Creating meaningful change

Last week I was part of a fantastic piece of work at NixonMcInnes.

The brief was to help a large PR company become more connected with their values and culture through a period of intensive growth.

I personally connected with this piece of work for several reasons:

1. It’s meaningful – Since being at NixonMcInnes, I have witnessed the importance of a culture which everyone buys into, values which everyone feels a personal connection to, and ultimately, an organisation which everyone feels a responsibility for.

I’ve experienced, first hand, how these fundamental pillars can make a difference to the happiness of staff (and, therefore, the progression and retention of staff), of the reputation of the company, and of its long term health.

2. It’s interesting – We involved the whole organisation to participate and drive this piece of work with passion and belief. Through workshops, we were able to watch how each of the individuals communicated with each other and how a few key people can have an influence upon the dynamic of the group.

The way the work is framed is fundamental to the success of this work and to the quality of the outputs. Bearing this in mind, we introduced a set of guidelines to ensure that everyone participates equally and are actively listening to each other, so that the value from each conversation did not get lost. A big question for the day also helped focus the workshops on a direct output. This question needed to be big enough to be inspire the group but also have a personal connection to the group. Our question was ‘What makes [organisation] so unique and special to us?’

3. It works – Our approach is based on science and art. More specifically, we use ‘Art of Hosting‘ principles, alongside the science behind drivers of change in 21st century business.

For example:

Collective intelligence. Studies from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) say that the collective intelligence of a group is higher than the individual IQ of each participant. It’s also influenced by how much that participation is equal across the group and the different ‘flavours’ they bring (ie. more women in a group usually has a direct correlation to the heightened intelligence of the group).

Motivation. Daniel Pink, author of ‘Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’, looks at the key drivers of motivation, and looks at the ‘candle problem’ – a study in which a group of people were asked to fix a candle to a wall without letting the wax drip on to the table below. Two groups were formed – the first were motivated with a small incentive if they completed the task before the second group. The second group were told that they were being timed in order to find the average time the task could be completed in. Interestingly, group two were faster. Pink says:

“There are three factors that the science shows lead to better performance… autonomy, mastery, and purpose.” — Daniel Pink

Participation. My colleague, Max StJohn, talks a lot about participatory leadership. He says that the traditional methods of motivation is essentially about top-down control, hence the division of labour and highly structured businesses. Max argues that this was very successful in the production of mass produce about 100 years ago, but businesses now have other issues to tackle which don’t fit the models Henry Ford and Frederick Taylor introduced to us. Max makes a case for more ‘participatory leadership’ in which collaboration is key in a world in which exercising trust, flexibility, happiness, autonomy and purpose are becoming crucial to businesses if they don’t want to fail.

“Humans had the brains to develop tools, culture, society etc 10,000s years before they did. What gave evolution the boost it needed was critical mass – ie enough people in the same place led to specialisation. We built ideas collaboratively – learning, developing, evolving. This is collective intelligence.” — Belinda Gannaway, NixonMcInnes

In conclusion

We’ve noticed that the following things work when solving business problems:

  • Involving in as many people, from across the business, as possible
  • Helping to replace the fear of the unknown with curiosity and giving people the space to fail
  • Using a “Yes and” mantra, rather than “No, but” to help build on ideas rather than quash them
  • Using a number of different tools suitable for extroverts, introverts, visual/ auditory and kinesthetic learners to get an equal mix of participation
  • Framing the day with guidelines to help people communicate in meaningful ways

I’m looking forward to doing more of this type of work, helping organisations change in more meaningful ways and learning how to do this with even more impact…


The Chaordic Path and The Power of Asking Questions

My colleagues, Max St John, Anna Carlson and Steve Winton recently shared some practical tools and techniques they came armed with after an an Art of Hosting weekend. This blog post is a collection of thoughts about how one of these techniques in particular made me realise the power of asking questions.



One of these was a model, or framework, called The Chaordic Path. This is essentially the relationship between chaos and order, and is something I can relate to very well in my every day life.

Most people will favour, recognise or relate to an environment which strongly holds one of these binaries at it’s core. Whether it’s in their personal or work life, some people will lean towards the chaotic side of the path, and others, the ordered side.

Personally, I sit more towards the chaotic side. As a consultant at NixonMcInnes, doing the type of work we do, in an environment which experiences so much change, you need to be fairly flexible in your ability to adapt and embrace chaos.

However, The Chaordic Path demonstrates the need for a balance of these two binaries in order to be more effective within these environments – whilst sitting bang in the middle of the pathway is idealistic.

To strike this balance, or to become remotely close, a minimum amount of chaos in a structured world is required, and visa-versa.

This could mean, in an ordered world for example, ‘doing something different‘. A recent Meaning Conference speaker, Karen Pine, talked about the significance of this – breaking out of normal routines in every day life. Wearing different clothes, taking a different route to work or just changing the position of your desk in the office are all potential opportunities to change your outlook on life and, as Karen argues, also changes your personal effectiveness and well being.

In a chaotic world, the minimum amount of order required to increase effectiveness, could be as simple as starting out with a question.

The idea of starting with a simple question for any ‘chaos’ experienced is fascinating for me.

This can be powerful for organising ‘chaos’ intrinsically, ie. your thoughts, or it could be a means of structuring something more physical, like a meeting for example.

In fact, I’ve started using this little trick for pretty much everything and I’ve found it extremely useful. I even started this blog post with the question, “How will I implement some of the recent models and frameworks learned, to improve my work?”.