I guess we've known for years that the amazing human brain can solve the most complex of problems when you think you're not thinking about it. The answers emerge in the shower and other unlikely places.
Fantastic example of that in the middle of last night. I have some corrections to do to my doctoral thesis next week, then I can graduate in June and I know what I've been asked to do, but have studiously NOT been thinking about how I'll do it until next week. Last night - the whole answer just unfolded when I was asleep. Obviously my efforts to not think about it consciously didn't fool my sub-conscious. Hope I can remember the answer when it comes to writing it down!
How lucky we are. We should give our brain more problems, then try not to think about them!
Back on 21st November I was reflecting how refreshing it was that a long standing client - a global leader in IT - had started to value the face to face interaction again after years of believing that the digital age had done away with the need for it.
But typing this, sitting at London Heathrow waiting for yet another flight on a Saturday, has made me ponder again how we need to be so careful to choose to invest in the face to face interactions that are really necessary.
Wondering about this, I was pleased to read Mrs Moneypenny's latest column in the FT Weekend (firstname.lastname@example.org) where she reflects on the economic value of intense face to face interaction of world leaders at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos.
There is no substitute to meeting someone in person if you want to build a trusting relationship. Whether we see trust in a purely economic sense (lower transaction costs), or as an expression of our shared humanity, or both - no amount of digital information can substitute for a handshake, eye contact, and the communication that goes beyond what is said or how
I'm on a crazy day-trip to Philadelphia PA - to present the outcomes from the academic literature review that Peter and I have done for PMI on risk management - what does the literature in finance, behavioural economics, psychology, sociology have to say of relevance to how we think about and practice risk management in projects, programmes and portfolios.
So I won't get much time to appreciate Philly. I wondered about doing a manic tour of the downtown to see the Liberty Bell, the LOVE statue in the JFK square, and to eat a cheesesteak. Then I thought that I'd appreciate the place more just by having a chilled time, talking to people, and making memories of my own.
So - I appreciated my yellow cab driver from the airport last night - Ibrahim - really friendly and polite.
And I appreciated the gift from PMI - a book that I've read through the night (jet-lag!!) written by Jonah Berger from the Wharton School, University of Philadelphia on why things (ideas, products, etc) catch-on. It's called Contagious. Highly recommended.
Might just manage a cheesesteak later though!
"Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it". (Alan Perlis)
I was motivated to share this quote as it was featured in this morning's 'Monday Morning Mojo' from Seth Kahan.
Seth told the story below - and I've included his story as I'm sure it resonates with us all.
Definitely food for thought on a Monday morning.
The adoption of our daughter, Ruchi, introduced a new order of complexity into our household. Put aside for the time being all of the chaos that comes from any adoption or the emotional dimension of bringing in a new family member. Let's just look at the number of relationships in our home and how it grew.
Before Ruchi there were three of us: my wife, Laura, our son, Gabe, and myself. Here are all the possible relationship combinations:
1. All three of us
2. Seth and Laura
3. Seth and Gabe
4. Laura and Gabe
That's it. Four.
But, now with Ruchi here is what's possible:
1. All four of us
2. Ruchi, Seth and Laura
3. Ruchi, Seth and Gabe
4. Ruchi, Laura, and Gabe
5. Seth, Laura, and Gabe
6. Ruchi and Seth
7. Ruchi and Laura
8. Ruchi and Gabe
9. Seth and Laura
10. Seth and Gabe
11. Laura and Gabe
So, adding one more family member introduces seven more relationship combinations. Imagine what it's like for a family of twelve! My point is, adding one more person increases the possibilities by a significant amount, much more than first appears. This explains why my home life is a circus (and of course there's the two dogs!), but what does it have to do with achieving a new level of performance?
As you seek to master more and more in your life, it is not just a matter of tacking on one more activity. Eventually you have to get your arms around the whole system, the system that is your life.
If you are looking to increase your performance in an ever increasing world of complexity, one way through is to stand back and look at the whole. There you will see the larger system and the patterns that give rise to new ways of understanding.
So, next time things feel like there is too much to keep track of, try taking a big step back and looking at the whole thing. You might be surprised what you see that will help you hit a new stride, or at least appreciate the circus ;-)
Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it.
- Alan Perlis
VisionaryLeadership.comSeth Kahan - Visionary Leadership
PO Box 380 Glen Echo, Maryland, USA, 20812
Tel: 301.229.2221 | Email: Seth@Visionaryleadership.com
Â© 2010 Seth Kahan. All rights reserved
The start of 2014 has been quite an exercise in juggling multiple objectives, clients (old and new) and challenges of travel and annoying illness. Along the way I've been listening and reading with interest the many radio and newspaper accounts of why January is such a bad month. I've always quite liked it - new starts and the materialistic Christmas frenzy as far away as possible. My favourite month though is March, not least for daffodils. So I had a big smile on my face this morning when I dragged myself from my bed for yet another very early start but found a new display of cut daffodils adorning the lobby of my hotel in Doha.
Life is good, but so far this year it's been a test of living it at full pace plus a little more.
I should stop more and thinkAnd then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
As we celebrate the 10th day of Christmas, but also get back into work mode, I just wanted to share two pictures of the nativity scene that I've enjoyed this Christmas. The first is the wonderful sculpture in the St Martins-in-the-Field crib in London - created by Nottingham-based sculptor Peter Eugene Ball - traditional and beautiful. The second is the nativity scene put together by my treasured nephew James this year with substitutes for baby Jesus (Bob the Builder) and the virgin Mary (a minion from Despicable Me 2), because the originals had been lost. This one might not be traditional, nor particularly beautiful, but it says to me that our challenge of keeping the message of God's word, made flesh at Christmas can always do with a contemporary twist to capture our imagination in our often secular world.
Too many times in the year I'm in London working, and don't take time to 'stop and stare'. This morning was different. Travelling to the National Portrait Gallery (brilliant) on the No.12 bus from Camberwell and noticing the contrast between the huge number of 'proud to be African hairdressers' en route and the magnificent South African embassy - imposing in the torrential rain, flowers in memory of Nelson Mandela wilting. The puddles, post New Years Eve litter and slight stench nothing to what Tudor and Elizabethan London would have been like - this thought prompted by magnificent portraiture of Royals and their subjects in the Elizabeth I exhibition at NPG. Elizabeth of York, Dame Judi Dench, young royals, photography of heroin addicts expecting babies - poignant - making me feel connected to history, today and the future. None of this though as wonderful as the East window at St Martins in the Field with the homeless, welcome and slumbering, in the pews, and the reminder of John 1, 14. - the Word, made flesh, full of grace and truth, and still alive in every one of us today as we start 2014 with hope for ourselves, our loved ones, and the World.
Thanks also to Josh for sharing bodeansbbq.com with us for lunch - memorable time with No.1 prize marrow before leaving him to his student life in London for a few more weeks.
Next time I'm travelling abroad and enjoying a foreign city, I'll remember that home has the best city in the world.
So after a week of laying in the sunshine in Gran Canaria and reading historical novels (never knew before there was a Prince Arthur who married Catherine of Aragon before Henry VIII), and doing Christmas (major laughs doing silly games thanks to the BBC etc who put nothing worth watching on tele); today was time for ironing and listening to wonderful BBC Radio 4 again. If you get a chance to listen to 'You and Yours' (12 noon on 26th December) on the iPlayer, I hope you're as inspired as I was with the programme that was basically about keeping learning and doing new things as you get older. I'm looking forward to keeping on 'reading stuff so I have interesting things to say and write' (as does Max Hastings), and to learning the 'cello (but not being asked to play it on the radio, as Robert Winston and his saxophone).
Hope the Christmas holiday has brought a glimmer of peace, happiness and reflection to your life too.
The title of this posting was inspired when I watched and listened to Frederik Haren's YouTube video on creativity - he's an entertaining speaker, and has some thought provoking ideas about global business.
The idea that 'bad english' (he meant english spoken very well by people for whom english is not their mother tongue) is the official language of the world captured my imagination as I reflected on all the people around the world I have worked with, and who have put up with my own (mother tongue) 'bad english'.
Note to self, to use fewer big words, and even fewer Yorkshire sayings, to make my point. Probably pretty useful to use shorter sentences and less convoluted sentence structures too!
Quite apart from my actual research, there were so many personal benefits from my doctoral studies at Cranfield.
You can watch and listen about them here
A long process to get to listen and write better - but highly recommended
Leading beautifully - a tribute to Prof. Donna Ladkin as she moves on from her post at Cranfield School of Management
One of the many things I learned while studying for my doctorate at Cranfield was that Donna Ladkin is a really inspirational thinker, writer and teacher.
Her academic work is very well respected in the area of Leadership and Ethics; and prizes must go for the name of one of her papers in a high-ranking journal - Leading Beautifully - where she shares many examples from her research of people who someone have the ability to capture the attention and imagination of people and lead them to great performance.
(click here for a pdf of the paper)
Not only does Donna research and write about such people - she is a living example of it and a great inspiration to me as a leader of change, and I'm sure to many others who she has touched.
The University of Plymouth will be a better place next term with Donna working for them.
I've been working with a group of senior PMs in the oil industry this week, exploring how to improve risk-based decision making in practice.
It has reminded me that we often get confused about where 'wisdom' comes from in our decision-making, especially in country and organisational cultures where individuals are somehow expected to be superior in their wisdom and judgements.
If you've never read 'The Wisdom of Crowds' by James Surowiecki, I highly recommend it as both an entertaining and informative book - completely brilliant.
So this week, I reminded myself again that collective decision-making isn't about consensus that it biased by group dynamics; nor is democracy about discussion and agreement. We need diversity and independent input, suitably aggregated, to make sense of the trickiest business and societal decisions that need to be made.
Why not put The Wisdom of Crowds on your Christmas list?
I'm a great believer that things seem like a coincidence because really we're blessed with an amazing capability to make connections with other people, ideas, thoughts, feelings etc.
One of my favourite poems (and songs) of all time is Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. It's a love song talking about different sorts of love and spanning biblical references (King David and his temptations) as well as Cohen's human experiences (in and out of the bedroom). I was really moved to hear a choir singing this in the shopping centre on Sunday afternoon - well done Wakefield Community Gospel Choir. That's one connection, but there's more...
As those of you who have read my blogs before will also know, one of my heroes is Brene Brown, and her work on vulnerability - the core of all meaningful human experience. Yesterday I listened to Brene talking to an American journalist Krista Tippett, and making the connection between Cohen's Hallelujah, and vulnerability in relationships we care about.
"Love is not a victory march - it's a cold, and it's a broken Hallelujah"
When we're vulnerable, we are at our strongest.
I'm thankful for the time yesterday, on a long flight to Houston, Texas, to process the connections.
It's been a privilege to work this week with an international group of talented managers grappling with the challenges of delivery value for clients at the same time as introducing a significant change of strategy in their own firm, and dealing with a complex set of competitors and partners.
It's been a great experience that has illustrated what I found in my doctoral research - that however we might think about organisational change as a 'thing' and something that can be bounded and managed; in reality we enable or constrain change with everything we say and do.
And the reference to Dubai is that's where we've been working. A sunny Vegas/Disneyland hybrid, and probably an architect and engineer's dream. Looking forward to Leeds tomorrow morning.
Given the latest scandalous stories in the media about the sad excesses of some people in senior positions and public life, it's normal I guess for headlines such as "addicted to risk taking" to be used as if this is something surprising, and indeed bad.
It's a fact that we only survive each day by taking lots and lots of risks - it's unavoidable - because we can't predict what is going to happen, so we need to made judgements about what might happen then act accordingly.
Some people get it wrong and in the pursuit of objectives of increasing difficulty, more chances are taken.
Some people get it wrong and in the pursuit of smaller and smaller objectives, take few chances - other than risking boredom or disillusion.
Seems to me that there is no 'correct' path. We all have to make judgements about how much risk would be too much risk in pursuing our objectives, and the key to getting this right is to think long and hard about those objectives and whether they are the right ones.
If your objectives are worth
Really heartening today to here from a long-standing client (a global IT company) that their policy of home working and virtual everything is being questioned in terms of its efficiency and effectiveness.
I'm reminded of the saying - "it's hard to see eye-to-eye until you've been face-to-face"
Without a doubt, making virtual working work is really important - but we don't stop being human because we have clever technology, and it's good to know that the biggest companies are putting renewed value on real interaction.
Today I've been working on an assignment where I needed to think about resiliency and how organisations embrace emergence - risk and change - to adapt to their context. It made me reflect on the parallels between corporate resiliency and individual resiliency. We often talk about people or things that are resilient as being stable, but actually resilience requires movement in response to external forces
Seems to me that this image sums it up nicely.
A few days ago I shared some thoughts about people who are 'naturals' when it comes to project management - people who organise with ease; people who are able to bring out the best in others. So I thought I'd start my own little award of 'natural' project manager of the week.
So for the inaugural presentation of the award I wanted to tell you to watch out for Elizabeth Rose Parker in future. Only 19, already the elected President of her university student body, and doing great work for her art degree, and a natural project manager. OK - I'm biased - she's also my son's long-standing girlfriend - but all the rest is still true.
Keep doing what you're doing Liz - you're going to be very successful x
Was happy today to do my bit for Cranfield and share my experience of the doctoral process with potential researchers. Made me happy that I was at the right end of the process though, not just starting. Also good to be forced to reflect on how my analysis and writing skills have improved over the period.
For anyone who might think a doctorate is for them. The title of this blog post sums it up. I have far fewer answers to the complexity of planned change, but I know which questions to ask.
One of the little things that gives me lots of pleasure is Radio 4's 'A Point of View'. I listen on Sunday mornings.
One of my favourite sessions, by A L Kennedy talked about change and whether it was good for us or not. She started her talk by sharing the 'Monty Hall' or 'Three Boxes' experiment (you'll be able to Google that). If you read on, below, you'll see how the choice of whether to switch or not has a rational explanation (switching increases your odds of winning what you want), but that switching is highly counter-intuitive.
What's great about this is that it links my two work fascinations - change and risk.
See what AL Kennedy said below. Would you switch?
"Human happiness may rely on our ability to conquer a natural fear of upsetting the status quo, says AL Kennedy.
Imagine three identical boxes. Two are empty and one contains your heart's desire, perhaps love, perhaps a nice cup of tea. A kind, if slightly perverse, person says you can pick one box and own its contents. Let's say you select Box A. The person then shows you Box B is empty. So either Box A - your choice, or Box C - a mystery, contains your happiness. Now, you can change your choice to Box C, or stick with Box A. But what gives you the better chance? Should you change or not?
If you're like me, you won't want to change. Even if things aren't wonderful, but are familiar, I would rather stay with what I know. Why meddle with something for which there is a Latin, and therefore authoritative, term: the status quo. I studied dead languages at school - no chance of sudden changes in grammar or vocabulary there. So I'm aware status quo has roots in the longer phrase "in statu quo res erant ante bellum" - the state in which things were before the war. I feel the implication is that without the status quo there will be chaos. There will be war" (taken from the opening of the transcript of Radio 4 A Point of View, September 2013)
These are the words of Brene Brown - but today I am mindful of them as people I love are feeling vulnerable.
50 years ago this year, my parents were founder members of a Gilbert & Sullivan Society in our (Yorkshire) village. Today was the dress rehearsal for the 50th stage production and it was a real pleasure to be on that stage with my daughter, keeping the family pride thing going. The photo has my Mum and Dad in 1963 playing Sir Joseph Porter, and Josephine in HMS Pinafore.
Well done Mum and Dad.
Great to be keeping it going with you Helen x
This afternoon brought a really weird coincidence.
In yesterday's blog post I was sharing my thoughts about risk being a subjective thing - like love - in the eye of the beholder.
This afternoon I was working on a piece of work research for a client about how to determine risk capacity, i.e. the amount of risk, or variation from plan to express it another way, that can be borne (or afforded if thinking in financial terms). With a relevant document on my screen, I received a call from a colleague who works for one of the big four consultancies in their risk practice - he wanted to ask me about determining risk capacity!
As this became the subject of the afternoon I thought I'd continue my risk theme and share some stuff.
So - although risk is a subjective, socially constructed thing - risk capacity should be rational and objective.
The amount of money I'd need to continue to support my family if I was ill can be calculated - whether I chance not having savings or insurance to cover this is a risk that I take based on my subjective assessment of the likelihood of me being ill, and the severity/length of that illness.
The value destroyed if my project doesn't deliver at the planned time can be objectively calculated - whether I chance taking the risks that would result in that delay will be subjectively influenced by a whole range of factors - some that I'm aware of, and some that are sub-conscious.
It's a complex subject, which is why in business it's really difficult to build a culture where risk management adds demonstrable value to the bottom-line, but it's possible and one of the key steps to doing that is to be able to determine risk capacity.
It's been a fascination of mine for some years to understand more about why we can all make decent judgements in the face of uncertainty and incomplete knowledge (risk) in our lives; then our organisations find it really difficult to do the same.
Risk management in organisations tends to be seen to be about compliance, about 'ticking the box', about protection. Risk is explained as if it's some sort of objective and rational thing which is true if we're talking about the odds of winning the lottery, or if we have a large homogenous data set to analyse. When we're managing change though we are taking risks that only exist because we have incomplete knowledge - because things are ambiguous - and where we don't have the data. In these situations all attempts to evaluate risk objectively are futile. But all is not lost.
Thinking about risk is not only natural, it's also essential if we are to make half-decent plans and forecasts in the face of uncertainty. So we need to accept that risk is a subjective thing - like love - in the eye of the beholder, but we need to find ways to explore perceptions of risk to make sure that we don't invest in change with our eyes closed.
Identifying, assessing and deciding how to manage those uncertainties that we perceive, and that would really matter to our objectives if they occurred, is key work is creating and protecting business value. To do this work well we need to engage 'predictably irrational' (Ariely, 2009) people and not rely on processes, tools and techniques to do the job for us.
We don't love in line with a process, supported by a software tool. It's daft to try to understand risk in this way.
You can find my books, written to help people to understand and manage risk attitude, and to engage others to identify, own and manage risk by clicking here.