Discussion forum for members of the Massachusetts Bay Organizational Development Learning Group

Friday, October 14, 2005

Book recommendation: "The Hand"

Using legos for storytelling was an enlightening experience for me last week. It also reminded me of a fascinating book by Frank Wilson: The Hand: How its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture.From Amazon.com:
The hand is, among other things, a complex symbol, representing both the creative and the prosaic. This blending of the spiritual and the mundane is what makes the hand unique, as it in turn makes us unique among animals. Neurologist Frank R. Wilson has taken on a heroic task: to explain the hand on both of these levels and to show us how we use these marvelous instruments to find and create meaning in our lives.

Anthropology, neuroscience, music, and puppetry all figure prominently in The Hand, which effortlessly guides the reader through its million-year biography. Brains and thumbs growing and changing to accommodate each other, discovering tools and language together, kicked us out of the monkey house for good. While there is still controversy over whether we are the brainiest animals on the planet, it is abundantly clear that we are the handiest.

This manipulative ability is our greatest strength and our most terrible flaw. Without hands we would have no Louvre but also no nerve gas. But, Wilson says, our situation is more complex. Our access to far greater means to achieve our ends gives us a greater hunger for meaning. We long to use our hands to satisfy our needs--whether spiritual or down-to-earth. This creation of meaning from nothing may be our greatest achievement. In the end, The Hand is brightly optimistic, showing that our reach truly does exceed our grasp. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

How can we use our hands and hearts as well as our brain in our work?

Our October 5 meeting on “Leaderful Practice,” led by Donna Denio and Robert Rasmussen, dealt with the connections between several topics: gender, diversity, teams, decision-making, and hand/brain connections. By playing with LEGO toys – oops, by studious investigation of devices made by LEGO Serious Play, we learned how thought takes place but also in the hand and in the heart and the role of both emotions and rational thought in solving problems.

Our exercises showed that the hand can describe a situation that we may not be able to put into words. We also considered how these lessons can be utilized to make organizations more “leaderful,” i.e., to develop a work culture in which leadership is mutual and shared in which all elements of the organization support individual development and teamwork.

This was a very stimulating session, going somewhat the usual boundaries of OD practice and management science to illustrate the relevance of research in a variety of disciplines. In addition to the Question of the Month, other issues identified for further consideration were as follows:

· How can we help people open up to new possibilities?
· How could these ideas be applied to mediation and conflict resolution?
· How can we create collaboration among differing viewpoints?
· How can we overcome hierarchical barriers to utilizing new ways of thinking?

In terms of further learning sources, Robert also cited Mihaily Csikszentmihaly’s seminal work, Flow, and Daniel Pink’s new book A Whole New Mind . Can others suggest some additional references? And perhaps some examples of how brain/hand, heart/mind, emotions/rationality connections have been utilized in OD work?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Mistakes and Creativity

I’ve taken a comment made by Abby Yanow and promoted it to a post, since it raises a new and important issue.

In response to our follow questions to the August meeting on “Creativity,” Abby wrote:

If we want organizations to encourage creativity, we should ask: How are mistakes dealt with in the organization? Is it OK to make a mistake? Are you yelled at and reprimanded? Are people encouraged to try new approaches to solving problems? Is that rewarded?

As OD practitioners, we want to promote learning organizations and invite organizations to devote the time space to addressing those kinds of questions, and others: What did we try to do? What happened? What worked well, what mistakes were made? What was the result? How can we do it better next time?

I think articles have been written about organizations that allow for mistakes. Anyone have such references?

To which I noted the following:

As to not punishing mistakes, I would cite Tom Peter's mantra "Celebrate Failure". Especially in his seminal work Thriving On Chaos, Peters gives many examples of organizations that have innovative and succesful cultures because mistakes are not punished but even encouraged.
Another good reference would be Richard Farson and Robert Keyes article "The Failure Tolerant Leader" in the August 2002 Harvard Business Review. This links creativity/innovation to permitting mistakes.

On reflection, I would supplement those sources with the following:

Tom Peters The Circle of Innovation is one the most creative books ever on that topic.

For a good short piece on “Increasing Your Return on Failure (ROF)” (a creative new acronym), see http://www.infosentry.com/After_Action_Reviews.pdf.

Abby’s point is very well taken. One of the surest was to promote innovation is to treat mistakes as learning opportunities, not as occasions for blame. Perhaps some readers can post some examples of organizations that succeeded by encouraging mistakes or that failed by punishing mistakes.