Wisdom of Crowds Yes; Courage? No

In 2008 I completed a master's degree in Change from the University of Oxford and HEC University in Paris. Great academic schools with the joint mission of educating leaders. I did give them a great deal of money for the degree.

There is an alumni group associated with the program that counts about 180 people as members. I'd guess the average age is about 47 with about 25 years of life and business experience for each of us. In a few cases, more of both. Add all those people's experience together and you get a pretty steep number. Lots of talent in the room when we gather for our alumni events twice a year.

This past September we came together for a continuing education session and decided that all our experience amounts to "something" and that we should write a book. A book made up of individual stories that reflect experiences in leading change projects, consulting on change projects and witnessing change projects

We committed to writing the book. A kind of crowd-sourced package of practical change experienced gathered from the field. The kind of street perspective that is often lacking in academic research books that litter the bookshelves. We would do this book ourselves.

But not really.

It has been a month since the meeting and what has emerged is the desire, need, or dare I say, rationalization that we want to include these academics as joint writing partners for credibility in the marketplace.

It seems we believe we are not enough as we are constituted. We still seek the cover of our "education parents" and the associated validation we think they provide. That actually might be accurate but I'm doubtful.

I am asking myself if groups have collective courage or if that attribute is mustered by one person? A person who breaks with the crowd and goes it alone? I have no answer but I'm thinking hard on the questions.

I do know I find no comfort or added value in co-writing a piece with an academic. But then I also have been telling myself that I have no topic of value to contribute to the book. It seems my deliberation on crowd-courage needs to be reduced to individual courage. But my gut tells me there is no crowd courage; just individual actions that look like courage. 



Do I Use the Pythagorean Thorem To Make Change?

It was open house at my daughter’s high school last night. Lots of earnest teachers and hallways full of focused parents. Everyone seeking the same outcome: the best pre-college education for the best and brightest of our community.

Each teacher had 10 minutes to explain the wonders of her subject, reassure parents that their budding stars were doing “great,” and answer questions (in six sessions, there were 3 questions). Then we parents were on to the next ten minute spiel.

My daughter is in her third year and sixth semester of math that has included algebra, geometry, more algebra and calculus to follow. Her teacher said: “Even though colleges are fine with three years of math, I recommend that kids take a fourth year of advanced high school math so they don’t forget the stuff when they get to college.”

Then it hit me. It might be in some of these kids best interest to forget some of this math. Or better yet, never learn it.

We have built an educational system around math and science that aspires to turn out thousands of engineers, scientists, chemists, and technology wizards. No doubt we will need that horsepower in the future. But do we need every kid to be one of those? I don’t think so.

The fact is that for the majority of these kids, the math they will do in the future will not include binomial coefficients, a trapezoidal rule or differential equations. But it will include balancing a checkbook, creating and managing a budget, reviewing balance sheets, income statements, analyzing cash flow, calculating the yield on a bond, assessing the potential value of a stock or mutual fund or deciding if now is the time to refinance the house.

This is math too. In fact it is the daily math for life. Last night I realized that my daughter is going to graduate from high school and never be exposed to any of this “daily math for life.” I know, I know; this material will get handled in college. But why wait until then?

Check it out next time you buy a latte from a high school kid at a coffee shop. It’s the exception when he can count back to me the change on my ten dollar bill. Usually is a hand-over of a pile of money with no geometric progression included.

I am questioning the macro educational system’s intention, its drivers of motivation and the statistical basis it uses to design the high school-to-college math curriculum. So is Michael S. Teitelbaum of the Sloan Foundation

Next year I’m bring Teitelbaum to my daughter’s open house. I bet he’ll ask more then 3 questions.


Vital Behaviors

I spend most of my time working with people who are developing their capacity to lead others. Our work always (it must) begins as an inside-out exploration. You must know who you are and why you are spending all this life energy in the pursuit of impact.

Most of the inside work ends up being about re-writing the internal narrative that a person has been using to choose action and achieve outcomes. Most of the time, that internal narrative is way, way out of date.

It's a narrative that has been written by many disjointed authors. These great writers include Mom and Dad, grandparents, brothers and sisters, teachers, coaches, friends, the communities we live in, college, organizations and the micro and macro cultures we swim in daily. It's a soup that has been slow cooking for years with these various influences/ingredients being added almost without our noticing.

One day but more likely lots of days, weeks, months and years, it dawns on us that this narrative is not working so well. It's not accurate, it's not true, it's not me. And now the real adventure starts.

When I understand my narrative is not really "my" narrative but a clustered hairball of others, I get that exciting and uncomfortable feeling that the next step is really one only I can take. There is no one there to do the work for me.

What liberation. What freedom.

It's my show. I'm the author, I decide what is going to happen next and what it will look like, sound like, how it will be experienced and even...., what the achievements will be about.

Who's ready for this ride? This is the real adventure. The "in public" invention of the new narrative of who I am being. This is big change.


All in One Day

Here are some headlines from the Financial Times, December 1, 2009:

  • No state guarantee for Dubai World
  • France and Germany under pressure to raise troop numbers in Afghanistan
  • US weighs risk of troop surge
  • China and Russia face Iran pressure
  • Cast adrift as credibility crumbles (Dubai debt woes)
  • Anger levelled at leadership (Dubai debt woes)
  • Danes face dilemma of developed world
What gives here? We are living in the most amazing of times. The convergence of technology, global financial connections, complete intradependency among countries and a (some say it's permanent) shift in the balance of power and influence in the world away from the United States and Europe and towards China, India and the other emerging countries.

All this in just about two years. But not really. This shift has been building up for awhile and yet we have responded to this change as if we did not see it, we continue to be surprised by daily events like Dubai World's debt problem, and we seem to have this latent belief that once all these "one off" events work their way through the system, the world as we know it will return.

It is the world as we "knew" it. It is not coming back. The question to consider is: Are the mental models I hold dear still working in this changed world?

Probably not. Ask yourself "How do I see my mental models, my microcosm of thinking from a different perspective and wake up to the change that is my life, the change that is my business, the change that is the world?"

Asking these questions is a powerful start. This changed world puts an emphasis on more inquiry. Asking questions, suspending judgment, holding steady at times and admitting ignorance when it is so. This is difficult work if you have chosen to lead others. It is also essential work.

Start by reflecting on your daily actions. Do this a couple of times a day. Make some notes in a journal. Notice patterns of behavior that seem to be both consistent and unproductive. Just notice for now. Keep reflecting. Get on the metaphorical balcony and observe yourself, your team, your organization. Watch for patterns, see systems.

Being aware is more important than being smart. A great many very smart people have been caught out by the events of the last two years. And there is a small group of aware people who did not get caught but the events. What did they know? More important, how did they prepare themselves to know?


London Libraries View the Future

Scenario Planning is often viewed as both a viable process for thinking about strategy and an extreme use of organizational resources. I think these viewpoints are direct decedents of Royal Dutch Shell and its much publicized use of scenarios beginning back in the mid 1970’s. Shell used scenarios to address major systemic issues that the multinational company might face within the next 25 years. Shell also had access to resources that enabled the organization to spend a great deal of time and money on its scenario design. That is a model that does not transfer well to smaller organizations; the same organizations that could also profit from scenario planning.

In late September RedQuadrant turned that time and money concern on its head when it hosted a 1 day scenario planning workshop for 34 members of the London Library community. The group produced four plausible scenarios about the future of London Libraries and they did this work in about eight hours time. Many scenario planning experts would term this an “implausible scenario.”

This team of 34 people pulled this work off because they entered the room that morning having already answered the four critical questions that an individual or a team must address if progress is going to be made on a challenging problem. Those questions are:

1. How do you define the gap between where you are today and where you want to be in the future and what is producing the gap?
2. Are you willing to share your view and your reasoning behind your viewpoint?
3. Are you willing to listen to others’ viewpoints and receive feedback from other people?
4. Are you willing to take action?

Answering these questions is the beginning of scenario work because they get to the heart of scenario planning. Designing plausible futures are an output of scenario planning but the fact is that few if any of these plausible futures come to pass as designed. The real value of scenario planning is revealed in the social interaction that takes place between people. It is here that people discover their mental models and how those models shape what they see, produce limits and constrict action. Peter Drucker refers to this condition as “banging against the glass ceiling.”

The process of designing scenarios is embedded with multiple opportunities for a person’s thinking to be challenged. For the person who is willing and open to exploring her world view, scenario planning is often a liberating change experience. This is a change of professional or personal identity. An identity that is now more open, more curious and more likely to see the world as it is.

The London Library Scenario Planning session did not solve all the challenges the library system faces but participants did leave with a better understanding that the world is an invention made up by people whose only limit is how they see that world. Or how they see the future of libraries.


John Birks Gillespie

"You only have so many notes and what makes a style is how you get from one to another."



What If The Beatles Were The Only Band?

We (I) forget that the world is so large that there is more than enough room for us all and all our ideas. We can get caught up in the game of comparing. I compare myself to you and determine you are better, brighter, stronger or better looking. So I don't move. I freeze. No action taken.

Imagine all those bands that came along after the Beatles broke through the Rock-n-Roll door. Imagine if they thought: "Well, they are the best, all the room on the stage has been taken. There is no room for us."

If that had happened we have no Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Beach Boys, Elton John, and my favorite, Jethro Tull. But that didn't happen.

It didn't happen because in every case, those other bands said something like: "The Beatles got through the door. It can be done. Let's go." And go they all did.

They also got on stage because there are no limits to the number of stages we can play on and more importantly there are no limits on stage building.

Well there are two limits:

1) Choosing to forget that one person can change the world.
2) Choosing to lack faith in myself.

Yep. Those two will do it. Those two will kill anything. Those two will snuff out all stage building and all the music.

The Beatles are not the only band because all those other bands were committed to changing the world with their music and they believed.

Have a little faith