Thursday, 26 February 2009

Making mistakes

I was fortunate to see Leonard Cohen perform in Auckland earlier this year - a welcome antidote to the market obsession with Youth. Baby boomers filled the stadium.

A line from his song/poem "Anthem" stuck with me, hauntingly appropriate to these times: "Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."

These times, more than ever, require experimenting: to abandon the quest for the “right answer”; to abandon the pretence of knowing; to risk listening to those we usually ignore; risk voicing ideas and observations that may seem 'odd' or challenging; to risk new action that may fail.

More than ever we need to learn to communicate in ways least likely to trigger defence; that enable collaboration.

In my recent past I taught Project Management and Communication in The University of Auckland. I risked abandoning lecturing completely. I set up the class (of 80) as its own organisation to plan a major (real) change project in the University Business School. To do that they had to find out together (learn) about project management and communication – a learning project - to simultaneously manage the project to plan the main change project; three simultaneous projects.

We defined the main product of this organisation to be 1st time mistakes. Members were rewarded for making these mistakes. We set ambitious targets for 1st time mistakes produced.

My primary role in this process was to coach the members to communicate more effectively by shared reflection on their communication behaviour in their project teams and organisational roles.

The result was 'miraculous'. They blew their own socks off. They discovered a myriad of talents in their midst. It was a revelation for those Business students: explicitly experiencing collaboration and real (deep) learning for the 1st time in their formal organisational lives.

The Business School managers tried to shut it down – too risky – but the result was a triumph for stakeholder engagement.

Most of us have never experienced collaboration explicitly like that in our education or in our working lives. Will we risk it? What's the alternative?

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