Talking to the Conventionals – It’s “not” wot you hear

Had coffee with The Connector, well orange juice actually. What came up was how to use “foresight-speak” in organisations. Especially given that there are a huge spectrum of responses to it when people encounter it. The Connector had one of the High Priests of Foresight talk to her work team and she saw the full gamut of human responses from interest to fear when people met foresight ideas up close and personal.

It reminded me of the work of Susan Cooke G and her research into the differences between conventionals and post-conventionals. SCG was a linguist by training and its not a surprise that she picked up a clear language trope that can give you an inkling of what language to use when you are talking to someone about Foresight. What SCG noted was that PCs tended to describe themselves in “not” language – e.g. “I don’t want to do an MBA” or “I am not someone who is satisfied with what seems to satisfy everyone else”.  What they don’t (yet) have are descriptions of what they are or what they have become. When asked about what they want or where they want to go – they tell you where they don’t want to go or what they are not.  It sounds a bit odd when you encounter it – but its perfectly reasonable given they only have a language for the conventional world and they have not developed a language for the PC world. So they describe it an themselves by using  prior categories.

So what do you say to people?  Well ask what they want, what they need. If they describe it quite clearly and specifically then talk to them the same way – foresight in the conventional language of the Achiever – options, pathways, strategy, knowledge, data.  If they purr then keep going.  If they answer in “not speak” – not the certainty of the Achiever but the searching of the Individualist – discovery, emergence, uncovering, going to depth – and listen for the purr.

Trumping the Hedgehogs

Coffee with Swan today. What came up was the challenge of framing the ‘value’ of foresight thinking in organisations where managers already think they are pretty sh*t hot in forecasting the future.

I remembered back to my own early days in the field and for me how the terrible events of September 11 2001 seemed to create a ‘crack’ in the conventional thinking around me and how for the next 2-3 years raising the motif of ‘remember September 11’ opened up otherwise closed minds for the briefest of times.

What occurs to me now is based the hindsight and with the work of  Philip Tetlock.  The typical senior manager hedgehog type that Swan and I encountered is just so confident they know what has happened and what is going to happen because their combination of the past data they remember and their confirmation bias makes their ‘big idea’ just seem bullet-proof to them.  And so when we talk our schtick abut the future “could be different” they give us that smile that says “yeah, sure”.

And yet I also suspect that even hedgehogs have a fear they keep well hidden from public view. And that is the fear they could be shown to be wrong. Other hedgehogs have crashed and burned before (ouch – mixed metaphor there – beware the burning and falling hedgehog) and so might they. Instead they put that little fear to one side and ride their big idea all they way to the senior executive floor.  But the little fear comes with them, like their shadow.  And that’s what gives us an in.

When something like a September 11 or a Trump presidency happens then burning hedgehogs start falling all around us. This is noticed by the presently non-combustive hedgehogs that we meet and if we can get our message on track with their fear then we suddenly seem like someone they would like to hear more from.  They think we might take away the fear of being wrong; make them a perfect hedgehog. Well we cannot do that but that false notion might get us an audience to start talking about the value we bring.

And if the Trump event happens and suddenly the hedgehogs around you have some space in their diary for you then what do you say and how do you say it? Well that is something for you to work out and for how you want to position yourself. But I would suggest to you that take some time to study that uber-Fox, Nicholas Taleb, and read The Black Swan and study how he uses polemic and the failure of ‘other’ hedgehogs to get his message across. His is a very attractive blend of intellect, insult and competition. While its not a style for everyone it is one that does go down well in very competitive corporate environments. You don’t insult them directly, instead you show how others burst into flames (and they know that could be their fate too),  and you use that to show how an intelligent hedgehog would go about avoiding conflagration as well.  And it is fun to do too as well (Bad CF there!).

Coffee with the Captain – Meeting Friday on Monday

Today I met Friday, an up-and-coming proto-practitioner.

“What do I do with an organisation that both needs to use foresight to be more effective but that also lacks the serious capacity to actually do the foresight?”

My suggestion was to not ask them to DO the foresight but instead ask them to USE the foresight that you (and others) have done for them.

One of the easiest mistakes that the proto-practitioner can make is to confuse that idea that people need to know HOW to do Foresight in order to USE foresight. I agree its nice if our clients could do and use Foresight but the risk is, and my experience says, that  you spend your organisational credibility and the clients bandwidth on the less important part of the brief at your peril. The lore of our field is full of people who “did the foresight bit” only to find they did not know “how” to use the foresight bit – hence foresight was a waster of time. Ergo – start looking for a new sandbox to play in.

(Aside here – do we ask our clients to do foresight with us so they can appreciate just how clever and talented we are? Do we do it in order to manage our own insecurity?)

My suggestion on Monday to Friday was generate a process that her internal clients could use great foresight ideas to help them solve their future dilemma’s quickly and enjoyably while also maximising their time effectively. And because you don’t have to keep the foresight generation process ‘simple’ then you can really go for broke with rigorous and complex data generation processes (read Morphology here!) that will stand up to serious professional scrutiny and that would also allow comparative study across repeat iterations of the data generation.

It was good coffee.

CF