Friday, September 30, 2005

Conversations As Best Practices

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed. --C.G. Jung

If you're chasing after Thought Leadership, you're probably missing a key strategic insight.

Rather than talking AT your customers, entertain for a moment Doc Searls' and David Weinberger's Cluetrain argument that Markets Are Conversations.

Conversation as a communications strategy has clear implications for your bottom line. Engaging customers is the key to winning them, and what better way than interacting?

Conversation as Ongoing R&D Methodology

What better way to shap your insights, services, products and approach than a meaningful relationship with markets?

Consider enlarging the conversation beyond focus groups which are somewhat over determined by your own expectations and the moderator's skill. The results also constrained by the artificial context -- you're asking people to remember their experiences rather than describe them as they happen.

Emerging media work well as alternatives to keep the dialogue accessible, and so does research that's conducted in home environments. The question is how engaging can you be, and how well can you listen?

Conversation as a Model for Learning Across Contexts

Conversation works as a flexible tool because learning is associative. We understand what we know in relation to what is unfamiliar and learn by using what we know as a standard against which to consider other options. It works, however, only for those who are effective listeners.

It's something any good teacher could have told the business community if only someone had asked.

Conversation works as an effective model for research both academic and of the business variety. It's increasingly recognized as a useful tool to sustain and develop internal business culture and explains the rising trend in business coaching and the effectiveness.

The trick is that you have to be willing to play. Effective conversation requires giving up control, entertaining unfamiliar possibilities, and allowing yourself to be wrong. As in any kind of learning, in order to find new insights, you might have to get lost for a while.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

In Search of (Thought) Leadership

Dean Landsman and I have been talking lately about the recent rise in volume from business leaders about the value of thought leadership.

Here's the logic of this model:
With electronic media, everyone has more opportunity than ever to get your clients' and prospects' attention. You'd better have something impressive to say that they haven't heard before.

Thought Leadership -- What Is It?

The terms Thought Leadership implies a collection of valuable and original insights into business matters that have stumped less visionary thinkers. More important, it suggests that the people who developed these insights are worth following -- aka hiring -- to help top businesses think through their toughest problems.

Thought leadership is really part of a long-term brand-building strategy that offers client's proof of concept. Format depends on market -- surveys, white paper, essays, even blog entries can count, as long as in addition to data they contain the key insights and analysis everyone is looking for.

Of course, before you start disseminating insights, it's essential to have a clearly articulated value proposition or you're probably wasting your time.

Effective examples demonstrate the superior value of your business capabilities over that of your competitors. In fact, the most effective thought leadership eclipses the existence of competitors with its blinding insights. Clearly, it's much more effective than insisting you're great in marketing language that no one really believes anyway.

How Much Do You Need?

Electronic media have created expectations of continuous updates in a manner unheard of in the days when the time and cost of printing made it prohibitive. This can present a challenge because although electronic delivery methods makes access to information immediate, it doesn't actually speed up the rate at which we can come up with new ideas.

Depending on your business and the expectations and needs of your clients, a weekly, monthly, or quarterly schedule might be fine for the Big Thought pieces with more frequent smaller insights sprinkled in. Regardless of frequency, however, it's essential that you keep producing if you expect to compete.

What Does This Mean To A Bottom Line?

If you're in a business of strategy, there's no question that you need to invest heavily in your brand. Thought Leadership should be one of the most important parts of this strategy, so expect it to require capital. No way around it: no immediate ROI. But long-term brand development is more important.

How Should Thought Leadership Be Distributed?

Your website should have some good examples of recent insight pieces in any area for which you're pitching business. On the on the other hand, take down all those white papers and surveys from two years ago -- the world has changed, and old news says more about you than no news at all.

If You Build It, They Still Might Not Come

If you're not already top of mind as a thought leader, research shows that people might not come to your website even if you provide brilliance every day.

So show up with your genius in unexpected places.

Write a book, use push technology, create a high-profile relationship with someone who your market already respects. Go where your market is, and if your insights are fresh, frequent, and persuasive, they will follow you anywhere. And so will your ROI.

That's how you'll know you're a thought leader.

But this is only part of the story. It assumes that those who don't speak have nothing to say of value.

What might you be missing?.

Monday, September 26, 2005

How Do You Know You've Got a Business Case?

What's the difference between a business case and a rationalization?


Winning business depends entirely on the ability to constitute credibility in a given situation. If those you're pitching accept your argument, you win. If they don't, you have to go back to the drawing board.

Rhetorical fluency is one of the best examples of a direct application of a liberal arts education to successful business practice.

I particularly like Stanford's website for a variety of definitions as well as blogs on the topic.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

It's a Drag to Be a Dragon

I've found that some children feel relieved to learn that dragons, like them, can be misunderstood and have their feelings hurt.

There's something about the cross-species nature of the problem that helps. After all, an outside perspective on a familiar obstacle often allows new insights.

I continue from the previous post . This children's book never made it to the shelves. There's another you can try if you like this one, too. Feel free to share either one, as long as it's read outloud and doesn't cost any money.

It's a Drag to be Dragon

It's a drag to be a dragon,
When people run and hide.
A dragon can't go shopping,
Unless the aisles are wide.

A dragon on a city bus,
Can never get a seat,
He burns big holes in peoples' clothes,
And steps on peoples' feet.

A dragon's tail gets in the way,
On sliding boards and swings.
The jungle gym is not for him.
He can't play on these things.

A dragon in the classroom,
Rarely fits in well.
The desk is small for one so tall
He'd rather eat the bell.

And dragons in the movies,
Are scary on the screen.
Except when one sits down in front.
It makes the people mean.

Can dragons play badminton?
Can dragons swing a bat?
You know they can't play hide and seek.
They're way too big for that.

A dragon at a swimming pool,
Can find it hard to swim.
His bathing suit is such a hoot,
That people laugh at him.

So what's the deal with dragons?
So what they're big and green?
All right, okay, they're in the way,
But are they really mean?

A dragon can prove handy,
At a cookout or a roast.
Their savoir fare is beyond compare,
But they don't like to boast.

Or did you know that dragons,
Can dance like Fred Astaire?
They lumber when they rumba,
But their tango has a flair.

A dragon at a party,
Can tell two thousand jokes.
They often juggle porcupines,
To entertain the folks.

Trick-or-treat with dragons,
Will knock you off your feet.
Door-to-door you'll get much more,
Than you could ever eat.

And what if Dad goes on a trip,
And forgets to take his lunch?
A dragon there up in the air,
Would really help a bunch.

Dragons live forever,
Which makes them very wise.
They also play the tuba,
With very bulgy eyes.

A dragon in the country,
Is such a useful thing.
He makes the perfect diving board,
When he is not a swing.

You can live without a dragon,
A lot of people do,
But they're such fun to have around,
And awfully cozy, too.

Copyright 2002 Annette Kramer
Picture copyright 2006 Ron Barret

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A Word About the Children's Book Industry

As a big fan of children's books from childhood, I was saddened to discover that many publishers seem not to have met any actual children.

It's a strange phenomenon that I've heard about from friends who were forced into writing for grown-ups. After all, this audience has the distinct advantage of having books selected for them by people their own age.

The rumors of a generation gap seemed disturbingly supported by my short stint as a picture-book writer. A few years ago, I drafted a few manuscripts for my own pleasure and for that of some children I know who liked increasing numbers of stories before bed. Their parents couldn't keep up with the demand, so I thought I'd pitch in.

Clearly, this is a field for professionals only.

"Rhyming books don't sell," said one editor. I wondered if I'd missed the backlash against Dr. Seuss by the kindergarten set when I didn't read the morning paper.

"Children don't like dragons," said another editor. This, too, was a fact of which both I, and many young friends of mine were quite unaware.

I was less distressed that my stories wouldn't be widely available than I was concerned about the people making decisions about what kids have a chance to read.

My favorite picture books -- those by Ron Barrett -- have long been out of print excepting the two about the land of Chew and Swallow. Ron's books are playful and full of puns, visually and verbally, and are a huge hit with both parents and kids for whom I can secure used copies through the internet. I was starting to understand why they had disappeared.

Not all publishers were polite enough to give a reason for rejecting the books, and indeed, I even had one taker. An executive at Scholastic, not in the editorial department, I might add, enthusiastically passed one on to someone who is.

The Scholastic editor informed me, however, that there is nothing really new in it.

See if you agree by reading the story -- and if you don't, please feel free to read it to any kids you happen to know, regardless of age.

For a very different take on the same sort of problems with children's book niche marketing, please see my colleague Richard Gilder's via facilis.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Some Big Questions

Big Questions are always useful to help explore expectations that get people stuck as learners and teachers, both in schools and at work. Here are some to consider.

What’s the difference between:

A student and a child?
Do we treat young people differently when we consider them in one light or the other?

A student and a worker?
Why don’t we think of ourselves as full-time students, even when we’re done with school? When do we drop learning as a priority? What would happen if we didn't?

Training and learning?
Is there a difference in technique and expectation, or are they the same? Are the results similar or different?

What constitutes successful learning across contexts?
What do guardians of school and work have in common when they look for successful people in their groups? Are these qualities essentially habits of mind or in-born talent?

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Learning is Disorganizing

One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.
--Andre Gide

If you want to come up with something new, resign yourself to periods of feeling very uncomfortable. The Eureka! moments almost always require you to feel lost for a while.

Having few guideposts– often not even knowing if the process will get a desired result– can be scary, although my research indicates children often find learning less frightening than adults. In either case, to get the joy or satisfaction from new perspectives, you often have to sustain yourself through the fear (and who said learning isnÂ’t an emotional experience?). There are a variety of ways of doing this:

1. Don’t expect creativity to yield specific results. Edward de Bono talks about this quite a bit and is worth looking into.

2. Whether you need results or not, being aware of the fear is the first step. Getting comfortable with it is the next. Expect anxiety that comes with not knowing where you are or the relationship between where you are and where you were when you started. If you’re not the sort to fear getting lost, then enjoy it.

3. You can look at this part of learning as a kind of meditation. Make observing the discomfort a regular part of your learning process.

4. If you are a teacher, help others under your guardianship be willing to accept discomfort in their process.

If you are not a teacher but know children, help them to articulate and understand the nature of their experience, both from their perspective and from that of an adult. However, don’t judge and help them to do the same.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Does the World Need Another Blog About Learning?: An Example

Why break down silos?

Those with status as experts run the risk of complacency in their field -- forgetting that innovation depends on continuous learning on their part as well as on the part of people who learn from them.

For me, this is particularly vexing in the field of education. It seems reasonable that the guardians of children's development should hold themselves accountable for continually asking questions, wondering, being curious, seeing things new. Smugness is a death knell to critical thinking and creativity -- and a very bad habit to introduce to a classroom.

I recently sent a letter to a well-known writer who also heads a foundation on innovation to ask how I could contribute my experience to their mission of improving thinking skills. I suggested we could have useful conversations due both to the overlaps and differences in our work.

The expert replied:

"We do not have a program for incorporating facilitators into [the work of our foundation], primarily because it takes many years of thinking about and applying the theory of critical thinking in many different domains to appreciate the power of it and to become adept at teaching it. And, though many people show initial interest, few manage to make critical thinking a lifetime commitment."

In place of a conversation, I was offered the opportunity to pay for workshops or conferences in which, I can only imagine, the foundation would assert it's position as authority and relegate its experienced participants as sadly incapable of focus.

I wonder whether or not the expert includes the army of underpaid, hard-working teachers from primary middle, secondary, and post-secondary schools, dedicated parents, or diligent managers in businesses in the group who "fail to make critical thinking a lifelong committment."

I also wonder whether these professionals would have something to say about such a statement -- if only they had heard it.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Does the World Need Another Blog About Learning?

Only if it can effect conversation about the obstacles to learning, and through conversation, change.

Most people see the problems in systems they use everyday, usually where they cause discomfort. Where's the opportunity here?

Dwelling on a problem is too often marked as seeing a glass as half empty. However, in looking very carefully, rather than looking away, there is new opportunity for awareness through careful observation. In fact, only when you really understand an empty space can you discover what you really want to put in it and effective ways to keep it full.

So if everyone dwells on problems, why do so few find ways to solve them effectively? Why do so many people instead feel stuck?

ItÂ’s obviously not a new idea that no idea is entirely new, and no concept can beexclusivelyy confined to one group. This, however, doesn't stop people from trying to keep others out, or at best, it doesn't prevent negligence of sharing information with those who need it most.

Lots of very smart people have spent a lot of time developing ways to understand what we see and think, but the walls between their fields often obscure the connections, synergies and overlap.

Let’s start conversation to explore the possibility of dissolving silos that have been created around leaning in the form of professional fields – corporate training, academic study, childhood education, psychology, and any others that come up. Only by investigating the range of existing discourses about learning can we take advantage of the full breadth of our resources for innovation when we’re stuck.