Cultivating Collaborative Conversations

October 20, 2014

I sometimes visit Bill Gates’ blog, GatesNotes, to see what books he’s reading as well as for his occasional and interesting reviews eg here. The leading header on the blog a while ago was an interview he had with a Teacher of the Year (Washington State, 2014).

Although education is not a primary interest of mine, I watched the video above and quickly became fascinated.

From the blog post:

Katie had an insight that really struck me: She said we’ve known for a long time that most students won’t learn if you just stick them in a classroom and make them listen to a lecture. They have to put the learning to use and make it relevant to their own lives. And yet most teachers still get their professional development at seminars and conferences, where they sit listening to lectures. “We would never do that with kids,” Katie said, “but we still do it with teachers.”

This extract relates to quite a few posts on this blog on different ways of sharing knowledge (see knowledge management category on the rhs).

The main points from the short video above are:

  • Time – the school principal is heroic enough to give the teachers time to learn through mutual collaboration (as opposed to cramming yet another task into an already busy schedule; in other words, something else is given a lesser priority!). I can imagine that just doing this one thing sends out a very powerful message. The example given is that the in the monthly 45 minute staff meeting, 30 minutes is spent on discussing ‘instruction’ (how can we all teach better?).
  • Large group collaboration – this is for generating the big picture and is typically not hands-on.
  • Small group collaboration – this is for applying the big picture insights to specific areas, say physics or French and is hands-on.
  • Visits – a group of teachers go around the school to see how well the ideas are working out, taking the whole working environment into account (for example the use of graphics on the walls might be very effective and this approach could be used elsewhere).

An example discussion question is: How do we develop strategies for better student dialogue, how do we help kids have more constructive conversations in class?

This question sounded pretty impressive to me!

I have no experience of teaching in high school although I have taught at various universities during my time in academia. However, in common with many other lecturers, I had no formal training for this, let alone (planned) collaborative discussions about good methods that worked.

I was curious if any of this could be transferred to a business setting, even in an approximate way.

For example, replace the above school discussion question by: How do we develop strategies for better business dialogue, how do we help people have more constructive conversations in their work environments, leading to better understanding, motivation and results?

The first thing that came to mind was a partial overlap with the idea of ‘knowledge cafes’ that are already being successfully used in various organisations eg see here. Typically they start with a question for a whole group which is then discussed in detail via small groups. The full group then gets together again to see what personal insights or actions the discussions may have lead to.

The school approach above could be thought of as a type of ‘cafe’ which roles on month after month and where the questions are collaboratively developed. Importantly it also includes the facility of seeing how insights are realised in particular settings through visits e.g. to working offices. In a business setting, such a ‘cafe’ (based on collaborative conversations) would become an integral way of working rather than a separate activity.


Making Your Own Road

October 9, 2014

01998_routetocastlemountain_1920x1200

Castle Mountain in the Canadian Rockies

A great way of procrastinating is looking for and trying out different (screen) wallpapers. As a consequence of this I have loads of them. I was wondering the other day why some appeal to me more than others. One theme I like is ‘roads’ although admittedly this doesn’t immediately sound very exhilarating.

An example is given above. In some ways it makes me think of a target/goal (lofty, in the distance, although seemingly achievable) and a path to get there. It also makes me feel that the target is drawing me towards it (but maybe that’s just me).

Of course, the real world is rarely so neat, and last weekend I came across the stunning image below which reminded me of the fact that you often have to make your own road and a clear target may be nowhere in sight!

Go Your Own Road by Erik Johansson.

Go Your Own Road, 2008, by Erik Johansson

A bit more on following the ‘indirect path’ in life and work can be found here (examples) and here (the theory).

PS If you feel like a diversion, some outstanding (free) wallpapers, such as the one at the top, can be found at InterfaceLIFT. A wide variety of resolutions and screen sizes are readily available…enjoy!

Photo credits: top and bottom.


Speaking To Oneself

September 25, 2014

“Most conversations are simply monologues delivered in the presence of witnesses.” – Margaret Millar

Thinking about it, so are some emails!

See also here (on the quality of feedback in conversations).

Originally spotted as a ‘quote tweet’ from David Gurteen.


Potential For Greatness

September 23, 2014

In the light of the recent launch of the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch, a prior article on the importance of innovative design came to mind. It was a review of a new smartphone coming out of China (I’m looking for a new one so I’m considering options, including those that might possibly appear in the future):

This review was not supposed to go this way. When we decided to order the Mi4, we wanted to learn more about Android in China, but we also expected it to be kind of a laugh. It’s easy to look at the pictures and dismiss the Mi4 as a cheap iPhone knockoff, but it is so much better than that.

Everything here is top notch: The best specs, fantastic build quality, a beautiful screen, a dirt cheap price, and software that, while different, works both aesthetically and functionally. If only the company came up with its own hardware design. If Xiaomi ever does apply itself with some original designs, look out world, because this company will be going places.

The review ends with:

Watching a company with a potential for greatness hamstring itself because it just can’t get over its Apple envy. Xiaomi would do great in the West, except that the derivative design would possibly get it sued out of existence.

The challenge then is to out-design rather than out-manufacture Apple and not be too intimidated by their daunting reputation and achievements in this area, an interesting psychological position to be in.

By coincidence, there was an article in Fast Company yesterday complaining about a lack of innovation in Apple design! Here’s an extract:

I miss the chunky playful plastic designs of the past, especially the Pixar-lamp-like iMac G4. I miss the toy-like references to plastic Swatch watches (the clamshell iBook) and the Memphis Group of the 1980s (the original iMac). That was idiosyncratic, ballsy design; that was a design aesthetic that some would loathe. It was design that a shamelessly style-free megacorporation like Samsung could never really copy in the hopes of being considered “good design.” Samsung, or HTC, or LG, or Motorola, they can all copy modern Apple. It’s easy. Make it thin, use a single block of aluminum, use glass. Presto: now you have design. Bullshit. Innovative design isn’t just about adhering to rules set out by someone else.

There are companies who are actually trying. In addition to the aforementioned Lumia phones, the Jawbone Jambox managed to combine industrial materials (hard rubber, metal grilles) with repeated patterns and bold colors to give them a sense of play, and even Apple’s own Mac Pro is weird and thoughtful enough to grab my attention: never before has a computer shaped like a garbage can seemed like such a good idea.

So maybe there really is an opening in a very standardised marketplace for someone brave enough to take it?

More generally, and at a more mundane level, it’s interesting that when you’re setting up a venture, are you in reality trying to emulate an existing and successful business (with a slight variation) or aiming for something that goes beyond that, even if it’s in ways that you yourself don’t yet fully understand? See also previous post below.

 


The Perfect Mix: Age And Creativity

September 12, 2014

quote-Vinod-Khosla-in-my-view-its-irreverence-foolish-confidence-189576

Interesting article by Ben McNeil in Ars Technica on creativity, age profiles and funding systems including:

Although unconventional and risky research can be pursued at any age, it seems to come much easier to younger scientists. That may be because they have more time to allocate to one idea and are less susceptible to the “curse of knowledge”—the cognitive bias that tends to make experience stifle one’s ability to come up with or accept new, unconventional, or creative ideas.

The 30- to 40-year-old period has often been described as “the golden years” for creative discovery, a perfect mix of time, enthusiasm, naivety, and just enough experience to produce optimal creativity.

Whether the age correlation is widely true or not, I like the list of ingredients, especially the inclusion of the word ‘naivety’. It’s probably true that after a certain age, cynicism and a ‘been there/seen it’ attitude all too easily creep in and innocence and naivety make a rapid exit.

However, as mentioned in the quote above, the continual ability to learn and change is also an important factor – not to mention luck of course!

On a related theme, there’s a discussion of ‘lean periods’ in research here.

Picture credit here.


The Waiting Game

September 5, 2014

Insightful quote:

“The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting.” – Fran Lebowitz

Last Tuesday I was at an office based meeting with everyone rapidly exchanging opinions and insights and I found myself doing exactly this – waiting for an opportunity to express my views rather than listening fully to what others had to say! This is partly due to time constraints of course, you don’t have all day to listen and also get your points across.

However, at the end of the meeting, some of us transferred to a local pub and miraculously I found that listening suddenly became a lot easier. Maybe this was due to the fact that the meeting had ‘ended’ and everyone simply relaxed or perhaps everyone had had time to assimilate all the many other viewpoints and personalities and only details remained. Then again, maybe it was just the alcohol and informal atmosphere loosening things up?

Anyway, the combination of formal and informal venues, as noted on other similar occasions eg Knowledge Cafe at Arup, worked very well.


The Rosie Project

September 2, 2014

I’m a member of a local book club and due to this I come across books I probably wouldn’t read or even hear about otherwise. One such that I liked a lot was The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. It’s written in a simple style but contains lots of humour and insights especially on the sometimes perplexing and conflicting roles of logic and emotions.

The author was formerly an IT specialist (data modeling) and founder of a business and IT consultancy, so quite a career change, although he seems a bit of a natural polymath anyway.

From a review in The Guardian:

As first sentences go, “I may have found a solution to the Wife Problem” has possibilities as an instant classic. But is this a dark murder story or a self-help relationship tome? Well, neither: it’s an endearing romantic comedy, and the narrator, professor of genetics Don Tillman (39, tall, intelligent and employed: “Logically I should be attractive to a wide range of women”), is an undiagnosed Asperger’s type who Simsion uses to explore how a grown autistic man might approach a romantic relationship…

Warm-hearted and perfectly pitched, with profound themes that are worn lightly, this very enjoyable read promises to put Don Tillman on the comic literary map somewhere between Mr Pooter and Adrian Mole. Through his battles to understand and empathise with other humans, Don teaches us to see the funny side of our own often incomprehensible behaviour – and to embrace the differently abled.

By coincidence, it’s also one of Bill Gates’ recommended summer reads:

Melinda picked up this novel earlier this year, and she loved it so much that she kept stopping to read passages to me. I started it myself at 11 p.m. one Saturday and stayed up with it until 3 the next morning. Anyone who occasionally gets overly logical will identify with the hero, a genetics professor with Asperger’s Syndrome who goes looking for a wife. (Melinda thought I would appreciate the parts where he’s a little too obsessed with optimizing his schedule. She was right.) It’s a funny and profound book about being comfortable with who you are and what you’re good at. I’m sending copies to several friends and hope to re-read it later this year. It is one of the most enjoyable novels I’ve read in a long time.

For completeness, there’s some additional counterviews here, which emphasise that the real world situation is a lot more complicated.

Anyway, well worth a read.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.