At the recent evidence for the House of Lords Communications subcommittee, I drew attention to a great piece of thinking which was written-up in a book by Everett M Rogers in 1962 called “The Diffusion of Innovations”. It has since sold more than 30,000 copies, is now in its fifth edition and has become a classic on how ideas spread.
Often, when we think about innovation, we think of words like “new”, “creative”, “first-mover” etc. Diffusion is not really a word that instantly springs to mind. Yet Everett’s research has proved to be a robust model which has stood the test of time across many innovation cycles. Here is a great cartoon which outlines Everett’s five constituencies that need to be convinced about a new idea, product or service:
I particularly like the cartoon because it includes “THE CHASM” as the first gap across which all innovations much leap if they are to be successful and grow beyond the first 15-20% of any given market. How many ideas or innovations fail at this hurdle!
What is even more interesting to note are the different dynamics as you move from up the curve after the chasm has been crossed. To capture the “early majority”, then a “word of mouth” or “refer a friend” strategy is the main mechanism for growth. There are many examples on the internet where this has been institutionalised.
Once the early majority has been convinced, the late majority tends to be more convinced by the opinion of a number of individuals or other social groupings. Once again, the internet has helped to accelerate this in recent years with social media platforms and other types of discussion fora – further driven by well-designed applications that allow people to group themselves together in areas of common interest like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.
As the Internet has accelerated the diffusion of ideas around the world, distance has become less important than it was in the 1960s. The fifth edition was updated in 2003 to address the spread of the Internet, and how it has transformed the way human beings communicate and adopt new ideas. How much has changed, even since then!
I have found this a very useful model for all those struggling with marketing ideas, products and services in the age of the internet. It is always worth remembering that the tactics used for getting over the chasm are probably not going to be much use when you have to convince the Laggards. Perhaps the UK needs to understand the model better when looking at how we increase our usage for the internet as a whole – and particularly encourage the laggards to get online. Hence my use of the model when talking to the Peers last month.
On a similar theme of last week’s Global Awareness Campaign, I came across the developing idea of a “Global Earth Hour”. Surely it is a good idea to spend one hour a year thinking about the Earth?
Started in Australia in 2004, this BIG SWITCH OFF is now held annually on the last Saturday of March every year – so you have two days to prepare yourself!
Worth taking time out to think about how dependent we are on electricity – and it does not take much effort to join in. Just switch off all your electrical appliances from 20.30 to 21.30 this Saturday – and think about the Earth – or whatever else comes to mind!
The video below is so cute, I had to reproduce it. Might also convince you to vote for some of the pledges on the site:
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
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.
Following on from the popular RSAnimate video of Dan Pink’s great lecture describing the three attributes that really motivate people: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose, I came across an equally impressive piece of work by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer in this month’s McKinsey Quarterly. If you don’t already subscribe, it is well worth doing so.
In their recent book, The Progress Principle, Amabile and Kramer uncover the events that allow people to gain deep engagement in their jobs and make progress towards meaningful, purposeful work. The McKinsey article (How leaders kill meaning at work) highlights four really interesting traps that leaders fall into that prevent the progression towards meaningful work.
These four traps outlined are:
Strategic “Attention Deficit Disorder”
Corporate “Keystone Cops”
Misbegotten “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” (BHAGs)
We all need a higher purpose – and if we cannot find it in our work we do, then we don’t work nearly as well than if we do have one. The article ends with a simple set of ideas:
“As an executive, you are in a better position than anyone to identify and articulate the higher purpose of what people do within your organization. Make that purpose real, support its achievement through consistent everyday actions, and you will create the meaning that motivates people toward greatness. Along the way, you may find greater meaning in your own work as a leader.”
A bit cheesy, perhaps, but there are some useful case studies in the article.
My parents founded The HALO Trust – a mine clearance charity that has grown very successfully, over the years. The purpose of the organisation has remained the same since its inception: “GETTING MINES OUT OF THE GROUND, NOW”. Very present. Very simple. Very effective. And the motto has really stood the test of time and allows everyone in HALO to focus on a very clear and important purpose.
I am sure that every reader has other interesting stories of their own – both positive and negative – which I would love you to share below!
You are probably past the point of setting New Year’s resolutions and have forgotten the one you set last year. Yet when you look back a year and look forward a year, it is surprising how little changes and how much stays the same.
Sure, 2011 was turbulent for many. In Europe, we seemed to leave the year with an uneasy sense of unknowingness about what lies ahead in 2012 for the Eurozone. And we are told that the world is now so connected that we don’t need New York to sneeze before the rest of the world catches a cold. The sneeze could come from Berlin or Beijing or anywhere else for that matter.
Yet there is nothing like a conscience and a critical review to remind you of what you committed to and what you forecast might happen…. And writing a blog is somehow a very public way of saying that I commit to something at the start of a New Year.
So it was that I was surprised to find that I went public this time last year to reduce my bodyweight. Apparently this is the most common New Year’s resolution that people make. I did actually manage to lose a stone between January and April last year – only to put on 9 pounds between April and Christmas!
So often, (in weight loss AND in business performance), the gains are difficult enough to achieve – but even harder to sustain. It is not that my body needs to be as heavy as it is. It is more about habit – and changing the habits that have been laid down over a lifetime. It didn’t take much for me to revert to my old habits as the summer came and the bees started to make honey!
Reading the press over the New Year, it was interesting to see that the UK population has become more and more obese – and some say over 35% is now obese. As has the banking system and, perhaps many of the service organisations that try to service our needs – or so the current UK government thinks.
So the question for me is how to we can reduce weight and sustain a healthy lifestyle in a world that seems to becoming more obese.
My diet last year where I managed to lose a stone in weight was not really a diet. I never felt hungry the whole time I was on the regime. I simply reduced the number of calories I ate.
In a similar way, the two puppies that we took on in September are a good weight – because they get fed the correct amount of food each day. It is interesting, also, that we have never been as healthy as our parents and grandparents were the 1940s when the country had food rationing.
It is not so much, then, about reducing weight. It is more about eating the correct amount you need to achieve and maintain a natural bodyweight.
So, for this year, as well as reducing weight (another stone would do), I resolve to try to sustain the weight loss. I would also like to do the reverse for my business – increase the revenues and sustain the flow! Funny that in March last year I earned the most in a month when my weight reduced the most!
Maybe one idea works with the other. Who knows? Maybe the Lean Folk know. Makes you think, anyway!
Whilst exiting from the Underground Station at Canary Wharf yesterday, I saw an advertisement for a well-known global bank which said “The Future is Here”. How banal. How meaningless. How hollow, I thought, when the banks are in such a mess.
Last week I found a quotation which, for me describes the future in a far richer, more eloquent, more creative spirit – written in an age when true creativity mattered more than contrived cloud-based global bank adverts.
Here it is:
“The future is not a result of choices among alternative paths
offered by the present,
but a place that is created –
created first in the mind and will,
created next in activity.
The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating.
The paths are not to be found, but made,
and the activity of making them
changes both the maker
and the destinations.”
John Scharr, Futurist
The trouble is, the bank in question is my bank! What to do? Makes you think, anyway.
I had a meeting early yesterday morning at the Frontline Club in Paddington. As I was leaving, some NHS folk were outside the entrance to St Mary’s Hospital demonstrating and making a noise. I did not go up to them and chat – I just took a picture. The window in the top left corner is where Sir Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin. As I walked away, I wondered what Fleming would have thought of all the noise?
I headed off to have lunch with an old friend at a restaurant in Paternoster Square – just by St Paul’s. It was a good lunch – and surprisingly crowded (when I had been told that all the traders in Paternoster Square had nearly gone out of business). After lunch, I had a bit of time before my next appointment, so I decided to walk from St Paul’s down to Victoria.
I could only leave Paternoster Square by one exit – which was the one I came in on. Normally crowded with tourists and city folk, the square has been blockaded in by a squad of policemen and other less official-looking people who seem to be from the tented camp of the Occupy Movement.
I was surprised to see the tented camp still pitched around St Pauls. I wondered how long they will hang on out there (particularly now the weather is turning)? Still, give the Occupy St Paul’s encampment some credit, they were pretty well organised and all seemed quite peaceful.
As I walked down towards The Aldwich, the whole of Fleet Street had been blocked by police cars, police vans and trucks with large sandbags. It was a very strange atmosphere which I later realised was the end of the TUC march down the embankment.
A bit further on some folk were clearing barriers and a strange tent-like contraption came around the corner that posed for some TV cameras. The banner said “Occupy Everywhere” obscuring the sign for the Royal Courts of Justice. And it got me thinking.
With the world’s population recently increasing to over 7,000,000,000 people (or 7bn for short), in a strange way, we DO occupy everywhere already! That’s the problem! And we aren’t doing too well at organising ourselves to reduce the population size. And there are now so many people getting heated up about all the problems that the planet itself is heating up more than we anticipated a few years ago.
So what’s to be done? The politicians can’t seem to fix it. The international banks and muti-national companies can’t seem to fix it. The Occupy Movement doesn’t seem to be fixing it. Yet we continue with the old patterns of marching, demonstrating (for pensions that will never appear) – and thinking that someone else will fix it.
So whilst we surely do Occupy Everywhere already, we need better ways to occupy ourselves so we all feel a sense of purpose and usefulness – without having to rely on the consumer-centric values that have held the Western world together for the past 50 years.
Interesting times. Not sure anyone has the answer. But I am sure we will work it out somehow! After all, Fleming discovered Penicillin by going on holiday. The story goes that some tropical medicine folk were researching on the floor below and penicillin floated up to his labs whilst he was away. Strange things happen when you bring diverse ideas together and go on holiday. Can’t wait for the Christmas break!
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!
I always enjoy this time of the year. For me, in many ways, the 1st of September is the start of a New Year.
If you can remember when you were young, or even more recently, if you have children, this time of the year marks the start of the academic year. It is back to school week and also Freshers week for those starting University. It is a out-of-sync start to the year when, in the Northern Hemisphere, we are all heading into Autumn and Winter. Perhaps the original designer for the academic cycle was an Antipodean when it coincides with Spring. Who knows?
Anyway, I have found over the past three years of running a small consulting business that there are definite peaks and troughs in demand for an extra pair of (external) hands to kick-off a new campaign or project. And that cycle is very much in in line with the school year. I can see a definite trend of individuals buying in three cycles – September/October, January/February and April/May/June. Nobody buys anything in August!
So with this New (Business) Year, I decided, whilst on holiday in August, to do a few radical things – just to mark the occasion. I’ve upgraded my apple computer (because the old one broke beyond repair). I’ve changed broadband service provider to Zen (having been struggling with BT’s customer service for several years). And I have also decided to move from my old-style accountant to one that can handle the cloud, is more proactive and help the business grow. All these changes have definitely given me a “back to school”, start of a New Year refreshed feeling.
With these somewhat mundane changes, I have also been reflecting on the past three years and what goals and objectives I should set the business for the next three years. After all, I run a business called Objective Designers! So I was very amuzed to get an email this morning from a great productivity blog I subscribe to called “ZenHabits”. I was reading an earlier entry called “No Goal” – which struck a chord. What if we actually have no goals? What then? I love the two quotes at end of the ZenHabits post:
‘Always remember: the journey is all. The destination is beside the point.’
“A good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” Lao Tzu
Why do we set all these goals and objectives? What purpose do they serve? Is there really an alternative framework with no goals, no budgets, no plans. Just free-and-easy go-with-the-flow business? I can see this probably wouldn’t work in big business, but for a micro business, it is an interesting idea. Many self-employed folk around the world probably do this naturally anyway!
Anyway, it makes you think – which is what this blog is all about!