Through the Corporate Looking Glass

A guest post by Charlie Mounter, who is taking part in the #testingtimes campaign.

When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen’s off with her head
Remember what the Dormouse said
Feed your head, feed your head

‘White Rabbit’, Jefferson Airplane

Especially in times of transition and uncertainty, it’s important to experiment and learn from others. But this can be full of hazards and distortions. With or without the help of C20H25N3O.

In taking the Through the Corporate Looking Glass test, I learned that I could often empathise with CEOs but lacked some of their knowledge and approaches. This isn’t a big surprise. I don’t always find global business news very easy to dip into, and much of it lacks meaning without a context in which I can apply it. 

I need a stake, a way to relate to the information others consume in order to see things from their perspective. To understand someone, I have to stop relying on my own models of understanding the world and learn strange new interpretations. This takes deliberate effort. We see things as we are.

How can we see through another’s eyes? It’s easy to assume we know what someone means, but we overestimate how much we understand from facial expressions, tone or body language (it’s called the illusion of transparency). On top of that, most people speak – at least in the UK — indirectly, and it can be hard to gather others’ meanings, especially on email, audio or video calls.

We all apply heuristics when processing information. Cognitive shortcuts with potentially alarming consequences include: 

1) complexity bias, or preferring difficult solutions to simple ones, which can lead us to concoct conspiracy theories to cover our fears and explain gaps in our knowledge; 

2) self-serving bias, which has us own our successes but disown our failures; and 

3) fundamental attribution error, when we give too much weight to personality or disposition and not enough to situation or context in judging a person’s behaviour. 

Perhaps the worst is the Abilene paradox, when a group makes a collective decision that none of its individual members believe in! But there are some ways we can try to overcome such automatic inclinations.

In a nutshell, we have to step back and be rigorous. Our ability to understand others will always be partial, but we can try to be explicit, pay attention and ask for clarification. In the process, we must resist pasting over strangeness and unfamiliarity with our own beliefs or stories, because those carry cognitive biases. Knowledge builds slowly – it’s a long game. The point of collecting different perspectives is to identify common interests we can meet and build upon. Successful CEOs and senior leaders triage where to focus their energy, just as medics do.

Taking part in this, the fifth challenge of the #testingtimes campaign – alongside a bit of introspection and lots of walking – reminded me:

1) that irrational thoughts will surface to fill what lies beyond our knowledge;

2) to focus on improving what matters most rather than dwelling on what doesn’t; 

3) and to thank our contingency plans (you had some, right?). 

It’s an adventure to learn from those who see life differently from you, but when we ‘Go ask Alice’ we need to keep our wits about us. On the other hand, there are those who ask this question…. Who is Alice?

If you’re interested in learning more about cognitive biases, here’s a primer in the form of a spectacular chart which aggregates many of them into types.

“Keep the gameboard. This recalls childhood games, and is fun!”

Hundreds have played Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders around the world – and we like to check in with people. Recently, Alberto San Pedro, from Archetypical’s Barcelona office, spoke with Debra Capua of Davis & Company in New York to get her perspective.

Alberto:         Hi Debra. Thanks for agreeing to this interview. To start off, please can you tell me where you work? What is your job?

Debra:            I’m a project consultant at Davis & Co, a 35 years old Communication Consulting firm (internal mainly) with a strong reputation.  We have about 30 people and a strong client portfolio (pharmaceutical mainly), with clients all over the world (particularly Germany, Switzerland, etc.) .

Alberto:         What is your day-to-day life these days?

Debra:            I’ve been isolated at home, since 25 February. No client calls these days. I’m concerned but have hope for the future. Due to the absence of requests from clients, our main contribution is creating content and translate into marketing flow, in order to get prospect clients.

Alberto:         When did you attend a Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders event?

Debra:            It was in June 2019, hosted by IABC with a mixed audience of students and professionals. Stephen Welch was the facilitator. We had about 15 people, with lots of great feedback. I loved it!

Alberto:         What do you most remember? Your main learning points? What did you find most useful?

Debra:            Where to start? The discussion in the team. The competition. The conversations happening during the game: everyone had a take on it; a different angle. The facilitation was good: Stephen was particularly good at keeping the conversation up.  Mainly I learned that, to become a strategic advisor, to take a seat at the table, is definitely worth it and there are different routes to consider.

Alberto:         What 3 words would you use to describe the workshop?

Debra:            Fun, interesting, valuable.

Alberto:         As we are developing an on-line version, which should be 2-3 things to focus on, to ensure a great experience to participants?

Debra:            Keep the gameboard. This recalls childhood games, and is fun! Be sure to give an opportunity for people to introduce themselves- find out who the other people are. Have breakout rooms discussions and then everybody shares. Oh, and keep the character personalities.

Alberto:         Great, thanks for that. How, if at all, has your attendance at the Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders event helped you in your job?

Debra:            Due to the fact there were several people from Davis, that has helped to have challenging conversations internally, keeping the conversation up and exploring other ways to being more strategic in our different roles.

Alberto:         If you could travel in time, what advice would you give to your junior self?

Debra:            Having a better understanding of how other people think, and make decisions, maybe I did not consider this while interacting with others before. There are linear thinkers (such as financial, operational people), and that gives them a perspective on how they see the world that has nothing to do with mine (more circular and transversal). This reminds me of the need of behaving in a more flexible and adaptable manner.

Alberto:         Great, thanks again for your views. Bye.

Debra:            Bye.

If you want to get to know Debra (we recommend it!) connect with her on LinkedIn

Through the Corporate Looking Glass

Welcome to this week’s blog … a quiz!

If you are playing our #testingtimes game, you will soon receive (or perhaps you have already) the latest postcard with your latest challenge: a quiz. This challenge will encourage you to think about things from a different perspective — through the looking glass if you will.

If you’re not playing the #testingtimes game, you can still try the quiz.

We’ve set up a special page to tell you all about it. Click here to go through the looking glass.

Good luck!

“The gaming element lifted it to another level.”

Hundreds have played Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders around the world – and we like to check in with people. Recently, Stephen spoke by video with Paul Stamper, Senior Client Officer at Ipsos-MORI. Paul was a participant in a new version of our workshop — one designed specifically for agencies or consulting firms who want to improve their client partnership skills.

Stephen:       Hi Paul. Thanks for agreeing to chat. It is hard to believe it was six months ago we ran a customized Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders workshop for you and your team. So much has happened since then!

Paul:               Yes indeed. We’re all getting used to working in a different way.

Stephen:       As you’ll recall we built a special version of our workshop to help you and your colleagues think differently about how you advise and support clients. What was the highlight for you?

Paul:               The thing I particularly liked was the gamification and the interactions with imaginary clients. This triggered a lot of conversations and was an excellent and engaging way of getting a discussion going. The competitive element added a frisson to the room.

Stephen:       Tell me more?

Paul:               Good content and clear learning objectives always help create a great session. But the gaming element lifted it to another level. It made the session memorable as a training experience and helped cement the learning. Individuals, including me, found themselves being challenged in their own thinking and not always reverting to default behaviour, which might not always be the best approach.  The concept caught my imagination and was a real eye-opener. It has made me rethink how I deliver training.

Stephen:       Thanks, that’s nice to hear. As you know we are working on developing an on-line version of the simulation. What are the key elements you think we should focus on to ensure a similar experience?

Paul:               The small group working was a key part for me, and very powerful discussions. There may be things you can simplify to make it easier for people. And I know it sounds strange, but maybe you don’t need the actual Snakes and Ladders board, just keep track of points in a different way.

Stephen:       Interesting ideas. Casilda and I will consider them. We’re still in the qual research phase for finding out what works well so watch this space! Meanwhile, can you tell me what is the one tool or approach that stands out for you so far?

Paul:               The Trust Equation. It has helped me think about my relationships with clients, and how I develop them to go beyond being a great researcher, to become a great strategic adviser.

Stephen:       Glad it was useful. Thank you. In the meantime, tell us a bit about Paul. What do you do outside work? What do you do when you are not working?

Paul:               I live in West London and – as you can see behind me via my webcam – I’m a big player of Board games. My current favorite is Terraforming Mars, where you have to develop the Red Planet, while balancing different resources. I guess there’s a parallel with Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders where you have to balance your position on the Board and your reputation with different stakeholders!

Stephen:       I’ll have to check it out. Meanwhile thanks again for your time and hope to meet in person sometime soon.

Paul:               That would be good. Bye.

Your RECIPE for Influence

Making an impact requires the right approach at the right time. Some leaders are naturals, but that’s not the only path. At Archetypical we are convinced that this is a skill you can learn and develop, so we have created a fun approach: RECIPE.

Each letter represents one of the six influencing styles you can use to build successful relationships with your boss, your colleagues, your clients.

Those of you who are playing our #testingtimes postcard game will have received your challenge with the link to on-line self-assessment tool to help you explore your own influencing style. Because we live by the idea of “first know thyself”… and then add spice to make your style dazzle.

To find out more and to complete the self-assessment survey follow this link:

A RECIPE FOR INFLUENCE

Meanwhile, stay tuned to our blog because next week we will be posting an interview with one of our favourite clients in the market research field. 

I am Salma

Many of you are participating in our #testingtimes postcard game. If you playing, watch out for round 4 which is coming out next week. You will be able to explore your preferred influencing style, according to the RECIPE model.  Meanwhile, round 3 was all about the different types of strategic adviser, and here are some reflections from one of our participants, Charlie Mounter.

My adviser archetype is Salma the Sommelier (with a dash of Martha the Maître d’ and a soupçon of Christiane, the Chef). I have ‘a strong sense of client focus’ and my approach balances ‘expertise and relationship building’. I recognise that such exercises can help us think through the more nebulous aspects of our work lives and give us something to chew over. After I met my deadline this week, I did just that – with a glass of wine, naturally.

In the advisory part of my work as an editor, I can be a lot like a sommelier. The first thing I do is to listen, as carefully as I can, to the clients (who tend to be the author and the publisher). I need to stay approachable and really concentrate to learn all I can about their project, but also their styles, preferences, and to what extent they want to take the lead or follow mine. Some clients are certain of their taste, they know exactly what they want and will entertain no deviation. If that’s the case, I serve their vision – after all, it’s their wine. With others, there’s more opportunity to innovate. This can change along the way – one has to stay open minded and adaptable.

The chief concern as editor or sommelier is that the readers or guests understand and enjoy the result. There might be dozens of people at the table, each with their individual wants and needs, and they can disagree vehemently. When I bring together the content for a complex book (which might have maps, photography, illustrations, captions, peer reviews, etc.) I have to work within limitations. Ultimately, whoever is paying has the upper hand, but the best way to mollify concerns is to give sound, evidence-based advice that I have already adapted for the client. Both editor and sommelier deal with complex products but we don’t bring the entire wine list, or content, to bear at once, or it would be overwhelming. The introduction and conclusion – or aperitif and digestif – can carry a lot of this weight by framing the experience. Everything in between is just as important, but people remember bookends. So, like the sommelier, I’m a mediator realising the qualities of the wine and its terroir, communicating the relevant parts of what I’ve learned and the context of the ideas and their implications, and trying to please the end consumer – if I lose sight of that, all is lost!

Editorial projects, and especially books, can take yonks to come to market. Just as a sommelier needs to manage the fluctuations of guests eating a meal, I have to maintain  energy and spark inspiration along the critical path. An author must keep sight of the story they’re telling, but some want to learn all the editorial nuts and bolts, too. Giving that advice is as much an experiential process as a results-driven one. Like a sommelier, I explore in order to discover; I judge when to interrupt, when to step back. The proof might be in the pudding but, as my Archetypical feedback noted, I can become demotivated if metrics outweigh all other concerns. Editorial margins and mark-ups don’t only apply to budgets.

Just as in the world of wine, independent study and research forms the basis of my trade. There’s always so much more to learn. Augustus, the virtual restaurant we advisers work for, might be closed for the pandemic, but that’s my takeaway.

 

New views from New Jersey

Hundreds have played Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders around the world – and we like to check in with people. Last week, Stephen spoke by video with Rhonda Sciarra, current IABC New Jersey president and an associate director of global external communications at a pharmaceutical company in New Jersey. 

Rhonda at our last event in New Jersey
Rhonda Sciarra

 

Stephen:      Hi Rhonda, thanks for agreeing to chat. Before we start, please tell me about your leadership and involvement in IABC.

Rhonda:       Thanks. In my nearly 20 years of experience as a communicator, I have found IABC to be a valuable community locally and globally. I appreciate how IABC aligns business communications with organizational goals – and then measuring outcomes. I have worked both in internal and external communications and find IABC to be relevant and contemporary – it is also an organization when you give a little, the returns are immense. 

Stephen:      Your IABC New Jersey Board helped organize, and you attended, a Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders workshop in New Jersey last summer. What was it like?

Rhonda:       When we look for professional development ideas, any experience that is engaging from the start and promotes learning while doing is ideal. Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders did just this. The exercise and workshop promoted some great discussions. By immersing ourselves in the simulated world of Carmen Spinoza and her colleagues, we were able to have detailed discussions and hear from different perspectives. Because we came from different disciplines, not everyone had the same view.

Stephen:      What three words would you use to describe the event?

Rhonda:       Dynamic, fun, thought-provoking.

Stephen:      Tell me about the last. How has the event changed your perspective?

Rhonda:       The event reinforced how we should think about leadership in a different way. As communications professionals, we have the chance to think about the big picture and take care to reflect the business strategy in our conversations with teams we work with. That wider perspective and focus on outcomes, versus just outputs, allows us to act more as strategic advisers.

Stephen:      We’re in the process of developing an on-line version of the workshop. What do you think is the main thing to keep in mind as we do?

Rhonda:       Try to find a way to have some levity and get people active beyond just sitting at a screen. As I mentioned, ‘fun’ is one of the key words for the workshop that I experienced in person, so be sure to keep that when moving the simulation to this new virtual world we are in. 

Stephen:      That’s a great point. Thank you. In the meantime, tell us about Rhonda outside work? What do you do when you are not working?

Rhonda:       Well, I live outside New York City and am really appreciating my Peloton, while trying and get out running when I can – mask on and physically distancing. My puggle is entertaining, and I am keeping in contact with family and friends back in St. Louis and Kansas City. 

Stephen:      Great, thanks for your time – hope to see you in person sometime soon.

Rhonda:       Me too! Take care. 

If you want to get to know Rhonda (we recommend it!) follow her on Twitter @Rhonda_Lea or connect with her on LinkedIn

What type of adviser are you?

Welcome to this week’s blog post … with a twist.

Those of you who are playing our #testingtimes postcard game will know that we have developed an on-line self-assessment tool to help you explore your own advisory style.

As strategic advisers, we work with our clients (internal or external) in different ways. Here at Archetypical, we have developed a taxonomy to help you explore your own style and think about how you work in different situations.

To find out more … and to complete the self-assessment survey … click here.

Meanwhile, stay tuned to our blog because next week we will be interviewing one of our favorite alumna.

 

 

 

 

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The story of a career workout in #testingtimes

Charlie Mounter, freelance editor, joined the #testingtimes challenge and here are her reflections on taking on our career bingo.

Just as it pays to step away from the screen, taking time to really think about what we are doing can save us from making mistakes. Listening to the economist Tim Harford’s podcast Cautionary Tales reminds me of many basic principles that bear on aspects of life under a pandemic: question authority and your own assumptions; beware of ‘hot states’ when hungry, anxious, tired or under pressure; design your systems to anticipate human error; arrange information to be used in the order it is needed. Nobody can see into the future, so we need to remember that forecasts are tools for discussion, rather than edicts we must accept. 

Everything has changed, yet we can’t leave our homes to explore it. As a freelance editor I cope well with lockdown, but the boundaries between work and leisure have become more blurred than usual. Though the internet is essential to both, when I’m online I find myself reading a lot of news, where there are no end of updates and few conclusions to be reached. Time can be squandered that way, so my husband and I decided to turn off our wi-fi for two hours every afternoon. This means we can pay full attention to challenging books we were putting off reading. Being focused takes our mind off things and brings us some structure and resolution. 

Looking again at my CV, I realised that some of my skills have new implications. For instance, although I regularly manage projects there are now degrees in project management with methodologies I know nothing about. To address this, I signed up to a free course in the Fundamentals of Project Management that I can follow in small increments at my own pace. I hope I will learn to be more systematic and gain insights into other ways of working. 

Constraints can give us the impetus to be more imaginative, as can starting somewhere new or adding randomness. Back in the domestic sphere, for a while now I have been sprouting mung beans, which need daily rinsing and draining and to grow in the dark. The large jar with muslin and an elastic band that I had been using for this was a bit unwieldy and needed to be kept in a dark cupboard, which meant I sometimes forgot about it and the sprouts spoiled. When I went to put away my travel coffee cup, I realised that its lid, drinking hole and closing tab make it an improvement on my old sprouter, and its opacity means it can be kept on the counter. The cup has been salvaged from redundancy but it can fulfil its former function when the lockdown lifts. 

The new challenges and applications I’m taking on are practical. They help me reintegrate different modes of thinking and better equip me for life after limbo. Many options have been shut off, which has nudged me to make new choices. Sometimes we don’t try till someone or something makes us.

You can connect with Charlie on LinkedIn. She will continue to guest blog for us in the next few weeks.

If you would like to share your experience taking part in the #testingtimes challenge, get in touch!

Looking at things from a different angle

“It is a very inconvenient habit of kittens (Alice had once made the remark) that whatever you say to them, they always purr.”
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Welcome to the second challenge of our #testingtimes campaign. If you’re reading this, you might have successfully completed challenge one; if not, it’s not too late to sign up, just send us your physical address and we’ll pop a card in the post.

Today we’ll focus on taking a looking at things from a different angle. We think it’s a useful skill to have if you want to grow your career. Because to be a senior adviser you need to be better than a lawyer that only sees legal problems or a human resources expert that only sees people issues. What you want is to be is an enterprise-wide thinker, who solves business issues bringing in a wide range of perspectives. Alice, in the quote above, is sharing the frustration we sometimes hear from leaders, so don’t be a kitten to always purrs; sometimes you need to roar — or even bark or chirp from time to time.

A first step is to step back and learn to see things from other angles. Exercise your creative muscles. Artists do it, philosophers do it and now you can too. Creativity can be focused and learned, just like any other skill.

So here’s your second career workout:

  1. The warm up 

Full disclosure, we borrowed this idea from London’s premier contemporary art gallery, the Tate Modern. They use it in their creativity for artists class. We asked you to pick and object, and then photograph it from an entire different angle.

Check out our Twitter feed for our own examples, in the meantime here’s what we did:

229CB045-DA41-4ADA-BC6E-7F31D27E3F6A

In this example a sculpture became a candle holder and it made me think of Frida Khalo and my travels through Mexico. And then, looking closer a cactus turns into barbed wire.

2. Exercise your core

The key learning comes through reflecting on the process:

  • How did the search for a new angle made you feel? Energised? Stressed?
  • Was it hard? Was it easy?
  • Did it invite you to create something new?
  • Could you find a new use for the object after seeing from a new angle?

Through this objects take a new life; ideas expand and even sparks of joy flow in the process.

3. Stretching

Now let’s put it into action at work. Is there a piece of work on the ‘back boiler’ that you could re-purpose to address a current need? For example, we had an old competitor analysis that we never properly finished, and we’ll now use it to help us figure out how to take Archetypical from a face-to-face business into a virtual facilitation one! (Watch this space for more.)

Creativity is a journey and we thank you for joining us in this #testing times

If you really like the idea of flexing your creativity muscles, here a few things we really like:

As always we would love to hear from you in this #testingtimes.