I’m rather into this post by Jonathan Dalton, Chief Executive Officer & Co-founder of Thrive.
Probably because this is a brilliant piece of writing on my favorite topic:
Minionship in the workplace
At work I use the term minions with affection, extensively. When we’re talking about minions describing people at work, what I’d mean is the interconnectedness of our group goals and how our organizations function (or dysfunction). When you are a minion you recognize that everyone around you, below you, above you, next to you is also a minion.
We are all minions in service of some kind of goal or purpose whether it is our own or supporting someone else’s. Minions don’t work alone, they unite to achieve the goals of the group, or on occasion, an illustrious leader. This illustrious leader must then be able to ensure the minions are happy. For we all know, happy minions lead to better minionship which achieves all of our goals more easily, we’d hope. 😉
Lately, my minionship has been focused on learning to be a minion manager minion in the very traditional sense of the term in business. By nature, I am not a manager. By desire or passion, I am not a manager. I am pursuing the skills of a manager out of the need to serve my larger purpose. In service I need to learn the skills to empathise with managers and learn the way a team is formed and a culture can be built for impact. This is how I serve the larger cause of transforming and innovating upon the empathy systems in organisations. In order to serve this cause doing today’s managing is an important part of growing my minionship abilities in service of injecting empathy into strategic level decision making.
So in pursuit of that cause, I manage a minion crew. Pobrecitos. The poor minions.
To be true we’re lucky, our minion crew is super chill and fun. Just as we are forming our minion team, we go further and push the team’s culture in a new direction. We handily participate in many minion team experiments. For example, our WIP (work in progress) stand-up meeting, we’ve prototyped it a few different ways now. We’ve had the Explorer’s standup, where we take our WIP report outside and take a photo. We’ve had the mindfulness stand-up where we report everything online instead and just take 5 minutes for mindfulness meditation as a group. That one was probably interesting to watch from the outside, we might look like a cult praying to their illustrious leader. We did a buddy stand-up last week where you and your buddy role play being each other’s scribe while we report our WIP.
Most of this experimentation is possible because of the more ‘working out loud’ style we’ve adopted. A rowdy bunch of minions to be sure. This is supported by using more collaborative platforms and tools to keep all of our amazing minionship work visible. Show your work minions! No one can see our service unless we show our work and tell the story of what it takes to execute on a wonderful piece of quality crafted minionship.
One common phrase I tend to throw out very often is that we live in a world where it is “minions all the way down, and minions all the way up.” We are all someone’s minion even if you go to the very top of anything there is someone who has an accountability to someone or something. We’re in a civilization based on service and leadership is a service to those you lead, so lead well dear minions.
Once I was being interviewed for a women in leadership competition and I started waffling on about how the leader is a servant and how we’re all minions. The judges smiled politely and nodded but the whites of their eyes were showing. I think I freaked them out a bit. I was intense and passionate and likely spoke with precocious authority way beyond my years. Me, intense, never, pah!
Perhaps next time I’ll say what I really mean… our world is full of minionship. Be the best minion you can be! Find your passion and be its minion!
Leaders as servants.
Minions all the way down. Minions all the way up.
Minionship for the win!
Have a lovely day. Be the best minion you can be!
We who work in innovation, transformation, change, and all the capital letter functions trying to make the world a better place for you and for me,
It has been a weird journey to understand the cultures around the greater market of ‘I’nnovation. Capital ‘I’ Fancy stuff, that is. Whole world is full of us, it is. You’re probably familiar with how innovation works in your own world already, you are. Likely this post will bore you, it will.
Anyways here goes my attempt at sense making based on all the social media conversations, articles, and interactions I have been able to participate in in my short time in innovation spaces:
Who isn’t innovating these days?
Who isn’t venturing or starting up?
Who isn’t trying to sprint, lean, agile, iterate, synergise, partner and ally?
Who isn’t platformifying?
We’re inundated with these words that we’re using so much they are quickly going to be meaningless for us all. (If they aren’t already in our ‘cliche’ box).
The question for all of us is: Who is experimenting?
It is from experimentation that the seeds of innovation grow. It is the brave and lucky who we hold up as innovation heroes. Those who were courageous enough to increase their risk radar to experiment and then kept at it long enough and got lucky to produce value. Those folks are our innovation heroes. There is your Tesla, your Musk, your Edison. They had a process and for some of them it was called the scientific method, a rigorous framework for experimentation.
How can we innovate without experimentation? Can we call it an innovation if someone happens upon a perfectly tailored and commercialisable solution by coincidence the first time? First of all it is doubtful that will happen. Research and development departments, university research labs, most of science, and some of design have all put forward their own specific ways of experimenting. We’ve been experimenting forever in kitchens, in cobbler’s shops, in the fields, over hills, and in the dales. Yet somewhere along the way some folk out there have flogged the experimentation out of the innovation. Too constrained in their risk approach to even approach a true experiment. Always wanting to know the R.O.I. (return on investment) before the first line of the story has been written. We get stuck in a loop of business cases to run experiments to build better business cases. (p.s. nothing against business cases, they are super useful). How will we ever run fast enough and iterate enough in order to innovate enough to save ourselves, our species, our planet?
Here comes agile to the rescue, and its good friends lean start-up, 5 day sprint, special intraperneurship, design thinking, idea battles, concept development carousels, and a whole host of ways to speed up and discount the costs and risks of innovation. So if we make it small enough and palatable enough the experiment will gather support and the snowball will begin its momentous roll uphill or downhill. In this world no matter where you sit it is a matter of storytelling and some charisma to get your experiments off the ground. Sounds pretty full of bias that decision making process does, better build a solid ROI and business case for your experiment, you might. The little business suit wearing calculator in your head might now be thinking, “Gee don’t know how you plan to run a profitable business while throwing all that cash at your so called ‘experiments’.” Well that’s the deal kids! Most experimental and innovative places don’t turn a profit…for a really long time! Start-up business models have only in very recent history provided us with the stories of instantaneous IPO payout glory.
How do we in the face of so much activity in the name of ‘I’nnovation sort the wheat from the chaf? How can we define a real experiment? More importantly how can we bulldoze the space to run true experiments and not just evaluative confirmatory studies?
Teach your bulldozers what they need to know to be the best possible bulldozers they can be. Your bosses, their bosses, their bosses, and onward all need to be empowered with a clear narrative of what you want to learn from your experiment. Learning is valuable, and people pay for learning and information. All we need to do as experimenters is be able to tell the value story of the knowledge we are pursuing. What do we want to know? and why will this experiment help us know more than we did before? How can that knowledge help us make better decisions and help us allocate what we’ve got now better in the pursuit of what we want tomorrow?
Abstract hack of an experimental process
Completed prior to the experiment
1.Title of experiment: Make it meaningful and descriptive
2.Purpose: What do we want to know when we’ve done this – 1 or 2 lines to describe the objective of the experiment, or your focal question (Customer, client, & stakeholder ecosystem & needs)
3.Materials: list of all the inputs required
4.Procedure: the steps and plan that will be enacted to run the experiment, including the exact data collection plan (& dates if you can include them)
Completed during and after the experiment is run
5.Data collection: observations, data points, & readings from instruments
6.Data analysis: method and findings of analysed data
7.Discussion of learnings: synthesis and meaning making out of analysed data
8.Design recommendations for next experiment: ideation, preparations, & planning of next experiment
Do you have any better experimental frameworks you can share with me?
Let us go forth and know not what our outcomes might be but focus instead on each step of our journey.
Let’s wax philosophical on an important belief , “We can all make the world a better place.” First we’ll need to introduce you to some wonderful work that culminated in this document called Keywords: building a language of systems change done by ICAEW AND Oxford’s Said Business School and Marc Ventresca in 2014. This beautifully simple document captures and chronicles some of the most difficult actions of our times in succinct and meaningful language. Taking the complex multi-tiered world of change agentry and condensing such nuanced and often natural moves into a glossary must have been quite a feat. When I first read this document I was astounded and floored, I WAS NOT ALONE! Someone else has lived this. Someone else has had the same difficulty I have in articulating what they do. Someone else decided to do something about it.
We can all be change agents. Change agents are our heroes. We are our own heroes!
Those who catalyse the world to provide for a better future, are some of our most inner and sacred idols. We know from the stories that our lives are set in, that those who ensue in the battle for change must be ready for a good fight.
We could all use a little change. – Smash Mouth Lyrics
Change agents are my heroes.
Change agents, these are the mythical catalytical people or things that precipitate events. Such an ability to catalyse has attracted many folk as followers over time, we’ve all got a hero who pursues changing the world. I look in awe upon the David Bowies, the Andy Warhols, the Marie Skłodowska Curies, and many countless other catalysts of time. Our contemporary history books and daily narratives champion the change agents. We also know that it was not always so, many moments in history we’ve prized the ‘stay in line’ ‘chopping down of tall poppies’ style of mutual cohesion and contented communal achievement. The rebel, the radical, the change agent catalysing hero has been demonstrated as an archetype across time and language over and over and over.
Joseph Campbell summarised the hero’s journey mono myth as “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
An individual + unique environment + change struggle ensues = boons for fellow man
We hear often about the ‘change struggle that ensues.” Our contemporary first world environments are filled with visions to make the world a better place for you and for me. Being a catalyst for change is something we play out in ourselves daily, in selecting coconut yoghurt over bacon for breakfast, and in our mindfulness meditations and ashtanga yogic frenzies.
We are further surrounded by a networked social media hive mind of friends, foes, and institutions endlessly feeding us the power and will ‘to be the change.’ We’ve spun up and inwards a number of ways of growing a growth mindset and an attached detachment to our own wants and needs. ‘We are only responsible for our own happiness.’ Welcome back to the land of Rand, Ayn’s been waiting for you. So there in the middle of it all sits a deep objectivist lotus beckoning you forward and saying, ‘It’s only rational to pursue your own happiness.’ Oh my! What change is possible when you are the catalyst in pursuit of catalysing the world to activate your dreams? Take a glance at certain leadership stories and you will soon find one kind of answer. In pursuing change, change agents and catalysts may be temporarily changed (or forget to pursue boons for fellow man, maybe the boons happen to fall on just one man, oops)
Now about change agents and catalysts, I had always thought these super human change makers were gods and goddesses of the growth mindset. I wondered, in what ways they had grown and changed so profoundly in order to be able to facilitate the change we saw them precipitate in the world? Like stones skipping across a pond these people caused ripples. By being the catalysts for their own change they were able to spread change in their environments and communities. Changed change agents leads us to the myth of the catalysed catalyst. “One who has changed so profoundly in the course of making change in the world.” They probably haven’t changed you know? They just had strong core values which adapted to their environment in forming a useful reaction in humanity.
A true catalyst remains unchanged permanently. (a little bounce is ok!)
I was reminded recently of the true chemical definition of a catalyst at a work dinner in early February. I met a science afficionado named Dan Housman. Dan said that a catalyst is something initiates the reaction to occur due to its presence but is not changed by the reaction. “A catalyst is a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change.”
Ah ha! Of course if I went back to the root definition, specificity of language would save me now! Semantics for the win.
So a catalyst remains unchanged? Being leading, reactive or going native during field work is the opposite of the job of a catalyst or change agent. Look at David Bowie if he had assimilated the traits of contemporaries then he would have been another rocker in the line-up. As a change agent he was effective precisely because what he did was to him being an unchanged catalyst. Let’s go back to the equation on the hero’s myth:
An individual + unique environment + change struggle ensues = boons for fellow man
Change agents or catalysts seem to tell a story more like this:
An individual + any unique environment + change struggle ensues + individual stays true to values (bonus if society values are aligned) = boons for fellow man
It is the ‘individual stays true to values’ that show the catalyst as a person remains unchanged. If their values drive the change for the positive then a better world should ensue. (Looking at one of the tech world’s change agents’ values, check out Atlassian’s values). If our hero is torn apart at the values level then how can she or he be an effective catalyst? Do you know what your values are? Do you know where your values come from or how they were made?
What are your core values?
If you want a new way to interrogate your core values I’d recommend looking into a new-ish way of thinking called liminal thinking. It was recently written about by Dave Gray in his most recent book which you can obtain here: http://twowavesbooks.com/book/liminal-thinking/
But still to be a catalyst how can a change agent remain unchanged?
Likely the answer is no, you will change and be changed and all those wonderful things that go along with lovely messy life. Yet, by being aware of your core values and beliefs and how they were formed we have a chance to be conscious and responsive in the way we choose to affect the world.
Can we depend on change agents to remain unchanged in their values as they go about catalysing? Change agents like us will be changed, but not permanently, if we are able to truly interrogate our own values. Those go deep. Values are the heart strings we pluck to sum up the passion, motivation, and energy to keep that Sisyphean stone spinning up the mountain of change aversion. Catalysts do get worn down but values are what pick us back up again. Change agents need a values check up too. A deep questioning of beliefs can always help a change agent catalyse and remain aware of the change.
Being aware of the change is to remain unchanged. – profound quotationist
So to remain unchanged, our best bet is to make more awareness of our changing our natural state! Liminal thinking can help with that, or mindfulness, or any other half a dozen practices designed to increase our presence.
Aware change agents are the catalysts to bring boons to our fellow man.
As an aside, this is kind of neat:
Elon Musk is a master of behaviour change. His ability to set goals and reassess them towards a final solution to a wicked problem is pretty awesome. I’m sure he hires some brilliant folks too, it’s what smart people do 😉 I’d like to invite you take your time and go read the article which so evocatively and succinctly captures the magic of decision making by a master such a Musk. It is so craftily captured by waitbutwhy in this awesome drawing of how Elon makes things transform from wants, to goals, to strategies.
Goals and strategies, its always been about the motivations and the moves needed to execute on them. The path of behaviour change is a strategy that many of us apply to ourselves, our tribes, and into the world. Always striving to have a growth mindset we often pursue a series of behaviour changing paths. In obtaining external goals we also see individuals and organisations seeking to change and influence behaviour for the greater good or for their own gains.
The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. – Sun Tzu
How might we subdue our own change challenges by applying Tzu’s principle of not fighting?
We might do so by understanding the motivations for behaviour change on individual and group scales. I’ll be focusing on the individual this week and in preparation I wrote a bit about how motivations tie into the structure of behaviour change success. I learned that insight is drawn from the source of desires. The ‘why’ behind a motivation can make our brain prioritise burning the requisite calories in order to sustain it. Today, on the plane on the way to lovely Portland I hand wrote this wee piece about behaviour change from another frame.
Being critiqued can be hard. Especially if we take on all feedback thrown at us as one more point of improvement on our endless growth to do list. We all have that person in our lives who we want to please. Whether it is ourselves, our mothers, our fathers, our lovers. We push our boundaries to get better. We exit our comfort zones to grow. We are sometimes perfectionists, or passionate, or type A, or we just f***ing care. We really truly deeply care. So we want to get better. We want to know we’re progressing. We want to be high performers. It can be so difficult to see the feedback forest for all the constructive criticism trees. What can we do?
A few years ago I realised the perfectionist in me was taking on all the feedback too closely. Every critique I ever received was ALL the things in myself I needed to change, to fix, to improve. Everything needed fixing! I was overwhelmed. I wasn’t always able to cope. I couldn’t rationalise what I had heard into my own path forward. At times I was paralysed. That’s when I started re-framing feedback that came my way. I began imagining myself as a feedback prism and using all my self-care abilities and human centred way of viewing the world to look at feedback in a new way.
“I am a feedback prism. Critique me please.”
Recently a renewed discussion with an important colleague of mine resurfaced the common use of the phrase ‘ethnographic interview.’ We had previously discussed our concern that any old folk would be running around and using the powerful adjective of ‘ethnographic’ without putting any deep ethno power behind the phrase. This weekend I sat down on the dock with Charlie, my dog, and wrote out my thoughts in long hand, hence you’ll have a chance to enjoy the loopy cursive, occasional misspelling, and unedited sentence structures. It is hopefully worth a read, I promise you a twist is in store for those lucky readers who stick it out!
p.s. if it is truly awful to load the scans or difficult to read let me know and I’ll put it on the to-do list to type it up soon 😉
(*This is a post on ethnography, strategy, & non-attachment written in first person voice for ease of reading, in many cases there are many ‘we’s’ involved and entire villages that helped me see clearly)
There is this older blog post of mine where I proposed uniting agile & ethnography through their common thread of stories . It has been getting heaps of readers this week. To be very honest the stats kept pinging through which reminded me I should maybe write something of interest for my future self to recall this time in life and my vision emerging from the fog.
Lately I’ve been attempting to weave. Working to weave together the concepts of ethnography and the strategic core of business decision making. In the last year I felt my career vision crystallising into “how can we get empathy to be felt & utilised in the core strategic business decision making machinery?” This is a timely vision with the huge shift in the market place toward purpose driven businesses. I feel this mirrored through our species beginning to awaken to the fact that if we don’t figure out how to be kind to our home and ourselves we might not even want to live on a diseased and discontent rock swirling around a fireball.
This recent thinking brings me to today’s musings and proposal: I propose we meet the world’s wicked problems with weaponised empathy, there is no better way to make a better world. The risk of confinement to a single mindset exceeds the cost of expanding your skillsets into the realm of weaponised empathy.
It would be hard to change a lot of the fundamentals behind how our planet is run by our 8 billion strong tribe. After all, culture is a very slow technology, and don’t let the speed of subcultural developments fool you. The fundamental mechanisms of scapegoating and emulating drive our desires and actions in such deep ways that even those most committed to the growth mindset fall into their traps. We must have examples of good and bad in order to learn, and we learn by mimicking and reading reactions to behaviours. Even the most profound buddhist teaching of non-attachment must be passed through language and example. (I resonate with these words about non-attachment)
Now back to the vision that’s been emerging: “how can we get empathy to be felt & utilised in the core strategic business decision making machinery?” My hypothesis behind this is that ethnography’s power lies in the transformation of the observer. Not in their ‘going native’ but in their ability to take on perspectives in order to expand their own knowledge and conciousness. I’ve only been doing ethno-work for a few years now, and I feel so empowered to spread the influence of the customer into the minds of leadership in organisations. In fact I got so attached to this role of going into the field to bring back the points of view that I threw quite a few tantrums earlier in my career when the bulldozing of the space to get out into the field took too long or caused the precious time spent with customers in the field to evaporate. Then 2 years ago I flipped my thinking & my role, I started to work to become the best bulldozer I could be and began teaching others to do the work. I became non-attached to doing the work and the outcomes of the work. Any ethnographic thinking was more helpful than none at all. At least there was a glimmer of a chance of empathy. I simply delighted in the ability to get to propel others out there to have the transformational perspective taking experiences that I had had the privilege of having previously. That moment was my first true understanding of combining a growth mindset with non-attachment.
Now about ethnography at the strategic core. This is a hypothesis many of us have heard of, or attempted, or mused upon. It’s one of those funny things which feels weird when you mention it to people… ethnography? in core strategic business decision making? You must mean ethnography to ideate on which products to build and how to build them. You might mean ethnography used to transform the organisation itself so it produces better upon its strategy… That’s not what I mean. I mean ethnographic practice that directly transforms the leaders, employees, & customers themselves into the powerhouse of driving strategic decisions & change. We’re all in it together and we can only learn from each other. Empathy through ethnography to empower a changing of the lens as we move into the era of purpose driven businesses. For all these very reasons most design thinking methodologies begin with empathy and insight discovery tools.
We’ve read and heard how PARC at Xerox & Intel have done it at times in a variety of ways. It is likely there could be a company out there kicking a** at it right now, but I’d never know. It is weaponised empathy, a smart business wouldn’t announce their latest greatest strategy artillery to the world. But on the other hand you see it everyday in the world’s most successful Kickstarter campaign, TED talks, start-ups, & radically astute solutions to world problems. Weaponised empathy is at the strategic core in all these cases, and those weapons are aimed directly at the world’s wickedest problems.
Let’s come back to non-attachment and why it matters to the weaponisation of empathy, that thing we need to tackle the world’s issues. If you can imagine everyone getting a little bit of an ethnographic skillset. Give folks out there just a touch of ethno-mindset to help them take on perspectives through a human centric, design research methodology. Sure it would be hard to teach so many people something so deep. If we were to non-attach ourselves to the business outcomes, and just injected those ethno-skills as well as we possibly could, what would happen? Would we not achieve the business outcomes anyway? Would people not be more open and observant of others? Would communications and actions in organisations not become more mindful of perspectives? Would customers needs today and tomorrow not be more easily understandable or accessible? Would insights not be readily available at the finger tips of every single employee? Would those employees not be more happy, effective, and mindful of customers current & future needs? Would not these people create better outcomes… even if those were not the outcomes traditional business strategies would dictate?
Wicked problems take empathy to tackle because the only thing in common in every wicked problem is that there are people and motivations involved. If we were to become non-attached to the outcomes and just did the absolute best we could from a place of compassion and empathy… how could our results not be ‘better’?
A great many of us in the innovation world, the ethnography world, the whole world just want to make an impact that makes this world a better place. We want to give a little bit of a contribution so that the next one along or the one next to us can learn from our journey. We can’t let the machinery we’ve been born into crush our ability to act upon and for the best outcomes for this place. No more can we become attached and paralyses by the outcomes we might achieve or fail to achieve, we simply must strive to do our best. I propose our best is to meet the world’s wicked problems with weaponised empathy.
From @picardtips: “Picard economic tip: The risks of confinement to a single planet exceed the costs of interstellar travel.’
Hedge your bets because we’re all in it together.
The risk of confinement to a single mindset exceeds the cost of expanding your skillsets into the realm of weaponised empathy. Love is all you need to make the world a better place, but the knack is in how you use it. Weaponise your empathy and you can aim your sights at the world’s wickedest problems. Ethnography for all and into the strategic core. Intrepid explorers! Who is coming along on the journey?
“If there is one ideal that the Federation holds most dear, it is that all men, all races can be united.” – Captain Jean-Luc Picard