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Scouting for strategy

September 30th, 2016 No comments

Scouting for strategy

“When faced with the choice to change his mind or find the proof not to do so, the conventional man always gets busy looking for proof.”
J K Galbraith

Developing an effective strategy for your organisation depends on your willingness to confront inconvenient truths, and your ability to see the world as it is, rather than how you wish it were.

The Dreyfus affair

In 1894, a member of the French army’s general staff discovered a torn-up note in a waste-paper bin. When they pieced the note back together, they found that an officer had been selling military secrets to Germany. The hunt began to find the traitor.

photo of Alfred Dreyfus

Alfred Dreyfus

Suspicion quickly fell on Alfred Dreyfus: it was no coincidence that Dreyfus was the only Jewish officer of his rank in the entire army. It was at this point that confirmation bias kicked in. Every piece of evidence the investigators gathered was interpreted in a way that confirmed the conclusion they had already reached: that Dreyfus was the traitor. The investigators:

  • compared Dreyfus’ handwriting to that on the memo, and concluded that they matched (even though professional handwriting experts were much less confident);
  • searched Dreyfus’ apartment and found nothing at all to incriminate him (which just went to show what a clever and well-trained spy he was);
  • talked to his school-teachers and learned he had been interested in learning foreign languages (useful for betraying secrets to foreign powers); and
  • learned from his teachers that Dreyfus had an excellent memory (very useful for a spy, who has to memorise a lot of information).

Dreyfus was found guilty, publicly humiliated and imprisoned for life on Devil’s Island, a barren land off the coast of South America.

Mad, bad or wrong?

So were the investigators mad, bad or wrong to conclude that Dreyfus was guilty on such flimsy evidence? Did they know he was innocent but just not care? Was he framed to protect someone else?

Researcher Julia Galef argues that we don’t have to assume any madness or badness on the part of the investigators. What they did was all too human and predictable: we are all guilty at times of the confirmation bias to which they fell prey.

The soldier and scout mindsets

In an illuminating TED talk, Galef contrasts two different mindsets, which she calls the ‘soldier’ and the ‘scout’.

Imagine a soldier in the heat of battle, with adrenalin pumping and heart pounding. The soldier’s actions all stem from deeply-ingrained reflexes: instincts aimed at protecting their own side and defeating the enemy. They are swept along by this over-riding purpose.

By contrast, a scout’s job is not to attack or defend: the scout’s job is to understand how things really are. They may hope to learn there is a safe place to make camp just over the next ridge, but if what they find is an exposed plain with no good shelter, that is just what they will report back to their commanding officer.

These roles are also metaphors for different mind-sets. When the French high command were investigating Dreyfus, they were almost certainly in a soldier mindset. Their country was under threat, military secrets were being sold to a foreign power. It was an ‘us’ and ‘them’ situation. And Dreyfus may well have stood out at first because he was Jewish – for the investigators he was not one of ‘us’, so he must have been ‘one of them’.

Enter the scout

A high-ranking French officer began to suspect that the case against Dreyfus was flawed. Colonel Picquart had reason to believe that the spying had continued after Dreyfus was in prison. But it took 10 years for him to finally have the case against Dreyfus over-turned.

Picquart demonstrated a ‘scout’ mindset. He was interested in confronting the truth, even when that was inconvenient for him personally (during his campaign to free Dreyfus, he himself spent time in prison for his disloyalty to the army). He was curious enough to investigate why Dreyfus might not be guilty, even when his organisation was convinced otherwise.

Scouting for strategy

In developing an effective organisational strategy, you need to follow a process that forces you to confront the world as it actually is, not how you would like it to be. The scout mindset – curiosity, a willingness to look for evidence that disproves what you believe, and an ability feel proud rather than ashamed when we discover our errors – is your friend when facing an uncertain future.

What you can say about this

  • Are we being soldiers or scouts here?
  • What evidence could we find to show this isn’t true?
  • Who am I not listening to right now, because they see things differently to me?

Want to know how to see the world as it actually is when developing your organisation’s strategy? Drop me a line at stuart@stuartreid.org.uk.

Why is change so hard, even when we want to change?

May 1st, 2015 No comments

Why is change so hard, even when we want to change?

 

I have a masters degree in organisational change from one of the top business schools. I advise leaders on how to navigate change in their organisations. I regularly read books and blog posts and attend seminars on change. So why do I find it so hard to change myself, even when I’m fully committed to doing so?
change cartoon

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

This question came up for me recently, when I reviewed how often I manage to meditate. I know how good meditation is for me, and I am committed to meditating every day – but I discovered that whole weeks can go by without me doing any meditation. I love walking, and aim to walk at least 10,000 steps 5 days a week – but for the past two months I haven’t achieved this goal.

If it is this hard to build a habit when I am keen to do so, how much harder is it for a leader to influence change in their organisation when they are facing active resistance?

A personal inquiry

So I’m kicking off a one-year personal action inquiry into change. My intention is to deepen my understanding of change: what it is and how it happens. And also to develop my practice as someone who helps leaders to navigate change in their organisations. My intention is to deepen my own thinking and understanding of my role in change, and to identify what practices make change easier.

personal inquiry means it’s not just an academic review of what other people think about change: I need to have some ‘skin in the game’. So part of my inquiry will be reflecting on my own experience of change during the year.

And it will be an action inquiry because as well as thinking, reading and talking to others, I’ll be taking other kinds of action too. I’ll be doing some experiments to try to deliberately bring about change. And some noticing and observing change as it naturally takes place around me.

These are some of the questions that interest me right now:

  • Are the processes of change the same for individuals, organisations and cultures? Do the methods that help form new personal habits also help in transforming organisations?
  • What metaphors for change are helpful?
  • What illusions do we commonly suffer from when we are trying to make change happen? (Illusions of control, of permanence, etc)
  • What paradoxes are involved in change?
  • What other ways are there of understanding change? For example, I’m interested in what we might learn from Buddhist ideas about being ‘unattached to outcomes’.

Join me

I intend to open up my inquiry and share what I’m learning with others. And I’d love to hear from and collaborate with you if you are also interested in inquiring into change. I’m going to experiment with ways of opening up that conversation online, virtually and face-to-face as part of my inquiry.

If you would like to be involved in that do please let me know in the comments below, or contact me directly. 

Learn to improvise in Peterborough!

December 18th, 2013 No comments

ImprovWould you like to be able to improvise scenes and stories? Develop your confidence in speaking in front of a group? Be more creative and spontaneous?

Learning to improvise can help you do all of this! And I’m offering an improvisation workshop for absolute beginners, which will run in Peterborough on 18 & 19 January 2014.

I’ll guide you step-by-step through a weekend workshop that will take you from complete beginner to improviser. You’ll learn the core skills and practices of improvisation, and by the end of the weekend you’ll be creating characters, telling stories and playing scenes – all entirely made up on the spot!

You can find out more on my website. To book your place email me, and I’ll send you details about how to reserve your place. There is an early bird rate of £100 for bookings received before 31 December (the full rate of £120 will apply after that).

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