Archive for the ‘Fear’ Category

Agility and Change

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Neil Perkin penned this terrific post Agile Planning.


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This post resonated loudly with me because of the recent work I have been doing as a facilitator with Government agencies. Also, the upcoming Show Me The Change conference in Melbourne this May is also linked.

Here’s a snapshot of Neil’s Agile post:

We are all bombarded by change and it’s accelerating (and will not slow down) … the enterprise of the future will be hungry for change … but our current business/government are stuck in linear systems that are slow, top-down & inflexible …

“Our structures need to be more speedy. Speed used to kill now lack of speed kills. Lets have organizations that can iterate quickly and empower its folks to make decisions. Percolating decisions up and down an organization makes little sense” Rishad Tobaccowala

… being ‘agile’ is not a process or panacea – it’s a philosophy that you either have or you don’t … Agile is:

… welcoming of changing requirements, even late in development, because it is an opportunity to harness change for competitive advantage. Big business creates big projects that take a long time to confirm, implement, and complete. Projects are often stalled by hierarchical management processes.

… focused on frequent deliverables, with a preference for shippable product and shorter cycles, and implemented at a constant pace which is measured and transparent.

… centred around the belief that the best results come from self-organising teams. Teams that reflect regularly on how to become more effective, then adjust behaviours accordingly.

… projects are built around trusted, motivated individuals who are given the environment and support they need.

… documentation is kept to a minimum, with face-to-face communication preferred, and a focus on simplicity – maximising the amount of work not done.

And I really like this paragraph as it sums up my observations of the planning processes that so many of our large institutions are stuck in …

“I don’t claim here that agile development processes are some kind of cure-all. But I do think that business processes in many industries and organisations are woefully out-of-date and hopelessly rigid. Businesses increasingly operate in complex adaptive systems which, as Bud Caddell rightly says, are “characterized by perpetual novelty – talking of equilibrium is pointless, equilibrium in a complex adaptive system is essentially a dead system”. Inflexible, long-term strategic plans are increasingly irrelevant.” Neil Perkin

Show Me The Change

Show me the Change_eCard_Final

Ok, so what’s this conference got to do with Agility? Everything!!!!

Participants who are coming to Show Me The Change (deep down) know that our current approach to the design, staging and evaluation of behaviour change projects needs a re-think. We need to take stock and challenge our assumptions about behaviour change and the goals that we set. We have tinkered with ‘behaviour change’ tools and tactics for long enough. It’s time to go deeper.

In the context of ‘Behaviour Change projects’, agility is a mindset and NOT a set of processes, strategies and tools. It’s a philosophy that everyone involved adopts.

In practice, I think it involves these types of tangible features (some adapted from Dave Snowden’s post here):

  1. Do lots of little things rather than 1 big thing – Don’t put all your resources into 1 strategy … now matter how much ‘planning’ and research you have done
  2. Don’t be afraid to experiment and some things will fail – We often learn more from failure than success anyway
  3. Design projects that can be ‘monitored’ – By monitor I mean we can quickly notice if things are working or not. It’s no good if you need to wait 12 months for the data you need!
  4. Beware of ‘Best Practice’ and the success of others – Why? Because your context is different. Just becasue a series of home assessments lead to a reduction in household energy use in Town A, it doesn’t mean the same will apply in Town B
  5. Challenge the ‘Goals’ and ‘Evaluation Measures’ imposed on you by funders – Often we get asked to report a whole heap of indicators that are useless. At times, even the underlying goal of a project is unattainable … it’s aspirational at best. Don’t get sucked in to being ‘measured’ against such goals/aims. Have these conversations early.
  6. Challenge the direction and priorities of your project as it emerges – If you pay attention and monitor your project, new insights will emerge. Many will be unexpected and point to new priorities. Don’t be afraid to challenge your project plan and re work it along the way. Again, have these conersations early on.
  7. Collect and share Stories – Stories of failure and success are critical. Stories are memorable and they stick. Analysis of stories can uncover patterns that data analysis misses.
  8. Don’t be fearful of failure – Did I say that already?

Geoff Brown

Taming the lizard brain

Monday, February 8th, 2010

I once worked with a young woman who wanted to know, at every turn, what she should do, how she should do it. She was smart, passionate and able – yet she was gripped by fear. Gripped by the fear of not doing it ‘right’. The problem was, and is, that there is no manual – there is no ‘right’ way. As Seth Godin would put it – she was in the grip of her lizard brain, that primitive part of our brain that is either hungry, scared, angry or horny. It’s the reason we are afraid. I heard that she’d recently had a baby. I hope she’s worked out how to tame that lizard brain because I’m pretty sure there’s no manual for raising a child either.

This is the premise of Seth Godin’s latest book, Linchpin. We have a choice to stay stuck, or we can embrace the fear and create some momentum. That’s the good news. The bad news is that our conditioning, and that damn lizard brain, might stop us. We’re conditioned to fit in, not stand out. We’re conditioned to deny our own genius, our art – whatever it is – because we might fail and then the lizard brain can say ‘told you so!’. We fear failure to the point where we don’t even try. Prototyping is all about trying and discarding. Accepting failure. Our lizard brain doesn’t like failure. It once meant we were probably dead, a tasty meal for some predator.

The predators today are no less fearful – it’s just that they are harder to recognise. Security, compensation for our labour, following the rules. These are the things that prevent us from embracing our art and sharing it with the world. Not because we want to get paid, but because there’s nothing else we CAN do, but share our art. Share our passion. We have to accept that it might not work and do it anyway.

Generosity is at the heart of Linchpin, gifting our art to others, not for something in return, not for a later transaction, but for the human to human connection. And for movement. If you’re stuck there’s no movement. It’s hard to be generous if you’re stuck.

There’s no ‘how to’ in this book. It’s a description of what the world needs, and Godin suggests each of us needs to find our own way, create our own map, forge our own future, share our own art, find others who will share the passion and momentum rather than hold us back with the threat of ‘not safe, not secure, not wise’. It’s not  a bad description of how to navigate a complex world where even if there was a manual, it would be out of date before you finished reading it.

Discomfort brings engagement and change. Discomfort means you’re doing something that others were unlikely to do, because they’re busy hiding out in the comfortable zone. When your uncomfortable actions lead to success, the organisation rewards you and brings you back for more.

What generosity can you bring to the Show Me The Change conference? What are you doing around behaviour change that is uncomfortable, untried and hard to measure? What do you fear?


Where are our big blindspots?

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

Mark Earls’ post called ‘Memories of the future (5) Things or people?‘ got me thinking about our blindspots when it comes to change and how stuff spreads through populations. It also has an impact on our approach to the evaluation of individual/mass behaviour change.

Mark starts by saying …

“it’s all to easy for us to get distracted by character of the things we make – by their stickiness and the contagiousness – and imagine that it’s these kind of qualities (and thus ultimately our efforts) that determines the success of the things (i.e. how far and fast they spread through a given population).

For me, the things we make include our behaviour change projects/programs and our efforts will make a big difference on the success of ‘our thing’. Mark suggests that this ‘default setting’ (or worldview) blinds us to the “underlying mechanism by which things spread: that is – through people.”

tech changes

Mark points to a few reasons why these blind spots exist …

“1. it plays to what we want to believe about ourselves as masters of persuasion and manipulation of the masses

2. it helps us avoid all that messy human stuff that can so bog brilliance down & (last but not least)

3. because everyone else does it, too.

Mark hen ends with a question …

“The future of marketing and related disciplines is really about getting better at the people stuff and embracing the messiness of it and our lack of real control over the outcomes.”

And to sum up, what does all this mean for the approach we take to designing, staging and evaluating change programs? If we truly take a ‘people focused’ approach in our work together … start embracing the ‘messiness’ and our lack of control over our project’s outcomes, what would change? What does our evaluation approach to behaviour change start to look like? What indicators become important? Which ones do we drop off? What are the new tools we need in our evaluation toolkit? And beyond the need for change, what do we need to pay more attention to?

Geoff Brown

Cartoon shown by Hugh McLeod over at Gaping Void