Monday, March 25, 2013

Creating Social Innovators: Using language differently

When Alicia Curtis and I agreed to meet for a coffee I was open to possibilities and opportunities, however I was not sure why I was meeting her. I think this is often the first step in creating something new. Being open to a new person and being open to new conversations. Over coffee we were engaging in practices for specifying new possibilities – the possibility of how do we create new approaches to engage young people to consider contributing to the aged care sector?  How do we get young leaders to consider the aged care industry as an opportunity?

Innovation is a phenomenon that is grounded in conversational practices that generate new coordination of action, resulting in new value for consumers. As Alicia and I were talking we were ‘shifting the common sense’ around young people, we were shifting the background and possibilities and understandings of young people and the contribution they can make. These shifts in our language change the assumptions and accepted interpretations about young people and this lead us to new possibilities for actions and opening up new horizons for innovation.

My base for creating innovative practices is drawn from the work of ontology and the contributions of Robert Dunham and Alan Sieler.  They argue that innovation is listening to the concerns of customers, engaging in practices for specifying new possibilities, and having specific types of conversations that generate new action. They offer us some different forms of innovation:

  • improvisation to fulfil commitments - taking unplanned or non-standard action as part of navigating to produce customer satisfaction;
  • shifting standard practices and processes - doing what we already do better with new value;
  • new offers - making new offers (products, services, results) of new competitive value
  • new strategies or changing the game – building power in the game or building new interpretations of the purpose and kinds of action in the game;
  • shifting the common sense (= background of possibilities and understanding).

‘Engaging Young Leaders in Aged Care Project’ is about shifting the common sense – shifting what people say, see and interpret about young leaders that previously they could not see, say or interpret. When Alicia and I had the opportunity to showcase our project at the Social Innovation Conference last year, participants wanted to know how to broaden their understanding of social innovation and of how to turn a great idea into a project reality?
My suggestion is to produce new possibilities and action (innovation), we have to ‘move in language, that is, make an act in language that provokes a responding act in language’. You do this by asking yourself where do you want to innovate (see list above) and then ask:
  • What conversations (interpretations, practices, assertions, assessments, request, offers and promises) are producing the actions of me or my organisation? ” and
  •  What are the missing conversations (interpretations, practices, assertions, assessments, request, offers and promises) that if they were present, would produce more effective actions than we are producing now?”
For a conversation of innovation contact

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The power of conversations as a leverage for change

A coaching client of mine wanted to explore why he had been unsuccessful in a recent selection process he had been through for a position he was well qualified to do.

In exploring why he had been unsuccessful I invited him to use a process of ‘observing himself’ so he could look back on himself and notice how he had been prior and during the interview. This observing self is a process of second order learning. I deliberately asked him to explore what were his private conversations (the conversations you have with yourself in your head). What he noticed was how, prior to the interview he had shifted from saying “I am able to do this job, I have lots to offer”, to “my lack of background in this area is going to be a big barrier; I won’t be able to convince them”. He said as the time got closer to the interview he tended to focus on his limitations rather than his strengths. At the interview he described how the five panel members kept asking him things that he considered basic. He used the analogy of them taking him down a path which was in the opposite direction to where he wanted to go. He realised he did not lead the conversation or use a range of approaches within the conversation to articulated his strengths. Some of the key issues he talked about were how he had not claimed the space at the interview, how he had not sought to understand how the five panel members had interpreted what he said. In hindsight, he realised the opportunity for shared understanding through conversations did not occur. 

I then invited him to explore how his mood and emotions were prior and during the interview. He noted again that he shifted from being exited to being anxious – he mainly felt anxious. I then asked him what he noticed about his physiology – his body. Interestingly he said he didn’t notice his body at all. The way he participated in the interview conversations was shaped by his ‘way of being’. His ‘way of being’ is made up of his language, emotions and moods and physiology/body.

What emerged, is how he had a particular ‘way of being’ prior and during the interview, that meant he was not at his resourceful best. My interpretation was how he participated in the interview conversations (his conversational behaviour) was instrumental to his current suffering. So we explored how he intended to shift his ‘way of being’ so he could have different conversations with the five panel members that would enable him to achieve the results he sought.
The following offers an ontological interpretation from Sieler, who says ‘way of being’ shapes conversational behaviour, diagrammatically, this is shown as:

Extending the above diagram gives us the key ingredients of this model.

In this ‘chain of determinants’, ‘way of being’ shapes conversational behaviour, which impacts on outcomes. By extending this model further to allow the interplay that can happen between results, behaviour and ‘way of being’ we can see how the power of conversations are the leverage for change.

The word conversation is derived from Latin, which was ‘conversare’. Con means ‘with’ and ‘versare’ means ‘to turn’. So conversation means to turn with or turn together. When you observe your ‘way of being’ and make slight shifts to be able to converse with another person, you change the way you participate in conversations, you participate in shifting your existence. For a conversation on how to use conversations as levers for change contact

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Those ‘Scary Russians', a story created in language

When I first met my husband he could not speak much English, this was due to the fact that he was from Russia and had only been in Australia a short time. It wasn’t long before I introduced him to my friends who immediately related my husband to the KGB. After all isn’t that where most people in Russia work, and if they are here in Australia, they must be spies. That is proberly because many of us were ‘bought up’ on the propaganda that Russians are ‘scary’. Think about all those spy movies, in particular James Bond in ‘From Russia with Love’ or the 1963 Cold War spy novel by British author John le CarrĂ©The Spy Who Came in from the Cold’. Then there is Stalin, the Russian mafia (hard core criminals) and Vodka, and of course Soviet Russia used to be enemy with the USA during the long years of the cold war.

The other day my son sent me the following youtube link. I invite you to watch it and see how this story about ‘Scary Russians’ plays out

So what is going on here? Your listening is made up of both your hearing and your interpretations. Your interpretations are your opinions and judgements and what you think about ‘Scary Russians’ is initially created in your language.

Many of us may have never met a Russian, but we already have a ‘listening’ which can be described as a private conversation in our head that tells us they are ‘scary’. When we are listening, we listen through our filters. These filters can affect our listening, our filters may include our gender, class, time in history, family and cultural backgrounds, personality, our concerns etc. When you are listening to someone else there are three conversations going on – the one between you and the person, the one in your head and the one in their head. We may already have a ‘listening’   about somebody and when you listen you are listening through your whole ‘way of being’ which includes your language, emotions/mood and physiology/body.

So here is the learning: language creates what is real for us and it is first created in language. Think about those ‘weapons of mass destruction’… that were proved to not be there (!), the ‘be alert but not alarmed’ so now every dark beaded man is a terrorists, or when a manager says to you… ‘oh Sally is lazy’... because they are in a position of authority you think this statement is true (how damaging for Sally). Each of these statements is created in language based on someone’s assessment (opinion or judgment). The danger is that we hold these statements as the truth. 

Like those ‘Scary Russians’ you need to be responsible in how you use language. You need to ask yourself 

  • what interpretations am I making about them or the situation?
  • what is shaping my listening to them or the situation?
  • how could  I listen differently for a better result?

Through reflecting on your ‘way of being’, how you are using your language, emotions/mood and physiology/body you are then able to make small shifts that give you better results. Personally I have been married to a ‘scary Russian’ for many years. So I have a different listening that is shaped by my experiences… and I can relate to the youtube video! For a conversation on how language creates reality contact 

Monday, March 11, 2013

"Spending a weekend with young leaders – how lucky am I"

On the weekend I had the great privilege of participating in the Exceptional Young Leaders Retreat that Alicia Curtis ran at New Norcia for our Engaging Young Leaders in Aged Care Project.
The program was run over a weekend and gave me the opportunity to observe, interact and develop relationships with 18 Young Leaders. How lucky am I!

The following are my observations and experiences.
 Things I expected
  • young leaders are extremely warm, engaging and full of energy
  • Open to feedback, both giving and receiving
  • Young leaders are prepared to trust the various processes that we took them through and they engaged in all tasks and achieved the intended outcomes of every element of the program
  • They demonstrated a willingness to work with each other and their differences
  • Lots of listening, sharing and demonstrating their knowledge and own experiences
  • Keeping to time frames
  • Showed knowledge, skills and team work
  • Showed a level of maturity about their developmental needs
Things that took me by surprise
  • insightful around their own reflections during and after the various team and individual activities
  • their strong commitment to the various activities
  • level of strategy and planning
  • Challenged their own and others thinking
  • Demonstrated their values, virtues and strengths
  • What they identified as needing to undertake in order for others to develop a trust in them.
  • Their competitiveness
  • Their level of knowledge at the Quiz Night  
Things that I'll be taking back into my workplace
  • How good it is to work with a diverse group of people
  • Some new facilitation skills I learnt from Alicia Curtis
  • How you feel when you are the ‘different’ one...the importance of supporting people to feel they belong and have meaning and purpose
  • The importance of focusing on our values, virtues and strengths
  • Listening, listening and more listening
My pledge is to continue to advocate for these young people as I would be prepared to have them join a board that I was a Director on. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Board Conversations: A Core Business Process

Board members are conversational agents ...

My colleague Anne Courtney and I recently conducted a workshop for a Board titled ‘Conversations: A Core Business Process’. The purpose of the workshop was to help Board members understand the rationale behind the leadership development work being done in their organisation and to apply some of the ontological material around organisations and conversations in order to enhance the Board’s own capacity to fulfill its role. The outcomes were aimed at enabling Board members to have a greater understanding of:
  • the role and importance of conversations in organisations, particularly in the Board Room;
  • the key intentions of conversations;
  • the different types of conversations available to organisations;
  • how Board members are currently using conversations well and which conversations are missing or not effective; and to provide an experience of a conversation that allows for both deep listening and advocacy.
 We commenced the workshop by asking Board members to reflect on:
  • How much are conversations a part of your work on the Board (conversations as face-to-face, email, phone, meetings, written form).
  • How much of your work on the Board involves conversations – give a percentage?
  • Which part of a board members role didn’t involve conversation?
  • What does that tell us about the role of conversation in doing your work as a Board?
The overwhelming response to these questions was that about 90% of the work of a Board member involves having various types of conversations. Board members are ‘conversational agents’ and a key part of a Board member’s effectiveness is not just what they know, but how they carry out conversations.  Leaders are often not aware of the weaknesses in their conversational practices. What problems the leader is able to articulate – how they interact together; how they identify key conversational problems all affect how they work together in achieving business outcomes. Once you understand the internal conversations that characterise an organisation's strengths, weaknesses and what sorts of conversations are missing, you can make a big difference to board and organisational effectiveness.  

This workshop enabled Board members the opportunity to explore the types of conversations they have and what ones are missing. The following from Sieler are some conversational practices for effective leaders: 
1.     Conversation for Stories and Assessments: To get things off our chest and to share our views.
2.     Conversation for Clarity: To ensure we have a mutual understanding of an issue, as the basis for moving forward together.
3.     Conversation for Common Commitment: To ensure shared commitment to vision, future direction and goals
4.     Conversation for Possibility (speculative conversation):To generate ideas and to explore different futures through what might be possible
5.     Conversation for Opportunity : To narrow down a wide range of possibilities to identify specific possibilities that are desirable
6.     Conversation for (Coordination of) Action: To get things done and bring about new realities
7.     Conversation for Progress: To pause and monitor progress towards meeting commitments and attaining goals
8.     Conversation for Accomplishment: To acknowledge accomplishments, successes as a means to people recognising their own achievements and to provide a setting where their contributions are publicly valued by others.
9.   Conversation for Appreciation: To publicly declare recognition, value, appreciation and gratitude of others’ contributions
10.  Conversation for Accountability:  To take effective action to deal with a broken promise/commitment
11.  Conversation for Working Relationship:  To not avoid and to constructively confront a breakdown in the relationship

The invitation is for you is to explore what sort of conversational agent are you? What conversations might you use often and what conversations are you missing. For a conversation contact