Well it’s official – I now have a mini business called legophotofy (meaning to change a real-life scene into a Lego photo). You can see examples of the scenes I make – like this one that I created for WWF’s A-Z of Organisational Development – at my Instagram account @legophotofy
E is for ‘the elephant in the room’
Just for fun I have started a series called Office Life on the Death Star. Here are the first two photos:
Office Life on the Death Star 1: The Monday morning briefing meeting
Office Life on the Death Star 2: Water cooler discussion about last night’s episode of ‘Love Island’
Feel free to get in touch if you’d like to find out more or commission a photo for your report, leaflet, or training materials.
I have always loved playing with Lego and over the years I managed to find ways of incorporating Lego into my consultancy and training work. A while ago, when I couldn’t find photos that illustrated a subject I needed for a training course, I created miniature Lego scenes and photographed them. After seeing some of those photos, a former colleague from my Framework days, Órla Cronin, commissioned me to create some Lego images that she could use for her online facilitation training. It was a joyous challenge and one that gave me the excuse to buy some little people and Lego accessories! I experimented with my iPhone (good for short focal length photos), tripod, and a recently purchased light tent, and produced a few photos of scenes (like the ones below) to illustrate various online facilitation situations that Órla and I had worked in with our clients. I was really delighted when Órla got in touch to say how much she liked them. With the ‘green light’ from Órla I created a few more scenes and made some miniature props to add a touch of detail – and fun – like the the headset for the online facilitator on-screen and the flipchart with mini PostIts. I’m really looking forward to seeing how Órla uses my photos. Also, I am in the process of setting up an Instagram account to share my photos and maybe even receive a few commissions. Stay tuned.
After twenty deeply fulfilling years as a consultant and trainer in the Framework collective, I retired from professional work in January of 2019. Since then I have been wondering how I managed to fit a full-time job into my life. For the past seven years I tried to squeeze a few hours of work for a local environmental organisation – the St Andrews Environmental Network (StAndEN) – into my weekly schedule. It was a practical way of doing something about the ‘carbon guilt’ caused by generating large CO2 emissions whilst travelling worldwide as a consultant. Now that I am no longer travelling internationally (thereby reducing my carbon footprint) I also have time to work two days a week with StAndEN, helping people – particularly those living on low incomes – reduce their carbon footprint and cut their household fuel bills. The work involves our community project in providing advice and acting as advocates for our clients, and, in my case, installing practical energy saving measures such as low energy light bulbs, draught-proofing and thermal curtains. Although the work is quite a contrast to consultancy and training, it connects me to the early days of my career when I worked as a local government social worker with poor and marginalised families. I’m finding the cyclical nature of this connection very satisfying.
Almost a decade ago I had the pleasure of meeting and first working with Olivier Serrat from the Asian Development Bank. We worked together on a range of initiatives for ADB including developing a series of courses on learning in organisations. During that time Olivier wrote nearly 100 short and readable papers on issues related to organisational learning, knowledge management and leadership. In 2010 he brought these together in a single volume and it has been a constant and valued companion to me in my work. More recently, Olivier has added to the already comprehensive list of topics he had covered in his original publication and has now published a new collection of 126 of his articles in e-book form. Knowledge Solutions comprises an encyclopaedic resource on learning in organisations and is a significant contribution to the field. In an extremely welcome gesture of generosity his publisher – Springer – has made all of this content available Open Access which means we can download all the chapters free. You can browse through this cornucopia of materials here.
Consultant’s Journey: A Dance of Work and Spirit by Roger Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I have been intending to read this book for about fifteen years following a friend’s recommendation. I got hold of a second hand copy recently and it was well worth the belated purchase. In fact, I wish I had read it much earlier in my consulting career. Roger Harrison’s odyssey – as has been mentioned in many other reviews – parallels the development of OD up to the time of writing in 1995. Whilst many books on OD and management quickly go out of date, it is incredible how relevant and indeed prescient much of this book is. It is also striking how much of his personal life Harrison is willing to share as he describes his journey as a consultant and as a husband, father, colleague, lover, disciple and human being. Whilst this level of disclosure may be common now (even in some ‘professional’ books), I imagine when ‘Consultant’s Journey’ was published in 1995 it was pretty unusual – but entirely consistent with the integrated and self-reflective approach to work and life that is Harrison’s practice hallmark. Harrison’s often forensic analysis of his motives, ambitions, flaws, fluctuations in self-confidence and achievements is stimulating, and reassuringly honest. For me, reading the book was an emotional rollercoaster as Harrison’s disclosures and insights prompted me to recall some of my own consultancy successes, failures and occasional disasters and to view them in a new light. There is simply so much to stimulate and challenge OD practitioners in this book that it is difficult to know where to start. For me the most revelatory aspect of the Consultant’s Journey is how many conceptual models in OD and training practice have their roots in Harrison’s work. He is quick to admit that many of ‘his’ ideas were not completely original (but how many ideas really are original?) – but in my view Harrison’s significant contribution to the OD field has been in bringing together thinking from diverse disciplines, adding his own insights and then developing practical and useful models and frameworks for others to use.
In an accompanying book of papers (The Collected Papers of Roger Harrison) the author quotes Paramhansa Yogananda who is reputed to have said “Read for one hour; write for two; meditate for three”. Harrison goes on to say “I believe that all, or almost all learning is remembering in the sense of bringing forth what is already latent in us and giving it new forms appropriate in the moment. If that is true, then a major purpose of reading is to stimulate one’s own mental, emotional, or creative processes. One reads to catalyse remembering, and a little of the catalyst goes a long way.” Harrison may not have published much but I will be benefitting from his two book legacy for a long time. I only wish I had listened to my friend Liz Goold fifteen years ago!
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Last week I spent a very enjoyable five days in Oxford facilitating a short course on Organisational Development for INTRAC. This is an annual event for me and one that involves participants from across the globe. This year there were ten. One of the methodologies I introduce during the course is drawing ‘rich pictures’ and every year I can guarantee that asking the participants to draw a picture elicits groans from at least half of them. For most people, drawing is something they leave behind them as children. This is a great pity and I am pleased that almost everyone – even those who insist they “can’t draw” – reassess the value of using pictures as well as words to help them explain the complex organisational challenges they bring to the course. Drawing rich pictures is part of ‘soft systems methodology’ (see Checkland, Peter and Jim Scholes (1999) Soft Systems Methodology in Action, Chichester, UK: Wiley) but it has now evolved into a recognised ‘standalone’ method that can be used in many different ways. A Rich Picture uses drawing to visualise the complex systems nature of a situation, open up discussion, generate creativity and insight, and facilitate shared understanding.
Rich Pictures are well-suited to examining organisational development and organisational learning issues because even apparently simple organisational issues always involve complex multiple inter-acting relationships. Pictures are often a better medium than words for expressing complexity because they encourage a more dynamic and holistic representation of a situation – in short they can provide a rich amount of information in an easily understandable form. I have used Rich Picture methodology with groups in Denmark, Myanmar, Sweden, the UK, The Netherlands and Armenia. The methodology seems to cross cultural borders easily.
I try to reassure my course participants that they don’t have to be an artist to produce a Rich Picture! All you need is a very large piece of paper (flipchart-sized or bigger), lots of coloured pens and some time to think.
Here are some guidelines for drawing rich pictures:
- The focus of the picture should be the situation you are interested to explore – it could be in your organisation or in another organisation.
- Use all the space available – spread out the parts of your picture but leave some space for developing the picture (a Rich Picture is a dynamic tool and can be revised to incorporate new insights).
- Include a representation of yourself in the picture – you don’t have to be at the centre but you should be in there somewhere!
- Include key people, teams and structures within the organisation.
- Include other important stakeholders outside the organisation.
- Represent the issues, achievements, problems, feelings and concerns of the people in the diagram using speech bubbles and thought bubbles (just like comic books).
- Use metaphors – for example, if you think someone is forcing their views on others, draw them as an elephant!
- Represent types of relationships using arrows, lines or any other way you like.
- Represent the climate or quality of the relationships using symbols such as dark clouds, sunshine, lightning flashes or any other way you like.
- Include influencing factors in the wider environment.
There are a number of books around for people who are interested to dive deeper into the use of Rich Pictures. One of my favourites is Growing Wings on the Way – Systems Thinking for Messy Situations by Rosalind Armson, 2011, Triarchy Press.
Think Like an Engineer by Guru Madhavan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I had great expectations of this book, some of which were met and many of which were not. On reflection, I think Madhavan’s book could have been more accurately titled ‘How Engineers Think’. On this it delivered. The book is full of entertaining and enlightening stories that get into the minds of engineers across historical, geographical and specialist boundaries. However, it disappointed me because it didn’t help me as a reader to see how I could apply the models and perspectives in my own work. I was prepared to meet the author half way on the book jacket claim that ‘Think Like an Engineer … can help you solve problems, make better decisions and innovate in a complex world”. Having an index helps, and there is a good section on ‘Sources and Resources’ for follow up but a few ‘boxes’ summarising the models and thinking tools and maybe providing some hints on how others outside the field of engineering have used them would have been very helpful. Modular systems thinking (p21); Heilmeier’s checklist for innovation (p24); Ohno’s ‘5-Whys’ technique (p72); and, particularly, the ‘structure, constraints, trade-offs’ model that runs through the book would all have been candidates for ‘boxed summaries’ focusing on practical applications outside the realm of engineering.
Having read Madhavan’s book I have a better understanding of the nature of engineering and a new-found respect for engineers. I just wish I felt better equipped to think like one!
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