Reflections from Creative Leadership & Collective Intelligence Workshop Venice February 2013

Part One

This blog is a mixture of my notes from the workshop, my own material and material that I use as part of my work.  The bulk of the blog are the notes that I took direct from Robert Dilts and I have tried to reference his referees wherever possible and I give him credit for a large portion of the ideas and content in this blog - but not all of it, as my own 20 years experience of organisation development, consulting, facilitating, coaching, training and development play a role too!

And so, it was with a mixture of trepidation and excitement that I traveled solo to Venice to see Robert Dilts in action.  Having seen videos of him and heard a lot about him, I had high expectations - although in reality I hadn't defined what those expectations were.

When I arrived the snow was thick and due to my delayed flight, it was late and dark.  Making my way across Venice on pubic transport and then through darkened streets to the hotel/venue gave me some anxiety.  That said, I can honestly say, the people I interacted with on my journey were all extremely helpful and friendly - to the point of going out of their way to help me.  Interestingly locals attending the workshop had an opposite view of their fellow Viennese. 

Of course the venue was locked up and in darkness when I arrived.  After banging on the door for a while and trying to explain in English to a non-english speaker that I was here for a conference and had booked in for 3 nights was a mere blip after everything else I'd had to deal with so far.  However, the worse was yet to come - a very small single bed in what can only be described as a large cell (that's what you get for not researching the venue - religious accommodation is spare to say the lease).  However, it was very clean and warm and I would have liked to say that I had 3 great nights sleep - but it would be a lie!  I had the worse 3 nights sleep I've had in years!

And so to the conference.  I was surprised that it was such a large conference - well over 250 people and 14 different nationalities.  I was also very surprised to find that I was the only UK delegate.  Lucky for me Dilts is American.  I have to commend the simultaneous translator, who was translating into German (which was not her native tongue!).  It did make me realise, yet again, the level of linguistic skills is so limited in the UK.  If you're lucky you may learn two languages whilst at school.  Compared to our European counterparts, we're still way behind them.

Sitting at the very back, so as not to disturb people with my constant clattering of the keyboard as I took notes, I was immediately captivated by Dilts.  His lack of ego and level of generosity was impressive.  This guy clearly knows his stuff and was very generous about sharing his knowledge.  OK, you could argue we'd paid to hear this stuff, but there are trainers and then there are trainers.  Some trainers are actually very cautious about sharing their IP; keeping you hooked in and then up-selling future courses, books or resources.  Not this guy.  In fact, I didn't even know he had CDs available until day 3.

OK to the nitty gritty - what did I hear that impressed me?  The notion of collective intelligence and creative leadership is not new.  However, his simplistic message of how to use the notion was very refreshing.  Even more impressive were the exercises that pragmatically demonstrated not only how to use this stuff, but the results you could expect (and did get).  To say I was having a ball would be an understatement.  It was so inspiring to be in a room full of like minded people, all of whom were making new discoveries about themselves or new insights about their businesses or teams.

Several quotes from Steve Jobs were cited and in particular these ones stayed with me:

'My business model is the Beetles - 4 people who could offset each others negative tendencies & where the whole was greater than the sum of the parts.  2 distinctions, collective intelligence 1+1 = 3 and 1 + 1 = 2 in collected intelligence.  You can offset your negative tendencies.  If you don't 1 + 1 = 1, or they increase their negative tendencies, so 1 + 1 = 0.' 

I tried this out with a group of 50 social workers when I got back from the conference.  The result was mixed.  My learning was that before you even begin to tap into the collective intelligence of a large group of people, you first need to establish that they are all willing participants in the process.  These were not, I discovered fairly early on in the day!  There also needs to be enough energy from within the group for the system to start to display intelligence - think systemically here; a system needs energy in order for it to demonstrate intelligence.  That's not to say that by the end of the day we didn't get a good result.  However, it taught me an invaluable lesson in the assumptive nature of the day and the lack of leadership engagement.  The saving grace from the exercise was that there were one or two groups who did actually find that the exercise created EMERGENCE (something new comes out of the process that wasn't mine or your original idea, from our interaction - here's something new that neither of us had thought of before).

Thinking of energy in a group and linking this to leadership, it's no surprise that the analogy of geese flying in formation was mentioned.  It's a great way to think of the energy required in a group in order for it to perform at it's best.  Leadership changes, passes to the next goose who is ready to take the role of flying up front.  The formation becomes streamlined, uses it's energy wisely - doesn't waste energy.  There is no ego or sense of too much self worth.

Very often you see too much self importance of one or two leaders start to work against collective intelligence within a team or an organisation.  Egos get in the way.  That's not to say that self importance isn't required - it's a significant aspect of leadership.  Without self importance or the absence of your own sense of value, you will not be able to produce collective intelligence from within your team or group.  You need to be able to express yourself in a group and to be valued by the group as an autonomous individual - that's essential.  You also have to be committed to something bigger than yourself - not always easy to do both.  If you don't think you are important, or your ideas are important then you will not produce collective intelligence because you lack the value to be able to express your ideas with energy and passion and for those ideas to be heard and for others to be inspired by them and want to take them further.  

An attitude of 'I know better than everyone else and you need to listen to me' also won't work.  Here the ego gets in the way - it becomes all about you - which again, will not produce collective intelligence.  This attitude will come across as arrogant and full of self-importance.  It's essential to get the balance right.  You need a strong sense of self worth, value and importance.  This needs to be balanced with being committed to a cause that is bigger than you - something for the greater good.  

Look at people like Steve Jobs and Richard Branson.  They have a strong sense of self worth, yet both demonstrate an authentic commitment to something bigger and neither are prepared to lose sight of that bigger picture.  Steve Jobs wasn't particularly liked, but he was well respected - even by his enemies.  He wasn't a hypocrite; he said what he thought and everyone was able to disagree with him.  I wonder how many leaders in organisations today are able to say, hand on heart, that this happens (without them bearing grudges or damaging the careers of those who cross them).  Jobs genuinely wanted to know the opinions and thoughts of other people.

Here's another quote from Jobs:

'I'm not interested in being the wealthiest man in the graveyard, what I want to be able to do is to go to bed at night and feel that we have done something wonderful together today.  Another example of collective intelligence.  To do something wonderful together.'  

I really like this - it's a reminder that it doesn't matter how much money you make, you can't take it with you.  If you go to bed at night feeling that sense of satisfaction and fulfilment, you'll have a much better nights' sleep than worrying about how you can earn 25% more than you do now (which apparently is the most typical answer given when people say they want to earn more money - 'I just need to earn 25% more'!).

Part 2 to follow shortly.  If you want to discuss anything that I've written here, please get in touch:

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