Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The "Ways" of Management in a Knowledge Work Environment

I had the pleasure of working with some very talented, collaborative colleagues in a management consultant practice a few years ago, (Ron Wiens, Tania Carriere, Brian Kelly, Jen Hunter et al). As I reflect back on our work together, it occurs to me now, as it did then, that their practical thinking about management and leadership was ahead of their time in many ways.

One of the key principles / quotes heard often in conversations with clients, and used often in workshop materials was, and I hope I remember this right:

"Releasing the will and talents of others is the essence of leadership. Today's knowledge workers do not want to be managed; they want to be led. They want the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution."

I think if you look at successful knowledge-based organizations, managers at all levels understand this and act accordingly.

They let others "hold the pen." They encourage productive / learning oriented experiments, and yes, mistakes. They understand that work is no longer production-oriented where the number of quality "things" produced is what is rewarded and compensated. They understand that "knowledge work" occurs fundamentally in people's heads, is essentially unobservable, but is greatly dependant on access to quality information and by the effectiveness of how people work together. They are sensitive to the fact that employees are not "things" to be accounted for and moved like chess pieces, but are complex individuals with varying perspectives, priorities, strengths and weaknesses, and lives outside work that are often, uncontrollably, in conflict with it.

If I can summarize what I think effective management is in a knowledge based organization ...

Point the "way", remove barriers that are in the "way", encourage progress along the "way", and get the hell out of the "way".

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A "storyteller's" view of storytelling

Not long ago, I was talking to friend, "master storyteller" (at least in my mind), former newspaper columnist and published author - I'll call him "Dave" to guard his privacy.

I asked him: "Dave... narrative and storytelling are emerging as a key business strategy for knowledge exchange / transfer in a corporate setting, particularly in light of retiring boomers.
What do you consider to be elements of a good narrative/story for that purpose?"

And "Dave" responded with:

" ... depends on the intent. What is the objective? In any event, most important elements are brevity and humour.

There's an old storyteller theatre in the back of one of the stores in a local village. It still has the gaslights in place. It's small. It's used for storage now but I think it would have held about 40 people. When storytellers like Mark Twain and Will Rodgers ruled the entertainment scene, small towns had small theatres for the less famous. I looked at that old theatre and wondered if that market could be refired. I'm quite busy as a guest speaker, but that in effect is nothing more than a storyteller. (What keeps me busy is probably the fact I don't charge.)

Admittedly, my thoughts have been strictly entertainment. Stand-up comedy has become the only form of non musical entertainment to survive television. They make people laugh.

Laughter is only one end of the emotional scale. People can be made to cry, and like it. How many times have you watched people coming out of a movie wiping their eyes and gasping about a wonderful film? It gave them an emotional hit, and that's what people want. Currently it's unidirectional. "

"Dave" the recounted personal experience with a master storyteller..

"Bill Cosby is probably today's best storyteller. He comes out on stage and the only props are a lamp and a chair. He sits down and holds his audience for up to three hours. He makes them laugh. He makes them cry.

I caught his show after his son was murdered in California. He cried while he talked about that event. So did the audience. There was rousing applause after that segment. Then he switched to humour, and now that he had our emotional strings taut and twanging, he played them like a master.

George Chuvalo is a helluva storyteller. His kids died from overdoses, his career has been ups and downs, he's articulate and he's funny. But he's not marketable for television, so he doesn't get heard. What I see happening someday is people will wise up to the television trap, and return to the idea of getting out of the house and seeking entertainment that isn't on such a grand and manipulated scale."

"Dave" also suggests that ...

"Electronic communications have destroyed our ability to communicate. Very little is face-to-face and immediate. Businesses use voicemail and email as a shield. Television has succeeded in making the unreal believable.

As for using storytelling as a teaching tool, I've long believed the idea of teaching has become a commercial success, and the other end of the spectrum - learning - has been downplayed. The former makes money. The latter doesn't. "

So, it would appear that elements of a good story include: brevity, purpose, and, generally something that evokes some form of emotion.

(By the way, for some outstanding reading and engaging human interest stories, consider"The Best of Brown - Window on Ottawa" by Dave Brown, a selection of his over 10,000 newspaper columns.)