How words shape our future

Adanna Shallowe – RSA

Language is the most powerful thing humans have ever invented, a tool of almost infinite power and flexibility. And in organisations, we tend to discard large parts of that power, falling into the trap of thinking that making communication arid and impersonal is somehow to demonstrate objectivity. It’s probably not a coincidence that as more mechanical models of organisations and change give way to more fluid and organic ones, recognition of the power of story telling is making a parallel resurgence. Telling each other stories is how humans share our understanding of the world, our thoughts, and our aspirations for a better future.

This short post is a celebration of the power of narrative, building towards the powerful claim that

Storytelling and the power of narrative is actually the most advanced technology we have.

All first drafts are bad drafts (and that’s what makes them good)

Giles Turnbull

The myth of the perfect draft permeates bureaucracies. The elegantly phrased analysis, the perfect bon mot are badges of honour. But the final detailed expression of an idea or an argument is, in some ways, the least important thing about it – it is the idea and the argument which matter. A rich ecosystem of ideas is more powerful than an arid landscape of perfected prose.

This post is an elegantly drafted polemic against elegant drafting. It makes a powerful case that the process of editing and iterating – and of deleting and discarding – creates far more value both for the individual piece of writing and for supporting an environment in which good writing emerges than does the misguided attempt to jump directly to the finished product.

It’s an excellent and salutary post, but there is one important dimension which it skims over. Editing is a power relationship, in which HIPPOs often roam free. Authors can be offered suggestions but hear them (often rightly) as orders. The boundary between comment and instruction may be neither clear nor symmetrical.

All of which reinforces the conclusion in the post: creating a culture of drafting can unlock energy and value. The very necessary purpose of an editorial process is to improve on first drafts, not to crush them.

Maps vs Lists

Matt Ballantine – mmitII

The tension between the appetite for clarity and certainty and the messy impact of the vicissitudes of life runs through every project, every programme and every strategy there has ever been. Some try to manage that through detailed precision, creating something very strong but potentially very brittle. Others embrace uncertainty, prioritising flexibility and responsiveness and eschewing the temptation to specify everything in advance.

This post expresses that tension by contrasting a map-based view of the world with a list-based view. It’s a simple but powerful way of illustrating something important, not least that many people have a clear preference for one or other of those ways of capturing their understanding of the world and the progress they want to make through it. As someone who, like Matt, has a strong liking for maps, it rang true for me, but the post might also help lovers of lists appreciate why not everybody shares their enthusiasm – and the core argument is that mappists and listists need to make sure that they have found ways of conveying information to each other.

And there’s a lovely point of detail about ‘roadmaps’, which are not maps of roads and are usually not maps at all.

Hosni Mubarak – My Part In His Downfall

Richard Allen – regulate.tech

Social media gives voice to aggressive extremists, provides powerful tools for like-minded people to find each other and reinforce the thinking of the group, and allows lies and disinformation to be propagated at speed. Social media companies come under pressure to do something about all that and aren’t widely regarded as being sufficiently focused on their intent or sufficiently successful in their achievement.

This is an insider’s view of why that is harder than it looks and especially hard to scale, setting out clearly and logically how this can work and why it can’t. It’s very much worth reading for the clarity with which it does that. But it also aims to demonstrate support for the assertion that those working on this within the social media platforms are “good people making hard decisions as best they can.” The question for the rest of us is whether their doing the best they can is good enough – and the reassurance that Facebook knows best is perhaps not quite as reassuring as its supporters might hope.

A guide to agile communication

Giles Turnbull – DEFRA

Giles Turnbull knows how to write. More unusually, he knows how to write about writing. More unusually still, he knows how to write about writing in the context of a wider approach to communications. Most unusually of all, knowing all those things, he shares his knowledge in a way which is itself a great illustration of his own advice.

This is presented as advice to people involved in communicating the work of agile teams, but it’s application is much broader. There will be few who won’t find something useful in it.

Strategic thinking with blog posts and stickers

Giles Turnbull

Strategic thinking is best done by thinking out loud, on your blog, over a long period of time.

As someone clocking in with over a thousand blog posts of various shapes and sizes since 2005, that feels like a box well and truly ticked. Whether that makes up something which might be called strategic thinking is a rather different question – but that may be because all those blog posts have not yet generated a single sticker.

There’s an important point being made here. Even in a more traditional approach to strategy development, the final document is never the thing which carries the real value: it’s the process of development, and the engagement and debate that that entails which makes the difference. The test of a good strategy is that it helps solve problems, so as the problems change, so should the strategy. Whether that makes blog posts and stickers a sufficient approach to strategy development is a slightly different question. There might be a blog post in that.

What I Hear When You Tell Me Your Company Doesn’t Do Meetings

Governments are run by civil servants. Civil servants are bureaucrats. Bureaucrats like meetings. Meetings have very high costs but deliver very little value. So if there were fewer meetings, government would work better, and perhaps more people who are not bureaucrats would find it more congenial to work in government. And if there were no meetings at all, perhaps everything would work perfectly.

Or perhaps meetings survive because they have purpose and value. Perhaps we should focus on having better meetings, perhaps even fewer meetings. But to miss the value of meetings is to miss something really quite important.

Johnathan Nightingale – the co-pour

Creating the Conditions for Serendipitous Conversations

This is a great post on two entirely different levels. It’s a reading (and listening and watching) list of material on the future of work, with a dozen or so interesting annotated links to follow.

But it’s also an approach to improving the quality of conversations, creating the space to think differently and more creatively, using the shared material to support a richer conversation, based on the insight that “a library of inspiration develops through a lifetime of experiences”. That’s an approach which it feels well worth borrowing – whether on the future of work or any other subject.

Bromford Lab

Do the hard work to help people learn

Most advice about presentations (and powerpoint) assumes you are standing between a large audience and a big screen, recounting a single narrative with a beginning middle and end. This post is about when you are having a conversation with a small group, when it’s faciliation as much as presentation.

Lots of good advice, including most critically, when powerpoint is just the wrong medium. Now where’s the overhead projector and a chinagraph pencil when you really need them…?

Matt Edgar