Conversations that Build Trust, Agility, Resilience & Creativity

image for tree post for Michael

Last week at Kingbridge we unveiled our first newly designed leadership workshop, Leading through Conversations that Matter, hosted by Michael Jones. One of the techniques that Michael shared with the group involved using the ecology of a tree to help us understand the distinction and value of learning how to host three very different levels of conversations.

Those who attended the workshop found this valuable so we thought we would share the information with you.

Most organizations are not short of innovative ideas. What they do lack, however, is an environment that allows for the careful enrichment of the soil in order for these seeds of possibility to take root and grow.

What builds this soil is conversation. But not all conversations are the same. The leader’s ‘art’ involves knowing which conversation they are taking part in – and which ones they need to be taking part in – in order to achieve the results they desire.

One picture that helps us understand different levels of conversation is the image of a tree. This image offers a lens for making distinctions between three levels of conversation and how each contributes to growing the culture of an organization.

Level 1: Tactical/Incremental
In Level 1 conversations – the primary question is, “how do we do things differently?”

In Level 1 conversations, the focus is on the distribution of power, influence and getting things done. There is an emphasis on negotiation advocacy, tools, techniques, problem solving, action planning and results.

Level 1 conversations see the enterprise as a mechanical system for which all problems have a corresponding technical or expert-driven response. To extend the tree metaphor, Level I conversations – like the upper branches and the leaves of the tree – are highly sensitized and reactive to changing circumstances. Because they are focused on the performance of the parts rather than the system as a whole, their emphasis is on efficiency-based thinking, quantitatively-driven results and mechanistic responses to problems.

Level 2: Strategic/Transactional
Here the primary question is, – “how do we do different things?”

At Level 2 we see not only the leaves and branches, but their connection to the trunk of the tree as well. Here the focus is on structure and strategy as well as rational problem-solving through policies, technology, detailed plans and systems thinking.

Level 2 conversations shift the emphasis from efficiency to effectiveness, embracing a human resources lens which encompasses human assets and potential, matching people to jobs and working in teams.

Both Level 1 and Level 2 conversations tend to focus on change that is instrumental. They don’t ask the larger questions like ‘why’ or ‘what for?’ For this more profound shift of mindset to occur and to navigate the complexities of a rapidly changing world, we need to look to another level of conversation.

Level 3: Regenerative/Transformational
With regenerative Level 3 conversations the primary question is, – not on “how we act differently”, but in “how we see differently.”

Here, there is a shift from mechanistic thinking to engaging with the organization as a living system. If the other levels focus on the leaves, branches and trunk, Level 3 conversations examine the soil and the root system underneath.

By ‘regenerative’, I mean conversations that focus not only on the people, the power and the structure of the system, but also on the culture and the sense of place where the leader is also the steward, the sage or prophet, the storyteller and place maker.

At Level 3 there is a greater attention on dialogue and listening together as well as on the regenerative power of beauty, destiny, synchronicity and mythic thinking in which art and poetry, music and celebration carry an equal voice. Generative conversations are participative, reciprocal and imaginative. They involve a collective search for deeper meanings and insights to emerge.

In so doing, these conversations shift the focus from preserving the life of the tree to growing the tree into a sturdy and fertile oak through the constant turning and care of the soil.

Eighty percent of what determines the health of a tree is the condition of the soil – the ‘magic’ that supports and nourishes its roots. In the context of an organization, this ‘magic’ is found within its creative spirit: conversations about what we aspire to, about when we feel vital and alive, about the gifts and heritage from our past and our present challenges and opportunities. These are ‘root’ conversations that focus on the common roots of our shared human experience. As such, they create the fertile ground – so frequently passed over in a fast-paced environment – where the seeds of our future can take root and grow.

It is commonly believed that the fastest way to change a system is with Level 1 and Level 2 conversations. So the overwhelming majority of an organization’s attention is usually focused in these two areas and the typical goal-setting processes that have been used for decades emphasize specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and strategic time-bound results. Yet these rarely correlate with either work satisfaction or real success.

We need to be highly literate with Level 1 and Level 2 conversations while being aware that they concentrate our attention on the most obvious and visible issues. They promote an expert-driven ‘outside in’ response and rarely evoke a fundamental shift of mind when practiced without Level 3.

All levels of learning are necessary, but only Level 3 conversations invite us into seeing new possibilities in the future. As such they take tactical and strategic learning in new directions that could not have been foreseen in advance.

The practice of engaging in Level 3 conversations connects us with how nature itself creates and sustains life. We become allies with each other and our destiny in ways that intellect, tactics, and strategies alone cannot encompass. Our destiny is rooted in the rich soil of intuitive wisdom, the power of place, our heart’s desires, our greatest aspirations, the gifts in each person and the collective intelligence that has called us to be together on this journey.







Playing at work: The key to productivity and innovation

In today’s climate of fast moving technology, heavy workloads and constant connectedness through mobile devices the vast majority of us have left play to the children and replaced it with work and responsibility.

So, we don’t have time for play anymore, it is only for kids….right? Wrong. There are umpteen studies on the benefits of play for children but now we are discovering that continued life-long play into adulthood is equally as important for our creativity, problem solving abilities, new skill development and emotional health.

Play is a doorway to innovation. Play stimulates our imaginations, helping us adapt and solve problems. Play arouses curiosity, which leads to discovery and creativity. In addition, the rewards of learning or mastering a new game teach us that perseverance is worthwhile. Perseverance is a trait necessary for innovation, and it is learned largely through play.

Play is also a powerful catalyst for positive socialization. Through play, children learn how to “play nicely” with others—to work together, follow mutually agreed upon rules, and socialize in groups. As adults, play continues to confer these benefits and has the ability to vastly improve working relationships.

Many of us are working longer and harder, thinking that this will solve the problem of an ever-increasing workload. But we are still falling behind, becoming chronically overwhelmed, and burning out.

Work is where we spend much of our time. That is why it is especially important for us to play during work. Without some recreation, our work suffers. Success at work doesn’t depend on the amount of time you work. It depends upon the quality of your work. And the quality of your work is highly dependent on your well-being.

The Kingbridge Insight for this week: In short, make some time to play at work. Anything can be gamified with a little consideration – leader boards for certain activities, task timing etc. Even a short break to play a game completely unrelated to work has been proven time and time again to relieve stress and trigger creativity or allow a problem to be seen from a different perspective. Play at work may be perceived by some as ‘wasting time’ but in reality it increases overall productivity.

Do you use a Second Screen?

Second screens have become the norm these days with the vast majority of people carrying a smartphone or tablet or both!  We google speakers during conferences and tweet comments about training sessions we are attending – we have become master multi-taskers.

Although most second screens are personal devices they are increasingly being used in the work and learning environments as additional resources. In his Learning Trends blog on March 25, 2011, Elliott Masie listed some of the potential implications for Learning and Corporate HR given the growing prevalence of second screens in our lives.

Learning Implications:google_htc_tablet_110

* People are using their Second Screens to continually enhance, contextualize and expand the CONTEXT side of CONTENT that is being viewed.
* Workers are able to collaborate – internally or externally – with formal or personal clusters of people as part of or in competition with the learning activity.
* Learners will have access to more back-channel and secondary content, context and opinion as they engage in learning.
* Tracking Second Screen activity will be a major challenge, if not impossibility.
* Learners will demand greater connectivity and access to at least some corporate assets on their Second Screens.
* When do we allow or restrict the use of Second Screens at work, in a leadership program or in the field?

HR/IT Implications:

* Selective, layered and location specific access to online assets from Second Screens will be requested from workers at the office, on the road and at home.
* Security issues – including Intellectual Property challenges – will arise as Second Screens are used, especially when the content is cached rather than just viewed.
* Second Screens will rapidly become HD-enabled Video Presence Units, competing with the quality of the $250,000 telepresence suite and placing intense loads on bandwidth.
* Equality and Discrimination issues will rise when employees buy their own Second Screens and are competing for performance with others who cannot afford the luxury.

Given these observations the question now becomes, much as it did with the issue of Facebook in the workplace, how to leverage the Second Screen to enhance learning and productivity.   Any Ideas?

The Collaboration Curve: Continuous Learning for Continuous Improvement

“Collaboration curves hold the potential to mobilize larger and more diverse groups of participants to innovate and create new value” 
~ John Hagel III, Harvard Business Review

We have all heard of the experience curve and the effects it has on reducing costs and time while increasing accuracy in product and service development- it’s logical.  However, the inherent flaw in the experience curve model for business is that once you reach a certain level of expertise the costs, time and accuracy continue to improve only marginally until a new innovation is introduced.  And it is with the collaboration curve that the innovation increases.

“We’re seeing the emergence of a new kind of learning curve as we scale connectivity and learning , rather than scaling efficiency”

The more participants you have working on a design or project and the more interactions between those participants in a carefully designed collaborative environment, the more the rate of performance improvement goes up.  Essentially, because with continued collaboration comes continuous ideas that translate into continuous innovation.  It eradicates the lull in performance improvement that occurs in the experince curve model.

Take Apple for example.  They are experienceing a seemingly never ending cycle of expansion through the applications for their devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod etc.)  The reason of course is that they crowdsource.  Apple doesn’t think of the hundreds of application ideas and advertise them, they merely offer the platform and software neccessary for their users to develop apps based on their own ideas – and because of it the App Store is massive and Apple continues to gain revenue, reputation and offer continuously evolving product.

So I urge you to consider how you are applying the Collaboration Curve learning cycle in your organization?

Gaming for Learning

At Kingbridge we host conversation forums on collaboration topics with global relevance.  In 2007 we hosted Game Change a forum focused on immersive and experiential learning through emergent media.  We convened a community of interest including leading experts from academia, business and technology to accelerate the convergence of revolutionary technologies with the science of pedagogy. Gaming in  particular has proven to be a force of change in the way people learn today.  It has already proven effective in many technical and skill building applications such as surgical training, NASA education and even military training.

One of our partners in design and execution of Game Change was Anne DeMarle, Director of the Emergent Media Centre at Champlain College in Vermont.  Anne, in collaboration with the United Nations and The Population Media Centre, is now venturing beyond technical applications of gaming, towards gaming for behavioural change with the UNFPA Game to Prevent Violence Against Women project in Cape Town, South Africa (You can follow the project’s research and development through the team’s blog).

This shift in gaming for behavioural and social change will dramatically change the landscape of social learning.  Group dynamics training in the workplace and social change orgainzations across the globe will be able to adopt this new avenue for experiential learning.  Particularly, with computer based games the reach of the Internet will allow smaller groups to reach a much greater proportion of the global population resulting in a profound shift in awareness.

We will be watching for these advancements and keep you posted!