This blog is about the relationship between organizations and the people who work for them. And, it’s dedicated to the millions of people around the world who go to work every day wanting to do a great job.
No this post isn’t about drugs. Â It was written earlier this year for a project I was working on and that didn’t go anywhere. I’m posting it today, because I realized there are some important general lessons here worth sharing.Â Yes, this is a story about new ways of thinking about university education, but it could equally be about business, health systems, the arts… Â any other institutions.Â Specifically, it’s about how the assumptions we make and our lack of understanding of the client experience stop us from seeing the opportunities that are there to see. Â I’d love to hear what you think.
Imagine you live in Afghanistan. You spend your day maneuvering between mortars and shells dropping from the sky. At the end of the day you have one hour when you might have dial-up internet access. You get yourself ready and get online with 160,000 other students around the world. A single working mother in Montana.Â A Chinese researcher.Â A labourer in rural India.Â A Lithuanian office worker. You all have something in common. A burning desire to learn. To better yourselves.Â And maybe to change the world.
Early this year, Dr. Sebastien Thrun shocked his colleagues when he announced he was leaving his tenured position as Research Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University to join David Evans, Professor of Computer Science [University of Virginia] in starting Udacity. Their idea? To connect the best teachers in the world to students who otherwise wouldnât have access. To educate, âliberate and motivate people around the world to solve developing world âproblems and make the world a whole lot better.â
As Dr Thrun describes his decision: âYou can take the blue pill and go back to your classroom and lecture to your 20 students, but Iâve taken the red pill and seen Wonderland.â
Dr Thrun caught his first glimpse of Wonderland when he and a small team at Stanford decided to offer his course in Artificial Intelligence [normally given exclusively to students who each pay $30,000/year for their privileged Stanford education] online and for free. Â They were completely blown away when 160,000 students from around the world signed up.
This wasnât just another online lecture. When Sebastien and the team at Stanford took on this experiment it turned their traditional teaching methods and assumptions upside down.
âAll the mechanisms that make teaching great survive in this medium,â says Professor Thrun. But, it took a little thought and ingenuity.
The lecture method wouldnât work. They needed to create a way to involve students in their own learning.Â They used a ânapkinâ and pen and a close up shot of Dr Thrunâs hand writing while he described the lesson. This approach created an intimacy that surprised everyone. Students reported feeling like they were sitting next to him getting personal tutoring.
But it still didnât engage students.Â So, they decided rather than lecturing only that they would build the course around a series of short quizâs. Students were able to enter their answers and get immediate feedback on how they were doing.
Putting the student at the centre.Â The next big realization was that whereas the motivation at Stanford was to âweedâ students out, in this online environment where capacity and bell curves were not an issue they could focus on finding ways to ensure student success. So, they designed the course so that students who needed to could redo quizâs until theyâd learned the lesson and get additional online support if they needed it.
Good students received encouraging emails from Dr Thrun.Â In the end, the results were pretty astonishing – 248 students answered every question, quiz and completed every assignment perfectly.
The course was adapted into dozens of languages opening up access to students whoâs first language is not English. Â And women, normally reluctant to sign up for technology courses, reported feeling âmore respected and protectedâ studying in this online environment.
By the second week, Dr Thrunâs classroom was empty. The 200 Stanford students were participating online. They could ârewindâ to go over parts they didnât get the first time.Â They could do the course while they travelled on public transportation to and from the campus.Â They preferred Dr Thrun in video!
So, for Dr Thrun there was no going back. Â By thinking about education from the student point of view. Â By learning and adjusting what and how they did things. He and his colleague are creating open access to education and changing the world. Â Isn’t it time for us all to take the red pill to see Wonderland?
Here in Canada, the first day after Labour Day begins a new school year for many children. Â And one of the important lessons our kids learn before they head off to school is to “Stop. Look. Listen” before crossing the street.
And, maybe it’s a lesson we as leaders and communicators can learn from tooÂ as we get back to work after the summer and start in on this new business season full of the pressures of strategic planning and budgeting, achieving last quarter and annual results, annual performance reviews and objective setting for next year.
I laughed out loud when a friend of mine, EstherÂ Barragan, who’s living and studying in Italy posted this question on Facebook a few weeks ago. Â I found it especially funny because my friend is a designer. Â I mean if any jobs could be described in a fresh and exciting way wouldn’t they be design jobs? I just can’t stop thinking about her question.
So, off I went to Wikipedia to see make sure I knew what a job description really is.Â I think we have the answer to Esther’s question. Â When “strategic human resources methodologies” are “used to develop a competency architecture for an organization, from which job descriptions are built as a shortlist of competencies.”
I’m sorry, I’m still laughing. Â Corporate language, the jargon we use in organizations, just sucks the life out of everything, even something as important as a job description.
Maybe it’s time for a little refresher in “how to express ourselves to fit the occasion.” Here’s a perspective from another time and place:
The opening ceremony at the London Olympics cost an estimated $42M [US]. Â The production took years of planning, 1000s of professionals and 10,000 volunteers and livestock, involved artists of all kinds, designers, managers and trades to install 1000 of tons of equipment and materials and animate the whole thing. Â Just thinking about the logistics of such an undertaking is breathtaking.
At Simply Communicate, they recently reflected on “What the Olympic Opening Ceremony can teach corporate comms” in an interview withÂ Adrian Smith. Â The full article is definitely worth a look, but there are three mainÂ lessons and a central idea that Adrien drew from the Olympics 2012 opening ceremony that I want to share [my words]:
- Have one vision for the creation
- Recruit and engage a range of experts and create an environment where people from a wide range of specialist disciplines [verticals] are able to bring their expertise and ideas to bear on the creation of the whole
- The “best” idea “wins” no matter where it comes from.
Adrian then goes on to his central idea. He argues for the fundamental role of design in corporate storytelling:Â ”There is a whole new generation of corporate communicators who do not know what a live event can do. And production companies are losing out because there is a generation that donât know what design can deliver in terms of story and theatre. As time goes on there is a danger that this lack of theatre in corporate events will become the norm.Â I hope that the success of the Opening Ceremony may be a catalyst for people thinking about taking emotion and engagement from a live performance as opposed to a video on a website.”
What do you think? Â Are we as leaders and communications professionals too focused on the facts? Is it time to bring back the ‘emotion‘ and ‘engagement’ of live performance? Â Does design [and design thinking] have a place in corporate storytelling? Â Is it time for us to expand our storytelling palette? Â
If you follow this blog, you’ve read my concerns about the recommended changes to our professionÂ before, but in the past year my colleague and friend,Â Neil Griffiths,Â and IÂ have noticed an escalationÂ we find especially troubling.
As communication professionals we are being deluged with prescriptive advice about what communication professionals should and shouldnât be doing.Â Some of this advice makes sense. Much of it seems pretty obvious. And a lot of it seems to be based on subjective opinion rather than research.
One of the few exceptions is the Arthur W Page Society study âThe Authentic EnterpriseâÂ .Â It’s based on âoriginal research among CEOs, [their] …experience and a broad range of studies and perspectives.â Having reviewed dozens of reports, articles and white papers, we found it to be the most credible, insightful and provocative.
Though intuitively appealing, we donât believe anyone has ever tested the recommendations broadly with communication professionals to see how we think weâre doing and to better understand the implications for the profession.
We believe it is time. Our hope is that our findings will generate practical insight and lead to constructive discussion within the profession.
Weâd appreciate your input. Please complete our short confidential survey [less than 10 minutes].
For all the talk in Canadian business about innovation and collaboration, I just read a startling and rather disappointing fact from a talk given by BDC late in 2011: Â Canadian “businesses invest $2,400 less per employee, per year, in computers, software and training than American companies do.”
A few years ago that amount spent on information and communication technology wouldn’t have bought you much. Today it could set an employee up with enough technology and applications to be able to connect the way they want, when they want, with colleagues virtually anywhere in the world. It could create the opportunity for innovation and collaboration that we believe is so vital.
The United States have been hit harder by the recession than we in Canada have and yet they invest $2,400 more in the stuff that will make it easier for their employees to create new and more efficient ways of doing things;Â new products and services that better meet the needs of their customers; and a competitive advantage. Â This doesn’t seem right.
When we as leaders are out talking about the importance of innovation and collaboration to the future of our organizations and our country are we making it a priority? Â The numbers say we aren’t.
If innovation and collaboration are key strategic priorities, then we need to invest in them. If they aren’t, then we probably shouldn’t keep saying that they are. Â
This morning I came across three articles. Three different perspectives. Same conclusion. The more connected we are as leaders and as organizations the better.
Perspective 1 -Â CEOs.Â A study of 65 chief executives from around the world discovered that CEOs spend an average of 6 hours out of their 55-hour work week alone. The remainder of the time is spent in business meetings [virtual and face-to-face] and lunches and on the phone. CEOs may not like it, but it is how their work gets done and confirms Henry Mintzberg‘s seminal study “The nature of managerial work” Â .
Perspective 2: Leadership teams.Â In their new book Strategy & Business, Rob Cross and Jon Katzenbach describe how: “In most companies, the phrase top team is a misnomer…” Instead, they go on to say: Â [P]ower comes from … members’ informal and social networks, their determination to make the most of those connections, and their ability to work well in subgroups formed to address specific issues… [A]s much as 90 per cent of the information that most senior executives receive and take action on comes throughout their informal networks – not formal reports or databases.” The conclusion: Enriching networks enriches organizations.
Perspective 3: Organizations.Â ”Web 2.0 … promote[s] significantly more flexible processes at internally networked organizations: respondents say that information is shared more readily and less hierarchically, collaboration across organizational silos is more common, and tasks are more often tackled in a project-based fashion.” This study goes on to demonstrate that the more networked an organization the more business benefits. If you, or your leadership team, ever had any doubts it’s worth taking a look.
Connecting is what we as human beings do. We’re social creatures. Our organizational work gets done with, and through, other people.
Helping your employees connect.Â A little idea with huge potential business benefits.
It’s a potentially beautiful thing.
The single most challenging thing facing my clients is staying in touch with reality.
And, the pace of change just makes it harder.
It’s easier to assume we know what we don’t, or can’t, know. After all we have to get onto the next pressing issue.
In a way, it may be asÂ Marshall McLuhan described it:Â âIn our time we are reliving at high speed the whole of the human past.Â As in a speeded-up film, we are traversing all ages, all experience, including the experience of prehistoric man.â And, he added: “You can turn it off.”
And, maybe that’s what we’re doing. Â Maybe, in order to survive we’re just turning it off.
What’s great about McLuhan, though, is that if you didn’t like that ideaÂ he has another one: Â âWith the acceleration of change, management now takes on entirely new functions.Â While navigating admidst the unknown is becoming the normal role of the executive, the new need is not merely to navigate but to anticipate effects with their causes.â
But in turning it off we’re missing that thisÂ time of change is also a time of incredible opportunity. Those who’ll succeed and thrive, it won’t be because of random luck. Â It won’t be because they’re comfortable with, and embrace, ambiguity. It will be because they’veÂ stayed in touch with theÂ realityÂ of what is changing and what is staying the same and what the implications of those changes are in relationship to their values and highest aspirations.
In your organization, do your leaders know what they don’t know?
Recently the LinkedIn HR discussion group I follow asked the question: “PowerPoint slides loaded with paragraphs of text … is this laziness? Lack of awareness? Do people really think this is good visual support? What do you think?”
they don’t know they don’t know what their doing
they’re lazy and theyÂ don’t know any better
it used to be ok, but not now. The world has moved on, but they haven’t
people who are afraid of public speaking do this in order to hide behind text-heavy slides
they have no respect for the audience
they’ve never heard of Pecha Kucha, the 6×6 rule, Prezi, the drop the slide at your feet and if you can’t read it it’s got too much on it ruleÂ …
they think it makes them look smart
they don’t know the material
Great fun and a good way to let off steam. Given that you’re not an academic or a consultant, the question is, “Why do you do what you do on the job?”