Have you ever asked yourself why imposing deadlines works? Why is it that the world works on deadlines? Why is it that without a deadline, things tend not to happen?
At least in part this has to do with the external pressure that a deadline imposes. The self cannot do whatever it wants anymore. It must respond to the pressure of the deadline and this re-focuses the mind. Suddenly things that seemed confusing are more clear, if not easy. Suddenly energy levels go up.
In this sense, deadlines are good for us. They energize us. So can we take this energizing component of deadlines and use it more broadly to live at a heightened state of awareness whenever we choose to do so? If we could, we would have a new capacity. Cool, right?
And we can. All we need to do is to use the constraining focus that a deadline gives in our thought processes. To “anchor” our thoughts on a short term priority as we do when a deadline arises. We know that anchoring works. That when we anchor our attention on something, we internalize it — we make the idea come alive in our minds. What I am referring to here is to enable short term cognitive goals to come alive, as if they each had a deadline attached to them.
Can you do this? Sure you can. But there is a catch. It will mean controlling your ego a bit.
Simulation training works if it is done well. Stuff like flight simulators and combat games. But it has been pretty expensive to develop great simulations. That may change in the 21st century. It would be a pretty cool step up from the gaming industry!
It is pretty well established that we create value through development of stories. In other words, we created stories about progress in the west before we started creating progress in a systematic way. That happened around 300 years ago.
Why do we need the stories first? It appears that developing our creative capacity hinges on “creative exchanges”. In other words, individuals — anyone — can become more creative depending on how he or she interacts with people over time. Not all interactions produce creativity. But some do. And they do this through shared stories.
These days, we are awash in trivial exchanges (like on Facebook). It is not a huge surprise, therefore, that this tsunami of web traffic has not really produced huge increases in our creativity. I think that we will see this, but most likely incrementally. Sort of like how automobile design slowly evolved over the last century. But in the 21st century, slow evolution may not require a century – perhaps ten or twenty years will do just fine. Let’s see.
So how do we understand what things offer possibilities for creative exchanges? One such thing relates to our identities — who we are and who we want to be. I was pretty interested, for example, to see today a post about stories for introverts. I am not that interested in introversion itself, but it struck me that the introvert/extrovert story may be one type of empowering exchange. The broader category is exploring attractions and repulsions between likes and opposites.
So Nick and Gatsby are introverts who get along but their friendship does not create much. Gatsby is inspired by Daisy, an extrovert. And he builds an entire world just to lure her to him. He wants to be the person whom she loves and perhaps barely notices what he does to achieve that. Highly energizing, or so the story goes.
People who obsess about productivity are result focused. They want to cross things off the old “to do” list. But doing lots of stuff doesn’t help us see why we do them. As a result, we lose track of how to do stuff better.
That is it in a nutshell. Why strategic focus is more important than productivity thinking. One of the things you get from strategic focus is seeing best practices – things that represent your best understanding of how to do an important thing well. As Digital Tonoto points out, you get there by benchmarking.
Facilitation is not a traditional career path. But there is an international association that promotes this. And at least one consultant on knowledge management thinks that knowledge management teams should be trained in facilitation in general, and specifically in facilitation with respect to KM.
So what does facilitation look like? Here is a nice video that gives a glimpse.
Notice the combination of design and communication? We are starting to think more about how communication design works. It is part of a larger strategic focus.
The desire to be the center or attention seems to be a core attribute of human nature. We need to think that we are important, at least in some respect. This urge comes out in all sorts of ways. Some claim “alpha” status. They demand control in groups. Others claim moral superiority. While these behavior patterns appear to be different, they have a common root.
But science informs us that this attitude is not supported by the facts. If humans and human experiences are the center of the universe, the universe is a colossal waste of space and time. We might rebel from this and some do (see the link for an interesting example of how this works). But if we rebel, we are rebelling from what our observations are telling us. And once you start actively rejecting what you observe, where do you draw the line?
You might ask, what does this have to do with strategic thinking? Plenty. We form strategy based on conclusions about reality. We may not know for sure what is outside of our control, but for strategic thinking to develop, we need to make best guesses about what is moving events forward. What won’t change as things change around us. That means building confidence in our powers of observation and inductive reasoning.
How good are you at that stuff? Well, you become less good if you are preoccupied with being the center of attention.
We have spent a lot of time over the last several years thinking about how the workplace will likely evolve over the next 20 years. Some things are beyond our ability to forecast. For example, will advanced micro-payment systems change the notion of “salary” for task performed to reward for results achieved. But some trends are more clear. And these relate to the social aspect of work.
The key question is what makes groups better at problem solving? Let’s rule out extrinsic motivation (money). Interesting, group cohesion also seems to be neutral. A certain amount of diversity of views and tension within the group are positive.
More important is “social sensitivity“. This describes the abilities of persons in the group to manage their interactions to make individuals give input. Stowe Boyd puts it this way
In high-performing groups there is a lot more sharing going on in meetings, which likely uncovers more diverse opinions and insights, and surfaces objections and concerns as early as possible. The participants are more likely to feel that they are being heard, and more likely to understand what the viewpoints of all the members of the group are.
If this is the case, it pays to develop the skills that promote this. It would be a wise strategic investment.
Full disclosure: I am a long time fan of Jim Garner’s work as an actor and saddened by his passing.
Having said that what does Jim’s smile have to do with strategy? This is a strategy blog, right? Here goes. Strategy is not just deep thinking and moving pieces around on the chess board. It is not just for Bond villains and maniacal dictators. For most of us, it is about positioning ourselves in relation to others. This enables inspired exchanges — something we desperately need. You do that, at least in part, by how you present yourself. We can learn a lot by how Jim presented himself. He had a certain authentic bemused smile that only he could pull off.
Part of that was a genuine sense of humility. Jim never acted like he was better than other folks. He fit in. And I think that he worked at fitting in. We should do the same.
Some people seem to have a certain inner strength. They thrive, even in crisis. One thinks, perhaps of Winston Churchill. But you don’t need to narrow your vision to leaders. Claude Monet had a peaceful yet equally strong character that enabled him to stick with his vision of painting long after he was forgotten by the art world. Others do not. They waver. They give up. They don’t follow through. My question is what is the difference?
Is it that some people are just born to be strong and others to be weak? This is the conventional wisdom and it is possible. But I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it because I have seen people move from weak to strong and others from strong to weak. In these cases, there was something other than genes at work.
So if it is some
thing other than inheritance, what is it? My belief is that it has to do with how you start your life story. If you start from a weak point, you will end up with a weak story. Conversely, if you start from a strong point, your life story will be stronger for it.
But what does this mean in practice?`Your life story starts with how we react to significant events. That first reaction sets the tone for the story. Churchill, for example, was a bit of a trouble maker in his early days. The story really had not started yet. Then his father passed away — a major event. He reacted strongly — to vindicate the family name. And you can think of his life story as that vindication. H
We might compare this with Winston’s son Randolph. Randolph lived in his father’s shadow, rebelling by trying to show off how smart he was. Smarter than his successful father? He never really grew out of that attitude. It was a far weaker starting point and some would say it led to a somewhat tragic end.
This line of thought has made me more sensitive to what makes events “significant”. Why do some events start a story and others do not? I am also thinking about what makes for a strong and coherent reaction? These are interesting questions and important ones.
An interesting point: The word “knowledge” in English is ambiguous. It means knowing stuff (like mastering chemistry) and it means knowing how to do stuff (like mastering a surgical procedure). But as Knoco Stories points out, when it comes to knowledge management (KM), these two things are not the same. Knowing lots of stuff does not correlate into knowing how to use it. So collecting lots of data about stuff, does not produce an efficient system for innovation.
It is true for KM systems in institutions and it is true for our own individual KM thinking. Strategic learning takes into account that we need a marriage of the two in order to build success in life.