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I just read this really excellent article by Bill Barnett in the Harvard Business Review Blog. It is called ”When Choosing a Job, Culture Matters”. I highly recommend it not only to job seekers, but also to anyone who’s looking for herself/himself in the organisation where she/he works, especially those who are not that happy with these organisatons and how they do what they do.

Organisational culture, or organisational mindset, is something I have already explored in another post. The culture within the organisation, the team, and so on where we work, is key to whether we can be successful in it. It is a key determinant, almost as important, if not more important than what the organisation or the team actually does.

Despite this, when we look for jobs, we often look for such in organisations that do something we believe in, be it reducing poverty, feeding the hungry, saving the displaced-by-disasters, developing social businesses, driving the digital revolution, and so forth. As we do this, we rarely ask the ”culture” and ”mindset” questions.

Personally, having worked with a variety of organisations for already more than nine years, and having experienced a variety of cultures, and having struggled a number of times, I am at a point where I think culture is more important than organisation purpose.

Think this scenario:

You have high integrity. You are environmental sustainability minded. You believe in business that is both responsible and sustainable. You value and respect others and expect them to value and respect you. You are focused on doing the right thing, always, and are prepared to work hard by yourself and with others to figure out what that is and then implement it. You are open to learning and new experiences. You believe in that real, all-encompassing and overturning change is the result of many working well together, not just a few doing their own thing. You believe in working with all the stakeholders. You are competitive and like winning. You are exhilarated by the possibility of winning a contest based on nothing but your abilities and outstanding performance. You have a vigorous approach to both practice and research. You want to make a difference in this world.


You join an oil and gas company. Doesn’t make sense, right? How will you ever contribute to a business that is socially responsible and brings environmental sustainability to the world from within there? What this company does is in stark opposition with your values. But, think again, is it?

As it turns out, the oil and gas company has a culture that greatly suits what your personality needs in order to succeed. It is transparent when it comes down to promotions, and, because of the nature of the the business, there is a deep and shared commitment to health and safety. The people there want to do good (albeit it may sound like a paradox to you initially). They don’t want any spills. They want to innovate solutions to extracting the oil and gas in the depths of the Earth, solutions that do not damage it in the long term, solutions that do not cause and precipitate earthquakes, solutions that are clean and minimal in terms of impact. Furthermore, they are investing in renewable energy and are well familiar with how challenging is to produce such sustainably. They want to tackle this as a corporation. They are looking for the answers, together. There is respect for points of view different than yours. Knowledge sharing and knowledge management catalyse good practices emerging from the bottom-up, and scale them up through corporately adopted solutions. It is all bubbling inside that company, actually. There is urgency to innovate and plenty of commitment to doing good.

And so, surprisingly, culture-wise the company is a good fit for you, which is also why you took the job. You know it will be hard and challenging at times, but the culture is there to support you and carry you on its waves. Besides, a little bit of hardship and challenge is what you welcome to make things interesting and really make it possible for you to achieve your vision and goals.

Makes sense?

While this example is entirely fictitious, it helps to illustrate the point.

Culture, and not organisation purpose per se, is what creates conditions for us to succeed, to show and put to work what we are capable of, and to achieve our personal visions. The right culture is what brings it all out, connects us deeply with our colleagues and stakeholders, and makes it possible for us to run fast yet never be tired.

In a similar way, the people we work with, how they are, their aspirations and ways of working, their motivations and integrity are almost as important if not more important that what we actually do together with these people. And, this is because, if there is chemistry inherent to how we work together, we are willing to listen, learn together, change the course of action and even re-examine and change our values. If the culture is good, we are genuinely putting ourselves at work and positive growth can emerge. This is why culture, and that chemistry that imbues our teamwork with others, is by the far the most important prerequisite for us being successful, happy and satisfied at the workplace.

If you are reading this and are not happy with your work, think why that might be. Think what it is about it that is stopping you. Think of how to overcome it. If the only way of doing this is by joining another organisation (and leaving your current one), do that, don’t be complacent. It is all about growth in the end. Making yourself a success is the one most important thing you want to achieve in your life.



Embedded Sustainability: The next big competitive advantage

By Chris Lazslo and Nadia Zhexembayeva

Greenleaf Publishing 2011

I put together a summary of Lazslo’s and Zhexembayeva’s book as part of my LEAD Europe training in leadership for sustainability. The book is very good and so the summary worth sharing with you here.

The book is organized in two parts: business strategy and change management.

1.    Business strategy – This part explains why embedding sustainability creates business value.

There are three distinct but interconnected trends that are putting increasing pressure on business to be sustainable. Whether business managers like it or not, business has to transform. These trends are as follows:

  • Declining resources (i.e., fish, and other natural capital rapidly diminishing),
  • Radical transparency (i.e., increasing number of activist organizations and NGOs using social media to catalyze change) and
  • Increased expectations (i.e., employees wanting to work for ethical companies; customers not willing to pay a premium for sustainable products, but wanting smarter products with sustainability at their core).

Lazslo and Zhexembayeva argue that the most adequate way for business to transform with sustainability at its core is by Creating Shared Value (CSV) for both stakeholders and shareholders.  Pursuing both stakeholder and shareholder value creation means value is created for both business and society. Responsible business does not have to compromise profits. CSV creates increased competitiveness by getting business to embrace what is sustainable whilst realistic and possible. CSV also ensures that business invests not only in the present but also the future.

Lazslo’s and Zhexembayeva point out that business strategy tends to focus on adding and removing costs, making trade-offs, mitigating risk, reducing energy and waste, differentiating products, entering new markets, protecting and enhancing brand and influencing industry standards. In all these, it does not normally look at resource  and natural capital availability and value chain security. This is despite that resources are declining and value chain security is rapidly diminishing.

It is good practice to look at business strategy as an opportunity:  i.e. pursue change proactively, systemically and aim for zero harm and positive benefits. Sustainability strategy should be no exception. Pursuing sustainability may be about a radical and disruptive move-away from the classical business paradigm. Pursuing sustainability should be inherent to the business, as well as motivating and aligning employees around a common vision for sustainable business. In this, product differentiation and radical innovation (facilitated by methods such as The Embedded Sustainability Cloud) are key.

2.    Change management – The second part of the book outlines the methods, competencies and processes for embedding sustainability.

The authors point out that embedding sustainability means incorporating health, environmental and social values into the business with no trade-offs in product price and quality. Embedding sustainability means a radical transformation in values, mindset, consciousness and behaviors. Here are some of the key messages:

  • Building transformative relationships is at the core of embedding sustainability. Cooperation with competitors is a source of gain.
  • Developing new competencies such as design, inquiry, appreciation (open mind) and wholeness is important. Leadership and design thinking should join forces.
  • There has to be on-going cultivation of an inspiration-ideation-implementation cycle of feeling-thought-behaviour. This cycle, if inspired by values around sustainability, can be deeply transformative. Topsy Turvy (reverse brainstorming) and appreciative inquiry are useful methods to cultivate such a cycle. Same goes for learning the language of systems thinking and practicing lifecycle analysis.
  • In order to get change to stick in, we must harvest the low-hanging fruit, balance short-term with long-term thinking, monitor and evaluate and remain open to change and circumstance.

The messages the authors put across in the book are simple yet sophisticated. To sum them up, the authors quote George Orwell who once said that industrialization has cut the soul of man, but he did not notice it for many years. In a similar way, the paintings of Tamara Lempicka from the industrialization age show lots of beautiful however sad and empty people surrounded by grey and cold buildings. In my mind, embedding sustainability in business and our lives is key to achieving not only a comfortable balance with our environment, but also a new way of living life. We can do it.

Recently, I had the privilege to listen to a talk by Dave Snowden. Dave is the Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of the Cognitive Edge. He is the creator of the Cynefin Framework which is revolutionising current thinking about and understanding of the nature of reality, learning and evolution.

I first listened to Dave ten years ago while he was still working with the IBM Institute of Knowledge Management. (There, he led a programme on complexity and narrative.) He was invited as the main speaker to an event co-organised by the British Countryside Agency (currently part of Natural England) with whom I was working on a Learning Networks dissertation project. Then, he spoke about the nature of communities of practice and effective collaboration supported by the use of information and communication tools and frameworks.

Dave’s talk I had the pleasure to recently listen to was on ”Linear versus Complexity, New Thinking Paradigm for the Development World”. It took place at the International Fund for Agricultural Development.  As Roxy Samii at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) said, it was a truly humbling experience! The IFAD blog post and webcast of the lecture is here.

Dave Snowden as Speaker

With Dave being such a good speaker, it is good to note a thing or two about his style. He may come across as slightly (if not more) opinionated, but his points are good, speak truth, and quickly relate to you being so personal. Being a great story teller, he oscillates between deeply personal and fairly abstract. I find it interesting that he has a background in both Philosphy and Physics, which I think makes for an approach that is rigourous yet effectively tackles the abstract, i.e. what we often find so difficult to define. He takes a natural science approach to social science. A well-rehearsed speaker, Dave throws pearls of wisdom at you as he speaks, and mixes these with satire which may taste bitter but being so true is refreshing. Sounds good, right? It is a pleasure listening to and learning from him.

Below are some of Dave’s talk points. These are not meant to be a comprehensive account of what he talked about. For a comprehensive account, please watch the webcast.

Cynefin Framework – Four Different Kinds of System

The Cynefin Framework is a sense making model in which data precedes frameworking (as opposed to categorization models in which frameworking precedes data). The framework is there to help define the system we are having to deal with and therefore define our optimum approaches to it. It is a decision-making framework that has been used for knowledge management, project management, IT Design, strategy making and so forth. Its purpose is to help us assess a situation and then apply a most appropriate approach of addressing and learning from it.

There are four different kinds of system that are there to frame our experience. What is complex and chaotic to one can be merely simple to another. Part to defining the type of system we are dealing with lies with its nature, part with our experience and expertise. These two can be quite hard if not impossible to distinguish though.

  • Simple Systems (cause and effect relationships are simple and predictable). Here, we sense, categorise and respond. Applying best practice (i.e., established  examples of what works in a particular context) works well in simple systems.
  • Complicated Systems (cause and effect relationships exist but they are not self-evident). Here, we sense, analyse and respond. Applying good practice (i.e., a range of examples of what works well in a given context) works well in complicated systems provided we have the right expertise.
  • Complex Systems (cause and effect relationships are only obvious in hindsight, learning by doing). Here, we probe, sense, and respond. Here we apply emergent practice (i.e., new practice, some combination of best practice and good practice, or not, which is different and unique). When the system is complex we apply emergent practice in order to adequately ”work” it.
  • Chaotic Systems (no cause and effect relationships can be determined). Here we act, sense, and respond. In order to effectively understand and function in a chaotic system we must act very quickly to either innovate or stabilise it and therefore learn from it. In complex systems we apply novel practice.

Depending on the ontology that applies to the situation, we should think and analyse accordingly. One size does not fit all!

The Catch behind Disorder

The central space on the above diagram is key. It is Disorder, i.e., the space where we dont know which space or system we are in. The danger is that when we are in Disorder we would interpret the situation according with our preference.

Complacency Zone

Furthermore, Dave points out that whereas the boundaries between:

simple <-> complicated

complicated <-> complex

complex <-> chaotic

are there for transitions, the

simple -> chaotic boundary is a complacency zone.

When we get used to believing that ”simple” paradigms underlie everything then we get to see all problems as a failure of process. In reality, this is often not the case. In other words, simple is highly vulnerable to rapid change, whereas complicated and complex are not. If we have learnt to function in primarily simple, i.e., very bureaucratic environments, we would apply best practice approaches even when the situation calls for good practice, emergent practice, or even novel practice.  And, as Dave says, this is a recipe for disaster.

Pearls of Wisdom

Some pearls of wisdom Dave threw at us as he spoke:

  • Partial fragmented stories of failure create more learning than documented examples of good practice.
  • Failure can have more learning potential than success.
  • Delegation is not distributed decision-making/distributed cognition.
  • Micro-management is a deadly enemy of understanding complexity and complex systems.
  • It is important to not confuse measures with targets, i.e., focus too much on measuring and forget the thing to measure! (British National Health Service) It is important to manage the evolutionary potential of the present rather than measures and targets.
  • Computer Science and Economics graduates are often partially autistic (Asperger’s syndrome). However, this means they will often detect patterns other people will not. This is very valuable and can be highly adaptive to the human species.
  • Computers will always only mimic people’s intelligence. They won’t replace it.
  • We evolve to make decisions based on limited data. We like ”messy coherence”. Deep inside, we perceive order as threatening.
  • Different cultures are defined by patterns we tend to experience in that culture. These patterns define our brain function and get us to go about things in some ways and not others.
  • Tacit knowledge is at the heart of deep expertise. Tacit knowledge can not be made explicit! (Polanyi is right, Nonaka and Takeuchi have not read Polanyi)
  • Explicit knowledge without tacit knowledge makes no sense!
  • Knowledge Management often assumes knowledge can be codified whereas it can not!
  • Communities of Practice are often too structured and therefore we do not need them.  What we do need are more adaptive social computing structures. Peer-to-peer knowledge is better than focusing on achieving targets. Blogs can build communities very fast.
  • Technology is so pervasive these days that Twitter can be more effective than Google.
  • Important to no longer design applications but rather design architectures in which applications can emerge.
  • Architectures for resilience are better off than architectures for effect.
  • Development projects are almost never planned for resilience which is on the other hand much more effective. If they are planned for resilience they currently will find it hard to be funded.
  • Adduction is the ability to make connections among things not normally connected. (I see, so this is how it was called…) It is a source of innovation and has a lot of adaptation potential. It is however often discouraged, why?
  • History of Science goes through three stages: 1. Management Science (simple, all about targets), 2. Systems Dynamics (complicated, Senge’s learning organization framework, learning objectives, imposing ready models on reality) and 3. complex dynamics (complex systems change at every level, not just at system level).


At his lecture, Dave pointed out the Cynefin Framework has been used to frame challenges experienced by businesses and foundations, such as Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation. The point is to enable donors to fund projects and programmes without having a clear idea of the objective. I wonder how it could be used to transform the corporate sector and enable socially responsible and environmentally sustainable businesses around the world.

I love complicated and complex. Even chaotic can be exhilarating!

This is cross-posted from an internal Food and Agriculure Organization of the United Nations (FAO) blog. The post is created together with Gauri Salokhe. Gauri is my colleague and Knowledge and Information Management Specialist in FAO’s Office of Knowledge Exchange, Research and Extension.

One of the characteristics of a learning, or a knowledge organization is, of course, learning from experience. In other words, we do something, we evaluate what we have done, we draw lessons learned, good practices and recommendations, and then we apply them in our work. Clearly, this process should not only be circular but also on-going.

My colleague Gauri Salokhe and I recently completed one such learning loop with regards to our work in supporting and sustaining FAO knowledge-sharing networks and communities. In particular, we were both part of the 2008 FAO Thematic Knowledge Networks Review process (described in detail in an internal to FAO Knowledge Café blog post). The Review process yielded nine recommendations (which we later came to call Nine Keys to Cultivating Knowledge Networks at FAO) for enabling and cultivating knowledge-sharing networks and communities, and indeed knowledge sharing initiatives, in the organization. These recommendations are, as follows:

Nine Keys to Cultivating Knowledge Sharing Networks and Communities at FAO

  1. Sponsor from top – Ensure that sufficient resources are available to create and sustain knowledge networks.
  2. Support demand – Create networks as a response to a real need, rather than in a top-down way.
  3. Ensure right blend of membership – Where possible, membership should be at least partly external.
  4. Develop a business case – Organize consultations with potential network members to establish an appropriate business case for the network.
  5. Select appropriate methodologies and technologies – One size does not fit all. Different types of networks need different methodologies and technologies.
  6. Facilitate continuously – Provide continuous facilitation for helping and supporting network members to work together and achieve their goals.
  7. Recognize staff­ time – Staff members should be recognized for their contribution to knowledge networks.
  8. Promote – Sponsors and facilitators should share their experiences and promote knowledge networks.
  9. Monitor and evaluate – There should be on-going monitoring and evaluation of knowledge networks.

The Result: FAO Knowledge Network and Community Purpose Checklist

Gauri and I then took to develop a FAO Knowledge Network and Community Purpose Checklist based on the above recommendations. Our idea was to develop a tool through which use to embed the lessons learned that had emerged from the Knowledge Networks Review. In order to achieve it, we took material from two other checklists: Nancy White’s online community checklist and another checklist provided to us by Lucie Lamoureux. To this we added our own thinking, knowledge and understanding of the FAO context.

The result is a network and community purpose checklist that has been created to cater specifically for the context of FAO. It has nine sets of questions, one for each of the above recommendations. By going through these questions, networks and communities sponsors and coordinators are able to ensure all aspects of the initiative (sponsorship, membership, demand, business case, facilitation, methodologies and technologies, time, promotion and monitoring and evaluation) are examined, understood and provided for. Doing this equips the owners and coordinators of the network or community with important understanding about the nature of knowledge sharing, and therefore enables them to succeed regarding time, resources and effort invested in the initiative.

You can download the FAO Knowledge Network and Community Purpose Checklist here.

In our minds, this is a fine example of learning from experience and integrating what has been learned in the workings of the organisation! The checklist can be extended to other types of initiatives such as web sites, portals and databases. Now it remains to put the checklist to work and evaluate its use and impact!

If you find the checklist useful or use it in any way, please do let us know! Thank you! 🙂

This post is a continuation of a previous post on United Nations System Futures.

Four Scenarios for the Future of the UN System

The Future of the United Nations Development System ( FUNDS ) Conference report features four draft scenarios of the future of the United Nations Development System. Their author is Richard O’Brien, Partner, Outsights. They can be downloaded here . The final slide of Richard O’Brien’s presentation is uploaded below.

UN System Alternative futures for 2025

OBrien’s scenarios are compelling in that they represent four possible futures of the United Nations System according to an interaction of two dimensions: Scarcity vs Abundance in earth resources and Status Quo vs New Powers in  governance. Inarguably, any future positioning along these two dimensions has powerful implications for the state of our world. The four possible futures according to O’Brien are:

  • Scarcity and Status Quo = UN plays a central role in resource distribution and access,
  • Abundance and Status Quo = UN still plays a central role and has no excuse to miss the MDGs,
  • Scarcity and New Powers = UN is in much pressure to deliver, its services are much needed,
  • Abundance and New Powers = UN is not in much pressure to deliver but still needs to justify its reason for existence.

Which Is The Most Plausible Scenario?

According to me, Scarcity and New Powers is the most plausible scenario. . .

Resources will be more and more scarce  because the number of people keeps growing, and because more and more people will want to raise their quality of life.

Meanwhile powers in the world will keep shifting, politically, economically and socially. The rise in information and communication technologies and new media will continue. In a world more and more distributed, and transparent, information about both good and bad will flow more and more easily. Governments and development organizations will be more and more compelled to respond to these changes. Business and its motivation to be merely profitable will be more and more in question.  Social entreprise more and more praised. Investors will be more and more under pressure to invest in responsible and environmentally clean projects and ventures, and more and more willing to do so out of a growing calling to not just do well, but do good. Consumers will more and more seek out products and services that have been not just inspired by ethical principles but also ethically balanced out.

No Matter Which Scenario Takes Hold, the UN System Has to Positively Transform

In my mind, the big drama behind O’Brien’s scenarios is that, no matter which one takes hold, the UN System is under threat. No matter what happens, it will need to justify itself. And, in order for it to be fit to do that, it will need to first transform into a system that is more relevant and appropriate for the present state of our world.

Therefore, visionary leadership, political will and effective  and dynamic integration of  the work of country offices, headquarters, donors, and other partners, should be on the menu of any UN System change initiative. As they say, think (and eat) today in order to have a tomorrow!

Happy New Year! 🙂

United Nations Development System Futures Project

I came across the FUNDS project, a project that has set to explore the future of the United Nations Development System (from here onwards also called United Nations System, UN System, and UN) and examine it in the context of the rapidly changing global environment. The purpose of the project is to catalyze hearts, minds and other resources towards a best possible evolution of the United Nations Development System as it serves humanity in the current critical phase of human existence. More on the aims of the project are here.

Future of the United Nations Development System Conference

Recently, the FUNDS project had a conference. It was reported that the conference, which took place over four days from 18-21 November 2010, was attended by over 60 representatives of Governments, UN agencies, academia, NGOs, international think-tanks and private sector companies. The Conference full report is here. More broadly, the conference concluded:

  1. The main reason behind the difficulty of positively reforming the United Nations System lies in its fragmentation and lack of overall control of any one body over all organizations and programs.
  2. Absence of central governance is the single largest obstacle to reforming the System.
  3. In the current situation, the Delivering as One Framework holds the most hope for transforming the System from the bottom up.

The Real Obstacles Behind Transforming the UN System

I admit I haven’t read the full report, therefore what I am about to say may be the result of mis-interpretation or over-interpretation of the above.  Still, having worked with United Nations System organizations for more than four years and as a result well knowing them, their culture and often challenging reality, I have the following comments on the above:

  1. The main reason behind positively reforming the United Nations System does NOT lie in its fragmentation and lack of overall control of any one body over different organizations and programs. Rather, the one single reason behind the difficulty to positively reform the System lies in that there is no visionary leadership transcending current values, cultures and mentalities, to listen, inspire and transform. This is despite that other important aspects of change, such as teamwork, information and expertise are often even abundantly present. That there is fragmentation is only the result of there being no visionary and transcendant  leadership.
  2. Is absence of central governance really the actual obstacle? As in the above, absence of central governance is only the consequence of the actual cause, actual cause being lack of political will for change. The state of contemporary politics is unfortunately still ruled by lack of trust and personal ambition where actors compete rather than collaborate. How could thus the United Nations System be relevant and effective?
  3. My 1 and 2 comments above show one of two (or indeed both) things: one is lack of understanding about the real obstacles hindering the positive transformation of the UN System; second is, provided such an understanding exists, lack of hope in that these obstacles can be overcome.
    Still, another prerequisite for the positive transformation of the UN System is for Delivering as One to suceed. But how could it do this without the help and support of organisational headquarters and partners? And if there is persistent lack of leadership and political will, how could organisational headquarters and partners provide needed support?

Doing Same vs Doing Different

And so, what is the moral? It is impossible to change and transform unless we see and are willing to operate the real drivers of that transformation. Unless we do this, we will, always, be trapped in the same cycle of doing the same in different ways, rather than doing something fundamentally different and therefore better adapted to evolving reality. And, doing something fundamentally different is what, at least in my mind, the United Nations System and we as its stakeholders need to do.


Yesterday a friend (thank you Steve) sent me The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Dan Pink. Watching through the ten minute video unleashed thoughts I’ve been having, since always, that I would like to share.

Dan makes an excellent point about what motivates us, ultimately, to excel at our jobs, our work and all our activities. It does not have much to do (to me not surprisingly) with financial reward. Rather, it is autonomy, mastery and purpose in what we do. If, within the terms of our work, we:

  • have the freedom to work on what we want and how we want,
  • we have the opportunity to develop mastery and skill in what interests us and
  • we feel connected to some higher purpose in the achieving of which we believe,

we excel at what we do. Not only that, but what we do is relevant to us and our societies. Money is not the key to a better world Dan says. Rather, we are the key, with our beliefs, ethics, sensing and motivation. We just need the conditions in which to unleash ourselves, and, in a world founded on control and money, we can’t.

In other words, in order for us to evolve as species, we need to forget about systems of control (which is what all kind of management is, essentially). Instead, we need to focus on enabling and fostering systems of openness and uncertainty, therefore innovation. Could this be the key to a higher level of consciousness for humanity to achieve, in order to be?

Dan’s words reminded me of Presence, a book by Peter Senge, Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski and Betty sue Flowers, that I recently picked up, once and again. In the epilogue, the authors discuss, amongst other things, whether, if man were to die, there would be a better chance for the gorilla. They conclude there actually would not be, contrary to what most environmentalists would perhaps say.

Yes, if man were not to exist on our planet, the gorilla, as we know it, would probably thrive undisturbed, under no threat of extinction. However, in this scenario the gorilla will remain, always, a gorilla.

  • Could it be that the purpose of mankind is higher than what we can foresee, currently? Could there be something that we know but science can not tell us?
  • Could it be that, as we are increasingly looking up to our nature, our Earth, and (despite only some of us) trying to preserve it, in the same way gorillas are looking up to us?
  • Could it be that man is hope for gorillas to expand and grow as species, in a way that is best for them, and best for humankind?
  • Could it be that people will come to be aware of the larger purpose that connects them to the gorilla through mastery and autonomy integrated as part of the systems based on which we live our world?
  • Why do we need religions when we have ourselves?

I don’t have the answers, but I’ve been thinking.

Dan’s mastery, autonomy and purpose could be just one key to presencing our live and environment.

Perhaps the degree to which we, ultimately, are related to one another, first to the people and things we love, then to all people, then our environment and world, and then the universe, comes most striking in our awareness when we loose somebody we love.

Because of the strong connection that exists between us and them, we, deep inside of us, know how they are, metaphysically, even though they are no longer with us, at least not in terms of how they used to be.

Although they are not anymore present in our physical world, we know they are there in the world, in the universe, still. They are not dead, their bodies are, but they are not, and that is not just because we think about them and remember them, and dream about them. It is more fundamental than that. It is an awareness that it is good to accept and enjoy.

In such moments, we realize nothing disappears, just changes form. And then we know that if they are no longer here, in the form in which we used to see them, they are someplace else in the universe.

Nothing appears as clear to us as when we see with the heart.

And so, I’ve been thinking. There is a greater purpose for humanity that humanity is yet to realize, and this has something to do with how connected humanity is within itself, as well as with the world and the universe. Becoming aware of this purpose, and the bigger whole, will be a stepping stone in humanity’s evolution. Achieving it will be amazing.

I’ve been thinking all of us, people and/or organizations, have a responsibility to ourselves and the world to find our pieces of this purpose and achieve them. Perhaps it starts with autonomy and mastery. Does your heart tell you what the purpose is?


I recently had a chat with a small organisation (the name of which I am not going to mention) about the nature of leadership and how servant/facilitatory/transcendant leadership helps to cultivate a learning organisaiton.  Here are some of the points that we mentioned:

Participatory/servant/facilitatory/transcendant leadership:

  • not a ”standard” top-down sort of leadership
  • key components are facilitation, collaboration and sense-making
  • sense-making is framing what is happening in a context that binds it and accords it well with the mission and purpose of the organisation
  • sense-making is important as it keeps the whole team aligned and motivated and makes it clear how all team members have an important and valued role in the process
  • sense-making would normally rest on the organisation’s vision, in fact more so on how people see this and identify with it
  • sense-making is also about harmonising tensions and viewpoints -> if you can do that, you are a good sense-maker and leader
  • important not to assume sense is always clear to people who are part of the team … sometimes we think it all makes sense but only to us. … servant leadership in this sense seeks to empower all to lead by continually making sense for them and facilitating a process of on-going learning
  • in servant leadership, everyone is a leader and the challenge is to find a way of cultivating that sort of a mindset within the team
  • servant leadership has loose boundaries -> everyone one leads just not all team members at the same time, based on expertise and skill and other circumstances
  • in servant leadership, there is an on-going appreciative inquiry going on in the group
  • servant leadership is about listening and coaching each other based on skills and strengths
  • facilitation is essential in leadership to ensure all team members buy into what the organisation is doing by contributing in the way in which they want and can do best
  • facilitation in leadership creates conditions for a learning organisation by the leader/leaders being sensitive to what people think and how they want to work
  • facilitation in leadership is both about people and the team (two different types of organism)
  • you need individuals in order to have good teams, meanwhile people usually want to identify with groups and teams that help them bring out the best of themselves -> this is what a facilitator does (bringing out the best in people) and this is what servant leadership is about
  • facilitation as part of servant leadership is about being comfortable with ambiguity – if we are not, we can not lead!
  • true and genuine and the most productive collaboration is based on interest and motivation. servant leadership cultivates people’s interests and encourages people to follow their gut provided that it makes sense for the group/team to do so (here link with sense-making)
  • servant leadership is also about humility
  • to be there, servant leadership is cultivated (facilitated, brought-in, encouraged) in a team, group, organisation
  • good leaders are those who know themselves well, know exactly what their strengths and weaknesses are and understand how others in the team help them optimise the strengths and work on the weaknesses -> they see how they and all others are essential for the group/team and therefore also them to exist -> they see things as part of a complex system with many cross-cutting layers to it: technical, personal, emotional, etc. …

Emotional aspects of leadership:

  • for all of the above to be taking place effectively, it is important to understand and accept effective leadership is about leveraging and steering our emotions
  • effective leadership actually rests in our emotions and how well it works is based on how well we know ourselves as individuals
  • if we know ourselves well we can well leverage ourselves to serve others -> servant leadership
  • based on all that, every single servant leader is different because s/he is a different individual -> what is important is that they are bringing out the best in themselves in order to serve the group and wider collective
  • emotional support is part of leadership and essential for building trust
  • good leaders can give support to others when they need it

Group think:

  • group state where all team members do alike even if they do not necessarily think alike
  • good to have but only to an extent -> a learning organisation is not a group think organisation
  • group think may feel quite comfortable but could well be stinting our learning
  • a certain dose of group think is necessary and good for any team and organisation though
  • servant leadership has the role of cultivating a dance between group think and individual think, a nice mix of keeping things comfortable and keeping things on the edge

Maximum size organisation:

  • size of organisation and number of people is important as it defines the skeleton of the organisation/organism
  • leadership and related approaches are essential to giving life to this skeleton and actually making it work – > just skeleton is not enough (obviously)
  • focusing too much on the skeleton but perhaps not so much on what would go around it in terms of flesh and blood to give it life such as leadership, motivation, learning, cultivation of interests etc., is not good enough
  • need to make the skeleton and organisation work well for the people who are part of it -> start cultivating an appreciative inquiry mindset amongst the members of the team … see above notes on servant leadership

Remote working:

  • working remotely is different from working in the same office
  • for example, it is much easier to come across as rude and insult people online than face to face
  • remote working takes away some important aspects of the communication process (i.e., visual, face expression, overall state of mind and being, and lots of other tacit cues) which, when they are not there, can make communication (much) more difficult
  • important not to assume others understand us online in the same way as they do when they have us face to face -> usually, even the most intuitive and sensitive and sensible of people may not
  • it can be particularly difficult to do sense-making and serve-lead remotely, unless the group is aware of the challenges and figures out some solutions, such as skype chat windows, skype calls, and other ways of keeping synchrony and motivation present
  • remote working, in order for it to work well, is about a certain shift of mindset, both individually and collectively
  • remote working process works well if facilitated
  • team/group members can take turns to facilitate remote working


  • in order to be comfortable in delegating, there needs to be trust within the group, as well as openness to experience
  • when we delegate, we accept the output/outcome may not be as what we originally envisage -> could actually be better -> if not, we intervene to make is as what we originally envisaged
  • delegation is key in cultivating trust, developing capacity and pushing team forward

Hope this helps! 🙂

I was recently asked to contribute ideas to a training of trainers in IT.  Was a super interesting challenge considering I had to bring my Psychology background into play and mix it well with my more recent experience in Knowledge Management and Knowledge Sharing. So great! Give me more please. 🙂

The result was a set of ideas covering the span of learning styles, action learning, use of scenarios, learning from feedback and world cafe.  Each of these ideas follows below. As you will see, each of these ideas is a suggestion for how to sensitise trainers in IT to personalities and system dynamics of learning. I wish to do more such work in the future.

1/ learning style overview and discussion

Useful links:
Online Learning Style Survey

Purpose: Explain trainers that research has shown people have a variety of preferences in which they like to learn and also a variety of abilities in which they can learn. In this way, sensitise them to individual differences.

I. You could start with explaining the following classification:

II. Then ask people to discuss in pairs their learning styles. (The trainers of trainers/facilitators could do this for a start.) Explain it to them that some people have a preference for all of the learning styles, with one preference slightly more than the rest (I am like that). Other people can have a marked preference for just one or two learning styles.
After they’ve discussed in pairs, ask for highlights and reflections. After this, point it out that the fact somebody has a learning style preference does not mean they can not also learn using the other style approaches. However, if they have to do that a lot it detracts from the quality of their learning experience and makes them less interested and therefore less effective learners.

III. If you want to take this a stage further you could explain the Kolb’s experiential learning model:

According to Kolb, learning has four stages:
Concrete Experience (feeling)
Reflective Obzervation (watching)
Abstract Conceptualization (thinking)
Active Experimentation (doing)

Based on this Kolb has put forward the following learning style types:
diverging (feeling and watching)
assimilating (watching and thinking)
converging (thinking and doing)
accommodating (doing and feeling)

Kolb’s framework’s language may not be as accessible as the one further above BUT his framework might be good to mention, still. This is not so much because of his learning style classification but rather because of his learning stages. Feeling-watching-thinking-doing and then all over again is what people, teams and organisations do in order to learn and keep learning. Understanding the different stages of the learning process is important to design trainings that really achieve the purpose of learning.

At the end, you can ask for comments and reflections. How will the trainers take Kolb’s learning framework into account in order to do better when they train people in IT?

2/ experiential learning vs conventional training

Purpose: Explain trainers the difference between action (active) and passive learning. Explain that most people like having a variety of ways on offer in which they can learn so that they can at different times pick the ones that suit their learning styles and preferences. Explain that conventional training is usually training removed from contexts in which skills and knowledge being taught can be applied and therefore often irrelevant. Explain that conventional training, sometimes in only small doses, can bring a lot of value however only when combined with lots and lots experiential learning.

A useful quote from a page on this:

”It does this because it is centred on the individual – not the training or the surrounding system. It works on the basis that people can and should be developed from the inside out, not the other way around. In merely transferring and conveying knowledge to a person we do very little to help them grow as individuals, and when we starve this need most people quickly begin to lose confidence and hopes of becoming someone special in life.” (Kolb Learning Styles)

I. You could start with the following diagram (hope it displays properly, you can also see it when you click on the above link):

conventional training

experiential learning

training-centred/focused – theoretical learner-centred/focused – really doing it
prescribed fixed design and content flexible open possibilities
for external needs (organisation, exams, etc) for internal growth and discovery
transfers/explains knowledge/skills develops knowledge/skills/emotions via experience
fixed structured delivery/facilitation not delivered, minimal facilitation, unstructured
timebound measurable components (mostly) not timebound, more difficult to measure
suitable for groups and fixed outcomes individually directed, flexible outcomes
examples: powerpoint presentations, chalk-and-talk classes, reading, attending lectures, exam study, observation, planning and hypothesising, theoretical work, unreal role-play. examples: learning a physical activity, games and exercises, drama and role-play which becomes real, actually doing the job or task, ‘outward bound’ activities, teaching others, hobbies, pastimes, passions.

II. Then you could give an example of an experiential learning cycle concept:
1. Start with action/activity – i.e., do it
2. Review the action/activity to develop understanding
3a. Identify positives and continue doing the action/activity with confidence AND
3b. Identify needs for improvement, then develop ideas to improve and overcome challenges, then select and apply the improvements
4. Keep going through the above three in a cycle, on-going
The above concept positions learning not as a linear activity (i.e., you do something and then you’ve learnt something and basta), but rather as a constantly evolving spiral combining the above three streams and building and building on top of each learning stage.

(I can almost hear you thinking the above is too abstract! 😀 Try to understand it. I think it is important to go with it though. You can bring it down to practice at the end of the exercise.)

III. Then you could bring this down to practice by giving an example from your own experience where you’ve learned about something (a programming language?) in this way. Was it that you learned best when you had to meet real demands by the way in which you program the solution? Try to think of an example, then open it up to the group for discussion.

IV. Then you could invite people to think aloud about how they would change the way they train based on the above. In general? (Perhaps they would change their approach and listen more rather than speak …?) In specific? (Perhaps they would change the way some aspect of the training is delivered …? Perhaps they would ask trainees about their needs before starting to train them?)

3/ scenarios
Have you thought of suggesting the use of scenarios as part of the training?
For example, if you want to train a person in some skill (programming language … or …?), you can think of a story to contextualise the skill. The story would have a certain set of challenges that the trainee has to overcome in order to accomplish a certain task and in this way gain the skill. You can ask the trainers to think of such stories they could themselves use as part of what they train people on over the coming days.

4/ feedback
It is very important to gather feedback from the trainers after the end of the training. Are you going to? Perhaps use a feedback form. That way you would learn from what has happened and know how to improve for next times.

5/ world cafe
Ideally, if there is a day free after the end of the trainings, you could get people to talk to each other about what worked well and what they found more difficult. You could run this as a world cafe. That way they would learn even more and better about being better trainers, after they’ve been trying to do so for some days.

Thank you!! and happy training!! 🙂

In late 2007/early 2008 I was part of a group at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) who conducted a Review of the FAO knowledge networks and communities. A colleague at FAO, Gauri Salokhe, just blogged about this Review and our work. You can read her blog post here.

The full report of the Review can be downloaded here. In retrospect, the exercise was valuable to show a series of dos and donts in terms of enabling and cultivating a learning organisation.


July 2018
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