Archive for the ‘Work’ Category

The outsider’s perspective

February 19, 2010

I was reading an article in Wired last night which struck a chord. It’s partly about a researcher who has studied how scientists work and in particular how they react to the “dirty secret of science”: that all the time experiments come up with inexplicable disappointing results, even when conducted by really experienced people in some of the finest labs in the world. As part of my biochemistry degree I spent 6 months in a lab doing research and it’s certainly true. And really frustrating.

The researcher studied how different groups of scientists reacted to these unexpected findings, and discovered that those with more varied personnel from different disciplines/nationalities etc. were more able to engage in productive debate and come up with solutions, or spot that the result could be the answer to a totally different question. Whereas in labs with a less collaborative culture or a more homogenous team were less likely to make breakthroughs.

All of which makes perfect sense given all the research that I’ve seen on creativity: that often bringing in outsiders and facilitating the collision of previously unconnected ideas is hugely effective.

And it chimes with what I experience all the time as a consultant: that coming in as an outsider you are far more likely to spot things that need to be questioned and have new ideas than the people within the organisation who have become institutionalised and have the same points of view.  It’s also why the pitching process for new business can be (at its best) really inspiring and can even result in the incumbent agency retaining the account – because having the perspective and attitude of the outsider facilitates the creation of great work.

It’s why there are those books about ‘Your first 100 days as CEO’: because it’s when you still have the perspective of an outsider that you are likely to have your best ideas and make the biggest impact.  One of my current clients is going through a sudden major change in management, which means that all previous assumptions are being questioned. Whilst that is painful I think a lot of good will come from it.

Seth Godin

January 27, 2010

Seth Godin has a new book out Linchpin. I know this because I subscribe to his blog and also because, rather than use traditional media to publicise the book, he sent advance copies to lots of the bloggers and smart people he admires and asked them to read it and interview him if they wanted. Which of course they did want to, because he’s very smart, so now there’s a lot of high quality coverage of the book out there and it’s not even out yet (in the UK at least).

I’m looking forward to reading it – it looks to be a rallying cry for people to be extraordinary and make a difference. But with a lot more substance than your average self help book baloney.

Something that stood out for me in one of the interviews he’s done is the concept of ’emotional labour’ (labor to the Americans but I’m not having that): “bringing guts and ideas and love to work when you and others don’t feel like it”. That in pretty much every job “there’s a chance to lead and make change and connect and create tiny breakthroughs”.

I really like that idea – when I think about all the people I admire that’s what they do: emotional labour. They bring themselves and their passions and  imperfections to their work and take the risk of being criticized or laughed at. And in so doing they create more impact and change than a hundred people who just keep their heads down and only engage the rational, sensible bit of their brains.

I hope that emotional labour is what I am able to do for my clients, at least some of the time – to bring energy and new thinking and the ability to engage a group of people so that things that feel a bit stuck get unstuck.

Here’s a link to Seth’s blog where he lists the interesting people who have talked about the book. A good opportunity to discover some great blogs, if nothing else.