In the early 1980s after a glittering career in Royal Dutch Shell, Pierre Wack wrote a book that reflected on the scenario planning method that has made that company famous in business schools (and possibly so wealthy too). The book had a catchy title “Scenarios: The gentle art of re-perceiving”. I have written before on scenarios, which in all their forms are still a core part of my team coaching method. However, here I would like to focus on ‘gentle re-perceiving’.
Seeing things differently is actually pretty hard to achieve. Finding ways to challenge ourselves is difficult. Being challenged can feel threatening. Doing it ‘gently’ is very hard.
I know this.
I struggle to see other people viewpoint, yet I know it is at the heart of the important most important challenge in all businesses.
I think I am drawn to write, teach and facilitate about perspectives, as I know it is something I need to learn (and re learn) in each assignment and each day. As I help others hopefully I can learn to disappointment myself a little bit less on this!
So the idea of the importantance of perspectives is easy to understand: we know we see things differently to the person next to us and our different perspectives are at the heart of the problem (and the breakthroughs!) in strategy, change and team working.
And yet making this easy insight a practical part of each day is pretty hard.
Given that, what are some of the ways to gently discipline our minds (mind-sets) to make this important application all a bit easier? Finding ‘easy’ ways to do this sort of work safely matters, it really does.
1) Individually: get into the habit of asking ‘what am I missing’. Developing the discipline to try and see other points of view – what would they say, what might they be thinking? This is especially useful in a negotiation or a tense situation.
One way to practice this is through the lens of the news. I know that whenever a story I know something about is on TV or in the papers then pretty much every time the way it is presented and portrayed in the media is not quite right, sometimes in ways that are radically different to what I believe is going on. I remember one Panorama programme in the mid 1990s that I felt completely misrepresented the motivation of the managers it featured. When you read the news, think about what you might not be seeing. Why not seek out sources (papers, programmes, web pages) that you might not agree with or usually read.
Another way is through seeking feedback: with a deep curiosity to find out what you are not seeing, maybe through a 360 survey, a feedback circle or individual coaching. All are about trying to illuminate your personal blind spots – getting the top right pane of the Johari Window open a little bit.
2) In your teams: Try out some new rituals in how you meet. As well as adding in some shorter meetings (standing meetings to catch up, yes/no decision meetings) try some that slow the pace and step back from the busyness of business (and maybe the dazzle and ‘snow blindness’ of success) to explore knotty issues and what you are not seeing – possibly through the deep think process and other methods. Maybe commission some training and support from a team coach.
In your project teams and work take time to prototype, experiment and test – using PDSA and other continuous improvement and change methods.
There are lots of methods you can try in your meetings, workshops and events. Pausing regularly to ask “what are we seeing differently” is an important ritual and habit. We arrive at a session seeing things differently to other people. We leave seeing things differently to how we personally did when we arrived. Re-perceived. Hopefully.
3) In your leadership of your organisations: model inquiry, stepping back from harsh judgements and cynicism of others. This is hard work when others are wanting you to jump in, criticise and be certain. A spirit of certainty replaced by good grace and humility, based on a firm fairness. Gently. Hard work!
This sort of work is all about increasing your bandwidth, boosting your capacity. One ways many of us try to manage work pressure and stress to be certain. However, having fixed views can cause stress escalation, even to the point of cynicism and burnout. Why? Because we find ourselves in conflict with others, the world and even our own insights!
These sort of disciplines (looking for the other side, seeking the blind spot, pausing the pace to examine, taking time to notice re-perception) are all about finding ways to work, without opting for premature certainty. Finding ways to manage stressful situations other than needing to be certain. Being gentle, after all.
They are especially important when you are
- starting out with an enterprise, from a new project or new job to planning an important meeting
- stuck in conflict
- facing a major barrier in your work
- anticipating an important negotiation or even helping with mediation.
Thanks for reading this far. You get the role and importance of perspectives. Now a key question. ‘Are you bothered’? Do you want to take it on? Do you have a passion for finding and exploring different perceptions? To change your viewpoint? To step out of the herd and their assumptions in your organisation? Do you want to take time to practice? To get disciplined? For form new habits? With a your team? On your own?
All the best in leading re-perceiving. In taking time to practice challenging your own (and other peoples) thinking, mind set and action. Hard work. Important work.