Tell me a story and I’ll learn

In the future, this will be read outside of the context of the COVID-19 lockdown situation that it was written in. That’s useful as it gives insight. It may be strange because why the reason behind the writing will no longer be there. I believe this is a useful tension for us to hold in our minds as we approach many things. Starting from the point we rarely have the full perspective or context of a situation should make us curious. Taking caution before making decisions is a good skill to develop. Assuming that we can learn rather than we’re right is something I have tried to approach many situations with.

For me, I find myself with time off work but nothing specific to do. Over the last few weeks, I’ve tried to develop a habit of writing something each day. There is a list of topics that sit waiting for things to be said, thoughts to be developed, ideas to be expressed. But this is a different time so here’s a different set of posts.

Books have played a big part in my life. Growing up my parents have books in every room. We’ve encouraged our children to read and it’s great to see them discover their own interests. I was reluctant to switch to an e-reader for a long time, enjoying the experience of a real book in my hands (and partly a sense of how much of it was left to get through!) However, a need to travel very lightly on a holiday, changed that and much to my wife’s delight the bookcase isn’t being added to other than virtually. What’s less obvious (until now!) is the number of e-books that sneak in unseen!

There will be three posts looking at some of the books starting today with those that tell a story to convey an idea.

Storytelling is a great skill to develop and therefore reading other stories is one way we can start to do that.

Five books that stand out (there is a low bar to get added to my reading list as I believe you can learn from anything!) that use this approach are:

Who Moved My Cheese — a now “classic” text on being aware of changes and the need to think about the future not just keep taking more of what is on the table. Written before the “innovators dilemma” emerged as a concept it challenges the same thinking. If you’re making money from a current product then it seems a bad decision to self-disrupt. Yet, this is exactly what we’ve seen the likes of Apple be prepared to do. It’s also, arguably, why Kodak failed to develop the digital camera when they had everything available to do so.

Our Iceberg if Melting — another text on change management but with a different focus. The key idea that sticks with me having read this more recently is that as you build a team there is a need for people to take different roles. Simon Wardley and Leading Edge Forum have talked about having a pioneer, settlers and town planner mentality as different approaches within an organisation. You can’t just be looking for the thing that comes next but about what is happening today. People need to be taken on a journey and you need to lead the group to the new place. One of the key things we need to capture is the experience of today because it will be forgotten in the future.

The Phoenix Project — this is a book that was given to me by a previous team member and so perhaps sticks in my mind more than others. By creating a scenario of a failing company and seeing the changes that are made allows ideas to develop around working practice. The biggest challenge for many people is not realising how much of how we work is designed from a time when things were very different. The best example is how the power source in a factory used to come from a central point (stream driven) but this carried on influencing the design and therefore the productivity when the power became distributed (electric). Guy Laurence was the CEO at Vodafone when I joined and his talk (available here) on why he believes conventional working is dead is something that has stuck with me. Knowing why things are done is essential before we set about changing them. Often it is the less obvious things that are the biggest constraints.

The Five Dysfunctions of Team — again another book that I was introduced to by someone I worked with. Exploring what is needed to create a team that is built on trust through the scenario is again an opportunity to place your own experience and situation into the lessons that are explored.

Pig Wrestling — I just searched Amazon to check the title of this book and am amused to see that it comes up as the number 1 best seller in practical guides to cricket. Amusing as it is, there is also a reminder of the message of the book. Being able to solve problems is often about being able to see more than just the problem as it presents itself to you. Cricket is both a game but an animal. Algorithms will get there, but currently, this is a barrier to them. Context is often ignored but it is so often the thing that helps us to find a solution. Having read this book I then wrote a more detailed piece around using the approach for innovation (which ultimately is another type of problem) and published that here.

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An experienced senior digital business leader with experience of delivering transformative change.

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