Friday 13 September 2013

A Speech to Write

I have been invited to make a speech next week. That is a relatively rare occurrence, so naturally, I start with a (mental) literature search.

 A corner of my mental library

The first thing my mind settles on is Gussie Fink-Nottle's speech at the Market Snodsbury Grammar School Prize Giving.  This must rate as one of the greatest passages of comic writing in the language, but I scarcely want to emulate Gussie.

The late, great, P G Wodehouse

Then the name King came to mind.  Not Martin Luther King, I'm afraid, but Clive King.  Lou's speech in Stig of the Dump is another classic, but again not one I would want to copy.  

My highbrow literary tastes

After all, I will be addressing an audience of academics.

An audience of academics hanging on my every word (fantasy #3542)

With a vague feeling of gloom, I thought I might have to do all my own work; and then a friend pointed me at these two fantastic resources.

One is an academic sentence generator, that produces wonderful results such as: 
The linguistic construction of normative value(s) is, and yet is not, the discourse of pedagogical institutions.
This is clearly the stuff for the occasion, and I realised my problems were nearly solved. 

More useful still, however (though arguably slightly less entertaining), is the Postmodern Generator, which will write the whole thing for me, in this style:
1. Narratives of stasis
“Sexual identity is fundamentally a legal fiction,” says Sartre. Thus, Hubbard[1] holds that we have to choose between capitalist discourse and preconstructive situationism.
The characteristic theme of the works of Rushdie is the role of the observer as artist. Bataille suggests the use of postcultural nationalism to modify sexuality. However, the example of semanticist theory intrinsic to Rushdie’s Satanic Verses emerges again in The Moor’s Last Sigh, although in a more subcapitalist sense. (... and on it goes)
However, I am not sure I could deliver such a speech with the straight face it would undoubtedly need to carry it off.

I would muse further about this, and indeed the ethics of delivering a speech generated by a random phrase-maker.  But I can't - I have speech to write.

Enough procrastination: I must get to work!

Monday 9 September 2013

Conscious Competence model of learning

Four Box Models
The recent post about Advisor Roles reminded me how many four box models I use in my work. They are often helpful in teasing out different aspects of complexity, or different elements in our thinking or in a process. The urgency and importance grid is a classic and well-known example.
One I frequently refer to is the Conscious Competence model of learning. People often find it helpful to understand why, when they have 'learned' something, they still find it difficult to do.  This helps highlight the difference between 'learned' as in understood, and 'learned' as acquired competence in...
I will probably post on more four box models over the coming weeks.
Conscious Competence Model
This model of learning suggests that when we start learning something new, we have both low competence or skill, and low understanding, or consciousness, of what we need to learn (A).
The first phase of learning, from A - B is about acquiring the knowledge or understanding necessary to raise our conscious awareness or understanding.

That results in our knowing what we are striving for, but not yet being skilled in executing it (eg knowing the theory of how to do a hill start in a car, but still stalling more often than not).
The journey from B - C can be a frustrating one.  We know what we are trying to do but can’t yet do it.  The temptation can be to give up at this point.  But in fact, what we need is to practice, until we are competent.
At C we are operating at a point of high consciousness  and reasonable competence (eg during a driving test, when we are continually muttering 'mirror, signal, manouevre...' to ourself).
Over time, our awareness may reduce, leading to unconscious competence (D).  We maintain the competence (we jump in the car and drive safely to work, without explicitly thinking about our driving at all).
However, as we are paying less attention to the process, we may find our competence slips a bit (eg forgetting to put on the handbrake, when stopping at red lights: E)  

If we want to improve our competence further, (to take the Advanced Motorists' test, for example) we will need to go on the same journey: increasing awareness (E - F) practicing skills with heightened awareness, to improve our competence (F- G) and then allowing it to slip into unconscious competence at a higher level of skill (H).

This model informs both my own design and execution of learning interventions, and how I help other to understand the learning journey.  
For example, I may use this model to introduce learning that builds on things people already know. I explain that I am not assuming they have no knowledge or skills, but rather seeking to help them bring the knowledge and skills they do have back into conscious awareness, so that they can be polished, improved a bit, and slipped back into unconsciousness at a higher level of competence.  I find this can deflect people from a path of resentment or feeling patronised when it is necessary to cover things they may, or indeed should, already know, but don't put into practice.  

It is also one reason why getting groups to discuss an issue is helpful: it helps bring the tacit (or unconscious) knowledge back into awareness: conscious competence.

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Advisor (Consultant) Roles

At yesterday's Awayday with the Clinical Trials Unit, I had an interesting conversation with the Director and Deputy Director, about the different roles an organisation like theirs can find itself operating in. It reminded me of the fascinating analysis by Peter Block in his outstanding book 'Flawless Consulting.' 

Here's my notes and reflections on the relevant part of his thinking.

Advisor Roles

“Clients” (who may be individual managers, or whole departments or organisations) tend to prefer us to work either in an expert capacity  or a ‘pair of hands’ role.

Equally we may feel more comfortable in one of these roles, particularly if dealing with senior or powerful Clients.  They are clear and either flattering (on the one hand) or easy (on the other).

While either of these roles may be appropriate on occasion, there are risks to both of them; not the least of which is setting a precedent (and associated habits of thought and behaviour) that will make it harder for us to re-negotiate a collaborative relationship when that is what is truly required.

The Expert Role

You go away and come back with the answer - you’re the expert.

The problem here is that although an ‘expert,’ we may lack some of the Client’s understanding of his or her particular issues or organisation; also it is very much easier for our proposals to be rejected if they are formulated in isolation and then presented back to the Client.  If the Client feels that as experts we are challenging the Client’s understanding, wisdom or experience, we may well provoke a defensive response - and an equal and opposite reaction.

The Pair of Hands Role

Here’s what you need to do - go off and do it.

As a ‘pair of hands’ we may find our expertise undervalued, and find that we are in a position where any suggestions we have to make are ignored, and that a lot of our time is wasted on trivia.  We may be expected to assume that 'the Customer is always right'; but that is a very simplistic stance that implies we have nothing to add to their understanding.  Likewise, we may find it difficult to negotiate for what we need for the successful delivery of a solution, setting ourselves up for failure.

Sometimes, if we are pushed towards a ‘pair of hands’ role and feel under-valued, our instinctive response is to emphasise our expertise - and move to expert role.

However, in both cases, seeking to move more towards a collaborative approach will give us more leverage in the Client’s system.

The Collaborative Role

The assumption here is that both you and your Client have something of value to bring to the situation, in terms of generating appropriate ways of working and developing solutions to whatever issue you are addressing. You have particular skills, knowledge, experience or expertise, which is why you are involved. The Client knows his or her needs, people, system, problems, history, and so on.

So a collaborative relationship is one that enables you to draw on both your understanding and insights, and your client’s, in order to develop the best ways forward - and to build the client's understanding and commitment to those solutions from the start of the process.  However, it is harder work for both you and the client, and takes more time...

Moving Towards a Collaborative Role

As with all movement, the direction depends on where you are starting from...

If you are starting the relationship from scratch, use your initial meeting to negotiate a contract on how to work together: take the opportunity to model a 50:50 collaborative relationship.  Make requests/demands as well as offers of help.  Treat the client as an equal, worthy of respect; and demonstrate that you expect to be treated in the same fashion.

Then use every opportunity thereafter to model a 50:50 approach: invite the client’s ideas and contribute your own, too.

If you are already in a relationship where the client sees you as an expert, seek realistic and relevant opportunities to involve the client.  Seek his or her views or advice on key decisions or options as you work through the project.  That will increase the client’s involvement, and also prepare him or her for the final presentation of your thinking, so that there are no surprises and much less likelihood of rejection.

If you are already in a relationship where the client sees you as a ‘pair of hands’ you may wish to engage with a role re-negotiation about how you can add more value if you are able to get involved with the decision making more directly.  Or you may choose simply to ask to be involved in specific meetings where you know key issues are to be discussed.  Another strategy is simply to start making suggestions in a proactive way, starting with issues which are important to the client and where you have suggestions that are likely to work.

In all cases, the issue is to identify where the client is (implicitly) placing you on the grid, and work out how and how far you will be able to move to a more collaborative working relationship.