Thinking Beyond the Status Quo


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How to think beyond the status quo to deal with the strategic uncertainty
Presentation to Tertiary Education Management Conference, August, 2011.

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  • Hands up who uses twitter? Use the hashtag #temc11 and tweet anything that you like or hate about my talk as we go, and tweet questions as they occur to you.Now there’s a sorry tale of a presenter doing this at a conference where everyone hated her presentation and said so – so that everyone in the room could see the criticism appearing on a tweet stream behind her - but I’m sure that won’t happen to me!
  • STORY: when I started my career as a tertiary education manager at Griffith University as a Graduate Clerk, we used IBM golfball typewriters, tipex and carbon paper. I used to track the school’s postgraduate students on cards. The only computer I used was a dumb terminal to get statistics about student applications from QTAC.At Footscray TAFE, we had one Wang word processor that we all shared and one 20MB computer for our student records. At Chisholm Institute (now Monash), we had 4 word processors that we shared and two terminals for our student records. Email in the form of Banyan Vines just emerged then.When I arrived at Swinburne in 1991 as Asst Registrar of the Business Faculty, I asked my predecessor if I could get a computer. She said, probably not. I got one….and I got email. About 2 years later, the head of the IT department told us we would need to employ someone to look after the WWW – what’s that I said?It’s less than 20 years later – and my, how working in a university has changed.
  • From the first university in medieval times
  • To the ivory towers
  • To the mass university model
  • To new forms of online universities emerging today…and the rules of the game are changing.
  • Universities are like chameleons – able to change their ‘look’ to fit in with the environment, while maintaining basically the same structures and ways of operating.
  • The shape and form of the university of the future, and how it will operate in that future, however, is largely unknown.
  • And the transition to that future university that we are now in is characterised by a degree of strategic uncertainty not seen before. There are no certainties, or right answers.
  • This degree of strategic uncertainty means there will be big changes ahead:To learningTo workingTo the future of the physical campusTo structuresTo work and how we communicateTo how students engage with the university
  • And we will need to build strategy that allows the university to adapt and evolve in order to respond to the strategic uncertainty and the change it will bring with it. But what are our usual responses when we are told that we have to change the way we do things?
  • We ignore it…and keep doing what we have always done.
  • Or we get pushed and dragged into the new environment
  • We can resist the change…
  • All these stances about change mean that you are happy to just let the future happen to you.
  • And I guarantee you, if you let the future happen to you, this is how you will look…
  • If you embrace the inevitable change that comes from strategic uncertainty, you will be ahead of the game
  • We don’t have a choice today. We have to embrace the strategic uncertainty in the external environment and work with it not against it. We have the opportunity to shape the change rather than let it happen to us.
  • Most importantly though, to deal with strategic uncertainty, and to shape the change, we have to leave the status quo behind.
  • The usual response to dealing with strategic uncertainty is to do some strategic planning..
  • These sorts of diagrams abound when we look at strategic planning.
  • Often lack the flexibility to deal with unexpected changes in the external environment.
  • Usually don’t include any processes for systematically exploring the long term future of the organisation – they develop plans for 3-5 years out – that’s not long term.
  • Tend to rely heavily on quantitative data, suggesting a single outcome, and dismiss validity of qualitative data.
  • Miss potential innovation and strategic options because they don’t challenge organisational assumptions and ideologies about doing business now and into the future.Ignore the opportunity to spend some time in the future to test whether what they do today will be relevant in that future.
  • And, they usually don’t include any systematic processes for listening to the views of staff, before a plan is written.
  • Traditional approaches to planning leave us in the flatland – the place between the past and the present called the status quo.
  • To escape the flatland, we have to move beyond the status quo. We have to leave it behind.
  • We still need to plan, but
  • We need to do it in the context of a new view of strategy development and implementation, one that allows us to move beyond the status quo and beopen to new ways of thinking about what is possible in the future.
  • It’s not about certainty and prediction anymore
  • Moving from the probable to the possible and understanding that there are options available to us
  • .
  • The four level model provides a stronger framework or scaffolding for new strategy development and implementation processes that will help us explore strategic uncertainty.
  • It does not guarantee, however, that we will start to think beyond the status quo.For that to happen, we need explicit approaches that challenge and test assumptions about the nature of the change today and into the future.
  • Upper Left – realm of individual consciousness – thoughts, values, motivations, ideas, beliefs and images. Only the individual can know this realm.Lower Left – cultural realm, rules of the game – how we do things around here – live here – and only the group can provide interpretation and meaning.Upper Right – individual and organisation behaviour Lower Right – the world external to the individual or the organisation.
  • Traditional strategic planning processes take place in the right hand quadrants, the realms of the observable, the tangible, the empirical.
  • An we need to be spending an equal amount of time in the left hand quadrants – in the realm of the unobservable, the intangible.
  • LR: strategic scanning to understand what’s coming – the trends and drivers of change generating strategic uncertainty
  • UL: Engage individuals to understand their beliefs about the future, and to identify what beliefs need to change if they are no longer helpful to the organisation
  • LL: an organisational culture that asks proactive futures questions.
  • So we have identified the need to change the way we think about the future and strategic uncertainty, that we need to move beyond the status quo.But how do you actually get someone to change the way they think?
  • Our minds are habitual patterns recognition machines, and as Dave Snowden points out, we might think we are making rational and logical decisions – but instead those decisions are based on what he calls a ‘first fit pattern match’.Our brain is subject to habituation, things that we do frequently create habitual patterns which both enable rapid decision making, but also entrain behaviour in such a manner that we literally do not see things that fail to match the patterns of our expectations.It is when the external environment shifts and strategic uncertainty increases, that these habitual thoughts and behaviours become dysfunctional and need substantive change.These thinking habits live in the basal ganglia deep in our brains, in an area that we rarely access consciously. Every time the patterns held here are invoked, they become further entrenched and stronger and more compelling as drivers of our behaviour and our thinking.When faced with the new or the threatening or with change and strategic uncertainty, our brains move to defend the thinking habits embedded in our basal ganglia. Fight or flight response triggered by the amygdala is part of this.Bur neural connections in the brain can change – this is the idea behind neuroplasticity – where the brain changes as the result of input from the environment.So even deeply entrenched ways of thinking and seeing the world can be changed – but it takes conscious effort, andWe have to identify, focus and call ttention to the fact that existing thinking patterns are no longer helpful.
  • This requires us to be reflective, and to be able to take somewhat of a meta-stance on our beliefs and assumptions.
  • It requires us to pay attention to the future and really focus on what’s possible, rather than what we are comfortable with today – and assuming that what we have today will continue unchanged into the future…
  • … to move out of our comfort zones rather than stop when we hit a deeply held assumption about what we believe to be possible and true.
  • And prevent us from engaging with strategic uncertainty.
  • Traditional planning approaches are not useful for dealing with strategic uncertainty, because they don’t engage with that uncertainty.
  • Wilber reminds us that we need to include the left hand quadrants to really be able to understand strategic uncertainty and develop processes that are futures focused and which involve people from the beginning.Providing a holistic approach to dealing with strategic uncertainty.
  • And neuroscience allows us to understand why we react to change and strategic uncertainty as we do, and suggests some ways we can re-wire the brain to be able to better deal with it.
  • Strategy processes will need to be open to new ways of understanding what is possible beyond the status quo, if organisations are to be able to deal with the degree of strategy uncertainty that is upon us – and for all of us to be able to manage the change that is coming.
  • Because this is where your university will end up if it doesn’t embrace strategic uncertainty and leave the status quo thinking behind.
  • Thinking Beyond the Status Quo

    1. 1. Thinking beyond the status-quoto deal with strategic uncertainty Maree Conway Thinking Futures Tertiary Education Management Conference August 2011
    2. 2. #temc11
    3. 3.
    4. 4.
    5. 5. Making VU 2016: Current until A Statement of 2016 Purpose Internal & External Planning Strategic vision Inputs and objectives Ongoing environmental scanning •Educational & societal trends •Government policy drivers University •Legislation Priorities •University cross-sectoral Reviewed each 2008-2010 Outcomes & strategies year in first half Strategies to •Other University Plans (eg of year implement OHS, Disability, Staff Equity etc) Unit Strategic Plans University Budget Process 2008-2010 Iterative process to align Reviewed and Faculties, Schools budgets and plans updated in & Service areas Budget sign-off at endAugust/September; Implementation of University September finalised following Priority strategies Quarterly Budget ReviewsQIRs in November Department Plans Improvement action identified/changes to plans identified SPDP: individual Staff Plans QIR Inputs Organisational Unit QIR Quality Improvement Reviews Portfolios Held in (QIRs) Approval of operational plans Faculty Review Outcomes November each Review of current year’s Annual Course Reporting year performance Course Review Subject Evaluation Outcomes AQTF outcomes AUQA Follow up
    6. 6. Think tomorrowis going to bemore of today
    7. 7. Can’t copewith theunexpected
    8. 8. Usually don’t explorelong term alternative futures
    9. 9. Prefer quantitativeover qualitativeinformation
    10. 10. Don’tchallengeassumptions
    11. 11. Downplay or dismiss staff beliefs,hopes and fears about the future
    12. 12.
    13. 13. Environmental Scanning What can we see today? Seeking Information Strategic ThinkingWhat might happen in the Generating Options future?Strategic Decision MakingWhere will go in the future? Making Decisions Strategic Planning What will we do today? Taking Action
    14. 14. Environmental Scanning Environmental Scanning Provides the raw information to inform your strategic thinking. Both internal and external to your organisation.
    15. 15. Strategic Thinking 1: Analysing Looking for patterns and themes relevant for your organisation. Trend analysis Emerging Issues Analysis Forecasting Delphi
    16. 16. Strategic Thinking 2: Interpreting System structure and dynamics What’s driving the trends? And what does it mean for us? How will they develop? Futures Wheel Cross Impact Analysis Causal Layered Analysis
    17. 17. Strategic Thinking 3: Prospecting How will the trends evolve over the next 10-20 years? How might we respond? What are our options? Scenario planning Visioning Backcasting
    18. 18. Interior Exterior Individual Collective
    19. 19. Environmental Scanning What can we see today? Seeking Information Strategic ThinkingWhat might happen in the Generating Options future?Strategic Decision MakingWhere will go in the future? Making Decisions Strategic Planning What will we do today? Taking Action
    20. 20. Reactive Futures Questions Proactive Futures QuestionsWhat has happened? What is happening?What caused it to happen? What is driving the trends that will influence how this might evolve over time? What are alternative possible outcomes?How do we respond? How might we respond? What would be the long term consequences of action we take today?What will we do? What will we do? After the event Anticipating the event
    21. 21.  Recognise that the way we do things around here is no longer useful Re-label your reactions Reflect on your expectations and values Refocus your behaviour Respond with repetition Revalue your choices in real time
    22. 22.  Recognise that the way we do things around here is no longer useful Re-label your reactions Reflect on your expectations and values Refocus your behaviour Respond with repetition Revalue your choices in real time
    23. 23. Ourassumptionsencase us inthe past
    24. 24. Environmental Scanning What can we see today? Seeking Information Strategic ThinkingWhat might happen in the Generating Options future?Strategic Decision MakingWhere will go in the future? Making Decisions Strategic Planning What will we do today? Taking Action
    25. 25. Interior Exterior Individual Collective
    26. 26.  Seek to understand the strategic uncertainty in the external environment. Provide spaces, time, information and opportunities for staff to be involved in strategy Support staff to change the way they think about strategy uncertainty Build a futures focused culture by changing “the way we do things around here”
    27. 27. Contact Details Maree Conway Tel: 03 9016 9506 Mobile: 0425 770 181 Skype: mkconway1 More information andBuilding Strategic Futures Guides: Getting Started with Futures Environmental Scanning