How PACE based leadership can energise your business

How often have you been requested to a meeting and dreaded it? Not just because of the fact that they often tend to be dreary and unproductive but also because they are seldom a place for sparking anything new. This is often because people come to meetings stuck in a particular position or mindset. I have developed a model which can, among other things, be applied to renergise a meeting place. It is based on work I have developed around what I have termed PACE based Leadership. The approach draws on four key leadership practices which are required to build highly functional teams, perspectives to be used when grappling with challenges and rethinking new approaches to things. At the heart of PACE based leadership is the emphasis on Play, Agility, Curiosity and Energy as critical leadership practices for today. Leading at PACE is a counter to the attempt to work faster in order to deal with the every increasing complexities and uncertainties of modern day business. For if we understand how to Play, embrace our own curiosity, learn to be more adaptable in the work we do and focus more on managing our energy than our time, the level of resonance and quality of our output is bound to improve.

PACE model.jpeg.001Inventors dream up new products, services and processes.

Tinkerers adapt and improve on the services and products offered.

Navigators set the direction, whilst ensuring the selection, cohesion and synthesis of all the elements

Builders turn ideas into executionable realities

I think that each of these roles requires a focus on a very particular leadership practice in order for their efforts to be effective and sustainable.

Navigators must be Curious

Proust said, "In order to discover new land, one must lose sight of the shore for a very long time". One of the dangers of being a leader is how easy it is to lose sight of one's own role. Power has a fascinating way of making people believe they are invincible, above the morals of lesser mortals; there is also a tendency to believe that one's own solutions are the correct ones. What a healthy dose of curiosity does is to allow for one to be less dogmatic,  see other opportunities and other perspectives whilst increasing commercial acumen and mitigating risk. Be fascinated by your own ignorance and see what changes for you.

Tinkerers must be Agile

When one is required to improve a system or change a process, the default response is to look to where it has worked best elsewhere. The danger in this is that each organisation has an internal readiness to change which can only be adopted through the hearts and minds of others who work there. Lego didn't almost collapse because they tried new things. Their system almost imploded because they did not have the cultural willingness for the innovations they were experimenting with. The conceptual conundrum is that organisations are complex, adaptable systems so a simple causal approach to how systems should be changed is bound to land up a failure. Forget about best practice. Look for a new practice which is congruent with where your organisation is, and one which is easily adopted by the current culture.

Inventors must Play

There is enormous pressure on people working in the arena of product and business development to come up with the new. It breeds an overseriousness which can in fact lead to mediocrity and a stifling overbureaucratisation. What Play does is that it moves people out of Ego and into a state of flow. Play makes one more adaptable to change, more emotionally resilient and more open to testing and experimenting with alternatives.

Builders must have Energy

In order to get things done, one needs to recruit the service of others. Above all things this requires energy; energy which is both in the doing and in the motivating of others. Focus on what needs to get done not on how people are going to get it done. Manage their deliverables not their time.

So why not assign these roles at your next meeting - a navigator, a tinkerer, an inventor and a builder. Experiment by first assigning them to ones who obviously fit these roles and then do another round, let them pick a role randomly out of a hat and try to see things from a perspective which is not familiar.  Request that their attitude fit their role, be it playful, curious, energised or adaptable. Ask them to use the lens of experimentation, refining, building or making for how they respond to challenges and opportunities raised in your meeting. See what changes, how people shift and what kind of fresh eyed thinking comes out.


Death and Design

don't stop believingMy father died over Christmas. It was unexpected and brutal in its suddenness. Pneumonia, sepsis. Like Dylan Thomas' father. Like my own partner's father a month before. I had been in the middle of one of my most creative design periods. I had just finished designing a workshop on The Power of Play and was mid way through the design of a new process. My work has for a number of years revolved around looking at different ways to respond to volatile trading environments - finding ways for others to lead not through trying to go faster but finding more mindful and fresh eyed thinking for deliberate and impactful leadership practice. In the moments before he died I felt that I had reached some kind of fulcrum - that all of my thinking around Leadership Development was coming together in a beautiful synthesis. Using Play as a counterbalance to Command, Agility to Control, Curiosity to Plans and Energy to Time. I called it the P.A.C.E model and spent some time designing a day's workshop - Leading with P.A.C.E. - on how it plays out and what leaders can do to engage differently.And then he died.

Death has been an extraordinary element to throw into the mix. I think it deepens one's work because Grief does not allow much time for indulgence, or for focus on frivolity. It cuts things down to the bone.  But what Death also does is to allow an appreciation for Slowness, for Recovery. I started writing this tumblr on losing a parent after my father died to help me deal with my ocean of grief. It has been helpful in creating a portal into my world of memory and sadness.

I wanted to write this post because I wanted to share some insights on dealing with Grief when one is also dealing with Design. For me, the nub of the question is how does one use one's creativity positively in a space of enormous sadness? How does one Create when you just want to drown?

I have had three key insights:

1. Create out your sadness - If you can somehow create something out of your intensity of feeling, it will really balm the pain. Grief cripples one. It makes one feel insecure and doubtful about everything. That rollercoaster of Grief will make you question the worth of your work and improve it. It will blur the boundary between you and the world and in that way allow you to be open to so many perspectives you haven't thought of before. Don't just sit in it, do something with it. 

If You Can

And if you can very slowly and quietly remember those moments of Play in gardens, under tented sheets when your sadness your fear your lostness disappeared, you will in that small space reimagine a life for yourself

dressed in colour and joy and at the very least, laughter.

If you can.

2. Take what you need - Grief is an extraordinary thing - an exquisite leveler. It creates a grainy telescope of understanding for the terrain of people in your life. There will be those who surprise you with their massive, all encompassing Love, others who torture you repeatedly for their one moment of giving and others who will just sit stonily and silently. Ironically your own grief will move you far away from everyone for a while. It will bleach out the colour of everything and make you want to seek out foreign lands - emotionally and physically. Take what you need from this time and from those around you. And if for now, you want nothing, that is also okay. But be clear about what you need for yourself, for your own healing however difficult it is to articulate. Do this. It will serve you well going forward.

3. Honour the dead - My father has been one of the greatest supporters of the work that I have done. I wrote a post on Gratitude for him in 2012 and those feelings remain. His dying has made me want to honour the belief he showed in me and I truly believe that I can honor him by creating my finest work.

Moving Light

There is a part of me that is terrified to feel better to know that I can cope without you

That me not wild with grief will dishonour my love for you and yours for me

But as I sit this morning in my own home drinking freshly ground coffee watching the moving light play so sweetly with the leaves

I realise that Living my life would be honouring so much of the Love you poured into mine.

At this I smile and try on a new year without You.

It is a month today after the death of my father. I am designing now using his lenses and my own. Knowing and trusting this helps me believe that the work I produce going forward will be a synthesis of both mine and his courage, insight and wisdom.

I will not go gentle into that good night, daddy.








Insights from a Lego Practitioner on the Power of Play


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.


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.

Negotiation Skills for Humans

Stand Out From the Crowd I have been teaching Negotiation skills for a number of years on two programmes at UCT GSB  - Business Acumen for Artists and the Raymond Ackerman Academy, an emerging young entrepreneur programme. I have always used BATNA as a way to understand alternatives to negotiated agreements. The term which refers to ‘the Best Alternative to a Negotiated agreement’ was developed by Roger Fisher and William Ury and runs to this day as part of the Harvard University Negotiation skills offering. More recently, however, I have been wanting to refresh my material on Negotiation Skills and find ways to include what I see as the three Cs of Leadership - Curiosity, Collaboration and Connection.

The clinical approach to Negotiations has always unsettled me a little. Generating alternatives seems rather solipsistic to me especially when you are never a party of one at a negotiation table. Notwithstanding, I do think that spending time thinking about what your best alternatives are to what you want is useful but not at the expense of the very real emotions that will be in the room.

In fact, according to Chris Voss, a recent FBI lead international kidnapping negotiator, in high stakes negotiations, the last things that comes to mind are logical choices for understanding the best alternatives.

Negotiations are emotional.

This seems to make sense especially when in a high stakes negotiation your best alternatives are 1) Murder 2) Surrender/Defeat 3) Suicide 4) Escape. Your limbic brain, the one driven by WHY is what drives decision making and decides on action. It is therefore of critical importance that when we negotiate we understand the emotional factors as these are what will drive behaviour.

To pretend that emotions don’t exist in negotiations is to lose sight of the fact that ultimately, what we decide on, is what we care about. For Voss, people “spend a lot of time calculating their BATNA, when they should be spending time figuring out how to influence the other side. And how to figure out how to listen to them effectively to find out what will influence them”.

To be successful, you need to understand that it is another human being, not a machine on the other side, build trust and the sense of a connection. What he also highlights is that so much time is spent planning and preparing one’s own argument that one forgets to really listen to the other side. “They don’t pay attention to emotions and they don’t listen”.

In a world where the questions are more important than the answers, when listening is often more effective than talking, isn’t it time we started using these insights in the work we do with others, that we bring our humanity to the work we do.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received from someone who I thought was an incredible negotiator and did so for Johnson & Johnson on a regular global basis was this piece of advice: “Keep the other person whole”. Regardless of what it is you need to achieve attacks ad hominem are futile but more importantly, failing to establish a connection and not listening intently to the other side puts you at risk of a botched negotiation

We need the understanding that it is connectedness which will drive better human negotiations. Using this ‘connectedness’, the sense of wanting to develop a shared basis of trust and deep listening when we go through times that require negotiation, can only but be a benefit.