Truth in Diversity

By Cindy Vallance

For many reasons I personally shy away from the concept of ‘truth.’ The world is too complex and my subjective perspectives based on my own life experiences too particularly individual to make a claim on truth.

But Nancy Kline’s 8th principle for a thinking environment holds strong appeal to me. DIVERSITY. She asserts that diversity enhances thinking because it is true. The opposite of diversity – homogeneity – assumes we are all alike and thus underestimates or even denies our differences.

If we assume, however, that diversity is true, then we no longer will assume that the dominant group is superior, that everyone should emulate it and that power should accrue to it. We will hunger for diversity, we will seek it and we will appreciate it for what it is – truth.

So how do we fight our own inherent prejudices? Since we are talking about thinking as equals, let’s consider the prejudice of intellectual superiority. Next time you are in a diverse group, ask yourself:

“If I knew that the people whom I have been pre-conditioned or taught to believe are less intelligent than I am are actually bright and able to think well about any subject of their choice, how would I feel and behave when I hear them think? And how would I regard them as my listeners when it is their turn to hear me think?”

 Welcoming difference and accepting the truth of diversity is essential to thinking well.

Information Exchange – Timing Counts

By Cindy Vallance

Principle 7 to develop a thinking environment is INFORMATION. There is no question that information is power, you get what you measure, and that evidence based decision making requires the right information at the right time. As Nancy Kline puts it “withholding information from someone is an act of intellectual imperialism” while conversely, “not bothering to seek information is an act of intellectual recklessness.”

However, one challenge is to strike the right timing balance when it comes to information exchange. What should we think about if we want to get the timing right?

Firstly, resist the urge to interrupt a speaker midstream. How do you really know what the other person is about to say unless you allow them to finish providing the information they wish to convey?

But what if they are misinformed? Shouldn’t you jump right in to correct them? If you are truly trying to support them to think, the answer may be ‘not yet.’ Think about your goal – do you want to show them they don’t know as much as you do or do you genuinely want to work with them to be a thinking equal? That doesn’t mean being irresponsible by withholding information, it simply means getting the timing right.

Secondly, think about timing when asking for information. Sometimes just listening will bring you the answers you need. If your goal is to help someone else to think then don’t ask them a question when they are in the middle of a stream of thought. Wait, pay attention and really listen.


Misplaced assumptions about change: does ‘participation’ mean everyone?

Just a few final words to round up my discussion of Leandro Herrero’s challenges to our common assumptions about change. You can see related blogs on the following links:

Highlighting misplaced assumptions about change: the myth of leadership-driven change

Change and work: more misplaced assumptions

“Resistance is useful”: a new assumption?


A key learning point for anyone driving change is the important leverage provided by behaviour. When discussing change and improvement I commonly encounter suggestions that what is needed ‘always comes down to communication’. True enough perhaps, but we also need to remember that communication is a product of people’s behaviour (as communicators and as listeners).

The temptation is to allow discussions of communication to lead us down paths of procedure, process and technology, rather than thinking, people, behaviour and habits. The same is true if people’s capability is raised as an issue – ‘we just need more (or better) training’. Again this does not necessarily hit the nub of the problem.

Hererro suggests that we need to shake off the assumption “Communication and training are the vital components of change”. They are symptoms and processes of change rather than the true causes and content that we need to address. The engine of change is often people’s behaviour. However we need to explore this further – commentators such as Deming, Senge and Seddon would point out that behaviours are often caused by other influences. If we want to make change happen, we need to understand and shift those influences and encourage people to adopt the change.

The trend for participative management has led to a paradigm that involving everyone is the only way to success; “Everybody needs to be involved in the change”, but is this really true? Communication-to-all is actually the most ineffective way to reach everybody (the common ‘sheep-dip’ approach, often packaged as training). Instead, we need to become better at using internal networks and these networks need to be directly tapped as active resources to embed new ways of working into the organisation.

Another common comment I have encountered which Hererro also challenges is “There is no point in creating change in one division without the rest of the company participating.”  Herrero himself suggests that instead it is possible to establish change through ‘viral networks’.


Check out a range of ideas in these thought-provoking publications:

Herrero, L. (2006) Viral Change, meetingminds, UK.

Seddon, J. (2005) Freedom from Command and Control, Vanguard Press, Buckingham, UK.

Senge P. (1990) The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation, Doubleday, New York.

The Need for Speed : let’s not assume that change is a slow business

It is easy to slip into thinking that  ‘change’ as a slow and often difficult process. After all, we know that we can become creatures of habit, enjoying the comfort of the familiar. But this is not what defines us. Human beings are creatures that have mastered  (or, at least, have developed) the art of adapting; changing our knowledge, decisions, behaviour, environment, relationships. It is too easy to think that we ‘don’t like change’. This is simply not the case. We are beings that not only adapt to what is around us, but we often actively choose to influence what is around us. After all, it is not uncommon for us to choose to find ways to make things better or different (either for ourselves or, sometimes, others!).

My great-grandfather (who was still around when I was a youngster) was born into the victorian age in the 1880s. He was already a young man when the Wright brothers first flew at Kitty Hawk, yet he lived to experience being a passenger flying in jet airliners and saw the Apollo astronauts land on the moon. His life experiences, work and education had to adapt fairly radically, but I imagine it was a fairly natural process – that’s life.

Organisations can change faster that society as a whole. Perhaps we need to start seeing change in our organisation as a ‘natural’ process, although one which we can actively influence ourselves. We need to see change happen in noticeable timescales; weeks and months not years. If we want people to believe in the changes we want, then they need to be able to see those changes. This implies that changes should move over short timescales rather than at barely-observable ‘glacial’ rates. Herrero (2006) goes further, suggesting that if cultural changes cannot be observed in short timeframes, then something is wrong.

He suggests that we should reject two assumptions:

“Cultural change is a slow and painful long-term affair.”
No -it need not be slow – there is a better way.

“Short-term wins are tactical but they do not usually represent real change.”  Again no – with viral networks, small changes can lead to a big impact.

So, what is the challenge? We need to accelerate change by engaging networks of people in making things happen. In a previous post it was suggested that small sets of behavioural changes, taken on and shared by informal groups of people can generate improvements in a non-linear way, as Hererro terms it, a ‘viral’ spread.

Of course, our blog posts and comments have raised questions about how the position of our leaders influences change. What if leaders don’t want the change? That places the challenge on us to influence them. Influence changes to the way routines are followed and then enable people to see the impact as it evolves.

At a recent staff conference on Service Excellence we included a keynote speech and workshop led by the student union president. This is not revolutionary, but merely having students in the room at a staff development event changes perspectives and establishes new conversations and ways of thinking.

To influence others we need to encourage quick, meaningful changes; not just ticking items off the ‘to do’ list, but adopting new behaviours, new ways of thinking, new habits. These things may appear less tangible, but they do have impact, they don’t need to wait for a sign-off at the next Academic Committe Meeting and they do allow change to happen much quicker.

Remember to read:

Herrero, L. (2006) Viral Change, meetingminds, UK.


Fear of Feelings

By Cindy Vallance

When was the last time you or someone else referenced FEELINGS (principle 6 to develop a thinking environment) within a work context? When someone is upset, for instance, or angry, we will likely be most comfortable if we can make this demonstration of feelings stop – and the quicker the better. Maybe we think it will take too much time or that we have lost control if our feelings show. That is certainly what society seems to tell us. Just pull yourself together we think. But as much as we may wish we could because of this sense that feelings at work aren’t appropriate, none of us can leave our feelings behind when we walk through that door.

For instance, we can’t think well if we are upset. But if we repress the outward demonstration of our feelings too quickly, that doesn’t mean we have stopped having them. We have just pushed them inward – and we still won’t be able to think well.

Perhaps we should be a little less afraid of feelings – for ourselves and for others.

Try this when someone next shows their feelings – especially if they are the ones that make us most uncomfortable – anger, grief, despair, sadness. Sit with them, don’t panic, pay attention without smothering them with our concern, and let them find their way back. They will then think more clearly.

Competition Kills Encouragement

By Cindy Vallance

The title of this blog comes directly from Nancy Kline’s book “Time to Think” in which she outlines the fifth of the ten principles needed to build a thinking environment. ENCOURAGEMENT is a powerful tool. Encouragement provides a rich field for acknowledging interdependencies and for celebrating successes. Its opposite, competition, pits people and ideas against each other in a never-ending battle to be the ‘best.’ However, competition often only results in ‘better than’ not ‘best” and this result really may not be very good at all.

Competition is one of the qualities that prevents us from asking the questions that should be asked and that no one wants to ask. Encouragement, on the other hand, sets us up to find good ideas together.

How much encouragement do we give to others to share their ideas? How excited do we get about their ideas? Do we listen without competition, without turning away, without interrupting, without shaking our head or rolling our eyes?

Encouragement is the scaffolding, the support structure, that helps new and creative ideas to develop. These ideas can then be implemented for the benefit of all of those who are daring enough to think together.