The Benefits of Adaptive Learning

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The other day, I stopped by to see a friend and colleague. On his desk was one of the best leadership books of the past decade, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Ronald Heifetz, Marty Linsky and Alexander Grashow. It is stellar description for leadership of the importance of the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. Adaptation is a key skill for leaders who are managing change, while at the same time creating stable, sustainable enterprises.

Peter Mello and I had the opportunity to interview Marty Linsky on the book for two Weekly Leader podcasts, Part 1 and Part 2. It is worth hearing Linsky talk about the book and his work with Ron Heifetz.

Sitting there with this friend in his office, talking about leadership, how we deal with people in various situations, I came to a realization about myself, and about adaptive leadership.

In order to be an adaptive leader, we must be an adaptive learners.

I  realized, then, that virtually everything I know, I learned from someone else.

It wasn't like a being student in a classroom learning from a teacher. Rather, it was learning by listening and observing to the lessons embedded in a person's perceptions and experience.

Listening and Observing - keys to being an adaptive learner.

Informational or Contextual?

There is no way I can tell you what I have learned from any particular individual. It isn't that type of learning.

It isn't informational learning.

Rather it is contextual learning. Learning from the context of a person is learning to see how ideas matter within a certain distinct situation.

It isn't abstract, or detached from experience. Rather, it is how an idea that transitions from the idea itself to something practical and real, that's applied in a particular situation.

The use of values in an organization is an example.

There are two types of values.

There are the ones that are on a list that the company claims are their values.

Then, there are the ones that actually are practiced by the people in the company.

These two sets of values are not always the same, congruent or even aligned.  Depending upon different conditions, the same understanding of value will have a different application in an organization.

Company A espouses to be an open, transparent organization placing a high value on communication. Company B makes the same claim. The difference is in their context.

Company A is physically structured so that executives are separated into their own discrete offices. Communication is mediated by administrative assistants, and written information distributed throughout the company. If you want to speak to V.P. Joe, you go through his assistant Mary, or look at the latest memo.

Company B is physically structured around an open space concept. My friend Dana Leman of RandomKid share with me her experience of touring the Bloomberg offices in New York. She sent me a link ot a video tour of their offices. Regardless of your position, your office is in the midst of this open concept. The benefit is a greater exchange of ideas.

So, two companies can claim allegiance to the same values, but their application of those values be totally different. To understand the difference is to understand how to these insights and apply them in your own context.

Through my conversation with Dana, my perception of how to organize office space is different.

This is how adaptive learning happens. We listen for insights for applying ideas in various contexts. The more we learn from others the clearer our own understanding becomes, and how we can be adaptive leaders.

This kind of understanding is tacit and intuitive. It isn't an understanding derived from an analytical process. Rather, our brains synthetically weave together many thoughts, impressions, experiences, and feelings to provide understanding. The more this emergent awareness is allowed to take place the greater the capacity for adaptive leadership.

Adaptive leadership is a shift away from the old command-and-control method.

It requires openness to other people, their ideas, their experiences and an appreciation of their particular context.  The easiest way to begin to learn this kind of adaptive behavior is simply to listen and apply the good ideas that you hear each day. 

The Difference Adaptive Learning has made to me.

Sitting in my friend's office, I came to realize that adaptive learning had been my practice for over 30 years.

Listen and learn from people, whomever you meet, you can learn something from them.

Listen to them, ask questions to clarify what their experience was. Listen without trying to compete. Listen to learn.

Take what is heard and seen, then, reflect, process and apply what you learned.

Share what you learned with others. Express gratitude.  

This is how the Circle of Impact Leadership Guides came to be developed. Circle of Impact
From lots of conversations over the years, about what was happening in organizations, each one contributing a little piece of wisdom and understanding, creating a holistic perspective, I learned what I was suppose to see in leadership. In effect, these are not my ideas, but rather my catalog of what I've learned from other people. These lessons have wide applicability because this is the product of contextual learning, not simply the exchange of information.

The benefits of adaptive learning are many.  Here's what I've learned.

1. We learn that Ideas matter.

They are the key to understanding where we are and how we can adapt to the changes that are constantly confronting us. They connect us to people. They are tools for being more effective communicators. All learning at the most fundamental level is about ideas. Without ideas, we are left only with feelings. As a result, adaptive leaders must also be idea people who are interested in the ideas of others, not just in what they are thinking.

2. We learn that Relationships matter.

When we place ourselves in a position to learn from every person with whom we meet, every single one, we come to understand how our interaction within a social context is where the action of organizations is found. The greater our capacity for forming adaptive learning relationships, the greater our capacity to develop the adaptive capacities of employees.  Those adaptive capacities provide employees the opportunity to lead from their own specific work context. This is part of what I mean by the idea, Community of Leaders.

3. We learn that Structures are either tools for adaptive learning and leadership, or they are obstacles.

If the structure of a business does not provide a way for people to learn from one another, and to apply that learning, then it is stuck in a system of operation that is not sustainable. 

For many businesses, the structure of their organization is, seemingly, the only tangible, secure, stable, set, concrete, real thing that exists. It is a monument to the past, not a platform for constant adaptation and innovation.

4. We learn that learning matters more than knowing.

When our posture towards others is learning from them, we are less concerned about making sure they understand just how much we know.

It this is an issue for you, then practice asking questions about things you do not know. Read books in subject areas in which you have no background. Stop trying to reinforce you own knowledge, and start expanding it. Start listening for the wisdom and insight in others.

5. We learn that if we never stop learning, we also never arrive at a full and complete understanding of anything.

Adaptive learning isn't a tactic we deploy for a period of time to ramp up our current knowledge on a subject. Rather, adaptive learning is a lifestyle of openness to new ideas, fresh insights from people and a reflective approach to applying ideas by doing things differently one step at a time.

6. We learn that adaptive learning changes us so that adaptive leadership is possible.  

Adaptive learning simplifies the way we approach leadership. It becomes about the impact we need to have right now. The old way of strategic planning is having to change to become more adaptable. This approach produces leaders who are nimble, intuitive and able to take advantage of the changes that are constantly happening.To adapt is to change. To change in this way is to make a difference that matters, it is to create impact. Becoming impact focused simplifies leadership.

7. We learn that adaptive learning leads to adaptive leadership which leads ultimately to becoming a Community of Leaders.

An adaptive leader will be most effective in creating a culture of adaptive learning. To do so means that each person takes responsibility for their learning, their contributing and their responsibility to create impact. Adaptive learning starts with the personal decision to learn from others. This nurtures within the individual the personal intiiative from which all leadership originates.  It isn't just the individual initiating change. It is the whole organization as a community functioning as adaptive leaders.  This is what I see as a Community of Leaders.

Realizing that I have lived this way throughout my life, my gratitude grew towards the hundreds of people from whom I've learned. Many are no longer with us. Many have no idea of the impact that they have had on me. Many are friends who are my go-to-people for counsel when I need it. Many are random people whom I've met in passing whose stories and insight helped me gain a deeper appreciation of so many different ideas and ways of leading organizations. If you are one of these people, I thank you.


Gaining Perspective

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Over the past three years, the ground upon which we stand has been rolling like the ground underneath this Vermont house after Hurricane Irene came through.

If you are still standing, congratulations. If you don't know which direction you are facing, welcome to the club.

If you have fallen, and are trying to pick yourself up, don't quit. What you've been through, in retrospect, can provide valuable lessons for the future. If you need a hand, just ask. It is how we stand together.

My Experience

Like many people, my last three years have been the hardest that I've ever faced. From losing all my clients within a six week period in the spring of 2009, to 2011 becoming the busiest, most productive year that I've had in the past decade, there are lessons I'm learning that each one of us can apply.

One of things I learned is that I was not as well prepared for the storm of the recession as I should have been. Like many people, I assumed that what I was doing was enough. It wasn't. As a result the process of the past three years has been a process of personal development that enables me to see what I need to do to make the next three years the best that I've ever had.

There are three things I did that have been infinitely beneficial. I want to share those with you in this post as a guide for how to look at the next year.  I suggest that you download my Circle of Impact Leadership Guides as a reference. Print them off, and use them for taking notes to your self. Keep them handy. They will help you gain and maintain perspective on what you are headed.

The Circle of Impact Leadership Guides

I'll give you a quick overview of each guide, and then speak to the three things to do that will help develop the impact in our life and work that we desire.

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12TransitionPoints

Creating Impact In Times of Transition-TP

The first thing to know is that we are all in transition. If you think, maybe, you are just in a disruptive time, and, that things will return to where they were. Look at this list of 12 transition points. This is a random list I wrote down one afternoon. I'm certain that another dozen could be identified. The point is not to be overwhelmed with the sense of disconnection, but rather to see that change is normal. 

Change is happening to us all the time. We each need to make the mental shift from seeing change as random, disruptive chaos to a pattern of change that has a logic that we can tap into and take advantage of. Once we start thinking in terms of transition, we begin to see how a process of development can unfold to our benefit. This is where we start because with a transition mindset, we begin think more opportunistically about the future.

To see our life and work this way is to see how it is a system or a network of connections between various aspects of what we do where we do it.


Circle of Impact - Life-Work Coaching
From this perspective, we can see three broad areas that every leader faces:

The Three Dimensions of Ideas, Relationships, and, Social & Organizational Structures.

The problem is learning how to align them so that they work together. Our experience tends to be more fragmented, which is where our experience of the ground never being stable under our feet is found.

The key to pulling all of this together is being intentional about the ideas that link the dimensions together. These ideas are:

The Four Connecting Ideas of Values, Purpose, Vision and Impact.

Each one of these ideas needs to be clearly defined so that they can be effectively applied.

For example: You are building your team to start a new venture. You want to select or hire people who not only share similar values, but, are also committed to the purpose of the endeavor. Bring these two ideas together in the selection of a team, and, a vision for what is possible will emerge. As a result, instead of never getting by the team formation stage, your team comes together quickly, and, moves well into the process of creating the impact that you desire.

The Circle of Impact perspective provides a way to see the whole of an organization. But just seeing it doesn't mean we know how to apply it.

 

The Five Questions - Work-Life Coaching Guide
The Five Questions guide is the tool that helps us clarify, focus and move more quickly into action. Ask them continually over time, and we begin to see a pattern that helps to make better decisions. This is just a tool. It isn't a magic wand to wave over a problem and it goes away. It is a tool that must be applied and acted upon. So, when you have answered the five questions, make sure that you do something specific in response, and then come back and ask the questions again.

I created the My 5 Questions template to make it easy for me to quickly answer the questions whenever the need arises. The purpose is to clarify, focus and move me to action. There is no limitation on where you can use these questions. Use the personally, professionally, with your team, your family, with clients, or with someone you meet over lunch. The questions work very well in conversation.

Three Things that Mattered the Past Three Years (2012)

It is simple. Just three things to do.

1. Care for people. Regardless of who they are. Whomever you meet each day, care for them. Treat them with respect, dignity, and compassion. I don't mean take over their lives. I mean provide them a relationship that enables them to become a better person.

2. Think for yourself. Decide for yourself who you are going to be. Act with integrity towards your own values and goals, so you can help others do the same.

3. Live opportunistically in the moment. As a planner, I can confidently say that a long-range plan is more often a closed door than open path. The best plan is knowing who you are, what values matter, and the impact that you want to achieve. The process is discovered daily in the moment to moment interaction that we have with people. This is where real freedom is found.

Afterword Three Years Later (2015)

The years 2012 to 2014, for me, were ones of dramatic change. When I wrote the above post, I was optimistic about the future. Instead, within the first year, the non-profit that I had been hired to lead failed and closed. The recession's effect upon my consulting work lingered. And my marriage ended. Hard year, but still a year of transition.

I realized, as everything was ending, that something new was beginning. I had to get to that point so that I could begin. I took the time to reflect, to heal, and, begin to set my sights forward. I found myself working an hour a week with a group of women in an addiction recovery program. A totally new and different experience for me. And, then, I came to see that I need to relocated my life and work to Jackson, Wyoming.

The Circle of Impact Leadership Guides serve as a check point to connect perceptions that I had three years ago with those that I have now.

My Values have not so much changed, but have become clearer, more definitive, and, more focused on putting them into action.

My Purpose has changed. Instead of focused on businesses in a consulting context, I am redirecting my energies towards the personal leadership of individuals.

My Vision has yet to become clear. The reason is that Vision functions in the context of relationship, in a social context of collaboration and community. I have only move to Jackson within the past month, so time for visioning with others will come.

My Impact for the future will emerge as I go through the process of aligning my life and work with The Four Connecting Ideas.

 Attribution Some rights reserved by U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Northeast Region


Three Turns

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Near the end of my father's career, the company for whom he had worked for over 35 years, was purchased, and, not so slowly, its assets drawn off and exploited for use by the parent company.

I remember him telling me of the day that he was on a management recruiting trip in Pennsylvania, and received a phone call that the company was not going to make payroll that week. He returned home to help usher through the closing of the company and be the last executive remaining as he handled the outstanding employee medical and benefit claims against the company. He was of an age where he could retire. It was a sad day for him. He had worked for the company his entire career. 

My dad's story is not unusual. It is symptomatic of the time we are living in. I thought of my father as I watched last year's under-appreciated film, The Company Men.  It is a story of executives and their families coping with change as their corporation goes through a series of downsizes simply to raise the share price. Like my father's experience, the film illustrates a very common experience of change. Here's a clip of a meeting where decisions are being made as to who is to be let go.

 

This has become a very normal experience for people. Even with a nice severance package, the emotional trauma of being fired is something that doesn't quickly go away. What lies behind this approach to quantifying the value of a company is a way of thinking about organizations that I believe is ultimately destructive rather than a path to sustainability.  The logical outcome from over a century of this way of thinking has been the narrowing of the value of a company to something short term and specifically related to its financial value.

Consider the executive's rationale for downsizing staff and eliminating a division of the company in this exchange between Tommy Lee Jones and Craig T. Nelson's characters from the movie. .

Nelson: "Stock is stalled and revenue is flat."

Jones: "Entire economy is flat. We are in the middle of a recession."

N: "I only closed two of the shipyards. Should have closed all three of them. Stock is in the toilet."

J: "Everybody's stock is in the toilet."

N: "Well, the stockholders would like to see their share value maximized."

J: "Heh, Heh, Heh, Well ... sell the Degas'. ... three thousand jobs?"

N: "Gene, we aren't some little shipyard any more. I'm not going to keep pouring money into a losing operation."

J: "We innovate, retool ..."

N: "American heavy manufacturing is dead. Steel, auto, shipbuilding ... the future is in healthcare infrastructure and power generation."

J: "I have to be involved in any decision that affects one of my divisions."

N: "You wouldn't have approved the cut. ... You'd go behind my back to the board again, right?"

J: "They were good people, Jim."

Both men are backed up against a wall. They are caught by a way of thinking about the value of companies that worked in times where growth was relatively assured. Now, the competition is tougher, more astute and far more flexible in their ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Do you think they could have seen this coming? I'm not sure. It goes back to how to you determine the value of a company. I'm not talking about how Wall Street values it, but the people who are touched by the company in some manner. How do they value the company?

Can the value of a company be reduced to one thing, like the share price, or the charismatic leadership of the CEO or a design innovation? Or is the value embedded in the whole structure and context of the organization?

We are in a time of global transition in all aspects of life. Short-term, reductive, passive aggressive, reactive thinking is not going to lead us out of a recession into a new era of peace and prosperity. Instead, we need to realize that our approach is failing, and that we need a new way to think about how organizations function. It must start with the willingness to be different, to think differently, and invest in changes that provide for long term development.

The Context of Change

The ancient Greeks had a word for change which is metanoia. Literally, it means a change of mind, but it has come to mean something much larger and more comprehensive. Metanoia points to a change of orientation, perspective and direction.  There is a sense in the meaning that the change of mind is accompanied by some regret. So the change, upon reflection, is a choice to follow a different path. People choosing to turn toward different values and new ways of expressing them.  Metanoia is a change that embraces the whole person, the mind, feelings and will, and is expressed in action that is change.

This change of mind is an awareness that the path we have been on is no longer sustainable. As I wrote in my post, The End and The Beginning, this change marks an end of an era in several ways. The nature of this redirection means that the recent past is no longer an adequate guide for understanding what we must do in the future. As I began in that post,

What if our past experience instead of illuminating the future, obscures it? What if the way we have always approached a problem, or the conduct of a single day, or the organization of our work makes it more likely that we end up not accomplishing what we envision?

The continuity between the recent past and the near future has broken down. This is a turning point for us. The 20th century may provide our most immediate experiential memory, but for the purpose of understanding the future, it is now ancient history.

Reflect upon the attacks on 9/11, our response to them, and the global recession of past three years, and our response to it. Can you see how the tried-and-true methods of the last century have not worked. Neither peace nor prosperity are being restored, in fact, the world is less peaceful and prosperous than it was a decade ago. Terrorism maybe contained upon our shores, but it still festers in places of poverty throughout the world.

Fear, doubt and diminishment in the confidence in our leaders and institutions are increasing.  Greater diversity, interconnectivity, and, yes, even greater business efficiencies, are not answering the question about what it is that we must do.

We are now at a crossroads that requires metanoia, a change that is comprehensive and whole. This change of mind requires us to begin to see businesses as a whole organizations, rather than as a collection of interchangeable, discardable, transferable, value-specific parts. The company in The Company Men was dying because it too, like my father's company, was just a collection of assets to be exploited. There is no future in this way of thinking. To have a future requires us to change our minds and see things differently.

Three Turns 

To change our minds, we need to make Three Turns of perception, understanding and orientation. 

The Moral Turn  In the first clip from The Company Men, above, Tommy Lee Jones' character raises questions about the selection of people to be let go. His response, that there is an ethical question involved, is met with a legalistic answer. 

By reducing the decision to a question of share price and what is required under the law, the company is not just making a business decision, but also a moral choice.

What is a company that no longer manufactures its products?  Is it now a money machine for its share holders as long as the money holds out?

The moral turn is first and foremost about the purpose or mission of the company. 

Does a company whose actual purpose is share price encourage confidence and trust?

Does a company whose primary focus is share price understand its connection to the people who work in the business and the communities where they are physically located?

Is a company more than its financials?

Does a company have a responsibility that goes beyond i ts shareholders, and what is defined by what is strictly legal?

Every organization exists in a context that is greater than the sum of the parts of the organization. There is a culture that is physical, ideological, technological and social.

For example, what distinguishes an insurance company in London to one based in Sao Paulo or Detroit is geography and culture. Yes, they each ofter insurance plans. Yes, they each have customers. Yes, they each generate revenue. The difference is the local context that helps to define the culture of the business.

As a result ...

a company is not primarily its mission or purpose, but its values that are embedded in ideas and relationships within the context, culture and structure of the organization. 

Values permeate the whole of the business, including those persons and organizations outside of the business who are influenced by it. Values inform its purpose, its vision of impact, its relationships with all those who are touched by the company, and how the company measures its impact.

The mission of a company is a product of its values.

When the purpose of the company is more than its financial value to shareholders, it is no longer, just a reservoir of assets to be exploited, but a context in which to create the future.  

Recently I heard a presenter during in an organizational development  workshop describe organizations that are mission driven as organizations on the rise. He used a diagram similar to this one that I use to describe organizations in transition.

Transition Point - without Title
When a company reaches a point of maturity or stabilization or equilibrium, the importance of its mission as a guide often fades. What follows is an increasing focus on its financial assets as its primary purpose. The presenter was convinced that once an organization shifts from a mission focus to a financial focus, it has entered a stage of decline.  In effect, they no longer see how a company can grow, but rather be sold. 

The moral turn that a company needs to make is to reaffirm its values and reestablish its mission as the driving force of the company as a whole.

The Social Turn  When the value of a company is reduced to its share price, the company loses the value that exists within its social structure. Not every member of the organization benefits from a rise in the share price. As a result, the company fragments into internally competitive parts to see who will survive the company's disintegration.

For example, as a Boston Red Sox fan for over 45 years, I was particularly disappointed in their collapse this year. It was not that old patterns of attitudes and behaviors that had hampered the team in the past had returned. Rather, it was the squandering of the talent and potential that existed on paper, at least, at the beginning of the season.

By all appearances, the social environment of the team is the core reason for their decline. At the beginning of the season, they were the odds on favorite to win the World Series. Great pitching, the acquisition of two all-star hitters, and a coaching staff that had produced two World Series championships held great promise for the upcoming season. Yet all that collapsed into a mess in what appears to be based in a collective selfishness and lack of accountability for the team's social environment and on field performance.

The Social Turn is the recovery of the human dimension in organizations. As human beings we are social beings through which our individuality develops. Much of the fragmentation of modern business organizations isolates individuals and business units into individualized roles that make collaborative team work more difficult. As a result, the connections that exist between people in the workplace are treated as having marginal value. 

Structural Hole 2

In The Company Men, when Ben Affleck is fired, the stated reason is that his position is redundant. In effect, the company was recouping a cost that it viewed was exceptional rather than necessary.  The company also loses in this kind of fragmenting of the social structure of the business. Affleck's character was not just a person in a cubicle, but was a connection point in a network of relationships that provided information and influence beyond the company. The value may be redundant, but it is a redundancy that creates strength and resilience, not weakness.

Social fragmentation is not just found in businesses, but in global society at large. Its destructiveness finds its way into companies and organizations, weakening their ability to marshal the talent that exists. The Social Turn is one that values relationships of honor, respect, humility, trust and mutual reciprocity. These values function to create a social fabric that allows for diversity and interconnectivity that creates the sustainability that businesses and communities need.

The Structural Turn The industrial model of business was conceptualized around the idea that a business is filled with a few smart people and a lot of laborers. The world has changed, yet the structures of organizations have not. Still the structure is a hierarchy of decision-makers "leading" a larger number of decision-implementers.

This approach does not work as well as it once did. Here are just a few reasons.

1. Technology levels the information playing field.

2. Advances in public education, and the expansion of higher education has created a society of workers who are much better informed and equipped to do decision-making type work.

3. The complexity of working in a global environment of diverse cultures makes it more difficult for a few people to know everything they need to know about the issues that confront their business.

4. The skills required for leadership and management of business are much more accessible to far more people than every before.

5. Hierarchical structures are organized for control through compartmentalization and standardization.

The Structure Turn that is taking place elevates personal initiative, network collaboration, and adaptive learning as the keys to the organization and leadership of businesses.

Instead of a structure organized around compartmentalized roles and defined areas of responsibility, the emerging structure is an open environment where the skills and resources needed for the work of the business is acquired through a network relationship structure.

In this structure each person is responsible for the whole of the project, not just their segment. Each person can function in the role of leader, while not having a title as one.

In this networked structure, the premium skills are placed upon thinking skills that are both analytical and intuitive.

As I recently commented to Dana Leman of RandomKid,

"Imagine Proctor & Gamble without bosses and managers, and everyone is a leader."

Leadership ceases to be a title, and becomes a set of behaviors and attitudes that all share. For the character of this kind of leadership to take root, it requires changing the structure.

Structure - Collaborative into Hierarchy
The Structural Turn is towards an organizational culture where people are free to create and contribute, to communicate, to initiate and to pitch in where they see a need.  Instead of being doers of assigned responsibilities, they are facilitators and problem solvers.
In many companies, this kind of structure is developing. However, it must happen at the senior level for the turn to be successful.

How would the company in The Company Men function differently if they operated under a network structure?

1. More people would be engaged in meaningful reflection about the challenges facing the company because they knew that had an actual stake in its success.

2. Innovation would be more prevalent as employees practiced a higher level of leadership initiative and problem solving.

3. New business applications through employee ingenuity would expand the number and range of revenue streams the company has.

4. The company would be unified behind its shared values and mission.

5. The company would be a more attractive place for the top talent to work.

6. The company could more easily adapt to financial downturns.

7. Communities would be vying for the opportunity for the company to create a local operation.

The central message of the Three Turns is for your mission to drive change in the company, centered around values that unite people to create a shared company culture of trust, personal initiative, and a desire to contribute to the company's success. When this happens, the turn from hierarchical structure to a network one can take place as a natural evolution of the company.


The Picture of the Future in a Box - Update

Update: Ross Dawson writes about the importance of 3D printing in his post - How 3D printing will transform the retail industry: the opportunities.

This post is a continuation of the ideas presented in The End and The Beginning. In this one, I want to focus on three culture shifts that impact what leadership means in the 21st century.

A picture of the future in a box

Let me begin with this picture. 3dsystems-RapMan-Students-6

Here is a student using a three-dimensional printer. The blue object in the middle of the picture is being printed. This is a kit that individuals can buy for around $1,300.

All you need is a basic CAD program to begin to create prototypes of your ideas. 

I recently saw this model, RapMan 3.1, and the BFB-300 3D printer demonstrated at Hatchfest in Asheville. Rajeev Kulkarni, Vice President of Global Engineering for 3D Systems spoke on the uses of 3D printing.  His presentation described a extremely wide spectrum of application for this technology. The most impressive use of 3D printing is to create human organs from the cells of the recipient. See Antony Atala's TED2011 presentation to grasp the magnitude of this innovation in medicine.

This picture of innovative technology points to the social change that is occurring because of the advance of technology. Besides lowering the cost of prototyping and manufacturing new products, people can now take their ideas from conception to market in a shorter period of time.  Kulkarni spoke about what used to take months to produce that now can be done in a matter hours or days.

Three Shifts

As I listened to Rajeev Kulkarni's Hatch presentation, I realized that in these printers I saw three significant social shifts. When the cost of manufacturing and production time are reduced, and the technology becomes affordable for individual use, then we are moving through a transition period from one era to the next.   The shifts that I see taking place are:

1. From consumers to creators / producers

2. From mass market to mass customization

3. From a mass culture to a local culture

 Let me describe each.

1. From consumers to creators / producers

With the use of basic design software and the RapMan 3d printer, any individual can become a producer of products for sale. The materials that can be used in the printing process are extensive. So, no longer will people have to depend on the marketplace to provide the products that he or she needs. With some ingenuity and business sense, they can make a shift from being a consumer of products to being the creator and producer of them.

Of course, six billion people will not automatically shift from being consumers to creators / producers. And every producer needs consumers to buy her product. Yet, it does not take many people embracing this shift in culture to dramatically impact it. The picture above is of an school girl in England using the RapMan printer.

Imagine every school in your school district having a 3d printer to complete a learning process of idea creation to product completion. Imagine the change of mind that comes to the students in that school when they can create, and not just consume.  Imagine a generation of men and women who think of themselves as creators and producers, as leaders, rather than just consumers of other peoples' creative output. 

One of the first realizations I had about 21st century leadership was that it was about personal initiative, not about roles. Leadership begins with personal initiative. Tools like these 3D printers place into the hands of people the opportunity to initiate, to create, and to produce products and solutions that can make a difference. 

2. From mass market to mass customization

The nature of product development cycles used to be months, even years, necessary to bring a product to market. As a result, it required that product to have as wide an appeal and as long a shelf life as possible. With the advent of technologies, like 3D printers, this is changing. Now in a matter of a few hours, a specialize part can be designed and produced for a customer.

There are a couple implications for this shift.

First, it changes how a company relates to the marketplace. In a one-size fits all world, the marketplace is the lowest common denominator. In a mass customized world, the individual is the market. Marketing to individuals is different than to a mass culture. This is the insight that Chris Anderson wrote about in his book The Long Tail.

Second, it makes the relationship between manufacturer and consumer more important. I've learned this as a consultant. I cannot approach any project as if there is a formula that applies to every other organization in their industry. I have to build a relationship of interest, inquiry and adaptive response to meet not only their expectations, but their needs. I enter into their organizational setting with a set of tools, not unlike a 3D printer, though I don't have one, and use my tools to address the needs that they have.

In a mass customized world, relationships matter, and that is a key to managing the shifts that I'm identifying here.

3. From mass culture to local culture

Prior to the 20th century, life for most people from the beginning of time was experienced in small towns. I remember my grandfather telling me near the end of his long life that the most significant invention in his life time was the radio. When asked why, he said, "Because it showed us what life was like in other places."

The 20th century was a century lived on a global scale, with World Wars and multi-national corporations, and, with institutions that were designed for a mass culture. It was a perspective where one size fits all, and that all people are to be treated a like. Individuality was rebellious and conventionality was the norm.

Those days are slipping away as innovations, like 3D Systems printers, make it possible to create a business that serves customers globally from an office in a small town with an internet connection.  It is the twin developments of innovation for individual productivity and the failure of large organizations to function in a one-size fits all world.

As a result, the meaning of global and local is changing. It is less about a mass market culture of sameness, and more about a culture of relationship where I can serve you, regardless of where you or I live. We can be connected. We can communicate, collaborate and coordinate our projects from wherever we sit today.

It isn't just that we live in a time of the long tail, or that technological innovation provides a basis for mass customization or a better foundation for individual initiative. Each is true. At a deeper level, it means that any individual with a minimum investment can pursue their own sense of calling as a person, and do it in a social context of others who share their vision and commitment. This is an emerging reality that will seriously impact the nature of leadership and organizational design in the future.

One way of understanding this development is to see this as the ascendency of the local. I've written about it here, here and here.

The key to making a local orientation work is openness. For many people, local is just another word for provincial, or closed. However, if local is less physical place, and more a relational space, then we can begin to see that my local can include colleagues in Japan, Pakistan, England, Canada, and my neighbors nearby in Asheville.

In a local community, you share a concern for people, for families, for education systems, the business community and for those less fortunate. It is a concern for the whole person, not just for the transaction.

For example, I can share a concern that my friends in California have for the economic and social conditions of their small coastal town, and feel that as their community grows, that I contribute to their growth.

A local community orientation can function in any social or organizational structure. It is the heart of team work. It brings personal initiative, shared responsibility, and common goals and values together.

Leading Through These Shifts

The implications of these shifts for organizational leaders is fairly simple. It means that instead of being organizational process managers, we must become culture creators. The culture that forms from our leadership provides an open environment for individual initiative, relationship building, and shared responsibility.

The local in this sense is like the ancient Greek polis as described by Victor Davis Hanson in his fascinating book, The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization. He writes in the introduction,

The early Greek polis has often been called a nexus for exchange, consumption, or acquisition, but it is better to define it as an "agro-service center." Surplus food was brought in from the countryside to be consumed or traded in a forum that concurrently advanced the material, political, social, and cultural agenda of its agrarian members. The buildings and circult walls of a city-state were a testament to the accumulated bounty of generations, its democratic membership a formal acknowledgment of the unique triad of small landowner, infantry soldier, and voting citizen. The "other" Greeks, therefore, were not the dispossessed but the possessors of power and influence. Nor is their story a popular account of slaves, the poor, foreigners, and the numerous other "outsiders" of the ancient Greek city-state. The real Greeks are the farmers and infantrymen, the men and women outside the city, who were the insiders of Greek life and culture.

The rise of independent farmers who owned and worked without encumbrance their small plots at the end of the Greek Dark Ages was an entirely new phenomenon in history. This rougly homogeneous agrarian class was previously unseen in Greece, or anywhere else in Europe and the surrounding Mediterranean area. Their efforts to create a great community of agrarian equals resulted, I believe, in the system of independent but interconnected Greek city-states (poleis) which characterized Western cutlure.

The shifts indentified in this post, to me, point to a similar opportunity that the early Greek farmers had. Through their collaborative relationship of shared responsibility, together they created the Greek polis that remains as the model for what cities and communities are in the West.

The ascendency of the local will come as a result of these shifts. And with it a new conception of leadership as more personal, more collaborative, more focused on impact, will emerge to provide it descriptive power that inspires innovation.


The Common Ground of Shared Responsibility

Creating an effective business structure is a very difficult proposition. I am not talking about a business or marketing plan. I referring to how a business is structured so that it functions well. 3Cs of Alignment - image

As you know, I look at this challenge through the lens of the Circle of Impact. My sense is that we need to foster alignment between the three dimensions of leadership - Ideas, Relationships and Structure. We do this by focusing on the conditions that create effective Communication, Collaboration and Coordination.

For me this is a baseline from which all organizations need to begin. What happens beyond that is a change in the function of each of the dimensions.

Communication ceases to be a major problem; your message gets out; and work related issues seemed to be less intractable.

Collaboration grows, new ideas emerge from the improvement of relationships, and the organization needs to change to accomodate a higher level of engagement and initiative by people.

Coordination, though, lags in improvement across departments, remote sites, and programs. The reason is that the system of organizaiton is always the last to change. It has the highest resistance to adapting to changing circumstances.  As a result, the optimism that initially rose as communication and collaboration grew also begins to lag. 

After a few months or years, a growing impression of either being at a plateau or in Transition Pointdecline begins to be discussed openly.  Whether rightly or wrongly, the perception that the organization has reached a Transition Point begins to take hold.

In reflection, we can see that the easiest things to change, did.  New, fresh, inspiring ideas infused new confidence and motivation in people, impacting how they communicated and collaborated together. This is what is happening in many organizations.

The jump from one inspiring idea to the next ends up artificially propping up the emotional commitment of people to the company and their relationships together.This is not sustainable.

The resistance of the organization's structure to change remains the primary obstacle to a well functioning, fully aligned organization.

The distance and disconnect that employees have from the mission and outcome of the business is the most basic identifying mark of a structure out of alignment. Indifference that people have to their workplace grows.  The desire to be left alone to do their job so they can get on to what really matters in their life becomes the defacto attitude of the workforce. In effect, there is no emotional access point for them to invest their whole selves in the work they do.

When this scenario is widely experienced in a company, inspiring ideas and motivational team building programs don't have a lasting impact. The problem is a structural or systems one. Issues of communication and collaboration are symptoms of the problem. 

Assumptions about the Product of an Effective Organizational Structure

As I analyze organizations during various projects, I'm looking for various intangilbes that matter. Let's call them assumptions about what an organizational system should produce.

1.  Initiative by employees measured by higher rates of engagement and contribution. 

2. Interaction by employees that is open and collaborative and that transcends organizational barriers to achieve higher levels of efficiency and impact.

3. Impact awareness by employees who can express their own contribution to the organization's impact as a change that is a difference that matters.

These assumptions are difficult to measure, yet relatively easy to see.

Their performance is more evident when they are missing. People not taking initiative. When there is little interaction between people from different parts of the organization. When employees show little appreciation for the organization's mission and impact. 

The question that many of us then have is how to do we redesign our organizational structures so that we realize a higher level of initiative, interaction and impact.

One way to address this issue is through strategic organizational redesign to creates an environment of Shared Responsibility.

Shared Responsibility

Every organization has a responsibility or accountability structure. In older, traditional hierarchical systems, Responsibility resides in varying degrees throughout the organization, but not accountability, which is top down. Shared Responsibility
A shared responsibility structure creates a shared space of mutual, collaborative, coordinated accountability. This illustration shows an organization where management, staff and the board of directors have a common ground of shared responsibility.  The shared space is common ground because the expectation is that each person engaged in this space has an opportunity to contribute out of their own talent, knowledge and expertise within the strictures of their position and role in the organization.

For example, while some members of the management team would not ordinarily work along side of members of the Board of Directors, in this scheme they would because the structure is is organized to provide a shared space of contribution for impact. This approach lowers the organizational barriers that typically make it hard to create a common ground for work.

The purpose of this structure is not order or standardization, but alignment of the functions of communication, collaboration and coordination for the purpose of impact. It is the mission of the organization, not the structure, which drives the change in structure. RK- Org Design

This approach is currently being developed for an international non-profit organization whose constituents are in all 50 states and 20 countries globally.  The board is small in number; is highly active in collaboration with the staff; and works with a large number of advisors and supporters from around the world who contribute  according to their ability.

This organization's aim to create an environment where participation is not boring or disconnected from its mission, but is marked by personal initiative, collaborative interaction, and an organization environment each person has the opportunity to make a difference.

The way an organizational design of this sort works is when the Connecting Ideas of purpose, mission, values, vision and impact are well defined and aligned within the structure, and the leadership of the organization serves as a faciliator of interaction and contribution. Because the organizational structure is a shared space for collaboration, the barriers for constituents to lead through their talent and abilities are low, producing a more highly engagement staff and board.

This kind of structure and leadership must be intentionally designed and developed.  This is not a radical departure from the past, but at the same time, it is also not a logical step forward for most of the legacy structures that exist today.

This approach fosters a shared leadership of responsibility. Leadership from this perspetive is the impact or influence that is the result of the personal initiative take to create impact. When the senior leadership of an organization understands that this is where the future of organizations lays, it requires a change in their own leadership approach.

The Ultimate Question

Can legacy organizational structures change to this model of shared responsibility? 

I believe it can. The pathway to this approach is in appreciating the importance of the relationship dimension for the creation of the strength and impact of an organization.  From that perspective barriers to interaction and collaboration lower or are removed, enabling people to become more engaged with the purpose and mission of the organization, and to do so in relationship with other members of their organizational community.


Closed Collaboration

In his Introduction of his book Design-Driven Innovation, Roberto Verganti writes,Cover[1]

The process of design-driven innovation is not codified into steps. Rather, it is interwoven into relational assets with a network of key interpreters. These relationships are an engine of innovation - a core capability - that competitors can seldom replicate.

It is crucial to notice that the firms that pursue this approach do not source thousands of ideas from hordes of anonymous inventors, as touted by popular models of open innovation. Rather, they carefully search, select, and attract the most promising interpreters and work jointly with them. Collaboration is closed and not open. Not everyone is invited, and the capability to invite the right interpreters  - thereby keeping them from competitors - is what makes the difference. These firms invest in relationships. Solutions will follow.

If he is correct, in the future, we will be judged not by what we know, but a wider ranger of capabilities that enhance collaboration and relationship building.

I'm convinced that most people do not how to build relationships. They know how to network, how to be congenial in a social situation, how to go-along-to-get-along in the office, but they don't know how to build a collaborative network of relationships as he describes here. I believe people don't because it is hard and requires us to give of ourselves in ways that make us uncomfortable. And until we learn different, we are behind the innovation curve because it is the contributions of our networks that matter, not the numbers in them.

Read Roberto Verganti's comment again. This I believe is the future of successful organizations. Read his book.


In Search of Innovation - WSJ

Innovation is a practice and a discipline. It isn't a tactic or public relations pitch. The Wall Street Journal published - In Search of Innovation - a brief, straight-forward article on innovation that is worth passing around.

Here are some of the approaches they describe.

BUILD SCENARIOS
Many companies use teams of writers with diverse perspectives to create complex scenarios of what future markets may look like. The writers try to imagine detailed opportunities and threats for their companies, partners and collaborators. An oil company that wants to explore energy opportunities in cities of the future, for example, might want to work on scenarios with writers from construction, water and utility-management companies.

MOBILIZE THE STAFF
By engaging more of its own workers in the search for innovation, a company can broaden its vision. For example, the duties of procurement, sales or finance groups can be expanded to include learning about trends they encounter that ordinarily might be considered not of primary interest to the company.
 
START A CONVERSATION
Sometimes innovations arise when different departments talk to each other. But what’s the best way to start the conversation?

Many companies set up so-called communities of practice, which are typically internal Web sites where employees are encouraged to share knowledge and skills important to the company.

There are some good ideas here. You'll have to do some research to find ways to implement them, but it is a good list of options.


Practical Innovation - John La Grou's Safeplug

A lot of people can think up new ideas. It is the person who take that idea and does something with it that impresses me. John La Grou is one of those people. He's a widely talented and accomplish individual. You'll get the idea what his TED conference video.

After posting his video, John let me know that there is some background that is worth reading. You can find it here. Here's some what he said.

John La Grou: I used my three minutes to talk about the significant life-saving and energy-saving potential of our invention. But statistics don’t convey the pain and personal loss suffered daily from severe electrical fires, shocks, and burns. Nor does an abstraction like “saving electricity” adequately express the profound improvement this brings to our planet and quality of life together.

Immediately after my talk, Majora Carter (who gave the very first TEDTalk I ever watched, and is still among my TED bio Top Five talks) came up to me and shared that her good friends had just two weeks ago lost their Bronx house to an electrical fire. Majora was deeply shaken by this loss, but greatly encouraged upon hearing of our technology. She asked me how she could help spread the word about this invention.

When we experience loss directly, the urgency of life-saving technology becomes crystal clear. I would hope that my "extra TED minute" would inspire everyone to help us spread the word. The technology is here, now, to prevent daily human tragedy, if we would simply choose to employ it in our homes and businesses. ...

(Visit Safeplug.com and 2d2c.com.)

HT: Bill Kinnon


Moving to Higher Ground - by Wynton Marsalis - a Leading Questions review

I've been a fan of Wynton Marsalis since the days he played with Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers. Higher Ground - MarsalisHis seven CD set, Live at the Village Vanguard, is one of best jazz albums of the past 25 years. It was with great excitement when I saw that he had published a book on the relation of jazz to life.

Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life is a classic statement of Wynton's philosophy that can be seen all the things he does. It is a book that provides a rationale for why jazz is both an important American art form, but also a way of looking at life that can bring strength and goodness to people, their families and friends, and their communities.

He starts by telling about Danny Barker, a New Orleans musician who led the Fairview Baptist Church Brass Band . The band was formed to provide a way to keep kids off the streets. Here's what Wynton says about Barker's influence on him.

There we met an old man whom I presumed to be Mr. Barker. He was a colorful character, full of fire and stories well told. He loved New Orleans music and he loved kids. That day, he taught us the most profound lesson about playing jazz - and the possibility of a life of self-expression and mutual respect - that I've ever encountered.

... The clarinet players squeaked and squawked. Mr. Barker listened. Then he said, "Everything you do, you got to do with personality. Scoop and bend and slide those notes." They tried to do that.

Mr. Barker said, "That's jazz! Now let's hear clarinets and trumpets on the melody. But when y'all play together, you got to talk to one another . ...

So he was hearing something in us way back then. And he was teaching us something, too: You are creative, whoever you are. Respect your own creativity and respect the creativity and creative space of other people.

That's the book in a nutshell,and it is a powerful message in a time where conflict and division are found in every sphere of life.

One of the hallmarks of the jazz art is the ability of musicians to improvise. It is a way to be creative with what the situation brings you. He describes the musicians that came to his house as a child, men who were friends of his family, a noted New Orleans musician and teacher.

It seemed to me that all of these people knew one another or at least had some type of connection. For all their hard, profane talk, there was an unusual type of gentleness in the way they treated one another. Always a hug upon greeting and - from even the most venerated musicians - sometimes a kiss on the cheek. A natural ease with those teetering on the edge of sanity. A way of admonishing but not alienating those who might have drug problems. Always the feeling that things in our country, in our culture, in our souls, in the world, would get better.  And beyond that, the feeling that this mysterious music would someday help people see how things fit together: segregation and integration, men and women, the political process, even the stock market.

That's why these were still confident, optimistic men. Even though they were broke and misunderstood , sometimes difficult of personality, sometimes impaired by a too intense encounter with mind-altering substances and trapped in a culture that was rapidly moving away from professional levels of musicianship, romantic expression, and the arts in general, they still believed in the value of this jazz they played and still understood that their job was inventing music - and making sense of it with one another.


They improvised.


Now, the ability to improvise - to make up things that could get you out of a tight spot - well, everyone needed to know how to do that, even if it was just coming up with the right words at the right time. I thought there must be something to this improvised music. I needed to learn more about it. And hanging around jazz musicians was a great education for a nine- or ten-year-old because they told great stories and they knew how to listen. That was their way, talking and listening, listening and talking.

What I hear in this description of his childhood is a way for people to relate to one another in an open, respectful way. Creativity, improvisation and human community is a process of listening, sharing, adapting and making something happen that elevates life.

I've been a lover of jazz since the early 70's. I found in it a life that was missing in other music. It was the experience of seeing musicians communicating on the bandstand that most impressed me. I was fortunate to see the Modern Jazz Quartet during their last tour. Each transition in their songs seemed to come effortlessly and without words being shared. The music that each of these men played was a conversation shared between them. They knew what the others were saying, and I was in awe of that level of connection.

Wynton helps us understand jazz and what it is like to play it. It isn't a dry, academic text, but rather a story told by one of the top jazz artists of our time. He writes about the language of jazz, which I find fascinating, on the importance of the blues to the music and to life, and he tells stories about some of the jazz greats of the past.

Here's what he says about some of them.

Louis Armstrong

... the deepest human feeling and the highest musical sophistication.

... a celebration of the freedom to be yourself. He always knew and loved himself. He embraced the things he was most proud of, like his artistry ...
Louis Armstrong never tried to be someone else. His playing is free of artifice. It's pure substance. ...

Louis Armstrong's sound has the power to heal. His playing is wisdom and forgiveness. ... That feeling's in all of Louis Armstrong's music, that warmth and familiarity and the feeling that whatever you say, he will understand it - and he will understand it from your point of view.

John Coltrane

'Trane is perseverance. His development demonstrates the unquestionable value of hard work and dogged persistence.

The fourth movement of the quartet's masterpiece, A Love Supreme, is a written prayer ... "He breathes through us so gently and yet so completely, " that to me, sums up what Coltrane was all about. He was a preacher, an exhorter. He wants to convert you through his horn. But for all his fire, he is never frantic, never rushing; he is always relaxed and certain. Something in his sound touches us with its depth and compassion, its sheer beauty - a loftiness. It's irresistible. He is so earnest you want to cry.
People love Coltrane.

'Trane went out, far out into interstellar space. His discoveries were very personal. His music became pure energy. Many of his discoveries got lost in an abstract cosmos of expression and never found their way home. But Coltrane himself is remembered as a master saxophonist, a genius at integrating the music of other cultures, a hyper-harmonically-sophisticated bluesman and an earnest spiritual seeker. He was all those things and more.

Thelonius Monk

... had the sound of the church in his playing, and he had the spiritual inevitability that comes only to somebody who knows the depth of human soul. It made him at once wise and childlike, a rare combination in a full-grown man. Children don't usually sort through things to remove the painful truth. Monk gave you that kind of cut-to-the-bone honesty with the oversight of the genius.

He had another kind of virtuosity: getting notes to bend and creak and moan. His style was neither old-fashioned nor modern.

... he looked at things - from the opposite side.
Somebody would ask him, "What's happening, Monk?"
"Everything is happening all the time, man."

Wynton also writes about Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Holiday and Miles Davis, among others. Frequently, on his radio show, In the Swing Seat, on Sirius/XM radio, he talks about these shapers of the jazz art form. Part of his his greatest is his love and respect for these artists who came before him.

Wynton ends his book with an exploration for That Thing with No Name - human creativity.

The creativity of our fellow citizens is all around us - in their dress, language, lifestyle, in so many combinations of things. You don't have to earn your creativity - you're born with it. All you have to do is tend to it and unleash it. Every human being on earth is given the gift to create, and that creativity manifests itself in trillions of ways.There are no laws or rules. Creativity is unruly. Like a dream - you can't control what comes to you. You only control what portion you choose to tell.

This is the message of jazz to us average folk. We have something within us to share, create, and bring goodness to the world. You don't have to be a superstar performer to do this.

In the simplest and most essential context, creativity and innovation reiterate the importance of soul. They are, separately and together, an expansion of feeling and a supreme expression of our humanity. We have an artistic imperative to understand and reengage creativity and innovation, not merely as tools for economic growth but as tools for democracy and accomplished citizenship. We have a culture imperative to find common ground with even our firercest competitors ... and to play with integrity.

It is this larger perspective, not just the quality of his music, that makes Wynton Marsalis one of the great human beings of our time. He has received a lot of criticism for his outspoken celebration of the tradition of jazz. Without him, our world would be greatly empoverished culturally.  He spends a lot of time helping children and young people learn to find their creative expression through jazz.

Moving to a Higher Ground
is a manifesto about the importance of jazz to our world today. As a long time jazz listener, I very much agree, and celebrate this fine book.  Just to complete this little tribute to him, here's a brief video of Wynton at the Harriet Tubman Charter School playing Buddy Bolden's Blues.


Text Tonic - Innovation in therapeutic care

If you read my blog often, you know that I like innovation. People who take a standard sort of thing, and then do something really different with it to make it better, more useful. The other day, I got a Twitter follower notice saying TextTonic was following me. I thought, "What is TextTonic?" So, I opened theTwitter's profile, and found innovator, Mandy KIoppers.

Here's the description of what she does.

Welcome to our innovative service that allows you to travel with a ‘Pal in your pocket’ - text us a question/concern for professional advice! A Problem shared is a problem halved. We’ll help you improve your personal power. Someone is here for you . . .
Please understand you have free will. This advice is given only in the realm of personal growth and self-help. This is not to be considered a substitute for professional therapy or counseling.
 Text Tonic can offer you another view or second opinion on issues you face in life. Objectivity can hold vast wisdom! I hope Text Tonic can be of service to you and help you until you find happier times. Mandy

In a world where the virtual is growing in importance, why not add a text based counseling service. May be the bridge between a problem and a solution that is found.  I was so intrigued by this idea, I contacted Mandy and ask if I could send her some questions to post here. The following interview we did by email.

1.    In a nutshell, what is Text Tonic? This is your elevator speech.

Text Tonic enables Mental Health Professionals to be more accessible to the public by offering a 24hour interactive text-based advice service. Text the word “Advice” and a brief description of the problem you are having to 81812 and a Psychologist or Life Coach will reply as soon as possible with advice(usually within two hours).We live in an instant-gratification society and this service can be with you every moment of the day, as long as you have a mobile with you. It is the first one of its kind in the UK and is the only interactive service available in this format. The website is: http://www.text-tonic.co.uk

2.    Where did you get this idea? What was the original idea, and did it evolve over time to be what it is now?

I was stuck in hospital at the time when I first thought of the idea and I was going through a break-up at the same time...as the saying goes “it doesn’t rain it pours”! I had been forwarding texts from my ex-boyfriend to my girlfriends for feedback and realised how lucky I was to have sympathetic friends who were willing to offer advice. Even so, I felt a bit of a burden to them and found myself wishing there was an objective text-based service where I could get advice, forward texts and wallow in self pity privately. So the initial idea was for people to forward texts for a second opinion and then expanded into offering general advice and support on life’s challenges as well.

3.    What is the one thing you are find people need when they contact you? Are they looking for a specific answer to a question, affirmation of themselves, validation of their own thought process or just curious and like to ask questions?

There’s a mixture of reasons for people contacting Text-Tonic. Many of the questions revolve around relationships and lack of confidence/self esteem. Others want their thought processes validated and some just seem to enjoy the idea of having access to someone for general advice – kind of like a constant companion in your pocket! Sadly it seems that communities/families are becoming more fragmented as globalisation steadily increases and this type of service fills a need for those people who feel they need to show that they are ‘together’ and in control of their lives yet underneath do not feel quite as confident. They have access to advice and support that is completely confidential.

4.    Who are the people that contact you? Do some of them become clients or do they remain more anonymous?

Due to the nature of Text-Tonic most people remain anonymous. Text-Tonic is fully regulated by an organisation here in the UK called PhonePay Plus. Text-Tonic’s concept had to go before a Tribunal where they investigated staff’s qualifications, checked that the advertising was within legal limits and also made sure there were precautions in place for texters who might become addicted. Each time we send an answer it costs the user £1.50. Because of this, the user is reminded when they spend £10, £20 and once they have spent £30 we need to end the session for that day. This system doesn’t really allow for people to become clients. However we are not averse to clients seeing us on a private basis but that is rare as we usually refer users onto to other professionals for ongoing indepth therapy. At present we have more women than men contacting us but that is slowly changing. Many men I have spoken to have said they welcome this type of service as they often lack a good support network and most say it isn’t possible to talk to their male friends about problems they may be facing.

5.    Could you give a couple stories about the difference you made using this social media tool?

I once had a young woman contact me, she was still living at home with her parents and was not getting on with her step-father. She felt very trapped and misunderstood and I offered her possible ways to try improve her relationship. She tried these out regularly for a week or two and the situation at home improved tremendously. I asked her to stop and think before reacting, count to ten, whatever she had to do not to react impulsively when she didn’t like something. As a result her parents saw a newfound maturity in her and adjusted their behaviour as well. I told her that “you teach people how to treat you” and that by altering her behaviour it would start a new pattern of behaviours.

A woman contacted me because she was in an abusive relationship and did not know where to turn. I put her in touch with a well known charity called Women’s Aid and slowly but surely she began to get her life back together. She used to text me as this was the only possible form of communication that worked when he was around. She received regular tips, pep talks and support silently and she didn’t feel as alone in what she was experiencing.

6.    Is this a technique that you see other professional counselors being able to use?

Perhaps, but I think that is still a long way off. There has been resistance to this idea because it is so new but with modern technology constantly changing I think it is important to keep up and adapt accordingly. The knowledge I draw on for this particular service comes from Positive Psychology, Cognitive-Behavioural therapy and brief solution-focused interventions. Those are the most suited to this kind of service.

7.  Last question, as psychologist, what do you see as the benefits and limitations of the virtual relationships formed using social media.  For the benefits, what are people gaining that more traditional forms of relating are not providing. As for limitations, what do you recommend people do to find balance in their social interactions online.

 This service in no way replaces traditional face-to-face counselling but is still extremely useful and helpful in its capacity to lessen anxiety and stress for users. Some people prefer typing their problems to a professional as they say they feel timid about having to speak to someone and they feel more in control when texting. Others have said they feel tongue-tied and feel even more anxious at the thought of having to speak to a stranger. Texting is less personal in many ways and that works for a lot of people. It is also incredibly mobile and is constantly available which many find reassuring. You can be on a crowded train, in a bar/pub/restaurant, in a library and you can still be communicating privately – it’s a very versatile method of communicating.I envisage being able to record quick tips and send these to people’s mobiles – visual images as well or short video clips (WAP technology) in the future. In the future downloads will be available on the website and the website will have all necessary information on health, beauty, life style and mental health issues. I also plan to provide daily thoughts for those who would like an inspirational quote to start their day. Without exception, everyone I have asked has said they need more cheer in their lives and more positivity and if I can offer that – excellent.

Balance is key in everything though and despite all the advantages of interacting online/using technology it is still important to connect with others and maintain all types of interacting skills with others. Identify the positives within each form of interacting and use them to your advantage!

Text Tonic is like many innovations. If fits into a previous unrealized gap in an already existing product or program. Being able to provide on-the-spot advice is really valuable. Most of us who provide counseling or consulting services let our clients know that we are always available to them. I want my clients to know that I'm responsive to their needs. This is the simple idea behind Text Tonic.

Mandy's service is only operating in Great Britain. You can also catch Mandy at her blog and on YouTube talking about abusive relationships.