Every day we experience the little gestures of community: the train passenger who moves over to let you in, the barista who smiles and remembers you, the neighbour who waves or the helping hand from a stranger in a shopping centre .
Little gestures build community because they help us understand the role of generosity, sharing, individual recognition and relationships. Little gestures unwind the corporate, the general, the machine, the process and the impersonal transactions of our lives. These gestures create community because they are not required and because they signal an effort to create reciprocal value.
Little gestures are a practice. These gestures require us to be mindful of our networks and ask how we can create human relationships from them. Practices like working out loud that make us more purposeful and generous in our networks reinforce this practice.
“We struggle with insecurity because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” – Steven Furtick
We see only outcomes. Worse still, we see mostly successful outcomes because the other outcomes are hidden from view or disappear quickly. No matter what we tell ourselves, it can be hard not to take the highlights reels around us as a measure of our own shortcomings.
We don’t see the hours of craft. For every magical moment there are hours of creation, rehearsal, tweaking and learning again. Every overnight success is a long time coming. There are hours and hours of outright failure. Great craft comes from great practice. As we struggle in our practice, we compare ourselves to the great and we wonder if the gap will ever close.
Forget the comparisons. Devote yourself to your craft. Put in the time and the effort. Share your craft openly, connect with others working the craft and learn from their efforts too. Focus on the 99% of perspiration and the rest will follow.
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working” Picasso
For the robust, an error is information; for the fragile an error is an error. – Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
Many people struggle with the risks & discomfort of working out loud. Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s concept of Anti-Fragility helps understand when to work our loud.
Taleb distinguishes between three adjectives of in his work:
fragile: at best unharmed by a shock
robust: at best and at worst unharmed a shock, i.e. unchanged
anti-fragile: at worst unharmed by a shock and with potential to be improved.
These ideas is a useful way to shape the practice of working out loud.
When to Work Out Loud
If a situation is likely to be fragile, for example because you can’t handle feedback or the situation requires a single answer, think carefully about working out loud or at least work out loud and mitigate the risks. Working out loud on a performance management conversation or feedback for another is a situation that is likely to be fragile. The relationship and performance could be jeopardised with any shocks or simply from a sense of lack of fairness in the transparency.
In situations where you are robust or anti-fragile, working out loud is essential. There is no downside and at worst information and at best opportunities to improve your work. Complex or chaotic scenarios in the Cynefin framework are examples of situations likely to demonstrate these characteristics as working out loud can play into an effective strategy of probe-sense-respond or act-sense-respond.
One of the strong reasons that I recommend people experiment with working out loud, such as in the safe environment of a working out loud circle, is that practice builds towards an anti-fragile state of work. Many of the initial concerns from working out loud come from concerns around emotional states, perceptions and ‘doing it wrong’. So many people complicate the simple act of sharing purposefully and openly.
Many of these concerns are overblown and contribute to our fragility at work. Practice of working out loud in simple experiments of sharing across diverse contexts can help individuals to see that they and their relationships are far more robust than they expect. They and their relationships can be deepened by the better information, shared context and trust created by working out loud. The many benefits of working out loud can push them to greater practice as they realise the benefits of learning continuously.
I have been asked by a few people who have seen the slides only whether the audience at The Change Management Institute found my talk practical. At first the question made no sense to me. How could a talk recommending four well documented practices not be practical?
Some of the issue is missing the text of the talk. You don’t get the whole story through pictures without the accompanying stories and discussion.
Then I realised the point of the question. In the presentation I talked about moving away from rigid process to adaptive learning. It would have been inconsistent with that theme to outline a 5-8 step procedure. The practices I recommended are about fostering mastery. The involve choices and learning. They are not procedures to be executed.
We are so used to the process mindset that a process is seen as the only practical option. I am very pleased the members of the Change Management Institute embraced new practices and saw the potential to learn and adapt through practice.
Learning and adaptation is the only practical way forward.
Before we connected the world in an instantaneous network, we understood mastery takes time. Now we often forget that we can’t leap to learning.
I’ve had many conversations recently where people have wanted to move quickly to mastery. Stakeholder expectations are high. Everything else is available at the push of a button. Where’s the shortcut to mastery?
Mastery takes learning. Remember the apprenticeships of the pre-industrial era were seven years long. Seven years lifted you to journeyman practice. A lifetime of learning and teaching others lifted you to master.
While access to information has changed, we have not necessarily transformed the pace at which we learn by putting skills into practice. We can find best practices easily but using them and moving to mastery is something else
Mastery depends on context. Mastering your particular purpose in your domain is unique to you. Your practice will be in a specific domain. Other’s practices may not fit. Discovering this context, purpose and clarifying the domain can take its own time.
Mastery takes continuous practice. Mastery is the ever continuing quest to learn, experiment and improve. Mastery is the domain of next practice. Practice takes time. We like to hear sorting superstars talk of their success. We often fail to focus on the decades of dedicated practice that makes that brief moment of mastery.
Our obsession with speed can mean we devalue the slow. That is a mistake when it comes to mastery. Mastery is something we have a lifetime to practice.
The only thing as a manager that you can’t fix is the discovery that you should have started yesterday. Working to create an effective culture is not a realm for the fast follower. Start!
All the Fast Followers
A fast follower mindset dominates much strategic thinking in business. It may not always be explicit, but successful practices are widely followed.
Nobody wants to bear the pain, the effort and the risk of the bleeding edge. Too many of the inventors failed to win the execution challenge. Once a successful approach has been identified it can be rapidly copied. Fast followers compete on execution. Fast following is seen as a safe play with only the danger that you give your competitor a small advantage for the period of time it takes to copy the approach.
You Can’t Fast Follow Culture
Your culture today is different to your competitor’s culture or your role model organisation’s culture. There is a reason you still haven’t caught up to the impact of those GE practices that you are trying to follow (A reminder: Jack Welch retired 14 years ago).
What will be effective in your organisation differs from what works in another company. Experimentation is required to find the ideal set of behaviours for the purpose, people and strategy of your organisation.
Even if a practice could be guaranteed to work, implementation of cultural change takes time. There is no purchase to make, no switch to flick or no announcement that will let you catch up on an advantageous culture as a fast follower.
Culture is an expectation of how interactions happen in the networks of your organisation. Networks are one area where fast follower strategies often fail. People can be reluctant to shift once they have adopted a set of beliefs and built skills in interactions in a network.
You need to do the work to change the expectations of behaviours in your company. That will not happen overnight.
Your Future Competitor has Started.
Somewhere a present or future competitor has started experimenting with new ways of working. Disruption is as much about new ways of working and new models of management as it is about new customer propositions.
The extensive discussion of the future of work means that different organisations are starting to explore better ways of working. People are experimenting with new modes of organisation, practices of management, the leadership of communities, and different ways to learn, collaborate, innovate or solve problems.
These organisations are exploring more effective cultures and modes of achieving higher performance in their team. They know that it will be a long while before you find out what works for them. When you do even knowing what works for them, you will still have to make sense of the change for yourself. There’s a lot of learning to do.
You can’t catch up without learning what works for you & your network, learning how to implement changes and making the new behaviours expected practice in your organisation.
If you are wondering if it is time to start experimenting with new ways of working, then take a closer look at the practices and experiments of the competitors around you. You can’t start yesterday, but you can run an experiment today.
People can grow. Practice compassion. Help better their practice.
In my office I keep a statue of Guanyin, the bodhisattva of compassion. I found the statue in Hong Kong over 20 years ago and loved the serenity & beauty of Guanyin. I also loved the reminder of the value of focusing on compassion for others. Guanyin is connected with the Lotus Sutra which established in the Buddhist scriptures that everyone can improve with the right practice.
[The Lotus Sutra] teaches us that the inner determination of an individual can transform everything; it gives ultimate expression to the infinite potential and dignity inherent in each human life. – Daisaku Ikeda
The Compassionate Leader
Compassion is greater than empathy for the challenges of others. Compassion is when that emotion leads people to go out of their way to act to help others. Compassion is not a mindset. It is a practice.
Compassion requires a specific focus on each individual. Compassion is about helping each individual to relieve their situation. The ultimate belief of a compassionate approach is that everyone can improve, like the Lotus Sutra.
Traditional organisations with an industrial mindset encourage dispassionate leaders. With a fixed mindset of employee potential and mechanistic view of employee productivity, compassion is discouraged. Leaders need to play to the averages of teams, cut their losses on poor performers and move on. Leaders who show compassion will be seen as overly focused on soft skills or more bluntly as weak leaders.
When the future of work is becoming more human, we can no longer afford the waste in this dispassionate approach. We cannot predict the emergent practices which will define effectiveness in a new connected digital knowledge economy. Innovation, disruption and new value creation rely on leveraging diversity, new ways of working and learning. If so, how can we afford to write people off until we have tried to realise their potential contributions.
Compassion takes Practice
Much of the traditional concern in management around soft skills relates to concerns that these skills are just talk. However compassion demands more than the thoughts and talk of empathy. Compassion demands action.
Leaders can act in measurable ways to help their teams to learn, to improve and to practice new skills. The work of leaders in the future of work is to realise human potential. This will take the hard work of new practice.
Compassion begins with a focus on the individual and an acceptance of their real circumstances. Leaders need to understand an employee’s goals and build their plans around those goals and a frank dialogue about where the employee is today. Compassion does not require you to soften the blow of reality. It requires you to help change it.
Compassionate leaders must work to improve practice. Coaching will play a key role in encouraging employees to seek out, experiment with and learn from new practice. A coaching approach to performance aligned to the employee’s goals and the goals of the organisation can achieve dramatic improvement in individual performance.
Compassionate leaders do not protect their teams from change. They make them better able to benefit from change. These leaders teach new skills and perspectives, show the potential gains in new practices and find alternative ways to contribute for those who are adversely affected by change. Compassionate leaders see change as a way to better realise potential.
The future of work demands compassionate leaders. How is your leadership working to realise the potential of others?
Compassion is a necessity, not a luxury – His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama
Developing mastery of new future of work practices is essential to individuals being able to leverage the networked economy and also organisations ability to adapt to become Responsive Organisations. However, new practices don’t develop overnight they take persistent repetition and gradual mastery.
Your way to Carnegie Hall
There is an old joke that an out-of-town violinist is walking through New York and stops a passerby to ask for directions to Carnegie Hall, the site of many famous concerts and recitals. The answer from a wiser old New Yorker is “Practice. Practice. Practice”
We have a current example of this insight in the hacker quest to demonstrate you can become an expert in a year through consistent practice. For example, this man’s effort to reach the top table tennis players in the UK.
The key points here are that:
the practice is voluntary
the practice persists
the practice develops in mastery with a determined intent on improvement
the challenge of the practice raises over time
Allow Time. Design for Flow.
In our rush to implement new practices in organisations, we can miss these characteristics of growing mastery. We choose target state behaviours. We impose them transactionally through short change management programs. We are often disappointed by the results. Not surprisingly they rarely develop into consistent practice, let alone mastery. Alien behaviours can take time to make sense, to practice with confidence and to learn new capabilities required.
The ideal programs to the introduction of new behaviours leverage the concept of Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Individuals need to be presented with purposeful activities where the challenge raises over time as their practice grows in capability. Keeping the developing practice in the zone of flow provides personal rewards to sustain the development of mastery.
The development of individual practice in this way may not fit within our traditional management timeframes. This is not a 90 day challenge. Developing new mindsets and behaviours will occur on a human timescale.
Tonight I started making a new loaf of bread. The one I made this morning is gone. As I began I reflected that what once terrified me as a mysterious challenge has become a practice I can tackle with confidence. Mastery is still a long way off, but the practice has its rewards.
Making bread is a simple practice but one with remarkable options for complexity. The simplicity begins with ingredients. There are only four required – flour, water, yeast and salt. However each of these is a natural product and yeast is a living organism. Variations in flour, temperature and vitality of the yeast interact with the practice of kneading, rising, shaping and baking to introduce complexity. Additional ingredients, processes and time spin bread off in other complex ways.
The complexity means there is a lot to learn and learning from the practice of masters is invaluable. My first loaves were flat and inedible. My own starter was weak, I lacked a grasp for developing the structure of the gluten and I was unaware of what to do when my following of recipes went awry, usually through some minor error of mine.
Here’s a few examples of how I learned from studying the practice of masters:
I have become a keen watcher of bakers at work from my lock pizza store to videos online.
If you reflect on the diversity of these influences, you will understand that my loaves aren’t copies of anyone of these sources. They draw from each in different ways, often at different times.
Complexity means each person needs to develop their own unique practice to leverage their opportunities and meet their own needs. There isn’t always a simple to follow recipe when techniques need to be learned. Experimentation is required to make sense of the practice and to make our own changes to make those practices suit.
However, we don’t do that learning and experimentation alone. We stand on ‘the shoulders of giants’ if we connect and learn from those masters around us. However, I can only learn from others if they are prepared to work out loud and share their approach. That working out loud is not all a free gift. I have paid for courses, a library of books and bought a lot of bread in my quest to learn.
The practices of the Responsive Organisation are far more complex than bread making. They involve the purposes, concerns and perspectives of many people in pursuit of common goals with agility and an external focus on customers and community. Sharing and building from our shared practice will help all of us to develop success. Working out loud fuels this learning and connection.