50 shades of influence


Influencing others may take many paths.

Exercices de style - a wonderful and inspirational read (also) for wannabe influencers

Exercices de style – a wonderful and inspirational read (also) for wannabe influencers

It usually is a mix of our own personality and preferred ‘convincing/negotiation’ style, but it should also relate to the preferred ‘listening/convincing’ style of the people that you want to influence. And it depends on values. Even though values change slowly, they do change.

So if you want to influence someone – e.g. to get them to adopt agile KM for instance – here are perhaps not 50 shades but a few options you can try. All attempting at telling the same story, the way Raymond Queneau proposed 99 ways of telling the same story in ‘Exercices de style‘.

Invoke the greater goal 

From the ‘supply side’ (your argument) I would always start with this: expose the big picture, make it clear that whatever initiative you are standing for is not just mirroring your mechanical involvement with the issue, but reflects the importance of the task at hand for more people in more places. Deep down us human beings, we aspire for immortality and contributing to grand achievements. Use this to your advantage, and for sincere reasons, and people will be convinced.

Promise armageddon

Usually a much less useful tactic than the previous one, but its alter-ego can still win people over sometimes: if opportunity doesn’t work for your audience, perhaps threats (not you threatening them but the environment threatening to impact them) and risks could be a motivator for them. Given the relative apathy in the face of climate change, this is again not a preferred option, more of a ‘just in case’ kind of recourse.

Invoke the values of people to influence

From the ‘demand side’ (the people you want to influence) it always starts there, with the values that people put in ideas, practices, people etc. So go figure soonest what is intrinsically motivating them. Remember the ‘SmartChart’ and its four quadrants, it will help you there. Greatly!

Speak the same language

Nothing is less likely to sway someone than jargon – especially jargon that is not theirs. On the other hand, using terms and mind frames that shape them create a strong yet subtle sense of commonality that can go a long way to influence decisions.

Pillars of influence (Credits:  David Armano / FlickR)

Pillars of influence (Credits: David Armano / FlickR)

Appeal to emotions and impressions

Emotions can swing people, very effectively. In fact more effectively than facts usually. It’s not the reality that really matters, but the impression that people have about it. Emotions influence these perceptions. And there is a wide range of emotions you can use: excitement, pride, compassion, happiness, sadness etc.

Be there at the right time

Sometimes influence just emerges from being the right person at the right place at the right time. You have a solution for a problem that presents itself. Now the timing for this is particularly tricky, but for that matter ongoing engagement (no matter what family of it) is surely a positive way forward. The more you engage the more likely you are to be where it matters at the right time.

Give the facts

The analytical minds among us don’t care about emotions and grand visions, they want hard, cold evidence. Even though it’s pretty clear that evidence-based decision-making is probably less common than decision-based evidence-making, it’s still useful to have some facts explaining everything from the goal to the deeds to the expected results and the mechanics of how to get there.

Show genuine calm and confidence in your idea

I recently managed to invite someone to an event he was not considering at all by simply stating why he would be missing the greatest event of this year. I don’t think the promise of the greatest event was the defining factor to push his decision, but the firmness of my opinion – I’m sure – played a greater role. This influencing tactic is especially easy if you appeal to a greater whole. And it doesn’t mean you don’t have any doubt about your approach, just that you believe you know where you’re going, generally…

Seek support from insiders and peers

What is best to influence someone? Not you talking them into it, but someone they trust doing it. So when and where will you start your ecosystem influencing strategy? Find the trusted advisors and friends and work with them. When there is no ‘advisor’ as such, the second best might just be peers, people that are akin to those you want to influence, so they can share ideas about your initiative and get that peer learning to work its best effects for you.

Expose, expose, expose

The golden rule of communication of saying the same things three times may hold a grain of truth. Perhaps it’s. After all that’s also what advertising and good policy engagement tell us: expose your audience to your messages and your presence as often and as widely as possible so you are high up in their mind. 

Ignore and let it simmer

A great tactic of the romantic realm, sometimes lack of attention is the trigger that intrigues the person you are trying to influence, especially after some intensive convincing efforts. We are beings baked in a mould of curiosity and that tickles us. We also probably all aspire to be loved and recognised. So that curtain of silence might just be the most effective way, at some (delicate) point, to win people over… when you suddenly take interest in them again…

Just prove your point

Sometimes it’s just actions that sway people over. In fact this is probably one of the most potent way of influencing others: showing people why they should believe you. This is how we have managed, in our ILRI comms/KM team, to invest a lot of programs with our events and thereby all our other comms and KM services. Just do it! This is what all positive deviants do.

 

So what now?

The big notion that is missing above but is at the heart of the above is TRUST, of course. The more the person you want to influence trusts you, the more likely you are of influencing them. If you’re familiar with this blog you will recall it from various posts.

All the above is not meant to be advice followed cynically for the pleasure of winning people over, but some ideas about how to influence people for ideas that you think really matter. And as ever the best trick is to probe, sense and respond. Learn and adapt based on short feedback loops… Luckily there are, as the little selection above shows, many influencing pathways…

What will be secret force to open the lock? (Credits: Wonderlane / FlickR)

What will be secret force to open the lock? (Credits: Wonderlane / FlickR)

The solution probably lies at the crossroads between various of these roads, not least because complex initiatives require the sign-off of various people, potentially all with a different listening/convincing bias.  

What are your stories of successfully convincing others to do something they were not thinking of? What did you do?

Share your influencing wisdom!

Related blog posts:

 

Every *little* step you take is magic (well, it can be if it’s purposeful)


Celebrate every little step you take (Credits: RamMorrison / FlickR)

Celebrate every little step you take (Credits: RamMorrison / FlickR)

 

In the series ‘Breaking Bad‘, lab chemist Gale Boetincher once talks about the purity of the crystal meth he can cook, guaranteeing his mafia boss 96% purity, a “hard-earned figure” he is proud of. The purity of his competitor (and future partner series hero Walter White)’s crystal meth is 99%. As Boetticher puts it:

That last 3%, it may not sound like a lot, but it is. It’s tremendous. It’s a tremendous gulf.

Relatedly, the Pareto principle (explained here) evokes that 80% of the value of a nation comes from 20% of the population. And business analysts would like us to think that the same applies to organisations and even ourselves.

The point here is two-fold:

  • Every step we take towards change is a hard-earned one;
  • Not every step we take is productive, however.

Focus on your leapfrogging steps

Change is hard, so we might want to focus on the changes we think will really be game changers. And as explained in the link above, you can actually consider your whole life from an 80-20 rule perspective, and find out where the value is.

So reflect daily, weekly, monthly, yearly on what creates value, what will allow you to work smarter. Thanks to a dialogue I had with an online mate, I have made it a weekly practice to reflect on what steps I’ve taken that allow me to be more effective, smarter.

Purpose (Credits: ??)

Purpose (Credits: Hustle-Grind)

Focus on outputs, and outcomes, not the activities and inputs you give. Focus on what creates effects, not what you are doing. Focus on others and how they become part of the effect, not just yourself.

Focus on your passion and on what makes you productive effortlessly. Find out where your purpose lies as the graph here shows.

And don’t compromise on reflection and on activities that also take your mind off the work. Sharpe your practice smarts toward the most essential and productive outcomes.

And earn every little step

And indeed remember that change is hard, even when you are willing to change.

But when it happens, it’s magical.

Whether it’s the fact that you are thinking differently about an issue and have basically evolved in your reflection.

Whether it’s that you are changing the language you are using, paying attention to very subtle distinctions that make a world of difference.

Whether it’s reflected in the way you act upon a situation differently.

Whether it’s connected to other people much more and your focus on change is actively embracing others.

Recognize, celebrate every one of these little steps. Dance to every step of the samba of change.

And on this musical note, finally, since the title of this post was inspired by two different tunes by The Police, have your shot at either/both of them.

Every breath you take…

Every little thing she does is magic…

Related blog posts:

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)

Related blog posts

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.

Related blog posts:

Sailing along ‘pattern currents’ in the sea of change


Test Pattern I (Credits: Sauerlender / FlickR) - How to jump over patterns?

Test Pattern I (Credits: Sauerlaender / FlickR) – How to jump over patterns?

 

Change is so ubiquitous and, as Torben Rick would say, “constant change is the new normal” to such an extent that for networked individuals, change is hardly surprising though it is still discomforting.

Where, then, are the spaces to catch your breath and find some kind of ‘structure’ or insights to make sense of change? 

There is no single or simple answer to that, but the best fragments of chance for some coping ability lie in patterns. Patterns are the islands that help us navigate the sea of change without sinking in it. And patterns are everywhere:

  • Patterns from the biggest to the smallest order, mimicking fractals of complexity, from the way a family organises itself to the way a multi-country agreement is reached (or not);
  • Patterns of conversations, like the phoenixes I sometimes refer to, reveal ideas that are – perhaps also like the ‘déjà vu’ experiences in the movie The Matrix reveal something bigger (and in that case, dangerous);
  • Patterns of colour, sound, shape, intensity, rhythm, that each hold a grain of truth about the universal order around us;
  • Patterns of behaviour from another area to the one we are in – how does xyz react in this environment?
  • Patterns of events from another place, or time, to another one – how did this happen again here and now?

Companies like Google (see below), or Except have understood early on that the seed of innovation and of the next step lies at the junction of individual ideas and collective sense-making, and it appears out of patterns of conversations…

We need to become highly trained at working with patterns:

  • Spot patterns
  • Match patterns
  • Mix patterns
  • Break, dim, develop or amplify patterns of behaviour

All the patterns we see around us are ways to make better sense of the world around us, and get us ahead of the challenges coming at us. I would put my bets on pattern-breakers as the most effective decision-makers of this era.

If learning is the grammar of the social age of change, patterns might just be (part of) the alphabet we need to apply that grammar…

How to surf with patterns?

Webtreats Free Tileable Tropical Abstract Patterns Part 1-4 (Credits: WebTreats / FlickR) - Where patterns help us ride the ripples

Webtreats Free Tileable Tropical Abstract Patterns Part 1-4 (Credits: WebTreats / FlickR) – Where patterns help us ride the ripples

 

The art of reading and using patterns is a bit of a gift and a bit of an acquired practice. But a few things certainly help everyone get better – and apparently humans are the best pattern-recognition machines so here’s hope for everybody :)

The door key to patternland is diversity. A diversity of experiences and perspectives allows to look at the world in a more lateral or oblique manner, giving us a new understanding of where similiarities and differences lie.

SO:

  • Do what you can to broaden your vision and walks of life;
  • Put yourself in someone else’s shoes (use DeBono’s six thinking hats for this?);
  • Bring diverse, dissident or deviant voices to think along;
  • Move away from your typical position to look at an issue, look at it from above, from under, from aside, from across…
  • Use metaphors, analogies, ask yourself “what would it be if it was: an animal / a plant / a country / a dish” and those sort of questions that get you out of your thinking box;
  • Reflect regularly, note things down, and every time dive one level deeper;
  • Use different languages to approach an issue;
  • Borrow ideas and recombine them, to spot new patterns;
  • Make it a game to notice all kinds of patterns of everyday life, these superficial patterns still subtly sharpen your pattern-breaking capability;
  • And of course to notice the deeper patterns of thinking and action, as ITAD did with capacity development;
  • Put yourself in uncomfortable positions so that you have no other choice but to identify patterns;
  • Make patterns a central ‘pattern’ of your language, like the GroupWorks collective did with their card deck.
  • … add your many ways to spot patterns…
De Bono's 'six thinking hats' is one of many ways to help us see patterns

De Bono’s ‘six thinking hats’ is one of many ways to help us see patterns

Nothing is quite definite any longer, but patterns are a constant in the sea of change, they are islands – or perhaps more adequately currents – that allow us to navigate the ever fluctuating sea of change.

What are your secrets to find where these currents are?

Related blog posts:

Of ‘healthy human systems’ beyond ‘the field’ and facilitating conversations that change the world: an interview with Sam Kaner and Nelli Noakes


Wearing my 'Suspend your judgment' suspenders provided by Community at Work (Credits: EIB)

Wearing my ‘Suspend your judgment’ suspenders provided by Community at Work (Credits: EIB)

I can gladly say I am now one of the 4500 or so people that have been privileged to be formally trained by Sam Kaner and Nelli Noakes of Community at work on ‘Group facilitation skills – Putting participatory values into practice’. And it was a hell of an experience!

So what a fantastic opportunity for me to interview them on what they see as ‘facilitation’ and how they see it evolve, as well as the connections they see with knowledge management. 

No more word from me now, just enjoy… 

Do you see some fundamental trends in facilitation practice over the recent past?

Sam Kaner (SK) When “group facilitation” originated, it was one component in a deeper insight about the powerful role of face-to-face groups as a transformative medium for changing the culture of the organization or community.  The skills of facilitation were aimed at strengthening the individuals in a group, by helping everyone participate more fully, and by helping people pay more attention to alternative points of view and become capable of understanding one another.  These strengthened capabilities, in turn, allow the individuals to operate as a high-functioning group, or team, that can share responsibility, develop inclusive solutions, and reach sustainable agreements that accrue large benefits over time. Thus, group facilitation was part of a larger, deeper system — the operational aspect of a philosophy of empowerment.

When these ideas were introduced to mainstream organizations from the late 1960s through 1980s, the skills of facilitation were impressively effective but entirely mysterious, and the arrival of a neutral third party into a work context was perceived as somewhat magical, not as a learnable discipline.

Then, as participatory groups, with facilitators, became clearly more productive than non-facilitated groups, interest in the role itself became steadily greater.  More and more people have wanted to be trained in the tools and techniques of facilitation, even as the role has been to some extent divorced from the core philosophy.   Thus, in the past 15 years or so, many training programs have developed to cater to people who believe that tools and techniques are the essence of facilitation, and its goal is “effective meetings.”

This trend bothers me quite a bit. I would be excited if these two currents — the original focus on philosophy, and the more recent focus on method — were being integrated, in teaching and in practice. But over the past several years, I have been witnessing the emergence of a rather slavish adherence to tools and technique aimed at “getting things done,” while the goals of participatory values, which aim at building stronger people, stronger groups, and stronger thinking, have been to some extent eclipsed. In our own workshops, (and in our writing) we go out of our way to address this predicament. Not by preaching about it (as I’m doing in this interview) but by linking the many facilitation skills we teach to the inclusive, “both/and” principles on which collaborative aspirations are grounded.

Nelli Noakes (NN) I’ve observed other trends in other parts of the world. I agree with Sam on the way training is packaged, and often the very practice of facilitation follows this same scheme.  We have all seen facilitators flown into organizations, especially located in developing countries, arriving with a bag of tricks but not actually focused on supporting long-term change.  Even so, there are also many thinkers and practitioners reaching for progressive new ideas, both in North America and in the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) around the world.  My own observation, as a past regional director of IAF Oceania, is that other regions outside of North America are not yet so commodified.  Among practitioners internationally, there’s more optimism that the involvement of facilitation can be a lever — both for culture change in specific organizations and for social change more broadly Thus, in my view this more aspirational perspective — that facilitation is a vehicle to help people to work together for serious gains — rubs up against, and co-exists with, the commodified, ‘packaged’ approach to facilitation that Sam has mentioned.

Do you have any idea where it is headed (as a field of practice) and where is your personal interest (your ‘next frontier’) when it comes to facilitation?

(SK) Yes, and this is where my own thinking overlaps with what Nelli just said.

In my observation, there is still plenty of genuine new thinking about the power of collaboration, but this thinking no longer appears in books with titles that focus on facilitation per se.  For example, Roger Schwatz’s current book is titled, Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams.  For new insight now, I follow the work of such organizations as the “National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation” (NCDD), the “Collective Impact Forum” and the “Stanford Social Innovation Review.”  To be sure, the new thinking and applications such as cross-sector collaboration, participatory budgeting, innovation platforms, etc. all respect the need to employ good facilitation skills as a necessary element for productive outcomes.  But these thinkers perceive  facilitation not as a field but as a skill-set and a value-set for social change.  If we consider the possibility that the real field of work, the real body of thought, is social change (or as we have been calling it since the 1990s “supporting and promoting healthy human systems”) then the skills of facilitation, take their place alongside those of coaching, project management mediation, virtual communication, negotiation, problem-solving and other important third party, process-oriented skill-sets that are necessary to enable diverse collections of people to collaborate effectively.

Incidentally, to round out your question, there is another trend that has been increasing exponentially in the past 15 years or so:  Facilitative leadership.

Within many organizations, there is a great deal of interest by managers around the world who engaged in cross-functional planning and problem-solving. It has definitely become a focus of much training, and our consulting firm has defined our own approach, through training and coaching, to support people who are not neutral third parties to develop a collaborative mindset and acquire skills that can enable their effectiveness. That said, it’s hard to predict how long this trend will endure. Our experience is that the participants in our facilitative leadership programs are intrigued by the new skills and happy when they leave a workshop after a few days, but very few of them are gung-ho participatory philosophers. Most are agnostic on the issue of whether or not collaboration is worthy; it comes down to a question of whether the skill set is suitable for meeting a particular objective. So we think it remains to be seen whether the introduction of facilitation skills into corporate culture, government culture, university culture, NGO culture, will change management theory and practice over time, or whether it will become one more trendy fad, like sensitivity training, that lasts for several years and then runs its course.

To be a facilitator... (Credits: Unclear)

To be a facilitator… (Credits: Unclear)

Do you see any connection between facilitation and knowledge management and if so, where/how?

(NN) Effective knowledge management comes from being able to see a whole system, being able to actively engage players at all levels in that system, and making sense of the data that one can draw from throughout the system. I see two key areas where skilled facilitators can support organisations in this.

The first is through encouraging full participation – giving voice to the knowledge present at all levels of an organization, not just that which comes from the most powerful, or most vocal, or most confident in a system. And as that supports people to become more confident about speaking up, the pool of available data to contribute to organizational knowledge grows.

The second is through supporting people with diverse perspectives in an organisation to better understand each other – to be open and curious about the way information transforms into knowledge differently as it filters through people’s different lenses of experience. By this I mean that people don’t just hear other people’s points of view and think “Oh, that’s nice, Jim has a different thought about that than I do because we have different history and experience”. Rather, that they take it to another level of analysis and go “Oh, so Jim sees it like this and Mary sees it like that and I see it this other way – so what does it mean when I put those pieces together? How do those things connect in a way that tells me something meaningful about our organization?”.

In my ten years working in government agencies, I saw several knowledge management efforts that involve one or two people sending out surveys, logging the results and storing them in an online repository that functions like a data base if anyone wants to go look up something. This seems like such a lost opportunity to me. In a facilitated environment, people develop the thinking skills to put the pieces together themselves, so that knowledge management becomes accessible to, and the responsibility of, all players in a system. This makes it more likely that people will want to use the stored data later, and it also makes it vastly more likely that people will want to update their information as knowledge changes and grows.

Are you involved in virtual facilitation and what do you see as challenges and opportunities with facilitating virtually?

(SK) My colleague and co-author Lenny Lind was one the pioneers in the development of virtual facilitation skills.  Beginning in the early 1990’s he and his team at CoVision developed a platform called Council, built for huge face-to-face meetings where 100 to 10,000 participants came together to communicate in real time, using laptops to promote interaction.  So for example, an executive might stand up in front of the group and give a talk, using slides to emphasize certain points, and everyone would listen just as in a normal large meeting.  But then, as soon as the talking points are covered, the participants talk briefly to their colleagues at their tables and then start typing in their thoughts, reactions, questions, etc, into their laptops.  Then using any one of a number of methods the comments are sorted into themes, some of which are immediately focused on and some of which are deferred. The activity then continues, back and forth between face to face conversation in small groups, and large group inputting and responding. The meeting can last anywhere from an hour or two hours to an entire day or two, all depending on the agenda and its objectives.

Here is the important point: Even though the activity was done in the same room at the same time, much of the information was transmitted virtually and the meeting facilitator had to develop a lot of the skills that virtual facilitators take for granted nowadays. In fact, the software that runs Council was rewritten in the early 2000’s so that it could be used entirely by people who communicated virtually, not necessarily in the same room at the same time. So the virtual facilitation skills became even more central at that point.

I was privileged to facilitate about a dozen Council meetings over a period of ten years, so I learned at first hand the realities of what happens when a virtual-meeting facilitator makes good moves and not-so-good moves in the management of people who are writing comments to people who cannot see the faces or in some cases hear the voices of each other.

This leads to my core point: Lenny learned early that virtual communication is good for certain things but that it augments, not replaces, face to face communication. For example, people can express certain points that are controversial when they do so anonymously. But it is well known that quite often a person’s first pass at expressing something emotional is transformed through the process of discussing it in the context of a genuine, caring relationship. Virtual meetings are great for brainstorming, great for gathering and sorting and getting reactions to information, and they are truly amazing for increasing the number of people who can become engaged in an issue. A phenomenon like this very blog, not to mention the gigantically influential forms of communication such as YouTube and Facebook, are clear evidence of the power of virtual communication to make change in the world. At the same time, the transformative potential of face-to-face struggle — where people develop authentic empathy and compassion not just intellectually broadened perspective — still remains as a substantial component of lasting change. Lenny and his co-author Karl Danskin develop their own views on this in their brand new book, Virtuous Meetings (2104) available from Wiley & Sons.

Where do you go fetch interesting new resources and ideas for your own facilitation practice?

(NN) One of the things I love about working in the field of human systems is that the learning never stops! I have three main areas where I go to develop my own facilitation skills.

  1. The first, and most narrowly specific to my own work, is working with feedback from my clients. We have a strong continuous improvement philosophy at Community At Work, so listening to my clients about what’s working and what’s not working for them gives me ideas about how to strengthen my approach.
  2. Second is having a network of peers to debrief with and learn from. Working with Sam and the rest of our team provides a endless reservoir and insight and experience from which to draw learning, as well as thinking partners with whom to test new ideas. I also have a lot of friends who work in the same field as I so, so an evening or weekend walk, or a quiet drink on a Friday night often doubles as a knowledge-sharing experience!
  3. Third, I read stuff! But not usually books or articles specifically on facilitation. I’m more interested these days in material on organizational development, collaborative practices, knowledge management and board governance.

And I’m hoping I’ll soon have a fourth main area to add to this list. We’ve recently started a Community At Work Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/CommunityAtWorkSF?ref=aymt_homepage_panel for members of our community to share their thinking and ideas. We’re hoping that will soon grow into a vibrant resource for us and others involved in this field.

(SK) Earlier in our conversation, I mentioned NCDD; Collective Impact Forum; Stanford Social Innovation Review. Another really excellent one is Skoll World Forum http://skollworldforum.org. These four have such terrific reach that they point me to other, different sources of ideas all the time.  For those wanting a mainstream professional organization that tries to stay current, I would recommend Organization Development Network (founded in the 1950’s).

Nelli Noakes, Sam Kaner and ILRI staff (Credits: ILRI)

Nelli Noakes, Sam Kaner and ILRI staff (Credits: ILRI)

What would be your advice for starting facilitators?

(NN) When I first fell into facilitating, I had very limited knowledge or practice, and knew almost no-one else who worked in the field.

So the first thing I did was read as many books on the subject as I could find, and then attended some training courses. Then I started persuading groups to let me facilitate their meetings for free. Fortunately, the groups I volunteered with knew even less about it than I did, so they appreciated the order I brought to their previous chaos more than they saw the many errors I made! And I was able to start to get some real experience in seeing what worked and didn’t.

The next thing I did was start to build a network of people who also worked in the field, so we could start to learn from each other. I joined the International Association of Facilitators and the International Association of Public Participation (both of which have a much more active presence in Australia than in North America) and started attending their events, all of which exposed me to many different perspectives.

Those two elements – volunteering and building a network – proved to be invaluable many years later when I started my own consulting firm. I had a lot of people who were willing to vouch for me. To this day, most of my business comes from word-of-mouth recommendations.

My most important piece of advice for starting facilitators (apart from attending our Group Facilitation Skills workshop, of course!), is to become not just comfortable with receiving feedback, but to actively seek it at every possibility. Learn to value it as the most important factor in your own continuous improvement process. (A good place to start exploring how to receive feedback well is Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen)

(SK) Over the decades I have had a lot of chance to watch people get started, and I have come to believe that two ways are especially powerful:

1.    Volunteer.  For example, volunteer to facilitate a meeting at a small nonprofit organization, or at your church, or at your child’s school. In these situations you can’t lose — these community contexts places are so funky that anything you can do will be an improvement. You can see changes happen. Often, if you are secure in your own workplace, a staff meeting or the meeting to start a new project is equally good. Whichever context you choose, just be sure to make this deal at the beginning, before you start: you are willing to volunteer your time for no financial remuneration, but you would like to be “paid” with 5 minutes (or more) of good feedback on your strengths and ‘improvables’ at the end of the meeting.

2.    Find a peer support group.  Having a face-to-face group touching base every two weeks or so is a priceless experience. I have personally witnessed the results, over the years, when people who were raw rookies in facilitation went on to be successful consultants who then built their own long-term independent consulting firms, because they built so much confidence in the early years. In the ILAC years before the creation of the consortium, CGIAR as an entity attempted to maintain a network of people who had earned judgment suspenders. It became an online ‘D-group’. At that point, it became an information-sharing group which ultimately did not have the same dynamism as a face to face support group.

Mind your culture, and mind that I don’t mind it ;)


‘Culture’ is one of the very complex, variables to face in any knowledge management initiative. It is also one of the difficult variables in Mathieu Weggeman’s ‘knowledge value chain‘. With good reason, considering what it really is. Everything that is closely related to change is difficult, and complex.

The excellent infographic below  relates to organisational change and unravels some of that complexity surrounding the evanescent concept of ‘culture’.

The iceberg of organisational change – where culture and other subtle drivers are *really* deciding the name of the game (Credits: Torbenrick)

Personally I pay a lot of attention to culture, and yet I’m never really sure what to make of it. So here are a couple of thoughts about culture in a KM context.

  • Yes culture exists, and can be a really important enabler or barrier to any KM initiative;
  • So yes, paying attention to it is not only good, it’s essential. It can become a way to harness change around local preferences (e.g. asking people what they consider appropriate or not for their culture);
  • But culture is not necessarily what people think it is, and the scale of culture changes a lot (across industries, ages, even places large or small) – so best gather a variety of viewpoints about it from e.g. high-placed people, women, youths, people of diverse ethnic and/or socio-economic backgrounds etc.;
  • Because culture is often much less (if at all !) something codified than e.g. strategies, procedures etc.
  • But culture should not become a shield behind which no change is possible. Change happens everywhere, all the time, which means no culture is carved in stone, only the levers and buttons to trigger change may work very differently in places where the people have not been exposed to a lot of diverse experiences ;
  • Realising for yourself what you put as your own cultural background vis-à-vis other people or groups is also really helpful to keep your own biases in check, and engage in more meaningful intercultural learning conversations ;
  • Culture is a good conversation trigger to loosen tongues and get people to reflect on the deeper trends that affect their lives, beyond what is formally written, or said ;
  • Using the card of your own culture in a completely different environment can also be a powerful way to trigger change by playing a neutral role – or the role of the not culturally-savvy person who can come up with provoking statements…
Culture, it keeps moving on (Credits: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid)

Culture, it keeps moving on (Credits: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid)

So in brief, culture can be a useful trigger to spawn deep conversations, and is not something any KM initiative should take lightly, but it should also not be considered a factor to wave as an excuse for change – or at least good, serious, deep conversations – not to happen.

So even more briefly : mind your culture, and mind that I don’t mind it… so much…

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Flap your wings for the ‘butterfly revolution’ of learning and change


A simple idea: change yourself and you might see entire systems transform.

Change (Peter Downsbrough, 2011)

Aren’t we all butterflies fluttering our wings somewhere and causing tsunamis on the other side of the world? We are connected, and global change starts with individual change. Or perhaps it doesn’t, but what is certain is that without individual change we won’t see systemic change…

So why do we keep chasing the unicorns of this world in such simplistic ways? We want to achieve scaling up, sustainability, social learning, systemic change…but we don’t ask ourselves the right questions. All these unicorns won’t materialise if organisations are not willing and capable of operating together, and organisations won’t manage that if their own staff – individually – are not capable of learning by themselves, of being intentional about the change they want to see happen, of sharing with and caring for others, of connecting deeply. Exactly like the unit 0 of civilisation is the family, the unit 0 of learning and change is ourselves as individuals.

One of the concepts that has taken me recently is ‘process literacy': the capacity of people to go beyond ‘what has to be done‘ to also understand the fine processes that happen behind those objectives – what process documentation, systematization and capitalisation are trying to do. Being ‘process literate’ means that you constantly pay attention to the channels that are most appropriate to understand the issue you are contemplating. It means you can talk content (dive deep) and connect it with relevant fields and ideas (go wide).

It is through that process literacy lens that a lot of the questions we are grappling with will actually reveal some useful angles. Someone I just met is trying to unpack ‘knowledge management in value chains‘ and it turns out there is very little at the junction of these two fields, but she is adamant that it is in documenting the process of (not) doing KM in value chains that we will find ways to improve knowledge creation, sharing and use in those value chains. Spot on!

So, while social learning remains great, we need to nurture and cultivate that process literacy within ourselves. Social learning, by the way, is also understood by some as individual learning connected – via social media – to others (see the presentation below in its attempt to manage information through that type of social learning).

But the lesson is the same: learning, sharing, change, better livelihoods lives, they all start with each and everyone of us. So get ready to shed your caterpillar skin for the learning and change revolution to happen: we need all butterlies around to flap their wings.

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Killing my darlings: the workshop


Last week I facilitated a really hectic workshop on the fascinating topic of ‘community-based adaptation (to climate change) and resilience in the East and Southern African Drylands‘. A number of us (in the organising team) wondered at a point or another if the workshop was the best venue to create new meaning around this complex topic.

Workshops... are they still any good to express ourselves and create new meaning? (Credits: UNAMID / FlickR)

Workshops… are they still any good to express ourselves and create new meaning? (Credits: UNAMID / FlickR)

Simultaneously – aaah serendipity… – my friend Amanda Harding posted about ‘Reinventing the workshop‘, giving the example of an event (that suspiciously looked like a writeshop, if you ask me though).

Perhaps ‘workshops’ are indeed past their prime?

And since change is here to stay and we have to facilitate it, one of the things we’ll have to do on a regular basis is to kill our darlings, our pet ideas and approaches, our professional hobby horses.

At least review them critically. To see if they still strike a chord in our changing environment.

 

So one of my darlings is about to be killed right here: THE WORKSHOP

Particularly if the objective of ‘THE workshop’ is to carve out new grounds…

The problem of wishy-woshy workshops… Idealistic without a focus…

Amanda points in her post (co-written with Red Plough‘s Terry Clayton) that the workshop has become a ‘meme’. And indeed a number of things are wrong with workshops: They can be terribly designed and end up like orchestrated death-by-Powerpoint anti-learning operas; they may tend to solve everyone’s problems without any clear focus (see meme here); badly facilitated, they can actually contribute to worsening understanding AND relations between people.

But what I’m thinking about here, together with another mate who attended the same workshop last week is this:

Even if well designed, even if well facilitated, have workshops not become a standard solution that we revert back to, in a standard mode and in our comfort zone?

Where is the triple-loop learning here?

It’s not the first time that I have my doubts about workshops and what they can achieve… And one of my conclusions is that despite the best intentions probably the single most important aspect remains building and strengthening connections and relations: the social weaving. But that doesn’t stop me from looking at possible options.

Isn’t there an alternative?

Should we not follow the example of the World Bank’s John Heath (see 12th minute onwards in this excellent videotaped discussion of how The Bank learns) and focus on making time for learning by not jumping on what it is we want to achieve with events or happenings.

 Should we not follow the recommendation to bring diversity and argument at the centre of our deliberations (recommending again this great BBC article about the fallacy of the wisdom of the crowds on this topic) and rather focus on bringing very small groups of very diverse people together, outside their normal work environment, in a sort-of retreat, to explore promising new avenues and explore old topics with fresh pairs of eyes and complementary brains?

Should we not leave our voice and our pens/computers outside to let our other senses guide us in exploring the edges of our consciousness? Creative drawing, using metaphors, miming, observing (e.g. animals), using our body to solicit other avenues of our resourcefulness… ?

Should we not encourage more walking about, more journeys together to reflect on work, more cooking and eating together to explore new surfaces – indeed perhaps a cookshop might be as ground-breaking as a workshop for that matter?

Should we not refuse to bring people together physically and rather bring together virtually a group of people who practice Personal Knowledge Management to explore each other’s questions and musings and build upon that? Could a duo’s journey be not innovative than an entire room full of people?

Hmmm… lots of options hanging up and I’m not sure any of these would bring us further?

And what if the answer is in the workshop itself?

If un-conferences and workshops are sticking around, can we not think of a set of alternatives – which are already tested anyway:

    • Pure Open Space Technology workshops?
    • Other events without a preconceived agenda where perhaps organisers get participants to think about hard/complex questions they want to explore and filter out the most complex/interesting questions in a crowdsourced manner, to go more deeply in the fields concerned?
    • Happenings with staged ‘conversations and interactions for change’ such as this useful idea below…

The bottom line is also that we should clearly understand and distinguish when we want to have a workshop, a workstop (where we would stop working and explore relationships), a talkshop (where people have the entire liberty to explore anything in conversations), a writeshop where the point is to write some outputs etc.

One of the most important questions (from the BOSSY HERALD) to ponder when thinking about organising an event is whether we want to level knowledge or deepen it, and whether we want some output or some interaction. Totally different dynamics are at play in either case…

And all that said, I am still pondering the following, perhaps you have some answers:

  • Can we genuinely ‘explore new grounds’ with a group beyond 40-50 participants?
  • If so, what have been the ingredients, principles or heuristics that worked in your experience and that you would suggest following?
  • If not, what have been the best alternatives to workshops to bring up a totally different experience, that you think could be reproduced in other settings?
  • What have been your best examples of events or happenings that led people to change, not just to learn new ideas and share much? How did IT work?

Phew! Sounds like this reflection might go on for a while still…

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Knowledge Management… the fountain of resilience, adaptation, innovation and sustainability (and buzzwords!)


It goes back a long while that I’ve been asking myself what KM is and why it matters. This morning, while running, it struck me: it is just what makes us more resilient, adaptive and innovative, beyond the immediate challenge we are facing. Incidentally, KM is also dangerous with that ability to catch all buzzwords in its trail (resilient is the new adaptive, and innovation is the talk of E-town)…

Miracles of Evolution - Africa - Tihamer Gyarmathy, 1977 (Credits: WikiArt)

Miracles of Evolution – Africa – Tihamer Gyarmathy, 1977 (Credits: WikiArt)

What is KM trying to do? 

Of course KM supposedly helps organisations achieve their mission, be more effective in that endeavour, but KM focuses a lot (my expectation) on ever-learning, looking back to look forward, keeping track and avoiding to reinvent the wheel (though it’s sometimes ok), institutional memory curation, lessons learned, picking peoples’ brains and co-creating… so really KM is about developing a collective intelligence and finding ways to anticipate and prepare for what comes next, away from silver bullets, in the itchy corner of our brain where the next solution (trial) lies.

That is at the heart of being resilient, of adaptive thinking and working, of innovation.

Hmmm. Only given that some key things are in place. I am thinking about all these things right now when thinking about our local KM4Dev Addis Ababa/Ethiopia network, so I can progressively disengage myself from the coordination side to ensure that this network can continue on its own (without a non-Ethiopian to coordinate it). So what helps in strengthening resilience, adaptiveness etc.?

  • Thinking from the start about an exit strategy (and a good induction program) or some strategy to ensure that the initiative is embedded and owned by whoever is directly concerned, independently from the individuals involved in that initiative;
  • Developing capacity consciously, from the start and throughout, by questioning beyond the WHAT? and focusing on the knowledge, attitude and skills required to make the initiative successful;
  • Documenting the process throughout, so that all the generic context (simple or complicated, not complex) of an initiative, can be partly passed on to anyone else;
  • Making sure that there isn’t a single point of failure, that responsibilities are shared over teams so the success and transferability of good work does not depend on one person only (even though individuals matter a lot);
  • Mapping relations and expertise so anyone can find out where to go to find answers to their questions…
  • Organising conversations around these issues of resilience, adaptiveness, sustainability, long-term, roles and responsibilities, risks and how to mitigate them…
Diversity... also good for better outcomes (Credits: Steve Jurvetson / FlickR)

Diversity… also good for better outcomes (Credits: Steve Jurvetson / FlickR)

Now, away from that KM4Dev network and back into the reality of organisations…

The issue – and the problem of a lot of KM initiatives – is that the transition from ‘the team here and now’ to ‘the others out there, now and for the eternity’ often proves a real chasm and gets in the way of making use of all the good work by that team.

Scaling up, out, in space and time, that is the real challenge of resilient, adaptive KM.

And yet organisations are much better placed than individuals (and perhaps even networks) to make that leap. Because organisations (supposedly) have a coherent narrative to them, that all their employees can relate to, whether they like it or not. And crucially an organisation has some control over its employees. So it can probably enforce the transfer of skills, the curation of information and the sharing of knowledge to other teams and future employees (the latter is notoriously difficult still)…

Is it actually desirable to seen an organisation enforce this? And does it really happen? There are quite a few other questions to sharpen our critical thinking about the promised lands of resilience, innovation and sustainability (and yes indeed Nancy, critical thinking is subtle):

  • Is it better to go for KM below the radar (stealth mode) as I usually advocate, or to go for a slightly more ‘out in the open’ approach that perhaps has better chances of achieving that resilience and innovation at (a larger) scale?
  • Is there actually a point at encouraging organisations to be resilient, adaptive, innovative, if their finality is perhaps to disappear (I’m thinking about international, Northern hemisphere-based organisations working on global development). Isn’t there a risk of perpetuating structures when they may not be needed, or even helpful?
  • Related to the previous point: is it possible, over the long haul, to combine resilience/adaptiveness with sustainability? Isn’t that a contradiction in the terms?
  • Where does KM set the boundary in focusing on the organisation’s mandate or rather on the wider agenda that consider tradeoffs or compromises in space or time (more on that in another post)…, with the risk of going against the organisation?
  • What are the political options of KM to counter with the self-sustaining drivers of organisations (how can KM continue to promote the right ideas despite the organisation’s [hidden?] agenda to invest in its survival cost what cost)?

Perhaps these questions are some of the reasons why scaling up good KM (in space or time) does not easily take place… and why KM keeps focusing on the next buzzword to find another way to get at the same objective?

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