Simon Bell

Thrilled to be working with Jo on the WiG event this year. Briefly, I am CEO of the BI and Co-Director of Wisdom in Groups.

I should say now that the realisation of the Wisdom in Groups event is the outcome of a life-long journey.

Over the last 35 years I have worked with groups in many countries and many organisations. I have enjoyed working with others in their problem structuring and count myself to be fortunate and privileged to have learned with others who are often struggling against overwhelming issues. I have made use of many interesting and useful methods but have gradually been making my way to a truly reflective and practical group dynamics process. A process which is systemic and innovative, relatively straightforward in presentation and engagement yet capable of almost unlimited exploration in the depths.

Harold Bridger’s Double Task model is key and central to this but in Wisdom in Groups a variety of sympathetic and provocative additions help to produce what feels to me to be a bewitching process.

The future of civic society is contingent on the coherence of humanity working together at scale. It is my belief that we have always been at our best when we are at our best together. Wisdom in Groups seeks to find that ‘best’ and help delegates to attain and retain the means to the end.

I am truly excited by the prospect of Wisdom in Groups and co-learning with you.

Jo Kennedy

I am delighted to have the opportunity to co-direct the Wisdom in Groups event in April 2018. Over the past 7 years, I have been a participant, a staff member and a co-director, and it is one of the highlights of my working year.

We have changed the format a bit this time, to reflect both the changing context we are living and working in, and to respond to feedback from participants and new staff members; but it retains the integrity of the central structure, originally conceived and devised by Harold Bridger.

I think of the Wisdom in Groups event as a ‘headspa’, where my beliefs and assumptions were ‘scrubbed down’ and I came out renewed and refreshed.  When I came on it as a participant, I was the leader of an organisation, which had a long and complex history, and I was facing some difficult dynamics both within my team and on my board. The double task model gave me clarity both about the work we did and the way we did that work. The consultancy groups gave me a chance to explore and analyse some of the issues facing me so that I could take some steps forward. But it was in the ‘search’ group that I learned the most: about myself, and how others experience me; about what motivates others and about how groups operate.

I left the event feeling stronger and more resilient. That feeling lasting and enabled me to the take the actions I needed to take in my role. The event marked a step change in my understanding of myself as a leader. I don’t always get it right now but I believe that I can, and I no longer suffer from what some people call ‘imposter syndrome’, a sense that one day someone will expose how ill equipped I am to inhabit the role I have.

I have gone on to use the ‘double task’ model in my daily work as a leadership and organisational development consultant. Peter Drucker came up with a saying ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ and I see this in many of the organisations I go into. Using the double task with leaders and teams helps us to work together on strategy and culture at the same time, so that any changes, they introduce are firmly rooted in the reality of the present, and lead to better outcomes in the future.

Over the past 6 years, I have taken great satisfaction in seeing participants benefit in the same way that I did.

Crafting Your Message Workshop

The Use of Story in Communicating your Company Position in the Market

Positioning a company in a market is now a complex and multi-layered challenge. With many channels to communicate with potential customers there is potential for messages to become fragmented and diluted. The “Crafting your Message” workshop starts by reviewing your position in the market and linking this back to your strategy and plans for sustainability and growth. Whether you are promoting a product or service the approach develops your key themes about what you would want your potential customer to know about you and your company. The afternoon then goes on to explore these themes and build an approach that provides coherence and consistency across you communication plans. By bringing solid business analysis techniques together with storytelling approaches utilised in documentaries and film the day provides a unique insight into your communication planning.

The approach used in “Crafting your Message” is not industry specific and can provide broad and deep support for a wide range of sectors. However, the team has particular skills in digital health and working with health and social care. With the need for new ways of doing things in these areas the investment of one days work into the approach can help short cut some of the challenges in these areas and provides real value for money in accelerating your understanding.

The Future of Work: Automation and Continuous Change?

By Prof Ken Eason

Predictions for the future of Work

Christmas saw the publication of another forecast of the number of jobs that are at risk because of the march of robotics and artificial intelligence. This time it was the IPPR (Institute of Public Policy Research) forecasting that up to 44% of UK jobs are at risk across wide sectors of the economy.

IPPR Report on Managing Automation

There are now many forecasts of massive job losses and attention is being focused on a world where a small proportion of people (the highly skilled ones) will be employed and the rest will be out of work and poor.

But there is also another common theme in the debate about the future of work. It is that we exist in a complex, ever changing, interconnected, global economy and that to survive organisations have to be flexible, resilient and adaptive. The cry is that:

The Only Constant is Change

 Who will manage the change?

How do we reconcile these two different perspectives on the future of work?  Our clever technology may be very good at doing the operational work but it cannot help us make sense of the messy world of international trade, market forces, competitiveness, social change, government action and technical innovation. And it cannot determine what we should do to take advantage of new opportunities and defend against threats. AI may be smart but it is a narrow intelligence with a clever understanding of a specific work domain. Indeed, such narrow AI is also known as weak AI because it cannot replace the breadth of capabilities of a human. However imperfect they may be, human beings are currently the only general purpose intelligent resource we have that can make sense of a confusing, changing world – sentience is known as strong AI.

How is a work organisation to manage in a changing world with a small labour force and a large and sophisticated technological base that may be difficult and expensive to change? The small labour force may have a big agenda: to manage the technology and make sure nothing goes wrong, to monitor the outside world and spot opportunities and threats and to design and implement new ways of working to meet changing requirements. And to keep doing all of these things all of the time. There are many reasons to predict that this model of future work organisations will be ineffective and could be dangerous. One of the reasons for this prediction is what we know about how work actually gets done.

People as the adaptive, coping agents in work systems

 Every study of how work actually gets done shows that it is rarely done strictly according to the formal processes specified that may be embedded in the technology. The people in the work system embellish the formal processes with their own knowledge, often tacit and undeclared, in order to give work delivery the flexibility to meet varied and emergent requirements. They are the ‘oil in the system’ that ‘keeps the show on the road’. They recognize what is new and different, learn how to adapt, and add new, often unspecified, procedures to the repertoire of the organisation. In doing so they often have to ‘work around’ inflexibilities in the formal system to get work done and meet customer requirements.

As a result in any well-established work system there are people who have a deep but often implicit understanding of how the system actually works and a learning capability that means there is a bottom-up process of adaptation and evolution in place that responds to local changes.

The danger of the current narrative about robotics and artificial intelligence is that it implies the replacement of this human resource with technologies that will produce the work on their own. If that is the case not only will work systems become less resilient and adaptive but all the collective tacit knowledge will be lost. And as the saying goes ‘you don’t know what you have lost ‘til it has gone’.

There is always ‘Organisational Choice’:  changing the balance of task 1 and task 2

 To their credit, the IPPR recognize that it is only some of the tasks that can be automated and there are many other parts of jobs that are best done by people. So instead of just assuming technology will replace people we have to ask how the new technological capabilities and the very different capabilities of human resources can be harnessed together for the long-term resilience and adaptability of work organisations. The solution has to be sociotechnical change not just technical change. There will be significant organisational choices to be made to find the right solutions and we need some principles to guide this process. Here are a few to consider:

  1. Immediate cost-effectiveness may be a dangerous objective. The key argument for automation may be economic – you get greater and more reliable productivity from robots and they are cheaper than human resources. That may be so, but you also have to consider what you might lose….
  2. Knowledgeable and skillful human resources provide a sense making resource that can cope with the unforeseen. We need to keep a general sense making capability at all levels within the organisation; to keep a watchful eye on our technology and to provide flexibility and adaptability wherever it is needed. But to be effective people need to keep their knowledge and skills up-to-date and that means actually doing the operational tasks some of the time. So, enabling them to ‘keep their hand in’ is an important design criteria for future systems design.
  3. Having people who understand the task domain means there is a double-task resource to add significant knowledge to planning future developments. Task 1– getting today’s work done – has dominated.

People also have Task 2 abilities – to step back and reflect, to review their performance, to see what can be improved etc. The more they can do this, the better chance the organisation has of coping with the need for continuous change.

Helping people and organisations develop their Task 2 capabilities is an important part of the Bayswater Institute mission. It could be that one of the consequences of robotics and AI will be that people need to spend less time on Task 1 and they can spend more time on Task 2 – in particular thinking about how the work system may be changed to meet new challenges and opportunities. Exploring the potential impacts up-front would seem a good investment in that this is a global challenge and will generate new requirements of the work force that could benefit from planning rather than reacting.