Seat-giving: TfL gets another good idea

December 29, 2016

Nudge

A good idea often benefits from positive add-on suggestions which nudge it further. Take London for Transport’s seat-giving idea, for example

London for Transport has tested an idea for a Please offer me a seat card. It received a substantial level of support. The idea is yet another example of creative thinking. It builds on a previous idea, Baby on Board for pregnant mothers,

This kind of YES AND thinking, is encouraged in courses on creative problem-solving which also support idea-building through other trigger phrases  such as ‘what’s good about it?‘ (WGAI )

In that spirit, I found myself asking another trigger-phrase ‘In What Ways Might We . . .?‘ (IWWMW )

What if the Offer a Seat card idea was combined with:

A little thank you for seat donators?

Selfies?

Nomination for seat-giver of the week (SGOTW)?

A positive take

In times of general gloom, a new idea faces more negative reactions, and faster. I have shared some such reactions to recent political events. So, as National Independence Day, and Donald Trump’s inauguration approaches on January 20th , we all have time to practice some of these life-enhancing exercises.


Brainstorming Brexit

September 1, 2016

Image result for last supper wikipedia
As Teresa May’s Cabinet re-assembled this week,  reports suggested it would ‘brainstorm’ to review progress towards Brexit.  Here’s why that didn’t happen:
Media reports surfaced this week [29 August 2016] accompanied by official images of the cabinet room, chock fulla ministers surrounding the Prime Minister, and looking like a version of The Last Supper as portrayed by Banksie.
The Guardian lampooned the suggestion by asking a few creative thinking and team-building consultants how brainstorming might work:
Get them out of the the Westminster bubble, was one Guardian suggestion.  More audaciously, dress them up as penguins, was another.
All the gurus agreed the location and the composition of the team were both serious inhibitors to success in an attempt to create useful and imaginative ideas for Teresa May’s most serious political problem in the absence of dealing with a functional opposition.
I recently suggested how brainstorming might work. The topic is important, such as finding a new advertising slogan
Various earlier posts in LWD have looked at the scope and limitations of brainstorming as a means of creative problem-solving.
Technically, a brainstorming provides a structure and a few principles which help individuals (or more commonly groups) to challenge and go beyond old beliefs and ideas.
Newer versions such as electronic brainstorming are appropriate for ‘virtual’ groups operating remotely.
Anyone interested will find information in the most recent edition of my textbook Dilemmas of Leadership, and its chapter on creative leadership, which provides a good starting point for studying the subject.
Misunderstandings
Misunderstanding of brainstorming is widespread.  Politicians and business people us it as any attempt to dream up ideas.  (My favourite misunderstanding was a well-known politician who made the perilous journey from Westminster to the bandit territories of the North to take part in a brainstorming. Unfortunately he had accepted because he imagined he had been invited to make a barnstorming speech about his department’s achievements.
Brainstorming: a personal view
After much effort and numerous publications, I have reached a view that brainstorming in the narrower sense  requires:
a topic to be considered,
a structure which tries to overcome preconceptions participants interacting to overcome social and psychological barriers
a person experienced and skilled in facilitatating the process
and a physical space conducive to new ideas.
These conditions do not completely  preclude the possibility of a Cabinet meeting carrying out a brainstorming. But they do make it highly improbable to function effectively.  The more guarded and invested in a prior idea the participants are, the less likely there is of a positive result.
And with that, I rest my case.

Read the rest of this entry »


Driverless cars, perils of AI and the importance of creative thinking

September 18, 2015

Trolley tracks

 

We are discussing artificial intelligence tonight, said Newsnight’s Kirsty Wark, and we have some very intelligent humans with us to help us do it.

That, by the way, is a sort of Newsnight joke. I think.

Artificial intelligence and the driverless car

To be fair, there followed a very intelligent discussion by the very intelligent humans on the increasing impact of artificial intelligence and the ethical dilemmas raised, for example in the emerging era of the driverless car.

Unsurprisingly, one expert had been brought in to reassure us of the unlikely prospects of some disaster scenario of the ‘computers will take us over’ kind. Another took the contrary more cautious view. The debaters showed even more respect towards each other that was shown earlier in the day at PMQ by David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn.

Agency theory

At the core of the discussion is agency theory. I don’t mean the narrower ideas of corporate control between owners and managers or agents. I mean the great sociological issues of the nature of structures and the potential of humans to act as free agents.

In Newsnight, human agency was examined as potentially under threat by computers taking decisions. This introduces questions of whether the computers in cars and anywhere else will be able to deal with ethical issues on our behalf

To connect this to a problem of immediate practical importance, the case of driverless cars was introduced. The experts gently considered the possibility, concluding that it did not influence the positions they had outlined. But the Newsnight production team had their own secret weapon introduced by David Grossman, their excellent culture and technology editor.

The trolley problem

David has set up an experiment to replicate one of the famous ethical dilemmas known as the runaway rail truck or trolley problem.

Scientific American also had a look at it a few years ago, and I seem to remember a few references in The Economist. David, drawing on the BBC’s vast budget had obtained what looked like a bit of model rail track complete with a little red truck, and a switch that could be used to divert the truck way from the line that would kill five people and on to a branch line which would result in only one person being killed.

Grossman’s volunteers had the life or death choice of pulling the switch and after that the more tricky task of reflecting on the ethical dilemma to which they had been exposed. The volunteers conformed to the behaviours of countless laboratory subjects who had taken part in such experiments in the past. Yes, mostly they preferred to act. They also confirmed that it is jolly difficult to sort out that darn moral dilemma. What right had someone to take a life? Or not intervene to save five lives?

Hmm. What do you think?

When reintroduced to the viewers, the experts in ethics and artificial intelligence were given a chance to consider the implications of the experiment for philosophy, and the ethical problems of driverless cars. They tactfully avoided mentioning that a genius called Ludwig Wittgenstein has more or less drawn the poison out of ‘mind games’ as a bunch of linguistic traps.

More interestingly, one discussant pointed out a fundamental principle of creativity when anyone faces a tricky either-or decision. The concept is repeatedly found in my textbook Dilemmas of Leadership. A dilemma can be effectively re-framed if the binary nature of the ‘either-or’ is examined and its assumptions tested. You can apply that principle to the practically important issues of driverless cars, loss of human agency and ethical resolution of dilemmas.

I welcome comments and will elaborate on the conclusions later in an update to this post.


What I want to become: An exercise in creative leadership

May 11, 2014

Here’s an exercise in creative leadership. It takes five minutes to complete. Try it out for yourself or for your friends or with people you work with

Pantograph

You can do this exercise using an A4 sheet of paper, or a flip chart or using a computer or tablet. I will describe it for working with a sheet of paper but it is easy to translate for working from a flip chart or computer.

DSCN0857[1]

1 First you take a piece of paper and make two columns by drawing a line vertically down the middle of the page

2 Then at the top of the left hand column you write
I want to become ……

3 Then you complete the sentence with your wished-for future dream in no more than three additional words. It may be a professional wish or a personal one.

4 At the top of the right hand column write a statement about some quite different wish. You can select from this list of wishes suggested to me in the past. Select something as far away as possible from your statement in the left-hand column:

Airline pilot
Nobel Prize winning scientist
Famous explorer
Famous peace maker
Role model for children
Olympic athlete
Respected family person
Great teacher

5 Write down quickly ten ideas that would help you or someone else achieve the wish in the right-hand column. Let your imagination rip

6 Take a short break

7 Now turn your attention to the left-hand column

8 Look at the first item on the right and see what needs to be changed for it to suggest something in the left hand column

9 Write down the first thought that seems to connect with your own wish, opposite the first item on the right.

10 Repeat the process with the next item from the right hand column

11 Keep repeating the process. It will always be possible to find a connection for each idea

12 Take another short break before identifying idea you like most for a first step towards you reaching your dream

Why the exercise works and what might prevent it working

I know the exercise work because colleagues and I have tried it out on creativity courses around the world countless times. I expect it to have worked for you as a subscriber to Leaders We Deserve. The basic principles are derived from application of techniques for re-framing thoughts and visualizing future actions.

Sometimes it doesn’t work. There are various possible explanations for this. Most are to do with the specific circumstances under which the exercise was carried out. If it didn’t work for you, A conversation though the comments section of LWD may be found helpful. You can also find out more from courses and many books about creative problem-solving.


Northern Rock: What’s Good About It?

February 18, 2008

winners-and-losers.jpg

The Government announces its intention to take Northern Rock into temporary care. The story has been told as an outcome of poor leadership. Is it really a tale of all-round incompetence? Or has the crisis blocked out any thought of positive thinking about leadership or positive outcomes?

On Sunday February 17th 2008, Alistair Darling announced that Northern Rock was to be taken into public ownership. In many quarters, the decision is deplored as evidence of poor leadership.

The ubiquity of incompetence

As head of the Treasury, AD is taking much of the leadership pain. His political opponents have been quick to continue their attacks on the competence of The Chancellor and of The Prime Minister.

Gordon Brown stands accused of an old weakness, of appearing to be leaving someone else to shoulder the blame, when problems crop up.

Mervyn King, as Governor of the Bank of England has also been widely criticised for his performance. Although he came under serious fire, he has survived press and parliamentary scrutiny and retained his job.

Northern Rock executives CEO Adam Applegarth and Chairman Matt Ridley were also found wanting. Their fates was sealed as the enormity of the problems at Northern Rock became clear. Initial offers to stay on to stabilize things were no more than could be hoped for. Exit Applegarth and Ridley, seriously damaged.

Interim CEO Andy Kuipers who replaced Applegarth is seen very much as a stopgap. He seems to have done all that could be expected, and came up with a rescue plan that won support from institutional shareholders. Yet I have seen no positive commentaries on his leadership.

The Financial Services Authority (FSA) have also been found wanting and criticized for “systematic failure of duty“. Its relationships with The Treasury and Bank of England are now being re-examined.

Leadership reflections

Are these various individuals really such incompetents as they are being portrayed? I offered a different view in an earlier post, which suggested that Alistair Darling, for one, could be seen as having a coherent strategy which he was playing pretty well. He signalled that nationalization was an undesired option, but one that he would not hesitate to use. Furthermore, the position was made to appear more convincing with a timely placing of information about the fall-back plan and the appointment of a very able leader (Ron Sandler) to run any new nationalized outfit.

Unlike many political commentators I argued that Darling has been playing a very solid game under tough circumstances. Among the complications are concerns to avoid breaking EU regulations about State Aid.

The merits of creative thinking

Serious problems can produce a deepening sense of doom and gloom. The difficult becomes assumed to be the impossible. At such times creative thinking is called for.

Creative leaders have their own ways of encouraging the faint-hearted. There are general purpose techniques advocated that help discussions break out of the bleak mindset that is captured by the ‘automatic no men’ and their killer phrases.

Edward de Bono suggests the benefits of putting on a positive thinking hat, and exploring unexpected options, before subjecting ideas to critical evaluation.

There are emerging psychological theories which suggest why personal development can be enhanced through such a positive approach.

When a group has become bogged down, and is unable to find any constructive answer to its problems, I recommend it starts with an attempt to put on a positive face (or De Bono’s sunny yellow thinking hat) and address the question ‘what’s good about it’.

As team leader, or someone brought in to support its creative thinking, I would not imply that I had an immediate answer, and invite a response for others.

Here’s how it might work, from the starting position that Northern Rock is a basket-case, whose troubles have been brought on by ineptitude of leaders in a tough global financial market-place.

What’s good about it?

The company has escaped the worse-case scenario of going bust, and triggering off a wider national (and perhaps international) reaction, in which the mortgages, savings, and jobs of many thousands of people would have been destroyed.

A first class leader has been put in place for the interim nationalised institution. He is likely to be granted more powers from the Government who will try to avoid accusations of interference in its management.

The action offers the best chance that funds sunk into the rescue (some £50 billion) will be recovered. (These are increasingly referred to as tax-payers money, but that’s another story).

Even the shareholders will get more than they would have if the shares were evaluated at their technical value (something close to nothing).

We could apply a similar approach to re-evaluate the leadership performance of those classed as dummies. I leave that exercise for another time.