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.
I recently read a series of compelling articles written to celebrate the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 years. Their conclusion after all that time, all the brilliant minds they’ve worked with and with all their experience in the field: “innovating for resilienceâresilient networks, communities, and organizations better able to respond to and adapt to these unexpected eventsâis among the most important kinds of innovation we can pursue.”
But how, do we jive the drive for resilience with all the talk about our need for radical disruption. Â The pace of technical, social, and political change is greater than it has ever been. So, how can we reconcile our need for deep and systemic change and this idea of resilience – that is the ability to recover from change. The clue is in their description of the qualities that they believe we need to innovate for resilience? There are six:
“1. FlexibilityÂ | able to change, evolve, and adapt at a rapid pace. 2.Â RedundancyÂ | able to change course and adopt alternative approaches. 3.Â ResourcefulnessÂ | able to identify problems, establish priorities, and mobilize resources and assets to achieve goals.
4. Safe failureÂ | able to absorb shocks and the cumulative effects of slow-onset challenges so as to avoid catastrophic failure if thresholds are exceeded. 5.Â ResponsivenessÂ | able to re-organize and re-establish function and order following a failure. 6.Â LearningÂ | able to internalize experiences and apply those lessons to decrease vulnerabilities to future disruptions.”
Disruption isn’t necessarily about destruction. It can be about building. It can be, and should be a chance for healthy revitalizing change.
What are you, your organization doing to develop these 6 important qualities. Â Isn’t it time?
It’s a shocking fact that according to Canada’s health and safety website, “… every year work-related injuries and diseases cause nearly 1,000 deaths” in Canadian companies and organizations. Â That is nearly 3 work related deaths per day! Â That’s in a country with a relatively small population and well-publicised and enforced worker rights.
So, even though the two recent worker disasters in Bangladesh:
- a fire killed at least 112 garment workers at Bangladeshâs Tazreen factory who were locked in
- the building collapse at Rona Plaza that has reportedly killed nearly 400
The question remains what is the real cost of fast fashion and our seemingly insatiable demand for stuff? How many Bangladeshis are dying as a direct result of health and safety issues that could and should be changed? Â We don’t know. Â What we do know is that these deaths are avoidable.
Time to think about the impact of the story of stuff on workers…
What does health and safety and workers rights look like in your organization? Your supply chain? Â What role can we, as leaders andÂ professional communicators, do to change this very human disaster?Â
I was walking through the McGill University campus the other day and noticed a poster that described the invention of the Kellogg cornflake. It reminded me Â again of how chance has led to some of the most innovative creations of the past century: vulcanized rubber [think tires], Post-it notes, Teflon, mauve [yes, and a must read on this], the x-ray, superglue, stainless steel, and microwave ovens [for more].Â But, there’s more than happenstance and chance or even serendipity, to these breakthrough events. There was the ‘accident’ and then there was insight.
Virtually every organization I know is trying to find ways to encourage and capitalize on innovation. Big and small, customer or operationally-focused innovation is the new ‘silver bullet’; a “key growth lever”.
Well, they’re benchmarking. Â They’re designing new workspaces to support innovation – atriums and agoras, open offices, whiteboard walls and basketball hoops. Mimicking the Google and Apple campuses in the hope that they will inspire new ways of thinking. They’re giving employees access to more and more collaborative tools and creating opportunities through internal innovation challenges.
But most of these same organizations – whether they are white collar knowledge workers or blue collar labourers – are designed to produce widgets.Â It’s the nature of the work and the day-to-day deliverables.Â The design of the overall business operation is more like a production line in a sausage factory than a research and development team in a laboratory.
Are we just “putting lipstick on a pig”? Or are these changes – especially in older traditional businesses – really delivering the promise?
There’s a lot of interest, OK hype, around Google Glass. Let’s face it, the futuristic glasses are pretty cool looking just as a fashion accessory, but add in all the power of a smart phone and well it’s a pretty compelling offer.
Here are some of the features in the current prototypes:
- Responds to voice commands
- Answers questions [since it syncs through the net it means you can search the net - it's a Google product after all]
- Has GPS
- Takes and sharesÂ photographs andÂ live video
- Sends and receives text messages and emails
- Provides digital voice assistance that is customized to your personal habits [e.g. weather, traffic]
All this in a range of fashion colours!
At least one of Â my luckier, dare I say it geekier, friends [Mitch Joel] has already had a chance to try the Glass. Â His take: Â ”I think this will blow people away.” Â I’m pretty sure we can expect thatÂ by the end of 2013 we’ll start seeing the Glass on others if we’re not lucky enough to have one ourselves.
So, here’s my question:Â What impact will Google Glass have on the workplace? Â You know it will, so it’s definitely not too soon to start thinking about the potential and planning for the future!
Communication is almost always the institutional fall guy when things don’t go well.
Over the holidays I found myself helping an elderly friend manoeuvre through our medical system. It’s been quite a journey and seems to be ending well for my friend. Â She’s home and slowly getting better.
And it seemed like the biggest challenge over the past couple of weeks has been communication. But has it?
In Quebec, we have clinics – lesÂ centres local de services communautaires orÂ CLSCs – where as a citizen of Quebec you can get free access to doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists, physio and occupational therapists, etc. A fabulous idea. They were initially designed to take pressure off of the emergency rooms in our hospitals. Â Today they are also replacing general practices – in Quebec we don’t have enough family doctors, so if you need one this is where you go. Â And, they’ve become the frontline coordination hub for services that enable patients to remain in their homes rather than in institutions. That’s all a very good thing.Â Unfortunately it doesn’t work nearly as well as it might. Ask anyone in the system and they’ll tell you the problem is communication.
Within the CLSC we went to things actually worked well. Â We spoke to an intake nurse right away. We were assigned a long-term nurse within 24 hours. The first full evaluation of my friend at her home happened very quickly. My friend can can have access to a social worker and other resources that will advise her about what she needs to do to stay safely in her own home and connect her to other resources if she wants them – meals on wheels, hairdressing, etc. It isn’t perfect, but it is pretty darn good especially given we were dealing with them over the holidays.
What didn’t and doesn’t work all happened once we had to deal with other professionals outside the hub. The CLSC is neither well connected to the hospital – where my friend ended up in emergency for 3 nights – or to the patient’s doctors – in this case a general practitioner, a cardiologist and a vascular specialist. And the hospital wasn’t connected to the pharmacy – which is the only other hub where critical and integrated information on the patient’s care is held. In fact, the hospital sent my friend home on New Year’s Eve without a single and very critical dose of antibiotic to tide her over until the pharmacy was doing deliveries after the holidays. These disconnects are big problems. The long-term care nurse has [or should have] the complete picture of what’s going on with the patient on all fronts and what that looks like from the patient’s point of view given their context. In this case it was impossible and felt like a telephone game we played as kids but with much more dire consequences if things went wrong.
There are disconnects and overlaps in communication at almost every point in our journey.They are costing the system significant dollars and, I can only assume, the lives of patients.But, look a little deeper and there’s a more fundamental problem.Â The protocols are there. They just don’t work. They were designed for a different system: A siloed hierarchical doctor-centric system. And, it was often badly executed. Except for the patient’s health there seem few consequences.
How many of the communication problems in your organization are the result of management system design and execution problems and not just communication. Let’s stop being the fall guy and push to be part of a fundamental rethink and redesign of Â management and operational systems that no longer work.
“She doesn’t understand what communication is.” Â ”He doesn’t get the value we can add”. “She thinks cause she can talk and write she understands communications.” “All he wants is somebody to right the news release.”
The thing is that conversation about the communication professionals role often comes down to… Â ”If only we had a smarter, better CEO then we could really do our job.”
And, if you work in or for large organizations, you’ve probably heard something similar from people in almost any support function.
The implication is that these CEOs are
- stupid. Â They don’t get what we can do.
- irrational. They see what we can do and they choose not to let us do it.
But CEOs may be many things but stupid and irrational aren’t qualities that would have gotten them to where they are. Â If they don’t know what communication professionals can to to further their interests for the business or their careers, the things that matter to them, then the problem might just be us.
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?
Yesterday, as you know, scientists announced evidence that they have now proven experimentally that a Higg’s-like Â boson particle exists. Higg’s and others first proposed the boson particle to explain mass in the 1960s. Â Over the past 50+ years since then scientists have beenÂ looking for patterns and fundamental underlying structures that would lead to the particle behaviours they see. The task has taken trillions+ of data points and many years just to achieve even this first limited breakthrough – evidence that the Higgs boson “particle” does exist. They will now begin to analyze the particles even further to see to what extent their properties are as predicted by the Higg’s mechanism.
So, what does any of this have to do with leadership, communications and organizational work life – the main themes of this blog?
Well, I couldn’t help wondering, what amazing breakthroughs we could have organizationally if we as leaders had this level of curiosity. Â
What if we were curious enough that we really wanted understand why things happen the way they do or don’t in our organizations?Â Discovering patterns and underlying structures that lead to behaviours is key to changing those behaviours. So, why aren’t we more curious about our organizations and how and why they work the way they do? Why aren’t we more disciplined in working to discover the underlying structures that are leading to the behaviours and outcomes we’re after?
Compared to the Higg’s boson research, our research would cost lessÂ in time [probably wouldn't take 50 years] andÂ in money [no electron accelerator to build]. Â The benefits would be huge and direct [knowing there is a Higg's boson particle is clearly important but is unlikely to have nearly the direct impact on us].
Maybe we should begin our exploration by looking at the level of leadership curiosity? Is it adequate or not? Â And, if it’s adequate is it focused on the right business and organizational questions or not? If not, how can we understand what underlying structures are getting in our way and design an approach that encourages organizational curiosity?
It may not be Higgs-boson, but it’s a pretty important question.
What do you think? Â Is it time to get curious about organizational curiosity?
One year ago today,Â Atos Origin‘s CEO and Chairman, Thierry Breton, announced Atos Origin would [like to] become a zero email company within three years.
At the time, Mr Breton said:
âWe are producing data on a massive scale that is fast polluting our working environments and also encroaching into our personal lives. At Atos Origin we are taking action now to reverse this trend, just as organizations took measures to reduce environmental pollution after the industrial revolution.â
âThe volume of emails we send and receive is unsustainable for business. Managers spend between 5 and 20 hours a week reading and writing emails. They are already using social media networking more than search, and spend 25 per cent of their time searching for information. At Atos Origin, for example, we have set up collaboration tools and social community platforms, to share and keep track of ideas on subjects from innovation and Lean Management through to sales. Businesses need to do more of this – email is on the way out as the best way to run a company and do business.â
In their press release they also reported that:
- By 2013, more than half of all new digital content will be the result of updates to, and editing of existing information
- Online social networking is now more popular than email and search
- Middle managers spend more than 25% of their time searching for information
- 2010 : Corporate users receive 200 mails per day, 18% of which is spam.”
Atos Origin has created a page on their site that expands on their position and approach -Â here.
I’m curious about how they are doing on their mission to become a zero email company. Â Good, bad or indifferent there will be lessons here. Â So, I’ve asked them – by email [oh dear!].
As for the rest of us, over the past year I think we’ve all been feeling the pressure. Virtually all “organizational” men and women are increasingly tethered to email through their mobile devises 24/7.Â We’re initiating, receiving and responding more.
When you add email to all of the other ways we are sending and receiving information it can all be a bit overwhelming.
Let’s hope Atos has some good news and a few insights about their journey so far that they are willing to share! Standby.