One of the fundamental problems the western rationalist mind is that it finds it hard to think in non-linear terms. Our thought processes habitually follow the linear, “If I do this, then I will get this, and then I will achieve this” kind of mental narrative. We can find this works, but only in limited contexts.
In the world of engineering, marketing and projects, to name but three fields, we are learning to think more iteratively: to revisit and rework the results. This is more like thinking and moving in circles.
W.E. Deming, the American quality guru who was credited with revolutionising post-war Japanese manufacturing advocated his classic PDCA cycle:
Practising this led to continuous improvement. Manufacturing results improved because of attention to the feedback and improved as a result. In marketing, deliberate A/B testing yields similar results. In projects, we are learning to iterate, improve our estimates and customer satisfaction.
I remember a situation comedy on UK TV a few years ago called "Ever Decreasing Circles." It had a hapless hero who always found himself in a spiral of frustration.
Circular thinking has had a bad rap. I'd like to reframe circular thinking as "ever increasing circles." That is to say, that some circular workflows become more and more powerful.
Shall I go over that again?
My son Robin is a remarkable Agile software developer. He runs a company called Degu. Currently, he is developing a pretty cool business model around his film workflow management software. He has invited me in to advise him on strategy.
We need tools that can evolve with our work.
When the business is effectively YOU, you have to be very critical about your priorities and your choices. So I'm pleased to say Robin is reading through my new ebook on Leading Yourself. He is an avid practitioner of Personal Kanban, a technique I explore in the book.
Both he and I use Trello.com for our personal and team kanbans, so he shared with me his current board. I thought it was worth sharing here because it illustrates how he is owning the process and the categories and continually reworking them to suit his circumstances.
For example, he has a very interesting set of labels for his cards. Also, his Board has developed on from the standard To Do/Doing/Done to what we see below.
As well as his "Backlog" column (otherwise known as the "To-Do" column), he has moved to using a "Stuck!" column. This allows him to park otherwise-frustrating work in this column and come back to it later. He is finding that when he does this, often he finds that that piece of work becomes un-stuck and he can move on.
He also has a couple of other columns I haven't shown: "Mentor" and one for a key client/partner. This illustrates to me that Robin is working on his workflows and not becoming legalistic about them. They are evolving, as indeed his working life is evolving.
Progressive knowledge workers need the flexibility of tools like Trello.
Increasingly I find progressive knowledge workers like Robin need the flexibility of tools like Trello and techniques like Personal Kanban. These tools and techniques help us think about our priorities and work areas dynamically as our work contexts and careers evolve.
What do you use? Are your tools evolving with you or are they locking you in to a particular way of working?
At the weekend I came across this gem of a video posted over six years ago. Marten Mikos, the then-CEO of MySQL who sold the company to SUN Microsystems for $1 billion, gives a candid short interview during the Innovate! conference in Zaragoza, Spain, about his key learnings as an entrepreneur. It’s a nine-minute masterclass:
Most of us have come across the saying that every five-year-old is an artist, and by the age of ten very few of them are. It does ask questions about creativity and how we raise kids. I’m convinced that if we have a broad enough view of “creativity” nearly everyone can express creativity. When we realise this, the damaging self-narrative of “I’m not creative” can be identified and challenged.
But there is a more subtle deceit that can impede genuine creativity.
Recently a vendor of a virtual learning platform pitched to us. His platform allowed all kinds of pearcemayfield knowledge assets to be collected and formed into learning programmes. Whilst I was having lunch with Maya, our social media marketer, the other day, she reminded me what this guy had said: “You can create or you can curate.”
As I thought about this, I was reminded of a story Bill Johnson wrote about in his book, Dreaming with God :
Years ago I bought a jazz album on a whim. I eagerly looked forward to something fresh and new as I placed the album on the turntable. But I was horribly disappointed. It sounded like a child randomly pounding on a piano, with no melody or harmonies, no consistent rhythm, nothing to give it purpose or direction. Coincidentally, I found a magazine article by the same musician a year or so later. In that magazine he described a particular season of his life in which he tried to be completely original, without being influenced by any other musician. He referred to it as a dark season of his life. (pp.47,8)
Johnson goes on to say that it was obvious that the album had come from this season of the musician’s life. And then he refers to a key conclusion from this musician in the article:
He said that to really be creative he had to go back to what he had learned from others, and use that as a platform from which to create. (p.48)
All true creativity honours the masters before them. Pure originality is a myth. We all stand on giants’ shoulders.[shareable]Pure originality is a myth.[/shareable]
Striving for originality used to inhibit me. Now I delight in the work of others and, with due attribution, I seek to connect it with other ideas and sometimes I might even achieve in taking these ideas further.
Recently there has been some analysis on successful innovation and how it is often the second adopters who make the breakthrough.Horseless carriages were too much for society when they first came on the market, but someone had the idea of putting a dummy horse’s head, a sort of masthead, on their cars and it began to get traction. Innovation through evolution seems to be very close to this idea of creativity building on others’ work. We see this in the rise of Agile which is shameless in cannibalising and evolving first ideas.
Maybe we should just relax from the attempt to be original and seek to hone and improve what already is.[reminder]What examples can you think of where a breakthrough innovation was building on the concept of an earlier approach? What about examples in your own life? Where have you built on the ideas of others? Please leave your comment below.[/reminder]