#Testingtimes: A reflection

This week, we welcome guest blogger, Sheena Thomson MCIPR FRSA, Founder and Director of Conduit Associates, a boutique global crisis and issues communications consultancy that helps identifies, plans & manages disruptive events. Sheena was a participant in our #testingtimes game and shares her reflections here.

In those early weeks of lockdown, I received an email inviting me to take part in a series of
challenges over a number of weeks called #testingtimes. It involved receiving a number of
postcards through the old-fashioned postal mail. Each card had a #testingtimes challenge
ranging from looking and photographing yourself with one of the postcards, or an object
from a different angle, to completing a series of online tests. All tests were designed to
examine how you see things, your approach to issues and individual influencing style when conducting advisory work.

One of my mantras in life is to always keep learning, and although I was pretty confident in my advisory style, I thought I will most certainly learn something about myself taking part. Additionally, when you work for yourself, it is always great to get an independent external perspective. As I earn a living as an advisor, I enthusiastically signed up to this fun #testingtimes challenge during those testing times in lockdown.

As well as seeing images of other participants when we posted various pictures on social
media, the online tests really made me think about how I react and respond in certain
hypothetical situations. There was plenty time to think during lockdown, so I gave each test the time it deserved. I was intrigued to receive my self-assessment feedback and see what I could learn from myself. Despite my self-confidence and self-belief gained over the years, I knew there would be room for improvement.

The first self-assessment report reviewed the type of adviser I was, using a restaurant
metaphor. My style of adviser is similar to that of a sommelier – where I shine as an expert, but very much involve and engage with clients or colleagues and take a lot of pride in my work. Although I had never really thought about my advisory style before, I was stunned at the accuracy of my assessment. Even when I read through the other advisory styles, just out of curiosity, I realised my assessment was spot-on. On reflection, I think this comes from my time in the Royal Navy. I took a lot of pride in everything I did. When you wear the uniform, you have a lot to live up to, but to do so, I was both trained with the expert skills as well as being trusted to engage with everyone to reach successful outcomes. This has clearly left an indelible impression on my advisory style.

The final assessment was more interesting and revealing. It examined my personal
influencing style and is what has provided me with the all-important learning outcomes.
The assessment looks at six personal influencing styles, using a “RECIPE” approach, as most styles require a blend of influencing styles. In this assessment, the “style ingredients” are reward, exchange, connect, inform, picture, exit. Once again, my assessment was pretty accurate, but it went a step further by providing tips on how to improve my three main identified strengths, as well as highlighting a fourth area where there is potential to improve my style. This for me is what I will take forward – to use the “picture” style of advisory by imagining how the future may look. In my particular area of expertise of crisis and issues management, all too often we live in the moment and the immediate aftermath, but imagining the future is of course a significant part of the recovery.

I really enjoyed the testing times challenge. It was a fun and engaging exercise that was
clearly well designed. It also provided me with something innovative and different to do
during that odd and unchartered period of lockdown enabling me to use all that thinking
time in a positive way. Moreover, it was good to have my influencing style and strengths
identified and areas that I have learned about myself and can take forward.

If you would like to know more about our #testingtimes game, or even participate, get in
touch with us at info@archetypical.org

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.

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!

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. 

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:

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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.

Your career workout for #testingtimes

Great! If you are reading this, it means you’ve completed the first postcard challenge.

We are all going through extremely testing times. Work is fluid, merging into home life. Some of us find ourselves looking for new ways to fill up the time we’ve recovered from no longer commuting, others face the challenge of even less time to spare, either because they play a role in their organization’s COVID response (more work!) or having to balance work with looking after children at home; or in some cases, both.

There is flurry of articles on how to deal with working from home and about looking after your mental and physical health while keeping the trains of work and home life running. Some of the ones we’ve enjoyed are at the end of this blog.

However, we have declared this space to be COVID-free space. Our mission is to bring you a little bit of joy and inspiration, while continuing to grow your career as a strategic adviser. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably signed up to our postcard #testingtimes campaign and so your challenge is to try to put one of these suggestions into action in the next two weeks. If you’ve not signed up: email us your physical address for the next few weeks. It’s not too late to join the game.

Here’s three ideas that might help you flex your strategic muscles.

  • 1. Play outside your sandbox – To jump from being a technical expert (in comms, legal, human resources, or other functions) you have to leap into a wider body of knowledge, to understand how other professions see business. This is the time to open up your mind to new fields with the strategic intent of improving how you perform in your own.
  • 2. Learn to look at things differently- The world was already volatile before COVID, now we need to be even more flexible. But to a hammer all problems look like nails. So how do you step away from the hammer? Try approaching a familiar situation from a new perspective. 
  • 3. Nurture your boundaries – Healthy boundaries – permeable, flexible ones, are the key to a healthy life and a healthy career. Limits are good. Know what yours are, only then can you decide which limits to push. 

But how?, you might ask. Keeping our promise to be fun, without further ado, we present the #testingtimes bingo: a quick reference guide to keep growing your career without leaving home.

Tip If you have more time than usual If you have less time than usual
Play outside your sandbox
  1. Sign up for a free online course in something unrelated to your field (Accounting and Design Thinking come to mind).
  2. Follow the news, stock price and commentary of a sector you are not involved with. Fashion? Aviation? The Arts? (Stephen  is a member of the Royal Academy in London: you can sign up to regular emails here.)
  3. A couple of years ago, Casilda did a creativity course at the Tate Modern. Here’s a new idea.
  1. Call up someone (a friend, a new colleague) who works on a different area and just take 10 minutes to ask what their regular day is like. 
  2. Follow a company outside your sector on social media or on the digital newspaper of your choice. 
  3. Talk to your children about what you do, pay attention to their questions. They are very revealing of what’s important.
Look at things differently
  1. Try doing “opposition research” on your organisation. If you were an NGO, what issues would you raise?
  2. Now do “opposition research” on yourself, how would you turn your weaknesses into strengths?
  3. Read an interview with Karl Rove and David Axelrod on opposition research. 
  1. Get a friend or your partner to give you feedback on a piece of work they’ve never seen before. Don’t explain, just listen. 
  2. Listen to an episode of Cautionary Tales by Tim Harford
  3. When/if you are out for your daily exercise: think about the first car you see and create an imaginary biography for it.
Nurture your boundaries
  1. Understand what healthy boundaries look like. We like Brene Brown’s advice
  2. Try setting a schedule put your phone on “flight mode” no interruptions for an hour or two a day. 
  1. Block a 30-minute pause time in your calendar a day. Just for you.
  2. Try saying no to at least one non-essential request. Read our tips on how to say no. 
  3. Unsubscribe from redundant mailing lists.
  4. Turn your phone off for an hour. Go on, I dare you.
Three of the many, many resources for working from home and mental health

The next instalment of our #testingtimes campaign will come in two weeks.