The Value of Scale

April 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

I met with Sam recently after working for half an hour or so with her group on their studio project. It was apparent in their meeting that they were feeling like they were spinning their wheels without getting traction and getting anxious about the amount of time they had left in the semester to get through their process. I attempted to help them move forward and make them feel better about the amount of work they could do in the remaining time.

After sitting in with them Sam and I broke off and had our 1-on-1 meeting. It was apparent that she wanted to continue the group conversation in our discussion with the remaining time for the project being her main concern. After trying to boost her confidence by talking about the anxiety that all or most people and teams feel as large projects come to conclusion and explaining that the project is (shhhh…) more about the experience and journey than producing a groundbreaking solution to the challenge. Finally, I gave some advice, all based on the same concept: SCALE.

First, you have to scale the process to your time frame; it would be nice to spend weeks and weeks in each step, ensuring that due diligence was performed. On some projects you do not have that luxury though and you must move forward with imperfect information and/or intuitive decisions.

Next, scale your challenge to fit the available time. If you were given three weeks to address a problem involving pollution it would be unrealistic to start at the global, national, state or even city level. The neighborhood or a workplace could be a better fit. Similarly, tackling industrial pollution in a few weeks would be nearly impossible but addressing littering amongst a group of people feels much more possible. Choosing an appropriate scale for your problem can ensure that you can move through the process as required.

Lastly, we should scale the solution to fit the remaining time. If you have to choose a solution and have two weeks to attempt implementation, you should use time as a criteria when making your decision. With two weeks left it would be more reasonable to choose the strategy involving a small group rather than one involving many players or one requiring six steps as opposed to 66 steps.

Leadership The Butler Way

January 11, 2011 § 1 Comment

Since we began dating, one of the favorite things for my wife and I to do is attend basketball games at her alma mater, Butler University. It certainly helped our enjoyment of the games and team that during that time they’ve risen to nearly the top of the college basketball world with their near miss in the NCAA championship game in 2010. During their run it became popular for pundits to talk about “The Butler Way‘” as if it was their magical elixir. Intrigued, I investigated The Way and have come to respect the leadership values that it promotes.

Developed by the patriarch of Butler coaches, Tony Hinkle (Hinkle Fieldhouse), to offer guidance for his players and students, The Way demands commitment, denies selfishness and accepts reality, yet seeks constant improvement while promoting the good of the team above self. It has developed today into a backbone of their basketball teams, the athletic department and other elements of the school. Courtesy of Wikipedia, here is the Butler Way as it appears in their basketball locker room:

  1. Humility – know who we are, strengths and weaknesses
  2. Passion – do not be lukewarm, commit to excellence
  3. Unity – do not divide our house, team first
  4. Servanthood – make teammates better, lead by giving
  5. Thankfulness – learn from every circumstance

When I looked into the principles last Spring I immediately identified connections between values that I share as well as those  espoused by the MFA in Visual Communications program at IU’s Herron School of Art and Design. Let’s discuss the way that I envision the principles:

Humility – being honest about our abilities and situations better lets us leverage our talents and mediate and build on our weaknesses, be this individually or as an organization

Passion – having a desire to succeed regardless of the sacrifice necessary has pushed many from good to great

Unity – having teammates to share the load, hold us accountable, talk honestly with, commiserate and rebound with, and to celebrate successes with is vital to many projects, if not life

Servanthood – it is necessary for us all to be servants at times and leading by giving is incredibly valuable and rewarding both for a team and within an individual

Thankfulness – sometimes a loss or critique may hurt, but we should be thankful for the opportunity regardless as there is much to be learned from painful moments as well as those instances when we come out on top

Coaching Reflection

December 9, 2010 § 2 Comments

During the second half of this semester I acted as the project management coach for first year MFA students working through the Simplex creative problem solving process to address an issue concerning Herron. Team KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) was given the difficult task of tackling an issue related to smoking in or around the building.

I met with team KISS about once a week to offer feedback, insight or simply to participate in their meetings. As the team was nearing its last week on the project we met to discuss project management. Using three questions — What’s helping our process?, What’s hindering our process?, What are we learning from the process? — I tried to get KISS members to reflect on managing their project up to that point and how they would handle the last steps.

In the last meeting we had a good conversation and the team was able to articulate their learning the project management realm during the course of the project. As the project began they were eager to define a schedule with tight deadlines so that they could be done with the project on time. Working through the project they came to the realization that rather than following a strict timeline, the path they followed was more of a natural, organic route. They stated that there was a need for “soft” deadlines so that they could complete their work in the end and that it could be a hinderance and not in the project’s best interest to make a decision or move forward simply because their schedule dictated that they do so. (Certainly it is vital that the project met it’s final deadline.) The team felt that they spent an appropriate amount of time in each step, not too long or too short, and that being flexible and intuitive on decision making was necessary. I found it interesting that they also identified the possibility of having an official project manager for their next project.

I believe that I worked with the team well over the project term because I was able to build trust and a positive rapport with them. I often asked them how they were doing, inserted myself into the process and took time to encourage and offer positive comments whenever I saw an opportunity. This confidence with each other helped when it was time to talk about serious issues and to give honest comments; I was critical of aspects of their project at times but because we had a respect for one another I was able to share and they were receptive to my thoughts. I tried to keep my comments specific and to the point, in effort to not overwhelm or confuse them with unfocused or too much information. When it came time for our final meeting on project management I used the three process questions, with a focus on their schedule and project management, to frame our conversation and it worked very well and they were able to articulate their thoughts and learning as described above. These questions are invaluable and could be used at any point during a project to gain an understanding of team strengths, weaknesses, and learning. The tips for providing positive feedback are also highly valuable for communicating with others, and have application across many relationships.

Finally, I learned that I really enjoyed acting as an advisor to a project team. It was usually a highlight of my day in the studio when I sat with them to learn about their project and to talk about elements of it. Sometimes I could offer insight and other times I was able to learn something new from them.

Consultant/Facilitation Practice

September 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

Acting as a consultant to a classmate, I helped her devise a solution to small problem in her life through facilitation of a team of 4 peers through the Simplex creative problem solving process.

I had a pre-consulting session with my client and then prepared over the next 3 days for the event. At the group session I had 2 hours to complete 6 or 7 of the 8 steps in the process, which would provide the client with a new strategy for tackling her problem. I think both the individual and group sessions went very well and the solution provided to her problem was very fitting. 😉

Our challenge statement for the client arrived at “How might we help her enjoy shopping?” We determined that she did not enjoy shopping for a variety of reasons, but largely due to allergies. The lack of enjoyment resulted in her having a wardrobe unapproved by her boyfriend and family members. « Read the rest of this entry »

Secrets & Assumptions

September 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

Secret BoxAs I was leaving school today I noticed simple looking box sitting innocently in the lobby. Too plain to be an advert of any sort but too smart to have been forgotten, I stopped and turned around for further inspection. There was a pad of paper attached to the top, a pen tethered to the back and a simple note asking passerby to share a secret. For their generosity they would be rewarded with a secret from the box’s creator, which was on the flip side of the note. I deposited two secrets, read theirs and was on my way. Kind of a nice end to the day, leaving a few secrets behind as I left for the day.

The incident got me thinking on my drive home about a box created last year by design team 5.0 in the Collaborative Action Studio. I believe they were having communication issues that were hampering their work. In effort to address this they created a similar box. If an issue was thought to be serious enough the member was obligated to discuss it. If the problem was likely an assumption  or minor it could be placed in the box, never to be read; a good symbol for acknowledging fears and then moving on, not letting them hold you back. It seemed to have worked for them as their productivity improved after implementing their version of the secret box.

Maybe we all need a box to deposit our fears and secrets into so that we can move forward, and past our assumptions that threaten to hold us back. Feel free to share your secrets in the comments section, anonymously of course.

Negotiation Exercise Reflection

September 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

In our collaborative studio course last week we went through a 1-on-1 negotiation exercise. The scenario pitted two mid-level managers at a newspaper in a negotiation to spend $1M. I thoroughly enjoyed the negotiation role playing and possibly got too involved in my character’s perspective to produce a result closer to what I think that I would have reached for in my life.

As Coleman, one of the first emotions I felt was a sense of competition with Martinez. Competition is certainly part of many workplaces and this scenario made sure to play that aspect up through the inclusion of potential job promotions and encouraging us to exceed stated goals. (Both of which are appropriate workplace phenomenon.) The secretive nature of the exercise also helped to create an us, advertising, versus them, editorial, mentality, and I fell for the common trap of thinking that we both could not win. « Read the rest of this entry »

Brainstorming’s Unwritten Rule

September 10, 2010 § 2 Comments

Today in our Collaborative Action Studio the first-year students were re-introduced to “brainstorming,” one of many techniques for ideation (generating ideas) before going through a session led by an experienced facilitator. Second-year students were encouraged to sabotage the experience or to exhibit negative brainstorming behavior as an example of how unproductive or uncomfortable the sessions become when executed poorly (I think the new students figured it out quickly… smart bunch). Before and after the session we talked about how to properly facilitate a brainstorming session and the errors that were exhibited.

It had been a few months since I had facilitated brainstorming or ideation and just this morning before class I had gathered a group of students to ideate on a meeting that we will be hosting. Later in the day when we reviewed best practices for ideation facilitation I realized how rusty I had become in just a short time without practice. Brainstorming seems easy to execute but in reality, leading a productive, engaging and successful session takes a lot of skill and awareness. Reviewing the rules and tips was a nice refresher and reminded me that I need to reflect upon and review core skills such as these on occasion.

There is one rule however that you will not find in any as yet published ideation guides. Fortunately I am here to share it with you:Quite simply, make sure your pants are zipped. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I had violated this cardinal rule while leading my session earlier in the day. In all honesty the odds are good that I will make this mistake again; but there is no need for you to follow in my steps. Avoid ego assassination and check your fly before stepping in front of a group of people ready to shout out anything that comes to mind.

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