Tag Archives: innovation

Effective leadership in innovative organisations – some insights

By Elisabeth Goodman, 24th January 2019

Illustration from Harvard Business Review, Jan-Feb 2019

Harvard Business Review has come up with another insightful article on what makes for effective leadership.

This time, Gary P. Pisano shines a light on what leaders can do to channel potentially chaotic creative talent into cost-effective and productive behaviours and outcomes. (The Hard Truth about Innovative Cultures, HBR Jan-Feb 2019, pp. 62-71.)

Creative individuals come with some ‘allowable weaknesses’

We know that creativity and innovation are the life-blood of many organisations, and that is certainly the case with the many Life Science organisations that RiverRhee works with.

We also know that some individuals excel in creativity and that this strength can come as a package with some ‘allowable weaknesses’ – as recognised for example for the “Plants”, “Specialists” and “Resource Investigators” described in Belbin Team Roles.  These allowable weaknesses can include such things as losing touch with reality or with the bigger picture, or not following-up adequately with others on things that have been discussed.

Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones book ‘Clever. Leading your smartest, most creative people’ also has some great insights on the challenges that leaders might experience with their staff.  They cite such things as having a low threshold for anything that might appear bureaucratic, and a desire to continue to pursue ideas beyond what is economically practical. (See previous blog: Why conventional knowledge management, process improvement and project management won’t work with ‘clever’ teams.  Or will they?).

Five tips for effective leadership of your most creative people

So here are Pisano’s top five tips:

1. Tolerate failure (of course), but expect learning as a result. With innovation comes experimentation and failure – it is one of our greatest sources of learning.  Leaders should clearly articulate this expectation of competence: zero tolerance for wasting time or money on activities that could have been avoided by applying learning from previous experience.

Pisano adds some interesting qualifiers to balance against this: tolerance for people making mistakes vs. permissiveness; and demanding high performance standards in a way that demonstrates respect for employees’ dignity.

2. Expect a highly disciplined approach to experimentation. A highly disciplined approach includes a clear definition of what a project will be assessing and how, agreed go / no go decision criteria and consistent follow-through based on the results.

Pisano cites a Cambridge Massachusetts company, Flagship Pioneering, that achieves this by designing experiments to expose the flaws in their ideas, rather than to validate the ideas.  Their experiments are designed within limited budgets and timescales so that they can fail fast and cheaply.  Negative results are celebrated as an opportunity to kill a project or reformulate it.  There is no financial incentive for prolonging an unsuccessful project.

3. Cultivate a culture of candid debate and constructive criticism. Pisaro suggests there might be some cultural diversity in people’s level of comfort with giving and receiving constructive criticism on ideas; that mis-guided concepts of ‘niceness’ or ‘politeness’ might get in the way of candid debate.

However, it is actually more respectful of an individual to expect them to defend their ideas and proposals and to engage in an open dialogue with them.  We owe this level of two-way communication to each other, and in order to be effective and efficient in our work.

4.  Expect individuals to take ownership in their areas of expertise.  A principle we teach on RiverRhee’s management courses is that teams are  more likely to achieve high performance where the individuals within them exercise leadership in their areas of expertise. This leadership not only involves coming up with ideas but also, as Pisano suggests, taking accountability for decisions that rely on an individual’s knowledge and expertise.

Pisano suggests that teams and organisations will collaborate more effectively if each person contributes input and ideas and takes accountability in this way.

5. Communicate a compelling vision and stay close to the action.  Pisano suggests that flatter organisations, combined with strong and visible leadership will make for a more rapid flow of information and faster and smarter decisions.  (Goffee and Jones have also suggested that a clear articulation of goals will help ‘clever’ people stay focused.)

Pisano advocates flatter organisations but has reservations about simply creating smaller units as a way to magically achieve effective innovative organisations. (See previous blog on how to maintain engagement in larger organisations from another HBR article suggesting this approach.)

Role-modelling of these behaviours by senior leadership is essential

In conclusion, leaders need to role-model all of the above behaviours in order to get the most effective outcomes from the creative talent in their organisations.  They should:

  • Demonstrate and reward learning from experience
  • Have well-defined decision making processes, with follow-through
  • Invite questions and respond positively to constructive feedback on their ideas
  • Keep articulating visions and goals, be visible and demonstrate awareness of what is happening throughout the organisation


About the author. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, 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.  RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals). 

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 and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Appreciative Inquiry – a tool and philosophy for positive change

The Appreciative Inquiry five-step model

The Appreciative Inquiry five-step model

By Elisabeth Goodman, 5th November 2016

Asking questions sets the tone for what will follow – start from what’s working well

It seemed obvious from the moment that our facilitator, Andy Smith (Coaching Leaders), mentioned it at the start of the two day course on Appreciative Inquiry (AI) that I attended this week. The minute you ask someone, or a group of people a question, you have influenced their mindset. Ask them what they like about something, or what is going well, and the chances are they will relax, open up and be in the mood to be creative. Ask them what’s not working and they may get defensive, close up and descend into despondency.

That’s a simplification of course as people may want to air their problems before they can open up to explore solutions, and they may automatically rise to the challenge rather than wait to be asked the right question. But the general premise of AI is to focus on what’s working well, on what people do best and on everyone’s potential to do so much more and better. Asking the right, open, positive questions will enable this to happen.

There are implications for coaching and personal development, for team building, for problem solving, decision making, innovation, knowledge and project management and for managing change! This blog just highlights a few of the ways to do this. There’s obviously a lot more about this that I will weave into RiverRhee‘s work and that you can find out about from some of the references below.

A new five-step model

The illustration at the start of this blog is of the five-step model. (Andy calls this ‘the 5 Ds’ but I already have a different 5D model that I refer to for time or productivity management so I will keep these distinct.)

Define the topic to be explored in an affirmative way: so it is stated in terms of what you want to move towards, rather than the problem to be moved away from. Focus on the vision and your mind and body will be already working out creative ways to achieve it.

Discover all the things that you are already doing well towards achieving that vision. This is where the affirmative questioning really starts to kick in.

Dream what it would be like when you achieve that vision: what will you hear, feel, see, think? What would it be like if a miracle happened overnight? This step engages the emotions: the heart as well as the mind and creates a really compelling vision.

Design all the possible alternatives (without evaluating at this stage) for achieving the dream. Build on what’s going well and stretch beyond that.

Deliver – this is the point at which you evaluate the alternatives and decide on the next steps to achieve your vision.

Applying Appreciative Inquiry to coaching

People familiar with the GROW and T-GROW models of coaching will have spotted that define equates with setting the topic (T) or goal (G). Discover equates to reality (R) but with a focus on what’s working well rather than on what’s generally happening. Dream is an enhanced version of the goal. Design equates to options (O) but holding back on evaluating those options. Deliver equates to will ( W ).

The slightly different order of the AI five-step process means that the aspirational vision or dream can build on the positive mood generated and so be more creative than the early definition of the goal permits in the GROW model. Although, in practice, either model can be iterative in a coaching situation.

Appreciative Inquiry and team building

The five-step model could also be used with a group of people in a team situation, to explore how a team can become more effective and attain, or sustain high performance. It could be used ‘live’ within a workshop, as an alternative to using pre-workshop diagnostics or temperature checks as described in some of my previous blogs for team development.

So the team can define in real time what it wants to achieve, discover all the things it is currently doing well, dream of what it could do, brainstorm how it could get there (design), and then agree the actions to take forward (deliver). The team could use rating scales (1 to 5, 1 to 10 etc) at any point in this discussion to make their assessments and goals more tangible.

Appreciative Inquiry and problem solving, decision making, innovation, knowledge and project management

As the previous sections demonstrate, the five-step model has built in approaches to aid with problem solving, decision making and innovation. Focusing on what has gone well and using the dream steps arguably allow people to go beyond just fixing the problem into new realms of creativity.

Apparently others have already explored how to apply AI in Lean and Six Sigma, and I shall look into this more. Certainly, exploring what has gone well and why, in the Measure and Analyse phases of the DMAIC are possibilities that I do already touch upon in my RiverRhee courses. We also sometimes use ‘blue sky’ thinking to imagine a ‘to be’ way of working in the Improve phase.

De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, and the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis also encourage equivalents to the Discover step (yellow hat, and Strengths respectively), the Dream step (green and Opportunities), and Design (green again, and the actions arising out of the SWOT analysis).

Andy also mentioned SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results) as an affirmative alternative to SWOT and which should give more scope for the Dream step!

Finally, knowledge management techniques will obviously benefit from AI, especially as having a productive conversation is at the heart of sharing knowledge between people. After Action Reviews, Learning Reviews or Retrospects (or Lessons Learned exercises in Project Management) already explore what went well. So AI techniques and philosophies would enhance the outcomes in these areas too.

Appreciative Inquiry and managing change

Last but not least, AI has something to offer those leading or dealing with change and so support one of my missions which is to create ‘navigators‘ as opposed to ‘victims’ of change! We can aim to understand and look for ways to maintain, enhance, or at a minimum, compensate for the best of what people previously had in creating whatever the new situation might be. And we can ensure that that new situation is as compelling a vision or ‘dream’ as possible.

In conclusion

There are lots of opportunities to apply Appreciative Inquiry tools and ways of thinking in our working and home lives.  I am using some of these applications already, and looking forward to exploring more with with clients, colleagues, friends and family!

I’ll try not to be a “rose-tinted evangelist” though: we still need to acknowledge the very real problems and challenges that people experience and how they feel about them.

How might you apply AI?

further references

ABOUT THE author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We use training, facilitation, coaching, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, 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.  

RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus, a quality assured training provider with Cogent Skills and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

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 and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she leads on Membership, Communications and Events for the Enabling Change SIG committee.

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.


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.

The mindset for Open Innovation – at “Open Innovation in Action” SBC OI summit

By Elisabeth Goodman and Lucy Loh

We had the opportunity to lead a break-out session at the recent Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst (SBC) Open Innovation summit.  It was a day filled with interesting presentations, panel discussions, networking and break-out sessions.

Open Innovation is all about people

Our session was one of the last in the day, so that delegates had had several opportunities to hear and reflect about the question of mindsets and the importance of soft people skills by the time they came to our break-out.

Stefan Lindegaard (@lindegaard) drew our attention to this in a big way in his presentation, when he stressed some of the key characteristics for success as being a networker, communicator, intrapreneur, and an influencer.  Also on his list was the ability to adapt, to tolerate uncertainty and to be an optimist.

The intrapreneur was particularly important in making things happen within the company by paying attention to people and creating the right conditions for innovation.

The pre-lunch panel session exploring the highs and lows of Open Innovation also homed in on the key characteristics for OI.

(By the way, some of the words have lost their associations in the word cloud – such as ‘not control freaks’ and being willing to ask difficult questions’ and ‘admit ignorance, whilst the reference to the bar – is about the place for carrying out negotiations!)

The mindset for open innovation is also about personality types

One of the participants in our break-out pointed out that it was also a question of people’s character when we asked them what the right mindset might be.  That was a great segway for our presentation, which explored two models.

In our first model Elisabeth reflected on how some of the personality type preferences described in the Myers Briggs Type Indicator are particularly relevant to different stages of (Open) Innovation, but that an organisation needed a blend of all personality types to be successful.

We need to find some unique individuals for successful Open Innovation

In our second model Lucy shared the results of her research into mindsets for innovation, and concluded that to be successful, organisations needed to seek out some unique characteristics.

The break-out closed with some final thoughts from the participants, who thought passion to keep going through the ups and downs, and the ability to listen to and understand others’ language and frames of reference were key to successful collaboration in Open Innovation.

Our full presentation is available on Open Innovation in Action – SBC OI summit website.


Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting (http://www.riverrhee.com), a consultancy that helps business teams to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. Elisabeth has 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry where she has held 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 MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and in Lean Sigma and is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals), and APM (Association for Project Management).

Lucy Loh is the Owner and Principal Consultant at Lucy Loh Consulting (http://uk.linkedin.com/in/lucyloh), a consultancy that helps businesses and organisations develop their business plans, and manage change in their organisations and teams to be able to deliver those plans.  She is also a RiverRhee Consulting Associate.  Lucy has 25 years’ experience in BioPharma, where she has held management roles in strategy development and all aspects of performance management, as well as extensive internal consulting.  Lucy has expertise and experience in organisation development, benefits management and in designing and leading business change. She is a certified Master Practitioner of NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP), which enhances her work in change management and individual coaching.  She is also an accredited trainer with the Institute of Leadership and Management for Strategic Leadership.

The needs of globally dispersed, innovative, teams

In our August 2012 RiverRhee Consulting newsletter, my Associates and I wrote about our insights on working in virtual teams, so it was with some interest that I read about “10 rules for managing global innovation” in the October issue of Harvard Business Review (HBR)1.

After all, that’s what most ‘virtual’, ‘dispersed’ or ‘far flung’ teams are aiming to do: work globally and innovate, be it to make incremental, or more large scale innovative improvements to their portfolio, whatever it might be.

In this blog I’ll discuss the needs of globally dispersed innovative teams in the context of the insights in the RiverRhee newsletter and the 10 rules of the HBR article.

A different kind of management to make up for the lack of informal, ‘ad hoc’ communication

In our newsletter we referred to the need for managers of virtual teams to have a “much broader skill set” than those managing co-located teams.  They need to be able to switch between their skill-sets to support dispersed team members in different ways depending on their local characteristics.  Local differences may be cultural, but it may also be a matter of the different personality mix and dynamics at each location.

It’s true that dispersed teams may find it harder to stay focused on goals, tackle problems in a timely way, and make everyday decisions that enable them to maintain their momentum, without some form of more active management involvement than might be needed in a co-located team.

The HBR article suggests that a senior manager should be assigned responsibility for overseeing the work of a globally dispersed team.  This assumes that the team does not already have an overall manager in place and instead consists of a looser form of collaboration between the different locations.

The authors also suggest that one site be appointed as the lead one.  They would assist the overall manager in ensuring that a consistent bigger picture is addressed, whereas other sites might be focusing more on the detail.  This site would also ensure effective decision-making and on-going progress.

A well-defined goal

The HBR article suggests that a geographically dispersed team will find it harder not to drift from their remit!  In our newsletter we suggested that that remit or vision should be centred on consistent communication with their customer.  A team focused on innovation should definitely have a vision for what they are aiming to deliver, and with the end-customer in mind.

So again, this is where a directive management approach is essential in ensuring that the team stays focused on their goal.

A strong team

In our newsletter, we suggested that this is where a combination of good interpersonal relationships and sound working practices will come to the fore – to address the greater diversity of a global team, and the challenges of working in a more dispersed way.

The HBR article suggests that a stable organizational context (to shield the team from additional distractions) and rigorous project management (with seasoned project leaders) are additional key factors for success.  The authors also suggest that starting with small cross-location projects or collaborations will also help the team to develop that strong start.

Globally dispersed teams may cross organizational boundaries, for instance if they are engaged in Open Innovation, something that I’ve been learning a lot about in my work with OI Pharma Partners.  Even without being engaged in the complexities of Open Innovation, globally dispersed teams are likely to have multiple partners, suppliers, sub-contractors etc.  The HBR article suggests that teams deliberately limit the number of these to reduce complexity, and to use those the team knows well and are more closely located.

Like us, the HBR article suggests that a team should not be over-reliant on technology for its communication, and that nothing beats initial and if possible regular face-to-face interaction to build rapport and connection within the global team.

Building the team’s expertise

The HBR article points out that one of the benefits of using a global team is the greater opportunity to draw on the necessary expertise and capabilities at the different locations.  It’s therefore important to do just that, and not get drawn in to involving people just because they are available if they are not a good fit for what the team requires.

The authors also suggest deliberately overlapping areas of expertise between locations to foster interdependencies in their work, collaboration and knowledge sharing between them.

Finally, we stressed the importance of all team members being engaged in sharing their expertise, strengths and insights for the benefit of the whole virtual team.  We also suggested that geographically dispersed team members can each play a leadership role to benefit the rest of the team by looking for opportunities to deliver the greatest value in the application of their individual areas of expertise and strength.

what have we missed?

The reflections from the RiverRhee August 2012 newsletter, combined with the 10 rules from the HBR article seem to be a strong recipe for success!  What do you think? Have we missed anything?


1. 10 Rules for Managing Global Innovation, by Keeley Wilson and Yves L. Doz.  Harvard Business Review, October 2012, pp 85-90

2. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. Elisabeth has 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry where she has held 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 MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and in Lean Sigma and is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals), and APM (Association for Project Management).

Making Knowledge Work – Beyond Lessons Learned – Notes from APM #KSIGDDAY

APM prospective Knowledge SIG Conference – 5th July 2012

Based on the @ecgoodman twitter stream tagged with #KSIGDDAY @APMProjectMgmt #KM

Meeting kicking off – looking forward to it!

The meeting started with some speed networking in which I met lots of great people from all sectors of work, the UK, sizes of organisation, and levels of experience of Knowledge Management.

We shared our expectations of the day, common themes being: to gain practical insights, how to use lessons learned or project reviews because people still make the same mistakes all the time, and how to measure and share knowledge.

Steve Kaye, Head of Innovation, Anglian Water  – Managing Knowledge in Anglian Water

Innovation is about getting value from new ideas.  Steve shared a graphic with others, which suggested an evolution of the business model from working entirely in-house to working in partnership, group collaboration and now open innovation.  He suggested that the benefits and knowledge gained have gone up through this process, but that the degree of control has gone down so that we now have very difficult to manage complex projects.

Anglian Water has created a Water Innovation Network with underlying process to assess and adopt new ideas.  New ideas are assessed through a “Dragon’s Den” type forum and then the WIN steering group, so that they have a formal and robust process to drive new ideas into the organisation.

They use an electronic “Learning Hub” to capture learnings & prompt comments and actions at the various stages of capital projects.  They are trying to get people to rank and comment on learnings and so drive actions for improvement.

Anglian Water’s Standard product approach captures information on a large range of features with commentary online – so that this can act as a dynamic reference source for those developing products.

Steve believes that Nonaka’s tacit/explicit knowledge cycle is still relevant, for example in capturing knowledge from people who retire.  They are trying 1-day master classes with video recording as way to capture knowledge from retirees although he also suggested that the solution is to re-employ them as consultants!

Steve concluded with a yin/yang illustration suggesting that knowledge management is a balance of hard and soft: data, documents etc. and behaviour, communication, leadership.

There are challenges of consistency, duplication, operating in real time.  And there are opportunities to create a knowledge sharing culture and to drive innovation.

On lessons learned, Steve said that although there is a challenge to get project managers to meetings because they are very stretched.  Once they do get to meetings valuable learnings are obtained.  They have about 50 learning facilitators to organise the meetings and they are trained to ask the right questions.  But on the whole the benefits realisation process is much more developed in Anglian Water than lessons learned.

Break out session

We broke into several groups to discuss 3 questions posed by Steve Kaye:

1. How to create a culture of knowledge sharing?

The main points made were:

  • Need to balance what people are sharing (the supply) with what people want to learn or find out about (the demand)
  • There is no substitute for speaking to people as opposed to capturing stuff in systems – though information on who knows what is useful to record
  • There may be pockets of different culture within an organisation
  • There is a key role for the leadership in speaking about and modelling knowledge sharing
  • There is no formulaic way to enforce or empower knowledge sharing as it depends on the organisation
  • People need to be given a safe space and time to share knowledge, with active encouragement to report back what they have learned to peers, and the use of storytelling to support sharing
  • There were some good examples in the room of effective lessons learned processes and active communities of practice

2. What makes a good knowledge sharing system?

Victor Newman facilitated this session using his “Smart failing” technique that we all practiced later in the session.  He maintained that we need to start focusing on knowledge building, rather than knowledge sharing – something that he also described in his 2002 publication “The Knowledge Activitist’s Handbook”.

The group focused first on ‘what is not working’ with systems they have experienced.  They then looked for solutions to address the failings.  The list included:

  • Designing the system for the people who are going to use it
  • Intuitive navigation
  • Making sure the content is relevant, current and succinct
  • Ensuring that the content is designed for the user and the context in which they are going to use it
  • Clear ownership and accountability
  • Robustness for searching in many different ways
  • A pull strategy (from the user) – we generally need to get better at this, and gather more information on how to do this
  • A knowledge map to be able to find the expert and actual practitioners
  • A process to integrate the information into the relevant business activities
  • Appropriate governance and support
  • Clarity on the anticipated benefits

3. How can we convert tacit to explicit knowledge?

Points raised included:

  • Using visual representations of the explicit knowledge (diagrams, photographs etc.) with links to the appropriate people for reference
  • Shadowing can be a good way to capture tacit knowledge
  • Is there a corrolation between project management maturity and knowledge management?

Judy Payne (@judypayne), Director, Hemdean Consulting – Understanding how knowledge is shared

Judy reiterated that what works in one organisation for knowledge sharing will not work in another.  She pointed out that army personnel are strongly motivated to learn from each other, and that just in time training with knowledge shared between people therefore works well in that environment.

Judy pulled up the wikipedia definition of knowledge sharing, and referred to others, which use terms such as knowledge transfer, flow, exchange etc.

Telling people something is not enough for knowledge sharing – it needs understanding, interpretation and application to really be effective.  Judy thought it would be helpful to relate knowledge sharing to an organisational learning model.  It needs a willingness to unlearn what we know, and is a multi-level process within an organisation.

The organisational model involves four learning processes:

  1. Individual intuition – where an individual realises there is something new that is important to tell others about.
  2. Work group interpreting – the individual discusses what s/he has learned within their work group.  It’s relatively easy to do as the group has a common language.  They may as a result decide that they need to take some kind of action, which may involve talking to a manager higher up the hierarchy.
  3. Organisational integration – this may be a more difficult discussion.  It may require showing the more senior manager some tangible results and a more detailed description of how things work.  It may require involvement of a senior manager’s peer who may have had more direct experience of what the group is trying to describe.  It may result in the more senior manager thinking this is such a good idea that they adopt it as their own with / without acknowledgement of the original individual’s insights!
  4. Institutionalisation – this involves actual embedding of a new way of working with all the challenges involved in doing so.  However, if successful, it can then trigger a whole new wave of unlearning required the next time a group or individual identifies a new insight.

Judy thought that a model such as this might help us to understand why lessons learned approaches often don’t work!

(You can contact Judy at judy@hemdean.co.uk or access her full set of slides on the APM K-SIG website http://www.apm.org.uk/group/apm-knowledge-specific-interest-group)

Break out session – How good are we at knowledge sharing?

Points raised included:

  • Using project gateways as milestones for reviewing learnings
  • Having experts / champions in certain fields
  • The “deep dive” approach
  • Identifying knowledge specialists within a matrix (or functional) team whose role is to research their area and train the others within the team on specific topics
  • The issue that often it is only a few people who are actively sharing within an organisation
  • The frequency of mandatory processes, forms or systems for capturing lessons learned that are not being used
  • There is nothing like getting teams together: old with new, or concurrent; maybe bribing people with pizza!
  • The effectiveness of getting people together one on one with no-one else listening!
  • The importance of exploring what went well as well as what went wrong
  • Getting similar project teams all in one room
  • Fujitsu’s us of “KELs” (Knowledge Element Libraries) for IT: a Q&A system with the answers to problems that have just happened on individual’s systems.  It’s a quick look-up source, is very focused and can be referred to at the point of need.  Individuals are encouraged to write a KEL after every incident.
  • Xerox’s quality improvement programme about 20 years ago where everyone was encouraged to think of better ways of doing what they did.  If their manager agreed they could form and lead a team to address it, and then prepare and present the outcome directly to directors.  Every team was given 15 minutes of glory to put up a stand, which the managers visited.  Awards and certificates were presented.
  • The importance of having the right KPIs to drive the right behaviour
  • References to using a maturity model for knowledge and using a market process (wants and offers)
  • The need for a facilitator to ensure the quality of the knowledge captured in a system

Steve Simister, Director, Oxford Management and Research – The prospective Knowledge SIG

Steve described the value of running this special interest group via APM; that it can also include non-project management people and the diverse inputs that this would bring to the group.

He and the other members of the committee are looking for input on the needs of a KSIG community and it would be looking to deliver potential quick wins and stimulate understanding and knowledge in this area.

The next event will be on 18th July in the evening through the Leeds & York branch.  A 2nd all day event is also planned for September.

We collected feedback in our individual tables on the future remit of KSIG which was collated as follows:

  • Case studies to share
  • Signpost and analyse research in the area
  • Build a community that is wider than project management by reaching out to other groups who are doing this
  • Look for ways to introduce cultural change, especially in engaging leaders
  • Develop networks, mentors, buddies
  • Look for tools, methods, templates and how the various communication media can be used

Victor Newman, Visiting Professor in Knowledge and Innovation Management, University of Greenwich –  Fast organisational learning

Victor suggested that innovation is what knowledge management should be about.  He referred us to his latest book “Power House: Strategic Knowledge Management – Insights, Practical Tools and Techniques” http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/2962123

We need to adapt faster and facilitate people’s thinking in real time.  We can’t permit drift in our work.

Victor adopts the KUBE model:

  • Knowing
  • Understanding
  • Believing and Behaving
  • Engaging and Expediting

He took us through some of his Emergent Knowledge Management techniques (EKM); these are covered in detail in his book.

We began with “behavioural literacy”.  We should recognised that our behaviour is a gift: what we do and how we do it, even down to what we wear and our body language carries the biggest message to the people we are interacting with.  What we say is only a minor part of the total message.

Behavioural Literacy is about creating personal awareness of the messages we are sending, and taking corrective or preventative measures, or actively using this behaviour.

Victor took us through his incident interpretation (or behavioural analysis) steps:

  • Identify the incident & the impact that it had (what, where, how, when)
  • The feelings experienced (how did it make me feel?)
  • The personal messages sent (so it’s OK to…)
  • The personal lessons gained / rules for the future (In future I will..)

We tried this out individually on personal incidents relating to gifts we made that did not work, tackling an impossible task, undergoing a significant change etc. and shared the results. It was apparent that many of us had gained some very positive learnings in just this short time.

Victor’s experience that getting people to ask themselves and articulate to others that something “made me feel” develops a ‘muscle’ of interpretation and makes others more willing to listen to what is being communicated to them.

He reiterated that there are no lessons learned until you’ve changed behaviours. All else is documentation.  When designing new behaviours it’s useful to identify: the current behaviour, the target behaviour, and how we will behave to get there. Giving the new behaviour a name makes the whole process even more effective.  This new behaviour design can be applied to customers, self etc .

Finally we looked at the use of contradiction & controversy to foster learning: how NOT to do things to work out HOW to do things.  This is Victor’s “Baton passing” technique for lessons learned – we went through this very quickly using the Smart Failing process centred on exploring how to ensure innovation fails!

The technique is based on 3 steps:

  • Capturing beliefs about what might fail (encouraging the sentiment “am I the only idiot in the room” and celebrating cynicism)
  • Prioritising the root causes of failure
  • Identifying the solutions and steps to address them (reverse engineering and finding the antidote)

The meEting wrapped up with feedback on K-SIG wishes – listed above

A link to a space on the APM website will follow.

All in all it was a very good meeting! Thank you to the KSIG team, and to Fujitsu for hosting the event.

Banishing the Monday morning blues: Being Exceptional

Holidays are an excellent time to catch-up with my reading, so I have just had a very stimulating week reading Rob Yeung’s “E is for Exceptional”.  I’ve previously enjoyed Yeung’s books on networking, and emotional intelligence, and picked this one up at random, not really knowing what to expect.

It’s a gem!  Like his other books it’s extremely readable – with anecdotal illustrations from the many exceptional people that he has interviewed, backed up by references from the literature, exercises to start developing our own capabilities for being exceptional and summaries at the end of each chapter in case we missed anything.

I would strongly recommend everyone to read this book, but in the meantime, here’s my own interpretive summary.

(By the way, the key capabilities in this book are aimed at individuals, but many would apply to businesses or teams – so I’ll be writing the next issue of my company newsletter based on this too.  Look out for ‘Creating Exceptional Teams’ on http://riverrheeconsulting.wordpress.com)

Banishing the Monday morning blues (authenticity)

I’m always sad when I come across people who feel glum or worse at the start of the working week.  I’ve wondered if I’m naïve to think that people have a choice: that they could take the plunge and go for something different.

Rob Yeung backs me up: he calls this ‘authenticity’ and suggests that we should absolutely be true to ourselves and find work that is inspiring: what we enjoy most and are good at.  It’s what will help us feel fulfilled and, whilst doing it, put us ‘in the flow’ – where time just goes by without us noticing.  If we find and do what is authentic to us, Yeung maintains that the money will follow!

Being ‘authentic’ does not necessarily mean completely changing what we’re doing – it may be possible to craft a current job or role to bring it closer to what we enjoy doing the most.  This relates to other blogs that I’ve written about taking a self-employed attitude when working for an employer.  Fostering this may also lead to greater employee engagement and empowerment.

Having a vision

The idea of writing a business or team vision is well established – that of writing one for ourselves as individuals is less so.  Yeung makes a strong case for both developing and writing down our personal vision.

A vision acts as a framework for our ‘authenticity’.  It helps us create work-life balance so that we give enough time to all the things that are important to us: family, friends, physical health, social activities or anything else, as well as our work. It helps us enjoy the ‘here and now’ and avoid ‘destination fixation’.  And it puts our shorter term goals into a longer term context so that we can make sure we don’t get inappropriately side-tracked.

Up till now my personal vision has been very much in my head – but I’ll be writing it down, referring to it and refreshing it as Yeung suggests.  I’ve written my first draft.


I’m following a different order in describing these capabilities than the one in the book, because I believe that finding our area of ‘authenticity’, and then putting it within the context of a personal vision gives us the focus from which everything else can flow.  Daring is then all about taking action: pursuing opportunities that come our way even if they’re scary, but with the conviction that they’re the right thing to do – as I did in starting my own business!

Being daring is about doing things that we would otherwise regret not having done.  But it’s also about articulating these daring activities as individual goals, with specific measures (so we know when we’ve succeeded), timelines (to avoid procrastination), and a series of steps that we can follow one at a time and so maintain and build our motivation as each step succeeds.

I love Yeung’s suggestion of having a ‘setback manifesto’, so that we can constructively review what’s happened if things go wrong, identify actions to take to reduce the likelihood of reoccurrence, and know how to behave if something similar happens again!

All the ‘C’s

Yeung describes 5 other capabilities of exceptional people, which would seem to ‘feed’ and sustain our authenticity.

Curiosity or ‘awe’ enables us to develop our knowledge, pick up new ideas, be more creative.  In a work situation this is what enables us to ‘work smarter not harder’: solve problems more effectively and innovate.  Yeung encourages us to read widely – not only in our area of expertise, but across disciplines too.  Incidentally he challenges the group approach to brainstorming, saying it is less effective than individual brainstorming and suggesting a new (4-tier) model, which combines the two.  I will definitely be trying this different approach with teams.

Connecting with people to achieve diversity in our contacts, but with an emphasis on ‘netfriending’ rather than ‘networking’ so that we build relationships with the people that we get to know.  Yeung talks about ‘seeking the spark’ with people where connecting comes easily rather than forcing ourselves to try building relationships with everyone we meet.  He also reminds us that making connections with people can come through speaking at and running events or courses, writing, joining committees, going to conferences etc. not just attending pure networking events.  For those working within an organisation, connecting can come from going to lunch with people, joining task forces, or simply stopping by to say hello to colleagues.

Cherishing is about building that rapport with people; having the emotional intelligence to put ourselves in other people’s shoes; really listening to others and giving them space to express themselves.  Yeung also encourages us to look for the ‘3rd way’ in conflict situations in that both people could be right in their views, and the way forward could build on both views, rather than on only one or the other.

Centredness is also a form of emotional intelligence.  In this case it’s about developing our inner calm; cultivating more positive than negative inner thoughts; recognising that ‘thoughts are just thoughts’; and developing a mindfulness or focus on the here and now.  Yeung has some very helpful exercises on how we can help ourselves feel better about both short-term and more serious emotional setbacks.

Citizenship is all about integrity, being a responsible member of our community, and respecting the environment (sustainability).  It’s about focusing on our personal legacy and managing our reputation.  Without it, all the other efforts we might make at being exceptional could be wiped out!

Closing thoughts

“E is for Exceptional” has been an inspirational book.  There are lots of ideas that I have taken away for developing my own capabilities, and I’m looking forward to exploring how these ideas can be applied to ‘Creating Exceptional Teams’ in my RiverRhee Consulting newsletter.  Hopefully some of you will also pick up Rob Yeung’s book, and/or follow my newsletter.

I do hope that anyone suffering from Monday morning blues will discover a way to banish them forever, and will be daring enough to follow it through!

[Footnote.  It’s interesting to compare Rob Yeung’s “E is for Exceptional” with Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and “The 8th Habit – From Effectiveness to Greatness” – there is a strong overlap in the capabilities covered between them and I may re-read Covey’s books in that light on my next holiday!  I would also mention Michael Bungay Stanier’s “Do more great work” as another easy to read, exercise based approach for helping you to find your ‘authenticity’.  I wrote a blog some time ago (Building Strong Personal Careers)  inspired by “The 8th Habit” and “Do More Great Work” which readers might also find interesting.]


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.

2nd Business Process Excellence for Pharmaceuticals, Biotech and Medical Devices (2 of 2)

Business Process Excellence for Pharmaceuticals, Biotech and Medical Devices, The Brewery, London, April 2011 (2 of 2)

John Riddell and Elisabeth Goodman, RiverRhee Consulting1

For part 1 of this blog see: 2nd Business Process Excellence for Pharmaceuticals, Biotech and Medical Devices (1 of 2) http://wp.me/pAUbH-40

Application to ‘other’ environments (1): biotech

Simon Orchard, Vice President Biotech Operations Europe, Pfizer, described applying Operational Excellence in a Biotech environment from facility and process design through to technology transfer and start-up.  In the design phase a key issue was to build in flow and takt, rather than gravitate to maximising volume.  The main opportunity was with simplification as the process.

In the technology transfer phase a structured process was used and efforts needed to be made to avoid a moving target.  Learning points were centred on building in the development of cleaning, taking time to plan including carrying out risk assessments to explore what could go wrong, and the difficulties of establishing a truly integrated cross-functional team from functional areas which were globally spread.

At start-up a problem was encountered with below specification results.  The team had the option of looking to increase results overall, or decrease the variation.  The latter was selected and a DMAIC approach followed, involving a key decision to suspend the plant start-up, i.e. get it right from the start and resolve it while focus and resource is there (and not moved onto the next project).

Application to ‘other’ environments (2): laboratories

Daniela Jansen and Donna Wall, Waters outlined how opportunities to lean documentation, data handling, sample preparation and QC decisions can reduce laboratory lead times.  The focus of their case study was to improve flow and eliminate non value adding steps through the introduction of data management in the interface between instruments and SAP/LIMS.  Manual data entry was addressed resulting in a major reduction in data input time and the quality of data improved as did its security and opportunity for manipulation.

The case study that Donna shared revealed how lab space had been saved.  The issue of each instrument having its own PC was addressed through the introduction of acquisition servers.  The lab team also analysed equipment utilisation over a 24 hour period and improved it through changing working practices.  When asked if there were other aspects (other than technology) Donna said that simple things need to be done and that metrics created an awareness that made things happen quicker.

Application to ‘other’ environments (3): clinical development

Nadine DeDecker, Director Strategic Business Improvement, Jansen R&D, reminded us that the second output of our industry is knowledge, and that value stream mapping can address information creation (as well as product creation).  Her case study showed how she started by addressing Phase 2 and 3 processes as the area with the most process improvement opportunities.  This led to standardisation of processes and the development of a common language, collaborative working, role-based training and, process improvement.  One of the biggest challenges though, is finding the best place to start.

Does process excellence limit innovation?

This was the title of a group discussion led by Craig Johnstone, Director Chemistry and Value Chain Leader, AstraZeneca.  An audience poll indicated that about 40% thought that Lean Sigma was pro-innovation, non-one thought that it killed innovation, and about 60% declined to vote many of them having experienced real pushback from their colleagues in R&D.  Craig’s suggestion, and the discussion that followed on the whole supported this, was that it was how Lean and Six Sigma were deployed that determined the extent of innovation.

Mitali Sharma, Senior Executive, Accenture, suggested that a combination of ‘Lean Innovation’ (simplifying and streamlining) and ‘Open Innovation’ (collaboration externally and engagement internally) were needed to change the Pharmaceutical R&D model and so enable R&D to not only “do the right projects”, but “to do them right”.

Keith Russell, Global Director Lean Six Sigma, AstraZeneca, described how ‘Design Thinking” can be applied to innovation as a process.  He discussed how this can be used to identify value for customers (internally or externally) to identify needs, in product design and programme design (through definition of requirements, features and strategy), and in programme execution (by focusing on core processes).  Keith’s approach, which is derived from QFD (Quality Function Deployment) recognises that R&D requires increased as well as decreased variation, and the exploitation of divergent thinking, in a controlled way.

The conference ended with Stephen Walker, Director, R&D Continuous Improvement Lead, Pfizer, and Charles Aubrey leading 2 respective focus groups on BPE in Drug Discovery, and in Manufacturing and Engineering.  They were useful opportunities to reflect further on points raised during the course of the 2 days.

Notes and further reading:

  1. RiverRhee Consulting enhances team effectiveness using process improvement, knowledge management and change management.  Follow the links to find out more about RiverRhee Consulting and about Elisabeth Goodman and John Riddell
  2. Ten Top Tips for Successful Lean and Six Sigma Implementation – RiverRhee Consulting – February 2011 http://wp.me/p1jPm6-D
  3. Operational Excellence and Knowledge Management in an R&D Laboratory Environment http://wp.me/pAUbH-3P


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.


  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.