The cost of collaborating poorly

Graphic designers… from imgur user Abaft.

This post from imgur user Abaft really made me chuckle when I first saw it. Recently I have been working with a range of creative suppliers: designers, social, content, web, and it made me think of the feedback sessions we have. In communication and change, we (as clients) often have a very specific idea of what we want the outcome to look like, and sometimes it takes a few goes to get there.

But behind the humour, I think this image says something more serious about the challenges that crop up between communication craft and communication strategy. It made me wonder if designer has missed an opportunity to help the client through the non-creative part of our job: coach, strategist, advisor. Because the rework (sometimes) comes from having missed something in the brief.

Unlike the trusted creatives I am lucky to work with, the creator of this fee scale has not ensured clarity and trust from the client before the design process gets underway.

A little bit of knowledge goes a long way when shaping a brief – understanding the creative process as a client helps us (as clients) understand what is possible and what is not. Too much knowledge, and we become perfectionists unable to articulate our goals, and our preferences. In a creative process, we all bring bias and personal taste to the room, and it is the job of the designer to help the client through this by explaining the process.

Spend time upfront in establishing a strong rapport. Spend the time clarifying the outcomes and the brief. Spend the time in giving the feedback.

This fee scale would look different if it drew on the sweet spot where collaboration occurs.

Once there is trust, clarity about the problem to be solved, and collaboration toward creating solutions, then there is the space for the designer (or a writer, or a coder, or any professional service provider) to deliver.

Collaboration doesn’t mean all being in the room at the same time all of the time. It means ensuring that the range of skills and ideas of the co-creators are able to be brought to bear at the right time in the process.

As clients, our job isn’t to be sitting on their shoulder. It is to ensure our creatives understand what they are collaborating with us to create. And to trust their process when it leads to a better outcome.

Why comms plans fail: understanding complexity and the breakdown of narrative

Internal communication is a Frankenstein’s monster of practices, disciplines and theories. Part corporate communication, part change, part behavioural science, part craft. Increasingly it seems that the smartest thinking in internal communication is coming from fields outside of the traditional communication space. Cognitive studies, data, technology, knowledge management, UX, design and anthropology are providing new ways of sense-making.

A great case in point is the intersection of design thinking, user experience (UX) and progress in neuroscience. Dave Snowden is the founder of Cognitive Edge, and in this talk at LEANUX14 provides a potted introduction to complexity theory. He does a pretty solid job of demolishing the traditional approaches to communication and change through establishing a change vision and defining the future state, arguing that humans – and organisations – are far too human and complex for that to work.

Keynote: It’s the Process, Jim, But Not As We Know It – Dave Snowden at LEANUX14.

There are many notable things here, but I love these quotes about how we sense make through story.

You manage what you can manage, and you don’t waste time and energy pretending you can manage things in an ordered and structured way when the world is more complicated than that.

Stories are unique to human beings. People remember a story, whereas they don’t remember a document or a best practice tear sheet.

The stories that profoundly influence us though are not the stories told in highly facilitiated workshops by new age fluffy bunny consultants who really get their rocks off by getting more profound stories than anybody else. They are actually the day to day micro fragmented narratives of the water cooler, the school gate, the checkout queue, the beer after work. It’s those small micro fragments which fundamentally influence who and what we are…we recall those stories as if from nowhere in contextual need.

All human storytelling traditions (until Disney got hold of them) are deeply negative dark stories because we learn from failure, we don’t learn from success.

Snowden’s explanations of how organisations as complex systems naturally resist and defy the attempt to change them in a linear way is thought provoking stuff and points to why so many communication efforts fail abjectly. He provides some cautions in terms of how designers, Lean and UX practitioners approach change.

  1. Stop mandating idealistic and ideological future state models
  2. Don’t try to replicate without taking into account context
  3. Over-simplifcation is the enemy, face the complexity
  4. Rebranding is disingenuous
  5. “Pragmatic compromise should not lapse into prostitution”
  6. Compromising excessively is as bad as not compromising at all…
  7. Don’t replicate the how, unless you know the why

There is much here that applies directly to internal and change communication and (at the risk of falling into the trap of the second point). It’s worth spending the time to explore this disruptive view which is a challenge to the traditional approaches adopted by many communication practitioners and a way of seeing organisations as they are, rather than how we want them to be.

A big HT to @semanticwill for RT: