Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Steve Denning's latest book, The Secret Language of Leadership: How Leaders Inspire Action Through Narrative is out.

He's quite a master on the marketing side of things and I've always been intrigued by his ideas about storytelling as a knowledge management strategy. I had read The Springboard when it was published in 2000. The Springboard focuses on how Denning introduced knowledge management at the World Bank through storytelling. I had met Denning in 1999 for a report I was writing on Knowledge Management at the World Bank and at USAID.

I just received my copy of The Secret Language of Leadership and I haven't read it yet. However, the book comes with an avalanche of "bonus" products from Denning's website, so I am digesting some of the bonuses and other materials that appeared in my inbox after I subscribed to pretty much everything that was offered.

One of these bonuses is a short paper titled "Creating an Organization That is Comfortable with Change." In it, I came across a short discussion of the "idea practitioner", which apparently comes from Prusak and Davenport. The "idea practitioner" is "someone below the very top of the hierarchy who believe[s] passionately in the innovation and [is] eventually able to win support from the hierarchy." Denning goes on to note that "if CEOS can find the people in the organization who are already doing things differently, they can endorse their efforts and encourage others to join them. It will reduce the time they will need to spend on inspiring enthusiasm for change."

This concept of the "idea practitioner" reminded me of a short paper I wrote a long time ago about the power of ideas and how ideas spread within organizations and across organizations through individuals, cells of like-minded people across organizations, and networks.

Miraculously, a hard copy of the paper survived in my basement. Sometimes it is fun to read things you have written many years ago and in the process, remembering a lot more than what is written down.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Accountability Myopia Can Impede NGO Learning and Mission
From Monday Developments, November 28, 2005.
Alnoor Ebrahim

This is an article that won't age -- unfortunately.
Garry Emmons, Senior Associate Editor of the Harvard Business School (HBS) Alumni Bulletin, recently wrote a short article titled "Encouraging Dissent in Decision-Making."

The format for these HBS articles is very reader-friendly. The articles are usually 3-5 pages, often summarizing broader research efforts. The articles are essentially teasers if you get really interested in the topic and you want more, but they are also giving you enough information to stick to the article if you don't have time for more. If the 3-page article is too much for you, stick to the paragraph executive summary and you'll still be getting something useful.

The gist of the article: "Our natural tendency to maintain silence and not rock the boat, a flaw at once personal and organizational, results in bad—sometimes deadly—decisions. Think New Coke, The Bay of Pigs, and the Columbia space shuttle disaster, for starters."

As is often the case, the key to encouraging dissent and overcoming our reluctance to speak up is to set up the right incentives and rewards system. If this requires changing the organizational culture, it's not a small task and as pointed out in the article, it needs to start from the top. What is the advice, then, for those lower down in the chain of command who would like to find constructive ways to dissent? I would like to find an article on dissent from the point of view of the employee: "How to dissent without getting fired -- or resigning?"

Here is a start from Kevin Daley in T+D:"How to disagree: go up against your boss or a senior executive and live to tell the tale."

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Evaluation Humor

The Output/Outcome/Downstream Impact Blues, a song by Terry Smutylo.

In a parallel universe, international development evaluation professionals would be required to memorize and sing this song once a year, or anytime they feel a little blue about their work. I am going to post it where I can see it every day. I am still looking for a working link to the audio track. I'd like to know what the tune sounds like.

In a more visual format, I also liked the cartoon-like drawings in "The Most Significant Change."