Blog: Getting Beyond Having 'One Right Way'

Blog: Getting Beyond Having 'One Right Way'

It doesn't matter who is presenting (and this is as true of my presentations as anyone else's), the structure of the slide on the screen does leave the impression of "one and only one right way". Partly this is the way we take in information - diagrams, flow paths, bullet points all act to engage the "left side", or analytical elements, of our brains, which deal in logic, chains of items, and cause & effect. As a result, we walk away thinking "if we just do this, then that must result".

Dealing with the business world of the 21st century, however, is far more complex. It is more of a "right brain", or imaging activity, where we suddenly intuit the end result. It is said, for instance, that Mozart composed in this manner, suddenly seeing the piece as a whole, and simply dipping his pen in the ink to copy it down. It is often the way art is created.

There seems little room in the business world for the artist's way, but it is something to encourage. We can do this in a multitude of ways:

Encourage and support internal blogging, and commenting on blogs. Go so far as to encourage writing in a blog as a start-of-the-day activity: part of encouraging creative thinking in a program called "The Artist's Way" (from Julia Cameron's book of the same name) is to write anything (including laundry, grocery and to-do lists if necessary) until three pages have been filled. This engages the mind in thinking more holistically. From a work point of view, hearing a wide variety of voices writing on a myriad of topics sparks readers into more imaginative thinking of their own, whether they blog or not

When holding meetings, turn off PowerPoint (or any other presentation tool you use, from a networked meeting tool like WebEx or just showing spreadsheets on the screen) as often as possible. Use cartoons, photographs and other visual aids if you like, but avoid text. If a diagram is needed, draw it a bit at a time while talking and interacting with the meeting attendees. It is not necessary to "finish" the diagram - it is the engagement that is sought

Periodically hold "surprise" sessions (as in, a group of people is selected and taken out of their work day without any prior notice) to deal with "what if" situations. The classic for this is a business continuity exercise: "the disaster has occurred, and you are the team to get us going again". Pose puzzles such as "we've just been made the subject of a hostile takeover, what do we do?", "our core products are being replaced in the market rapidly, what can we do that's different?", "it's a 50% cut or we don't survive as a business, what should we do?" or "you're the new VP of Marketing, you're the new VP of manufacturing" (etc.), what will you do in your first 90 days both individually and collectively?". The idea here is not to rush out and implement changes, but to get the creative imaginations flowing — feel free to make it about another company if necessary!

Certain functions are, by the nature of the work done in them, more analytical and structured than others. These areas often need further exercises that bridge the gap between the analysis that is a favoured work style and content of the day, and imagination. (At a CIO retreat several years ago, one such event was an hour-long "hunt" with clues through a resort complex; when each location was figured out, a photograph was to be taken with a digital camera, with prizes for the best photos [craziest scene, happiest-looking group, etc.] — each group progressively entered in to the spirit of the quest as each new location was discovered. This cleared the way for the actual workshop, on deep issues in IT, but with the attendees ready to engage, rather than just listen.)

Joseph Pine's "The Experience Economy" talked about the value of providing unique and engaging customer experiences as a way of adding value and customer "stickiness". Doing these same things by making life at work an experience pays off in many different ways: it is the equivalent of a Toyota assembly line worker's ability to "stop the line" when quality is off, making everyone on the line personally engaged in turning out the best possible product. Let many different threads emerge, and see how many opportunities your organization can create.

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