Henley Forum 2014 – You should have been there

I was honoured to be invited back to speak this year, at the Annual Henley Forum Conference for Organisational Learning and Knowledge Strategies, Henley Business School, in the idyllic riverside location just outside Henley on Thames, given the high calibre of the other speakers.

Here are some of the key insights from the sessions I attended

Ravi Avora, Vice President of the Tata group, started us off by sharing his extensive experience of knowledge and innovation intiatives. Knowing how hard and expensive it can be to collate knowledge of what is happening creatively out their I was particularly struck by the (relative) simplicity that Innovation awards across a company are a great way to engage with staff and reveal the latest knowledge and creative ideas.

Miguel Panadero of the UN told us how the Learning Labs were given a licence to fail in order to learn, and how they kept the word ‘management’ out of the boardroom, preferring (knowledge) sharing and flow.

Christine van Winkelen of Henley & Sarah Grimwood of MWH talked us through their look at Developmental Evaluation which really interested me because of its aim to ‘deal with complexity, provide rapid real-time feedback and provide double loop learning’.

I was on straight after lunch with my session on Ecosystem Thinking entitled “Sense and Sustainability”. I will blog about this separately but I think I got most of my tweets about my shirt being so loud that I didn’t need a microphone.

Professor Kevin Money and Dr Carola Hillenbrand shared some interesting research about causes and consequences of stakeholders being affected by and affecting an organisation. I was intrigued by their RELATE framework which was supplemented by a number of interesting slides showing how compliance can be predicted and the different patterns that can form. Heavy but interesting stuff.

Professor Aiden Halligan, of University College London Hospitals, then showed us all how to make an impact at a conference. No slides only ‘real’ stories. So many insights and quotes that my hand ached at trying to capture just a selection. Focussing on patterns of behaviour he told tales that made us laugh out loud and left tears streaming down many faces. He questioned the merits of classroom teaching. He made us think about the difference between a halo and a noose, and how sometimes we just need to do the right thing on a difficult day. My personal highlight, was his story of Dolly a junior member of staff who grew her “authority from how much she cared”.

We were also given his excellent paper on ‘Rediscovering lost values’ in Healthcare and with my interests in complexity and KM I was struck by this paragraph:

The NHS is characterised by turbulence and ambiguity. Navigating through these waters calls for leadership skills at many levels. A combination of self-knowledge and situational intelligence enables a leader to judge the most effective ways to behave.

David Gurteen ended the day by introducing us to ‘Randomised Coffee Trials’ which helped to start conversations and build new relationships before dinner.

I must add a plug for Mark Cairns the Mind Reader that came to entertain us on the evening and was extremely good. I can usually work out at least some of how these secret drawing tricks are done but mark left us suitably baffled.

After a very pleasant dinner, drinks and singing the Proclaimers greatest hits in the bar we called it a day around 2pm.

Next morning was Professor Patricia Riddell from the School of Psychology, Reading University. I could have happily signed up for a full time course, such was the amazing insights into how our brain works. Her explanation as to how new learning requires the formation of new neurons but repeated actions are stored chemically made me begin to know whether my memories are real or amalgamations. I certainly never knew that consolidating new learning can take place during only six minutes of sleep. A great advert for power napping. By the time we were exploring the experiencing self and the remembering self I was beginning to need six minutes sleep to take it all in. Probably the most (and most important) learning I have ever had in an hour.

We then split into half and I chose to explore graphic storytelling with Dr Kendra Albright of the University of South Carolina. She took us through the careful crafting and publication of a graphpic novel aimed to share knowledge about HIV/Aids in which used a projective technique. This is where study participants projected themselves and emotions onto the characters in the story they developed. We then tried the technique out ourselves and between us, I have to say, we created some really interesting, funny and insightful stories. A great example of experiential learning to reinforce what we had just learned.

Over lunch we had the additional pleasure of listening to Bonnie Cheuk of CitiBank, who I have known for many years, who took us through several really interesting case studies of how to get social media adopted internally on a large scale. What interested me most was how the wiki based systems looked simple to use but were obviously robust enough to handle a great many transactions. Food for thought in more ways than one.

Back in the main conference hall with Helge Lippert we then laughed heartily at this amazing video.

Then Helge shared his practical tips, interspaced with photographs by his wife, pictures of his young child in a suitcase and a memorable adhoc connection with a ventilator which does stick in the mind for ever because of the intrigue and search for a non-existent connection.

Finally Dr Nancy Dixon of Common Knowledge Associates shared with us her work looking at patterns that may well be the answer to ‘how do we make virtual teams work as well as teams in the same building?’. Nancy showed us her latest thinking about Oscillation between collective sensemaking events and ‘normal’ virtual work. I was instantly tranfixed at how, the workshops I do might sit nicely as the four monthly ‘sense making’ event. I particularly liked two of the justifying quotes from the virtual team:

“After four months we are out of steam and have a loss of shared sense of direction.”

“the hourly cost of the team is more than the travel costs”.

Which Nancy describes as bringing the team together face to face for 3 days to “produce the glue that maintains team collaboration.

All in all a most excellent way to spend two days. A quick plug for what looks to be a great read in the book, Knowledge Works – a handbook which  I was given for speaking:

The Henley Forum Team: Christine, Marina, Mike and Jane McKenzie have helped to create a most friendly, collaborative event with nothing to small to get right, from the pre-course storyboarding, introductions to ‘people you should meet’, everything explained and signposted, memory sticks of presentations and research reports to maintain sustainability, to the final thank you for speakers that arrives as you get home. Do you get the idea that I had a whale of a time? You should have been there.


1 Comment

  1. Ron, Thanks for the kind words about my talk on oscillation. I look forward to seeing you blog post on your presentation. I found the steps you outlined very useful and hope you put them in your blog. Ron Young is a friend so it was great to hear his work referenced.

    I look forward to our paths crossing again. Nancy

    Nancy Dixon Common Knowledge Associates Austin, Texas USA http://www.commonknowledge.org http://www.nancydixonblog.com Skype name nmdixon Phone: 512 912 6100

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