My Reflections – 3 days of learning

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This week I attended a 3 day residential as part of the strategic leadership programme I blogged about previously.

The 3 days were fun, intense, emotional, challenging, tiring and jam packed with valuable insights about myself, my peers (which also taugh me about myself) and my current perceived limitations.

As I sit here looking at the sketched notes during the 3 days there are some interesting themes which emerge and I’d like to share those here.

Innovation in a vacuum

This was probably one of the most interesting and surprise insights across the 3 days. The phrase was coined by a fellow participant. How i’ve taken this is that sometimes people/teams/services or anyone really who innovates in isolation and disconnected to real things can still create amazing things but they are less valuable unless they have a clear purpose and are trying to solve real tangible issues…it basically becomes misguided. Although the result is still valuable learning of course.

Don’t make assumptions

I’ve blogged about this before and it is actually really hard to surface the assumptions you are making at any given time unless you provide some kind of internal process for capturing them.

In saying all of that when you end up doing things and you are under pressure, we all found we kept making assumptions which were counter productive to us achieving the goals of any given task…we naturally all became more aware and got much better at stating them but how often do we support each other to help identify the assumptions we are making as we make decisions.

Responsibility

As existing leaders and as future leaders we need to be more responsible and take more responsibility around all the things we do.  We also need to take responsibility for coaching and nurturing other people to become effective leaders.

Now is the time

After a couple of days of reflection I think one of the biggest things I learnt is that now is the time, tomorrow won’t do and isn’t good enough. Why aren’t I creating a sense of greater urgency for action, why aren’t I challenging the counter productive behaviours I see now, why aren’t I simply stepping up and becoming a more effective leader. People aren’t necessarily going to come and ask me to do something so I need to be more proactive, take responsibility and really “lead”. That means to me, helping to create a vision, helping others to connect and understand that, allowing ownership of that to spread and to openly invite and encourage ideas and solutions around that vision. I need to stop thinking that I’m fighting a solo battle…I’m not.  I also need to really step back and understand how my strengths can be used to involve others and how those strengths can be used effectively and constructively moving forward. This may sound overly critical, but it isn’t. It is simply an honest reflection of where I’ve been this week. My challenge is how I reconcile this and become a better person.

Personal and relevant feedback is very powerful

I’ve always believed this but there does come a point when you get such intense and relevant feedback and literally straight after completing a task that it becomes a very powerful tool for personal learning.

We received a mix of feedback, so we had things we did well and things we could improve upon…and also lots of observations about behaviours and styles which is really interesting.

We should really encourage people to provide feedback and it should form a healthy part of effective teams.

The other aspect of personal and relevant feedback is the stuff you do yourself. The reflections and moments when you consider your own performance. This was enhanced as we were introduced to some really effective coaching techniques. We explored this in pairs on the first day which was really powerful and given that we didn’t really know each other that well, the groups positive views of the experience indicated they all felt as energised from the process as I did. Another example of this was on the final day when we had some rapid 10 minute coaching slots and within minutes of being coached I was really nudged into considering and focusing on the key questions which will help me grow moving forward. I’ve taken some key actions away about my behaviour and some actions around my leadership style as well as how I engage others.

Final reflections

Truly understanding your strengths and the strengths of others isn’t an easy process but an essential one and we should spend more time reflecting and having opportunities to coach and be coached.

Honesty, Urgency and Optimism

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Warning – This post contains honest and personal views with a sprinkle of optimism towards the end and is the culmination of years of frustration and self motivation. No single conversation or person triggered this but merely the collective build up of mediocrity. If you are offended by this then stop reading and move along or skip to the end and read the last section – you’d probably enjoy it.

I’m not generally a political person although there have been times when I’ve thought about putting my name forward to be a councillor or MP. But the current system really puts me off and i believe I can affect change more where I am than in those positions. I often look at elected members and politicians and say “If only they could be more honest and provide a greater sense of urgency” This applies to anything and everything really, however what happens when you know that some are being honest and are trying to create a sense of urgency – what happens then! Well most of the time and this maybe a bit of a stereotype, people jump on them and try to smash them down for telling the truth or not being sensitive enough to the current situation – but I admire and respect those people and we should celebrate and hold them up as leaders more often, instead of reinforcing the status quo.

THIS DRIVES ME CRAZY….

It really frustrates me, when other people, the media, or advisors or whoever it is decides and makes the decision as to whether I’m mature enough to cope with the truth, to respond to it in a meaningful way and to take that truth and to do something with – to motivate me to change a behaviour or to challenge and have a proper debate/discussion about what should happen.

I know that generally speaking the majority of people aren’t really able to cope with the “big truths” and prefer to sit within a bubble of ignorance as it simply makes everything about daily life flow that little bit better. But this doesn’t deliver the sense of urgency required in some situations.

One of the problems I see is that generally speaking most people think and believe that someone else will solve the big problems and all will be fine…they won’t even have to hear about how close we all were to near certain doom or the end of the world…It has been a successful formula for movies for a long time – James Bond, Mission Impossible, Terminator to name a few…

You know the routine – the general public are completely unaware as the hero battles near impossible scenarios and through personal trauma and tragedy to at the last-minute save the day – it certainly makes great viewing with a bag of popcorn and a beer on a Saturday afternoon…but real life isn’t like that…well I’m sure there are the extreme situations where governments are working behind the scenes saving us from Armageddon every other day, but we need to look a bit closer to home and start thinking about the urgency required locally to save our communities, families, friends and ourselves from going into thermal nuclear meltdown.

Now I’m more of a person which would rather fight and go down then simply sit there and watch the world crash and burn around me…I’d rather sink to the bottom of the ocean on a boat then drown 1″ under the water…

I guess what I’m saying and sharing is that – how bad does it have to get for people to get engaged, at what point to people stand up and say – i’m going to do something about this.

I’d like to think I was a good person who broadly speaking tolerated a range of things, I don’t think I could tolerate the people who stop necessary change from happening…people who continue to protect out dated ways of working, people who protect capable people and ignore vulnerable people. People who claim they speak for others when all they do is speak for themselves, people who write policies which support nothing but outdated traditions and reinforce processes that protect themselves and no one else. I just don’t know if I could tolerate the mediocrity around it all, but yet I guess I do and I guess that is what motivates and pushed me to continue working – I actually believe that I can change things – perhaps not alone – I do believe in people and the power of humanity to do the right thing.

I watched a TED Talk video featuring Simon Sinek called How great leaders inspire action – I’ve linked to this before on the blog and the thing that struck me when i watched it again is the Law of Diffusion of Innovation by Everett Rodgers

I’ve seen it and heard it before, I’ve quoted it in meetings before – but something else struck me today in the context of the wider change happening in society and the service changes happening across the public sector.

How are we actually helping people connect to the changes to facilitate a faster adoption rate?

Rogers defines several intrinsic characteristics of innovations that influence an individual’s decision to adopt or reject an innovation.

Factor Definition
Relative Advantage How improved an innovation is over the previous generation.
Compatibility The level of compatibility that an innovation has to be assimilated into an individual’s life.
Complexity or Simplicity If the innovation is perceived as complicated or difficult to use, an individual is unlikely to adopt it.
Trialability How easily an innovation may be experimented. If a user is able to test an innovation, the individual will be more likely to adopt it.
Observability The extent that an innovation is visible to others. An innovation that is more visible will drive communication among the individual’s peers and personal networks and will in turn create more positive or negative reactions.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffusion_of_innovations

If i take these 5 areas, it pretty much sums up why the public sector (broadly speaking) is failing to create a sense of urgency and engaging residents, citizens and service users. We simply fail to articulate or even do any of the above, not on purpose, but because the system doesn’t really promote it…other are breaking this down and GDS are an example of this.

relative change: we don’t actually have a good track record of doing things better and the things which stand out as innovative – are not really that innovative but are the best within an overarching system

compatibility: we don’t have a particularly good track record of making things easy to be integrated into people’s lives, we tend to focus on getting people to fit into our processes. We should understand that things happen in people’s lives and we are part of their processes not the other way round

complexity or simplicity: we always over complicate things as we try to make things bigger, more single system focused and that simply drives complexity – we need to break things down, remove complexity and get back to the purpose and outcomes

trialability: as a sector we have a pretty good reputation of thinking we can’t let anyone access anything until it is perfect and then when people complain then have to wait months or years for those changes to be resolved – an obvious solution is to offer a beta solution, a prototype of even design and develop with people and then iterate.

observability: this comes right back to the honesty and urgency thing – we aren’t very good at getting people to see changes, we aren’t very good at admitting that something is different. Comms and marketing people do this all the time, however they can only do it if they have something to communicate and market.

Earlier this week I read an interesting post by Jane McGonigal titled The Hard part is the fun part where she basically provided the contents of a speech she gave at Miami University to around 4000 students, outlining a challenge – a game and I thought it was such a great way to think about the next few years and thought it would be good to share it with you.

I recommend reading the whole contents of the speech and the game itself, but i want to share this bit with you here:

You’ve put in a lot of hard work to get here today, and your reward is that from now on, you get to choose your own adventures. This is a wonderful power to have. You are now officially in charge of your own destiny. And you’ve earned it. So please, have fun with it. Enjoy everything. Even the hard parts! In fact, especially the hard parts. If there’s anything I’ve learned as a game designer, it’s that the hard part is the fun part. We need a good challenge to have fun, to feel alive, to unleash our strengths, to turn strangers into team mates and allies. This is why we play games – sports, videogames, all games. We play them because nothing makes us happier or stronger than tackling a tough challenge that we choose for ourselves…….

…..I try to remember this when things aren’t going so well in my real life. I try to remember that tackling tough obstacles is what we choose to do for fun when we’re bored. If you play any game or any sport, you’re like me. You crave the hard part.

We can all play this game together – we can all help each other, we can all send up our paper air planes for each other to catch and to inspire each other – I see it already on twitter and in unconferences and #camps…keep doing it as we have a hard time ahead and your words help keep me going.

So my virtual plane message is this:

#advicefrom2017 Stay honest, be brave and smile – reflect on where you have come from – you changed the world.

What would you write, who can you inspire.

Reflections from Dubai and the #GSMS event

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NB: This is a cross post from Re:Work Digital

A couple of weeks ago I received a very welcome but random message from Dan Slee, it basically said “Do you fancy an all expenses paid trip to Dubai” – “PS this isn’t a spam message” or something along those lines.

My response was obviously Yes, although it nearly didn’t happen as I’d already planned to attend a weekend in Cornwall with some friends. After some last minute flight changes, I was set to fly on Tuesday morning….

The GCC Government Social Media Summit

The event was the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) Social Media Summit, held at the very nice Ritz-Carlton Hotel and I was speaking on Day 3 following the topics that Dan had previously set but with a Devon Spin of course…

  • What does Devon County Council do?
  • How we won the internal argument
  • How we took the first steps
  • The broad set of principles we navigated by
  • This is what we did
  • This is what you can do

So after taking the night train journey, an hour and a half sat at Reading train station at 4am and a 7 hour flight I found myself in a very nice hotel room in Dubai (I stayed at the Ritz-Carlton as well), wondering what I was actually going to say, even though I’d created a few slides…

Conference

My aim was to be helpful and honest and to avoid the kind of humour i would normally throw in as it would simply be too local to Devon and the UK…I think it worked out ok!

It is slightly weird knowing that you are being translated live into Arabic and in the back of my head I kept thinking how would this translate? I received some positive feedback from people in the room so I am assuming it went ok…most people said they thought it was very practical compared to some of the other speakers.

Delegate badge

I’ve included a link to my slides but I’d like to share some of my reflections from the event (I only attended day 3)

  • The challenges faced by governments in the GCC aren’t that different from those faced by UK localgov and by sharing the learning from here it would make a really good input into our thinking back in the west.
  • One of the interesting differences is that money is not primarily an issue, although it isn’t free flowing either but let’s just say there are no budget cuts…just think for a minute, what would you actually do if your budget was whatever it needed to be? I thought about this and struggled to think that we’d do things that differently to be honest…although getting additional equipment and a few extra people would probably be the most obvious
  • When you are in a country where politicians are not elected, it makes you think very differently about why and how they would use it….it is more like organisational use in that listening, responding and acting is still very much the approach. But it does make you think that the “selling message” to politicians is a much harder battle than in the UK.
  • Content Strategy got more than one mention and it’s link to the effective use of social media is critical and I’ve mentioned this before and believe that compelling content is essential…It was held as a core component in any future strategy.
  • I found that most conversations around social media focused on the use of Facebook over twitter – Facebook was very much seen as the priority social media channel over others. I found this really interesting as in my view we have  few successes in the UK with Facebook, particularly around “good engagement”. In Devon we tend to use Facebook for a focused level of engagement, for example children’s centres, youth participation etc. The use of twitter and facebook are complimentary in my view and should not be seen as one or the other, but clearly use the tool which best meets the business outcomes and objectives you have set…it is likely that you’d need more than one channel and more than one approach
  • No one has a silver bullet and no one has the answer to all of this stuff…but the more we connect people and the more conversations that happen the more solutions and opportunities arise – this event which had people from all over the world and GCC region speaking meant that they had local learning and best practice as well as external challenge and ideas from further a field
  • Inspiration is inspiration no matter what language you speak
  • Story telling is a very powerful way to share learning and when it is does well, it is very empowering

Here are a set of photos from my stay in Dubai

Here is a link to my slides

Delegates of GCC Social Media Summit

Remembering to reflect on your own journey

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Last week I had a telephone conversation with Liz Azyan about the progress that Devon has made around social media etc since we spoke last on this topic late 2009.

One of the great things conversations like that do is make your reflect on how far you and your organisation has come in that time.

One thing I haven’t been doing very well lately is looking back through my own blog and seeing how my thinking has evolved, how ideas developed and changed as well as how my approach has changed…This is actually very empowering and liberating to see first hand that I have made progress individually, my thinking in some areas has come to light and made practical difference to people working for the council.

It also shows me where I have left behind some ideas in favour of news ones, but I haven’t clearly articulated to myself that I’ve changed direction and that is something I find important as my mind is full of “stuff” and I need to make practical steps to make sense of that in ways that not only I can understand but others.

I thought I’d take a look at my blogs footprint through a wordle and get a sense of the topics I blog about using my blogs RSS feed. (

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When I looked back at the content I posted on my blog during January of 2010 – a whole 2 years ago now – I was in a different mindset, a different world almost…I was in fact in a completely different job, one focused more on strategy first than practical application….whereas now I have to think about both of those in equal measure.

I blogged a total of five times and the majority were about risk and governance and of course there was the now compulsory UKGovCamp blog post (January is the UKGovCamp Rock Fest Month)

However one post, which was more of a link to previous thinking and external blogging content was the Facebookisation of the Enterprise post – essentially suggesting and proposing what could happen if the IT department behaved more like facebook and created a platform for stuff to be built upon.

I’ve taken aspects of the thinking around that and have taken this into the Content Strategy I am writing.  It is interesting to see how little ideas last and evolve into other aspects of my thinking.

So in looking at all of this, I’ve decided to be more reflective overall and to first look back at my own thinking before I write something on the blog, or use that challenge of my own thinking as the basis of a blog post itself.

Do you reflect on your own blog posts? How has your thinking evolved over the months and years you’ve been blogging?

No more excuses – A commitment to be better at what i do

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For reasons i will keep to myself at this point in time I am entering a period of personal reflection and learning. I have started to look back more proactively and make sure that i take notice of my observations and thinking as i go along. The reason is, quite frankly, to help me improve the way i do my job. Part of me feels that i am failing to do my job properly and part of me thinks i do a good, no great job. The truth is i do both at the same time.

I found myself humming a song the other day when i thought about how we might mainstream the wider use of web based technologies including social software. I noticed that i was humming: Rufus Wainwright – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.

The particular part i started to sing was the start:

The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows when

It pretty much sums up the mood around social media “professionals” in government at present, but i think the issue for this is partly down to the people who are promoting it and becoming by default social media gurus. I am sadly one of those people so before anyone shouts me down i am taking responsibility myself here as well for a failure to really engage the people in my own organisation who can actually help enact change at an organisational level. This stuff really needs to go deeper into organisations. It simply isn’t just about Communications and Marketing.

BUT isn’t this what the social media gurus are all about, new ways to communicate and engage with people, social connecting and reaching out beyond traditional boundaries etc? So why are we not very good at doing it in our own organisations and becoming frustrated at the lack of progress. If this is you, i would suggest you also take some time to reflect about how you have or have not engaged with people and what value you have presented to them?

Well the fundamental flaw in this approach is that -  what change and value am i adding into my organisation if i all i do is network and influence people outside the walls and boundaries of my own organisation?

Now i know am being overly critical of others and myself and there have been some amazing examples of good practice and learning that needs to start getting deeper inside our own organisations to really make that learning valuable.

I do have to acknowledge some major successes here in Devon that i have been involved in: Chief Executive as Social Media/Social Networking Champion, Youth Participation using Facebook and Bebo (this was mainly Katie Bacon), Social Media Policy and Guidelines developed and agreed by key business stakeholders (we have just updated these, so i must post them up to share) and an Internal Social Networking pilot using Blue Kiwi.

But i have failed to realise the benefits of the above and i want to change that. So i am creating a personal charter for business change and i’d like to extend it to others as well.

  1. I commit to engaging and involving key Council stakeholders internally and externally in the design, development and implementation of innovative solutions including the use of social software and social media for increased business value and business change.
  2. I will only do so where a clear connection to business outcomes and objectives can be demonstrated.
  3. I will ensure that a plan for realising the value and benefits is in place.
  4. I will ensure that appropriate risks are acknowledged and mitigated and any successes and failures are shared so that others can learn from the experience.
  5. I accept that technology on its own offers no value and that i must ensure that there is clear ownership of the business change.
  6. Value is a set of measures and is whatever the organisations strategies and operating plans say it is.
  7. I must not refer to myself as a guru of any kind, my role is to guide, support and influence.

None of the above is rocket science and you will probably find similar ones around the web, but i feel that i have to revisit my purpose and question what value i am creating in the organisation. The moment i stop creating and adding value, is the moment i decide to leave. (I hope that is some time in the future if i’m honest, but you never know)

I hope that those of you who are engaged in this agenda are doing and demonstrating some of the above, as that is the only way we can stop seeing social media as a “special set of tools” and mainstream the opportunities and innovation into the heart of Government (Local and National)