A Measure of Process Standards can become a Key to Unleashing Creativity

When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  I have to be careful or everything looks like a measurement opportunity to me.  Nonetheless, I can’t deny that there seems to be opportunities to implement better measures supporting evidence-based practice (as I suggested in my last post).  I think the process would go something like this.

  • Identify and scope out the domains of interest that are important to you.
  • Conduct systemic reviews to establish a description of the processes that represent best practices within each domain.
  • Develop a descriptive questionnaire to allow an organization to compare their current practice with best practices.
  • Initiating a change project based on a capability maturity model of process change.

The best practice questionnaire becomes the focal point.  It is the measure of your organizations current performance and it provides a prescription for where you’re headed.  It’s easy to understand.  Also necessary are outcome measures that provide feedback on the validity of the standards to your organization.

2 caveats:

1. Complete consensus may not be possible, but at least consensus within a proscribed paradigm should be expected.  What the instrument would have the potential to do is to focus research within a paradigm and provide a research platform for many organization to conduct their own improvement projects in the management discipline; similar to what six sigma has done for manufacturing.

2. Which leads to one final caveat.  This is not the end all and be all in management decision-making.  What this approach does is to provide a framework to organize and scaffold your thinking around evidence-based practice.  Science can only provide you with standards; with a description of what has been proven to work in the abstract.  Not everything can be proven by science; not everything can be summarized in a standard process.  What standards do is to tell you these things work, stop re-inventing the wheel. Put these things into place and then place your development focus on the contextual, the relationship, the imaginative, and other areas where empirical science is less helpful.  Knowing where to put your creativity, that’s the real benefit of standards.

The Research Practice Gap: Why is Evidence-based Practice so Hard to Achieve.

There’s has been some recent articles in the social science literature (nursing, education, management, HR, etc. ) about Evidence-based practice (EBP) or the research practice gap that exists in very many fields.  Why is EBP so difficult to achieve and why do so many solution articles leave me so underwhelmed.  I will offer a reason for the difficulties that I have not yet heard in a convincing manner.

Problem: Using research across different practices is basically the same problem as the transfer of learning or knowledge across contexts.

Reason for the problem: it takes work. Knowledge is closely tied to the contexts of production.  There may be theories and prior research that are applicable to a specific practice, but it takes work to contextualize that knowledge, see its applicability to specific contexts, and change the resulting practice.  What is that work:

  • Establishing a broad practitioner knowledge-base in order to know that the applicable theories and knowledge exist.
  • Knowing how the existing problem or practice can be reframed or re-understood in the light of this new knowledge.  It’s not just using knowledge in a new context, it is re-producing that knowledge or sometimes producing knowledge that is unique to that context.
  • Making changes and dealing with side problems common in change management.
  • Developing a feedback methodology for evaluating and adjusting practice changes

Solution;  we need practitioners with better skills and better tools:

  • A larger knowledge-base and a better network (or community of practice) that allows practitioners to tap into the cognition distributed across practitioner networks. In someways practitioners, because they need to be generalist, need a larger knowledge-base than do researchers who can restrict themselves to specialty areas.
  • Skills in problem framing:  re-conextualizing knowledge, hypothesis generation and testing, setting up experimental and other feedback methodology
  • Skills in communication and change management.  Understanding what to do is one thing, understanding how to get it done is another thing entirely.

Better tools. Many article speak like there is broad consensus on what practitioners should do like that consensus already exists.  That does not seem like the paradigmatically defined world of science that I know.  I think there is hard work yet to be done in writing practice standards and guidelines for best practices in most areas.  They are important however, as standards will form the basis for practitioners to be able to create measurement tools to measure how their practices are conforming, creating a deep understanding of their practice.  A measurement tool will also provide a practice compliancy pathway for changing practice.

Six Habits of Highly Resilient Organizations

In addition to disaster and contingency planning, organizations should consider resiliency planning.

1. Resilient organizations actively attend to their environments.
2. Resilient organizations prepare themselves and their employees for disruptions.
3. Resilient organizations build in flexibility.
4. Resilient organizations strengthen and extend their communications networks – internally and externally.
5. Resilient organizations encourage innovation and experimentation.
6. Resilient organizations cultivate a culture with clearly shared purpose and values

A standard management practice is the management of risk through disaster and contingency planning, that is, preparing for the black swan, the rare event.  However, if you take a wider perspective, problematic events that threaten the life of an organization come in many unpredictable varieties and happen more often than one might think.  A complimentary and positive response is to develop organizational resiliency

See: Six Habits of Highly Resilient Organizations

Also, a shout out to the Gary Peterson blog for bring this to my attention

Designing and Supporting Participation Cultures (or the Management of any Social System)

I reread an article from Gerald Fischer this morning and wanted to get the gist of it into my management toolbox.

Designing and Supporting Participation Cultures

Gerald Fischer wrote the following ideas about the design of software systems, but it can readily apply to any social system or system of management.  Quoted and Adapted from Fischer, G. (2009). Rethinking Software Design in Participation Cultures, http://l3d.cs.colorado.edu/~gerhard/papers/ASE-journal.pdf

  • Embrace Users as Co-Designers
  • Provide a Common Platform to support sharing and the insight of others
  • Enable Legitimate Peripheral Participation
  • Share Control
  • Promote Mutual Learning and Support
  • Foster a Social Reward and Recognition Structure

Also a couple additional great insight from Dr. Fischer, in systems,

strike a balance in system design between automate and infomate.  I see this acting in two ways. Sometimes you want to collect information and at other times, supply information.  Sometimes you want to structure systems so that particular actions will happen, and sometimes you want to supply information that will allow the person to self-structure their actions.

All Systems (or social infrastructures) Evolve, intervene through a SER model: seed, evolve, reseed on a meta-design framework.

Meta-design [Fischer & Giaccardi, 2006] is a design methodology . . . that allow “owners of problems” to act as designers. A fundamental objective of meta-design is to create socio-technical environments [Mumford, 1987] that empower users to engage actively in the continuous development of systems rather than being restricted to the use of existing systems. Meta-design aims at defining and creating not only technical infrastructures for the software system but also social infrastructures in which users can participate actively as co- designers to shape and reshape the socio-technical systems through collaboration. (p.5-6.)

Even though Fischer is speaking of software design, it is really good design for all socio-technical systems and is also relevant to business management or any technical field based on the social sciences.  After all, what is management today other than the design and support of a participatory culture?

A New Business Model for Higher Education

I have a larger than normal amount of posts because I’m doing spring cleaning, getting some stuff off my hard drive and into the cloud.  Here’s one

A Meme that has interested me for sometime is that universities should be more like businesses and businesses should be more like universities.  As Susanne Lohmann points out (2004 in Economics of Governance, Vol. 5, 9-27), this is more complex than it might seem on the surface.   But I want to focus not on the past, but on new evolving pressures for change.

  • Situation#1 – Workers need to be involved in continuous learning. The old model that you go to university from 18-22, and then work from 22 – 65 will not work anymore.  The learning community that universities are so good at fostering needs to continue lifelong.  Universities can not continue to ignore alumni (except in regard to charity) and businesses need a model that engages universities and businesses on an ongoing basis.
  • Situation #2 Competitive advantage is now in brains, not brawn. Neither universities, nor businesses can afford to hire all the brains that they will need.  Social media is one response to this problem, but I believe we also need to find more direct engagement.
  • Response Targeted Knowledge Revenue Streams. This idea came to me while reading a HBR article, although I can’t remember which one.  In addition to students, universities should target the development of courses and ed services to the specific needs of businesses. Alumni can be brought into a closer relationship to the university through their use in marketing.  Not only will the alumni’s businesses benefit, alumni will be involved in a more substantial way  as continuing learners and scholars will have a deeper understanding of the knowledge needs of businesses.  This understanding in-turn can be incorporated into regular course improvement.  In fact, this revenue stream will not only increase revenues to the university and provide knowledge capital to businesses, it will also fund course improvement and new course development for the university.
  • Finally, walled gardens will no longer suffice. The continuing development of this knowledge economy will requires porous boundaries in all organizations.  What are the models by which this can be achieved and can this be one?

Education: It’s About Changing the Function of The Distributed Organizational Brain

Here is somthing I wrote about 5 years ago, but relevant to the idea of closing the training department.

Building Communities of Practice to extend and continue learning.

Although instruction can be designed with limited goals, achieving expert performance in complex inter-related tasks with the attendant brain reorganization and the capacity to respond to novel future situations, requires ongoing and deep learning. In turn, this requires an environment that reinforces learning, provides an opportunity to extend learning, provides face to face access to expert help, and encourage the reinterpretation and renewal of learning in a lifelong context. Structured contact is important, but “just in time” contact can sometimes also be arraigned.

Training at best can only be the beginning, the tip of the iceberg.

If I read it right, closing the training department means switching to performance support, which should also imply looking at organizational culture and turning the organization into a communities of practice.  Training (and classroom activities in all settings) often end with only an assessment to determine their initial effect.  But anything worth doing should be done well.  Doing well in education means:

  • developing support for learning goals in the day to day activities and work flow.  I might mean fitting into the work flow or it might be important enough to take on the larger task of persuading worker to work out changes to the work flow.
  • Building a community of practice means introducing elements of social support, interacting with the organizational culture and making the organizational boundaries porous to allow support from beyond the organization.
  • Rethinking, learning more about the original goal, and interacting with the learning community on an ongoing continual basis.

Its not about closing the training department. its about educating the organization to understand what learning really is all about.  Classrooms still make sense, but not at the center of learning.  The focus of education must get out of the classroom and into the world.

Summary: The reorganizing the brain part above refers to ideas derived from Lev Vygotsky, that learning is finished when the function of the brain has been changed.  In this case, it’s when the organization changes the way it thinks about education and that thinking leads to changes in what it does to support learning.  It’s sort of like distributed cognition, where the brain of the organization (what you are trying to reorganize) is distributed across the all the individuals brains that make up the organization.  Changing that is the goal.

What is a Relationally Responsiveness Approach to Action (and Art)

“We must renounce our monological habits so that we might come to feel at home in the new artistic sphere which Dostoevsky discovered, so that we might orient ourselves in that incomparably more complex artistic model of the world which he created” (Bakhtin, 1984, p.272). Taken from the John Shotter Article (Draft), Organizing multi-voiced organizations.

The 20th Century’s industrial model of education thinks of us as living in a mostly dead and static world that only changes slowly, deliberately and in ways that we control.  Important knowledge is of the patterns and regularities that allow us to control change, to be the cogs that make the machine work.  But that does not seem to be our world.  The world Bakhtin and Shotter describe is dialogical.  Important knowledge is how to interact and create in a chiasmic world that is always changing; never the same from day to day, changing us as we change it.  Its is like writing a novel where all the characters act on their own volition, emotional and unpredictable, where life is an artistic creation in the highest sense.

How Dialogic Relationally Responsive Philosophy is Important to Learning

There’s been some discussion of a Harvard Business Review Article by Peter Bregman.  He describes a case where people were unresponsive to a new corporate learning process and he solved the problem by being flexible and allowing them to individualize the process.  Ken Allen was responding to this article which generated my though of how Bregman’ case was a good example of a relationaly responsive dialogical approach and I posted this comment.

Hi Ken

I look to dialogical philosophy (Wittgenstein, Bakhtin, John Shotter) not postmodernism to understand Bregman’s case.   (I’ve read critiques that the anguished postmoderns were as negatively obsessed with the lack of certainty as the moderns were obsessed to trying to obtain it.)  A dialogic approach looks at people as relationally responsive.

Instead of trying to solve problems exclusively by analyzing “patterns and regularities” for perfection, we must also live in “the context of peoples disorderly, everyday conversational realities. . . (where) to solve problems, our task becomes the more practical one of struggling to create new ‘pathways’ forward into the uniquely new circumstances we create for ourselves as we live our lives together”.

Quotes from the back cover of John Shotter’s book Conversational Realities Revisited

I had a mentor in college (Helmut Bartel) that once said new paradigms were only successful if they could account for the successes and the failures of the old paradigm, while moving beyond it.  That’s what I think the idea of dialogic responsiveness does.  In Bregman’s case we can see the failure of the company’s and Bregman’s first modernist approach and how Bregman succeeded by being more responsive to the involved people.  The recent idea of closing training departments can also be read in the same terms of the failure of modernism (prescribed ‘one size fits all’ instruction based on observed patterns and regularities) for the dialogical (facilitating the ability of people to work together to solve problems in people’s everyday context).

Thanks for your post.  I struggle to understand philosophy that I know is important, but I can’t alway articulate just how.  I just grown by responding to your conversation and I am learning in dialogue right now.  And, I think my brain is completely fried for the moment.