Archive for May, 2011

The Size and Speed of Change

May 24, 2011

 

Recently, a professor and a marketing consultant, suggested creating a $300 house. They punted it up publicly. The response has been overwhelming. Their target could transform the lives of millions of desperately poor children and families across the globe. If it happens – it is a breakthrough innovation.

This goal challenges what’s feasible, alters expectations and prompts innovation. These are vital levers for big, fast change. Name the intended result, assemble the case, articulate the implications. Then, gather the knowledge, skills, insights, experience, enthusiasm and possibilities for strategy and execution.

 Progress & Pace

Reflect for a moment on two dimensions of change – scale and time. A continuum of scale could cover polar ends: from none (simply preserving  the status quo) to boldly disruptive. A range for time can span from instant to perpetuity. What’s a “fair” expectation for progress and pace?

An insulated and isolated organization (or community) may not make much progress year after year. The adjacent possible is severely oppressed and any change comes grudgingly.  Even incremental, minor movement may be difficult. Although essential to growth and vitality, substantial change won’t happen until there are new people with different training, experience, expectations and habits. Moreover, disruptive change doesn’t occur until there’s a sudden tip point, often the result of a power shift.

 The Best Attitude

“Let’s go slow to go fast” is commonly said in organizations that must improve. This can translate to “I’m risk averse” or let’s quietly move the goal posts. Alternatively, it  may mean there needs to be more knowledge, skills and trust to do the work ahead. Sometimes it is appropriate – sometimes not. If for-profit organizations don’t change fast – it’s certain they will fail. Current and emerging marketplace competitors ensure that. Although far less sensitive to market forces, non-profits must adapt to perform, too.

Many organizations affect internal culture by clearly describing expected attitudes. For example, a “humility and a hunger to learn” is one of several Kellogg Company leadership values.  The San Diego Food Bank operates with an “acute sense of urgency.” ConAgra identifies simplicity, accountability and collaboration as key internal principles. Nestle wants a “willingness to learn” commitment among their employees. All of these declarations signal an environment which supports change.

 Target & Timing

If nearly anything is possible: What’s your stretch goal? What’s the deadline? Perhaps a 28% return on investment or no domestic violence for one month. Maybe, in six months, it’s a $25 toilet or no drunk driving in your county. By 2014, what about a 60% reduction in teen pregnancy, creating a $1,000 car, or every high school graduate in your town will be college-ready.

Thought leadership can be an essential prompt for the size and speed of change. We know most people are deeply motivated by satisfaction and results. By specifying an audacious goal and deadline, expectations for scale and pace are set. Why not start with these?

 –Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

Intrigued? Tap this link for more information on a $300 house.

Sainthood and The Devil’s Advocate

May 8, 2011

 

St. Paul

 

What’s a weighted indicator of great talent? It  is something savvy employers seek and education systems are challenged to teach: critical thinking.

 Observation, Reflection, Reason

When a parent suggests a child consider the kindness of strangers may not be what it first appears – they teach critical thinking. Prompts that help to question assumptions about a nice man who needs “help” to find a lost puppy launches a new way of interpreting cues and context. The disciplined process of actively evaluating information gathered by observation, reflection and reason is critical thinking.

It happens when: 

  • There’s an urgent need to discover why cheese melts on a processing belt,
  • A complex social issue like teen pregnancy  resists intervention, and
  • An educator puzzles over why a student isn’t grasping a new concept. 

People use critical thinking skills to conceptualize, analyze, synthesize and apply alternative remedies to solve problems. An important part of critical thinking is considering the significance of claims. This raises questions like: What explanations are there for this? What else do we need to know? Recognizing unstated values, examining relationships between propositions and pattern detection are also features of critical thinking.

Discard Rote

In a knowledge economy, rote responses are often inadequate. BP Group Chief Executive John Browne, who resigned in the wake of serious criticism about ruthless cost-cutting that may have compromised safety after the Texas City Refinery explosion, said “We need to ask more disagreeable questions.”

“Intellectual disobedience” or critical thinking offers better access to and vital participation in the highly dynamic world we live in now. It is essential to innovation and development. When a person judges, decides, reflects, discerns or assesses conclusions they employ a fluid intelligence.

Don’t confuse critical thinking with criticism. The qualifier of critical as it precedes thinking means importance, central or crucial. Its origin is the ancient Greek, kriterion, which means standards. When understood in the context of a skill or approach, “critical” doesn’t mean disapproval or negative. Critical thinking, in fact, has many very positive and important uses.

Green Light, Red Light

Some cultures promote and foster it far better than others. In a safe work place, critical thinking can happen without penalty. In fact, it is aggressively sought and highly prized in many settings. Critical thinking advances the chance of securing an intended result by taking the initiative to review options.  It’s key to adaptation. 

But, if “pleasing” is de rigeur and “challenge” is not safe, independent thought is often squelched to secure approval. People, organizations, and cultures that focus on a single “right” answer limit knowledge. They also teach a form of obedience that better serves social cohesion (think Stepford Wives).  In contrast, the process of searching can deeply engage the human mind and spirit. 

Quality Assurance

The Catholic Church employs critical thinking. During canonization, the Vatican appoints someone to ensure thorough review of proposed candidates. It was the job of the  Devil’s Advocate to ask hard questions in the process of selecting a new saint. The current reference for the Devil’s Advocate is now Promoter of Justice. Importantly, the questions raised are a quality assurance method!

The capacity to intellectually imagine and explore different ways of thinking and acting is vital to growth. It is essential to manage and lead change.  How can civil society, enterprise, our environment or our world improve without thoughtful reflection or questioning “authority”?

Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com


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