Sunday, November 12, 2006

Say What You Mean: Demystify Engagement for the Sake of Innovation

For Those New To This Excercise . . .

. . . jargon drives me to rail. I began this weekly blog to explore ways of breaking down silos in terms of learning and training, creativity and innovation, and any other aspect related to the results of curiosity and insight.

There are exceptions when trying to give credibility to what are called the softer skills that no one can really measure but everyone knows are important anyway.


Most of the time, the more economically successful of these silos (eg programs for professionals) claim their exclusivity and advantage through mystifying concepts that fourth grade teachers take for granted. Some of these include reconnecting the intellectual body to the emotional body, emphasizing broad learning rather than narrow training, and putting teachers and trainers of all levels together to garner insight and maximize personal resources

It all might sound a little un-credible to businesses. However, by getting everyone together, we'll be more efficient by sharing what businesses call "learnings," eliminates redundancies, and create efficiencies. How more business-like can an argument be?

The Setting

I attended a Round Table focused on Social Network Analysis (SNA) run by Rob Cross and the McIntyre School at the University of Virginia.

The attendees members of the Round Table were, for the most part, large organizations in financial services, professional services, manufacturing, consumer products, and so on. There was also a scattering of independent consultants and non-profits that genuinely added great perspective to the discussion.

The Hidden Power of Networks: An Excellent Book

I very much appreciated Rob's book -- one of the few business books that IS a book rather than an article stretched by publishers to fit between hard covers and look like other of its kind on bookstore shelves. It's a generous book -- full of detailed, accessible discussions of a process, its purpose, and uses.

In other words, it entirely a process that produces the most mystifying of maps and diagrams and for which people charge a lot of money. How generous is that?

Some Lovely Surprises

Organizations presented their results of using Rob's software and Network Analysis, and they seemed quite honest about what worked and what didn't. No marketing case studies, these. There was a genuine desire both to learn and share knowledge here, sometimes with competitors.

Also, very near the conference's end, Steve Denning gave a wonderful presentation on Storytelling. The slides were surprising and had everyone laughing, and Steve's straightforward personal engagement with the audience was unique for the weekend. By gum, he even stood directly in front of the audience, miles away from the screen, and acted as though the podium didn't exist.

The Only Caveat (And a Big One)

Despite the possible benefits of SNA for acknowledging individuals as such, it's clear that business are still reluctant to admit that their employees feel as much as they think. Social Network Analysis (SNA) becomes Organizational (ONA) to sell into business. Presenters described their processes in terms almost exclusively in terms of behaviors driven by the impulse to succeed and Conflict should always be resolved">agree, whether it derives from the employee or as an edict from management.

Rob talks about "energizers" and those who drain energy from a team or individual and the symptoms that can ferret these out. Yet he didn't say anything about the passion and engagement that causes the transference this kind of energy from person to another.

Likewise, Steve Denning, as directly as he connected to the audience, described the structural aspects of an effective story. Yet he neglected to point out that in order for a story to be effective, the teller needs to feel it's important.

When I approached Steve to ask why he didn't point out perhaps this most important issue in effective transfer of information, he told me he was saying it implicitly through his talk.

This seems to miss the point of this exercise. As any teacher who educates her peers will tell you, modeling has little effect without explicit discussion of what she is teaching.

I've been told that it's unrealistic to try to change the system because it's the way things are. However, with that attitude, SNA would never have been adopted by anyone. Who discussed social networks two years ago?

The Danger: SNA Going from Lasting Learning to the Usual Business Training

If business leaders continue to define credibility as lacking in emotional content -- if networks can't be identified as "social" (eg belonging to the participants) but instead as "organizational" (eg belonging to the business) -- you'll never get the kind of creativity and collaboration in business that you do outside it (say, on the Web).

As for Learning . . .

If credibility for business processes exist in describing behavior rather than in articulating and generating the impulse that best creates it, despite the beginnings of communities of individuals within organizations, we're eliminating the internal combustion (eg emotional responses) that cause both the positive and negative behaviors in companies.

By dissociating the emotional system from professional behavior, you effectively minimize innovation. Even heated conflict can be tremendously productive if the goal is something new.

After all, what is inspiration but the meeting point between intellectual and emotional insight?

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