I’ll be neither the first person nor the last to point out the role of storytelling in our working lives. Most of us are, without wishing to sound unkind, suckers for a great narrative: a plotline that has us gripped, wanting adversity to be overcome and for the beleaguered hero’s true worth to be finally recognised. The same isn’t entirely true of films, where our pre-conditioned willingness to accept the whole thing as both fiction and entertainment makes us more willing to ‘cheer on’ an anti-hero than is usually the case with books: for most reader’s, a book has to create a more convincingly ‘real’ world.
So, while you might be tempted to think of your organisation’s on-going goings-on as more like a soap opera or a stirring tale of derring-do, stop for a moment and think of a novel: most novels will do for this, although maybe we could try The Great Gatsby or Wuthering Heights. The reason I’ve suggested these two is to make a finer point about our love of ‘narrative’ – that what we respond to is actually human stories. By which I mean stories about humans, rather than by them. And there is a difference between reading books and living life that should matter to anyone interested in the responses of other to the stories that they tell – and the character that they present.
There are a fair few tropes that remain perpetual battlegrounds in the world of L&D, HR and OD: profits vs people as an over-riding focus and talent’s opposing ‘nature’ vs. ‘nurture’ battalions spring immediately to mind. One of the more abstract of these perennial topics is the divide between process and creativity – or perhaps we should say the perceived divide. We’re not the only people to have trotted round the block a few times on this one: indeed, we’ve written about it before here in several contexts – including HR’s impact on innovation, Google’s Innovation Time Off policy and the story of MIT’s Building 20, and jazz (not once but twice).
That this is an issue that will probably never leave us is well-illustrated by a blog post by Todd Williams, although the apparently inflammatory title – Process Stifles Creativity – was perhaps a rather knowing case of squirting lighter fluid onto the bonfire. Todd’s themes are more balanced than his title suggests, but one sentence very much stood out for me:
People are not rewarded for being creative with the process; in fact, the reaction is quite the opposite.”
It’s Neil’s turn to get his tats out on this week’s episode of The Apprentice as the phone call comes in at 6am. They’re off to the Tower of London – sadly as tourists rather than prisoners – and have to take an overnight bag. Jason, ever practical, packs his enormous teddy bear. Jordan reminds Alex that Welshmen can be legally killed at the Tower at 9am. I silently want to recommend a challenge set in Chester, where crossbows can still be legally used against the Welsh pretty much anytime. Ah, the joy of bylaws.
As The Apprentice mansion still doesn’t run to an alarm clock, it’s Jason’s turn to answer the phone at Silly O’clock: this time it’s 6am. And very fetching he looks in his towel and tattoos. (The level of tattooing on the candidates is quite striking, although none of them appear to have taken the opportunity to have the odd sneaky crib-card inked about their person. Or sold any skin for advertising. Oh, the lost opportunities …)
We’re treated to the usual intro sequence, with only two exceptions: the addition of ludicrously over-stirring classical background music and the revelation that they are not only in dormitories but in sleeping bags. The future of British industry is, it appears, effectively camping in a mansion. A youth hostel would surely have been cheaper? (And why, only once as far I recall, has one team taking the phone call and ‘forgotten’ to tell the others: the evidence is available on YouTube for those of you feeling maliciously inclined.) We are, however, still treated to the modest asides to camera. Neil needs to get back on the horse, which I hope is a metaphor rather than a slang reference. Rebecca wants to show what she’s capable of: we’re spared any shot of what she might have in her hands. A grapefruit knife perhaps, or a mutilated wax doll?
Every two years, the UK Learning Transfer Survey seeks to look beyond the academic research on learning transfer to identify the actual practices of learning and development professionals and their organisations. The results of the 2012 UK survey – a full copy of which you can request from our website – provide compelling evidence that, although learning transfer has become established as a mainstream activity in most organisations, the dash to technology-enabled training observable in the organisational learnscape may threaten that progress as trainers seek to re-define their role for the digital era.
Reported usage of 66 surveyed practices, all shown in empirical research to have a positive impact on learning transfer, was up by an average of almost 6% since the previous survey in 2010, although some practices increased in usage while others fell – and individual practices show wide patterns of variability in application.
It’s 4.30am in Apprenticeland and the phone is ringing. We are treated to the vision of Jason in his stripy jim-jams, being far more polite into a receiver than I might be that early in the day: ah, the transformational power of knowing you’re being watched. If only it lasted …
The ‘everyone hurtling around getting ready’ sequence is its usual regrettable self. Knowing that they’re going to Dubai, Fran (I think) is wondering which of her bikinis to take. Not a garment the locals are big on in the UAE, my dear, but why did you bring a selection of bikinis to The Apprentice in the first place. And in a transparent set-up, we are presented with this week’s evictee from the outset. Zee – who I didn’t feel I needed to know wears a nipple ring – is already crowing about his local knowledge. There’s a watery trap in this series called “This Task Has Got My Name On It”, and Zee’s designer socks are already soaking wet, I fear. More perplexingly, Myles – fully dressed, unusually – is quoting the Bible at Fran in the back of a cab. I’d expect such a metropolitan man of the world to try a smoother line of chat, but life is full of surprises. Even if The Apprentice doesn’t always follow suit. (The relationship between the programme and ‘real life’ is a very odd one on many levels.)
The most startling moment of this episode – officially called, with blinding insight, Flat-Pack – happened a few minutes in, and I’ve been trying to have my retinas repaired ever since. Earlier in the series than usual, The Apprentice played the ‘everyone was relaxing at home on a day off, with a camera crew – as you do’ trope, and the remaining 14 contenders (I use the word loosely) suddenly found themselves with thirty minutes to reapply the bling. Girls scampered along luxury corridors, hectically searching for trowels so they could re-do their eye make-up. Meanwhile, not content with flashing his abs at us in a towel last week, Myles decided that the most appropriate way to behave on camera in a men’s dorm is to wiggle across our eye line in a thong. In a programme with no audience voting, I was left wondering which bottom line he was most eager to demonstrate familiarity with. His own, possibly? Fundamental mistake there, Myles. Oh well, maybe he was just showing us his best side …
Thereafter, the jokes continued to phone themselves through. These week’s challenge – delivered, please note, without any fanfare about its central importance to the economy or any other brouhaha – is to design, prototype and pitch an item of flatpack furniture, with a maximum RRP of £75. Before the phrase has left voice-over man’s lips, I am already thinking ‘yep, strictly two dimensional’ and ‘a child of five could do it’ (and the related jokes). But can 14 children aged between 22 and 39 do it? By the time you are reading this, all bets are off. Do not call now: you may still be charged and your opinion will be disregarded. (For those struggling with maths, the RRP limit is slightly more than half of the TV licence fee you have already paid to be seeing this.)
I know, I know … a shameless attention-grabbing post title. But corporations, feelings and attention-grabbing are essentially the key points of what follows. A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a posting on one social media site (not linked, as membership is required) where one contributor had spotted a tweet on a corporate account, expressing how ‘stunned’ it/they was/were and how ‘thoughts are with’ those affected by the bombing of the Boston marathon.
What had fired them to repost it was a combination of a) a sense of ambiguity over appropriateness and b) the social conundrum of an organisation – when all is said and done, an abstract entity – tweeting an emotional response. I’m not going to play ‘name and shame’ – it’s not entirely clear to me that shame is a word to be used – but it was an interesting point: how can something that might be a legal entity but isn’t an organic, living and breathing one feel the sense of sympathy that someone within it has chosen to use a social medium to express?
As part of the ASK Newsletter, Q2, we are starting a series of interviews with key voices from the worlds of organisational effectiveness, HR and L&D. (If you’re not a subscriber, visit the Newsletter page at our website to access all the articles from Issue 1, or to be added to our mailing list.)
As part of the first issue, we’re delighted to host a Q&A session with Sharlyn Lauby, author and editor of the HR Bartender blog.
In her own words, “an HR pro turned consultant”, Sharlyn created the blog so that “people would have a friendly place to discuss workplace issues”. We’re privileged to have the opportunity to pull up a bar-stool and seek the HR Bartender’s counsel.
Q1 In your recent blog posting, Knowing When To Retire a Theory, you talk about the need to remain open to updating or replacing conventional wisdom. How open do you think most organisations are to this issue, and how might more of them be helped to become so?
I believe organizations are very open to it. Over the past few years, companies have been forced to re-evaluate their status quo whether it was driven by the global economy or business competition. But this can’t be a forced activity. Questioning conventional wisdom needs to be a business standard. And people who can raise the question in a thoughtful way will be very valuable. Challenging the status quo cannot mean turning the building upside down every time.
It really comes down to permitting a culture where the conversation will be embraced. And giving individuals the tools to have the conversation in a productive way. I think companies are open to it. I don’t necessarily think that companies are open to the destruction that can occur at the same time.
At our recent Ideas Exchange event at The Gallery Soho, we invited those attending to write their questions on a giant blackboard as triggers for discussion. We’ve taken a few moments since then to offer suggested brief answers to three of these questions, and you’ll find our ‘starters for ten’ below – but we’d very much welcome the contributions, thoughts and suggestions of others: simply use the Leave a Reply box at the bottom of this posting to share your thoughts with us.
We’ll be posting ‘answers’ to other questions raised on the day shortly – follow us on Twitter for announcements, or subscribe to our blog to be notified of new posts by email. (And if you’d like to be notified of future events, please contact us.)