Is change or transformation viewed as a ‘problem’ to be ‘solved’?

I subscribe to the Gurteen Knowledge-Letter, which never disappoints.  Issue 113 – November quoted from and linked to an online booklet from David Block .

 This quote caught my attention:

We cannot problem solve our way into fundamental change, or transformation.

David Gurteen raised it in context of the Knowledge Cafes he runs, where people often expect ‘tangible outcomes’ and don’t appear to see the value in conversation.

The quote relates to what the author identifies as a deeply held belief that the way we make a difference is by defining problems and then finding solutions.  The overall aim of the article is to define the toolsets communities can use to bring a vision into being. It’s about how to create that future for communities.

It rings true for the enterprise as well. So many aspects of corporate operation have a strong problem solving function and culture. But we can’t define change or transformation in the same terms we use to define a problem, and then recommend actions to solve it. If the underlying context hasn’t changed, then nothing much really changes.

‘Authentic transformation is about a shift in context and a shift in language and conversation.’ The author notes that to achieve a change in context, a rethinking of roles, accountability, partnering, and commitment is required. When you think about successful change programs, they have genuinely changed the context within which people operate, think, connect and converse.

My strongest experience of this is action was when I led a strategy program for a major organisation. It involved core services and touched every single aspect of the business. It required a new way of thinking and viewing the services. And it required revisiting roles, responsibilities and accountabilities. Some of those conversations were challenging. But we started shifting the context from the minute the project started, with the people who would play a key role in the future. We did this a number of ways, both formal and informal, and a key characteristic of both was conversation. We designed a new future that became much more than just diagrams and powerpoint presentations.

There are plenty of intangible benefits to be had from conversations within business, but they are rarely measured and often unacknowledged.  It’s easy to gloss over the conversations a team might have to clarify an issue, to come up with a new product or service, to offer a truly innovative approach to a business service. When business seeks to formalise activities so that everyone is clear about what is needed, it’s not surprising that project plans rarely contain activities under the following headings: conversation, syndication, socialisation. You might tell me they are part of a communication and engagement plan, but the primary approach of many communication and engagement plans remains broadcast.

So many of our day to day business tools are still firmly anchored in the desktop suite, which has as its primary purpose packaging information and interaction neatly up into clear buckets and clear pathways. So it’s not surprising that unstructured web 2.0 tools come with quite a barrier to adoption. When it can be hard to identify tangible, financial outcomes from say, an active internal blogging community, web 2.0 struggles at the hurdle.

But perhaps, in an organisation that wants to learn how to value conversation, they provide a very real opportunity to start shifting the context. The strength in a number of the enterprise 2.0 toolsets is in the fact that they sit outside traditional corporate hierarchies. It’s all about the content and the conversation.

  1. well done. couldn’t agree more. check out our book, “authentic conversations: moving from manipulation to truth and commitment”. it is dead center for your remarks here. love to see others working this very important issue of changing the conversations to transform the culture.

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