The Perils of good Management – “We didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow, we lost”

In our previous article, we explained why we use games to support disruptive learning. But our approach doesn’t stop at creating games: the technology is a support for learning, the tool we use to challenge the user and bring hands-on experience to the mix. Lots of what we help people learn goes beyond what the game can offer, and requires a shift in how they think.

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Recently, Nokia was acquired by Microsoft, and their CEO ended his speech saying “we didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow, we lost”. Today we’re going to talk about how management is no longer about right and wrong or good and bad. This is a core value behind what we do, and we strive to make it one of the pillars of what we create.

 

Good management is the reasons businesses fail – the backstory to innovation

We built a back story around the games based on understanding of the key principles of disruptive innovation and the key obstacles to achieving innovation in a business.

The story is based on two companies fighting for market dominance. On the one hand there is The Circle a company driven by a philosophy of “good-management” (this is according to Clayton Christensen one of the main root causes of business failure) where leadership is about being right and management is about doing the right thing. And on the other hand the Black Swan team (which uses broadly, tongue in cheek, the principles of Black Swan philosophy to explain the psychological biases of why people are blinded to key events and large changes –  thus making the need to make mistakes, positive error, learn and unlearn key requirements for innovation and creativity) and which represents the key values that are the antitheses of the of The Circle/good management  -summed up in the phrase “ when everyone thinks the same nobody thinks”.

The Circle holds dominion over its employees through a company well-being drug program in which it covertly includes a “special formula” in its daily vitamin regimen for all employees to ensure their unquestioning obedience. The Black Swan team’s job is to close down The Circle manufacturing plant and create an antidote to The Circle “good-management drugs program.

Loosely based on the Matrix we have created this story, available as part of the Conquest and The Heist game briefing packs and as a bande dessinee, to help participants work with the key fundamentals of disruptive innovation.

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We wanted to bring home to people that the groundswell of innovation comes from human behavior, their behavior and not some external source far out of their control.

 

Good communication blocks learning

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Chris Argyris and his now classic work on double loop learning demonstrated that our common-sense approach to the rules of communication and management actually block and ensure we under perform. What he found was as remarkable as Christensen with regards to Innovation. He discovered that the key principles of good communication actually prevent you from getting an optimal solution.

Our common sense and classically trained/educated understanding of the rules of good communication, self-censure, consensus, and compromise actually prevent real communication. That is you get really good, skilled incompetence, at not actually saying what needs to be said.

Single loop learning is where you make decisions based on largely untested assumptions. Double loop learning is where you adopt processes that test and validate views, hypotheses, tactics and strategies. Whilst double loop learning was made popular by learning organization advocates and turned into the practice of action learning it is our experience that the essence of Argyris work has been lost. In that action learning has simply become a metaphor for learn by doing-it. “Doing-it” doesn’t make any difference to the outcome if you haven’t got a process that tests why you are doing it.

Consequently, we have incorporated De Bono’s six thinking hats collaboration and teamwork methodology into our Disruptive Learning development programs to provide leaders and teams the means to communicate, plan and execute in a business world dominated by innovation, creativity, risk, agile and lean start-up models.

 

Good culture blocks decision making

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Where do the rules, the schemas, that underpin our processes of good management and good communication come from? They come from the way we are educated by our culture to solve problems, manage tasks, work with authority, deal with change, experience time and make social relationships. You, your team and your organization are organized by a set of per-established rules, culture, which you follow to determine what’s right and wrong (norms, company rules) and decide what’s good and bad (values, implicit company values).

And so your organization’s meta-rules, your organizational culture views of being right and wrong and doing the right thing and not the wrong thing lead you paradoxically to being wrong. Culture provides the superstructure for good management and good communication These rules fundamentally lay down the building blocks of your experience and largely remain unchecked.

Disruptive learning is about ensuring that you “change the rule book” for culture, engagement, leadership, teamwork, communication and collaborating.

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The rules of a good management culture act like a gravitational force and prevent the development of new ideas, innovation or creative thinking.

For companies, teams and leaders interested in innovation, creativity and new strategies then they must fight against this gravitational force by redefining the rules of success and risk taking by creating a new playbook. That’s disruptive learning… simply a method of helping leaders and teams play by a different set of rules.