Dialogue Flows

Why does the CEO of a major bank want to ban powerpoint? Why are our traditional approaches to leadership, management, marketing, sales and PR less effective? Why don’t employees get more engaged when we explain why they should be? Why do political pitches get shorter and simpler but no more effective? Why do fixed knowledge management hierarchies disappoint users? Why don’t our customers or community understand us better?

Talking at

We talk at people. We don’t talk with them.

Our traditional methods of communication and exchange of knowledge talk at people. We have been taught to see communication as:


Says What

To Whom

In What Channel

To What Effect?

– Laswell’s model of communication

This model of communication sees communication as a single transaction moving my stock of knowledge to you. That’s not a dynamic flow or a two-way exchange of information. It is the one-time relocation of a given stock of information, whether you want it or not. Because the transfer is one way there’s no chance to improve the knowledge or the process.

We can’t blame the failure of this approach on bad luck when it has little regard for whether someone wasn’t paying attention, didn’t need that information or doesn’t understand it.

Talking with

In a connected world we no longer have the luxury of talking at people and ignoring their understanding or replies. We may design our organisations to ignore their responses but failure to discuss now has consequences. Someone will be prepared to listen to the replies of your employees, customers and community, even if it is only the other members of that group. Over time others will listen better, learn faster and new competitors will be born.

Dialogue has far more power. Working together to share and use knowledge in flight builds community and deepens understanding. Critically, the conversations that build a shared understanding also create a rich shared context on the knowledge. In many cases, the context proves more valuable than the information exchanged. If these conversations occur out loud, everyone’s understanding benefits.

Begin a new Dialogue

Start a new conversation today on a project that matters to you.  Start with someone else’s purposes, concerns and circumstances. Talk with them and learn. Your turn to share will come and it will be richer for the dialogue.

What do you need to discuss?

Why Hierarchal Management Survives – Institutional Filter Failure

We like to believe hierarchical management survives because those in power won’t surrender it. More likely it survives because we have not yet developed better management practices for handling excess of information. Our hierarchies make us intentionally dumb to avoid the challenges of networked information flows. We rely on hierarchy to remain unresponsive.

The Power but No Glory

Ask most frustrated change agents about why management is not changing faster to new ways of working and conversation eventually turns to the lack of incentive for managers to surrender their power.  After all when the rewards, power and prestige of senior management is so great, why would any organisational leader jeopardise these benefits by moving to new models of management.  In this view a senior management cartel stands in the path of change.

Ask senior managers about the needed changes in organisations and they will list the same issues as the change agents – too many meetings, too many emails, not agile and responsive enough, bad decision making, not enough innovation, and poor execution. Senior managers recognise that power is not what it once was. Fiat power is declining, engagement is low and threats must give way to influence.

However, when you ask about moving to new network and self-organising ways of working, the first response is usually not about a loss of power. The first response is some form of “I barely manage my emails. How would I cope if everyone could contact me directly?”  This complaint may take the form of social channels as a new method of two way communication, the need to respond to new issues from customer or community networks, new performance measures, managing autonomous experimentation or the being exposed to incomplete work in progress through working out loud.

Institutional Filter Failure

Consider for a minute the shared list of the sins of a hierarchical organisation: meetings, email, narrow internal views, partial data, bad decision making and limited ability to act.  These aspects of the system are not symptoms of the hierarchy.  They are its reason for being.  They are the system.

In an age of an increasing overload of information, management more than ever needs filters. Clay Shirky famously said: 

‘There’s no such thing as information overload – only filter failure’

Our management systems are full of these ways to reduce and control the spread of information to make management life more manageable. They aren’t flaws, filtering is the system. The system is working perfectly as we designed it.  We have these process to make our organisations less responsive. We want to exclude lots of information to make managers’ lives easier.

Managers resist giving up these flaws of the hierarchy because we have not yet offered them alternative filters in which they can have confidence.

Responsive Organisations Use Information

Responsive Organisations don’t exclude information. They work it. Instead of trying to pass it around through series of filters, these organisations seek to enable people to make use of the information they have, to share it on a pull basis and to create new and valuable information to assist their work.

Think for a minute of the key elements of responsive organisations:

  • External orientation: Opening up the organisation to its environment and orienting it this way pushes the traditional hierarchical approach of information management to breaking point. When the ‘facts are outside’ to quote Steve Blank, management must embrace different ways of managing information.
  • Transparent Network structures: Network models of working are pull structures unlike hierarchies traditional push models of communication. In a network people have the ability to find the information that they need.  We don’t need to push it around we just need to make it findable through approaches like working out loud. This transparency contributes to trust and shared context, critical elements to reduce the decision making overhead.
  • Autonomy to employees: If employees have autonomy they don’t need to share their context and rationale with their boss to get a decision.  They just make the one that they think best.
  • Experimentation: Experimentation further shifts the burden of information and decision making. When the right answer is the one that survives a test, we don’t need meetings up the chain to get an OK.
  • Purpose: As most managers know communicating strategic intent down a hierarchy is hard work. Either the strategy doesn’t survive translation or the application in a different frontline context is a challenge, particularly balanced with the rules and regulations that must come with it.  Purpose is easier to get. Purpose comes from within an employee and can be a richer and stronger guide to their action.  Purpose reinforces autonomy.

Responsive Organisations adopt new approaches to filter and use information. Instead of relying on the decision making of a few overwhelmed managers in the hub of the network. Responsive Organisations enable every node to filter and to act on the information. That approach accelerates both learning and action.

Don’t Know, Learn

Hierarchical management is obsessed with what is known. (This is both the appeal and the failure of ‘big data’) Managing what is known is the objective of the system. Instead of knowledge the system becomes an information filtering system and critical insights are lost. However, you don’t need to know as much if you can learn.

Knowledge is not worth much as a stock. It value comes from use in a flow. Insightful analysts like Dion Hinchcliffe and John Hagel are already describing a new information platform view of the next phase of our connected lives

Responsive Organisations will be those that develop the approaches and practices to best use information in new ways to achieve the purposes of the organisation and realise the potential of its people. That’s called learning.

Increase the density of your organisation

When you increase the density, you increase the likelihood of collisions. Collisions of diverse people and ideas are a fertile source of creativity and innovation. Increasing the density of the ideas flowing in networks in your organisation will deliver a creative dividend.

Vibrant cities are rich sources of innovation because they bring together people and act as nodes in global transportation and knowledge networks. Into these cities pour people and ideas that collide to create new ideas, ventures and new activity.

The best teams that I have seen have this same dense, diverse and frenetic level of interaction. They are also equally creative. The constant collision of ideas and new interactions of people drives the growth of the organisation. These are organisations where people actually want more meetings and more talk because of the creative potential and the ability to leap forward in solving shared challenges. Creative interactions help people to do more, better or faster.

Through Change Agents Worldwide, I am currently experiencing the incredible creativity of a dense network of interactions, even though I am the most remote member of this global network of Change Agents focused on helping organisations transition to the future of work. Every day, there is a firehose worth of insight, interaction & creativity. In February we will publish an e-book of contributions of the members of the network that was only conceived in the last month. The same level of creative collaboration and inspiration powers work for clients and the creative output of the whole network. The first face to face meeting of this network has not even happened yet.

Increasing Density

Teams with dense idea networks and great creativity have a few things in common that can guide anyone seeking to increase the creative density of their organisation. Here are a few steps you can take:

  • Strengthen common purpose: purpose pulls people together and gives them reasons to connect and engage more. Purpose underpins the creation and sharing of ideas.
  • Increase connections: the more connected the organisation the more chance of a creative exchange. Knit your organisation together and ensure everyone is well connected.
  • Increase energy: the more energy, the more ideas move; the more ideas move, the more collisions will occur. The energy of meeting a challenge together will create dense connections. Don’t go for energy for its own sake. Create purposeful intent, energy in collaboration and willingness to collide in pursuit of a goal.
  • Be open: if you want interactions of people and ideas then the default should be open and transparent work. Put more ideas in flight and tear down barriers to the flow of knowledge. Openness also helps everyone to contribute and the group to pick up connections that might otherwise be missed.
  • Be diverse: more experiences and background means more inputs more ideas in flight, more conflict and less groupthink.
  • Orient outwards: there will be far more ideas in your conversations if you are drawing them in from outside. Let ideas out to return redoubled. New external provocations can help fire the creativity in a team.
  • Value learning if you know everything, you are an endpoint. You are choosing to sit outside others’ efforts to learn and grow. You are no longer connecting and building on others’ ideas.
  • Embrace chaos: a dense network of people connecting over ideas and action is never going to be neat and orderly. Bring order to the outputs if you need but don’t constrain the inputs or process in flight.

You can achieve these effects face to face in your organisation or you can use a tool like an enterprise social network to help your organisation increase creative density. Whatever you do, increase the flight of knowledge in the organisation and the creative collisions will follow.

Obstacles are the work

Is it really December?  Businesses and schools are winding down for the summer break. The cricket has started. Christmas is rapidly approaching.  With that comes a quick close to 2013.

2013 has been a year of adventures, obstacles and challenges. More than anything else it has been a year of new momentum. I could not be more excited by the incredible opportunities that have arisen this year:

Embrace the Chaos and all its Obstacles

I was reflecting on all that has happened this year when Dany DeGrave tweeted yesterday about the need to maintain momentum in the face of obstacles:

Obstacles are the work. They show you have chosen to have an impact. They help us see our purpose. They provide the challenge and interest.

Obstacles are proof that your work matters to others. These challenges remind us that change is human and social. They encourage us to share knowledge with our networks, to work aloud and to pay attention to the knowledge moving around us.

Obstacles help us reflect on what matters. Pushback make us ask new or obvious questions.  An orderly progression of success can be quite tedious and generate its own doubts.  If success is that easy, are we missing something?

If there weren’t obstacles, our talents would not be required, we would not learn and not grow in the work. If there weren’t obstacles, we would not get the rewards of overcoming them.  If there weren’t obstacles, we would not have the joys of collaborating with others to move forward around over, under or through.

Your Obstacles. Your Momentum. Your Year.

So next time you are considering a year of obstacles, remember the hard work proves that you are on the right track. Obstacles are proof of your momentum.

I bought this poster at the midpoint of this year. It has been a reminder ever since that every year is my year.


Every year is your year too. Move past challenges. Reflect on the successes.

Maintain momentum in doing whatever you need to do to make it your year. Your impact is up to you.

If you would like your own or other great posters, the source is The Poster List. 

We are all dead

“If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” – Jack Welch

We are all dead.

The rate of change external to each of our organisations is now so great that no organisation can ensure it is changing faster than the external system. Global interconnectedness, the rapid speed of ideas in a digital economy & new means of working and collaborating means that change will only continue to accelerate.

So if we are all dead what do we do? Change the game.

Jack Welch’s quote assumed that the organisation needed to generate enough change internally to beat the system. If you are a massive diversified conglomerate like GE, then that is a real challenge

Don’t beat the system. Become the system instead. Organisations need to design their structure, boundaries and processes to integrate with opportunities going on around them in that external change. Instead of hunkering down to fight off the change, organisations need to rethink their defenses. The best defense may just be a welcome:

Have an outward facing culture: If your organisation is looking inwards for your ideas and opportunities, you are dead. If your organisation, only worries about its competitors, then don’t worry they are dead too. Open your organisation up to look globally (that really means globally including Asia, Middle East, Latin America and Africa)
– Focus on opportunities to create an ecosystem: Allowing the system to shape your products, services and customers will accelerate your change. This can be achieved in many ways such as partnership agreements, an API or a customer collaboration community. Once you start to see and think about the system in which you operate, new opportunities to change and innovate will present themselves.
– Create agile & open edges in their organisation with the freedom to interact with external changes: hackathons, experiments, partnership agreements and a handful of strategic investments can generate a lot of exposure to change externally that will help the organisation adapt. Make sure your permission and performance processes actually give your people the opportunity to interact. They need to be able to move at the speed of the system and that means trust.
– Speed the sharing of information and execution in your organisation: Copy the system where you can. Use enterprise social. Use agile. Use design. Use minimum viable products. Hack, experiment and test away.
– Kill yourself first: What business model do you most fear losing? What product are you too dependent on? What customer can’t you lose? Tackle these challenges now. Engineer a way to change them or innovate like crazy in these spaces before others realise your vulnerability.