The Elephant and the Rider

From time to time you come across ideas that make a strong impression on you. Often enough, it takes a while to fully understand that the information took such an important role in your life. But you realise that you come back to the idea and find it useful. Useful to interpret certain aspects of your life.

One of these ideas in my life is the elephant and rider metaphor. I nearly missed this great blog entry of JD Meier, because it happened that I only got aware of the metaphor by reading a follow-up blog entry the other day. I strongly recommend these two entries. (And I do recommend to follow the blog of JD Meier.)

To describe the idea in my own words: An elephant rider is generally able to direct the much larger elephant. But s/he won’t be able to do that against the will of the elephant. In such a case the elephant will follow its own needs, leaving the rider in a helpless position. This relationship can be used to describe your rational mind (rider) versus your feelings (elephant). Did you ever try to change an unwanted behaviour? How often did you give in to your feelings and gave up on your (new year’s) resolutions?

You won’t be able to succeed in your personal goals if you can’t bring your emotions in line. If it is your will against your emotions you will loose. You will have to influence your emotions if you want to change yourself, ie change unwanted behaviour. You might be able to get your elephant on the road with will power, but you will were out, eventually.

Why is this idea so interesting to me? Because it suddenly helps you to understand the world better. Why a positive attitude is paramount for changing a behaviour. It tells me what I did wrong so many times.

Take Change or die! from Patrick Mayfield. I saw his presentation a while ago and it made an impression on me. He referenced the work from Alan Deutschman and took bypass patients as an example. According to his statistics a shocking 90% of patients are not changing there unhealthy behaviour (smoking!) after an bypass surgery, ensuring the next life-threatening situation in a few years. Why? Rider vs. elephant! The fact that you will die soon can’t be translated into the language of the elephant. The patients knew they had to change but they didn’t do it. A second study showed a far better rate of behavioural changes after focusing on positive emotions. For the second study people were given positive attitude to a behavioural change by connecting the change (give up smoking) with things they would like to do: playing with grand-children, being able to walk for an hour, etc. Being able to do things that create positive emotions does the trick. This is the language of your elephant, and is therefore influencing the elephant! This approach aligns your emotions with your abstract thinking and gives your rides the tools to stay on track. Focus on the positive aspects of the change.

Did you ever realise that people are not acting in a logical manner? I think I know why. The elephant is stronger. People do what feels right, not what they know is right. And if you want to do what is right the metaphor might be able to help you. Please let me know if you have more examples.

Strategy vs Utility

Martin Fowler, one of the most influential people in the IT area, voiced once again an interesting opinion. You can read the full article here: http://martinfowler.com/bliki/UtilityVsStrategicDichotomy.html

In short, he says that you should be aware whether an IT project is just a utility or an strategic differentiator. The part that made me write this was his opinion on utility software. He phrases it like this:

My view is that for a utility function you buy the package and adjust your business process to match the software.

I haven’t heard it that radical. But after some thinking, I agree. I guess in many cases it is easier and cheaper to make changes to your processes than to develop the perfect software for your current process. I would even expect that utility software is designed to support best practise. You might implement best practise in an non-strategic area just by adjusting your processes around standard software. 

Moving On!

Yesterday, I left once again Oxford. Four years of time spend in Oxford are finally history. No further visits planned.

I took my chance of this last weekend and had once again a close look. It is such a lovely town. A great place to live. My life took some great turns there… Thank you Oxford! And of course a big “thank you” to all the great people I met there. I learned so much from you.

Oxford is one of these amazing places where people are coming together. So many people are coming for a few months or years. They are eager to meet other people. They come with so different backgrounds and ideas. Some stay and add to the mixture. Others lived in Oxford all their lucky life.

I also enjoyed the rich cultural program. I personally loved the Catweazle Club (http://catweazleclub.org/) best. It has now even spin-offs in NY, London and Brighton! Do I need to say more?

So, it is time to let go. Take what was best, learn from the not-so-good and relax. It is not so much about where you live, it is about how well you know yourself. As long as you know yourself, you will be happy. But it helps when you like where you live: Copenhagen, here I am! 🙂

Creativity Methods

While my MBA we discussed the relationship between innovation and change in the context of our module “Organisational Innovation and Change”. The module discussed concepts like paradigms (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradigm) and the difference between difficulties and messes (see TROPICS Test from McCalman and Paton (2000): Change Management: A Guide to Effective Implementation).

One element that kept stuck with me is that change does happen anyway and you should embrace it to your advantage. In case you are interested in creativity techniques have a look at this page: http://www.mycoted.com/Category:Creativity_Techniques

I got the link today from Christine. Thanks a lot!

New Mindmap on Crucial Conversations

Just uploaded my mindmap of “Crucial Conversations”. I wish I would have read the book years ago. It is one of these books that connects so many things together that you already know. Hardly anything of it is new. And still it is the first time these “no-brainers” are collected and put into context. And suddenly it all makes sense. Give it a try!

Project Management Mindmap

I use MindMaps to structure my thoughts on a regular base. Sometimes I use them to summarise books I like. I decided that I will share a few of these. Please keep in mind that I usually don’t intend to map the full book, but only what I think is really helpful. Use them on your own risk.

I will start with a small mind map on project management. It is my understanding of a small book from the “Pocketbook” series (Management Pocketbook Ltd.). I really liked the book because it connected of so many useful models.

The mind map in PNG and PDF format can be found on my homepage www.kneupner.de

Today I had a defeating experience. And as so often, I can learn a lot from it. I thought I created an programming setup that would allow others to use my work easily and efficiently. Well, it didn’t work out. Today, I had to see how somebody without my level of expertise was able to screw the whole setting up, causing me up to two hours trying to get it working again. I apologised a lot. I felt very much ashamed. The other one will never use my setup.

How did it get so far? I forgot all the pain I had while becoming an expert. Like learning to drive a bike. It becomes so easy you forget how difficult (and even painful) it was to reach that level of expertise that allows you to drive everywhere. Clearly it’s easy from there to transport stuff on the bike if that person provides you with the right equipment. But you still need to be able to drive that bike from A to B. No way around.

What did I do in the last months? I added complexity ot my company. I created something that nobody will ever use. It is too difficult to even start with. I shouldn’t do anything that is too complex. Small steps. Understandable steps. I can’t stand it. I can’t make big leaps…

… unless I really teach everybody exactly how to use my stuff. But how? It demands a lot of effort. How to convince others that it’s worth to do so?

Teach “How to think”, not “What to think”

I read something interesting today. It was a story about a guy who tought the chairman of Intel Andy Grove about a problem that Intel faced. The interesting bit is how he tought it. Instead of telling the chairman the problem he explained first a model that he uses. In a second step he showed how to apply the model in a different sector (steel sector). The chairman understood the consequences for Intel on his own as a third step.

The interesting part is that the author (Clayton Christensen) is convinced that he wouldn’t have been heard if he would have told Grove directly his message. For anyone who wants to read it as well, look at “Making Strategy Work”, from the Lessons Learned series, 50 Lessons, Boston, pp. 31-38.

This links in with everything else I learned in the last months. It is quite similar to the persuasive funnel from Gillen (Terry Gillen (1999): Agreed! Improve your powers of influence, IPD). Both avoid to influence through direct teaching.