Author Archives: make10louder

Strengths and Clean Language Workshops

https://www.flickr.com/photos/robinjakobsson/This article is part of a number of posts about a how I’m learning about tools to understand how I think. It doesn’t really fit into a an easy narrative, because it was an emergent process. Here goes.

Starting off

I learned about Clean Language in course TU811 from the Open University.. I read ‘From Contempt to Curiosity’ by Caitlin Walker, who produced the Clean Language elements of the Open University course. I was still unsure about using Clean Language with others.

A year later I saw a recommendation for Clifton Strengths Finder from Tobias Mayer.

Strengths Finder is a test that asks some questions online and give you your top 5 strengths, and explanations how they are used.

I took the test, read the results and moved on to learning about other things. Sounded cool, and great for understanding my skills, but that was it. This was about the same time as I did some clean language modelling of myself.

Two ways to Model

A few weeks later realised that these two models gave different perspectives on a similar thing. I don’t like understanding something with only one perspective. Two perspectives gets interesting. (see this post by me about needed more than one model). The Strengths Finder model already existed, and we get fitted to it with our top 5 strengths. Clean Language reveals our own models that explain things back to us.

Strengths Finder is not very emergent – categories already exist, but there are 30+ of them and they have good and bad traits, or balconies and basements in their language, so it is quite rich.

The models that emerge for Clean Language really are the individuals models, although group models are possible. They can also develop and change over time, reflecting how a person develops.

The combination is quite powerful.

Starting a group

I’ve spoken about systems at work with colleagues, and there are a number who I think ‘get it’ intuitively – I’ve got individuation as one of my strengthens, so maybe it’s unsurprising I can understand people who see things in a particular way.

(My strengths are Strategic, Ideation, Individualisation, Learner, Arranger. These probably explain a lot about my actions 🙂

I asked the next 8(ish) systems-y colleagues I saw in the staff kitchen if they would join me for a lunch hour to watch some videos and I’d talk about the two approaches. I think they all agreed to come. I have awesome work colleagues. Tomasz later noted I was asking people to do a peer review of the techniques, I may have used the phrase – “Help me see if this is boll$”*! or not…..”.

First Meeting, all positive

We started the first meeting by watching Caitlin Walkers Clean Language TED talk, and a great video kind of about strengths that I included it in this post about strengths .

And the next few weeks we met and talked. A few people dropped out for other commitments, and new people joined. We had a core group of about 6. We all took the Strengths Finder test, and talked about our strengths. We were surprised that what we saw as a weakness was a positive. Others got validation when they we’re really glad they had a particular strength. Ian noted that none of us had any top5 strengths in the “influencing” domain.

I think the biggest impact was had because all the strengths are totally positive. So we could see that our strengths and approaches were not the only ones, and actions of others that we had not understood, was their strengths applied to the problems they had. With their strengths and the problems they had to face their approach made sense. We began to have empathy with people we didn’t necessarily agree with.

We then tentatively and self-consciously tried some clean modelling. Sarah volunteered to talk about working at her best and I led the questions. It worked well, despite our lack of experience, and some non-clean questioning creeping in.

At each weekly session we either decided to do some clean modelling, or talked about insights we’d had, or things we’d thought about and usually ended up tying it back to our metaphor models, strengths or cognitive biased and traps.

We modelled how we work and learned at our best, how we used our strength finder strengths at our best, and for a month or so we modelled how we reacted to challenging situations, when our emotions can take over.

Talking about our monkeys

David introduced us to  Steve Peters model of the brain containing a chimp, a computer and a ‘human’ to begin with. This was of course someone else’s metaphor model, but we worked with it.

I did have some success extending this metaphor. I thought that normally there is a conductor who controls what I say and do. But in challenging situations my brain fogs up, and the ‘monkey’ can run in and start banging the drum without me seeing him in time. So I need to stop my brain fogging, as I can’t stop the monkey once he’s banging the drum.

Although this was not really clean modelling, some simple practical ideas about stopping ‘brain fog’ developed. Not surprisingly, enough sleep, preparation of material (ie facts!), understanding how other approach issues from reverse engineering their strengths from their actions all helped. I could write another post on this, and we  all got a lot from this.

NotSafeForWork

During the sessions I also introduced some ideas from complex adaptive systems theory, and the viable systems model, helped by David in the group who’s also studied at the OU. The group became more competent in talking about work issues, and understanding decisions and outcomes. Often with a sense of “uh-oh” when we saw problems being ‘solved’ with strengths that were, from our perspective, not entirely suited. We referred to this ‘Not Safe for Work’. We’d created a safe space to talk about things that needed to stay in the room.

We’re still meeting every week, struggling to find time to devote to Clean Language modelling, and bringing our learning and experiences to the group.

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Using Clean Language and Retrospective

 

Clean Change CardsI’m practising using Clean Language techniques on myself, to try to reveal the ways that I understand how I work at my best. Clean Langues is a set of question designed to get personal metaphors that help with our understanding. This video by Caitlin Walker is the best introduction I’ve found.

I asked myself  questions 8 months ago and wrote down the answers. I had the 12 clean language questions on cards in front of me, and scanned them for the next question to ask myself.

I’ll show the answers to these questions,  and I’ll look at the practical steps I’ve taken since then.

Question #1: Listening and Understanding at my best.

What would you like to have happen?

I’d like to listen and understand other people.

Listening and understanding at your best is like what?

When I am listening and understanding at my best it is like sieving information into a large bowl. I need the bowl to keep all the information in and the sieve helps me ensure that no lumpy information gets through. Lumpy information is not clear to me, so I may need to inquire the meaning of what is being said. Listening and understanding means I do not offer solutions and ideas.

Is there anything else about the bowl?

It’s like an empty container, for the persons version of reality to go into, where it will not be affected by my reality.

To do this I need to keep a quiet and open mind, and not try to be judgemental about someones situation or analysis. It is their reality.

And what happens just before you sieve information into the bowl?

I need to make sure I have an empty bowl, and that it is there for the other persons information to go into. I need to get pollutants out of the way, clean the workspace before I start.

And is there anything else about the bowl?

I’d need a lot of them, and somewhere to put them!

Things I’ve done for Listening and Understanding at my best.

I’m learning to apply the techniques from Marshall Rosenbergs Non Violent Communication, to stop making jedgements and empathise with people. This may help with understanding people – getting the sieving right.

 

Question #2 Learning at my Best

What would you like to have happen?

I’d like to be understand how I learn at my best.

And when you are learning at your best, that’s like what?

What I am learning at my best I need to be either joining the dots of things I already know, or focusing on learning a new thing, that has a boundary around it.

And when you are joining the dots, that’s joining the dots like what?

When joining the dots I feel like knowledge needs to sink in, like a stone dropping into a pond. The stone drops, falls to the bottom, and the water needs to go still, and the stone needs to sink and lie at the bottom for some time. I can put in other stones, but I’ll need to dive down later, find the stone and clean the sediment from it. I can then see the shape, colour and type of the stone and see how it fits in with the other stones I have.

Sometime I can see how a stone may fit in before it goes into the pond, but I’ll still find out new things once it’s been submerged for a while.

And whereabouts is the pond?

It’s at the back of my head.

And what happens just before you dive down later, find the stone and clean sediment from it?

I usually learn something, or talk to someone. I need to interact with other people and ideas to be able to dive down and rediscover things I have learned, clean them off and use them.

Things I’ve done for Learning at my best.

A month after this answer I asked some colleagues at work if they would be interested in working with Clean Language and the Strength Finder personal model by Marchus Buckingham. We’ve met weekly since then, sometimes running clean language question sessions, or discussing out Strengths. There have also been sessions where we apply our understanding to work and personal issues, to better understand and react to situations.

I’ve realised that I actually need someone to help me get the stones out of the pond, and having people is the most I can talk to about this is the most important thing about learning.

As a group we’re had the most sessions discussing how our strengths and models affect how we react to things, and have built models about what goes on in our heads, similar to Steve Peters ‘human/monkey/computer’ model. This all deserves another post.

Question #3 Focusing on work

What would you like to have happen?

I’d like to concentrate and focus on work without being distracted.

And what kind of focus and concentration is that focus and concentration?

It’s like immersion in the task that narrows perspective, but it’s not imposed like blinkers. It is a desirable state that I want to be in. Being in the zone.

Is there anything else about that desirable state, being in the zone?

I am in the zone like a Surgeon, focusing on an operation.

And what happens before you get in that desirable state, being in the zone?

The surgeon needs the right tools laid out, the full patient notes understood and an understanding of what needs to be done.

Preparation is important, like a surgeon prepares their tools, cleans and checks surfaces, removes distractions and understands what a good outcome is.

Like a surgeon I need a toolkit and a checklist to get the operating theatre in a known state before work begins.

And what happens next?

When I have prepared for the operation, I can focus in the zone.

Things I’ve done for Focusing on work

I’ve done quite a bit here. I recently recognised that I do different types of work well and different times of day, and I’ve started to protect and use these. So I try to do something requiring concentration  first thing, and leave brain-dead things for the early afternoon. I’ve also found I get a focus boost after a good session at the gym at work. They should really pay me to got there.

I’ve also started to using David Allens Getting Things Done methodology My brain hated this, but the contextual list and next actions help get the correct surgeons tools laid out in the right place, and makes a good outcome clearer.

 

 

 

Was the #brexit vote democratic?

Screenshot from 2016-07-03 22-18-52Was the recent UK referendum democratic? Everyone had a vote, but a vote reducing a complex situation to a binary choice. There was no option to treat the situation as complex, with good perspectives and arguments on both sides. Commentators acknowledged the messiness, but then re-framed the discussion in a single metric, it’s about ‘sovereignty’ or our “ability to make our own laws”. Whatever the result, the carefully chosen frame was noble and defensible in hindsight.

I think the vote was wrong. Not the result, the entire referendum. Engaging in binary arguments about complex political situations is the domain of ignorance. When we ignore perspective and context, we reduce our democracy, and move our society in a dangerous ugly populist direction.

Nora Bateson says the root of fascism is “this habit studying and making sense of things by taking them apart”. Eventually getting a simple answer blaming someone you’ve separated from yourself.

By even engaging with the binary question we are arguing on terms that agree that there is a separation, that “I” separates from “we”. After the vote, we can’t continue the separation, we should understand the perspectives and context of others, and acknowledge where there are valid arguments. These argument may be at odds with what we believe. That’s fine, in any complex situation there are conflicting valid viewpoints. Anyone who begins to understand a truly complex situation will hold unresolved conflicting ideas in their own mind. Any change has winners and losers.

Europe is connected by global industry, markets and consumption. But we’re also connected by friendship, love, human struggle and a need for dignity and to belong.

We can’t continue being separate. Leave votes aren’t all racist xenophobes, but binary politics is a slope to fascism.

I’ve used a lot of Nora Batesons ideas and words here. I hope that’s OK.

For me, dyslexia is great!

dyslexia

Image: Huffingdonpost

I’ve just written and recorded a video about dyslexia, after I was send a link asking for contributions for National Dyslexic Week.

Here is the script. I should be able to find it here 🙂

 

 
I’m can be quite disorganised, all information goes into one big bucket in my head, rather than being sorted in some way.

But because Dyslexia puts everything in one big bucket I can see patterns and similarities and connections between things really easily.
I can model complicated systems in my head, and see the differences between the models and what must have happened for a situation to occur.
It also makes me great at problem solving, I tend to look at every problem using all the information in my head, not just a limited selection.

So what I lack in organisation, I make up for by being able to think about organisation in a unique way.

I naturally see things from many conflicting perspectives, and understand that the perspectives are all real. This allows me to make sense to situations where other struggle. Dyslexia allows me to dissolve difficulties by thinking solutions around them. I’m always looking for a better way to do something,
For me, it’s a positive.

 

Systems Thinkers need a Posse

 

obeyAndre the Giant has a posse. Public Enemy have the S1Ws. Radicals throughout history had a crew, an entourage, a crew. The Misfit Economy by Alexa Clay and Kyra Maya Phillips details types of people who did things differently, from pirates to gangsters and hackers. And they all had a posse.

It’s hard to stand on your own, against the grain. People carry hammers to knock in any nails that dare to stick up. Sometime this is just a put down, a career blip. Maybe what you say means you can’t walk the streets without watching your back.

Clay and Phillips don’t mention systems thinkers in their book, but they are out there, from a voice in a dysfunctional organisation, to revealing the structural racism inherent in a dysfunctional society.

Some run towards the danger, up for a fight. Others see the danger and wait or give up. Seeing systems can be a hard, lonely place full of compromise and disillusionment. We need friendly people to talk to, who have been there, who can see the patterns that may be too close for us to focus on.

For a group who are arguably all about they way things connect, the systems community are a fractured bunch. Academia values novel research. Just connecting other people works doesn’t carry much weight. What should be a strong backbone of theory is a silo factory. Consultancy is as bad. There are people who attack others work as a way of promoting their own. Of course they need to pay the rent. The problem is structural as much as human.

We need a community, for support when it goes wrong, to build ideas, to talk, laugh and develop. Ideas are free, but alone I’m useless. I need to talk, how else do I know what I think? And sharing means more ideas, not spending my time defending what I have. We need safe spaces to think, grow and change. Safe from attack and ridicule, and safe from being used as a step to make someone feel taller.

What would a systems thinking community value, and how would our current interactions compare to an ideal that we can all theorize about, but we sometimes work to destroy.

Are we too fractured to have an identity?

Why are people replacing robots?

Mercedes-Benz is replacing some of the robots in their factories with people.

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/feb/26/mercedes-benz-robots-people-assembly-lines

3127953038There had to be some passionate conversations between factory managers, and executives at Mercedes-Benz with this one. Replacing some robots with people has caused all sort of problems. If the factories are quite new, and were built for automation they probably don’t have many toilets near the factory floor. Or a large car park, or canteen. Robots don’t drive to work, and need to eat. Factory managers will take personal and professional pride in running efficient operations and automation has made cars affordable, reliable and available.

What is going on when the factories start employing people to replace robots? Wearing an efficiency hat this doesn’t make sense. Robotic factories have been the only future imaginable for years.  What has changed? Does the factory rulebook need to be rewritten?

Increasing pace of change and complexity 

From the Guardian article:

The robots cannot handle the pace of change and the complexity of the key customisation options available for the company’s S-Class saloon at the 101-year-old Sindelfingen plant, which produces 400, 000 vehicles a year from 1,500 tons of steel a day.

We need to be flexible. The variety is too much to take on for the machines. They can’t work with all the different options and keep pace with changes.”

Robots can’t currently mange the complexity of the customisation options. People are currently able to outperform robots at tasks requiring variety, at least until the robot manufacturers catch up.

Managing Variety 1: Making something you can sell

To find where this variety has come from, we can start in sales. Mercedes is in business to sell cars to customers. To do the sales folk need to offer what the customer environment wants, a…

… dizzying number of options for the cars – from heated or cooled cup holders, various wheels, carbon-fibre trims and decals, and even four types of caps for tire valves –

There may be customer demand for these, or marketing could have created the demand. Either way, with a lean, efficient production line, the sales folk are selling something the robotic factories can’t make.

Variety 2: Selling something you can make

Mercedes need to reduce the variety their customers demand to a level their factories can cope with. Balancing this equation is essential. Of course the ultimate offer would be a custom Mercedes for each customer, but this is not possible for the cost of a Mercedes.

To do this marketing and production have to work together to design and market cars that they can make in their factories. Mercedes-Benz are a luxury brand, so cost efficiency is not the sole purpose of the factory.

Marketing has to create and manage demand for the sort of customisation that their factories, restructured with people and robots, can produce. People can cope with the operational variety that robots, or people behaving like robots can’t.

Using robots, machines or computers increases efficiency, but reduces the ability of the system, in this case a factory, to cope with variety in an fast changing environment.

At every level we must ensure that the variety equations balance. If a car dealer can’t supply what the customer is asking for, they will buy elsewhere. If the factory can’t make what the car dealer is selling then the business won’t last long.

 

 

 

Why we need Models, and why it’s hard to change them.

  •  It’s 460BC. Your job is a map maker, and your maps show the world to be flat. You’ve a lockup garage of flat earth maps to sell. But you also like astronomy, and understanding the planets.
    • Is a model of a flat earth of any use? Is it good?  It was good enough for me to get to work, and to drive a cart to London.
    • But it’s not good enough for astronomy, you need another model.
  • You hear of the model of the earth as a sphere. Hmm, this fits simple astronomy, but does it make your lockup full of flat earth maps worthless? Which model do you believe? How hard is it to change your mind to a new more complicated model?
    • Is the model good enough? It’s great when thinking on a global scale – like where is Australia relative to where you are.
    • But maybe it’s a bit complicated for driving to London. A flat earth map will be fine for that.
  • From the international space station, is the model of the earth as a sphere good enough?
    • Maybe not. Gravity may be affected by the shape of the earth, and the movement of planets may need more complicated models. But perhaps you don’t need a model of the earth that shows the Himalayas.
  • Is that enough models?
  • What if you are cycling to London? A flat earth map won’t show you the hills, but a spherical model with enough detail is far too much information. You like to avoid hills, so you need another model.

Using the examples above, I think we can learn:

  • We need models. A model is a synonym for an understanding
  • Multiple models of the same thing exist at the same time
  • New models should compliment existing ones
  • We should use the simplest model we can, but no simpler
  • We need awareness of other models
  • Believing in one true model is an Anti-Pattern
  • If you have an interest in a model being true (like a business selling flat earth maps) it could be hard to learn a new model. The greatest resistance against a new, different model may be those who currently benefit from an existing model.
  • All models are wrong, but some are useful. Is the only up-to date model of the earth the earth itself?

This cartoon shows Calvin explaining his simple model to his toy tiger.

Calvin-Toast

This model of how to make toast is sufficient unless:

  • Calvin starts to sell toast in his yard and
    • He may be asked to contribute towards the electricity bill
      • “There is electricity and you have to pay for it?!”
    • He may have to buy his own bread
      • “Can’t I reuse the bread I just put in somehow?!”
    • There is a drought and the price of bread rises
      • “So I’m losing money on everything I sell?!”

Systems Thinkers love models. It’s how we understand the world, and different perspectives and contexts.

We can also see that if you insist on using a simple model, for example one that will fit on a napkin, or can be explained to a 6 year old, then you can only use it in simple situations. More complicated systems need bigger models.