Pragmatism, realism & difference

January 10, 2014

We packed a lot into the last two days, adding meetings over meals as needed to compensate for two days lost due to a combination of the weather, but more importantly the inability of West Jet to break out of their linear models (more over the weekend as promised).  Thursday saw me do three pretty similar presentations to different groups in short order;  something I enjoy as it refines the messages and often gives new insights as you adjust to each audience.   The last one included people external to Government including members of the Advisory group for the Ministry of Culture.   That allowed me to talk more about the roles of aesthetics in human sense-making, something that I am focusing on at the moment as I think we can gain a lot here without succumbing to NAFB syndrome.

On friday I ran a safe-to-fail workshop to look at new interventions to change attitudes within public service.  That meant I had pleasure of setting up a ritual dissent exercise, the joy of which for myself and the participants, never fails.  The ability of a group of people to come up with novel and interesting approaches is a constant delight.  However the tendency to just produce the familiar until challenged acts as a counter-balance.  My two final sessions were with the Minister and then with a group of young public servants over a meal.  Now one of the interesting things that happens when you meet with politicians is that often have a very different background to their public servants.   I was talking here about our work on health and well being and understanding the patient journey.  The Minister had done duty as a hospital porter (and had a wonderful story about roller skates, gurney trolley wheels and rules that I will relate at some stage when I can do justice to it).  That experience meant that he immediately saw the points I was making about the dangers of outcome based targets without the need for the level of explanation you have to give people in more bureaucratic roles.   I have seen the same over the years talking to nurses and other front line workers.  They get complexity, because they live it.   Either way a short planned meeting became a long meeting and a fascinating project that involve the Minister himself so I am looking forward to that.

Then to the end of the day and two meetings over a beer both with people who want to make a difference.   I’m not sure if I can name names so I am going to speak about the points I made, rather than the people involved and their views.  Two key lessons really that I can summarise as follows:

  • The first discussion included in part my response to Meg Wheatley‘s last book, something recommended to me on my last visit to Halifax  by one of the participants in the discussion.   The point I have made for years is that we need realism and pragmatism (both words in their common sense and philosophical meanings) and a lot less idealism.  The danger with setting idea future goals is that you are doomed to perpetual disappointment.  The advantage of managing the evolutionary potential of the present is that you can end up in better and more sustainable places, not only that you avoid the need to make a distinction between those of us who are enlightened and those who need to be converted which is all too characteristic of those suffering from NAFB syndrome.  Complexity, and cognitive approaches to complexity in particular, make no value judgements about process, something that is key.
  • The second was with a bright young group of people who are looking to set up an innovation centre.   I was distracted by one child (literal) to my left watching ​How to tame a dragon on his iPad (I had not realised how much the cartoons on that have improved since the original film) but I got over that.  They key point I made (and Hugh makes it much better in the cartoon which opens this post), is that they should not copy IDEO, or some existing place in Toronto or Denmark,  Instead they should create something unique to Nova Scotia, something that builds on the strengths of that society.  I had a lot of fun in that conversation and was sorry to leave, but my stamina is no longer what it was!

So four days into two, well almost I have moved flights on Monday to add a morning at the price of arriving in Minneapolis at midnight assuming Toronto and O’Hare airports are kind to me.  Now for the weekend, starting with a walk and then lots and lots of catchup on writing and calls.   I hope to write the blog post on crisis management on Sunday, but it may wait a bit.


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