Tag Archives: creativity

How learning to draw can make you better at solving problems


By Elisabeth Goodman, 29th August, 2015

Why learn to draw?

Minerve in the Languedoc - an artist's delight!

Minerve in the Languedoc – an artist’s delight!

I’m a Francophile: I read French novels, my current favourites being Fred Vargas’s series featuring the detective Adamsberg. I spend my summer holidays in the Languedoc in the South of France, soaking up the sunshine, delicious fruit and vegetables, dramatic landscapes and ad hoc conversations with the locals. I’ve even started up a French conversation group for our local U3A, which will be kicking off this September.

The latest Fred Vargas book “Temps Glaciaires” has many references to Adamsberg, the self-effacing, daydreaming ‘Commissaire’ of his Paris-based criminal investigation branch, using his drawings to help him work out the current mystery.

Adamsberg’s generally more logical and analytical colleagues either find him intensely frustrating or absolutely revere him. Needless to say the combination of their analytical and fact-finding skills, and his day-dreaming, doodling and pursuit of apparently irrelevant clues invariably enable them to solve their crimes.

Last summer I also began drawing, experiencing a week full of discoveries of my up till then relatively underdeveloped artistic skills. (Cubertou art holidays.) I decided to continue this personal journey this summer with Betty Edwards’ “Drawing on the right side of the brain”. To my astonishment her book referenced the value that the added perceptions gained from drawing can bring to solving problems in business environments! I could not wait to discover more and whether, simultaneously, I might gain more insights into Vargas’s portrayal of Adamsberg.

L-mode and R-mode thinking

We already know that parts of the brain are good at analytical and logical thinking, and others at creative thinking. These used to be referred to as the left and right sides of the brain respectively, at least for right-handed people, and vice versa for left-handed people. The distinction is no longer believed to be so clear cut. Edwards, who has had the benefit of consulting with neuropsychologist, neurobiologist, and Nobel laureate Dr Roger W. Sherry, refers, for convenience, to L-mode and R-mode thinking.

Edwards asserts that learning to draw stimulates and develops R-mode thinking and so is as important to our overall intellectual development as verbal and analytical L-mode skills. Yet our education system tends to focus only on the latter. As a result, many of us have drawing skills that ceased development in our childhood or adolescence, when we became frustrated at not being able to create anything that ‘looked real’. Edwards, who has documented her workshops in editions of her book spanning three decades, believes she can teach even the least confident amongst us to draw. What I’ve learnt from her so far suggests that she is right!

The five basic skills of drawing

Edwards takes her students through five basic skills or perceptions of drawing, skills that I’m part-way through discovering.

Edges define the boundaries between the earth and the sky, the side of a nail on a finger. The contour of one is also the contour of the other, like the connections of jig-saw pieces.

Contour drawing (edges) of hand

Contour drawing (edges) of hand

Spaces. Focusing on the spaces in between or around shapes – ‘negative spaces’ – can help us to define and draw, almost effortlessly, the actual shape (‘positive space’) of things. This is the stage of development that I’ve got to so far and, as Edward promises, I’m already getting a real sense of enjoyment from my new skills!

Drawing of a bench using negative spaces - Lac de Ravieges, France

Drawing of a bench using negative spaces – Lac de Ravieges, France

Relationships are about perspective and proportion: perhaps one of the strongest examples of how R-mode perception can overcome the bias of L-mode thinking. One of the strengths of L-mode thinking is in being able to create ‘symbols’ to represent what we know. A sort of short-hand so that we don’t have to think about things from scratch each time. So we know for example that a cube is represented by squares and right angles. All the legs of a chair have the same length. And so on. But of course when we start to actually draw a cube, or the legs of a chair to create the 3-dimensional effect, what the R-mode perceives is something quite different.

The other two skills are perceptions of light and shadow, and perception of the ‘gestalt‘: being able to see the whole as well as the parts.

Drawing of a chair - edges, spaces, and preliminary attempt at relationships, light and shadow!

Drawing of a chair – edges, spaces, and preliminary attempt at relationships, light and shadow!

The relevance of drawing skills to problem solving

I’ve written a few blogs, listed in the notes below, on intuition and problem solving. Our abilities to follow sequential steps, spot patterns and to set up and test theories are powerful tools, but they can also cause us to be biased, to focus on positive evidence, and be reluctant to shift to a new paradigm of thinking.

Adamsberg’s colleagues, without giving too much away, become stuck in a paradigm whilst he keeps on doodling and giving his subconscious (an important R-mode ally) free play.

Edwards suggests that the skills of drawing can give us additional ways to visualise and perceive a problem, as illustrated for instance by one involving a client and a service provider.

The edges can help us to define, for example, whether what the client requires and what the provider supplies fit well together. They might also represent how the cultures or ways of working of the two converge, or diverge; and how closely the finances available and those required are reconciled.

Similarly, the shapes made by any gaps between desired outcomes and current inputs might naturally define how these gaps are to be addressed, and so on with the other three skills of drawing.

I must admit I will need to do some more practising with drawing and R-mode thinking to understand this application more fully.

The five stages of creativity – another L-mode and R-mode model for problem solving

Edwards introduces another model in her penultimate chapter: the five stages of creativity, evolved from the discoveries of Hermann von Helmholtz, Henri Poincare, Jacob Getzels and George Kneller. Edwards suggests that these five stages might benefit from shifts between the two modes of thinking as follows:

First Insight – R-mode leads the realisation that there is a problem to be addressed and what the nature of that problem is

Saturation – L-mode leads the research for all the facts and information that might support the resolution of the problem (this is the bit that Adamsberg’s team supports quite well)

Incubation – R-mode leads the wordless, sub-conscious process of mulling over the problem and how all the facts and information might fit (Adamsberg’s forte). Edwards teaches us ways to ‘turn off’ the L-mode of thinking to make space for the R-mode. It results in a very peaceful ‘being in the zone’ style of meditation that I experienced in last summer’s art holiday as well as whilst working on Edwards’ exercises. Dave Hall’s Idea Centre also has exercises that do this (as referenced in my previous blog Facilitation – some new ideas?).

Illumination – both modes come together in an ‘aha’ of finding the solution: for many the most exciting and enjoyable of the whole creative process

Verification – L-mode led, planning out how the solution to the problem will be put in place

Adamsberg and his team certainly exemplify this five stage approach and how their respective skills support this.

What next?

Is this an area that you have some insights about?

Do you draw? If not, might you consider learning?

Do you play a musical instrument and if so what is the impact of that on L-mode and R-mode thinking?

For my part, I will continue working through Edwards’s book: to build on the excitement of developing my drawing skills, and my exploration of how I can help my clients benefit more fully from my and their R-mode thinking. I know that Dave Hall’s creativity workshops, that I am continuing to attend, will have more to offer in this space too.

Notes…

Here are some of my previous blogs on intuition, left and right brain thinking, and referencing Gary Klein and Malcolm Gladwell, that you might like to look at:

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams and their managers to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We use coaching, training, facilitation, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting just under 6 years ago, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  

She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management).

Facilitation – some new ideas?


By Elisabeth Goodman, 21st May 2015

The Ideas Centre – a great resource for creative thinking

I recently had the opportunity to attend one of Dave Hall’s workshops from The Ideas Centre. Dave regularly holds off-site and in-house workshops where he introduces delegates to principles and tools to stimulate their creative thinking, and so enables them to find novel solutions for their problems, issues, challenges and opportunities.

I found the workshop tremendously insightful, not only to reflect on one of my own business questions, but also to challenge my thinking as a trainer and facilitator. (See also one of my previous blogs – Reflections of a team facilitator.)

Using Lego for solution development

Using Lego with The Ideas Centre for solution development

The picture above represents the ‘solution’ I found to my business question. I would strongly recommend one of Dave’s workshops to help you explore how you can use Lego and his other ‘tools’ for addressing your own challenges.

In the meantime, here are three things I discovered and will be exploring further in my work as a trainer and facilitator.

Facilitators should take an active role in idea generation

One of the challenges facilitators often have is finding the right balance between addressing the content as opposed to the process of what they are facilitating. Whilst Dave is adamant about there being a clear problem owner for idea generation, and this person never being the facilitator, he does allow the latter to be more actively engaged in the discussion than might traditionally be the case.

So, for example, the facilitator is the one that holds the pen in the discussion. He or she will actively ask questions both to clarify the problem, and to generate ideas. So far this is not too unconventional.

Where Dave introduces a different element is that the facilitator is also ‘allowed’ to make suggestions that will help to shape the problem owner’s thinking. This is true whether the facilitator knows something about the subject area or not. In fact the problem owner will benefit from as much input as possible, and so the facilitator should definitely support this too.

At the end of the day though, the problem owner will be the one to select the final solution, and the facilitator has a key responsibility to enable the process for getting to that point.

Naive participants are invaluable for idea generation

Break-out groups are a core element of my work as a trainer and as a facilitator. They give participants the opportunity to explore new principles and tools in more depth, and to apply them to their own issues and challenges.

I have typically (up to now) encouraged participants in break-out groups, in both my off-site and on-site workshops, to work with people who are doing something similar to them, so that they can add their expertise to that of the problem owner’s. In fact some delegates have expressed anxiety when they have not felt sufficiently knowledgeable about the area being explored.

However, such content ‘naivety’ is, according to Dave, to be actively encouraged. Participants who are not familiar with the subject area are more likely to challenge assumptions, and to bring in novel ideas which, whether useful or not, will encourage the more divergent thinking that is critical to innovation.

This is something that I had previously only been subconsciously aware of.  Now I will make more active use of ‘naïve’ participants, whilst also ensuring that the problem owner has other subject matter experts to support him or her.

Emotions will support rather than hinder innovation

My courses on management skills, and on Lean and Six Sigma typically include sessions on continuous improvement. As Dave rightly pointed out, there is something of a gap between this kind of incremental innovation, which is obviously still useful and important, and breakthrough innovation. In fact delegates at my workshops sometimes want opportunities for more blue-sky thinking and, I do look for ways to enable that too.

However one principle that Lean and Six Sigma techniques strongly uphold is the fundamental importance of facts and data. Subjective or emotional problem statements such as ‘this process is taking far too long’ are strongly discouraged, and instead must be written for example as ‘this process is taking 2 hours longer than it should’. This then sets the scene for exploring all the root causes for the problem.

The Ideas Centre has its own methodology for articulating problems that paves the way for generating solutions, but what is particularly novel is how they encourage the problem owner to use emotional language. The impact in the workshop was startling. What was otherwise a dry and somewhat boring statement turned into something that grabbed everyone’s attention and committed them to finding a solution.

Using more emotional problem statements is definitely something I will be experimenting with when a client is willing to explore something other than the more purist approach to Lean and Six Sigma.

My courses also address how to manage change, where winning hearts as well as minds is such a critical factor for success. I will be experimenting with the use of emotional problem statements in this context too.

Notes

You can find out more about The Ideas Centre from their website.

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams and their managers to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We use coaching, training, facilitation, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting just over 5 years ago, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she leads the recently renamed Methods and Standards theme for the Enabling Change SIG.

 

De Bono’s thinking course. An essential facilitator’s tool?


By Elisabeth Goodman, 24th January 2015

Edward De Bono’s thinking course

One of the aspects of my local library that I particularly enjoy is the way I might serendipitously discover a gem of a book that the staff have either casually or deliberately put on display. One such recent discovery was Edward De Bono’s “Thinking Course: Powerful tools to transform your thinking

De Bono’s book caught my eye because the methods I’ve already learnt from him: mind mapping, and the “six thinking hats” have become an integral part of the way I work, and the tools that I pass on to others as a trainer and coach, and also as a facilitator. So I was curious as to what other lasting approaches I might learn from him in that vein.

The book proved to be a veritable treasure trove and I was delighted to discover that the term for another skill that I’ve enjoyed for years “lateral thinking” is actually one that he coined!

Facilitating workshops

One of the activities I particularly enjoy is facilitating workshops. This is when I create an environment where people have the time, the comfort, and the tools to really think about how they are approaching their work, and how they can do so in a more enjoyable and productive way.

De Bono’s “Thinking Course” is all about developing our skill in thinking, so that we are more conscious of which approaches we are using, how we are using them, and how we could use them more effectively in any given situation. As he says, it’s a bit like practising a sport where we might have a choice about which golf club, tennis stroke, or volleyball position to adopt to achieve the desired result.

The six thinking hats

De Bono’s “six thinking hats” (which incidentally is not mentioned, at least in the edition of the book that I read) is a good illustration of this more deliberate approach to thinking. It is somewhat of an introduction, and also a synopsis of some of the approaches in the Thinking Course, although the book also develops these approaches and others more fully.

Edward De Bono's Six Thinking Hats as they might be used

Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats as they might be used

The “six thinking hats” encourage us to objectively consider what we already know (the white hat) and to exercise creative or divergent thinking to come up with new ideas (the green hat). With the yellow hat we look for the strengths of potential solutions, before narrowing down or converging the options by considering what won’t work (the black hat).  The red hat allows us to  consider our ‘gut feelings’. The sixth, blue, hat is like the director of the orchestra or the facilitator. It enables us to consider how we are thinking and whether we might like to think things through further or differently.

Become a flexible and creative thinker

In “The thinking course” De Bono encourages us to move beyond the traditional ‘for’ and ‘against’ confines of critical thinking, and the natural limitations of our perceptions and to engage our creativity. He provides lots of tools and exercises for approaches in addition to ‘lateral’ thinking. He suggests a framework for how people might set up “thinking clubs”, which is intriguing in his assertion of how much people can achieve in sequences of as little as 2-6 minutes of thinking.

The more creative and flexible thinking advocated by De Bono, and the techniques he suggests should be invaluable for problem solving, decision making, innovation, and thinking in general. I will certainly be adding them to my facilitator’s tool kit.

How could you make the most of your thinking?

Are you a facilitator and/or interested in how you and your team solve problems, make decisions and innovate?  What approach do you take to thinking things through?

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams and their managers to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We using coaching, training, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting just over 5 years ago, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she leads the Capabilities & Methods pillar for the Enabling Change SIG.

Creative project management: soft skills required!


By Véronique Mermaz

Editor’s note: I met Véronique through Twitter and LinkedIn and have since had several face-to-face conversations with her.  As she says in her footnote, she is a native French speaker living in East Anglia, specialising in French marketing support.  I was struck when I met her by the richness of her experience in and insights about working with project teams.  The blog that she kindly agreed to write for me certainly reflects these. (Elisabeth Goodman)

The amount of books, training and programmes about management, performance and teamwork on the Internet should make bosses and managers happy.

Companies are looking for tools to sort out their problems and are ready to pay vast amounts of money for it. Bosses and managers want tools to reduce risks, shorten planning and budget and guarantee delivery.

But what makes people work well together? What does it takes to lead a project where creative people are involved? Is it possible to rely on software and tools?

We talk about project management. What is it that you manage? A project? People?

My background is in advertising agencies and marketing and communication departments.

I have experience of setting up, managing and delivering creative projects for a wide range of brands. For years I worked with other creative professionals. They were colleagues or hired for the job, newly graduated or famous. I managed creative people internally and as a consultant and always with the same question: what to put in place to get the best results from the project team? And what do I need myself?

Creative projects are special projects. Marc Hedlund, former SVP Product Development & Engineering at Etsy says: “People and code are…different. The approaches that work so well for getting new software to run are not directly applicable to getting people to work well together.”

I think creative processes need solid ground and I am happy to share my tips, proved and tested.

1) Get clear objectives from your boss / client

What do they want to achieve with the project? Please the Board? Get more funding? Enhance their reputation? Help their regional offices? Demonstrate their expertise? There is no way you can lead a team without a clear objective from your boss or your client. Filter as much as possible any confusing information and share with your project team what’s useful, helpful and what gives energy. They want to succeed as much as you do.

2) Make your team take the planning at its word

Most planning is updated in its lifetime. So what’s the point? One of my rules is to deliver on time at every step and to meet the deadlines from the start. I think the choice of the planning tool isn’t so important. Some simple and boring Excel sheets work well for me and I’ve met other project managers involved in complex digital projects doing the same. If you build and decide the planning you are in a good position. When some director imposes dates for presentations you may have to stand up and negotiate to make the planning viable for you and the team: you can’t plan creativity.

3) Consider your project team as the best in the world

Yes! Really. It’s rare to have the opportunity to build a team exactly as you wish. It is difficult and when it happens it’s very exciting. In large corporate companies unsolicited people arrive at your desk sometimes and if you think they are not good for the cause you can be in trouble. Put your team (chosen or not) into the job quickly: leaping into action helps everyone to find their place and producing and seeing results gives confidence. Every move forward brings strength.

4) Work on risks as a step in the project

There are risks in every creative project and they are manageable. In the manufacturing industry people are paid to reduce risks, develop processes and tools and build standardised approaches. It’s certainly working in some of the creative industries such as video games but it’s not so relevant for smaller/one-shot projects. Working on risks means understanding exactly who does what in the project team, how much support you can get from the Board or the boss and how much money the client is ready to pay. The resources available and agreed are the limits of the project.

5) Be prepared for conflicts

The truth is: you work with people. The longer the project, the more likely it is you will have to deal with frictions and tensions. Conflicts are a pain in the neck because they slow everything down, bring doubts and damage the team spirit. But they are an opportunity to discover something you missed or to simplify the project. I’ve seen sabotage and negative energies at work in some creative projects. My way? I move on, push and support the smart people: usually their positive attitude pulls the team to the top and things get better.

6) Assess the good and the bad

Assessing the quality of the work doesn’t have to be formal and I prefer a continual appraisal: it saves time and energy to keep a team on track and your finger on the pulse. When a creative project takes a year or longer, it’s normal to have doubts or to lose focus and as a project manager I find it more efficient to discuss things as soon as they happen. Any project has lows (get through them) and highs (praise achievements!), errors (amend) and epiphanies (celebrate! celebrate!). It’s vital you talk about it with your project team. Tell them when they are wrong and bring clarity and rationality when things get too sensitive or too personal (it happens).

7) Welcome unexpected outcomes

You can’t master every event in the lifetime of a project: the arrival of a new director or some health problem with a key team member can change your working environment for worse or for better. Or put an end to the project. You may have to accept a new objective or new planning. A good alchemy in the team or the arrival of a new creative person can take the project beyond expectations.

As a creative project manager I had some good surprises: an outsourced creative effort was so efficient that the project got a higher budget from the Board; a project was noticed outside the company and received an award; years later a range of marketing material is the benchmark for a brand.

Finding the balance between delegation and control is tough. Building the creative, intellectual and emotional space for creative people to accomplish their work is not an exact science. As a project manager (in house or as a consultant) you have to think on two levels: the full picture and the detail.
Uncertainty is part of any creative process and you are accountable for quality.

At some point you have to step back, let the creative process develop and at the end put it “into the box” for the Board, the director or the client.

The more you prepare the ground the better the conditions. Understanding creative processes helps.

No software or programme does the job because it takes a mix of skills and experience to create these conditions:

  • Ability to tell the team when they are wrong
  • Ability to bring clarity
  • Ability to be comfortable with experiments
  • Capacity to get the big picture and to pay attention to detail
  • Curiosity for other people’s work

Notes:

  1. Véronique Mermaz is a native French speaker living in East Anglia, UK.   She specialises in French marketing support. You can find Véronique at LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter @veroniquemermaz.
  2. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge and change management. Follow the links to find out about how Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.  Read Elisabeth Goodman’s blog for more discussions on topics covered by this blog.

Intuition revisited – implications for process improvement and Lean Six Sigma (Part 2 of 3 blogs)


Intuition has an important role in process improvement

In a previous blog “The problem with relying on intuition for process improvement and decision making” I emphasized the problems with, rather than the opportunities for intuition.

However, as Gary Klein(1) points out, the analytical techniques practiced in Lean Six Sigma also have their shortcomings.  A point also often highlighted to me by participants in process improvement workshops or Kaizen events.

Some of the infrastructure created in Lean Six Sigma and other process improvement based programmes can also create some real barriers for intuition.

This blog follows on from part 1: “Intuition revisited – or how it could be important to a business environment”, to explore the implications of intuition to these aspects of process improvement.

The limits and strengths of intuition and analytical techniques

The potential for using intuition is limited for example where people do not yet have sufficient expertise in an area, or the area is too complex, or where people may have become ‘blinkered’ and so unable to spot important or subtle cues or patterns.

Conversely, people sometimes try to force-fit analytical techniques in situations where others have the expertise to make judgements.  The use of decision matrices, with weighted criteria can be an example of this(2).  And so some alternatives, suggested by Klein are:

  1. Use intuition first when comparing options e.g. ask people for an initial indication of their preferences – so that this can be used as a ‘sanity’ check on outcomes from an analytical approach
  2. Try a strengths vs. weaknesses approach as an alternative to weighted decision criteria
  3. Use mental simulation of how the options might play out to understand them better
  4. Look for ways to simplify the comparisons: there might be some factors that are really not important
  5. Recognise situations where the difference between options is really too small to make a difference and where it would be better to just pick one rather than continue the evaluation

Barriers to intuition created by process improvement programmes

Process improvement programmes encourage the documentation of procedures (standardized ways of working), using metrics to monitor performance, and automating routine or complex analytical tasks.

These can be extremely effective ways to streamline work, ensure that good practices are re-used, identify when timelines, quality or safety and budgets are at risk, and release people to get on with more creative activities.

However, as Klein points out, they can also not only create barriers to people using their intuition, but they can also gradually undermine what intuitive powers people have.

How to use procedures and intuition

Standardized procedures are essential in regulated environments, and invaluable in helping new staff get up to speed quickly, or as a reminder to those who carry out certain tasks infrequently.  They can also help an organisation ensure that everyone benefits from good practices in how to perform processes effectively and efficiently.  However, as Klein points out, people need to use standardized procedures in a way that keeps them alert to what they are doing, so that they can spot unexpected problems, or opportunities to do things differently i.e. fostering their intuition rather than in effect ‘turning it off’.  Such an attitude will foster continuous improvement and this is also how, as I’ve written elsewhere(3), people can maintain a dynamic between standardization and creativity.  Understanding why the procedures are as they are: the context around them, will help with this, so that this should be an integral part of teaching people about procedures.

How to use metrics and intuition

The same is true for metrics: they have a vital role to play in monitoring performance and in alerting people to risk, but too often metrics are collected for their own sake, and without people having a proper understanding of their purpose or of how to interpret them.  Again, if used intelligently and with awareness, people can foster their intuition and not only derive real value from the metrics, but spot situations when the metrics alone are not enough.

Automation and intuition

With some skill in mental mathematics, our intuition will alert us if calculations done on a calculator or in an excel spreadsheet are tens or hundreds of units out from what we would expect.  However there is a risk when routine analytical tasks, or even more complex ones have been relegated to computers that we will be under-rehearsed or have insufficient expertise to spot problems that might arise.  So where processes or parts of processes are selected for automation as a result of process improvement, we need to find ways to continue to maintain expertise and foster intuition, so that automation does indeed continue to act as a support tool rather than the master of our work!

The third blog of this series will be addressing intuition and knowledge management, and ways in which people can actively enhance their intuitive skills.

Notes

  1. The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work, by Gary Klein, Crown Business, 2004. ISBN 978-0385502894
  2. There’s more to decision making than meets the eye or…. Why we shouldn’t dismiss gut feelings.
  3. Elisabeth Goodman (2010) How Lean can bring real benefits to innovation in Pharmaceutical Research Six Sigma & Process Excellence IQ, 8th January 2010, http://www.sixsigmaiq.com/article.cfm?externalID=1720
  4. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge and change management. Follow the links to find out about how Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.  Read Elisabeth Goodman’s blog for more discussions on topics covered by this blog.

Intuition revisited: how it could be important to a business environment (Part 1 of 3 blogs)


Intuition does have an important role in business

In a previous blog “The problem with relying on intuition for process improvement and decision making” I emphasized the problems with, rather than the opportunities for intuition.

One of my blog readers, Deborah Peluso, kindly pointed me to Gary Klein’s 30+ years of work on intuition with the US marines, firefighters, pilots, software trouble-shooters and business leaders.  I have now read his book, ‘The Power of Intuition”1 which is an impressively substantial reference work, and very enlightening.

As Deb said in her comment to my blog: “I realized that intuition is not magical or mystical. What we call intuition is a label for our observed phenomena that is really just a function of expertise, and expertise is something that we can study, elicit, and use in our knowledge management and change work. And decision analysis has its place in helping to check our gut instincts, provided we have the time and resources to use the tools appropriately.”

This blog, together with my next two, will highlight what I have learnt from Gary Klein’s book about the role of intuition in business in general, and in process improvement and knowledge management specifically.

What is intuition and when can it be useful?

Intuition is the result of our experience (Klein refers to ‘meaningful experience’).  It enables us to spot cues, recognize patterns and build mental models of potential outcomes.

Intuition supports us in spotting problems, being creative and innovative, adapting and improvising plans, and making decisions.

Taking each of these in turn:

  • Our ability to spot problems depends on the nature of the problem (how quickly it develops, the level of associated risk), our level of alertness to potential problems, what might be going on around us to affect our alertness, and our level of expertise (or intuition).  As with all applications of intuition, it also depends on how much attention we pay to our ‘gut feelings’: our subconscious alerting us to something being wrong before we consciously recognize it.
  • As Klein points out: intuition is tied to past experience, whereas creativity is not.  He suggests that an intuitive approach to creativity ‘transcends’ past experience!  He suggests that teams look for opportunities in difficult situations and how to build on those as a route to creativity.  So: if the goals or needs to be addressed are clear, potential opportunities (or leverage points) identified, and then connections made between the goals and the opportunities that will work with them – then this will be lead to effective innovation.  Klein calls this ‘directed creativity’, and this does sound like the solution identification exercises that we conduct in Kaizen workshops.
  • Whist Klein accepts the conventional use of plans (for example in project management) to coordinate the work of teams, shape our thinking, work out what’s needed, he emphasizes the importance of being able to improvise and adapt, especially when the unpredictable happens, which it invariably will!

I’ll be discussing the relevance of intuition to decision making in my next blog.

Intuition and process improvement (Lean and Six Sigma)

As I’ve discussed in my other blogs, analytical approaches are still absolutely important. But there will be limits and strengths to these approaches, just as there are barriers to and enablers for intuition.

As I’ve suggested before, there are implications for the tools taught in Lean and Six Sigma (or process improvement generally); for example in using decision matrices, or documenting procedures (and process mapping), in using metrics.

I’ll be discussing this more fully in the second blog of this series of three.

Intuition and knowledge management

What we may under-estimate is that intuition is not something that you either have or don’t have.  We all have it.  The key is in how we develop and use it.  Gary Klein’s book contains some fascinating implications for knowledge management techniques for example ‘learning before’, ‘peer assists’, the use of experts and discussions about ‘tacit’ knowledge.

I’ll be discussing this in the third blog of this series.

Notes

  1. The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work, by Gary Klein, Crown Business, 2004. ISBN 978-0385502894
  2. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge and change management. Follow the links to find out about how Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.  Read Elisabeth Goodman’s blog for more discussions on topics covered by this blog.

 

Knowledge management and creativity / innovation – valuable adjuncts to project management. A case study


Knowledge management and creativity/ innovation enhance project management.

I am a firm believer in the value of knowledge management to enhance project management.  I also believe that the use of formal structures, such as those advocated in Lean and Six Sigma (or process improvement), and project management, give people more rather than less scope for creativity and innovation.  Creativity and innovation in turn, of course also enhance the quality of our processes and projects.  So, I was delighted to read the Turner & Townsend case study in April’s APM (Association for Project Management) magazine: Project1.  Even more satisfying is that this feature article was the result of T&T winning the APM Project Management Awards in 2009.

Why would knowledge management and creativity / innovation be important to an organisation such as Turner & Townsend?

T&T is a project management consultancy, with more than 2,400 employees, 770 of which are project managers, operating worldwide across 59 offices.  So they are a prime example of an organisation that would benefit from effective knowledge management to ensure that employees can:

  • Learn from their successes as well as their mistakes – so that they neither reinvent the wheel, nor repeat the same mistake twice
  • Continuously improve the way they do things – in this case, the ‘art and science’ of project management
  • Tap into the whole organisation’s experience and insights when working with their customers, and so not only achieve customer satisfaction, but customer loyalty

Creativity is the precursor of innovation:  it generates the new ideas which if accepted and applied within an organisation result in innovation.  An organisational structure that encourages and supports new idea generation and follow-through, will not only enable continuous improvement of its processes, projects and resultant customer experience, it should also result in greater employee satisfaction, morale, personal development and ultimate retention.  A recent internal staff survey suggests that T&T is achieving this kind of result with 86% of staff feeling proud to work there, and 84% indicating that they would recommend it as a good place to work.

How does T&T enable knowledge management and creativity / innovation?

Fundamental to the T&T approach is the emphasis they place on a range of formal and informal communication opportunities, using both face-to-face and electronic media, across all levels of the business.  Examples of these include:

  • An ‘excellent ideas’ intranet portal – a platform for posting new ideas, suggested good practice, and tools / products.  Apparently more than 200 ideas have been posted since the initiative started two years ago, and 50% have been applied or are in the process of being so, with another 18% under review.
  • Knowledge breakfasts – an opportunity for junior staff to discuss specific project related topics and then present the outcomes to their teams.
  • Intranet feedback – an opportunity for employees to submit best practice and guidance for continuous development and improvement of technical and service knowledge and delivery.  The intranet thereby functions as an online knowledge base that is continuously improved.

T&T also have a strong infrastructure to support knowledge management and creativity / innovation.

These knowledge management and creativity / innovation practices are supported by the organisation’s emphasis on continuous development, with people being encouraged to participate in various training programmes.

1% of turnover is invested in research and innovation, resulting in new project management tools and techniques.

T&T also have a well-defined model or set of processes for their work with clients:

  • Assess and engage: understanding client requirements, building a business case, building strong working relationships with the client and key stakeholders.
  • Develop & improve: strategies and plans for implementing the project.
  • Project execution plan: i.e. the manifestation of the previous step.
  • Deliver & benefit: implementation for successful delivery

Although the article does not discuss this model any further, it is this kind of infrastructure that supports the identification and sharing of experiences, insights and new ideas that lies at the heart of knowledge management and creativity / innovation.

Notes

1. Head Turner. Project – the voice of project management, issue 227, April 2010, pp34-35

2. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, using process improvement, knowledge and change management to enhance team effectiveness.

Follow the links to find out more about RiverRhee Consulting, and about Elisabeth Goodman.