Posts Tagged "small data"

on Dec 11, 2018 in Blog

Journeying into the unknown Organisational change is a journey into the unknown, along changing terrain. Finding your way in that changing terrain requires (i) new understanding about the dynamic patterning of change; (ii) new processing skills of sensemaking and learning; and (iii) new tools to help people in the midst of on-going change to notice and interpret what is changing in their organisation. Organisations wishing to get on the front foot in change can develop these new change capabilities in leaders at all levels to aid them in navigating into the unknown. Let’s imagine that you’re setting out to travel somewhere you’ve never been before. Actually, no one has ever been there before. So, what do you do? Do you gather together all the information you have about your destination and plan a route to get there? Do you set off in the general direction, and try to work out the detail as you go along? Or perhaps you don’t even worry too much about where you’re going, you just set off and then take whatever turn looks most interesting. Organisational change is much like travelling somewhere new. Every organisational change journey is unique. No one else will start from where you are, no one else will end up where you do, and no one else will take exactly the same route. So any maps or directions that you get from experienced travellers (best practice organisations) or guides (consultants) will never be exactly right for your organisational journey. Nonetheless, let’s imagine that you are embarking on a journey of intentional change in your organisation, setting off on a journey to greater organisational effectiveness. (This is rather different than simply being swept along, perhaps unwillingly, by the tides of change.) You might choose to be either more planned, or more exploratory and opportunistic in your approach. Your choices may be guided by your assumptions about change ‘management’, from past experience of ‘what works’, and from your personality preferences. No single approach is intrinsically ‘better’ than the others, although some might be a better fit. Yet, whichever approach you take, once you set off into the unknown, you need to be prepared to find your way in ever-changing terrain.   The...

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on Oct 31, 2014 in Blog

Normally at this time of year, I’d be reaching for the winter woollies – cardigans, jumpers, coats and scarves. But not this year. Not yet, anyway. When I went out earlier this week, I instinctively put another layer on and grabbed a scarf to keep out the expected Autumn chill. Yet within 5 minutes, the scarf was off, followed a few minutes later by the cardigan. Unusually there was wall to wall sunshine and, by UK standards, it was like summer! By removing the layers I didn’t need, I was able to adapt to the weather conditions. (Having worked in Chicago, where Fall temperatures can fluctuate wildly, I’d learned the value of layers). Being able to take adaptive action is useful, sometimes imperative, when you’re confronted by unexpected or changing conditions. Faced with unexpectedly good weather, all I could do was to (happily) adapt to the conditions I found. Adaptability is highly prized in many organisations today. Leaders and organisations are encouraged to become more agile and adaptable to changing conditions. Adapt or die, is a common mantra in a working world that seems evermore volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA). Adaptability, once learned, can be pretty automatic. I didn’t have to think much about adding or removing extra layers. That’s useful, because there was nothing I could have done to influence the weather conditions that day. But, in organisations, becoming really good at adapting to prevailing conditions is not necessarily the most effective strategy for longer-term success. Especially when adapting becomes the automatic ‘go to’ solution. That’s because a strategy of agility that is overplayed and becomes dominant means that an organisation, team or individual can get stuck on a sub-optimal peak of performance.   From a complexity perspective, this comes from Stuart Kauffman’s idea of Rugged Fitness Landscapes, where adaptation may mean becoming stuck on a sub-optimal peak of fitness.     Responsive action is different. In organisations, what everyone is saying and doing as they interact in their everyday work creates conditions that affect what people feel they can and cannot say and do. We often refer to these conditions as the culture or climate in an organisation or team. Example: The owner of a precision...

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on Jul 17, 2014 in Blog

  An edited version of this article was originally published in theHRDIRECTOR in June 2014 The buzz is about Big Data, but does that mean ‘Small Data’ is brushed under the carpet? Big Data is a fashionable phrase describing the vast amounts of digital information now available – from stratospheric growth in online traffic and reductions in storage costs – and the clever analytics used to find patterns in that data. But, with Big Data grabbing so many headlines, what is ‘small data’ and why is it so important? Far from being trivial, small data on a human scale can herald early warning signs of change in organisations. That’s why it is so important for HR Directors and other business leaders to ensure it is not simply brushed under the carpet. ‘Small data’ refers to the kind of information that we can all pick up, every day, in the normal course of our work. It might take the form of an unexpected comment which suddenly galvanises people into action; a growing disconnect between two groups; a new story that starts circulating virally; or a dip in energy within a team. As the name suggests, small data may be indistinct, so it can be tricky to define and articulate, even when we sense it. What makes it still harder to grasp is that small data is distributed around organisations. We each hold a piece of the puzzle, yet no-one can stand aside from the constant creation and flow of data in organisations to see the whole picture. Nevertheless, small data is human scale data, often qualitative, that we can all notice if we know what to look for. Small data, on a human scale, can herald early warning signs of change in organisations.  And small data can be powerful in challenging what we think we know. You only need to notice one black swan in order to prove that swans can be black. Even more importantly, it is the best data we have about how an organisation is changing, until after the fact. The power of small data is that it can give us advance warning of potential problems or completely new opportunities. It can signal important twists and turns...

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on Jun 25, 2014 in Blog

This is an important question for governments, businesses, organisations and individuals. Because when we make decisions today, we are often making bets on an unknown future e.g. about retirement or energy needs and provision. Some are sceptical, rightly so, about the limitations of prediction in a complex and uncertain world. [See new blog posts from Ralph Stacey and Chris Rogers]. Yet we often need to act amid uncertainty: be that in planning large infrastructure projects; developing health and social care policies; or making choices about our own retirement provision. So, how can we address the question: what does the future hold?   Mystics, statistics and learning There are statistical models and mystical models. Although polar opposites in their reliance on data, both statistical and mystical models assume that they can make predictions about the future with some significant degree of certainty. Learning models, on the other hand, offer ways of working with uncertainty. Statistical models assume the world is predictable, the future knowable, that ‘tomorrow’ will be largely like ‘today’ in all important aspects. They assume regularity and ignore uncertainty. They downplay the likelihood of unknowns and extreme events, although extreme events are more common in nature than you might expect (see long tails and power laws). They also downplay free-will, assuming that people will largely respond in ways that are similar to how they’ve responded in the past. And they assume that small differences in those responses won’t add up to anything much, even though there’s increasing understanding of butterfly effects (remember Gerald Ratner’s ill-advised comment?), ‘viral’ change and social movements. If data is king, then Big Data is emperor. Why do we like statistical models in business? Because they give the illusion of certainty and can reduce the anxiety of leadership and decision-making in an inherently uncertain world. Mystical models assume the world is preordained, that the future can be intuitively seen now, by a select few with special gifts or skills e.g. successful business leaders, tech entrepreneurs, or fortune tellers. In assuming an unfolding future, mystical models downplay human agency and free-will; the ability of human beings to act and react in ways that are imaginative, rebellious, constructive and destructive. Hindsight about successful predictions or interventions...

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on Apr 15, 2014 in Blog

A recent article in McKinsey Quarterly highlighted the strength of ‘weak signals’. If you haven’t read it, the authors explain how snippets of information, often hidden in social-media streams, offer companies a valuable tool for staying ahead. Their focus is external scanning for potential opportunities by capitalising on weak signals hidden within a torrent of digital information. They argue that weak signals can be strategically important, and therefore worthy of top management time and attention. However, weak signals within organisations are also extremely valuable for leaders and decision-makers to understand. They can provide early warning signs of potential problems and opportunities which are being created as an organisation is changing and developing. Understanding these weak signals can help leaders act sooner – to take responsive action in live change to help seize opportunities and head off problems, while they are still small. For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the battle was lost. For want of a battle the Kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail. A well-known proverb describes events escalating until a Kingdom was lost, all for the want of a horseshoe nail. Here, the implications of responding later, rather than sooner, are clearly spelt out. We can also see this on a practical level in organisations. For example, one senior manager made it his business to tune into the ‘rumour index’, as he called it, to gauge people’s concerns during a particularly volatile period. This gave him clues about the unintended effects of managerial actions and also gave him the opportunity to target his communications to nip some of the more outlandish rumours in the bud. However another manager wrote off murmurs of resentment about new initiatives as an inevitable resistance to change, which is normally short-lived. So he failed to realise that they forewarned a serious deterioration of trust in senior management – to his cost. As these examples clearly show, weak signals within organisations are not just hidden in social media. We can find them in everyday actions and words. But they are also...

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