Monthly Archives: April 2010

Why are the antics?

Interesting ideas come from unlikely sources.  Like an exploding shed.

Some people will never ‘get’ our ‘Antics series’ of blogs.
Rikyu, the most celebrated Japanese Tea Master ( there you go) was said to have chosen the art to be appreciated at his tea ceremonies such that only one in a thousand would truly understand it.  While I could never aspire to this level of greatness I would also hope that more people than this can make the connection.

A line in the sand
Some people take things literally they look at a line in the sand and it is simply a line in the sand.  Others see endless possibilities. If you gather a group of children round your line in the sand they will quickly turn it into a game, a story, a starting point.  They will add to it, imagine with it, and move it to another place.  They have the ability to be creative.  It ceases to be a line in the sand. 

Constrained by convention
We can all play when we loosen up a bit and allow ourselves to be creative. However, how quickly we become constrained by conventions.  Just look at the way we conform to fashion.  Young people out on the town are almost in a uniform. Colours (or should I say shades of black), styles and brand have to conform.  As the red carpet police cast their critical eyes and comments over the Oscar attendees they have a narrow band of appreciation of what they should and should not be wearing.  Go to any event where people have a free choice about what they wear and notice that they haven’t.

None of this is an issue unless we want to encourage people to be creative, to find better ways of doing things, to be innovative.  If we tend to conform to convention all the time we lose the skills needed to see endless possibility.

The missing link
The skill of the Paradigmeer is to link seemingly unrelated ideas to create a new possibility.  Isaac Newton – a falling apple becomes gravity;   Barnes Wallace – a skimming stone becomes a bouncing bomb; Spencer Silver – a failed development becomes the post-it noteArchimedes – bath time inspires reliable measurement of volume.  This is catalytic thinking; the ability to generate light bulb moments which can cause seismic shifts in the way we do things. 

So welcome to Antics.  This is about exploring the possibility of endless possibility by considering things that we don’t usually consider and applying them to our work. 

Catalytic thinking or not.  If you have to ask ‘what’s this about then?’ well you haven’t got it and so it’s simply a bit of fun.

An exploding shed?
The exploding shed is actually a piece of sculpture by Cornelia Parker called An Exploded View (1991).

‘The work began life as an ordinary garden shed. Parker scoured friends’ sheds, attics, car-boot sales, finding typical objects to fill it, and then asked the British Army to blow the whole lot up. She collected the wreckage and reassembled it as a formalised constellation of suspended fragments, frozen as if at the moment of detonation. The smallest elements, such as toy cars and a crushed tin can are nearest the centre. Larger pieces such as shattered planks of wood and a bicycle wheel are at the edges. A single light bulb at the centre of the orbiting debris throws shadows onto the surrounding walls.

I saw it at the Tate Modern, and it is bloody brilliant!  But no, it didn’t make me want to blow up my shed:  The ideas it created have sat in my brain waiting for the time when they might create a connection.  Like now, as interesting metaphor for a blog!

Getting to the next level

If I come across another Good to Great programme I think I’m going to scream.  It seems that every Chief Executive has read Jim Collins’ ‘Good to Great’, some may have even read ‘Built to Last’ and now they are leading the way. 

If only they were.  The problem is that many of these organisations are not very good before they start.  You need a different approach to go from crap to good!  Then and only then, can you attempt to go from good to great.

The nature of all organisations is that there are pockets of brilliant practice and other areas that are poor.  Yet in order to attack this inconsistency we find a standardised approach.  This means that those who are brilliant feel they are being penalised for the poor performance of others and those who are poor are usually in denial. 

I recently met a team who had been identified as having problems by their Senior Managers. They spent most of the meeting telling me about their successes and how good they were.  I left the session thinking that all I had been told previously must have been wrong. 

In reality they had some great practice and some issues.  No team will accept they are poor performers; there will always present reasons for their shortcomings.  This is the crux; to shift their mindset from giving reasons for their failings towards taking responsibility and doing something different.

Even when this is achieved and everyone has a realistic view that the team is now good, what incentive is there for them to get to the next level?  If you have been at the bottom of the pile but have climbed out of that position isn’t it safer to stay with the practice that has delivered you to a new safer position? Why would you change further? 

Like most teams, in most organisations, in order to move to the next level you have to do something different.  You can refine and improve but this will only take you so far.  It’s like an athlete or football team who have achieved a certain standard and want to progress further. They may have the potential to improve, in order to do so they need a new coach who will open their eyes to different training regimes.  The risk is that this will make them worse.  Moving to the next level is a risk.

To enable a team to move to the next level their organisation has to share the risk.  Can they create the conditions which allow for experimentation and forgive setbacks?

The next level isn’t a number of little improvements; this will only take you so far.  When you have reached perfection what is next? Organisations, teams and individuals that achieve this next step have done so by taking a risk to find a different approach. 

Which is the biggest challenge, crap to good or good to great?

Customer Experience – What it isn’t!

It isn’t PR hype.
A colleague of mind recently bought a car from a company which has proudly proclaimed in all its advertising and PR that they are better than all the rest because of the experience they give their customers.  Highly laudable until she actually experienced what they perceived was great customer experience.  So many organisations make these extravagant claims because they see it as a way of differentiating themselves from their competitors.  This would be great if they really understood ‘customer experience’.

It isn’t what is written in a training manual.
My son has worked for two major financial organisations both of whom make great play on their customer experience credentials.  They even publish figures to back up these claims.  You only had to talk to him as an employee to quickly realise that they are not talking about customer experience, they actually mean ‘service delivery’ which is a quite different thing.  He talked about the length of time he was allowed to spend in conversation with the customer and the methods his colleagues used to deal with difficult calls.  It was easy to spot that these organisations had no real understanding of what their customers experienced simply by listening to the language used by their highly trained employees.

It isn’t apologising when things go wrong.
An award winning Phone Company apologised to me on 15 occasions over a six week period before they managed to connect my home to a phone line. Every conversation I had with them started with ‘I can only apologise for that sir’.  I spoke to operators, sales, customer service, managers and even a coach all of whom failed to deliver the ‘bread and butter’ service of the company.  But they did apologise whole heartedly for the failings of their colleagues on each occasion!

It isn’t surveys and data collection.
I had a very interesting conversation with a Regional Director of a major Parcel Carrier.  They were a very good organisation that had made brilliant improvements in their service.  When I asked him to prove to me that they were good he quickly produced figures, graphs, measurements, and tables.  I was very impressed they had fantastic processes.  My experience had been in trying to get into their building to attend our meeting, just as any member of the public wanting to make a collection would do.  Poor signage and staff who were happy to assume I knew my way around meant this was to say the least frustrating.  They probably just needed another graph for this.

What it is, is very simple.
As a customer facing person use this test – Ask from which side of the customer interaction are you looking? That of your organisation; or that of your customer?

What is happening to your customer? Did you deliver? What does your customer see?  What does your customer hear?  What does your customer feel?  What is your customer experiencing?  That is their customer experience.  We’ve all been a customer; we all know what it is like to be a customer so it can’t be that difficult to understand your service from their perspective. 

Make that change…

I have the great privilege of visiting many different organisations during the course of my work.  They all have one thing in common regardless of whether they are in the public or private sector, large or small, great or striving, front line or leadership.  There is not a meeting that passes which doesn’t mention the word ‘change’.  It is their Sword of Damocles. For those of you unfamiliar with this wonderful ancient metaphorical tale let me explain…

The metaphor of the Sword of Damocles
In the fourth century BC the tyrannical ruler of Syracuse, the Greek area of what is now known as southern Italy was Dionysius.  Like rich, powerful people throughout history he had sycophants in his court that flattered him and inflated his ego.  They lavished praise on his wealth, power and lifestyle and of course his judgement.  Damocles was one of these courtiers.  After giving one piece of ingrationation too many Dionysius said ‘If you think I’m so lucky then how would you like to try out my life’, or words to that effect. 

Damocles readily agreed to the swap, well who wouldn’t want to experience the high life and so Dionysius made the preparations.  The lavish lifestyle was all that Damocles had hoped for and all was well until that is, he noticed a sharp sword hanging by a horse hair thread which hovered over his head wherever he went.  This, explained Dionysius, was what life as a ruler was really like.  Alarmed by the risks involved Damocles decided to return to his poorer, but safer, former role.

You can examine this story from two perspectives.  Firstly, from his point of view, Damocles was suddenly able to appreciate that his new role could be highly risky:  he understood the benefits of his step change in lifestyle but suddenly the risks outweighed the gains.  A lesson well learnt – be careful what you wish for!
But, perhaps more interestingly, why did Dionysius create the sword.  How many Leaders, managers or holders of office create a ‘Sword of Damocles’ to hold over the head of anyone who shows initiative and innovation which might threaten their position?  Was Dionysius cleverly scaring off any challenger to his authority? 

At a Health Conference we organised recently one of the speakers challenged the audience to make her role redundant within the next two years by which time her hope was that the programme she was leading would be embedded in people’s working practices.  This would also mean massive benefits for the health and wellbeing of over 5 million people.  Her attitude was that this change will be accomplished; job done; bring on the next project.  Many in her audience on the other hand could only see Swords hanging over their own heads.  Along with the benefits came a risk; for some their organisations would have to provide a different type of service, they would have to work differently and their focus would need to shift.

What enables some people to see themselves wearing a laurel wreath of victory on their head while others see only a sword hanging by a thread over theirs?  

It seems to depend on how we view change – is it something to be embraced; offering great opportunity and benefit or is it something to fear and keep us where we are? Well, I think that depends on your mindset.

I hear so often ‘we are change weary’ or ‘this organisation is like a tanker; a change in direction takes a long time’ and other such clichés that have become prevalent in people wanting to avoid personal responsibility.   The reality is we can only bring about change if we are all willing to accept the risks and responsibilities, but with that come the benefits and the opportunities.  If we agree things are not perfect now (and there are few situations that are) then surely the only option is change.

I’m Starting With The Man In The Mirror
I’m Asking Him To Change His Ways
And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place
Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change

Michael Jackson

The Birth of a Paradigmeer

Have you noticed that every so often you need a word to describe something and every word you try isn’t quite right? You need a word that is somewhere in between those other words. At which point you can give in and use something that you feel is unsatisfactory… or do something different.

I wanted a word which would describe those brilliant, brave, enlightened souls who were dissatisfied enough with conventional wisdom to ask if there could be another way? My choice is to define what I mean by it and then create an appropriate word.

To start with, they are people who have been a catalyst of change; those who have created a ‘step change’. 

Most of the time change is evolutionary, where a succession of improvements continually refines that which already exists. Rules are created; ‘this is the way we do it ‘round here’’ becomes the mantra. Taking a different approach becomes very difficult, because the rules, written and unwritten legislate against it.

Take sports coaching as an example, where athletes learn the techniques that allowed others to be successful. This is how you serve like Roger Federer at tennis, or Arnold Palmer swings a golf club, or get your wet suit off at the transition phase of a triathlon ‘like the pros’. We copy their technique, practice their technique, and perfect their technique. A set of rules develops, at first unwritten, then fully formatted soon to be followed by the means of policing. Practices become established and entrenched.

Add the greatest disempowering factor – mindset. People believe that this is the ‘best’ way of doing things to the exclusion of anything other than refinements and evolutionary progress. It is not in their best interests to do anything different, they have become expert practitioners whose power and prestige are reliant on upholding the status quo. They actually become highly proficient in ensuring their position is protected; they have no interest in doing anything which threatens their position. They create restrictive practices to prevent their position from being eroded.

In every aspect of our lives you can see this happening, just examine your work life, business, politics, energy, banking, law, medicine, education. How many things do you do that are governed by rules, processes and accepted convention?

Find a better way
Every so often people dare to question the rules simply by asking why we have to do it like this. They ask the most empowering question ‘what more can there be?’

Who are these people? What makes them think differently? Why do they take such risks? What triggers them to take action? What can we learn from them if, in our own way, we want to take ourselves, our team, our organisation, our industry to the next level. I needed a new word so I called these people ‘Paradigmeers’.

Para~digm~eer (par’ə dīm~eer’, -) ~ noun
A person or persons who undertakes to change the rules and create a new reality. Someone to be admired!

It took about an hour to nominate our first 54 possible Paradigmeers. This list has since been chopped, changed, scrutinised, analysed, added to and generally argued over by my colleagues and I. It’s a great way spark an argument. ‘They’ has also broadened into five categories:

1. Paradigmeering Leaders
2. Historical events that created a paradigm shift
3. Products that changed our lives
4. Situations that prompted Paradigmeering
5. Visionary Paradigmeers

We’ll share our ‘Paradigmeers’ with you and maybe you could suggest a few to be considered. There will no doubt be things they have in common, but I shall specify no further as heaven forbid, this could well create a set of rules! So far the only rule is that they changed the rules to create a new reality.

Our hope is that this will inspire you and others to risk changing the rules to create a better world. As we look more closely at Paradigmeers so you’ll see how they have been responsible for enabling wonderful changes to occur. Some of our nominees are obvious Paradigmeers, other less well known, some have been successful whereas some have yet to receive the adulation that we think they truly deserve.