The Best Source of Innovation

The news this week that the upwards-ever-upwards iPhone sales are finally stalling was a stark reminder that even the greatest companies struggle to keep the juices of innovation flowing year-on-year.  The Apple Watch couldn’t replace the iPhone and the iCar (if it ever arrives) is still a few years out.

Most companies that I study or consult to are in an innovation crisis.  They know they must innovate in order to remain competitive and keep growing (or simply to stand still).  Yet how often does the innovation agenda become demoted to “novel” efficiency drives and cost-cutting initiatives?

It begs the question: where is the best place to source innovation?  Many of my clients in the telecoms world look to technology suppliers.  They continue to develop new features on top of their already bloated stack of products and services that were offered last year.  The latest gizmo.  The latest bell or whistle.  Yet I already have an iPhone 6s.  Why do I want a Plus?  I upgraded from an iPhone 4s to wait for the 6.  I think I’ll hang on until I see something really new and different from Apple.

evolution of lighting, with candle, tungsten, fluorescent , LED

Innovation can come from suppliers – but you can’t really differentiate your company if that is all you rely on.  Such is the fate of many telecoms companies: they continue to develop new features on top of their already bloated stack of product features that were offered last year.  The latest gizmo.  The latest bell or whistle.  A price war starts and the cost cutting initiatives cut even deeper.  No, suppliers, are not the best answer.

What about the young folk who have just joined the organisation?  Straight out of University or School, they bring a fresh set of thinking.  They are the next generation!  Surely they hold the answer?  Give them a difficult problem and let them brainstorm their ideas to create something truly whacky.  Too risky, I say!  They will not understand the product and how it is used, yet.  They might come up with some good ideas., but   Good ideas are not the same as innovation.  The newbees are not the best source of innovation either!

So where should we go next?  To customers, of course!  Customers that use (and misuse) your existing products and services!  Customers who suffer day-to-day from trying to work the processes that you have under-designed and waste your customers time and effort.  They are loyal customers until they suddenly vanish.  And if no one contacts them to see where they have gone, then innovation dies on the vine!

Customers are an incredibly cheap this source of innovation, too.  Not just cheap, but very valuable!  By asking a few simple questions of customers every time you interact with them, you can increase your profitability, customer loyalty AND innovation in one fell swoop!

And what are those questions?  Well, you will have to read the next few Thursday Thoughts to find out my thoughts on this.  In the meantime, try and work out what you think they might be and comment below!

Oh, and thank you so much for reading this far.  I hope, at least, it has made you think a bit more about one of the most important aspects of business and human life!

 

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The Single Most Important Ingredient for a Great Product Launch

This week’s “Thursday Thoughts” is one in a series on Product Launches – a subject that I find fascinating and so important to growing a successful business.

So, what is the single most important ingredient of a great product launch?  We need to look no further than the film (or movie) industry – and to a quote Shawn Amos:

“Every major summer blockbuster that is released is essentially a product line being launched across multiple verticals. However, the centerpiece of the product launch is a big, beautiful story whose job is to entertain.”

I believe that the single most important ingredient for any successful launch is to frame a “big, beautiful story whose job is to entertain”.  Think about it.  A story that describes a personal journey.  Your personal journey with all the ups-and-downs and trials and triumphs that go to make us all human.

Our Story

And so, in the closing two days of Jeff Walker’s Product Launch Formula (a once-in-a-year opportunity to see the master in action), Jeff has offered two personal but quite different stories that show how changing the way you think about a product by re-framing it around a product launch can literally transform people’s lives.

The first story is from Barry who overcame a life-changing accident to go on and organise and teach those who make a living from entertaining.

The second is from Shelly – a very different story of a mother trying to juggle the three forces of family, paying work and passion.

Watch the videos and work out what you can learn from each of them.  See how the personal stories create a different way of thinking.  By building your business around a series of launches (and great stories), rather than flogging a me-too product, you can create a new sense of drive and momentum.  Think hard about how you can apply the learnings to (re-)launch your own products and services and create a new sense of purpose and heartbeat to your marketing campaigns.

Of all the research I have done into this area, Jeff’s strategies and teachings are second-to-none.  And it can be applied to book launches too!

If you think that there is value in digging deeper into the Product Launch Formula, then I thoroughly recommend that you sign up for Jeff’s programme – which will only be available for the next day or two.  Otherwise, you will have to wait another year for the offer to come around again!

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Mirror > Signal > Manoeuvre

The speed awareness course that I wrote about last week focused on stopping distances.

Since then, I have been thinking a bit more about reaction times – because that is the part that, as a driver, you control.  Once you put your foot on the brake pedal, it is all down to physics.

It also reminded me of the sequence that I was taught when learning to drive: Mirror > Signal > Manoeuvre.

Yet, even before looking in the mirror, there is the thought or intent to move the car in a new or different direction.

So the whole sequence looks something like: Thought > Intent > Mirror > Signal > Manoeuvre.

And that got me thinking about work.

How often, in business, do we start by looking in the mirror – and we expect to be inspired by looking at the figures of last month’s performance?

Rear-View-Mirror-Sky

 

How often do we start moving things before we signal to the wider group affected by the change?

In today’s frenetic online world of tweets and likes and such things, the opportunity to act without thinking, to press the “Buy Me Now” button before remembering you already have enough (books, clothes, food…<insert your particular collection obsession here>) for your needs.

How often do we act before we think about the consequences?

How often do we manoeuvre before thinking?

And what about this strange word, Manoeuvre.  Is it spelt right?  And what does it really mean?

I looked up the second part of the word (oeuvre) and found this:

OEUVRE = A work of art – Synonym = Work

Etymology:  Today’s word was borrowed so recently from French, we have not yet resolved its pronunciation in English. It devolved from Latin opera “works,” the plural of “opus.” Sanskrit apas “work” and German üben “practice, exercise” derive from the same ultimate root.

The interesting thing, I find, is that holidays a good time to move out of work mode and into work of art mode.  It allows you to look at your life as the creation of a series of works of art and puts a different emphasis on the process or the day-to-day grind and allows you to review your creations in the past year and those that you wish to create in the coming year.  I always have a small notebook handy so I can jot down ideas on new works of art.  Notebooks are much more fluid than a smartphone.  Not sure yet whether an iPad is as good.  Don’t think it is.

So, basically, before you start the next round of  your Man-Work (or Woman-Work), it is best to take time to think.  Think about signalling to those around you that you are going to create this new work of art – and even before that it is worth looking in the mirror to check there is no one behind you that is going to get in your way.  Oh – and before ALL of that, it is worth thinking about the implications of changing direction and creating new works of art that might affect other users of the road you have chosen.

Have a great holiday if you are still to go – and hope you got inspired if you have already been!  In any case, think before you man-oeuvre your life towards the creation of your new works of art!

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The Story of the Greatest Lumberjack in the Land

I had to introduce a workshop last week with a bunch of folk who were trying to take on the “big guys”.  I opened the workshop with a story which, for me,  gives great hope to the small guys who are toiling away to take on the big guys.

Some say the big guys have gotten the world into the mess that it is currently in.  So here’s a story to cheer those up who are ploughing their furrow as a “small guy”!

There is an old Celtic legend, a story of two lumberjacks. 

Both men were skilled woodsmen although the first, called Angus, was much bigger, welding a powerful axe.  He was so strong that he didn’t have to be as accurate for he still produced due to his sheer size.  He was known far and wide for his ability to produce great quantities of raw material. Many hired him just because he was bigger.  After all, his customers reasoned, everyone knows that bigger is always better!

angus

In spite of his size, the fame of the second woodsman’s (who was called Hamish) was spreading for his skill was in his accuracy.  There was very little waste in his efforts so his customers ended up with a better product for their money.  Soon the word spread that Hamish’s work was even better than his larger competitor, Angus.

Upon hearing this, Angus became concerned.  He wondered, “How could this be?  I am so much bigger that I MUST be better!”  He proposed that the two compete with a full day of chopping trees to see who was more productive.  The winner would be declared ”The Greatest Lumberjack in all the land.”  Hamish agreed and the date for the bout was set.

The townsfolk began talking.  They placed their bets.  Angus was the favorite to win with a 20 to 1 advantage.  After all, bigger is better!  The evening before the bout, both men sharpened their blades.  Hamish strategized to win the bout.  He knew he would never win because of his size. He needed a competitive advantage. Each man went to bed confident that he would be declared the winner.

Morning broke with the entire town showing up to cheer on the lumberjacks.  The competition started with a the judge’s shout, “GO!”   Angus, strong and broad, leaped into action.  He chopped vigorously and continuously, without stopping, knowing that every tree he felled brought him closer to his coveted title.

Hamish

Hamish, wasting no time, jumped into action as well, attacking his trees with every intention of winning the distinguished title.  But unlike his larger competitor, he stopped every forty five minutes to rest and sharpen his blade.

This worried the onlooking townspeople greatly.  They murmured among themselves.  Surely, he could never win if he didn’t work longer and harder than his competitor.  His friends pleaded with him to increase his speed, to work harder – but to no avail.  This pattern continued throughout the day when both men heard the judge yell “TIME!”, signaling the end of the match.

Angus stood, winded and exhausted, yet also proud by his pile of trees knowing he had given his best having chopped almost continuously since the start of the match.  Surely, he was the winner!  

Hamish also stood by his pile of trees – though, unlike his competitor, he was still fresh, ready to continue if necessary.  He also stood confident in knowing that he had also given of his best and that his tactics would pay off.

When all the trees were counted, it was announced that Hamish had, indeed, felled more trees than Angus and he was granted title of “The Greatest Lumberjack in all the Land!”.  He happily shook the judge’s hand and gripped his newly won axe made of the finest steel in the land.  Angus (and most of the townspeople) stood in stunned silence at the announcement – for he was far greater reputation, was far stronger and had a much heavier axe!

But Hamish was not that surprised by the result.  For he knew that, in order to win against his larger competitor, his instrument had to be continually sharpened.  His axe was smaller and therefore each swing must be more accurate in order to produce the better product.  By stopping the sharpen his instrument, he had proven, once and for all, that he was the better man for the job.  He also knew that, with regular rests, he would be able to endure his technique far longer.

Frame of story and pictures from: http://www.capstonemedia.com/sharpen-the-saw/

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Beehives and Business Colonies

I took part of the afternoon off yesterday to sort out a friend’s beehive.  He had started keeping bees earlier this year, having been given a new hive by his parents for his birthday.  After two inspections he called for help for me to take them away.  The bees had stung him so badly that he had dramatic side-effects.  Last weekend, I took a new hive over and yesterday I went to put the bees into my hive.  The bees were one of the most aggressive colonies I have ever opened – and it became clear that they were not the best colony for a beginner beekeeper to start with.

It got me thinking of a few visits that I have recently done to business incubators and business colonies around the country in the past few months.

The first was in London, near Kings Cross at the Centre for Creative Collaboration (C4CC).  My good friend, Brian Condon, has just started a new phase of development by taking on a full-time role running the place.  The C4CC is based near Kings Cross and funded by various parts of the University of London.  The way that the centre attracts projects and develops ideas is outstanding.  A particular success has been Pavegen – which creates paving slabs that generate electricity from footsteps.  They started with the founder and a desk in C4CC two years ago and have now moved out to a local office employing about 30 people.

The second example was in Edinburgh, where I was shown around a new venture called “The Tech Cube” .  The building used to be the home of the The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies until last year when the School moved to new purpose-built facility 7 miles to the south.  The vision for the Tech Cube was impressive – though the building was still under refurbishment.  What was interesting was the link between the Tech Cube and the University – with the idea of taking some of the young ideas that will be incubated on the top three floors of the Appleton Tower (part of the Informatics Department) about half a mile away and then to commercialise them further in the Cube.  Again – a strong link between University and the commercial sector seems to be the trend.

I was also lucky enough to be shown around O2’s new Business Academy in London – part of a network of accelerators owned by Telefonica under the brand name  “Wayra“.  19 start-ups in London (from a total of 171 worldwide) are each given about £40,000 as a loan by Telefonica to catapult them to the next level.  They each spend 9 months in the accelerator in a cube on the edge of the building bounded by corner-less walls of black that can be written on by passers by.

There is an interesting map emerging – which is summarised on the TechBritain website:

All this got me thinking what the similarities were between my apiary and the successful custodianship of these new businesses accelerators / incubators around the country:

  • Projects and/or businesses are bounded physically (like a hive is within an apiary)
  • Each project has a leader.  Some are more successful than others – depending on the leadership qualities of the boss (queen bee)
  • The organism depends on cross-fertilisation of ideas between the various colonies (a role performed by the drone in the bee world)
  • The workers of each project (hive) collect ideas (pollen and nectar) and enrich their organisation
  • Some incubators (like C4CC) have private rooms that projects can keep their Intellectual Property (honey stores) from the competition
  • Each building (apiary) needs a good leader (beekeeper) to ensure the right treatment is given to each project (hive) to ensure they flourish and survive
  • Each business (hive) has a different path, a different energy, a different future.  Predicting which ones will win and which ones will fail can be difficult!  Just as with bee hives.

Colonies of Artists are not a new thing (see previous post on the Cranbrook Colony.  However, with all the mergers, acquisitions, outsourcing, offshoring and MBA-ification of our business fabric, I somehow think that the only way we can get the UK back on its feet is to get back to the level of the hive and re-learn the art of business within a colony, or business apiary.

This is backed-up by thinking from the Futurist, Thomas Frey, in his analysis of the future of work and how business colonies will become a growing force in the future of how work works.

This weekend I will move the hive from my friend’s garden to my out-apiary where I will have to decide what to do with it in the spring.  Some colonies are just too angry for an amateur beekeeper to want to keep.  Below is a rather quaint scene from the French Alps of an apiary that has probably not changed for a hundred years or more:

However, on the up-side, they are often one the most profitable hives for producing excess honey.  After  this appalling year of honey production, I might well encourage them to flourish next year.  The again, it might be good to encourage them to swarm – so I lose the queen that produces such aggressive daughters.  As in beekeeping, so as in Wayra’s motto: “The rules are not yet written!”

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Two-Speed Engines and Wonky Gearboxes

I was with a client yesterday and drew attention to a recent article Two-Speed IT: A Linchpin for Success in a Digitized World from BCG Perspectives on how some organisations are being forced split in two with the pressure of the internet.  The BCG paper describes a “two-speed IT” – but in many ways, the IT is only part of it – and BCG have taken the two-speed analogy far further with other thoughts on organisations, economies and governments.

It would appear that, in order to survive, successful organisations now need to have (at least) two speeds or engines  within in them.  One is there to cope with traditional “industrial speed” business and the other need to cope with innovation and customer interactions at “digital speed”.

There is no finer example than Telefonica-O2 – which has recently split itself in to two companies.  One which manages the more traditional “industrial” network and handset business.  The second (called Telefonica Digital) was set up to manage innovation and all the different aspects of interconnecting the network business to new technologies and services.

I’m with O2 – and it was disappointing that even after splitting itself in two, the industrial part of the business, they still managed to knock-out my service for 24 hours in the early summer.  Even more reason to believe in the importance of  creating and adapting organisations so that they can take both the expected and unexpected demands placed upon them.

A better example of success is probably BT’s execution of the Olympic Games.  I am sure the stories will start to come out in the next few months, but I heard at a conference recently that there were over 50 severe attacks on the Olympic Network that could have brought it down – had BT not had the right protection in place.  In the industrial network game, true success normally means not failing!

As many of you know, I like to draw analogies, and I thought that this client that I was working with had a problem of shifting from first gear to second gear.  Somehow, they had all the parts to make very solid machines for the industrial age, but they were not thinking of designing and creating smaller, lighter, more nimble components to put in the small engines of the digital age (for new organisations such as Telefonica Digital).  To use a truck-car analogy, they were still assembling large-scale gearboxes for big trucks – (where each component takes days and weeks to manufacture and assemble) – whilst missing the market opportunity to provide new, smaller gearboxes (or even components) that will allow emerging digital organisations to engage with the bigger industrial engines of the past.

 

 These new gear boxes are going to be smaller, cheaper and faster to assemble.  It might even require a new, separate  organisation to design, market and support them.   The possibilities were very interesting.

So I was charmed by the Queen of Coincidence, when, whilst I was preparing for the client presentation, a good friend, Jo, sent me this brilliant recording of a telephone conversation between a guy who has just bought a BMW with a “wonky gearbox” – Listen and enjoy!

Please click here to listen to the WONKY GEARBOX STORY

Sometimes we simply get this whole technology thing completely wrong by not reading the instruction manual!

 

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Inventories, Unread Books and Generation Why

Last week there were no Thursday Thoughts.  I was in Edinburgh and thinking far too much to write about it.  Today I had to go up to London and got writer’s block until a chance Skype conversation with Malcolm about random stuff.  It got my right brain going and I am now back in the flow.

In much of the work I do, I am drawn to creating order from chaos by documenting the present situation.  One very useful tool is to take an inventory of what is.  A version of the truth that is accurate enough to be good enough.  It is like the difference between German and British accounting: German accounting is always exactly wrong: British accounting is almost roughly right!

So it was I was chatting to Malcolm on Skype who was listening to Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time – a discussion on James Joyce’s UlyssesAt the start of the talk, Bragg points out that it is one of the most famous books of the last century – and one that few have read cover-to-cover – myself included.

It got me thinking about the fact that 95% of books are never read.  Mine included……

So I thought, what about an inventory of all the books I have – and then work out how many I have actually read?  More than 1,000 books – and less than 5% read?   I suppose that the types of books I collect are not novels.  They are more like factoid books, text books, “how to” books.  Bee books, personal development books.  I don’t read novels.  My father used to say “Life has enough drama in it that I don’t need to go to the theatre”.  I think the same about reading books.

So the inventory, used with the mirror, forces to look at yourself, your behaviour, your reality.  But the Skype conversation I was (and still am) having with Malcolm on this touched on another interesting thread.  The fact that I am of a generation where physical books represents learning, knowledge and intelligence.  But for my children, the world is very different.  An Amazon Kindle could contain the same number of books as on my bookshelves and many more besides.  For generation Y (which I call Generation Why – because they always seem to be asking the question Why?)  the value of owning physical books is almost diametrically opposite to mine.  To take an inventory of Apps on my MacBook (which I also collect) takes less than 5 seconds.  The software can be updated across the internet when new versions arrive.  Information is more transient.  More connected, near-free to produce.

So what?  Well it is time for me to start to clear the clutter of my bookshelves.  To stop ordering physical books on Amazon.  To change my behaviour.  One of the most difficult things to do.  But the inventory and the mirror are perhaps the most powerful tools to help change behaviour.  Question is whether I can  reduce my inventory without being distracted by workload, the bees, the dogs, the children – oh and that urge to go onto Amazon to buy another book on my Wish List!

Time for an inventory.  Time to put the mirror up!  It works with clients – but is so much harder to do to oneself!

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Thinking, Fast and Slow

I was browsing the bookshelves in a provincial airport lounge last month.  I really like browsing business books in these sorts of places (as opposed to ordering books from Amazon).  You find things you would not normally find and you can pick them up and read the gist of what the book is about in a very tactile way.  Something Kindle struggles with, I think.

Anyway, I came across a what looked like interesting title “Thinking, Fast and Slow”.  Being one always on the look-out for new Thursday Thoughts, I bought it and have started to read it…

The book is written by Daniel Kahneman who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002 for his pioneering work, developed with Amos Tversky, on decision-making and uncertainty.

Interestingly, there is a quote on the front cover by Steven Pinker which says “(Kahneman is) certainly the most important psychologist alive today”  I thought the blend of economics and psychology would be interesting – and I have not been disappointed!

To begin with, Kahneman’s says that we all have two “systems” of thought.  He adopts terms originally proposed by the psychologists Keith Stanovich and Richard West referring to two systems in the mind: System 1 and System 2.  Thee labels of System 1 and System 2 are, apparently, widely used in psychology.  For those of you, like me, who are mere lay-folk in the art of psycho-babble, this was news!

Here is an extract from the introduction which outlines the two systems:

“When we think of ourselves, we identify with System 2, the conscious, reasoning self that has beliefs, makes choices and decides what to think about and what to do.  Although System 2 believes itself to be where the action is, the automatic System 1 is the hero of the book.”

Kahneman describes System 1 as: “effortlessly originating impressions and feelings that are the main sources of the explicit beliefs and deliberate choices of System 2”.

In rough order of complexity, he describes some examples of the automatic activities that are attributed to System 1:

  • Detect that one object is more distant than another
  • Orient to the source of a sudden sound
  • Complete the phrase “bread and…..”
  • Make a “disgust face” when shown a horrible picture
  • Detect hostility in a voice
  • Answer to 2 + 2 = ?
  • Read words on large billboards
  • Drive a car on an empty road
  • Find a strong move in chess (if you are a chess master)
  • Understand simple sentences
  • Recognise that a “meek and tidy soul with a passion for detail” resembles and occupational stereotype

The highly diverse operations of System 2 have one feature in common: the require attention and are disrupted when attention is drawn way.  Here are some examples:

  • Brace for the starter-gun in a race
  • Focus attention on the clowns in the circus
  • Focus on the voice of a particular person in a crowded and noisy room
  • Look for a woman with white hair
  • Search memory to identify a surprising sound
  • Maintain a faster walking speed than is natural for you
  • Monitor the appropriateness of your behaviour in a social situation
  • Count the occurrences of the letter  a in a page of text
  • Tell someone your phone number
  • Park in a narrow space (for oct people except garage attendants)
  • Campare two washing machines for overall value
  • Fill out a tax form
  • Check the validity of a complex logical argument

The interesting thing that I have learnt so far is that we use System 1 and System 2 interchangeably throughout the day – and each system performs very important and different functions.  Kahneman’s main thesis is that the intuitive (System 1) often arrives at a conclusion or judgement without the detailed logical evidence for that decision being through by System 2.  There are many examples he gives where this is so – and here is one of them from page 43 of the book:

“A disturbing demonstration of depletion effects in judgement was recently reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  The unwitting participants in the study were eight parole judges in Israel.  They spend entire days reviewing applications for parole.  The cases are presented in random order, and the judges spend little time on each one, an average of 6 minutes. (The default decision is denial of parole; only 35% of requests are approved.  The exact time of each decision is recorded, and the times of the judges’ three food breaks – morning break, lunch and afternoon break – during the day are recorded as well.)

The authors of the study plotted the proportion of approved requests against the time  since the last food break.  The proportion spikes after each meal, when about 65% of requests are granted.  During the two hours or so until the next feeding, the approval rate drops steadily, to about zero just before the meal.  As you might expect, this is an unwelcome result and the authors carefully checked many alternative explanations.  The best possible account of the data provides bad news: tired and hungry judges tend to fall back on the easier default position of denying requests for parole.  Both fatigue and hunger probably play a role.”

The book is certainly worth a read and I hope that even these small excerpts have make you think – even if only to understand we all have two systems of thinking that dance to the daily cycles of our more basic animal behaviours – and that, for all important decisions, gut-feel or intuition is not enough and that it is important to engage System 2.  An aspect of thinking I sometimes struggle with!  And it appears I am not alone – since the book highlights this as one of the main causes of human suffering in the world today.

Graphic from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/evalottchen/6352121909/in/photostream/

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Clean Thinking and Clean Language

Have you ever been in a situation where you say something that you regret later? For example,  I was with a close friend the other day trying to “help” her work through some problems.  The suggestions that I made to her were taken the wrong way and the conversation broke down.  Purely because I put too many of my own thoughts into the flow.

It made me think: I wondered whether there was a way we could communicate without putting our own ideas, suggestions and bias forward?  In my research,  I came across a whole system of communication that originates in psychotherapy that allows you to do just that!

The originator of the approach was a guy called David Grove (whom I never met) – who died far too young four years ago in January 2008.  The ideas behind the system have various names – but one of the best-known terms is that of “Clean Language” – popularised in an excellent book published shortly after Grove’s death called “Clean Language” by Wendy Sullivan and Judy Rees.

Rooted in the idea that we all live with our own very personal, subjective metaphors, the technique allows the person being questioned to explore those metaphors without any judgement or bias from the interviewer  or therapist.

The basics of using Clean Language are simple:

  • Keep your opinions and advice to yourself
  • Listen attentively
  • Ask Clean Language Questions to explore a person’s metaphors (or everyday statements)
  • Listen to the answers and then ask more Clean Language questions about what they have said
If the person being asked the Clean Language questions is seeking to change, then the change can happen naturally as part of the process.  It is not a technique to force change on anyone!  I have found that there are equally useful ways in which to use the method: whether it is gathering information on a project, interviewing someone or asking children about their own worlds that they live in.
In the book there are twelve basic questions in Clean Language with a further 19 “specialised” questions.   However, to get going, other articles refer to the five basic questions which are designed to help clients add detail and dimension to their perceptions:

1. “And is there anything else about [client’s words]?”

2. “And what kind of [client’s words] is that [client’s words]?”

3. “And that’s [client’s words] like what?”

4. “And where is [client’s words]?”

5. “And whereabouts [client’s words]?”

There is a great video on the use of Clean Language in therapy – with some interesting results:

Another strand of this line of research was published in an earlier book “Metaphors in Mind: Transforming through Symbolic Modelling” by James Lawley and Penny Tompkins in 2000.  There is a short two-part article by Lawley on some of these ideas as they apply to organisations which can be found here: Metaphors of Organisation – an angle to this whole work that I find fascinating.  There is also a quote from Gareth Morgan at the start of the article which sums-up some of the ideas:

“All theories of organisation and management are based on implicit images or metaphors that persuade us to see, understand, and imagine situations in partial ways. Metaphors create insight. But they also distort. They have strengths. But they also have limitations. In creating ways of seeing, they create ways of not seeing. Hence there can be no single theory or metaphor that gives an all-purpose point of view. There can be no ‘correct theory’ for structuring everything we do.” 

To open up our thinking, Morgan seeks to do three things:

(1) To show that many conventional ideas about organisation and management are based on a small number of taken-for-granted images and metaphors.

(2) To explore a number of alternative metaphors to create new ways of thinking about organisation.

(3) To show how metaphor can be used to analyse and diagnose problems and to improve the management and design of organisations.

I wish I had known this a month ago before the encounter I described at the beginning of this thought.  The outcome would have been very different, I’m sure.  I’m also very interested to know if you use any of these ideas in the work that you do.  Please comment below if you have any thoughts or observations.  In the meantime, try using clean language in your everyday work and play – it is a really useful tool – even if you are not a fully-trained psychotherapist!  It is so clean it can’t hurt anyone – and can actually be quite fun realising how much of our own “stuff” we put into normal conversation.

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Presence over Process

This week, the bees went to bed for the winter. Fed down with verroa treatment in the hope that most colonies will survive the winter.

I have also had three very different conversations this week about the importance of Business Processes. In each conversation, I came to a different set of conclusions. However, there was one over-riding idea that shone through from each conversation. The obsession with the current process-centric religion in management thinking has actually made many of our service-based organisations less, not more effective and less, not more efficient.

The first conversation came from an experience I had with a US-based hosting company I have used for about ten years. Last year they put SAP into the company. Two months ago the company was sold. The service has been declining for about a year. Coincidence? I don’t think so. The new process involves forcing you to ring a US telephone number which is actually answered by someone in the Phillipines who filters you so they can direct you to the right department. The problem I had involved both Domain Names and Hosting – so I ended up being put through to two departments. In the end I was double-billed and had to ring back a week later to complain – when I went through the same rigmarole – and was sent an email to say I couldn’t reclaim the money because it was against company policy. I rang a third time and finally got through to someone who sorted me there-and-then. Sounds familiar? More like a telephone company? Yes, indeed. I then got hold of the Director for Customer Experience and Process Design on LinkedIn to share my story. He was a Harvard MBA. He saw my profile but ignored me. The company is called Network Solutions.

The second case was with a former colleague whom I had lunch with. He is an aspiring partner at one of the big five consulting practices. He told me he was writing a paper about the importance of process design in telecoms companies. I cited the above story and said that Presence was more important than Process. He looked quizzical. He could not compute. He was not sure how he could implement Presence and make money out of the idea from a consulting assignment.

The final conversation was with an enlightened ex COO of a Telecoms company with whom I had lunch with on Tuesday. He said he was process mad – yet when you listened to his stories of how he managed processes, there was a great deal of practicality and experience blended in with the importance of providing the right information to the right person at the right time to turn customer issues and questions around on the first call.

In the crusade to banish the obsession with Process centricity, I continue to marvel at the bees that I keep. They don’t have crazy processes to waste time. They have developed an approach that balances Process AND Content (or pollen/nectar collection) IN THE MOMENT so that they can respond with far more intelligence than just following a book of rules. Interestingly, the model they use shows that outsourcing is extremely wasteful and makes no sense at all. If you have to hand off, do it only once (not three times like ITIL). The models from the bees also demonstrates the sense of investing in small, agile “cells” of capacity and capability tuned to specific types of demand.

To summarise, I believe it is time to create a new management paradigm based on Presence (modelled much more on the natural world that the bees have developed over 50 million years). It creates a paradigm shift that takes us away from the insanity (or caetextic thinking) of process-obsession and into a new much more organic model based on cells or colonies that can respond to demand of various types a seasonal basis.

Just like the bees do.

I am writing a book on the idea – so expect more like this in future postings.

I have also posted Presence over Process on MIX – The Management Information Exchange – please add comments and vote for the idea there or add your comments here as you wish.  Always valuable!

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