Switching Blogs!

Dear faithful friends and followers.

As per a previous post from the end of August, I have since moved on from Bell Canada and am now a “free agent”. I am super excited to be working on my own with no tyrannical boss looming over me (just kidding RL!).

With that said I am now launching a new website and blog that supports my new company, Omakase Group. Of course I’ve ported over the content so any postings from the last few months are on the new site and I look forward to keeping the conversation going.

Onwards and upwards!

Quick reflections and a departure

On August 21st I ended my career at Bell Canada. Having sensed that the new owners of the company would be looking to make drastic cost reductions, I figured that it would be a good time to ask for a severance package and use the opportunity to start my own company. It took awhile for everything to fall into place (about 9 months) but it was worth it.

It has been an incredibly busy week since leaving Bell. Lots of administration stuff in getting a business launched and I’ve been fortunate enough to have lots of interest in my services so I’ve had a few meetings regarding potential work. As a result I’ve barely had time to process all of this new information and my new status in this world. And now I’m heading out for a previously planned vacation for two weeks. But I wanted to get something down on “paper” before I go.

It’s easy to slag large corporations for being soul sucking institutions that crush human spirit, especially Bell Canada, but the six years I spent at Bell Canada was a life changing experience that put me on a path to discover the work that I love to do. We had the permission to learn a method of collaborative work and build a centre around that methodology. Most companies wouldn’t invest in their space and employees like that. Most importantly, I met people who have since become some of my best friends, mentors and sources of inspiration.

The relationship was mutually beneficial, I would argue. We did some great work for the company and I’d like to think we’ll be missed, at least a little bit.¬†ūüėČ

So now it’s off to Croatia for two weeks of R&R before returning to the real world and getting this business off the ground. More to come about a new company name, website and blog.

Collaboration Cue Card Project: An Insight!

I recently uploaded some more pictures of Collaboration Cue Cards to the Flickr group. Here’s a bit of backstory if you aren’t familiar with this little project of mine. Last time I uploaded the pictures I wrote a short blog entry but promised that I wouldn’t give any more updates unless there was something interesting to say.

Well….that day has come.

I don’t know if it’s particularly interesting, but one thing I noticed after looking at the 200+ cards is that some people seem to¬†illustrate the process (Example 1) of collaborating and others illustrate the outcome (Example 2) of collaborating while others seem to illustrate both (Example 3).

Example One

 

Example Two

 

Example Three

Example Three

Why is this observation interesting? I don’t know. Maybe it lends a bit of insight into how people think and how best to communicate with them. For example, some people might like to see what the company is trying to accomplish (the outcome) while others would prefer to see how the company is going to get there (the process).¬†This corresponds to the different types of visual models that Dan Roam talks about in his work, Back of the Napkin.

Cool Japanese Life Philosophies

One of the fun parts of my work is looking for new types of life approaches and philosophies and then incorporating them into my own collaborative methodology. I’ll¬†even introduce them to clients and let the clients play with those philosophies within the context of their own organization.

For example, today I suggested that my group of 30 clients¬†take a “Slow Food” approach to the activities they had been assigned. I was inspired by a conversation I had¬†with Michael Dila around “Slow Biz” and what that could mean to how people go about their work in a more mindful and deliberate way.

I’ve come across enough cool Japanese philosophies that I figured it was worthy of starting a conversation around and I’m hoping there will be some contributions. Here are a few that I quite like and I feel map well to business and collaborative approaches:

Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arrangement. It is more than simply putting flowers in a container. Ikebana is a disciplined art form in which nature and humanity are brought together. It is the philosophy of developing closeness with nature. Ikebana is a creative expression with certain rules of construction. (From Wikipedia and thanks to Mr. Dila and Chris Finlay.)

One of the key principles of Ikebana is the mindfulness of the approach. It is typically done in silence. There is also an appreciation for simplicity and empty space which are two principles that don’t get utilized nearly enough in business, process or product design these days.

Wabi-sabi represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience. The phrase comes from the two words wabi and sabi. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. (From Wikipedia)

As much as I try to plan events down to the most minute details, I also balance the planning with the belief that people will take conversations in unpredictable and necessary¬†ways. The collaborative sessions do have a degree of improvisation and “roughness” to them that makes each one unique and “imperfect”.

One of the very cool characteristics to the wabi-sabi aesthetic is that pieces aren’t designed to maintain their original qualities but are designed to stain, chip and¬†crack so the pieces become an ongoing¬†record of their existence. Examples of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include agile development methodologies, wikis and the “perpetual beta” mindset.

Omakase is the Japanese word meaning “entrust” or “protect”. It is most commonly encountered at sushi bars, where the customer may request omakase onegaishimasu (onegaishimasu meaning “please do me the favor”) to give the chef authority to prepare what the chef wants to make for you at the price that the chef sets.

One of the things that I like about this concept is the interplay between sushi chef and patron. The customer is an active part of the experience as they provide verbal and non-verbal feedback on each dish and the chef reacts accordingly in preparing the next dish. I actually have a lot more to say on this ritual and will elaborate further in the near future.

Do you know of any other philosophies or approaches in Japanese culture that can be incorporated into a design and/or collaborative methodology? I would love to keep this conversation going.

Some thoughts on Consensus vs. Collaboration

I’ve been giving some thought to the notion of “consensus building”. When I think of consensus building¬†I imagine a situation where a bunch of people are sitting around debating an issue and the consensus occurs when the people at the table no longer wish to debate and can live with the proposed solution.¬† I don’t actually¬†have any “official” definition from anywhere to back this up, as the definitions from dictionary.com aren’t too specific.¬†I should mention that the entry¬†in¬†Wikipedia does¬†briefly suggest that consensus “usually involves collaboration, rather than compromise”.

Despite this suggestion from Wikipedia, from my experience I tend to find that discussions around “consensus building” seem to be focused on compromise rather than collaboration. Again, it’s just a gut feel but whether the conversation is facilitated or not I find that the questions in the conversation tend to be along the lines of “if i gave up ‘x’, would you give me ‘y'”? In other words I find the conversations to be subtractive. Ie. how can the proposed solution be pared down until it isn’t disagreeable for most or all of the people in the room. (Apologies for the double negative.) This has to be a less than ideal situation for all parties. Nobody truly wins.

This differs from collaborative conservations which I would suggest are more additive. Ie. lots of “yes, and” with a goal of expressing and building towards an ideal solution for all parties and it would haven been impossible to have achieved individually.¬† My experience tells me that people leave these types of conversations energized, motivated and confident in their colleagues.

Maybe it’s just some pointless semantic babbling, but I’m thinking that “consensus building” is an oxymoron up there with “army intelligence” and “jumbo shrimp”.

WestJet: Great Customer Service

I was flying back to Toronto from Quebec City on West Jet a couple of weeks ago and all flights into Toronto were cancelled due to stormy weather. Needless to say all of the customers were quite agitated. Carl, the West Jet gate agent was SO apologetic even though there was obviously nothing that West Jet could do about it. Not only was he apologetic, but the company apparently has a policy to pay for its customers to stay overnight in hotels even if it’s a weather related delay. I was agog. In today’s airline industry, who provides meals, taxi chits and hotel rooms for a weather delay? Certainly not Air Canada. In fact, Air Canada now¬†charges to help you if your plane gets delayed.

But that’s not all.

On the way back to the airport from the hotel, the taxi driver wouldn’t accept my voucher so I paid with a credit card. When I got to the check in desk I told the agent that I had to pay for the cab. She took my credit card receipt and told me she would photocopy it and send it to head office to process a charge back to my credit card¬†and¬† would give the receipt back to me at the gate before I boarded. I guess we missed each other because I never got my receipt back and I figured I would be out $30 but that was still way better than if I had flown with Air Canada.

10 days later I get an envelope in the mail with¬†my receipt and a letter from the agent’s home address with a hand written note apologizing for having not met me at the gate. A very nice touch. I figured I would have to give West Jet a call the next day and mail in my receipt in order to get a refund. The next morning I got a call from West Jet asking me if I would prefer to get my $30 back on my credit card or $75 towards a future flight.

Guess which one I took.

Corporations Need More Right Brain

Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED talk is pretty astounding. It’s an inspiring story that she tells very well. If anyone is looking for a bit of a “how-to” on presenting, check out her talk. I’m pretty sure it would have the Heath brothers’ seal of approval.

But rather than write about her presentation, I thought I would mention one of the points from her talk. In short, she is a neuro-scientist and she says that the “right” side of the brain, which is normally associated with creativity, is the side of the brain that sees big pictures, gestalts, overall patterns. The right side of the brain is also responsible for imagining possibilities, combining things in novel ways, modeling, seeing things with the mind’s eye, etc.

The left side of the brain is the analytical side. It’s linear and is responsible for vertical thinking, which tends to select, while in the process of decision making,¬†one option¬†to the exclusion of others. The left side is responsible for absorbing the data that it is constantly collecting and assigning it into the bigger categories that the brain is so good at creating. This saves time so that we aren’t constantly evaluating each new piece of information that comes into us but we can pick little pieces of data and draw conclusions based on our past experience.

So, what Taylor says is that the right side of the brain is responsible for the past and the future and the left side of the brain is responsible for the present. What’s the connection to corporations?

One leading management thinker (the name escapes me now) said that corporate strategy is simply a series of predictions. If that’s true, executives should be thinking a whole lot more time in right brain intensive activities than they are. More serious play, more work with images, more work with divergent sets of knowledge and experience, more work with looking for weak signals and imagining those signals being amplified 5 years from now….but this isn’t happening. It seems as though the higher up the food chain they get, execs are more and more concerned with the present rather than learning from the past and making better predictions about the future.