This is a review of the Stoos Connect conference that happened at the end of January. A disclaimer – most of the following text was written during the conference, while listening to the talks and having heated discussions with fellow Warsaw Stoosians…
The event was held all over the world at the same time, with the main conference taking place in Amsterdam and many Stoos Satellite groups joining. All possible with the magic of Skype. Quite surprisingly, in Poland we had three official locations, one of them was in Warsaw in the co-working office of Business Link (in fact they claim they are much more than just co-working, if interested, check out for yourself here). Their office is located in the city center, so I had some trouble finding a place to park my car but after some time I got to where I was supposed to get. The arrangement of the room itself was great – lots of colourful bean bags and pillows to sit on, large TV set, a foosball, a few PS3 units, a panorama view. Starting great. One thing I should mention were problems with getting WiFi connection, but that was a minor issue (3g works flawlessly in the center of Warsaw).
No, Captain, this is wrong
After some technical issues (that by the way continued through the whole event) the series of talks started, even though it took quite some time to get them up to speed. The introduction and first talk summarized the Stoos movement, and also touched a somewhat overly discussed (IMO) topic of treating people as human resources vs as human beings. While I agree with the criticism of this common disfunction (human resources), this criticism is not in any way new to me, thus – that made a little boring beginning. On the other hand I think that when trying to explain what Stoos is about it is good to compare an organization to a ship – in traditional organizations the boss is always right (like a captain on a ship – second to God). And Stoos is a movement for those who believe that it is right to say “No, Captain, this is wrong”.
Later on, I liked the model of organizations hierarchy with “decision makers” on top, “what to do” thinkers below delegating to the level of “tell what to do” proxies and finally guys “doing stuff” at the bottom. Jaap Peters described reorganization projects (that have been happening quite regularly recently) as changing this kind of structure into another version of the same model, not improving anything in any way. Good point, although I doubt restructuring will cease to happen.
Peter van der Auwera presented a new kid on the block, a one with a lot-promising name “Corporate Rebels United”. Time will show what will happen with this movement, personally I am a bit sceptical. Even though they say “Principle 2 – We dare to be great” and they define success as “when people start saying: I suddenly feel free to be awesome.”. This attitude sounds familiar to me. Still, all of this is a little too generic without any specific actions or recommendations. But I will keep my eye on them.
Second session started with (at least from my point of view) overly theoretical ideas. I had a feeling that I was listening to a couple of consultants that were trying to sell the same service as before, just using new buzzwords (although that’s maybe a little too strong). During those talks a quote from Einstein came to my mind: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.“… And I think that even though many people are asking a question “what can we do to make our organization more effective?”, only few understand what the answer means… In fact, I think just few understand even the question itself. For most “more effective” means “more profit”, while I believe this is the other way round (profit is not the reason but the outcome, or maybe even sometimes – a side effect).
Then finally, at the end of the this block, one thing to check out, looking at least a little promising – Agile Management Innovation presented by Claudio Perrone. Not really sure yet what this is but at the first glance it looks worth investigating. But even taking that into account the second session was the worst one of the event.
The third block started with a very balanced view of the situation happening in organizations (a view that I have been sharing for quite a long time) that was presented by Olav Maassen. Managers are guardians of processes and are necessary for the leaders to succeed in leading he said. Or, in other words – management and leadership are like a two sided coin – both sides are necessary and happen to address different parts of the problem.
“Selling with noble purpose” reminded me of a recent blog post by Artur Kuć about what happens to beginner sales people when they get more experienced (for Polish speaking folks – you can find it here). I believe a more general statement is true – whatever you do, focus on your customers and listen to them. The second takeaway about sales people, also IMO that should be generalized – we all want to make a difference.
Dawna Jones gave a great and inspiring talk with a couple of ideas that stayed with me. “There are things you don’t want to measure” she said for instance, something I have been repeating on various occasions recently saying “if you want to measure something do a five whys analysis”. This is a common problem I see with estimations – often one estimates just because it’s obvious one should estimate – and this is rather a poor reason in my opinion. Another idea Dawna mentioned was that a corporate culture is something you can manage – again something that resonates with my own beliefs. One note here – someone tweeted that “culture cannot be managed as it is an outcome not a cause”. And while I agree with the second part (culture is an outcome) I cannot agree with the first part – this is exactly what I believe management is – it’s taking actions to achieve certain outcome. Final conclusion of the talk – the role of managers in 21st century is shifting from control towards supporting – “I like”.
This block finished with Bjarte Bakke giving a short talk on four most important things in life. He suggested those are health, interpersonal relations, values and dreams and finally positive view of oneself. While I agree these are really important (maybe even really the most important) I have lots of doubts about what Bjarte suggested – that these four are universal across all people in the world. I think this view is Europe-centric and what is important in life is very culture dependent. But still – the third block in general was quite nice.
The fourth session began with a video recorded talk by Daniel Pink. He presented the same ideas as in Drive book / talks (if you haven’t seen the videos check his TED talk here or RSAnimate video here or both), just using other words. I liked the idea to call management a technology (I would probably rather use “technique”). Two tweetable quotes that stayed with me basing on this one are – “there are few technologies from 1850s that are still being used nowadays (and mangement is from 1850s)” and “technology for engagement is not management, it is self-direction”. That definitely was well prepared lightning talk, but frankly speaking – nothing new was said.
Jurgen Apello is one of top speakers in this community, his talk was yet another proof, even though after we met last December I knew what he was going to say. Jurgen presented an alternative bonus system where rewards are not given based on performance appraisals by supervisors but rather by employees to employees based on constant peer evaluation. Keep track on Jurgen’s blog if you don’t already – he should be posting an article on this topic soon. One thing to add here – this presentation used flipchart instead of powerpoint slides. It worked brilliantly and I would say the main reason for that was that Jurgen didn’t write anything on the flipchart, he was just drawing. This prevented the main flipchart problem – hard to read text. A good advice for all those wanting to make flipchart / whiteboard based presentations for larger audiences.
From Joe Justice, who was talking on Agile Human Resources I had one tweet-away: “team morale is a multiplier for team velocity” as well as one concept to research further – Agile Accounting standard. This may resonate with what we do in TouK to manage financial side of our company (which I hope I will be blogging about some time) – I feel a need to investigate.
Steve Denning’s talk was a little disappointing for me, even though Steve mentioned one thing important to the future of Stoos – this movement needs lots of believers and a lot of charisma to actually make a difference. Without that it will stay unheard somewhere on the suburbs of mainstream management. Nonetheless, Radical Management stays quite close to the top of my ToRead list.
The last speaker was Arjan Polhuijs. And he managed to give one of the best talks of the evening (if not the best). The main point of Arjan was that when we do projects or introduce products we are playing four games at the same time, games in which you try to find answers to following questions:
- a game of Real (in the field of Operational Excellence) – will the product work / will customers pay for it?
- a game of Intellectual (in the area of Direction and strategy) – will it last?
- a game of Human (touching Interpersonal connections) – will it happen?
- a game of Creation (ie. Inventing Solutions) – is it unique?
And the impact of our project is a multiplication of those things, therefore if even one of them is zero, then we get zero impact. Pity. Finally, what is really important, this formula should be taken to the power of spirit (or morale as in one of previous talks) of the team or company.
A great talk to end the day.
To wrap it up, that was a very nice half a day conference. A few great talks, a few worse – but that is to be expected at any event. Observing how Stoos movement is getting traction is interesting, although we still have to wait to see if it will make any difference.
Stoos Satellite Warsaw is, up to now, 17 people. The conference on Jan 26th was attended by 6 and as far as I was told another one was attending live in Amsterdam. That is a very very small community, let’s be frank. At the same time – this allowed to engage deeply in the conversations. To me – Stoos is all about a network of professionals having similar view of organizations. Therefore having this possibility to meet new people and sharing ideas cannot be underestimated.
If you like those ideas and happen to live in Warsaw feel free to join LinkedIn group – there are people around who like to discuss this stuff.
Did you attend Stoos Connect and have different opinion? Comment below… You didn’t attend and don’t agree? Comment below… You made your organization even a little better and want to tell the world about it? Comment below…