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:

 

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A knowledge management primer (2): DEFGHI


 

And the primer continues...

And the primer continues…

This is a new series of posts, an alphabet primer of agile knowledge management (KM), to touch upon some of the key concepts, approaches, methods, tools, insights. And because there could have been different alternatives for each letter I’m also introducing the words I had to let go of here.

 

Today, after covering the ABC of knowledge management I’m continuing with the next six letters of the alphabet primer: DEFGHI.


D for Documentation

Following my definition of what KM is, documentation is another leg of knowledge management, focusing on information management and curation. But documentation is also about taking it to a personal and behavioural level, in order to learn (e.g. blogging!). Where discipline reaps rewards and inspires others too. In this respect, documentation

D could also have been…

Data – I don’t believe all too much in the logical model of DIKW from data to wisdom but data is – or can be – definitely an important part of KM. Data are surrounding us and part of the information management is to organise that data and turn it into information that is available, affordable and accessible. Under ‘data’ you also find databases and ‘big data’. The former were the object of the first generation of KM, while the latter is what preoccupies a lot of new knowledge managers now…   

E for Engagement

Let it be said once and for all: KM is not just about the systems and tools, it’s crucially about people. Engaging people in KM is as important as -and I would argue even more important than- the information systems that hold the promises of big data… Engage for success! And there are many traditions of engagement to start from.

E could also have been…

EmpowermentEmpowering employees or the people generally involved in a KM initiative is not always an objective. But sure enough it helps engage them in your general KM approach and with the tools and systems that it relies on.

Enabling (environment) – Management, funding etc. are all part of an environment in which knowledge gardening can really thrive. The culture is also a big part of this enabling environment if it emphasises curiosity, learning, openness, acceptance of others and of failure, empathy, humility etc.

Exit interview – After action reviews are one well-known KM tool. In the older tradition of KM, exit interviews are another one. How to make sure that a person leaving is not leaving with all their knowledge, network and more. This has been the object of fascinating debates on KM4Dev and I already reflected on this in the past.

F for feedback

Feedback and its specific offshoot ‘feedback loops’ are central to any knowledge management approach that puts learning at its centre. Feedback is -on a personal level- an essential piece in improving one’s actions and questioning frames of reference and mindsets. And it’s all the more important to make feedback an important part of KM that it is difficult to give feedback, and even more so to give (and receive) good, useful feedback.

Feedback loops, are to knowledge management processes what feedback is to interpersonal relationships, a way to build in signals giving indication of what is going well or not along the way. Feedback loops are essential to any learning system or approach. And the earlier they kick in, the better!

F could also have been…

Failure – What with the fail fair, safe-fail approaches and more. Failures in KM are not the holy grail, but they’re one sure way to learn from important mistakes and improve (feedback loops again). Fail fast, fail often, stand up again. Quick & dirty KM to get to the real thing. That is also the history of development cooperation.

Facilitation – Nick Milton from Knoco said it: the first skill any KM team should learn is facilitation. Without it, how to get the best thinking from everyone to make a KM approach work? And with knowledge sharing and learning at the heart of KM, there is just no way around understanding how facilitation helps and applying it to all collective endeavours.

Folksonomy – Taxonomies are an important part of information management, to agree on the terms that will help curate a collection information items on a meta-level. Folksonomies are crowdsourced -or at least user-defined- taxonomies that help users find content related to what they’re searching, using their language (rather than language defined by a corporation).

G for Gardening

Knowledge is a garden, and knowledge management is the gardening of that knowledge. The knowledge ecology that KM feeds off of depends on the sowing (starting individual or collective initiatives), fertilising (capacity development, innovation, monitoring around these), pruning and trimming (curation) etc.

Knowledge gardening for collective sensemaking (credits: Jack Park)

Knowledge gardening for collective sensemaking (credits: Jack Park)

G could also have been…

Gamification – An increasingly important approach in various areas, but also in KM the use of games or gaming elements applied to serious initiatives is a way to create buy-in where simple databases and manuals failed miserably.

Gains – Since KM is so much about behaviour change, the idea of gains must be central to any KMer, Articulating the gains, the win-win, the ‘what’s in it for me’ is essential for KM buy-in.

H for humility

Learning (the third and in my view most crucial element of KM) is an eternal quest towards recognising the limits of your knowledge and building our (understanding of our) world upon the shoulders of giants. As such it makes us humble about the wealth of uncharted knowledge that we still have to get familiar with. But humility is also about managing expectations about KM. Since knowledge management has so much to do with behaviours, it takes time to effect change and being humble rather than over-promising is a useful stance when you have to roll out a KM program. I mentioned in the past how the path to wisdom is paved with effectiveness, focus, humility and empathy.

H could also have been…
Honesty – This was the only other H-word I found useful in the realm of KM, though there must be more of these out there. In any case honesty is, for very similar reasons to humility, a useful quality to have in KM particularly when it comes to managing expectations, and making yourself and your work more acceptable by building trust (and trust is the truth.

 
I for Infomation (management, systems)

After the letter C, I is another one of the KM heavyweight letters in this alphabet primer. The choice here is large, as you can see from the other options below. But of course information should be sitting on the I-throne. Information is at the core of KM, both in the documentation side of things, on the personal learning side through absorbing that documentation, and generally because it is about codifying other peoples’ know-how and knowledge in ways that benefit a much wider group of others than would be possible through human mediation. Under information come also information management and information systems.
I could also have been…

Innovation – More than KM, innovation has really become the centre stage of knowledge work and some would even mention that of all KM generations, the new one is all geared towards innovation. For sure getting people to share knowledge and learn together brings them to innovate. If a culture of curiosity, safe failing, encouragement, daring is there, then the ground is extremely fertile for ongoing innovation capacity.

Institutional memory – Another of the classic entry points to knowledge management: how to make sure an organisation remembers what happened in the past and prevents reinventing the wheel all over again. This goes together with exit interviews but goes much beyond that to the collective records of an organisation or network.

Intention – The last I-word I would add to this list – more could have made it – but an important one: the sense of purpose, and the intention that is at the heart of the rituals of learning. Intention helps us get better and that is why it features highly in agile KM initiatives…

And let thy feet milleniums hence be set in midst of knowledge - Tennyson (Credits: Joanna Penn)

And let thy feet milleniums hence be set in midst of knowledge – Tennyson (Credits: Joanna Penn)

 

Sharing and feedback done, now learning and change to go…


And so the results of the feedback survey on this blog are in (though you can still vote here). A big THANK YOU to you all for chipping in! View the results via the link from the survey box below.

So: 19 votes pleading for more KM and more communication, and perhaps less on M&E. Two very valuable comments. One attached to the post ‘Fire your frank feedback and forecast what follows on Agile KM for me & you‘ and the other one below:

Ewen, nice strategy of engaging with your readers; I would suggest asking for domain/subject suggestions that might be of interest. The reason I skip your blog, at times, is because:- it is either too jargon filled and too much jargon suggests a closed language world and leads to inclusion and exclusion dynamics;- your blog is too much a reworking of other stuff and there is no personal or original thinking in there- as i am increasingly moving away from international development and working on regional and local issues, once again i am struck by this divide we have managed to make the international development and domestic/local focus; this is fascinating, it shows that there are different worlds (of thinking and working) around. I do not know if this is bridgeable, it is an area of longstanding concern.Good luck and keep on blogging and thinking out loud …. see john Stepper http://johnstepper.com/2014/05/24/the-best-peer-support-group-for-your-career/

Where does this leave me? With a number of excellent pointers which I will try and apply, though of course I also follow my own intuition and will not keep stuck with one way of doing things, or blogging in this context.

  • Use more visuals;
  • Write shorter posts;
  • Use spicy questions;
  • Avoid jargon;
  • More personal thinking;

And you might have your own ideas still about what other things I need to change…

In the meantime, before I process this feedback into the posts, here’s what’s boiling on this blog’s pan for the next weeks and months (that I can foresee now):

  • More reflections about event/process facilitation in relation with a number of important events and happenings;
  • Some counter-reactions to ‘Working out loud’ and getting it work collectively;
  • The sequel to Anatomy of learning: how we (individuals) make sense of information which will feature my very own thinking indeed (but it may take some time);
  • Smart consultant practices for modern organisations;
  • … and your topics of choice? Will you let me know…

Oh, and I reckon improving this blog is not just about visuals, but also about audio cues. So before I get seriously into this, here’s one for Richard Martin who confessed he loved references to Radiohead…

Let me get this blog to see improvements trickle down the pyramid, Richard!

Related blog posts:

Fire your frank feedback and forecast what follows on Agile KM…


Feedback (Credits: gforsythe / FlickR)

Sometimes I wonder if what I’m writing on this blog is of any value to anyone.

It certainly is to me, as I’ve come to realise quite a few times in the past. But at this stage I am much more interested in engaging with the readers of this blog, and the people that engage with the posts. And then I also fear my ideas might be stagnating. A former colleague of mine (not complexity & KM guru Jaap Pels) said that everyone has only three of four stories to tell and that’s it.

Have I reached that point of exhausting my stories to tell?

Have I hit a wall?

Perhaps YOU know that better than me.

Of course there are positive comments on this blog and also about this blog. That’s really great and I already expressed my gratitude in the past, especially when that feedback comes from your heart, such as a fellow KM4Dev member recently commented (on the conversation about why the World Bank’s PDFs don’t get read):

I reflected on how I find “gold” in the form of well-hidden online reports and discussion papers and there are a few ways
1. Through wonderful groups like KM4Dev – yes, we are part of the solution!
2. Through personal contacts in the organisations or other networks
3. Through conferences, workshops, meetings etc
4. Through references in other pubs.
5. Blogs – Ewen, I regularly pick up gems from your blog among others! Thanks!

Some posts get amazing ratings (the happy families of engagement – What the heck is knowledge anyways or Portrait of the modern knowledge worker).

Some get quite a few likes (The art of blogging: Taking stock – Social web metrics: between the cracks of evidence and confidence or What are we waiting for to walk our talk (on KM and comms)?)

And some of these posts remain popular through the test of time: Managing or facilitating change, not just a question of words – Tinkering with tools: what’s up with Yammer? or the eternal Learning cycle basics and more: Taking stock

People visiting this blog kindly never seem to make really difficult comments (or perhaps I’m not reading between their lines well enough)… though some post ratings are bad/critical, and I know for myself that some (most) of my posts are not breaking ground and probably deserve better crafting, more ideas… But how do I get to that feedback that improves this blog to make it more engaging for all?

So, if I’m being true to my word, or to my motto ‘fun, focus and feedback‘, I’ve got to check with you lot if this blog is on track; and actually what it might be on track to, or what it should be. As much as I’ve dreamt of the feast of fools of feedback, now is the time to make this a reality for the blog.

Could you please tell me what you like on this blog, but more particularly what you don’t like so much, where you think I’m missing the mark, where you see interesting opportunities? 

I would just love your feedback. A simple comment will do 🙂 It could be about the topics I cover (or don’t cover), the type of posts I share, the look and feel, the conversation I have with you, anything that comes to mind!

And in addition, or perhaps to help the above, you might help me find some ideas for next posts and topics (please reply to the poll above).

I owe you, so I promise to act upon the comments I receive, and I’d be really glad to make this blog a more exciting place about agile KM and learning (for social change)…

Now the floor is yours, this is Agile KM for me… and you?

Effective Feedback - Some rules for effective feedback? (Credits: teachandlearn / FlickR)

Some rules for effective feedback? (Credits: teachandlearn / FlickR)

 

Thank you all for your great support – and a merry Christmas and happy holidays!


Dear readers, commenters, likers, raters, followers, friends and others,

Thank you for your great support! (Credits - Woodleywonderworks)

Thank you for your great support! (Credits – Woodleywonderworks)

One more year of blogging. The first year – over the past five years of blogging – when I have managed to consistently blog throughout the year, month in, month out. 63 posts. Many comments, quite some likes and ratings. A good year.

This is all thanks to you 🙂 Thanks to your interactions on this blog, on Twitter, LinkedIn etc. Your readership makes this blog worth keeping up and I can’t express my gratitude warmly enough for engaging with me and my posts and helping me reflect continually at different levels and conversing with the quality hearts and minds that you have.

As I am going on home leave for the end of the year, looking back at this good year, here are some final reflections, with some inspiration from John Stepper’s reflection post about   his first 1.5 years of blogging.

The 5 most successful (most viewed) posts this year were:

  1. Portrait of the modern knowledge worker
  2. Tinkering with tools: what’s up with Yammer?
  3. Managing or facilitating change, not just a question of words
  4. Settling the eternal semantic debate: what is knowledge, what is information
  5. What the heck is knowledge anyways: from commodity to capacity and insights

The 10 posts I enjoyed writing most were:

This year has also seen the development of a Pinterest board about this blog. It’s a nicer way to navigate through a see of posts (152 to date). You reckon?

Next year I sure will come back to blogging with renewed energy, ideas and inspiration, about the content and the process of learning. Holidays are great for that: they feed learning by letting parts of your brain rest while activating others and stimulating our hearts… well at least mine in this case.

So have (hopefully) great holidays and Christmas if that means something to you, and see you in 2012! And again MANY MANY THANKS. I hope to keep exploring the role of knowledge work in social change and development work thanks to you and with you next year and beyond.

Bonnes fêtes de fin d’année !

I WANT (YOU) TO CHANGE! Yes but how?


Change is the elephant in the room, so just deal with it (credits - Dawn Penn on FlickR)

Change is the elephant in the room, so just deal with it (credits – Dawn Penn on FlickR)

There’s a lot written about change, change processes, change management, behaviour change, social change etc.

This week again Chris Collison was wondering about what’s stopping us from putting knowledge into action, or in other words, from knowing to changing.

This is a bit of an attempt to synthesise the pathways to personal (behaviour) change.

What are the stimuli of personal behaviour change? This video by Robert Cialdini about the ‘science of persuasion‘ offers some clues.

But this is not all of it. There are other factors that affect our pathways to behaviour change:

A realisation that we have to change something. It starts with that. No one changes a behaviour without realising the need to do just that (or do we?). A behaviour change can be sparked suddenly, when we are struck by the lightning of obviousness (e.g. “clearly I need to run meetings differently”). It can also be induced by repeated exposure to ‘signals of change’ (e.g. a regular chit-chat with someone you find inspiring). It could also be induced by a willingness to proactively anticipate events that will require us to change sooner or later anyway. In any case, feedback mechanisms bring about that moment when we realise why we have to change, because we see the unsatisfactory results of our current behaviour.

A more detailed understanding of what we have to change or how. From the realisation that ‘business as usual’ is no longer relevant, we need to examine closely what it is that we have to change. Again here we need some kind of feedback mechanisms, induced by others (direct feedback through online or face-to-face conversations), or by our own exploration e.g. finding out, while reading, that we seem to be out of pace with others doing similar things, or through regularly reflecting again, e.g. via after action reviews

A willingness to change. Even if we understand clearly what we want to change, we have to assess whether, deep down, we are bothered to change… At that stage, we are no longer in the cognitive realm, we are immersed in the emotional world. And this is perhaps where the tipping point is. We may have totally irrational reasons to go against a perceived need to change, as is the case with smoking cigarettes, not washing hands… our will has to spring out of comfort and routine. Willingness to change is about the where and when we are ready to change.

A step up to actively effect change. And finally, we may realise, understand and even want to change, but if we don’t take active steps to change, nothing happens. Perhaps this seems unlikely if the three other conditions are met, but the intensity of all these other factors may not be as strong as required to modify our behaviour. We need to take a bold first step to make change happen. The how is the question here, but certainly small steps are more helpful than grand visions at this stage…

The pathways of change are not straightforward. And yet they are pathways because they go through different steps…

The AIDA pyramid

The AIDA pyramid

Somehow, the marketing model of AIDA comes to mind here too:

  • (grab) Attention
  • (stimulate) Interest, usually through information
  • (create) Desire
  • (generate) Action.

This model is usually applied to bringing people to buy products – but changing behaviour could be the product we’re interested in selling here.

If we look in more detail, we can single out finer granularity details explaining what inspires these four steps towards change.

  • Accidents and incidents. Indeed accidents are major game changers. They reverse the order of priorities. Even incidents have that property to let change emerge. This is where the ‘safe-fail’ probes and approaches come in handy.
  • Being connected. The more we are connected to others, and the more diverse those others are, the more we are increasing our chances of getting out of our comfort zone. Bill Taylor says just the same to learn as fast as the world changes.This is why staying for 30 years in the same company reduces our chances of changing – because we are then connected to a very slowly changing network. This is also why social media have incredibly accelerated change. They have massively amplified our feedback loops.
  • Trust. As we are connected, we tend to follow those we trust – and we now know how complex the trust-building process is. Trust is the kind of cement to relationships that is built upon common experience, reliability, ‘authority’ and the ‘liking’ mentioned in the above video. It also relates to reciprocity, boiling down here to “being the change you want to see”. Along the same lines, rather than listen to us, children also watch us and trust our actions, not our words.
  • Previous ‘tickling’ – the ‘consistency’ message that Robert Cialdini mentions in his ‘science of persuasion’ video shown above. Social change itself, in my view, consists of trying to bend the tree. Doing it ever so slightly each time eventually brings major breakthroughs – a typical case of emergence in a complex adaptive system
  • Reflecting, learning and processing emotions. Having a regular practice of  reflexivity and learning – one of the reasons why blogging is so crucial – enhances our sharpness to signals of change. If being connected (see above) keeps us externally astute to signals of change, reflecting, learning and processing emotions keeps us internally astute to them. What might create the tipping point, again particularly emotions.
  • Ownership – We need to be bothered about the issue at hand to change… Otherwise the ‘not invented here‘ NIH syndrome will kick in. “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand”. It is our change that will last, not others. We can undo what others have changed in us, a typical process for people suffering from tyranny.
  • Passion can be a strong driver of learning and change, whether inspired by sheer feeling towards another/others, inspiration given from a person, inspiration for a vision that has been jointly developed etc. Passion however bears the risk of putting us in the group think bias if used blindly collectively (something which Dave Snowden recently blogged about).
  • Whatever it is, the carrot – the WIIFM – matters. If we see an incentive, we (might) go for the change. Our comfort zone is a very gravitational factor. Asking us to go through the trouble of moving out of it necessitates a very clear and obvious value proposition. The WIIFM includes cost-benefit analysis and return on investment (RoI) calculations. The benefit has to outweigh the cost or risk, at least in the longer run – or it might be lesser as a result of a compulsory move from the institutional environment (see below).
WIIFM

WIIFM

  • The stick… the threat or risks that we associate with not changing our behaviour can also be a strong driver of change. The sense of ‘scarcity’ also mentioned in the video is part of this stick.
  • Institutional pressure and biases. We work (certainly as employees) in a world of rules and regulations, of formal and informal incentives and boundaries. Typically, the heavily donor-driven development cooperation sector is an open field for many biases that can game operations and encourage or deter change.
  • Peer pressure. That could be one of the sticks (or the carrots, to conform) that plays out strongly… positively or negatively for the kind of change. If you go against the flow, you are potentially just one more positive deviant.
  • A certain confidence or at least having an idea of how to move forward and of having the capacities – or the courage – to go for it. Sometimes we postpone the actions we should take because we don’t feel confident enough to undertake them. Learning a new skill (using a PC, driving, managing staff) could be an intimidating first step to getting us to the change we want.

There are two major ways that we may face these factors: alone, or socially. Reading and doing things our way could lead us to change. So might conversation(s) and joint action. There was a while back a conversation (open to group members only) on a LinkedIn group about learning alone or socially, by reading or conversing, by codifying or by personalizing. Both approaches are different and can lead to the ‘aha’ moment that will lead to change.

It seems there are a lot of different learning styles out there – and I also blogged about that in the past – which mean there are many pathways to change.

Multiple intelligences & learning styles

Multiple intelligences & learning styles

 

What does it mean for our knowledge and learning work?

So where does this leave us?

A lot of knowledge and communication work is about persuading people to change / adapt their behaviour to be able to learn better for themselves, to get to share what they think/see/feel/like with others, to document their work life, to reflect on what is happening and to collectively stimulate others to do so.

Yet we tend to rely on the same levers to pull and buttons to push all the time. And for everyone. Particularly, we fall prey to believing that sheer information will influence people on their own pathway to change. A lot of research ends up accumulating dust on the shelves without any impact for this very reason.

It’s time to shift our approach and to focus on who we are really dealing with (ourselves, our brains and hearts) and to embark on more realistic, more effective approaches to influence change.

The summary table (below) of the different steps on the pathways to change and the factors that influence these (strongly when bold) might help realise where we need to focus our efforts to change our behaviours or stimulate behaviour changes of others.

ATTENTION: Realisation that we need to change
  • Being connected (to hear the signals for the first time)
  • Trust (to accept that these signals might be valid)
  • Consistency, repetition i.e. ‘previous tickling’
  • Reflexivity / ongoing learning (to realise something is not quite right)
  • Ownership (co-creation of the conditions to understand we need to change)
INFORMATION: Understanding about what we need to change
  • Reflexivity / ongoing learning
  • Observation and reading
  • Being connected (engaging in conversations to gather the facts and drill deeper in the analysis)
DESIRE: Willingness to change
  • WIIFM
  • Ownership
  • Passion
  • Scarcity
  • Trust
  • Being connected (to keep the fire alive)
  • Institutional pressure and biases
  • Perceived risk and other ‘sticks’
ACTION: Stepping up to effecting change
  • Peer pressure
  • Institutional pressure and biases
  • Confidence and capacities (to undertake actions)
  • Carrots and sticks
  • Ownership (certainty of the relevance and of the validity of the vision, whether it brings small but direct benefits quickly or brings greater benefits over time)

In practice, this means that would be well informed to:

  1. Realise where, in the pathway of change, we are (or the person we try to influence is).
  2. Develop strong and rich (diverse) feedback mechanisms.
  3. Work on the appropriate levers and buttons that matter at that stage.
  4. Develop trust with those we want to influence or we believe might influence us positively, to develop strong feedback loops.
  5. Encourage gardening the diversity of our networks to establish rich feedback loops.
  6. Try different approaches for different types of people, based on the trust we have with them and on the kind of cost-benefit and RoI calculations that will form acceptable evidence of the need to change.
  7. Combine a compelling vision of success with small incremental steps that do not feel like we need to change everything in one go or add ever so much more on our (work) plate.
  8. Realise the ‘institutional’ factors (the carrots and sticks, the peer pressure mechanisms) that might influence change too.
  9. As much as possible, co-create our work processes with multiple and diverse parties to bring all of the above together.

The pathways of change are not straightforward, but perhaps that’s for the better: We are all different, and change keeps changing, right?

Related blog posts:

Believe in empowerment? Then just do it!


A little rant/shoot here.

Empowerment - too perilous and futile? (credits: yohan1960/FlickR - sculpture by Stephen Broadbent)

Empowerment – too perilous and futile? (credits: yohan1960/FlickR – sculpture by Stephen Broadbent)

Development work is (IMHO) all about empowerment: finding ways to become fully aware of one’s choices in one’s own livelihood, to become capable to make these choices and to proactively develop this liberty of choice and action so as to continually adapt to ever changing challenges – through learning.

Development cooperation work is all about empowerment too, it is about supporting the empowerment mentioned previously and to help connect choices and actions on livelihood, dignity and liberty.

Yet development (cooperation) work surprisingly slips back to habits, bad habits, and known bad habits at that – much like we tend to be continually over planning. We – at least some of us – talk about empowerment but we don’t champion it in practice quite as adamantly.

Here is a review of typical known bad habits that hamper empowerment:

  1. Do it, don’t delegate! Do not bother delegating anything since you do it better than others, you know the end result will never be quite as good as if you do it. Especially if you never give others a chance to become masters and perhaps even improve on you.
  2. Buy/hire capacities, don’t develop them! Why invest in capacities you have at hand? There will always be better experts abroad than in-house. You need a specialist in strategic communication? Recruit a new staff member. Need specialist know-how for your M&E? Hire a consultant! Yeah it takes time to bring them on the same page but they are better to start with and come with a new mindset which can probably be moulded more easily, especially if they are not too old. Who needs the long sweaty road of grappling with capacity development?
  3. Despair and swear, dont’ trust and be patient! People around you are not doing things well, they just don’t get it and never will, why would you be patient and trust that they will bring the best of their intentions and capacities to perform a task? Sadly you can just despair at their misunderstanding and swear at their incapacity to do things like you (see point 1).
  4. Tell, don’t show! It takes too much time to show people how to do something so just tell them and hope that they get it. They probably don’t and then you have a good reason to follow point 3 and ultimately 1.
  5. Hush now, don’t explain! Just diss what people have to say, don’t bother explaining what is going on. So in fact, don’t even bother telling people (let alone showing them) – so ignore point 4 and just ignore people altogether and leave them in their sea of ignorance. Ignorance is bliss they say and you are kind enough to grant them this privilege.
  6. Criticize, don’t praise! People around you might be doing their best, and actually improve, but there’s always so much more that needs improving! Let them understand all these things they don’t get and that there is a long way before they get it right. A good lesson of what’s going wrong helps to learn, right? Besides, surely praising will make them lazy and self-complacent, so put them on the right track again and give them a right rinsing of criticism – preferably publicly so next time they think twice before saying something stupid!
  7. Impose your view, don’t help others find theirs! Since they have a very poor understanding of the situation, you should just show THE right perspective and way: yours. All those ideas about multiple perspectives and complementary viewpoint is just another reason to get soft, not take hard decision and remain ignorant. Luckily one person stands out to correct the ways development is being done – you are the messiah that they should have been expecting because you never fail to see what needs to be done. And there is certainly no point helping people find their own authenticity and purpose; instead they should support your approach, the only right one.
  8. Hide the truth, don’t criticize! In fact, even better, don’t even criticize, not even in private, just say nothing. They will never get it and will never change so just don’t invest any energy in feedback – they are not worth your attention, time and prestigious expertise.


Obviously this is a caricature but we do find a lot of watered down versions of these terrible attitudes in development work. I also don’t deny that in certain situations there might be a teeny tiny grain of truth in some of the statements above but by and large they all miss the point of empowerment and bring a shameful (post-?)colonial twist to development (cooperation) work.

Let’s all face our own bad habits and see how many of these we can trade for true empowerment in our thinking, discourse and actions… Time to be honest about our own limitations and about the great potential of all other people around us. Empowerment: stop talking about it – just do it!

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The feast of fools of feedback


Carnival season is approaching! A special season where licence and libations precede long fasting.

Related to the carnival, but taking place in December, the feast of fools is another fascinating popular event that marked Western Europe’s history from the sixth to the sixteenth century. The idea of the feast of fools was indeed to bestow “power, dignity and impunity […] to those in a subordinate position.” A mini social revolution that perhaps helped keep the sanity of the society of the time by allowing an extraordinary amount of pressure to come off the system in a structured outburst of freedom.

Feast of fools (Bruegel)

The feast of fools (Bruegel) - why not use that powerful frustration outlet for our modern age?

I’ve always thought that – with careful design and due ‘facilitation’ – it might be a good idea to try such a feast of fools in an organisation. It may not have to follow the medieval model and be reserved exclusively to those who don’t have power, but it could just be organised as a day when everyone might feel free to give feedback to anyone else in any possible way. With or without a mask (as was the case in the middle age)…

Of course this might go terribly wrong. Medieval time celebrations and their Roman ancestor, Saturnalia, also went out of hand occasionally. This is where a sound dash of structure could come in handy; and there are plenty of options to ‘frame’ that feast of fools: a short presentation on how to give feedback? Having all staff wear a disguise, mimicking the age-old mask function? Feedback provided not verbally but in writing or post it notes mysteriously stuck on the walls? Theatrical enactment of the issues that deserve feedback? There are many options…

The idea has not been tried out to my very limited knowledge. And if it was put to test, perhaps even after a few try-outs in a more limited environment, it might prove a powerful cathartic learning exercise that would help a) feel better indeed about letting go of some deep thoughts, b) revealing unexplored, below-the-table issues that deserve improvement, c) reinforcing a culture of feedback and d) offer another opportunity for creative thinking…

As I’m starting this new year of blogging, perhaps it’s also your chance to test this idea in practice on this blog by freely providing any feedback, however critical, about this blog and what I do with it between now and this Friday?

Now, that was a shoot… hopefully not just a ‘shoot me’.

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A new year of fun, focus, feedback and some new ideas


Happy 2012!

I wish you a year of great health, love, success but particularly of fun, focus and feedback! This has been my mantra for the past two years and I’ll stick to it for another year. And this year’s full of more than just fun focus and feedback.

More fun, focus and feedback in 2012 (photo credit: ILRI/Peter Ballantyne)

More fun, focus and feedback in 2012 (photo credit: ILRI/Peter Ballantyne)

But before looking at some ideas for change, what’s in a mantra, really? What’s in this mantra? Time to explain perhaps…

FUN

We spend so much time at work that we might as well have some fun, especially when we work on complex and/or complicated issues. Since learning and knowledge management are a lot about changing behaviours, we’re much more likely to change them through fun. This is the extremely compelling argument behind the fun theory. And perhaps, contrary to what Cindy Lauper used to sing, not just girls want to have fun. I do too! How about you?

FOCUS

Now if we were just having fun we might forget what we’re having fun for. So this is the balancing factor to fun; the filling that makes the cake not only beautiful but also exquisite and memorable; the compass that brings the cool boat to its destination… You get the idea.

So fun is perfect, but it’s only an instrument that should be used to reach an objective, a purpose. Learning is all the more effective as it is consciously aiming at a specific objective.

Focus is also about dealing with only one thing at a time. While it makes sense to do strategic multi-tasking (keeping different balls up in the air, or keeping your eggs in different baskets, to avoid depending on one initiative/partner/client only), it is counter-productive to do operational multitasking – dealing with emails, yammer, blogging, talking on the phone, writing an article at the same time. This is the key point of Leo Babauta in his Focus manifesto. And I believe he’s right.

FEEDBACK

Now this one sounds perhaps less obvious and yet it is perhaps the most powerful of the three pillars in this mantra. If we are to learn, we need to continually adjust what we are doing towards the intended focus. This is the powerful effect of feedback loops that among others Owen Barder has explained in a blog post about improving development policy.

Feedback has value on both sides of its coin:

  • Given possibly negatively but constructively, it informs us on what we do not so well and need to question and readjust;
  • Given positively it confirms that we are on the right track and reinforces good practices. Not insignificantly it also boosts our confidence in ourselves and in the feedback giver, it builds trust. And it liberates energy, which can be channelled to more fun and focus…

So give feedback relentlessly, either for learning and change or just as a token of appreciation to the others. In a way, the only truly great present you can give others is your presence. And feedback is a great way of manifesting your presence, as a result of observing, listening and caring. Here are some tips for feedback that works.

So I wish you all three in 2012 and also the powerful combination that they make and personally ignites me all year long.

Now, for the new ideas of 2012, here are a few things around this blog I want to give a try in 2012 – your feedback is much appreciated, as ever:

  • Write more but also some shorter blog posts, the tumblers that echo what John Tropea does with his TumblR posts;
  • Interview people about KM, learning, communication and perhaps occasionally invite guest blogging;
  • Feature more videos and presentations that I have prepared or fished around on the internet;
  • Continue with my stock-taking series. One is due on facilitation basics soon;
  • Do more event and publication commenting;
  • And perhaps overhaul the design again. Time to shake off the grey and black frames, don’t you think?

And I have a few other ideas in petto but hey, let’s keep this rolling little by little…

Have a wonderful 2012!

Related blog posts:

Channelling energy: how do we realise, transform and accomplish ourselves?


For once let’s step aside from the KM and learning world and focus on something that matters to us all: keeping our energy up. This has obvious implications for knowledge and learning work too.

At work and in life we often have ups and downs, fuelled by the circumstances (the environment) that affect us but also by the choices we make, how we shape that environment for ourselves and our interactions with others. What matters in the process – be it indeed work or life – is to keep our energy up so that in bad times we can keep our head above the waters and in good times we can put that energy to good use: for ourselves and for others. In turn, the energy that we radiate infects others and gives us more energy.

Ultimately, that energy is what makes us perform better and accomplish our vision of what we are meant to do in this divine human comedy of life (and , though not so divine, work). Of course we may not follow a static course and our vision changes as we transform ourselves and use new insights to appreciate the world and the role we play in it. In other words, channelling energy is essential to find balance in life, to perform well, to be relevant dynamically (i.e. continually adapting to a changing environment) and to inspire others around us.

I have tried to map the factors that help us gain energy. Hopefully this could help us realise where we are not tapping into opportunities to channel energy and to realise who we are and how we can transform and/or accomplish ourselves.

(Click to see the full scale picture) The energy map .

The starting point of this map is ourselves: one the one hand, what helps us find ourselves (realising ourselves) i.e. being someone grounded and simultaneously aspiring to a certain vision, and on the other hand what we can do by ourselves (i.e. cultivating ourselves) to gain energy.

Then comes the environment (e.g. an organisation or any context for that matters) which gives us a chance – or not – to realise and cultivate ourselves.

A crucial third ripple concerns our interactions with others and the energy that we gain by inspiration, feeling trust, giving to others or receiving something from them. What is crucially missing in this part of the map is love, but that is another matter altogether which would deserve many blog posts, hence my purposeful omission.

Finally, all these energy ripples contribute to our accomplishment and transformation, which affects us and others around us.

Does this map resonate with your experience?