I'm in San Francisco

Just a quick post today…call it a traditional blog-status-update thing. Yeah.

@rosshill and I on @jwswj's amazing rooftop.

I’m in San Francisco as I write this, starting my induction with Yammer. It’s been an amazing few days so far and promises to be am amazing week! Let me know if you’re in town…

We are all leaders

I’ve been thinking a bit about some of the tweets I’ve seen @TomHoward send out recently, mainly about how we can no longer stand by and believe the government will solve all of our problems. (I hope that’s accurate, Tom. Let me know if not.) I tend to agree.

We live in chaotic times. Our headlines are currently littered with rumor and innuendo about the validity of our current leadership and government. But what can we do about it?

I think we are already doing a lot.

The system of government isn’t broken. It just isn’t the useful system that it used to be. Climate change, refugees, and appropriate tax on the rocks we’re currently bringing out of the ground are all issues that flummox our leaders. Not to mention the fact we seem to be in for more of these so called ‘global financial crises’ than we may expect.

Government cannot adapt to all of that. Heck, the only system that really can is society because it has no choice. And because it has no choice, society has leaders. You are. I am. We all have that potential.

Look around you. There are leaders everywhere. Here’s just a very small sample of people I follow:

Leadership isn’t about votes. It’s not even about fixing the system, although that might be useful sometimes. It’s about keeping the light on. It’s about doing things you love and need to do, in the hope that others will join in. It’s about realizing that having people join in is the special part. Because everyone is doing something amazing that is just waiting to be discovered. Just waiting to be raised in conversation and shared.

This was supposed to be a post about how we can fix society if we just stop trying so hard to fix it. Scott Heiferman started talking to his neighnours after 9/11 and 10 years later his company, Meet Up, has facilitated 10,000,000 gatherings. I believe more and more every day that we would all live in this ‘better’ world if we just started asking what people cared about and stopped complaining about our politicians.

That’s why I’m excited to work for Yammer…just as I am constantly excited by Trampoline being on again soon. Because they are places where it’s possible for people to get to know the real people they work and live with. To discover the thesis they wrote, the YouTube clip they filmed, the channel they swum or the goal they scored. Because once we learn those things, society doesn’t seem like such a hopeless place, and everything is possible. It turns out we have leaders everywhere.


**I remember where I was the moment Travis hit that goal. It was a big moment for Australian hockey. If you’re keen to see innovation in action, head to the State Netball and Hockey Centre this Sunday at 3:30pm – it’s Grand Final day and Waverly is playing Doncastor.  It’s the best sport you’ll see all weekend. It’ll cost you $10. Take a hat and sit on the hill.

Culture Design: An overview of The Fifth Discipline

I’ve been re-reading various sections of the book by Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline, lately and thought I’d share a few of my favourite passages so far. The truth is that I’ve not actually read the book all the way through, from cover to cover, before. Yet it has always had a place on my bookshelf and is the most dog-eared book I own. I tend to take it down and read a chapter here and there when I’m curious about something, or want to delve further into an issue that’s present in my mind. This time around, that issue is starting my exciting new role and Peter Senge has plenty to offer where that is involved.

The book ‘s contention is that there are better ways to work together in organisations than the ways we’ve previously believed. The book is not new (it was published in 1990) but it still offers tremendous value to people trying to think they’re way through a better way of operating within their organisation.

Specifically, the Fifth Discipline itself is the ability to use systems thinking to create better outcomes by aiming to become a learning organisation. The book goes into detail on the various techniques, mental models and ideas that can be used to encourage a culture of learning within the organisation. The photo you see below is the main framework used in the book, the core learning capabilities for (a) team.

Core Learning Capabilities

“(they are) symbolically represented as a three-legged stool, to visually convey the importance of each – the stool would not stand if any of the three were missing”

The 5 disciplines, seen above, are:

  • Personal Mastery
  • Shared Vision
  • Mental Models
  • Dialogue
  • Systems Thinking

This helped me a lot. I found the book can be hard to take in when read in a linear way. You sometimes find yourself asking the question…”What the hell is this magical ‘Fifth Discipline’ this guy is talking about? Just give it to me!’

I’ve now learned that the ‘Fifth Discipline’ is the ability to merge the first four disciplines named above. It’s the ability to systems think, as it were. That’s becoming a very hot topic at the moment, what with the preponderance of organisations like IDEO and the idea of ‘design thinking.’ Design thinking, however, can be done in isolation of an organisations culture and doesn’t always lead to generative outcomes. So think of Senge’s work being concerned with ‘cultural design’ and it may help. From the book…

“To practice a discipline is to be a life long learner. You never arrive; you spend your life mastering disciplines. You can never say “We are a learning organisation,” any more than you can say, “I am an enlightened person.” The more you learn, the more acutely aware you become of your ignorance. Thus, a corporation cannot be “excellent” in the sense of having arrived at a permanent excellence; it is always in the state of practising the disciplines of learning, of getting better or worse.” – Pg 10.

And so, The Fifth Discipline provides a useful roadmap to think about the culture that you’re trying to create in an organisation and the places where you can provide the most beneficial impact. It has a high degree of interdependence built into it. Many times, you’ll see organisations focus on one of the disciplines in such a way as to over-compensate, leaving the other disciplines under invested in. This is where you can get dissonance within a collective, where there appears to be a large gap between what is an espoused value and what is an experienced value.

“To understand how an organism works we must understand its balancing process – those that are explicit AND implicit. We could master long lists of body parts, organs, bones, veins, and blood vessles and yet we wouldn’t understand how the body functions – until we understood how the neuromuscular system maintains balance, or how the cardiovascular system maintains blood pressure and oxygen levels. This is why many attempts to redesign social systems fail.” – Pg 86

Dr W. Edwards Demming, known largely as the grandfather of Total Quality Management, had this to say about management theory, and why The Fifth Discipline is an important book.

“Our prevailing system of management has destroyed our people. People are born with intrinsic motivation, self-respect, dignity, curiosity to learn, joy in learning. The forces of destruction begin in toddlers – a prize for the Halloween costumer, grades in school, gold stars – and on up through university. On the job, people teams and divisions are ranked, reward for the top, punishment for the bottom. Management by objectives, quotas, incentive pay, business plans, put together separately, division by division, cause further loss, unknown and unknowable…(the) job of management in education, industry and government should be the optimisation of a system…Peter Senge’s book, The Fifth Discipline, from which I have learnt much, is a good place to begin”

So, I’m going to keep sharing various thoughts and parts of the book as I review it, here on the blog. If you’ve read the book yourself, I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas about it and what you’ve taken from it in the comments below, or email me at steve@thesquigglyline.com.

I'm joining Yammer

I’m a pretty lucky guy. Today, I’m happy to be able to post and let you all know that I’ve just signed on to work with Yammer here in Australia. I’ll get to work with the current two APAC Yammerati and two great friends, Ross Hill and Bryony Cole. Yay!

Yammer Bridge

I started playing with Yammer when it launched in 2008. I was at World Vision Australia at the time and Keith Don and I had some fun seeing how it worked. The platform has changed markedly since then, and it’s exciting to see a company so immensely redefining what it means to work and collaborate together in a changing world. I’m excited to come on board and continue making that change happen and look forward to helping people and organizations grow thriving cultures of compassionate action and innovation.

My role will be as a Customer Success Manager. Those of you that know me well will know I’ve always struggled a little to define myself and what I ‘do’. I’m really pleased to be able to better learn what that is with Yammer and can’t wait to get started. I’ll be helping people here in the Asia Pacific region transform their organisations and the way their people collaborate. We sometimes forget that organisations are collectives of people, pulled together to achieve a mission. Yammer is all about helping those collectives win. We’re also still hiring in the region, so check out the Yammer jobs page for more info.

I’ll continue to be based in Sydney and to live with the amazing Rose Levien in our cubby house in Darlinghurst. Thanks also to all the people I’ve coffee’d/skyped/phoned over the past weeks for your thoughts, ideas and sage advice. You all know who you are. I certainly am a lucky guy.