener.
  • If you’re giving feedback, you might want to ask questions rather than give feedback as statements.
  • If you do give a statement of feedback, one of the best ways to do so is to say: “when you did(/said) xyz, the effect it had on me was abc”. That is basic hotel school training and a lifeskill to learn.

Listeners:

  • Even if you’re not yourself paying much attention to precise language, pay attention to whether the speaker is, and then pay attention to every word they say, and question (clarify) their use of this or that word.
  • Paraphrase again and again, to make sure you understood – and check that you got it right.
  • And both listeners and speakers could do worse than ask each other whether they like semantics discussions and pay attention to details in their language before they create misunderstandings with each other.

So much to improve on interpersonal communication at every level. So let’s get going and discover the trees in the forest of our minds!

Language is an old-growth forest of the mind #quotesRelated blog posts:

 

Be genuine and genuinely care for your neighbour’s pace on the way to change


A lot of conversations, in general and also on this blog, are exploring past reflections and previous conversations. I am in one of these iterations about Alignment and authenticity.

I’ve said before that -for me- authenticity is essential in what we do, when we engage with others, because that genuine approach shows the real us and helps others develop trust with us (and I’ve also stated elsewhere that ‘TRUST is the truth‘).

However there is one exception to this principle: the pace. Pace of language and of motion.

Courses on communication remind us to mimick the other person’s behaviour, tone, body language to subconsciously create a positive rapport with that other person. And that is very true (though I usually don’t pay conscious attention to this). And as much as that is true, the pace of how we talk, and the pace of what we think and do is really important to create a fertile ground.

I’ve learned in that recent management training course (where I discovered my contribution statement for what I bring to the world) that:

“One step by 100 men is greater than 100 steps by one man”

And so it derives that to achieve this one step taken by 100 men, we need to adapt to others. We may have our own personality and our original ideas, but if we are to achieve any stage of common sense-making and action, we need to slow down (or occasionally speed up) the way we talk, think and act to level with these other people we want to take on the journey with us.

We must care for the pace of our neighbours. Because ideas will not come really into fruition before their time…

Ideas don't blossom before their time anyway (Credits: QuoteAddicts)

Ideas don’t blossom before their time anyway (Credits: QuoteAddicts)

This means that while we can’t force things to happen (ish), we can prepare the ground for it by mirroring the pace of language, thought and action of the people around us.

I tend to be very quick in many things we do. I even talk fast. And I’ve had to come to terms with that, particularly when I’m facilitating. I still have much progress to make in terms of adapting to the pace of action of people around me, and adapting to their thought model. But the road to real change emerges from the combination of all our little trails together. When we converge and align we start taking a direction that is much firmer and stronger than the one we were on.

That is my very modest ‘shoot‘ for this week: remain genuine to your ideas and who you are, but connect to the pathways of others by adapting to their pace. That is an effort worth investing in.

Alignment (Credits: Aftab Uzzaman / FlickR)

Alignment (Credits: Aftab Uzzaman / FlickR)

What’s coming up for you?

Related blog posts: