Posts Tagged ‘assumptions’

Constructive Contributions

July 17, 2014

monalisa

The critique or “crit” is a core activity in the Yale School of Art as well as other arts programs nationwide. This process happens in “the pool” if you are a student in the Photography Department and in “the pit” if you are in Painting and Printmaking. These are both spaces below the regular main floor which can exaggerate the emotional sense of an inspection.

Prompt Progress

An art student typically sits for nearly an hour while faculty and other students discuss their work. At the core of this process is intentionally constructive honesty. The objective: help the learner understand the distance between intentions and effect. It is supportive feedback that reframes effort and prompts developmental progress.

The crit provides vital wisdom for several reasons: it offers value from experience the student has not had and it reflects multiple sources. Critiques or feedback can have huge value in advancing our effectiveness if our own fragile egos don’t preclude progress. It works best when we have a learner attitude – regardless of age, stage or title.

Dialogic Review

With senior staff at a huge (multi-billion $) funder, we recently used a similar process. In what we call a “mark up,” models of program plans are the focus of experienced subject matter experts. In a facilitated review, the planned work is presented and considered against a rubric. Participants ask questions and express opinion about assumptions, barriers, facilitators, evidence and the relationship between the selected activities, inputs, and intended results. It is thoughtful and fun. It produces important dialogue as well as vital changes in the material.

Using a “mark up” or “crit” as a regular process can have great yield. Mature professionals welcome multiple perspectives. Then, they sort out what is valid and reliable. Ultimately, what’s produced is far better than the first draft. Constructive comment is a gift in any team or organization. Consider it an important way to adapt and retool your plans.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Avoid The Ugly Grip Of Groupthink

May 4, 2014

sheep

Beware when a group assumes we know everything we need to know.

Why?

Not long ago big US banks and other financial institutions sold risky derivatives. They were high-risk sub-prime mortgages divided into investment “opportunities.” After the economic meltdown they created, a salesman was asked who would want to buy these. He replied: “Idiots.”

History shows very smart people discard clear signals about value and risk. In the desire for a big return, investors chose to emphasize what could support their choice; they ignored evidence. It blossomed into self-deception and then spread among peers. This is groupthink. It is dangerous because the focus is on protecting an unfounded treasured opinion. This ensures shared blind spots and ultimately generates bad decisions. In contrast, a healthy team provides multiple perspectives in candid, independent contributions. When information flows freely – it is more likely good decisions are made.

Because it’s effective and predictable, groupthink is consciously engineered. Too often it happens in crucial personnel selection and civic cheerleading that obfuscates challenges or accountability. A classic example was the decision to invade Iraq based on imaginary “weapons of mass destruction.” Sexism and racism rely on groupthink, too. They are efforts to protect a position that become habitual and are normalized.

Groupthink can happen in any situation where decision-makers are insulated. One or several things occur to feed it. The group is fooled by unreliable people, there’s failure to ask provoking questions and data is ignored (or skewed).The risks of insulation underscores the value of transparency. Because self-deception is so common, consciously steering past shared blind spots is vital in managing for results.

We can disarm the grim implications of groupthink by these tactics:

• Ask others to think about their thinking (meta-cognition),

• Spotlight what might get buried by bias, indifference or suppression,

• Assure quality information from multiple methods,

• Actively seek diverse as well as contrary opinion, and

• Surface assumptions.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: http://www.pwkinc.com

Slaying Goliath

March 2, 2014

goliath

David, a shepherd boy, killed Goliath with a stone slung at his exposed forehead. He won the battle against all expectations. His victory relied on great strategy and skills.

David was a slinger. His weapon was a leather pouch attached on two sides by a long length of rope. Slingers were part of ancient armies. These warriors used a rock or lead ball hurled by a sling at their enemies. Slinging required extraordinary skills honed by extensive practice.

With considerable courage, using the advantages of speed and maneuverability, David ran directly at Goliath in his attack. David hit the one point of the giant’s vulnerability, knocked him unconscious, then killed Goliath by his own sword.

The outcome of this battle challenges common assumptions about power. We assume, in error, that big and strong always wins. But, it is possible for speed and surprise coupled with passionate intent to prevail. David’s example provides a two-step recipe: the right strategies with capable execution.

  • What assumptions do we hold about the Goliath we face this week?
  • What studied attention have we given to strategy development?
  • Can we skillfully implement  optimal choices?

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Great Plans Adjust

January 6, 2012

“The only thing we know about the future,” said Peter Drucker, a renowned management advisor, “is that it’s going to be different.”

This gives some important weight to thoughtful alteration and re-calibration. It’s very important to plan well from the start – but just as important to implement with care by adjusting along the way.

The world changes fast. It feels like the pace of change increases month-to-month. And scale grows exponentially, too. The “waves” are choppier. For example, the new normal in stock market swings isn’t a few dozen points in a day but 2-400 points. How can any plan be adequate, let alone savvy, when months pass from planning to action?

 David Kord Murray (a Silicon Valley innovation guru and former NASA staff) recommends a “fusion” of “strategic planning and tactical execution.” He advocates for adaptive management. We concur.

Delays Have Impact

Plans often fail because of poor implementation. The cues and conditions have changed by the time execution occurs. People often focus only on plan fidelity. Beware of inadequate attention to emerging information that affects analysis and should influence subsequent actions. Assumptions and even evidence that informed the initial plan may change – so tactics must, also.

Real-time, what’s vital is we recognize the implications of evolution in context and capabilities. Test your plans now for relevance and cogency…high scores there “win” over obsolescence and incoherence. Superstar athletes do…In hiking, climbing, skiing, and golf it’s vital to plan for the weather and “read” it as you proceed. It means you interpret during the competition and revise initial plans.

Fast Change

Adaptive management is a solution for the fast change we face in all the sectors – private, public and government. In a global knowledge economy, this requires some distinct competencies and experience. Sensing, analysis, interpretation, guiding are key. They can significantly influence resource allocation, integration, alignment and tactics.

Over time, with accountabilities and consequences, it’s possible to learn how to interpret emerging conditions and revise plans which enable success. The ability to demonstrate revision and improvisation are key markers of a strategist who manages well. So is thinking that “sees” top-down and bottom-up implications.

Flex & Twist

Prepare yourself and your team to flex, weave, bob, dance, turn, and twist. These are physical images that reflect adapting. These kinds of moves create Plan B. It’s important to anticipate changing plans as soon as you make them. Rigid may be tempting in conditions of uncertainty, but these days … it rarely gets results.

 –Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

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

See, Speak, Hear No Evil

April 5, 2011

In frustrated whispers we’ve all heard these truthful asides:

“I work in a goat rodeo.” “He simply cannot do the work.”  “The grantees have so few skills…” “This place is in such disarray.”

The facts are many people navigate multiple, parallel realities at work. It’s the reason Dilbert’s cartoons are so popular. So often, they’re accurate. And too often, the social dynamics of inter-personal relationships limit the potential of both individual satisfaction and organizational performance.

 The foibles and follies of dealing with people and their behavioral inconsistencies make our work lives interesting and difficult. In Robert Kurzban’s  new book, Why Everyone (Else) Is A Hypocrite, he explains why hypocrisy is the natural state of the human mind. As an evolutionary psychologist, he writes that people have “modular minds,” specialized units in the brain have been designed through natural selection. These units are focused on one outcome: survival.

Parallel Realities and Image

Behavior examples of modularity include strategic ignorance, self-deception and hypocrisy. Strategic ignorance, like the other behaviors, can create big problems at work (and in your personal life). At work everyone  faces  many decisions all day long. These are choices that often translate to who will you hurt or help. Too often, people intentionally avoid moral decisions about fairness. The upfront cost of avoidance is less, very often, than the cost of creating opposition. Through  side-stepping, or passive inaction, people  prefer to “act” as though they “hear no evil and see no evil.” 

Despite the moral implications and however irresponsible — these behaviors can be explained as obviously practical options. Unfortunately, these choices model behavior that gets replicated.  It’s how we generate unhealthy culture which enables dysfunction in teams and organizations. Denial of this context just perpetuates it. With tragic consequences, the   “Emperor (who) has no clothes” can live a very long  life.

 Bigger Than Self

Sociality is a vital part of human life. Because of this, competition inside organizations needs discrete attention. It also means reframing the challenges and opportunities for your team and your organization is central to collective impact.  Finding common understandings, assumptions and shared goals are critical. Establishing expectations for values like transparency, candor, authenticity, urgency and distributed knowledge is part of the recipe. In the end, modeling these values matters most. If people and organizations persist simply with the multiple realities provided by our modular minds the inevitable focus is self-survival. However, high performance requires a different, collective intention.

Recognize  and Reconcile

What specific actions can a manager take with this common challenge?

First: Ask many more questions. Set a target for yourself. Make it a goal – every day – to ask   three more questions in each meeting or exchange with staff.  Commit to discovery. This will help you uncover perspectives, see common themes and identify prevailing realities.  Seek counter-points and ask opinions from those who are willing to share more than the proverbial company line. Recognizing how others view their work and the situation is an important step in your reality.

Second: Work toward reconciliation of multiple perspectives. Commit to dialogue that airs a range of opinion. Act as a convener. Aim for the imperative – how it should be. Help others see their assumptions and biases. Actively build bridges and find points of coordination so others see the value of alignment and integration. Make it acceptable and safe to speak truthfully. Demonstrate trust by lauding people who are willing to offer constructive critique.

Renowned organization effectiveness expert and author Jim Collins echoes this perspective: “Level 5 leaders are ambitious first and foremost for the cause, the organization, the work – not themselves – and they have a fierce resolve to do whatever it takes to make good on that ambition.” It is possible to build a vibrant culture that aggressively serves a mission (or margin).  Eventually the whispers will wane. 

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


%d bloggers like this: