Tagmental model

6 lenses to look at Third Wave

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We work in a funny business, one that’s at the same time very old (consulting) and very young (focusing on emerging technology and behavior changes). This puts us squarely between the metaphorical stools, terminology-wise: It’s in the very nature of our work that we work in a zone of semantic ambiguity.

Five years from now, looking back, most likely it is going to be painfully obvious how our work can be coined, framed and talked about.

Now, there’s a certain kind of client that it’s a dream to work with, the gold standard of client work, so to speak, for the context I’m most interested in. This type of dream gig is a top level strategic project inside a highly innovative organization:

dream client map

Mostly, this is the kind of gig that requires a long-standing, trusting relationship, and often a personal connection. Yet, additionally it should be as easy as possible to find out for any potential client who fits that description who to call for a project like this, based on their background, goals and overall situation. So I always try to make it as easy as possible to understand when it makes sense to call my company. In other words, answer the question: “In my given situation, is it worth calling Third Wave? Will they be able to add enough value to make it worth my time?”

From today’s perspective, I find it a quite useful mental model to look at what we do through different lenses depending on the context. Depending on who I’m talking to and what the context is, it helps to use one lense or the other to explain what we do and how we can add value. As a potential client, this is how to figure out why and when it would make sense to call us, and when it wouldn’t.

6 ways to look at Third Wave (sketching) Personally, I visualize these lenses as a six-sided die.

It’s a mental model I use for myself, and a work in progress at that. Let’s see how it will evolve over time, and how it will hold up looking back five years from now.

Six ways to look at what Third Wave does

I’ll try to capture the meaning of these lenses in some lead questions that help triangulate where we most effectively can add value. Some of these questions overlap, and depending on the organizational structures one might fit better than the other. Taken together, they help guide the initial exploration and get the right people to sit down and start the conversation.

1. Organizational

This is who we connect with inside a company.

The lead questions to ask are:

  • Which department or part of the company hires us? CEO, marketing, communications, product development?
  • Which budgets are we paid out of? Innovation, R&D, pilot projects, marketing?
  • Which functions are we augmenting? Do we pitch in to optimize internal structures? Get the teams to leverage new technologies? Do we help develop products?

2. Service portfolio

This is the what.

Lead questions:

  • What kind of services do we offer?
  • What can you hire us for? Are you looking for support in product development, helping you set up a new internal unit, or an impulse workshop to open up minds for new ideas?

3. Formats

This is how we add value.

Lead questions:

  • How do we work? We like to kick things off with some proper research, typically by looking closely at your competition, what’s being said about an organization, and – maybe most importantly – we believe that talking to the relevant teams inside the company surfaces a deep and valuable knowledge.
  • What do typical deliverables look like? Typically we run workshops, compile and present reports for the teams, or top level executive reports. Some of this is standardized, often times we highly customize deliverables to clients’ needs.

4. Innovation curve

This is when in the process we can add most value.

The lead question here is just one:

  • When do you hire us? The answer depends on your industry. If you build a product for the web, during the early ideation or concept phase would be a good time. If you provide a service of some sort, the moment you realize you want to seriously embrace social media or the web in general is the best moment – before you have made any concrete decision on how to best procede. Rule of thumb: We develop strategies, so the earlier we get on board, the more value we can add.

5. Topics

We spend a lot of time thinking about where things are headed.

If your company aims at always having a competitive edge over the competition, good questions to ask are:

  • Which topics are you currently working on?
  • Where do you think things are headed in our field right now?

Scribbling like this helps me sort out my thoughts, and hone my arguments. That said, feedback is always appreciated.

6. Value

Maybe the most relevant angle, this captures why you we get hired.

Lead questions:

  • Why would you hire us? Is it because your people and our people share the same mindset and beliefs? Because we can serve as a connector between the US and Europe? Because we can give impulses for innovation?
  • How can we add value? Do we add value through our skills (strategy development, analysis etc), through topics we know well (future of cities, quantified self, digital communications), through our network?

Cognitive dissonance, systemic thinking, serendipity & neoteny

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the way we think, and communicate, and the implications.

As you can gather from this, and the headline, this whole post is going to be way meta, so proceed at your own risk. Also, it’s mostly an idea sketch for myself, largely untested. Your thoughts are welcome.

Cognitive dissonance is good

Here’s a hypothesis: Cognitive dissonance is good.

Cognitive dissonance it the internal conflict an individuum faces when holding conflicting ideas simultaneously, or when its own actions don’t match its ideals:

The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming, and denying.

So if we all strive to reduce cognitive dissonance, why would it be good, you ask? My theory is this: Cognitive dissonance helps us not to reduce complexity. It helps prevent smugness and it helps feeling right all too easily. It helps us feel uncomfortable with ourselves.

If we keep doubting, and thus re-evaluating, ourselves, we can become a better person.

In day-to-day life, it can be hard to keep oneself from justifying our own behavior without going around the bend. An example? I like the notion of organic food, of buying locally, of rewarding “good” (think ethics, quality, production process etc) companies over “bad” (cheap, non-fair trade, non-sustainable etc) companies. I like being eco conscious and supporting free and open source software and free culture. And, and, and. Yet, often times – nay: mostly – I buy very much non-organic food, buy clothes off big chains that I can safely assume were produced under barely humane conditions, I fly so much that my carbon footprint is insane, and I buy all kinds of electronics that are in no way ecofriendly or even ecologically acceptable. And yes, I use a Mac and all kinds of proprietory software. Only if I occasionally remind myself of these things is there a decent chance that I change my behavior, step by step. It’s what keeps me on the right track.

I’m not going to ask you, but you might want to ask yourself: Where does your behavior not match your rhetoric?

So being honest to oneself can be hard. Of course things get much harder if you also foster cognitive dissonance in others. In an ideal world, it’d be enlightening. In reality it’s annoying at best, rude at worst. But hey, feeling superior and smug has never suited anyone well. I guess what I’m saying is: If I insult you that way, I don’t try to be rude, just maybe a little mean. Also, it means I like you enough to care, and enough to risk a friendship. Sometimes it’s good to be a pain in the ass.

Systems, trajectories, serendipity

There’s something to be said for different types of thinking. One way that I find particularly helpful for both our networked world in general and for my work in particular is what I’d call systemic thinking. Considering systems, parts of systems, connections. If thing A changes, what are the implications for things B and C, what are the collaterals? Also, what are the driving forces behind the players involved, what are their agendas?

Once you have the system visualized and know how things are connected, you know where you work from. You can then define a trajectory: A vision, a vector and a goal. (Joi Ito has written quite a bit about trajectories in leadership.) This is very different than more traditional planning methods that would put together a roadmap with step-by-step instructions, milestones etc. It’s much, much more fluid. You have a rough game plan and direction, and plenty of lee way. This also requires you trust your folks much more to know what they’re doing, which is a good thing.

Then you get to a more tactical level. When your game plan consists mainly of a goal and a trajectory, then there’s plenty of room for randomness, for serendipity. Embrace it. This is more than tactics, it’s almost a question of philosophy. It might take you off track for a while, and maybe your vector changes, or maybe not. As long as you have the overall goal and vision in mind, it’s all good.

Neoteny

Joi Ito wrote about innovation in the NY Times as well as the unabridged version on his blog. He’s also the person through which I learned about the concept of neoteny, which I find very appealing. With Joi’s words:

Neoteny, one of my favorite words, means the retention of childlike attributions in adulthood. Childlike attributes include learning, idealism, experimentation, wonder, and creativity. In our rapidly changing world, not only do we need to continue to behave more like children – we can teach our children to retain those attributes that will allow them to be the world-changing, innovative adults who will help us reinvent the future.

So there you have it. All these things I strive for in my mental model. Oftentimes that doesn’t work just yet, but these are some basic principles I try to let me guide.