September 07, 2003
Do you agree with my notion of concepts and contexts, contents and connections?
In building teams who have to go 'Beyond Branding' I think we have a responsibility to get clues from them and find ways to get everyone on the same page, indeed some of the people I work with need to just get on the same planet.
I firmly believe, like everyone in this community, that we have a real responsibility to each other, to create shared values and I know i've spent my life trying to get a better understanding of them, their values and their insights so as to solve problems in a total association with the enterprise and with the respect or everyone involved.
Some of you may know my own solution to doing this and the Contextual Frameworks that I build with partners in this community and beyond and i'm always trying to describe it better. So in going around the place and doing my 'thing' with colleagues I notice some of the following stuff, some valuable changes and trends, do they ring true with you?... I'm really interested to find out your views...
I hope it's of interest and any way you can just stop reading if it isn't.
The concept of concepts
My notion of ‘concepts’ is a visual statement, a 'mind-picture' of how we consider situations and make choices. Imagine the way we imagine, often this is with these pictures in the brain, a questionable 'sound-track' and a fast access to a library of images.
The following deals with this idea of a 'concept'.
These images, thoughts, ideas have a way of remaining in the mind as a powerful impression. The impression makes us think about things from that specific perspective and that encourages us to form an opinion and a point of view, often hard to shake off. The power of these concepts are as many times positive as they can be negative, especially in business and particularly amongst teams of people who work closely with each other.
Sometimes, we as individuals can choose to ‘go’ with these 'concepts', other times we will discuss and debate them with others in whatever way we can or see fit. Others will develop their own version of someone else’s 'concept' in their own minds.
Many concepts we will just jettison as new information and stimulus arrives or as our mind's own experience removes any irrational information out of the concept.
We deal with the randomness of concepts daily as we seek to challenge and build value and as we seek to remove risk and add rigour. We might call the tool with which we consider them a ‘frame’. Armed with these ‘frames’ we can build a structure, a set of criteria that aims to create the basis for decisions and causes a more solid form of understanding, certainly a more rigorous outcome perhaps.
Groups of people working in teams with the same objective will have differing ‘concepts’ and therefore different ‘frames’ for this reference and we should all aim to minimise the gaps both between ‘concepts’ and certainly between any ‘frame’.
Concepts spring from everywhere and of course we call them lots of things. We can talk about them as an Idea. “I’ve had an idea”. Is it a good one or a bad one? Perhaps it’s just an interesting one? We talk about opinions. “I’ve got an opinion about this that or the other”. Again is this a good, bad or a just needs work type of idea?
The opportunity for risk between teams versions and interpretations of these concepts are very easy to see.
Matters of opinion
An opinion is often a dangerous thing, often just based on the individual’s view of the concept rather than any socialised agreement of it. The charge that the senior leader of the team the CEO or founders concept is shared by everyone is seldom well founded and the concept can often be a very different ‘picture’ for everyone in the business.
I think we are all are aiming for a Shared and Rigorous Concept (SRC). A shared and rigorous concept is a very powerful thing and can get the team and the individuals concerned a very long way. Shared and Rigorous Concepts will be enabled only by collaboration, connected sets of rules and agreement around key criteria yet as we know this is a very difficult place to arrive.
My solution to all this was to develop something called a Contextual Framework and i've been going around the place using it to resolve some of these issues. I'm not saying that it is the only way but it's my way.
(I apologise if the following sounds like a sales pitch...it's certainly not intended to be).
Contextual Frameworks allow us to logically explore eleven critical fundamentals of business in enough depth and at each key step from discovery through to deployment.
As the individuals explore their own version of the 'concept' as declared by someone they can learn and shift their language and understanding as the team becomes comfortable with the choices that must be made to achieve a success in terms of the goals.
We call the resulting ‘frame’ a Contextual Framework.
The power of these ideas
Concepts and Contexts (frames) are powerful tools in that they are fast and the brain assimilates their ideas as a visual catalyst for understanding and completeness. The pictures aid the memory of the logic we call The Business Equation and this helps us to sustain the likelihood of everyone gaining improved performance over time.
Much research and science now points to the power of multi-sensory information capture and these Contextual Frameworks and the power of building Shared Rigorous Concepts can deliver far more understanding than reading documents and ploughing through pure text. In addition to this the collaborative environment for building the SRC together in facilitated sessions adds a valuable dimension not acheivable from isolated thinking.
Frameworks and Shared Concepts are critical also to causing ‘start-points’ and ‘kick-offs’ for programs and projects and having a shared model amongst the team becomes a ‘sign-post’ for the progress of the project.
The same eleven pieces are easily learned and each ‘iteration’ of the sharing process adds more richness, reduces errors and corrects and connects thinking.
As data is uncovered and, researched or added to a concept the concept grows in its belief by the team and there is a strong sense of involvement and ownership that in turn creates yet more value. It is critical to ensure that the objectives are the key axis in considering the development of concepts.
Concepts as hypotheses
Hypotheses in this case are a set of arguable facts that can make up the framework of a suggested strategy that can be a shared and rigorous concept that is as yet unproven. The framework for shared concepts therefore relies on ensuring that as much as can be known is known upon which to infer the best outcome. The best outcome is one which best moves the team forward toward its goal. Imagine the confusion for teams working with their own different concepts.
Creating shared concepts ensure that value flows from both directions, from concept originator, concept contributor and concept beneficiary, often consumers. Concepts also need to be unrestricted by these frameworks. When deployed inappropriately a set or rules can destroy innovation and creativity.
The key benefit of a Contextual Framework is its liberation. Its liberation comes from understanding the need for creativity and freedom by humans.
We don’t want blandness, we don’t relate well over long periods of time to sameness. We need fresh thinking and ideas. We want to be surprised and delighted by new and powerful thinking and solutions.
The Contextual Framework is based on liberating insights and by being aware of values, traits and trends, human criteria and the power of value innovation and not by delivering a process or a method of rules and criteria from other cases or times.
The benefit of a Shared and Rigorous Concept is that it can assure everyone of this known newness, frontier thinking and reduce the effect of laggardly and luddite behaviour. Often this behaviour is caused by those afraid of the new and uncertain of its effects on them or their understanding of it.
Too much research and analysis can be the wrong path too. This approach may not deliver the insights required and can often result in samey and second rate quality of outcome.
Innovation, whilst often borne out of necessity needs also to be well thought through and by definition it’s all about new and uncharted territory.
Where do we look for innovation?
Creativity is a surprising force, it can come from anywhere so we need to look everywhere for it. The Contextual Framework covers every area of business and so allows for creativity to come from anyone and any area of business. Because it’s a progressive approach it can use each previous phase to signal where innovation or creativity might be investigated.
New concepts can also be allowed to ‘fly’ unfettered for any length of time as it incubates and can then be bought to the framework for context checking in the bigger scheme of things and creativity added to it rather than be taken away.
An innovative concept can be tested with longer exposure to the Business Equation by the team without it becoming a feature or a distraction for the whole business.
Everything is connected
Six Degrees of Separation (6DOS), as they say. In our world of concepts and contexts there is a ‘super-connectivity’ that we now know exists in the achievement of objectives. This connectivity will be increasingly essential in the ongoing delivery. Essential to the sustainability of the value created and the success of the delivery of a SRC is its connection to appropriate content.
By using the term ‘content’ we mean the detail and resources of the moving parts behind the delivery of concepts. Content can be skills, resources, experts, systems, processes and the physical execution required.
Connectedness can be a very subjective thing. Many connections exist and many get made every second of the day. Connectivity is also a variable in every business and of course very subjective.
“I’m connected by this device but I don’t understand why this is important”. I’m connected to that concept in some way, that is I know where it’s heading”
These are examples that are often at the heart of the problems associated with the variable of connectivity. This is complex and open to huge forces that may or may not be helpful.
At the root of all our notions around the ‘degree of connectedness’ and the ‘degree of performance’ lie the metrics of ‘rigorous and shared concepts’.
Connectivity is a goal and as technology improves that objective gets closer for some but the real connectivity has to be with humans, based on values, ethics and morals and be fully understood by all.
In order to improve business performance a full 360 degrees of connectivity needs to be a prime objective. This connectivity should be understood by all and in so doing create Shared and Rigorous Concepts. These concepts can be quickly integrated and to great effect by using the Contextual FrameworkÒ. Its prime role is to remove any misunderstandings around individuals, teams and their goals and build performance and energy towards common purpose.
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