Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Organisational development - a bit like Calvinball?

Yesterday's post from Wendy Wickham (as you may see from my comment) got me to thinking.

Things change so fast at the moment, we can never be sure that anything is going to happen in exactly the same way twice running. While it may be tempting to say that this is like a game of (insert sport of choice here), the major difference is that, by and large, in sports the ground rules remain the same. And when they do change, there's a bit of a fanfare. The new rules are distributed to all clubs and associations. All refs/umpires have to bone up on them in order to be able to manage a game.

If we had to have that kind of fanfare every time things change in the environments for which we are designing learning and performance support resources, the poor trumpeter would never get a chance to draw breath!

While we're in the process of dealing with the rollout of a new system over here, HR comes out with a new requirement, based on the latest directive from the government. While we're busy making sure everybody knows how to comply with the new HR issue, the new system has to be tweaked and a new procedure introduced to deal with that tweak, so... You get the picture.

If you are a Calvin & Hobbes fan, you are no doubt familiar with Calvinball. If you are not familiar with this cartoon, it's high time you addressed this major hole in your life!

I would have said that it was impossible to list the rules of Calvinball, but someone has decided to give it a go, apparently with Bill Watterson's help and/or approval. I would like to suggest that the most important rule of the game can be found at 1.9. In fact, the whole game hinges on this one thing: the only permanent rule is that Calvinball can never be played the same way twice. It is also very important to note the caveat at the bottom of the list: This rulebook is not required, nor necessary to play Calvinball.

A bit like life, then.

There have been times when Watterson's insight has taken my breath away. Then there are other times when I take something he says in one place and apply it in another. I'd be hard pressed to say which this is.

One thing worth noting is the role of Rosalyn, Calvin's intrepid babysitter. She is the only one brave enough to take on the job more than once. She needs the money and Calvin's parents need an occasional break. The relationship between Calvin and Rosalyn is one of mutual loathing - not an approach I am recommending between learning professionals and the people we support! However, one evening, she agrees to play Calvinball with her young charge. After a moment, she figures out the lie of the land and they have a whale of a time together. She even manages to use the non-rules of the game to get Calvin to go to bed at decent hour!

Perhaps this is where we are going wrong. Instead of trying to impose control all over the place and redraft yet another set of rules whenever there's a change, perhaps we need to learn to go with the flow, making only occasional use of whatever our particular equivalent of the babysitter flag turns out to be.

After all, tomorrow it might all be different again.



Harold Jarche said...

In OD and learning in the workplace today practitioners have to embrace the idea of flow. There are huge flows of information that cannot be controlled, but you may be able "surf at the edge of chaos". Get out your surfboards folks, because you are not going to control the ocean.

Now what we really need is a CalvinBall plugin for Facebook ;-)

Anonymous said...

Harold - sounds like a great idea!

Wendy said...

Haven't even thought of Calvinball in a very long time.

I have noticed that well-managed environments are better able to see what's coming and somewhat manipulate the game (like Roslyn). From my time in Health Care - we could see some of the legislative changes coming down the pike about 1 year in advance and have the system set up to handle it (just in case). Examples - CPT code changes (every year), HIPPA, Legislated Electronic Medical Records, Eliminating social security numbers from records.....

Of course (to switch to Harold's metaphor) - even the best surfers are smacked in the head with a wave every once in awhile.

Anonymous said...

Wendy: I would suggest that healthcare has enough red tape that you can see things coming before they arrive. I would also suspect that it is a largely top-down controlled environment. Although I might be wrong on both counts. Increasingly we are seeing the corporate world moving too fast for either red tape or top down controls. By the time something has filtered through either of those two things, it may well have become obsolete. Hence the increasing need for informal learning, unconferences, JIT performance support and all the other aspects of Jay Cross's home turf.

I'd be interested to know what you would regard as "well-managed". To my mind, well-managed means that the individuals are empowered to take ownership of their own learning journey and CPD. Management is not afraid to delegate, trusting in its ability to recruit capable staff, and does not feel that paranoic need to be in control of everything and everyone all the time. In fact, I would say that a good manager recognises that he/she can't always predict or know everything, realises that he/she has to go with the flow and is not threatened by that.

Wendy said...

This may be where my control-freak tendency and lack of experience in corporate environments is exposed.

Most of my career has been spent in health care and academic environments where we can see stuff coming and the organization has a (reasonably) concrete purpose. Patients should to be healed, Students should be educated.

In terms of top-down, well, there is quite a bit of sideways but it is all still very driven by legislative directives and by the primary, well-defined goal of the organization. In the places where I work, all of the apparent chaos is still driven with these goals in mind.

To me, leadership's job is to provide that sort of focus on the end-goal. Where surfing and chaos and flex come in is how you get there. And if the organization is missing (or forgetting) what they are in business for - that's where real problems occur (and where I start looking for new work).

The above may explain why I spend more time in "institutions." ;' )

kellywchris said...

I would suggest that there are so many Calvinisms that apply to education that he could be the posterboy for the educational change which is being sought by so many. Calvinball, with its constantly changing rules is very similar to what is happening in education. As much as we try to "control" education with legislation, we need to become more flexible and more able to adjust to what is happening around us.
People in education still want to control so much of what is happening... which is so unfortunate. We do poorly, in many ways, at collaboration despite how much we talk about it.

Anonymous said...

Kelly: You're so right about that! In fact, I have drawn from Calvin and Hobbes several times in my posts since I started this blog. On one occasion, I half-joked that one could "do a dissertation on the Calvin and Hobbes philosophy of teaching and learning" only to have someone immediately point me at Teaching with Calvin and Hobbes. I can never be accused of having a truly original idea!