Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Natural Abrasion

A couple weeks ago I attended some Facilitation training here at Critical Mass. When asked at the outset what I hoped to get out of the sessions I replied; " to better manage the natural abrasion that occurs between "creatives" and "management". This response was humoursly received by all, but it didn't take long before it was regarded as our defacto theme for the training.

Now a couple of days ago the twittisphere provided me with a gem of a presentation by Roger Martin. This post is an encouragement to watch it. (linked below) This post is also my journal, as I just had to summarize the presentation for future reference.

By all accounts Mr. Martin acknowledges this abrasion, or in his terms, tension, and provides both business people and designers a framework and language for relating to each other. The basis of this framework is the notion that the business camp demands RELIABILITY, whereas the design camp demands VALIDITY.

Ok so a couple fast definitions.
Reliability - produces the same thing or result over and over again. Limiting the number of variables increases it.
The problem with reliability is it will never introduce something new.

Validity - production of an output that meets an objective.
Expanding the number of variables increases it.
The problem with validity is it can only be substantiated by future events.

Mr. Martin provides 5 perspectives and communication tips for both camps. As with the definitions above these are inversely associated.

Validity oriented people take note:
1. Take design unfriendliness as a design challenge
Embrace it, don't fight it, make it worth overcoming.
2. Empathize with design unfriendly elements
Walk the talk of empathetic approaches and apply them to your client, CEO, etc.
3. Speak the language of reliability
Sorry I cannot summarize all this - basically all the business terms that douse your spark.
(Insert reason for Fiscal pillar here)
Remember the language of validity is just as foreign.
4. Use analogies and stories
Unfortunately you cannot regress the past to show a future state, so you need to use something similar (analogy) instead.
Find a story about something that proved to be reliable.
This approach provides quasi past data, which your reliability minded audience could grasp.
5. Bite off as Little a piece as possible to generate proof.
Validity oriented people usually want to express the whole story, however this compounds the lack of reliability and can seriously backfire.
A "beta" approach or phased releases can be effective as they provide substantiation in short intervals.

Now the 5 inversely related tips:
These are for business minded people who understand the need to engage creative minded in order to innovate. Look these over it will help you with the prompt to empathize.

1. Take inattention to reliability as a management challenge
2. Empathize with reliability unfriendly elements
Respect the creative process, it is ok to know it is not 100% reliable.
3. Speak the language of validity
This can be hard as it generally requires enthusiasm for the unknown. “This will be great”. “This has never been done before”.
4. Share data and reasoning but not conclusions.
5. Bite off as Big a piece as possible to give innovation a chance.
Find ways to stretch investment tolerances. True strategy is not 100%

The whole idea here is to make these relationships more fun and rewarding. Embracing these ideas will bring the two sides together forming very healthy companies and organizations.

Mr. Martin poses the question; “what is the biggest Validity oriented business in the world?” He answers with Ideo, and estimates their annual earnings in the tens of millions.
Whether Ideo or Wingnut Films, the point is these are relatively small companies on the corporate stage. The really big businesses got huge by being primarily reliably oriented.
This explains the relentless supply of design unfriendliness.

Like I said this is a prompt to watch the video, hopefully this has peaked your interest.

BTW the facilitation training was very good and provided some excellent tools, such as Focused Conversation and Consensus Workshop, both of which I’ll improve with the insight provided here.

LMK what you think.

Link to source video: Roger Martin, Rotman School of Management