IPA Eff Fest: Paul Feldwick


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Presentation given by Paul Feldwick at the IPA's Eff Festival - a one day conference challenging conventional thinking on the value of creativity.

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  • A v simple example. Starting the lawnmower.Action – outcome. Pull string, nothing happens.Do you go on pulling the string? Up to a point. But then it would be crazy.So you stop and think, maybe talk it over with someone who knows about mowers or has tried. This process comes up with various theories. You might decide the most common theory is its out of petrol.So you change yr plan. Instead of pulling the string a few more times, you check the petrol. Then you get some and put it in. Then you pull the string again.And it either works or it doesn’t. You’ve learnt something about the mower and how to deal with it.
  • This example is banal but it will serve to introduce David Kolb’s learning cycle.A very helpful concept for me in planning learning of any sort.For learning to take place, you need to keep moving around the whole cycle.Just action isn’t learning. Neither is theory, neither is planning. They need to be joined up.
  • In both these examples, just repeating the action doesn’t lead to change or learning. If we do not pass through all stages of the cycle, no learning takes place. Or at best we will be like Peter Cook....There’s a deep truth in this. Just doing the same thing over again does not lead to improvement (unless, just possibly, it was perfect to begin with). Someone asked Ashkenazy his secret and he said I do not practice wrong notes. If we do not apply the learning cycle to what we do we are, in effect, practising wrong notes.
  • So why don’t we all do this all the time? Applied to the organisation, it’s not so simple. I want now to explore some of the behaviours that frequently create barriers to learning – and not all these are easy to change. Some are even, unwittingly, created by management. Yet these are the issues we need to work on if we want to improve the quality of learning in this field. I’ll suggest some of the barriers which, based on my own experiences, inhibit organisations from moving around this cycle.First of all, our ability to learn is hindered if we aren’t clear what the outcomes of our actions are. This of course places measurement back in the spotlight. And I think it is never sufficiently recognised that one of the main barriers to learning in advertising effectiveness is simply that the data we need isn’t available.Sometimes it doesn’t exist. Frequently, it doesn’t exist over a long enough timescale. Or it exists but it is not practically available. These are issues not just of research but of knowledge management – how is information recorded, stored and shared.Or we have data which we assume measure the right outcomes, but may not. These data can be obviously misleading. This also raises the important question of how we define the outcomes we wanted in the first place – but more of that in a moment.
  • Suppose we have data that are, if not perfect, at least adequate for some sense making. What barriers in the organization can compromise our ability to make sense of them?One common factor is the pressure for action, for closure, for a quick decision. Much of the daily rhetoric of management rewards concepts like ‘action-oriented’ or ‘decisive’ , and devalues reflection or theory. Therefore time and resource will not be devoted to this stage, and indeed people may be effectively prevented from offering points of view which conflict with the simple drive to closure.A different dimension is created by the pressure for managers to report success in order to continue to proceed with their plans. This leads to a collective desire to deny or disguise outcomes which don’t match the goals that have been set. If this persists, eventually there comes a point where the real situation can no longer be avoided. By this time it may have become a crisis. The response by senior management is likely to be panic, scapegoating, punishment, and then quickly ‘moving on’ – there may be embarrassment and rhetoric of ‘looking to the future, not the past’, therfore not the proper analysis of what happened which will allow learning to take place
  • Even when proper reflection is allowed to take place, however, it may well hit another set of problems when the analysis of the situation starts to come up with alternative theories to explain what may be going wrong. In most organisations there are views which cannot be openly expressed. There are traditions of ‘how we do things’ which carry corresponding taboos. Individuals are highly susceptible to the pressures of conformity and received authority. Saying the unsayable will often lead to being treated as if you had gone mad. Accordingly there are subjects which for practical purposes become undiscussable.In my experience, attempts to discuss how advertising works often fall into this category.
  • If reflection and theory have been allowed to take place, it’s possible to make plans which offer a real alternative and therefore the possibility to try something new. But without these prior stages, plans will merely repeat what has been tried before – a futile process. Planning, however, will take place – in the absence of new ideas it may well focus on issues of largely irrelevant detail in order to create the illusion that much hard thinking and control is being put in.Finally, the culture of risk aversion – of not being allowed to fail, or even to ‘sub-optimise’ creates an impossible pressure which is often resolved by procrastination. Meetings, analyisis, speculation and argument are prolonged indefinitely but also pointlessly because no real learning has taken place.This is paradoxically the opposite outcome to the ‘pressure for action’ which I mentioned earlier and yet many teams manage to live with these contradictory pressures at the same time. Projects are simultaneously urgent and yet delayed by unresolvable debate. The result is usually a lot of stress but little learning.
  • I want to talk about one more important idea before I stop. I’ve not considered yet why we behave the way we do in the first place. Our actions are very rarely random – they are usually logical and goal related. However we may not even be conscious of what goals and what logics we are using in out habitual behaviours, until we stop and examine them – and this is not always easy.Let’s assume then that if our actions are not completely random, they are driven by goals, values, and assumptions – sometimes also called ‘mental models’ – which in many cases are not explicit (and therefore we are often unaware of them).
  • Let us now add this box to the learning cycle diagram. It should become clear that if we engage in a process of reflection and theorising, we open up the possibility f not merely changing our actions, but of changing the goals, values, and assumptions that underlie these actions. Indeed, if we don’t make explicit and challenge these goals values and assumptions our actions are unlikely to change in ways that will go beyond them.And if we can consider changing our goals, then that will also change the sense we make of the outcomes we observe, of which outcomes we pay attention to, and the expectation gap between our goals and our outcomes.I have adapted this idea from Chris A and Donald S. Who have invented the names single loop and double loop learning.
  • you will realise I am predominantly in the theory quadrant right now, and I make no apology for that – Theory is a liberating force when it is treated as part of a learning cycle. As Kurt Lewin said, there is nothing as practical as a good theory. So what might this mean for organisations in the context of advertising practice? I would suggest that single loop learning would be the process of studying results, in order to adapt strategies and executions and media plans. It’s not always well done, but it is a familiar concept. Double loop inquiries would however be about challenging some of the assumptions and habitual processes which are used in that single loop learning. For instance, it might involve questions like:
  • I will conclude with three general recommendations. They are easier said than done because they are organisational issues which may be deep rooted in culture, powerstructures, espoused belief systems and so on. But any company that genuinely wants to improve the quality of its advertising outcomes might consider working on them.Thank you.
  • IPA Eff Fest: Paul Feldwick

    1. 1. The Learning Organization Paul Feldwick
    2. 2. What is learning? Adaptive process by which we improve performance. Goal Action Outcome Performance Gap =Learning Opportunity
    3. 3. Action Outcome Reflection Planning Theory
    4. 4. Kolb’s Learning Cycle Action Outcome Reflection Planning Theory
    5. 5. I believe I’ve learnt from my mistakes And I could repeat them all perfectly
    6. 6. Barriers to learning Action Outcomes •Insufficient data •Inaccessible data •Misleading data Reflection Planning Theory
    7. 7. Barriers to learning Action Outcome •Insufficient data •Inaccessible data •Misleading data Reflection Planning •Pressure for action •Denial of problem •Panic, blame, ‘movi ng on’ Theory
    8. 8. Barriers to learning Action Outcome •Insufficient data •Inaccessible data •Misleading data Reflection Planning •Pressure for action •Denial of problem •Panic, blame, ‘movi ng on’ Theory •Taboos and traditions •Conformity, authority •Undiscussable subjects
    9. 9. Barriers to learning Action Outcome •Insufficient data •Inaccessible data •Misleading data Reflection Planning •Planning without new ideas = futile •Focus on detail to show ‘control’ •Risk aversion procrastination •Pressure for action •Denial of problem •Panic, blame, ‘movi ng on’ Theory •Taboos and traditions •Conformity, authority •Undiscussable subjects
    10. 10. What drives our actions? (Often implicit) Goals Values Deep assumptions/ Mental models Actions Adapted from Torbert, Senge
    11. 11. Single and Double Loop Learning Goals Values Assumptions Action Outcome Reflection Planning Theory Adapted from Argyris & Schon, Kolb, Torbert
    12. 12. Possible ‘double loop’ inquiries • • • • Have we set the right goals? Are we using the right measurements? What are our models of how advertising works? Are our processes delivering the learning we need? • What barriers exist to productive learning in our organisation? • What skills or resources should we invest in?
    13. 13. Recommendations • Shift focus from ‘Measurement/Accountability’ to ‘Learning/Performance Improvement’ • Address systems and structures needed for this, e.g. – – – – Data/knowledge management Roles and responsibilities Timely and frequent cycles of action learning Reward open dialogue and learning from results • Apply double loop learning to examine goals and action strategies....