This talk is a companion to Michael Edson’s Smithsonian 2.0 Strategy talk. We’re co-presenters. Ladies and gentlemen - Michael Edson.
Given what he achieved, here’s the key question we want to answer.
And here’s the more important one.
First, if you’re curious about this, you probably have a hard problem
In fact, you have a wicked problem. How many of you have heard this term before – its making its way into the 2.0mainstream. Wicked problems are hard tangles of emeshed issues such that its impossible to truly discern the causes or the best solutions to the issue. And this leads to lots of opinions based on different people’s perspectives and beliefs. Organizations are notoriously bad at addressing these types of problems. They do not yield to divide and conquer strategies, or authoritative proclamations.
SO the organization, recognizing that its standard operating procedure is not going to work, declares a “strategic initiative”
Which can quickly devolve into this.
Many committees have contributed many great things to this world, but we usually think about the downsides of committees.
But there’s also this – which is basically (yet) another description of collective intelligence.
So how can we maximize the strengths, and minimize the weaknesses of the committee?
3 Keys, plus 1. We’ll talk about each of these in turn. But first, I was to ask, Michael – was it easy?
The smithsonian has been been trying to come to grips with this issue since 2007. The first attempt involved an outside consulting firm, and was strong on process, but inadequate synthetic leadership, and inadequate transparency. The result was a poorly received set of recommendations that sat on a shelf. Enter Michael Edson. He had a vision. Created excitement.
An open leader is ego-less. They are focused on the problem, not their role in it. They view everyone as a potential teacher, or as Jeffrey Levy at EPA would say, they are good at is recognizing that “an expert is anyone who knows one thing that you do not”. They are actively curating a vision, and constantly seeking out and collecting ways to improve, strengthen, and act upon it.
Open Leaders have deliverables.
Thesmithsonian has a long history of remarkable vision. Beginning with Smithson
And continuing to the current day. Anybody NOT want to be a part of this one?
Michael started here
And more interestingly, here.
But that was just the tip of the iceberg. If you look at the preparation that he and a couple of others put into the preparation for each step along the way, you’ll see that he asks a LOT of very thoughtful questions – about 2 pages worth for each of his workshop participants that he sent out a couple days in advance of each.
This is critical – probably the most important thing missing from their first attempt at this. Collecting input is not good enough. A leader (or group of leaders) must take that input and synthesize it into meaningfulness and action. This is why you need a leader who has insight, discernment, intelligence, and expertise. Did I say that this would be easy, or that anyone would be able to do it?
Michael took hundreds of comments and catalogued them, and thought deeply about them. They didn’t change his vision, they informed it, found the flaws, made it better. And this step isn’t at the end – it’s a constant, iterative process, like the process itself. At its best, process is recursive and self-healing (can’t believe I’m geeking out in public, but there it is).
Process is not equal to bureaucracy. Without process, we’re wandering aimlessly in the desert, and everything is too hard.
Process doesn’t need to be complicated. An order of events, rules of engagement. Michael put great effort into framing out how each step, and never failed to adapt to a better way of doing it, when the opportunity presented itself – but he let everyone know of the changes. (recursive and self healing – eek)
You can see here that michaelmarshalled remarkable discipline, intelligence and humility as he plans out how to proceed. Even at this, he says “I was never sure what was going to work”. He lays out the details of his process in public
As well as the Rules of engagement.
Now we’re getting to the good stuff.
Transparency means inclusion, respect, and constant learning from one another. Candor, participation, nonsense gets self-censored. Blame and fear are actively minimized.
Not just “I’ll tell you anything you want to know, but aggressive transparency. You had no excuse not to know, not to contribute if you felt you had something to say. All contributions are openly acknowledged. Michael posted everything on a PUBLIC wiki – and yes – you can go see it – and you should. Its fairly awesome.
Perhaps the most important contribution of transparency to solving wicked problems is the ability to create a common operating picture.
That means going from this – where you don’t know if everyone’s thought bubble has the same stuff or not
To this. When you have a common view of the issues, then you can have meaningful discussion and input – you aren’t spending your time chasing the tail of defining the terms, priorities, perspectives or issues. There are several methodologies for doing this in the literature – I’m not 100% sold on any one of them. It does take work, and it does pay off. Technology helps (I like to talk about collaborative technologies).
Note – COP is not consensus. Each participant may infer different meaning from the COP, and recommend a different course of action, but with a COP the group can evaluate recommendations with a shared context – making it vastly easier to make progress. A COP eliminates much of the complexity of dealing with wicked problems. Still need insight to bring synthesis.
So – what can be achieved?
In the case of the smithsonian, its this – we have found a new way to unlock the mysteries of the universe, understand and support biodiversity, value world cultures and grok the american experience – by engaging the minds and labor of all of the expert and curious.
What does this mean for government 2.0? We can enable every citizen to be an advocate of and builder of freedom and democracy, we can amplify the value of the government, by putting the tools of democracy in the hands of citizens.
Transparency Leadership Process
Org Hacking: What to do when the problem won’t yield to your organization.<br />
Why did the Smithsonian 2.0 Strategy work?<br />
"I then bequeath the whole of my property...to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge...”<br />- James Smithson (1765-1829)<br />
Unlock the mysteries of the universe<br /> Understand and sustain biodiversity<br /> Value world cultures<br /> Understand the American Experience<br />- Smithsonian Strategic Plan<br />Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough<br />www.si.edu/about<br />
Many organizations don’t beginstrategic change until they’re eitherafraid or in pain, or both<br /><ul><li>Leo Mullen, CEO Navigation Arts</li></li></ul><li>Promotes candor<br />Enables listening<br />Maximizes participation<br />Encourages self-filtering<br />Solutions, not blame<br />