I was able to do a lot of reading during the past year – now with two brand new titanium hip joints, I’m back in the fray back with tons of energy and a few book reviews! Mats Alvesson is a favourite author of mine. Have you ever found yourself at work wondering why certain problem areas or people were ignored? Where the social norm was to not raise problems and don’t tell people bad news that they don’t want to hear? Asking too many questions and spending a moment too long reflecting on a situation can make you unpopular. Or, worse, a target. If you persist in asking tough questions, it can become a career limiting move. Its a brutal work environment that leads eventually to bad outcomes – hopefully sooner rather than later so some corrective action will be taken and the damage can be reduced.
Alvesson and Spicer address this very topic. Why are so many of our organizations and/or management ‘functionally stupid’? Why do so many supposedly smart people play dumb so the status quo survives, existing power structures are maintained and the organization heads towards a disaster. What is going on? Read The Stupidity Paradox and find out.
Once again I’m packing for my return to the Copenhagen Business Summer School (ISUP). I am so looking forward to teaching Business Anthropology and Organizational Ethnography – big mouthful but basically … its people-watching with some theory thrown into the mix. Key textbook is written by a fellow Canuck, Sam Ladner who is an Anthropologist at Amazon. She has written a yummy book, Practical Ethnography – a what the heck is it and how to do it book. Great for students. Great for those who wish to explore the new worlds of understanding meaning. Ever taken a survey and found you didn’t fit into the neat little boxes? That is because traditional market research uses an ‘etic’ position – defined by the researcher. Somewhat useful but sometimes misses the mark.
Ethnography is the study of culture. As Ladner explains “Ethnographers connect details to wider patterns of social life.” It connects direct insights about people and what they care about and why. It takes what is called an ’emic’ position – being from the person’s point of view. Redefining the box or in many cases, removing the box altogether to obtain actionable insight that leads to a game changer. Ethnography puts the needs of the consumer first. And its about time.
If you care about having a competitive advantage, its time to care about ethnography. I can hardly wait to introduce it to the excellent students at CBS. People watching! in the summer! in Copenhagen! Let the educational games begin ….
Fall is always an exciting time for me. Maybe because it is the start of a new school year – so therefore full of possibilities and potential. Maybe because Fall is my favourite season – transformation is literally in the air. I had an excellent summer in Copenhagen at the Business School. It is such a pleasure working with students who are dedicated to their learning and celebrate their own potential. Is that every student? No, but enough to rejuvenate my spirits and feed my soul.
One of the highlights this summer was visiting NOMA – an experience best described as living ‘food art’. Definitely a bucket-lit item for any foodie. The meal was superb as could be expected, but the experience was made transformational for me in hearing a sous-chef state: “I don’t work for a restaurant. I serve NOMA. I serve my country. I serve a movement.” The statement left me in tears, for I have never heard such a powerful statement about corporate culture. I only wish I could hear that level of commitment more. But first, it has to be earned. And that is the role of the leader.
Simon Sinek has written a great book about leading an innovation culture. How you get it and how you keep it. What if you got up every day and could not wait to get to work? How many of us can actually say “I love my job” let alone “I serve” as above? The title comes from a marine general who states that leaders go to the back of the chow line and the most junior soldiers eat first. Why? Because it symbolizes in no uncertain terms that the role of a leader is to sacrifice individual comfort in service to the good of those in their care. Walk the talk. What a novel concept and what a shame it is so rare. Have you had an experience of that type of leader? I have. And would follow them anywhere.
Sinek also covers his topic from a biological/sociological perspective which provides additional insight into how cultures thrive. If you are contemplating any initiatives this Fall, as part of your own organizational transformation, this book is a must. It is one of the best business books I have read in a while. And for this book addict, that is high praise indeed. A Fall Feast for you.
If you are serious about understanding your customers, you need to hone your ethnographic skills. In plain english, how you watch and listen to people in order to obtain actionable insights. My favourite go-to book for advice is a gem from Hy Mariampolski. It is a practical guide to understanding ethnography – for those of you who didn’t study anthropology. Some business schools are getting smarter and suggesting business students study both anthropology and psychology in order to obtain better and faster customer insights. As Mariampolski states: “The greatest challenge for market research nowadays is to deliver value by linking findings to the strategic business decisions that confront corporate decision makers. Ethnography responds to this challenge by observing consumers in the their ‘natural’ environments and then turning these consumer encounters into ideas that transform brands and product categories.” The book gives you basic theory and very practical guides to implementation. For beginners or experts, this is a great reference guide. A recommended text for my business anthropology classes in Copenhagen and here in Canada.
I love teaching at the Business School in Copenhagen in the summer. I always learn something new – which in turn informs my teaching which informs my research and round and round we go. The students are an international mix – so lots of different perspectives are brought to the discussions. There is also an international mix in faculty – so lots of conversations start around our faculty lunch table which frequently continue over dinner. A book suggestion from Betty Tsakarestou, Professor and Head of Advertising at Panteion University in Athens, Greece, found its way into the mix and on the coffee table. And of course, I had to read it!
Jane Austin Game Theorist is a great little book available in hardcopy and ebook format that was featured in the Business School. Written by Michael Suk-Young Chwe, the author explores a diverse range of literature and folktales that illustrate the wide and relevance of game theory. Game theory is the study of how people make choices while interacting with others – how we all play in the sandbox. Without the heavy mathematical emphasis, Chwe shows us how we all are strategic thinkers through a literary lens. An interesting approach that makes a complex subject much easier to understand and more importantly, utilize in organizations. A great find – and an interesting read on a rainy day in Copenhagen. I hope you enjoy it!
If you want competitive advantage, here is the place to start. Hyatt and De Ciantis take us on a journey of discovery in one of the most interesting areas of our lives – our values. Working with values allows us to keep track of what is really important to us. I use this process and program within academic courses at the undergraduate and graduate level as well as executive education. We also use the software package – you can go online and explore, the details are all in the book. It will be added to my course work for Business Anthropology at the Copenhagen Business School this summer (only 7 more sleeps until my flight!)
It makes for a great discussion around the kitchen table or the office. A conversation that needs to happen on a regular basis – just as a reminder that there is more to life than daily routine. The Values Perspective Survey is one of my favourite tools, I highly recommend it.
Popular, thought-provoking, stimulating and (best of all!) fun – working with values perspectives will give you insight towards making better judgments and decisions – for yourself, your family and your organization.
Margaret Wheatley said that “whatever the problem, community is the answer.” When social innovation is a hot topic, knowing how to engage your community in whatever business is occupying your time is an underdeveloped if not forgotten skill. Author Paul Born brings back community engagement and outlines ten simple techniques for community conversations. How to start them, keep them talking and then utilize the information in a constructive way that produces a win-win scenario for both business and community. Born is a master storyteller, and draws from decades of experience in community action where common goals are embraced by a diverse group of people . His conversational writing style makes this an easy, enjoyable read. People sometimes forget that communities are living things – they need to be tended and nurtured in order for them to grow and more importantly, flourish. If you wish to engage your community, this book is a great place to kickstart your process.