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As I lay in bed thinking about the content and conversation of last night’s launch of the Association for Strategic Planning, I became engaged in thinking about thinking, as I often am. I introduced into that conversation through ‘chat’, the words / concept of ‘Intelligent Disobedience’ and the speaker, If you haven’t heard the term before doesn’t mean you are not aware of the power of it, just not under that name.

I only recently came across it when I connected on LinkedIn with Bob McGannon and Ira Chaleff who both write about Intelligent Disobedience. In fact I have engaged with both of them to further my understanding. Through that process I have taken respectful exception to what I see as some of their assertions as to it’s meaning. (It’s how I get to understand myself better. When someone is generous enough, they return my respect with engagement – as they both have.) They have both continued their conversation and I humour myself by thinking that we are expanding if nothing else, the way it is explained but maybe also, the genesis of the definition and perhaps is usefulness as a thinking / connection concept.

So, after the launch and my head is filled with the concept of ‘strategy’ and how imperative it is to our very sustainable existence & future, I am brought back to some of my own ‘tilting at windmills’, namely the cancers to useful collaboration, of group think and pre-emptive think. So often a group of people will gather to consider a subject (in my experience quite often the wrong or less important one – more looking at an effect that cause) and the authority of the group will lead-out with their thoughts conclusions and the group will respond variously with

  • Words to agree – compliment – go out of their way not to ‘rock the boat’ – group think
  • Come from conclusions of previous dialogues where this person has already ruled against an idea and hence little use broaching it again – pre-emptive speech – and so agreement with what is being proposed is the way through or at least, not disagreement
  • Disagreement – and this too often is too loud, harsh, emotional and self-defeating

Of course it is also possible that someone with the skills and self-esteem to control their input, be measured and clear, for an alternative thought to be proffered and gain oxygen.

What am I taking about and why am I bothering?

It’s all well and good to talk about strategic thinking but unless it is folding back on the old, ‘command & control’ concept, the real benefits will be muted. How many times has a convenor of a meeting left thinking that they had come to some useful agreement only to observe that future actions bear no resemblance to what was thought to have been agreed?

Technologies of leadership and thinking are ever evolving, well at least the terminologies are. We have all sorts of new names for much the same things done poorly in the past and now being given fresh coats of paint as if they are panacea of thinking for tomorrow – Block-Chain and Agile come after black belts and many more before them.

Many of the same old tools lay behind these seemingly new concepts, as I said, often done poorly and now just confused to some extend by people needing to learn new terms before they have a chance of learning and using the technologies. Older practitioners can be at odds with new graduates as they mix, neither really understanding each other and that all important ‘connection’ becoming tenuous.

There are already loads of thinking tools, what there isn’t so much of is loads of leaders who haven’t yet realised that they need to be facilitators rather than solutions.

Just some of the thinking technologies – Brain storming, cause and effect, gap analysis, affinity diagrams, Blooms & Williams taxonomies, SWOT, concept maps, DATT, flow charts, force field analysis, Gantts & Pert’s, matrix, mid mapping, various questioning, six sigma, effective listening, persuasion maps, six thinking hats, histograms, five W’s – plenty of tools

I stress that until everyone gets more competent at connection with each other, far too much energy is lost to critical strategic (or any type of) thinking. That what too often passes for best use of a number of experienced and skilful heads is in fact the sum total of one who is too often somewhat mistakenly called the ‘leader’, maybe could be called the ‘suppressor’.

And now there is another new term in town, that of ‘followership’.  One definition of ‘followership’ that seems to have made traction is

Followership is a straightforward concept.  It is the ability to take direction well, to get in line behind a program, to be part of a team and to deliver on what is expected of you.  It gets a bit of a bad rap!  How well the followers follow is probably just as important to enterprise success as how well the leaders lead.

At the most simplistic reading of this yes, once sound agreement is established, capable implementation is developed then yes, the plan must proceed, and people do what they say they will do, within scope. The trouble with any concept of ‘following’ is that implies servitude and absence of responsibility – “I was following what I was told to do”!

One could argue that is too extreme & that gaining following is the objective?

Gaining participation, useful feedback, timely input, use of experience surely is!

Realisation:According to a 2017 report from the Project Management Institute (PMI), 14 percent of IT projects fail. However, that number only represents the total failures.
Of the 
projects that didn’t fail outright,

  • 31 percentdidn’t meet their goals,
  • 43 percentexceeded their initial budgets
  • and 49 percent were late

If we are to move ahead efficiently and effectively then we need to understand that the original strategic thinking is bound to be infected with degrees of pre-emptive and group think, ineffective use of thinking tools and errors of thinking that will become apparent, if not even at this initial stage, but not declared, (Maslow theory of hierarchy needs- the need to be included) will so at the project moves through or also, unfortunately, after completion.

Intelligent disobedience* is about creating a culture where it is not only approved but required, that everyone should feel safe to dissent throughout the thinking process and at a stage where there is real potential for risk, act in divergence to the previously approved way.       *Rex’s (colourthinking) definition

So, gaining the maximum amount of benefit through assembling a number of people to participate in the ‘thinking’ is really about how easy they feel about contributing without fear or favour. How receptive the environment is, the facilitator of the group is, to empowering each member to share, to challenge and to agree – to extend, the examine, to test.

It is also about inviting people who are not usually invited – invite four boffins from the same branch of thinking and there will be pre-set paradigms (and probably hierarchy and stated influence). Access only the ‘executive group’ and the thinking will still be subject to standards and expected and accepted previous behavioural norms.

When I consult to an organisation, I rarely seek the input of any of the ‘top layer’ in the first instance, just as I do not ask for input about any of their personalities, behaviours or past history. I prefer to talk to the people ‘of the business’ initially, they usually hold the otherwise secrets operationally. They often do not have degrees, previous so-called important posts and so will not usually be listened to or even asked. If they appear negative then they certainly will not be connected with, rather left outside of the communication to spread their negativity. (Maslow again) Thinking deBono, he says that no decision should be made until the ‘black hat’ is engaged, and the ‘red before that’. The negative person is more often able to shed important light on opportunity and risk if only they are ‘connected with’, respected and given a chance.

If the hypothesis that connection is an imperative is doubted, more important in so many ways than special people thinking specially, then what explains the daily impact of bad operational thinking (or what is passed as that)? If the operational thinking can’t be effective and that’s about undertaking projects that take an organisation to their strategic goals, then what hope is there?

Using the project information above, 137% of projects fail to some degree – that means they fail at various levels! Let’s get ‘connecting’ achieved more widely before we pretend to tackle the big issues that have more than a fair chance of eating up the budget and the energy.


Rex Buckingham


colourthinking / LeadershipThinking.Academy







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