Tag: decision making

What Comes Next?

What comes next?

We are currently in the throes of what can only be described as a catastrophe, both on a human level and also from a business point of view. It is the latter I am concerned with now, as it seems to be the thing that is most puzzling for us all. What comes next?

First of all, many people seem to think that we are having some sort of blip and then things will go back to being as they were. Well, this is definitely wrong. We have a virus that is killing people and for which there is no known cure.

Whether lockdown continues or social distancing stays with us for another year, things will not go back to being as they were towards the end of 2019.

Then we come to that awful phrase ‘new normal’. What is it exactly? The term implies that the old normal was not quite right and that a newer version will be more useful somehow. It also infers that a new state will be constant as though there has just been a change, a slight shift in our day to day lives.

The reality is that the post COVID-19 era will be characterised by change, constantly shifting environments, and also the need for rapid decision making.

So, you are thinking, how on earth do I create plans for my business? Ditch the plans (well the boring linear sort anyway) and create yourself a storyboard. Your endpoint is probably just past the end of the current wave of coronavirus and the intermediate points are wherever you want them to be (significant milestones).

So, at this endpoint, you need to ask yourself a lot of questions about how things will work because we will not know what things look like. Forget the products and services that you currently sell and think about your customers.

Will customers still want the things that you have traditionally provided, will they want something else, will they want more (or less), will they prefer it if you bundle more things together to save them going to many suppliers (a bit like going to local shops or getting supermarket deliveries during lockdown)?

Next, take a look to see if the competitive landscape is changing. Will any of your competitors be weakened or perhaps not be there at all? Will this leave gaps in the marketplace for you to fill?

And finally, you are always going to be able to make money is you have a solution to someone’s problem(s). So, try to think about potential customers who are just popping out of the other side of the pandemic. What extra things might they need, what things might they not be able to do, or what might they be afraid of?

At this point you might be thinking that there are a lot of questions to answer. Things do get harder though. Remember I suggested that our new world will be characterised by change and the need to make decisions quickly. Imagine that your business has to adapt in the same way a chameleon adapts to its surroundings.

You cannot wait to be told what to do, your business must be constantly scanning the environment around it and make decisions accordingly.

In the future, you will need to be nimble. Where you work will be immaterial, especially as technological advances will make remote working seem like we are all together. Factories will still exist but may be staffed by relatively few people.

Organisational structures will change and become flatter and more fluid with greater value placed on knowledge than job title.

For more ideas on structure and infrastructure please also read Soft Infrastructure Post Coronavirus to get a better idea of what comes next.

The Cynefin Framework

cynefin frmeworkWhat is it?

The Cynefin Framework is a useful model for describing complex systems and is particularly helpful when grappling with the complexity and ambiguity that often surrounds innovation. To do it justice requires many thousands of words but I have tried to provide a flavour so that readers can investigate further for themselves.

First of all it is a sense-making not a categorisation model i.e. our data already exists and our model is applied to make sense of the patterns that occur within it.

The model describes 3 types of systems – ordered (subdivided into simple and complicated), complex and chaotic.

What use is the framework?

For simple systems the relationship between cause and effect exists and is predictable. The decision making model is thus Sense, Categorize, Respond and we tend to apply best practice.

In complicated systems the relationship between cause and effect exists but is not self evident. Our decision making model is thus Sense, Analyze, Respond and we apply Good Practice. This is because we might need to employ expert advice and there may be several possibilities open to us not a single correct course of action. The big danger is to blindly employ Best Practice here.

In complex systems the relationship between cause and effect is only obvious with hindsight. The way forward is to conduct a series of experiments, to probe our system. Depending on their success or failure we will probe further and we will then develop emergent practice. We are effectively learning!

Chaotic systems are usually where we wish to be when we are innovating. There is no relationship between cause and effect. We are normally in control of these systems but such a system can be entered accidentally and we need to know how to tackle such an issue. Because we must act quickly in this unstable state our decision making model is Act, Sense, Respond.

How do we use the framework?

So how do we use this? Well depending on which type of system we are in we should think and make decisions in different ways. One size does not fit all and it should be obvious that such an approach is disastrous. Often we start off in the central ‘disorder’ region i.e. not actually knowing which state we are in. This often means we do not conduct any form of analysis and will act according to personal experience and preference.

The framework also suggests that we can move around between states.  This is true as boundaries are mostly smooth transitions except for the Simple/Chaos boundary. People working in simple (often bureaucratic) systems can become complacent and when their world becomes chaotic they suffer a rough ride as they change states. This transition has been likened to falling off a cliff!

Further reading is suggested for those serious about complexity and change, however it is a very useful tool for working out how you should be behaving as an organisation, and when it is safe to adopt best practice.

Business Creativity and Innovation – why aren’t more companies taking it seriously?

Business Creativity and Innovation – why aren’t more companies taking it seriously? Let’s face it, most of the economies around the world have been in deep trouble for a couple of years and the problems do not look like they are going to end soon. We have politicians talking about radical reforms, new beginnings and innovative policies and then at the bottom of the chain there is us, the businesses both large and small that the politicians are betting on to help dig us out of the mess.

A lot of companies are making the right noises and I have contact with many who state that they wish to run ‘innovation workshops’, kick off an ‘innovation programme’ or make their business more creative. They all seem to appreciate that taking some action will improve many HR issues such as intrinsic motivation, communications, and decision making to name a few. These businesses all claim to be looking to the future, to determine what the products and services of the future will look like and meet that challenge.

So senior managers, and above, are tackling strategic issues and seeking for the most effective tools to get the job done. Why is it then that when presented by a number of solid proposals that they do not go ahead? Mysteriously something comes up at the last minute, people cannot make the workshop, the cost is too high or best of all something more important has come up! What can be more important than the future of your company?

The worst offenders seem to be large multinational companies with a degree of financial inertia (maybe some cash in the bank and the ability to sit it out and see the competition wither) who elect to ride out the storm rather than steering around it. These companies need to be showing us the way and leading global recovery or else we are just going to be left with a handful of dinosaurs in sectors such as oil and gas, power generation and airlines.

So, my plea is, if the future really matters to your business then take Business Creativity and Innovation seriously and give it the time and funds that it deserves or you may not have a future.

Creative Leadership For Tough Times

Surely we just need good strong Leadership in tough times not ‘airy fairy’ Creative Leadership? If you share this view then I think we have our wires crossed already. Let me explain.

In the current economic climate we do need strong (or should I say bold) Leaders but traditional Leaders (and I include those who are up to date with such concepts as transformational and situational leadership here) often have a Leadership toolbox that is comprehensive but perhaps identical to those carried around by other Leaders. So if we all have the same tools and we all operate in the same marketplace then we still have a stalemate.

And now for the Creativity bit. I am not suggesting that our bold Leaders walk around with an armful of creative techniques and nothing else, just that they should supplement their Leadership toolbox with a selection of techniques that provide alternative ways of analysing and solving problems, decision making, planning and communicating. Leaders then have a larger repertoire of business tools at their disposal from which they can select the most appropriate and most effective.

But why are Creative techniques particularly good for the tough economic climate that we are now faced with? In short they can:

  • Provide competitive advantage as their usage often relies on tacit knowledge
  • Are more likely to unearth solutions that no one else has thought of or tried
  • Allow Leaders more time to focus on real business issues – these techniques can save time
  • Permit greater buy in from colleagues and employees and thus less resistance to change
  • Build intrinsic motivation amongst the workforce

Even in highly regulated industries such as Financial Services, Leaders can enhance their capability in this way. Remember it is only the outputs of your processes that may be regulated. Internally there are usually alternative ways of doing things!

Making Good Use Of Institutional Failings

Normally we tend to diagnose institutional failings and then combat them with remedial programmes that often dismantle and then rebuild certain aspects of the organisation. Note that these characteristics are independent of the individuals that work within the organisation.

A well publicised example of such a failing was the accusation of institutionalised racism that was leveled at the Metropolitan Police here in the UK. No one individual was accused of being racist but the structure, processes, distribution of power, expressions of vision and beliefs was deemed to be supportive of racism.

So what might some of the characteristics of an institutional failing be and how can they be used to help us? I have alluded to one or two already but here is a short list:

    • Strong beliefs and a mechanism for communicating them
    • Well or clearly defined structures and processes
    • Power centred on a few individuals
    • An active ‘grapevine’ for informal communications
    • Well aligned communications, trust and advice networks
    • High degree of focus (not necessarily concern for) on people

This is not an exhaustive list but is representative of many undesirable institutional failings. Our natural tendency is to remove such characteristics through one or more change programmes and possibly staff development of some sort. For a large organisation the changes must be far reaching, difficult to plan (and control) and of course expensive. Had we been looking at undesirable furniture or waste paper then we would automatically think of recycling. Why not recycle these unwanted organisational characteristics and use them for a positive purpose?

One possible idea might be to create ‘institutionalised creativity’, a type of creativity that is inbuilt and pervades every part of the organisation in such a way that employees do not consciously think about it. Lets make use of a strong beliefs system (but change the beliefs), take advantage of clearly defined structures (but turn them into looser frameworks), use the company grapevine (as part of this process), be focused (but change this slightly) and make use of the centres of power (but make these sponsors of creative or innovative behaviour).

Such a programme may not be easy, but is it better than turning a whole organisation upside down?