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SENSEMAKING

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Build this powerful, influential skill to help make sense of change, communicate clearly and engage people in the most challenging situations

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    Entries in future of work (6)

    Wednesday
    Feb082017

    The 'triple threat' work skills for the future

    Trying to make sense of the ongoing changes in the world seems like a tough ask sometimes; as soon as you’ve got your head around one shift or change ... ‘thud’, along comes another, and then another. This is the world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity (VUCA) after all. 

    So what are we to do? 

    And the emphasis is on ‘do’. We can’t just sit and wait things out. Mind you, pointless ‘doing’ isn’t too helpful either. 

    With the big world, your work world and your own world undergoing constant shifts, tweaks, adjustments and aftershocks, there are some critical work skills that will do you well - both now and the future. There's machine learning, artificial intelligence and more VUCA so you’ll need something that’s sharp and has staying power in your backpack or the often-quoted “toolkit” to ride this out ...and keep on riding. 

    The Institute for the Future and the World Economic Forum release details on what they think you’ll need for the future. Add to that what I’m thinking and seeing when I’m working with business, and yes, there’s a dose of Sensemaking capability needed.

     

    What’s the triple threat?

    The ‘triple threat’ isn’t about the world’s demise - though with some changes recently, it could well head that way sooner than we were planning! 

    Triple threat: it's the three powerful skills I think will make you a sure thing for better thinking, more useful solutions and a stronger bias for action… no matter what happens with the evolution of work. 

     

    Why a triple? 

    An actor who’s known as a triple threat is a threat because they can do more than just act. They can sing and dance and act. They’re more of a threat to succeed and get a wider range of gigs than the single domain expert who’s a great singer but… or acts well but can’t do much more. Nothing wrong with focusing on acting -- or any domain -- but having a couple of other domains of expertise in your kitbag will simply take your further, for longer. 

    Football players (catch, pass and kick) or cricketers (bat, bowl and field) or netballers (shoot, pass and defend) who are triple threats are indomitable. They’re everywhere. They’re higher profile. They deliver greater value. They’re truly indispensable. And they’re probably feeling super-fulfilled too. Imagine using all that talent in so many areas and doing all much good, bringing that much value. 

     

    Distributed -- not diluted

    While deep expertise is ace, some transferability or ‘neo-generalism’ as Kenneth Mikkelsen and Richard Martin in 'The Neo-Generalist - Where you go is who you are’ explain... is the thing. It’s my favourite book of the moment. It speaks of the ability to be a specialist and a generalist. To ‘traverse multiple domains’ and ‘live between categories and labels’; now that’s a winner in my eyes.  

    With triple threat work skills under your belt for the future, you’re more able to cross disciplines and blend opportunities that might have passed the single domain expert by. You're able to combine, mix and cross-pollinate what you learn from one area/gig/field/job/contract/experience... and apply it in another.

    Steven Johnson in ‘Where good ideas come from’ calls this looking for ‘the adjacent possible’ ... and it has a dose of his ‘serendipity’ about it too. As he unpacks seven of the innovative spaces and places where good ideas come from, you can see how having more than one domain of expertise is like capability on steroids! 

     

    The triple threat of work skills for the future

    The triple threat work skills for the future? 

    I think you’ve got to wonder, think and then do something with what you find out. 

    Sing, dance and act. 

    Bat, bowl and field. 

    Shoot, pass and defend. 

    At work, it's curiosity, ingenuity and creativity.

    It looks like this... all bright and breezy: 

     

    Curiosity is to wonder.

    It’s about questioning. What’s going on? It’s a facilitation of a diverse conversation and dialogue. It’s about scanning, listening, reading, absorbing. Hmmmmm!

     

    Ingenuity is to solve.

    It’s about thinking. More deeply. It’s connecting dots. What does this mean? It’ssensemaking. Looking back, working out what’s needed next. Coming up with plausible solutions and ideas. Ahaaaa!

     

    Creativity is... to create.

    Of course it is! But not arty painting - unless that's what you're doing! This future work skill is for making, shipping, delivering, doing. It’s about the hack. Get it done. Tick! 

    The Triple Threat of Work Skills for the Future are: Curiosity. Ingenuity. Creativity

     

    These are a triple threat because they are adaptable, flexible and transportable.

    They encourage you to be open to different perspectives and they create conditions to wonder what the heck is going on… and to respond, to work out 'what are we gonna do about it.' Oh, and then actually do it!

    Don’t just wonder. Don’t just think.

    Finish the game, the play, the third act and get into action.

    Do.

    Then you’ll be able to wonder again, think some more and put some more things into practice. 

    Go you triple threat you!

    Wednesday
    Feb082017

    A story will help you make sense

    When the world feels all upside down and its challenging to understand what's happening or why, it's often in hindsight that we're able to see what went on.

    This is sense making at work. It's how we connect the dots and draw some conclusions from what was uncertain or complex.

    With Sensemaking rated as a vital capability for the future of work as work keeps getting re-worked, we've got to look at human, helpful and effective ways to make sense - that don't involve drowning in fathoms of data.

    In making sense, stories are critically important. Not so much the telling of stories, rather the hearing, the distilling and the getting to the essence. That's the sense part.

    Even micro narratives, tiny little slivers of a story are worth grabbing and capturing. It could be a phrase, a statement, a couple of words, a slang term or a quote.

    When people drop these little micro-gems into the conversation, look out, grab them and capture them. Reflect them. These will help you make sense.

    It’s a little like how panning for gold might give you hundreds or thousands of little pieces of golden glitter, but no big nuggets. Yet it’s the mounting up of those little shimmers that can give you the right to say you’ve ‘struck gold’.

    So don’t discount the little pieces of glitter, the little slivers of a story, the tiny segments or phrases or grabs. Together they can make some wonderful sense.

    In sensemaking and making sense, you’ve got to tune in those listening skills to hear the slivers of stories; to listen to what people are saying and sharing with you… to capture those.

    Don’t just wait for facts and data. Engage in the anecdotes, the stories, the tales and the telling.

    In my earlier career, my first career, I worked in public relations. Oooh, don't throw tomatoes or boo and hiss. It was good PR. It was community relations. I worked in public health, education, government, training, media, sport. It was about helping people understand what was going on and how they could either get involved … or run the other way!

    Whatever the topic, project, program of work or PR piece I was working on, we always had to craft key messages. When you watch someone present to the media, and if they've been media trained, they'll be delivering their content in sound bites and key chunks - those repeatable, printable, quotable quotes that the media like to broadcast. It's a short chunk of sweet loveliness on the topic. (Oh and at the bad end of the scale are those nothingness quotes that politicians like to sprout. Not those.)

    The same can apply in communication, leadership and workplaces the world over. You need some sound bites and digestible chunks for your listeners and viewers to take in and understand - for your employees, teams and tribes to grab hold of.

    Gather together the little slices, pieces, chunks and cues. Together they can give you incredible sense and help show what people are thinking, wondering, learning, sensing and making.

    Collect the stories you hear - even the tiny little ones - capture them, visualize them, share them and reflect on them… put them together, for they will help you – and the people you’re working with - make sense.

    Friday
    Jan152016

    3 Things to Future-Proof Your Career

    Are you thinking for a living?

    When demographer Bernard Salt presents, he's always sensemaking for us; making sense of complex data, trends and information, no matter the topic.
     
    At a presentation on Jobs in the Knowledge Economy, he said with the rise of machine learning and constant technological developments, we might wonder if knowledge jobs (where you 'think for a living') are under threat or it's an even bigger opportunity waiting to happen.
     
    Constant change and daily disruption are familiar themes in the world of work and business today; the big upsides I see are there for the makers, artisans and creators.
     
    This is not about hippy art, pastels and macrame. It's about the way we think, design, engage and create things for customers, clients and each other.

    It's becoming easier to be a maker today. As Salt says:
     
    ‘the tools of production
    have become democratised’
     
    We've got greater access to a host of tools to make, create, shape and inspire change – whether that's in an analogue and/or a digital way.
     
    Entrepreneurism too is becoming even more accessible where you can adopt the thinking style of an entrepreneur, even if you're in a job role. I see this as the path for the future.

    Being entrepreneurial is no longer the thing you would 'fall back on' if your career path wasn't quite working out. Rather as Cameron Herold explains in his TED talk 'Let's raise kids to be entrepreneurs' (read the transcript) we have an instinctive drive to create, make and share. 
     
    In business we need to work smarter to adopt a culture of enterprise – and with it, a culture of failure. Failure is still hot right now in talk, yet I don’t see nearly enough leaders encouraging experimentation, inspiring curiosity or allowing and fostering ingenuity in their teams.
      
    Though digital might have brought the 'death of distance', Salt says we humans still crave connection. Our ability to start and maintain interpersonal relationships is still crucial to our future careers. 

    So how do you future-proof your career as these changes and disruptions continue?

    These three things will do it:
    • Fluidity
    • Agility
    • Mobility
    That means we need to be malleable and to 'go with it'.
    We need to adapt and respond. Swift-like!
    And we need to move... and be willing to be moved. 
     
    We need to upskill, reskill and soft skill and to adopt an easy-goingness that makes us approachable. This is a type of affability that keeps you friendly and outgoing... so that people want to work with you.
     
    Being social will get you far.  Whether it’s social face-to-face, online, remotely or however else you can connect, engage and be human with other humans... do that. 
     
    Fluidity. Agility. Mobility. And while you're at it, upskill, reskill, softskill.

    Affability will take you well into the future of work.
     
    Wednesday
    Oct072015

    The Competitive Advantage of Seeing What Others Don't

    What does the view look like from where you are right now?

    Jim Haudan in 'The Art of Engagement: Bridging the Gap between People and Possibilities' explains how people across an organisation 'fly' at different levels. He suggests 1000ft, 15000ft and 35000ft. 

    Because we're flying at different altitudes, we have different views and perspectives.You'd know it from being in an aircraft:

    • On the ground: you can see the airport and the tarmac as you're taxiing to the runway;
    • Up in the air: up to a few thousand feet up there, you can make out towns and cities, roads and patchwork quilts of fields and farms; and
    • Cruising Altitude: way up there, at 35,000 feet you're getting the big picture and a broad perspective stretching way over the horizon.




    Just above here is a visual I use with teams to get them thinking about these different levels. You can write your thoughts in the clouds!

    Relax and enjoy the flight; these levels are normal, natural and a part of everyday. But sheeesh it's hard when you're trying to bring people together to align to a strategy, implement a change or adopt some new ways of doing things!

    We're so biased to see things that reinforce our beliefs that we need to take some deliberate action to see things in another way... in a way that other people may not see. 

    Gary Klein in 'Seeing What Others Don't: The remarkable ways we gain insights' suggests:


    "our insights stem from the force for noticing connections, coincidences, and curiosities"


    So think about where you're seeing things from, and are you allowing enough connections, coincidences and curiosities in? Ask yourself:

    • How does the view change if you climb up, up up?
    • What's different if you zoom down and get a closer view?
    • How do things look from where you are if you're 'on the ground'?
    • What perspective, view or angle are you missing out on from where you are now?
    • What do you need to do so you have a broader (or narrower) view?
    • What might you have missed?


    Klein says further: 
     

    "people who can pick up on trends, spot patterns, wonder about irregularities, and notice coincidences are an important resource."

    Seeing things, connecting the dots and making sense: this is the true competitive advantage of being able to see what others don't ...and I reckon that's a must-have skill for the uncertain future of work. 
    Thursday
    Aug132015

    How to deal with all that complexity and uncertainty

    With the world all VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) things can get pretty scary for our teams, clients, competitors, customers… and ourselves.
     
    Perception is...
    I heard a comedian say ‘perception is nine tenths of the law’; a take on the adage that possession was nine tenths of the law.

    But that's how we make our representation of the world... our perceptions. We need a map, a visual sense or a way of connecting some dots to understand what's happening. It gives us something to hold on to and helps reduce fear about unknowns.
     
    So where the **** are we?
    Author and Director of MIT’s Leadership Centre, Deborah Ancona shares the story of some soldiers lost in the Swiss Alps. Not knowing where they were, things got even more uncertain when it began snowing. Visibility dropped, landmarks were unknown. But later, one of the soldiers found a map in their pocket. Hooray! They worked their way through the map and found themselves out of the snow and clear to safety.
     
    It turns out the map was of the Pyrenees, not the Alps! It shows that, as sensemaking elder Karl Weick says, 'any old map will do'. The soldiers had purpose, focus and they were heading somewhere. The map was just a start.
     
    Ask these:
    So two questions to ask to deal with uncertainty and complexity are:

    • What’s going on here?
    • Now what should I do?

     These questions help us make meaning about things. You’re more able to pick up on cues and clusters of information when you’re looking to connect some dots Wondering what's going on and what you should do will help.

    Map it out
    The best way to look at what the story is and what’s going on is to map it out. Do this for yourself on a piece of paper, on a tablet or a whiteboard and most of all... for the people you're working with.
     
    This is 'making sense' and it often starts with chaos. Phew! That’s a relief, because we need sense making most when things are a tad crazy. Like VUCA crazy.
     
    Sense comes after action
    Don’t just sit and wonder or be all talk. Making sense is about action. Think, map and act and then think and map some more.
     
    In sense making we are constantly iterating, changing, building, developing, growing and shifting our understanding. Things can’t help but be shaped and shifted when we talk about them.
     
    In a VUCA world, things will never be totally ‘right’ or ‘all right’. There will always be more change. Get used to that and keep making sense by mapping it out.