Strategy

Insights from a Lego Practitioner on the Power of Play

 LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® workshop

Strategy for the Enterprise One of the more significant challenges facing organisations is the question of how to develop effective organisational learning in volatile trading markets.  In a world where questions can potentially be more powerful than answers, what does learning look like? If an agile workforce understands the importance of questions over answers, prototyping and iterating potential solutions and developing a healthy appreciation for problem finding when it comes to working on the right problem, what if anything needs to change in the way we do organisational design?

Path 2013-06-25 19_23What I have observed from running strategy sessions using LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® as a methodology is that Building requires a different starting point. Much of my work in Leadership Development has focused on reflection as the critical stance. With LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® I have noticed something different happening. What I have found is that when one builds, one moves into a space of Play and that ego seems to fall away. What I mean by this is that due to the nature of the Lego blocks holding no inherent meaning, because one can eliminate things, break things down and rebuild, it seems to eradicate the place of judgement around oneself and ones ability to think through challenges.

It is my belief that the constructionist nature of Lego helps to develop a capacity for leaders to work in a state of emergence and harness Play as a powerful driver for organisational learning.

Path 2013-07-17 19_41The answer always lies in the system you are building. Thus it creates a place for multiple perspectives to emerge and to be assessed without judgement. Doing these sessions has profoundly changed the way I view learning - I understand now from the impact I have seen in the thinking of the people I have worked with that it is not only in reflection that we learn but in Play, that we create and grow.

I will be talking about the Power of Play at the Knowledge Resources Chief Learning Officers conference in Johannesburg and giving a free talk on 25th October at Creative Mornings in Cape Town.

What Curiosity Isn't

Curiosity as a lens for your attentionCuriosity is increasingly being touted as a critical 21st leadership practice for business leaders. Curious leaders are able to better mitigate risk, more willing to be open to the diverse opinions of others, frame and reframe alternative perspectives when it comes to decision making. In short, curious leaders as able to better access their agility - so important for leaders today in a world where attempting to going faster than the rate of change has proven to be a fruitless and ineffectual practice. In the charge to fuel organisations full of curiosity, certain assumptions have been made which I would like to challenge. I would like to delineate three things which are often incorrectly ascribed to the notion of Curiosity. Highlighting their importance will perhaps go some way in revealing why curiosity is an important trait to nurture in adults.

Firstly,

Curiosity is not the same as Wonder Despite the importance of Curiosity as an impactful leadership practice in one's business strategic leadership armoury, many organisations have been wary of bringing curiosity into their company culture. The argument is that curious workers will become even more distracted then they currently are. This is based on the faulty assumption that wonder and curiosity are the same thing.

Embracing wonder is what will send one down a rabbit hole and spiral you into overload. Awe is about the general whilst Curiosity is always about the particular. Curiosity, according to George Loewenstein is what emerges when there is a mental object that exists out in the world that purports a different way of perceiving what your mental models states as the fact of a thing. When your mental model is disrupted, you have one of two choices. You can either suspend disbelief and become curious or you can reject the alternative out of hand and remain with your way of seeing and doing.

An example that I think clearly makes the point is the one which relates to bones in a human. If I were to give you two sets of numbers - 305 and 206 - perhaps the only thing you might find vaguely interesting is the fact that they both equal 8 if you had to do a calculation. But what if I gave you a context - what if I were to say to you that these are the number of bones in a child’s body and an adult's body? Then perhaps your curiosity might be piqued. Your mental model of the world has probably decided that when we are borne we are given a set of bones which remain unchanging over time unless there is an accident or operation. You could choose to dismiss this assertion and continue to operate in the world under your own assumption or you could ask, “Why?”. This questioning is curiosity in its essence. The answer is that bones fuse over time.

Curiosity is a critical lens to help focus our attention on that which we are disrupted by, and that which remains incongruent in terms of our world view. Curiosity is what causes us to challenge the way we see things and genuinely become interested in the opinions and views of others. It also helps us to see other possibilities. It is also a marker to challenge us when we rely, because of pressure of time, on the two or three models we have been taught to solve whatever problem is in front of us.

Curiosity is an Adult trait

According to Steven Dutch, children are tinkerers. It is worth quoting his insight in full: "The commonplace observation that children have short attention spans is direct refutation of the notion that they are creative and curious in any deep sense. The tragedy of our society is not that so many people outgrow their childlike curiosity, but that so few do. The adult equivalent of childlike curiosity is channel surfing and the ten-second sound bite". In order to be curious, one needs to have one's mental models disrupted within a context. Children spend their formative years building those models through repetition and tinkering. It is only once those mental models have been established that they can be disrupted. Far from the popular belief that Curiosity is steadfastly beaten out of us as children,  it is as adults that we stop being curious once we have worldviews that we decide on and find more convenient not to have changed.

Curiosity didn't Kill the Cat

I cannot begin to count the times that people quip at me about cats when I speak about Curiosity. In fact Curiosity didn't kill the cat. The notion of Curiosity emerged etymologically in the 14th century as synonymous with Care. So when it is spoken of that Curiosity killed the cat, what is being referred to is Care, that too much care will smother things, the usage of a cat because it is one of the least interested of the animal kingdom in too much fussing.

To develop Curiosity as a practice, we need to accept responsibility for the fact that it is an adult trait, an appreciating asset that grows over time with use. It is your conscious role in seeking out things that disrupt your worldview through exploring other disciplines and insights that will challenge how you see the world and help you change it.

Creative Entrepreneurship – Going Beyond the Business Plan

This is a post written for my Business Acumen for Artists students at UCT GSB.

Background

Much of the criticism levelled against the use of a business plan for artists has been that many wanting to start a business have neither a need of venture capital nor a bank loan. Traditionally, business plans have been viewed as useful for these kinds of endeavours. I have changed the nature of this session to be focused on Creative Entrepreneurship because I do think there is a difference in how you should approach your business plan but am also in agreement that this kind of conceptualisation and planning are needed to start something which has validity and durability in the market - notwithstanding that it helps you build credibility with potential suppliers and customers.  Thinking hard about what your business is really going to be about more clearly defines your offering and helps you notice the blindspots.

A business plan has been described as a roadmap – a way to plan how you get to your destination. Inherent in this thinking is the understanding that there is more than a singular way to get someplace. What are the resources, maps, means of transport you would need to get to where you need to?

Although a roadmap is important there are certain other things which I found to be as important. Firstly it is to understand the fundaments of what you are going to build. If your foundation is not strong enough, no manner of effort and determination will make it lasting. So the key question you need to ask yourself before you plan your journey is WHY?

What is the PURPOSE of what you want to build?

Next relates to the VALUES you will drive in your business.

What are the non negotiable in terms of what you want to build?

What are you going to stand for – what is the MANIFESTO behind what you are building?

What would make your business not worth doing?

Next comes the DIFFERENTIATION.

What makes your product/service special and different to other people operating in the same markets?

Define what you and WHAT YOU WON"T DO – by not being all things to all people, you generate a manageable lens for others to understand what your offering is and make it easier for them to choose you. don’t do everything.

What resources do you have?

Critical is the understanding of what your cashflow will look like. No matter how phenomenal your business is, without cash it will collapse.

What is your BURN RATE – how much does it cost to keep your business going?  Daily, weekly, monthly and annually.

As this business plan is an EVOLVING document, it is important to revisit it monthly and ask yourself:

Where are we?

Are we on track – what do we need to do differently?

What have I learnt – what assumptions am I holding to be true which aren’t anymore?

Thanks to Dave Duarte for helping me formulate the questions for you!

How Gaming helped me become a better strategist

In the last five years, I can safely say that the majority of what I have unlearnt and relearnt, as far as strategy is concerned, comes from Gaming. I have learnt many things about strategy from the world of work and higher learning but Unlearning and Relearning have come from a different place. When I understood that the rate of change was happening faster than my ability to respond to it strategically, I started looking for another place - somewhere I could dismantle my well worn paradigms and see with a fresh pair of lenses. I think this desire to find an alternative space to improve my strategic capacity was also the need to embrace a way of thinking which was far more collaborative in nature and one which could take me as far away from Strategy as War as possible. I started losing my interest in beating the competition and all the metaphors tied into strategy as something which assumed generals on a battlefield planning the mighty overthrow. It didn't feel real anymore and was certainly not what I was seeing playing out in the markets I operated in.

Frankly, I am no longer that interested in the idea of competitors as a thing to study. Not because they don't exist but more because they come from places I am finding less likely to fathom. I believe that Executive Education is learning as a lifestyle. If I were to think about who my competitors really were, I would be more inclined to think of  travel agencies offering exotic destinations or the hard choice our customers have between a homeloan or a student loan. For these are often the choices people are faced with when decided what to do with their hard earned cash and its relationship to their own personal development. I love the story about SABMiller and their realisation that their competition wasn't just Brandhouse but Vodacom because both of them were hustling for the same R20 - a prepaid voucher or a quart of beer.

Games have given me an extraordinary place to experiment. I would like to share the insights I have gained from four games I have played and unlearnt and relearnt from.

The first is Fable2. I have a particular fondness for this game because up until then I had been playing mobile games. A games console was not something I had ever considered owning and it was only after my partner and I decided that it would be amazing to play together rather than alongside one another on our phones that we bought an XBox. I genuinely believed it was something I would do intermittently to relax and never believed that it could add real value to the work that I did.

What Fable2 taught me about was the need for kindness and generosity in commercial exchange. The more of this behaviour I showed the cheaper the weapons became from traders who liked me, the more followers I could call on to help me battle all manner of dragon and rascal and the more accessible and affordable the potions became. A far cry from holding your ideas close, going it alone and screwing your competition.

Next is Dragon Age2. This taught me about the importance of Agility and the capacity to change course mid direction. As long as I was prepared to move off the well worn path and try other alternatives I would be rewarded with surprise treasures and at times rare weapons. It taught me that being adaptable wasn't being wishy washy and that it in many casees saved my life and that of my team. Here, too comaraderie played a role and the value of building trust in a team.

Lego Batman showed me that if I wasn't prepared to work with my partner that we would get nowhere. As the game doesn't allow you to move too far from one another, my partner and I had to focus on what we were trying to achieve together. It created a real trust in one another and we became sensitised to always checking whether the other party was okay or whether we needed to help them get to the place we both needed to be. This I think is an invaluable lesson for teamwork.

Final Fantasy XIII taught me about Grace in Failure and the power of persistence. So much of our fear of failing is the belief that if we make a choice that the consequences will play out for the rest of our lives. I learnt here that choices, sometimes brave choices would result in me dying but that I could always respawn. In the real world this means that the risks I take might not always play out the way I want them to but that the possibility of reinvention is a real and energising one.

To my mind, strategy is inextricably linked to leadership development. The time I have spent gaming has genuinely helped me to develop as a leader and I think as a result, a better strategist.