What would you get if you took Covey’s four quadrants, a pile of discrete items and a refusal to categorize? Maybe you’d get a sense-making exercise?
Maybe. That’s the question I posed to Mike Plotts today and here’s what came of the conversation. Hold on tight!
In Dave Snowden’s infinitely re-watchable Cynefin video he introduces us to the difference between categorization models and sense making models.
Categorization models are the typical 2×2 matrices found all over the place. Covey’s famous one looks something like this:
Now what if we destroyed the categories and replaced it with a hollow space sitting between two horizontal extremes (urgent and not urgent) and two vertical extremes (important and not important). It would look something like this.
That’s not fulfilling though because opposites aren’t really great extremes because they don’t imply a continuum between them. They imply an either-or question (like the category titles they were). Let’s replace them with extremes with a similar value assumed, but without the either-or construction.
That’s better. It’s personal to my perspective and all four are based on time, either the perceived worth of investing or wasting it on the task and the range from today until my last day on earth. Now, let’s populate it with a set of things I know I shouldn’t do (but do anyway) [red], a few that I know I should do [green], and the things that I’m indifferent about [orange]. Borrowing from Snowden’s sense-making methods, what if I place those items in relation to the sides and in relation to each other. They might scatter into the space like this.
Now, I’m visually faced with a choice that seems both more personal and more interconnected than the traditional lists that populate the corners of a 2×2 matrix. I don’t know about you, but I truly feel like I should do something now that I’m staring at this mess. But, what? One thing is to split big actions (e.g., succession planning for staff departures) into the pieces that make up the larger whole. Maybe moving around the pieces will allow us to focus on succession planning for our most indispensable people first. [Note: For my Lean loving friends, this is an example of creating flow by breaking apart a batch into the pieces to get the work moving through the system. See, I can apply Lean when I want to.]
For other things we can fix processes to eliminate time wasting processes or make ineffective time more effective. By carving out the improvement from the generic task we might be able to convince ourselves to change what we think we must do every day into what we want to do each day. Hence, the next step would be to set the must move on now (dare I say URGENT) tasks. The green line marks the Urgent Zone. The orange line fences in the actions that the sooner we take them, the sooner our daily life improves. The exercise helps us understand what to do, but stops before it tells us exactly how to do it. We’ll have to step out of the exercise for that.
Maybe there’s nothing to this mash-up of Covey’s quadrants and Snowden’s sense-making methods, but maybe there is. Either way, it was fun to experiment with how we might take what I think is a time wasting exercise (mapping our work into the four quadrants) and replace it with an exercise that won’t take any more time, but will give us a clearer, more personal picture of how we could (if we chose to) remake our life and how we spend our time.
Why not try?
[Special note: Next week I'm experimenting with another method evolving from (maybe even exapting from) other Snowden narrative-Complexity-scanning thoughts that are bouncing around in my head. Be on the lookout for a post about George Bailey's Irish Wake.]
John Kotter’s latest Harvard Business Review article, Accelerate, came out this week. It’s a must read. All those readers who are also Guiding Coalition participants will enjoy the fact that for years you’ve been living in the system that Dr. Kotter introduces to the world in the article. We don’t get to live on the leading edge often enough. Enjoy it my friends.
Rob is always feeding me great videos. Here’s Shawn Achor’s TedTalk on happiness.
Hugh Huck started sharing videos with me too. I’m glad to have him in the Engine for Change network. Here’s a great one he showed me from Margaret Heffernan. (My favorite line comes from Alice’s daughter: “My mother didn’t enjoy a fight, but she was really good at them.”) Heffernan’s tale of Alice Stewart‘s challenges echoes the “no one believed me, but I was right” storyline of Dave Snowden’s longitude video. It’s painful to hear how no one believed Mr. Harrison for more than 20 years and no one believed Dr. Stewart for 25 years. Their stories give me courage to keep fighting for changes that matter to me. If they could fight that long then so can I. Will you fight too?
Have a fantastic weekend and be sure to recharge so you can keep driving change.
BONUS: We think we know more than we do about complex issues. Thanks for the link, Hilbert.
These are the typical questions,…; Who gets the credit? Who will be blamed if it causes problems? Will it shift the power structure, costing jobs? Or will it make some subordinate department more important.”
It’s funny to reread the words because I had a nearly identical conversation just the other day with someone instructing me on why an innovation was not well received. I was struck then and I’m struck again now that the testing of innovations against self-preservation was seen as “just the way we do things around here,” or something beyond inspection. “Nothing to see here!” I guess.
It’s sad to say, but if you’re trying to innovate within (i.e., amongst) a bureaucracy, the cause is lost. You’re living in the Driving People Sea and you’re most likely adrift.
Head toward the Driving Change island if you can because there is hope you can one day prevail if you can carve out and protect some territory amidst the bureaucracy.
Let them ask those questions. Use your policy buffer to protect you. Someday your island of driving change will win.
Prompt me with a comment and I shall provide. Thanks Jabe for reminding me to get back to the topic of the Guiding Coalition off-site, also known as a large group facilitation of sense-making using the Cynefin framework.
First, I’ll outline the day. Then, I’ll reflect on the day, talking about what went well and what I would change.
The purpose of the day was to take almost 100 people representing a diverse set of organizational viewpoints through a sense-making workshop resulting in the selection by attendees of complex topics to pursue on behalf of the organization. Whew!
The metaphor we used for the day was a roller coaster ride. Some people love them; some hate them. All feel a bit bounded around and confused on their first ride, but at the end many will want to go again. The metaphor worked, with one of the attendees even commenting during open comments at the end of the day that he enjoyed the ride.
We set the structure of the day, a 7.5 hour session, by assigning people to tables according to their main identity (management, support, engineering, production) and then sub-identities. There were seven management tables with sub-identities of uniformed officers, production, engineering, projects, product lines, line support (e.g, financial, IT) and executive support (e.g., executive director, union presidents). In total there were 17 different tables, so 17 different, purposefully exaggerated perspectives.
The attendees got an initial set of slides on complexity, complete with Dave Snowden videos and then practiced working with ambiguity via the Butterfly Stamping method. I enjoyed watching the diversity of responses to the exercise. Some people didn’t know exactly why they were doing it, but went along. Others struggled so violently with the “there is no right answer” ambiguity that I worried they would mutiny against me as the lead facilitator. You know you’ve hit a nerve when you call the exercise to end and you hear a loud, “NOOOO!!” boom from one of the tables.
After a break the participants were instructed in the steps necessary to complete what we called Decision Mapping (aka 4 Points Contextualization). We could jump right in, without doing an anecdote circle because I and a group of loyal helpers had done the work ahead of time. I’d asked two probing questions via e-mail, gathered responses, and clustered the responses into 43 themes. Each theme then got a Wordle to describe it.
After the exercise, we had 17 distinct Cynefin frameworks constructed from making sense of the 43 topics. The members of each table were allowed to rotate to the other tables within their group (i.e., management, support, engineering, or production) and see:
What was the same?
What was different?
What was surprising?
After they had discussed their answers amongst their group, we dismissed them for lunch and ordered them to leave the conference room. This step was essential because they could not “check their work” against the other tables in the other groups. We wanted to still keep them locked within their perspectives for now.
From there the participants shifted to doing what we called Group Decision Mapping. During the break my facilitation team (2 people for each group) determined which themes (each had a distinct number given to it, 1 to 43) all the tables of the group had placed in the same domain. Out of 43 themes, the most any group agreed on was eight. We posted a new piece of paper on the wall, assigning the agreed on topics into the domains and placing the remaining themes into a central disorder clump. When the participants returned they were counted off into small teams with a representative from each table. Then, those groups were given one theme at a time to adjudicate, i.e., agreeing on which domain the group agreed the theme belonged in. When all the themes had been removed from disorder, the group map was complete.
When all four group maps were complete, the participants rotated to each of the other groups and answered the three questions again.
What was the same?
What was different?
What was surprising?
During the next break, the facilitation team moved the four group maps to the front wall and again determined which themes had been placed in the same domain on all four maps. This time 11 topics were unanimous. The rest were placed into disorder.
When they returned from break, we counted off the participants into 12 small teams. Each team had a member from each group. Each team was given a theme from disorder and asked to reach agreement. The teams quickly processed through the themes and we had a full-room map. From 43 undefined themes to 17 table maps to 4 group maps to 1 room map in approximately 6 hours.
Since this was an off-site for our Guiding Coalition, the goal of the day was to agree on complex themes so our networks of Guiding Coalition members could design safe-to-fail experiments to improve those topics. So, after we had the participants assess each domain and move the themes into the appropriate boundary zones, we asked the participants to look deeply at the complex domain and decide which of the themes they would like to work on during the 2013 Guiding Coalition tenure. After an exercise in team selection, the day was complete.
Though I had to work with four times as many slides as were in the typical deck from Cognitive Edge, I needed the further process details to keep my audience of very process oriented people from mutinying over lack of instruction. That said, the day was still not structured-enough or obvious-enough for some. At first this bothered me, but now I see it as a difference with people’s comfort level with ambiguity. If you don’t like ambiguity, you won’t like the methods. Now, your not liking ambiguity doesn’t change the fact that reality is full of ambiguity, so I guess life is going to be rough unless you can dictate that everyone either forcefully hold back ambiguity or lie to you. Rough.
I used the Cognitive Edge exemplar names (New Age Fluffy Bunny, Tyranny of Experts, Mind Numbing Bureaucracy and True Chaos) once we started the decision mapping instead of using four themes from within our 43. I did that assuming it was one less step of mediation I would be putting between the participants and their data. I didn’t imagine that when I said New Age Fluffy Bunny that more than a few people could only picture a fluffy bunny and were a bit confused. I can’t blame them the error since they would with concrete objects (some figuratively and some literally) each day. New Age Fluffy Bunny was too new age fluffy bunny for them. It meant nothing. I’ll have to come up with a different exemplar title next time. On a side note though, I received some push back from participants who said they struggled to do a one-for-one translation from Complex to New Age Fluffy Bunny and Complicated to Tyranny of Experts. They saw this as a bad thing. I actually think it is a great thing because it kept them sense-making instead of categorizing.
Speaking of categorizing. I changed the rules of the butterfly stamping a bit from how I’d practiced it a few weeks before. When I practiced it I made a point to tell the participants that they could not under any circumstances draw on their paper. They had to make sense of the topics. They didn’t really though. I saw plenty of tables thinking up creative ways to draw in the lines with their eyes, or using paper to split the categories (I say categories because when they did this they missed disorder and just drew a 2×2). Rather than force their categorizing preference underground, I thought it would be interesting to give no direction on marking the paper or not and watch to see how many would automatically draw in the lines before they even put the first butterfly stamping item onto the page. The results at the off-site were stark. Almost 75% of the tables immediately or quite quickly drew in the lines, making the paper into a 2×2 matrix. This information helped me tailor how I presented the steps of decision mapping, where they were directed to not write on the paper and refrain from using the yarn (provided in their mapping packets) until I gave them permission. Giving them the yarn before they needed it was also an intentional poke. I wanted to see who could resist using it and who found the urge the whole way through. I only noticed one table that tried to place the yarn early and they were giving the exercise so little of their attention I think they had bored themselves into causing trouble.
The four points contextualization method calls for making sense of the themes, drawing in the boundaries, splitting those on the boundary, then determining the boundary placements. I chose not to do the boundary placement for the table maps, but did make the participants go through the exercise on the group maps and the room map. Next time I may just skip the boundary placements if I need more time for other conversations because what we are using the data for likely won’t require that level of placement detail. If you were going to take the conversation further you would probably want to keep the boundary step since more information is good information (if you can spare the time).
The biggest win from the day, besides getting to the selection of topics for the 2013 Guiding Coalition, was watching the participants discover other people’s perspectives. The conversations, at the tables, in the groups, and in the teams representing all, were fabulous. Lots of “How can that be?” and “Is that how it really looks to you?” mixed in with “What is this supposed to mean?” asked as though someone was waiting with the answer but just wouldn’t give it. I love chances to push people beyond their expectations. Not everyone liked it, but not everyone will. The goal isn’t comfort. The goal is to achieve a shared understanding, and reaching that often makes people uncomfortable. It was terribly fun to watch.
As the 2013 Guiding Coalition is only just beginning, I can’t offer an outcome reflection stating whether or not this method saved the three months of team building time that I predicted when I sold my leadership on trying it out. I can’t say for sure, but their are good indications. And, when I modify the select/off-site/train pattern next year to select/train/off-site, we’ll save a few months more. Then, we’ll really be flying at light speed! [ Have I mentioned lately how much fun it is to drive change?]
Whew! That’s a lot of reflections. I’m sure I have more that I could remember if prodded. For now, I’ll settle with this length of post and send this out as an extra weekend post in honor of Jabe’s poke that I get this written. This is Labor Day weekend after all. Why should I rest?
Here’s a good, long string of videos I’ve been watching. I hope you’ll enjoy a few.
Two important lessons to learn.
The story of Admiral Rickover’s tenacity and courage against a bureaucracy to create something great and lasting, as told by a young girl for history day.
Listen for the part about conceptual blending.
And, here’s the Children’s Party story video if you haven’t seen it already.
Now, this video captures why I’ve so enjoyed learning more about Dave Snowden’s work: his interest in pulling patterns from stories. I love to do that in my own low-tech, low-theory way and then share with people what I think the story patterns are saying. I’m truly excited for what I can do if I pair my interest with Snowden’s true skill.
The video is long, but you’ll be hooked within the first few minutes. I had a conversation around the first 50 seconds of this conversation earlier today. Watch at least through the recipe followers versus chef example. If you can get through the first 15 minutes you’ll be stirred to much new thinking and be ready to post comments I’m sure.
I spent last week pondering the Cynefin Framework, Sunday discussing it and tonight watching videos about it. Why should you care? Because driving change is about seeing a problem or opportunity and proposing a solution or a direction toward a solution for that problem/opportunity. The Cynefin Framework, as a sense-making model, provides you a way to test your perception of the problem/opportunity and solutions.
Your success driving change depends on how you see that problem and that solution relative to what the problem and solution really are.
The first duty of a wise advocate is to convince his opponents that he understands their arguments and sympathizes with their feelings.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Today I disregarded my opponents and spent the day with my allies. For 11 hours we discussed change management, Dave Snowden’s Cynefin Framework and my motivation perspective coordinate system. Plus, we told a lot of great stories about this time and that where we enjoyed ourselves, failed miserably, succeeded triumphantly and learned a lot about driving change in complex organizations.
We rattled off book after book that each of us had read and was encouraging the others to read. I haven’t totaled up all the titles, but I think my reading list is now full for the next several months, if not several years.
Cherish your allies and study your opponents. Both will make you a more wise advocate tomorrow than you are today; and everyone could use more wisdom these days.
I tried to write a typical review (what I loved, what I wondered about, so what) of Seth Godin’s Linchpin and I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.
Instead, to show you how I saw Linchpin, I must draw you a map.
If you know me personally, and frequent the space near me, you’ve likely watched me scrawl some version of this onto one white board or another. You’ll have to tell me if I’ve left out any of the good parts.
To the rest of you, I hope that over the imperfect medium of the internet, this somehow makes sense. I’m no Tolkien (really going out on a limb on this one), but I’m trying to draw for you my own Middle Earth, the map in my mind.
Here we go:
Before I read Linchpin, I was already thinking about maps, new maps. [Actually, new coordinate systems (but I'll just leave you with the link for now).]
Then, I found these lines in Linchpin:
Every day I meet people who have so much to give but have been bullied enough or frightened enough to hold it back. They have become victims, pawns in a senseless system that uses them up and undervalues them.
It’s time to stop complying with the system and draw your own map.
Who am I to question Seth Godin? I drew a map. (more…)
On Tuesday, when Steve Holt showed me David Snowden’s Cynefin model, the model intrigued me. If you’ve read my Motivation Perspective file, you’ll know I love a good model.
Since Tuesday, between parties, other posts and a sledding trip, I’ve been unable to get Cynefin out of my mind. Unable to do any actual reading on the topic, I used my short burst of time to chase down a few links in the hope that I’ll be able to paw through the info this week.