Tag Archives: Julian Treasure

Trust-based Collaboration and Cultural Differences

Being silent isn't being strong. A wall sign I saw in a pub in Liverpool earlier this year.

This is a summary post of the topics I have been writing about during 2011. This has been an amazing year of social networks for me. I have learned a lot from hundreds of people around the globe. I highly value the network of the brilliant, talented, and trustworthy people I have the pleasure to collaborate with.

Thank you all for 2011, you know who you are!  

As more social business environment and the new ways of working are changing the organizations and reforming the entire business landscape  I’ll find it important and very interesting to study how we create and innovate, make decisions, and further how better mutual understanding can be created. We all know that the existing organizational structures needs a refresh, and that we, knowledge workers, should be passionate about helping our organizations to be more open, learning organizations.

One among many answers to this challenge is to focus on recognizing the value of ‘discovering’ people in your global network and further interacting and connecting with them on new levels. Naturally, different cultures and communication styles can then collide, softly or sometimes violently. Let me share a story about the Finnish way.

The Finnish Habit of Positive Silence

We Finns can easily be silent in company with other people. It’s natural to us. Before the social media we used to love text messages, a Finnish innovation by the way, as you could express yourself shortly and efficiently. Foreigners find our momentarily silence odd – or fascinating. Professor of Communication Donal Carbaugh, from University of Massachusetts at Amherst, have written an excellent paper about this – Silence and Quietude as a Finnish“Natural Way of Being” [pdf], with the following description:

“A Finnish communication code that structures some cultural scenes as occasions for positive silence, exhibiting a social model of personhood for which this is a valued, respected, and natural practice.”

Another expression on this topic is this short article of the Helsinki Times – No small talk please, we’re Finnish, in which freelance journalist Susan Fourtané describes her experiences:

“I particularly enjoyed the thoughtfulness and the moments of silence in between, giving space for observing our own thoughts before speaking. Yes, you have heard it right. Finns don’t do small talk. They don’t think a moment of shared silence is awkward. On the contrary, it is part of the conversation. A direct question gets a direct answer. There is no nonsense talk about nothing. There is no asking “How are you?” ten times until someone says something else, or stating the obvious. Finns are more interested in how you think, how you perceive Finland or what keeps you in this small and cold country, as they refer to beautiful and peaceful Finland.”

We Finns definitely do have lots to learn about the more social and collaborative way of work, but I think we also have something valuable to share with our fellow citizens from other cultures and nations. The habit of small talk is a part of Anglo-American cultural sphere, and please note that I am not saying that there is something wrong with it. Our different habit, the positive silence, is as strange for foreigners as the excessive small talk is to many of us. All in all, what is needed is openness and curiosity in front of the different communication habits.

My interpretation of Professor Carbaugh’s great notion of positive silence is: we are taking time for thinking and reflecting. It is basically about respect towards your discussion partner. I do believe that occasionally ‘shutting up our mouths’ enables better listening, which in the best case this can lead to better understanding. Naturally, being too silent (also typical here) or silent in the wrong situations is nothing to recommend.

The Wrong Kind of Silence

Nilofer Merchant has marvelously described the wrong kind of silence. She tells a story when she was working at Apple: when she saw the problem clearly and others didn’t, she didn’t think she had the right or the capabilities to speak out – she was too worried about being wrong. This kind of ‘wrong’ silence is hurting the outcome, she continues, and emphasizes the importance of thinking together:

“…minority viewpoints have been proven to aid the quality of decision making in juries, by teams and for the purpose of innovation. Research proves then even when the different points of view are wrong, they cause people to think better, to create more solutions and to improve the creativity of problem solving.”

She calls after courage to speak and to take risks. “Enthusiasm, naïveté, fear of repercussions, conformity to the group norms, and even wisdom are all things that can influence whether someone speaks up or not.”

Her thinking inspires me to researching this topic of encouragement, listening, and mutual respect for better outcome and understanding.

The Culture of Curiosity, Listening and Respect

As an entrepreneur I highly value discussions where there are no pre-set ‘rights and wrongs’, where openness and curiosity are self-evident, and where mutual respect gives room for different kinds of thinking and thoughts. If ever now we need this kind of approach. And if in any organization it is in a startup or growth company that this is vital. There must be a place for expressing our ideas freely and also to take the time for reflection.

I truly believe that creativity, innovation, and better decision-making, both in startups and in established organizations, require at least some investments in these three capabilities:

  1. Applying so-called Systems Intelligence,
  2. Recognition of the value and importance of Serendipity (the weak links and the edges),
  3. Recognition of the value and importance Listening.

Luckily many of these are a natural part of the startup DNA. A startup company benefits from an open and cooperative style; we need use both sides of our brains and become better listeners. Let me explain.

Firstly, the Systems Intelligence Theory by Finnish Philosopher and Professor Esa Saarinen and his fellow researchers describe the two ‘thinking systems’ we all have: System 1 thinking as automatic, associative, and intuitive. System 2 thinking is dominating in the work places: you better be strictly rational. In every day work situations the System 2 thinking is active and often unintentionally blocking System 1 thinking – and therefore narrowing the possibilities at hands. When both systems are active, there’s a room for intuition, interaction and emotions – and for innovation, decision-making, and shared understanding. Being strictly rational in your work role is not working anymore. We need to utilize our full potential.

Secondly, it is important to realize the value of serendipity and of being active ‘on the edges’, as John Hagel, Lang Davison & John Seely Brown describe in the Power of Pull model. I agree with them that the cloud-enabled new platforms for serendipitous encounters lead to new kind of innovation, decision-making and leadership. We can now easily meet companies and people we did not know existed, curious expedition is needed. We gather around ‘social objects’ and connect, and build relationships for mutual learning and helping.

The third capability is about the value and importance of listening. I serendipitously bumped into a beautiful TED Talk by Julian Treasure. In his talk Julian presents the filters that we use when listening and through which the reality is created for us: culture, language, values, beliefs, attitudes, expectations, and intentions. He also shares his five tips for better listening. I found the fifth one, his RASA model, beautiful and absolutely something every one of us should apply in our daily life and the decision-making situations. Acronym RASA comes from Receive, Appreciate, Summarise, Ask these four verbs should be part of our personal decision-making, learning processes, and leadership. Julian says aptly: Conscious listening creates understanding. This is not too far away from the positive silence thinking.

The discussion around topic of listening is not a new one; see this excellent old article published in Harvard Business Review in 1957: Listening to People. The article states that “the effectiveness of the spoken word hinges not so much on how people talk as on how they listen.” There are several gold grains in it, as for example “when people talk, they want listeners to understand their ideas.“ Touche!

Trust-based Collaboration

What it is I mean with all this talk about Finnish traits and the social business? Let me sum it up with three examples, all originated from Finland; Linus Torvalds of Linux Foundation, Mårten Mickos of MySQL/Eucalyptus Cloud, and the newcomer Peter Vesterbacka of Rovio/Angry Birds. I personally experience all three fellow entrepreneurs as great examples of appliers of the communication style and culture that have deep origins in the ‘Finnish way’. All of them are successful in their businesses and more or less global citizens, but none of them have entirely thrown away their Finnish roots and foundation.

It’s not only about the substance, their wide knowledge, experience, and creativity, but also about their specific networking and collaboration skills which could be described as trust-based collaboration (and I am pretty sure that some positive silence is included). The fruitful network of relationships can be based on acknowledging, helping, and appreciation of the people you meet and work with which in turn create trust between individuals. Linus, Mårten and Peter are mastering is this. And they are passionately curious.

On top of all this we have now the various social communities which are the true leverage points of the cultural transformation, both inside and outside of the organization, between the organizations, individuals, and nationalities.  Trust and successes can be built on this.

Happy New Year 2012! Let your year be filled with happiness, health, serendipity, and love!


Systems Intelligence, Serendipity and Listening for the Better Decisions

A beautiful moment I managed to capture in the Helsinki summer!

I’ve earlier blogged about how I find intuition and seeing the value of the tacit knowledge as very interesting perspectives for the decision-making. As social business and new ways of working are now changing the organizations and the entire business landscape, and further adding to the complexity I’ll find it even more interesting to study decision-making and how understanding is created.

I was looking for something else from my bookshelf and found the good old book by Stephen P. Robbins “Essentials of Organizational Behavior”, and randomly checked out the chapter about individual differences in decision-making.  What I found was an interesting quadrant that describes the leadership styles related to the decision-making, it has two axes: Way of Thinking and Tolerance for Ambiguity. The four styles of decision-making are:  Directive, Analytical, Conceptual, and Behavioral.

Decision-Style Model. Source: A.J. Rowe and J.D. Boulgarides, Managerial Decision Making (Prentice Hall 1992)

So here’s a quick go-though of this model, followed by my free associations from it.

  • Way of Thinking, very simplified: Logical, analytical leaders are processing information serially versus intuitive and creative ones perceiving things as a whole.
  • Tolerance for Ambiguity, again simplified: some of us have a high need to structure information in order to minimize ambiguity, while others can process many ideas and thoughts simultaneously.

A very quick comparison of the types (yes, pretty obvious ones, you can hop over to my associations if you like):

  • Analytical types have a better tolerance for ambiguity than the “traditional” directive decision-makers. An analytical type of leader usually search for more information and alternatives than directive ones.
  • Leaders applying the conceptual style in decision-making are often considering many alternatives out of broad perspective. Additionally they take a longer term perspective. This style gives most room for creativity, the authors claim.
  • The forth style, behavioral style, is the most receptive for suggestions from others, peers and subordinates, and leaders of this style love the meetings! They are also trying to avoid conflicts and find a consensus.

In Finland we call the behavioral style as a Swedish leadership style: it is based on utterly politeness and caution, and taking ages to get any decisions. Meanwhile the traditional Finnish way has been the opposite; very direct, focused on the matter (seeing people as resources, no space for feelings here) and with low tolerance of ambiguity. The formal business education in Finland has a long time emphasized the rational analysis and thinking which have led to this ‘inflexible’ style. Naturally leadership styles are developing here in the Nordics too. But I think we Finns have much more home work to do than our friends in Sweden.

An essential perspective to this very topic comes from the always inspiring Rachel Happe who recently blogged about decision-making in the networked world, here’s a quote from her excellent post:

“We need to move forward boldly and make decisions despite incomplete information… but also be prepared to change our path. It’s easy to just shut down when faced with an environment in which you can never be certain or absorb all the information available. But if you are a leader, you need to accept the uncertainty and move forward anyway. “

I very much agree with her and that is exactly why I wanted to look at the model, via three associations I spontaneously got.

My three spontaneous associations on the model

This decision-style model gave me the following associations:

  1. Systems Intelligence Theory of Esa Saarinen,
  2. Value and Importance of Serendipity (the weak links and the edges),
  3. Value and Importance of Listening.

Firstly, this decision-making style model and its division associated with the Finnish philosopher Esa Saarinen and his research of Systems Intelligence. Saarinen and his fellow researchers describe the two ‘thinking systems’ we all have: System 1 thinking as automatic, associative, and intuitive. System 2 thinking is dominating in the work places: you better be strictly rational. In every day work situations the System 2 thinking is active and often unintentionally blocking System 1 thinking – and therefore narrowing the possibilities at hands. When both systems are active, there’s a room for intuition, interaction and emotions – and for better understanding and decision-making.

Being strictly rational in your work role is not working anymore. We need utilize our full potential. I have blogged about this earlier e.g. in posts “Mental Bodybuilding for Knowledge Workers” and “Are You Systems Intelligent?” featuring my favorites Hagel and Saarinen.

Secondly, I thought of the on-going lovely discussion about serendipity, a discussion where John Hagel, Luis Suarez and Ana Silva are the ones I love to follow, to interact with and listen to. When I saw the decision-style model I was right-away thinking about replacing the Tolerance of Ambiguity into the Level of Embracing Serendipity.

It would broaden the model towards the thinking of the “Power of Pull model” (by John Hagel, Lang Davison & John Seely Brown). I agree with them that the cloud-enabled new platforms for serendipitous encounters lead to new kind of innovation, decision-making and leadership.  We can now easily meet companies and people we did not know existed, and this helps us to be more creative and also broaden the basis we rely on when making decisions. The edges are fruitful places for the innovation, to help us to make innovative decisions, but also for supporting a better understanding.

The approach both Esa Saarinen and John Hagel & his fellows suggest helps us in achieving our full potential as individuals, and the same applies to our organizations, via the people in it. In addition, serendipity can be shaped, and utilized in decision-making.

The third association I got is the value and importance of listening in decision-making, and in life in general. I serendipitously bumped into a beautiful TED Talk by Julian Treasure (what a lovely last name he has) about the importance of listening.

I warmly recommend you to listen to his talk (7:50 min), very inspiring.

Yes indeed, active listening deserves our attention in the chaotic and changing environment, too often forgotten. In his talk Julian shares five tips for better listening. I found the fifth one, his RASA model, beautiful and absolutely something every one of us should apply in our daily life and the decision-making situations. Acronym RASA comes from Receive, Appreciate, Summarise, Ask and these four verbs should be part of our personal decision-making, learning processes, and leadership.

Julian says aptly: Conscious listening creates understanding. I’d like to add that listen not only your peers, colleagues, family members and friends, but listen to yourself too.

I believe that better decisions and shared understanding are both enabled by these notions we associate with the social business:

Genuine interaction, collaboration, learning, openness, sharing, trust, P2P instead of B2B & B2C, living network instead of stiff hierarchies, listening, intuition, passionate creativity, and embracing serendipity.

All these leading to not only learning and better understanding but also to better decision-making, and success in whatever you are doing.

Personally I have so many things that I need to do differently. Starting today.

–Riitta

Related reading:
Rachel Happe’s beautiful post: A Vision of The Social Organization
Dave Gray in Dachis blog: The Connected Company
Christoph Schmaltz  in Dachis blog:  From traditional business to social business
John Hagel’s grain of gold: Reshaping Relationships through Passion

EDIT 2011-08-02: Professor Esa Saarinen’s research can be found here.


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