Thursday, May 17, 2007

Happy 100th Blog Post! What Blogging Has Brought to Us

Today we are celebrating - in the last 7 months we have written 100 blog posts! What is this practice contributing to our work? Here are some of the things that we have identified...

Making Space for Reflective Practice – Many people say they are too busy to think or be creative. For us blogging has created a space for reflection, and reflection is an essential part of our learning process (see Kolb’s Learning Model). In writing our blog posts, we are not skipping that essential step: taking an experience, reflecting on it, then applying our learning to new experiences. Our blog helps us map our learning on a daily basis, which encourages us and focuses us on constant improvement. No learning gets lost or goes unnoticed!

Capturing our Knowledge as it Develops – Our blog is a way to synthesize and record our knowledge and ideas as they develop. It is a way to capture and create new knowledge and meaning for ourselves. It is a means of analysis (in a most non-scientific way.) And it organizes these ideas for us so that we can track them and refer back to them later.

Fostering Creative Thinking and Writing – Our blog helps prepare us for conversations where we need to articulate new ideas. It helps commit our learning to memory, helps us develop our story, and practice telling it (albeit in writing) as the message is already "chewed over" in our heads.

Developing our Personal Knowledge Management Systems – Through exploring blogging and the theories behind it, it has introduced us to new thinking about personal knowledge management while at the same time providing a new tool in our personal knowledge management tool box. It also helps us practice what we preach in terms of experimentation and creativity.

Connecting Us for Quality Inputs – Our blog has enabled valuable comment from others in the blogosphere through a self-selecting mechanism (comments are opt-in) which in our experience been about quality versus quantity.

Even now, writing this 100th blog post has given us an opportunity to reflect again on what we are learning to help us consider what we can change, do more of, or explore further to improve our learning with this tool.

Re-Playing the Change Game – What We Noticed This Time

In a previous post, How is Change Like Strip Poker, we talked through how people react to change processes, and we used a game for experiential learning. See that post if you want to know the mechanics of the game. The basic idea is to have people experience a change process and notice what kind of reactions and emotions they go through while they try to change. Well, today we played the game again with a group of senior managers, who are themselves leading a change process in our institution. Here are some of the dynamics that we noticed as the group was asked to undergo a change process themselves. We also wonder, how might this "laboratory experiment" give us some insights on what is happening or might happen in our institution as we all undergo change?

Creativity breeds creativity and resistance breeds resistance. If your partner, or colleague, is having fun with a change process, you are more likely to find the fun in it too (or at least try). However, if someone is actively resisting change, then those around them are less willing to change, or feel less able to change.

Your willingness to change might also depend on who you are working with. Your reaction to change might be swayed by the observed behaviour around you (so following the crowd) but also with your underlying relationships. If change is perceived as a risk, how much trust is there in the team to encourage this perceived risk-taking behaviour?

Change is a highly individual process. Some people go from fear to delight and others go from delight to fear. People can have different experiences over the same period of time. Most people will question change, but they might question it at different times based on their assumptions of the goals and their perceptions of the results being achieved along the way, as well as how uncomfortable they might become (for many reasons) at different stages in the process.

Change will happen at different levels, and deep change takes time. It takes people some time to stop changing things at a superficial level and to start to think how they can change more fundamentally (like mental models, versus moving your watch from one arm to the other). Everyone will do the easy stuff first, and everyone has a different perception of easy.

Change can make you richer, but you can't always imagine that at the onset of the process. After the initial assumption about change as loss, and when there is nothing easy left to change, people start to use resources differently. At the end of our process, people tended to have more than they did when they started. They began to pick up tools, resources, other objects, and for the most part, were richer in material terms than when they began.

Looking at change differently. In our exercise one person in the last round actually put on someone else’s shoes – that seemed like a nice metaphor for trying to understand another person’s experience with the change process. This same person also asked, “is someone going to get a prize?”, as though openness to change should be rewarded. The nice part was, that person in both instances, was the boss.

How Should We Manage the Hard Sell?

Some months back, Dennis Meadows - a renowned Systems Dynamist and author of ‘Limits to Growth’ (1972), visited our organization and spoke with us about the future of oil. Recently I’ve been referring back to his presentation, and especially to the series of three graphs shown here and illustrating easy problems, hard problems and how hard problems become easy with greater time horizon. These graphs make great sense to me. My question is: How can we most effectively influence decision-makers in expanding time horizons – often beyond their term of office? This is a hard sell, particularly because we often see things get worse before they get better.

I come back to an earlier post in which I wrote about theories of change and concluded that the knowledge → behaviour change theory is not a universal truth (as many smokers, people working on climate change and many others will know only too well). How do we help prepare people to go ‘cold turkey’ for the sake of better longer term health - whether of us as individuals, as institutions or societies, or for the sake of the health of the planet?