The Hundred Acre Wood Theory of Change

When I met with Ethan Angelica to discuss his work at Museum Hack, our conversation focussed on creativity and innovation, and also included change management and the importance of ‘bringing people with you’ when introducing new ideas. It turns out that both of our dads are management gurus – his is a management consultant specialising in non-profit organisations, and mine is a recently retired business management academic. Ethan told me about the fantastic ‘theory of change’ model developed by his Dad, Emil Angelica. It’s based on four of A.A. Milne’s characters who live in Hundred Acre Wood – Tigger, Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, and Eeyore. Ethan tells it brilliantly, so the following is a verbatim quote from our interview:

My Dad is one of my greatest role models. He has what he calls his ‘Hundred Acre Wood Theory of Change’… When something changes, you have the Tiggers, who are bouncing – they’re way out in front of everybody, they’re just like, can’t wait to change it. You’ve only got a couple of those, and you need to let them Tigger away. Keep an eye on them, make sure they don’t jump off a cliff or something, but let them Tigger. Then you have the Poohs, who will follow the honey pot. You give them their honey pot, and they’re like, ‘okay, cool, this is where we’re going, I got it, I got it, this is cool, I like what we’re doing here, it looks delicious, let’s just keep going’. So the Tiggers are bouncing and as long as Pooh has its honey pot, it’s going to be okay, Tigger doesn’t really bother him.

Piglet gets really scared of Tigger. The Piglets are like, ‘ohh, I don’t know, man, he’s crazy and that honey pot is not very interesting to me, what are we going to do?’ and so you have to gently guide Piglet there. And then you have Eeyores. And Eeyores are just like, ‘well, I don’t know, like I guess…’ and you’re just never going to win over the Eeyores. Eeyores are always going to be there, and you just have to be like, ‘you’re going to be fine, yes I know this is rough’. I find that distinctly in all of these organisations. Every time I go in and do a workshop, I always see a Tigger, I always see the person who I hand the Five Elements [of a Hack] to and they’re like, ‘ooh, this is pretty’, the Piglets who are like, ‘but, but I can’t say fuck’, and then Eeyores who are like, ‘everything you’re doing is horrible’.

When I asked Ethan if I could share this model, he kindly put me in contact with Emil via Skype so I could find out more. The Hundred Acre Wood theory came about when Emil was working with refugee and migrant communities in Minneapolis in the 1980s. Many in these communities were watching TV to help develop their English language skills, and the Disney cartoon of Winnie-the-Pooh was well known. Emil had been looking for a narrative framework to convey change management ideas, and Hundred Acre Wood was the perfect fit. He has used it regularly with many different groups since then, and it elicits an interesting range of responses. The majority get it very quickly, and then enjoy identifying which character they most relate to, or start attributing characters to their colleagues. And of course there are some who find it juvenile, because there will always be some who take their own adulthood very, very seriously.

In any group, the Tiggers and the Eeyores are the outliers at either end of the positive-negative spectrum. Emil makes the point that leaders often spend too much time focussing on these extremes – they like the Tiggers because they agree with them, and they fixate on the Eeyores as a challenge to be conquered. Time could be better spent, however, supporting the majority that fall in the middle – the Poohs and the Piglets.

Winnie-the-Pooh is motivated by his honey pot – something that is tangible and within his reach. When going through periods of change, the Poohs need short-term goals and quick successes to stay motivated – a long-term vision with positive results in five years’ time just isn’t going to cut it. Piglets, bless them, wants to know ‘will this hurt me?’ so they have to feel safe and protected through the change process. Tiggers need to be kept occupied so they don’t scare the daylights out of Piglets – delegating parts of a project to Tiggers is a great way to channel their enthusiasm. Eeyores can negatively influence both Poohs and Piglets so they need to be managed closely.

Emil also told me about two related change management models that support his own:

Michael Beer’s formula for change = (D*V*1st) < C

  • D = dissatisfaction with the present situation
  • V = vision of how things could be different
  • 1st = First step to bring about change
  • C = perceived cost of going through change must be seen as less than the cost of staying with the current situation, in order for change to happen.

William Bridges’s Transition Model

  • This model maps the transition that people go through over time as they come to accept change.
  • At first, there is a sense of loss, letting go and relinquishing the old way when something comes to an end.
  • A ‘neutral zone’ in the middle is characterised by confusion, direction finding and re-patterning.
  • New beginnings generate commitment and a new sense of purpose and energy.

Beer’s formula is particularly pertinent for the Piglets, who worry about the personal cost of any change and need to be very dissatisfied with their present situation to be open to doing things differently. Bridges’s transition model demonstrates that people’s points of view can change and the Hundred Acre Wood characters are not fixed positions – someone can be a Piglet on one project and a Tigger on another, or can even change characters over the course of a single project.

Emil boiled all of this down to two key headlines: when leaders want change, they need to ensure there is enough dissatisfaction to motivate the team (too much dissatisfaction = Eeyores; too little dissatisfaction = Piglets) and personal barriers to change need to be acknowledged and overcome – the pain of change needs to not be so great that change is too hard. This is such useful guidance for anyone wanting to do innovative work – museums are notoriously glacial in their pace of change and the more strategies that we have to chivvy the process along, the better.

Ethan’s work at Museum Hack is driven by a love of stories and storytelling. It was lovely to see that the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, as Emil has exactly the same love of storytelling in his work. Stories are so essential to what it is to be human, and I love that this simple truth can be applied to areas as disparate as museum tours for millennials and change management for non-profit organisations. … So have you decided which character you are yet?

Image source: http://bibliodyssey.blogspot.co.uk/2008/11/original-winnie-pooh-drawings.html

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Sizing Up the Competition

Last month, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) published Sponsored Museums Performance Indicators 2015/16’. It reported that visits to the 15 DCMS-funded museums, mostly London-based with some located in other parts of the country, have dropped for the first time in a decade. There were 1.4 million fewer visits this year compared with last year – 47.6 million, down from 49 million –  and it was tourists who were staying away. Surprisingly, overseas visitors made up about 47% of audiences to these museums, which Arts Professional reports as down from 49% in 2014/15. Arts Professional also makes the point that visits to the UK by overseas residents actually went up and were 5.1% higher in 2015 than the previous year. What all this adds up to is more people visiting the UK, and fewer of them visiting UK museums. So if they aren’t coming to us, where are they going?

It seems museums are facing some stiff competition for audiences. This would be consistent with anecdotal evidence I heard in the US. Museum staff in both Indianapolis and Denver spoke about the sector having to look beyond just other museums. We have to better understand how people choose to spend their leisure time and take into consideration the broad range of other available options. And it’s not just us having to do this; the power of social media has strong-armed many public-facing organisations into raising their customer experience game. A bad review on TripAdvisor or a pointed complaint on Twitter are seen by the world, making them far more effective tools for change than a letter to the director. Similarly, a glowing review on facebook or a positive photo on Instagram are marketing gold-dust. We have all become little emperors with mobile phones, giving the thumbs up or thumbs down as the mood takes us. In this climate, museums are looking to other types of venue for inspiration, and they are looking right back at us and doing the same.

For example, there is a great cafe in Cambridge called Stir. It has excellent coffee, lots of varied and comfortable seating, tasty food, friendly staff, lovely tiled walls, and large windows to watch the world go by. All of these elements come together to create a relaxed and welcoming ambience. On the back wall in the main room is a large blackboard; it’s covered with a calendar of activities, including weekly, morning, drop-in art workshops for young children. Now, if I had a toddler and was looking for a low-fi bit of creative entertainment that would suit the needs of both my child and me, I could potentially chose between a kids’ workshop at a local museum or a local cafe. The former has the advantage of original artworks, the latter has coffee and sofas. Museum staff might presume the lure of original artworks would trump all alternatives, but if I’d only had four hours’ sleep the night before and had been watching Igglepiggle on a loop since 5.30am, my money would be on coffee and sofas.

Places like Stir are the competition for museums looking to broaden the scope of their audiences. Increasingly, cafes are picking up museum tricks (like kids’ workshops) and museums are picking up cafe tricks (like coffee and sofas – although not near the artworks). Museums are also borrowing from cinemas, gardens, theatres, and bars to create new museum experiences and attract audiences who like those kinds of social offers. As the line between different forms of leisure activity blurs, it can be harder to distinguish the USP (unique selling point) of museums. Libraries have already gone through this process of reinvention. Books are now just one aspect of the library offer, which can include cafes, creches, job centres, and ubiquitous yoga classes. At Biggin Hill, the library was knocked down and replaced by a library and swimming pool on the same site. If such things are possible, I look forward to the first museum-jacuzzi experience.

With so much change in the air, I suspect museums are going through a bit of an identity crisis. We haven’t fully shaken off the ‘dry n dusty’ reputation of our past, and we haven’t fully embraced the ‘down with the kids’ potential of our venues either. Instead, we seem to be going through that awkward teenage phase, sometimes reverting back to what we were and sometimes reaching forward to what we might become. I see examples of incredible, innovative museum practice and think ‘at last!’, but then it only takes a couple of retrograde meetings to realise, ‘ah, maybe not quite yet’.

All of this competition also affects learning programming. Museums are just one of many places that an adult audiences can go for an interesting talk and a glass of wine, or that families can bring their children for an afternoon outing. How can we continue to set ourselves apart from the crowd and convince audiences that we are the best use of their free time? An obvious strength is our collections, exhibitions, and venues. Well, ‘obvious’ only if we make these assets relevant to audiences. Nina Simon’s latest book The Art of Relevance argues that this is a fundamental aspect of audience development.

Personally, I’m a fan of immersive experiences (taking a leaf out of theatre’s book) and anything multisensory or cross-disciplinary that draws on music, dance and performance – Punchdrunk’s work with the National Maritime Museum set the bar pretty high with their installation, Against Captain’s Orders in 2015. Having said that, I’m also keen on quiet, stripped-back experiences where visitors are encouraged to stop, be still and ponder. For example, the National Gallery runs programmes that invite participants to sit in silence and look at a single painting for five minutes. Called ‘Looking without Talking’, the sessions originated in 2013 to support the Vermeer and Music exhibition. The structure of these sessions has also been repeated under different titles, such as ‘Drawing Mindfully’ and ‘Draw Breath’. Similarly, The Photographers’ Gallery has a small gallery space devoted to just one image and encourages visitors to spend time with it and share their responses. I like these different approaches because they are creating experiences that feel special. Those who participate get to do something outside of the everyday and enjoy a sense of wonder – surely that is a competitive advantage.

Image: All About Eve (1950) https://mubi.com/films/all-about-eve

 

Groupthink: The Evil Twin of Collaboration

In this age of ‘alternative facts’, George Orwell’s classic novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, no longer reads like a dystopian, nightmarish vision of the future, but a ‘how-to’ manual for the current US government administration. Some of the words that Orwell invented for the book – newspeak, doublethink –  have now become commonplace to describe manipulations of political power. These endocentric compounds inspired research psychologist, Irving Janis, to coin the phrase ‘groupthink’, which he described as follows:

…[it is] the mode of thinking that persons engage in when concurrence-seeking becomes so dominant in a cohesive ingroup that it tends to override realistic appraisal of alternative courses of action. Groupthink is a term of the same order as the words in the newspeak vocabulary George Orwell used in his dismaying world of 1984. In that context, groupthink takes on an invidious connotation. Exactly such a connotation is intended, since the term refers to a deterioration in mental efficiency, reality testing and moral judgments as a result of group pressures. (Note: I’ve taken this quote from the Wikipedia page on groupthink. The whole article is thorough and fascinating – worth a look for more detailed content.)

Janis was writing about groupthink in the 1970s and 80s, and used “political fiascoes” such as the bombing of Pearl Harbour,  the Bay of Pigs Invasion, and Vietnam War as examples, illustrating how its negative consequences play out on an international scale.  Theories on group dynamics and decision-making have progressed since then and the ‘antecedent conditions’ Janis identified have been contested. Groupthink might make intuitive sense but it has been difficult to establish empirical evidence. Despite challenges to his work, Janis still seems to be held up as the gold standard, and subsequent generations of researchers have used the concept of groupthink as the springboard for their own theories.

What I find fascinating about groupthink is that I know so little about it. Collaboration and partnership-working, on the other hand, are woven deep into the fabric of museum and gallery education. We pride ourselves on our ability to bring disparate voices together and take inspiration from others, and there are plenty of articles and talks to be found online that celebrate ‘collective creativity’ (I included some examples in a previous post, Capturing the Stories of Kettle’s Yard). What I love about groupthink – the evil twin of collaboration – is that it yins the yang of working with others. It’s probably worth knowing more about how to eliminate the negative, instead of just accentuating the positive.

Janis was writing about global political scenarios and high-stakes consequences, so I appreciate that the dangers of groupthink don’t perfectly map to museum and gallery education. I assume most museum educators lack the guile of politicians and billionaires (and billionaire politicians), and we’re also fairly unlikely to rise up and invade Cuba. However, groupthink still has plenty to teach us about decision-making.

In homogeneous and tightly-knit group settings, the pressure to conform can suppress dissenting voices, encourage self-censorship, and reconfirm existing biases. Alternative options are dismissed too readily, and silence is interpreted as agreement. The group can develop a distorted sense of its own rightness, and this illusion of moral superiority and excessive confidence contributes to an inability to accurately mitigate against risk. If the group is insulated from other influences and experiences ‘deindividualisation’ whereby group cohesion is valued over independent self-expression, nothing good (or innovative) is going to come of it.

Thinking back over years of project-planning meetings and team workshops, I recognise shades of this scenario. Dissent is especially tricky when we are all – sometimes – a bit too nice and conciliatory. I can recall group planning situations where it would have felt impolite to disagree. Janis proposed several techniques to combat groupthink, one of which was to nominate a ‘devil’s advocate’; whereby the role is taken by a different person each time the group meets. I can see how this would lead to some interesting and constructive arguments and ultimately improve decision-making.

If groupthink whets your appetite, it would also be worth taking a look at a more recent model, General Group Problem Solving (GGPS). Devised by Sally Fuller and Ramon Aldag (see their article, The GGPS Model: Broadening the perspective on group problem-solving, 2001), GGPS builds on the strengths of groupthink theory, and proposes some alternatives to contested aspects.

And finally, reading about groupthink has introduced me to a fabulous lexicon of compound words. My two favourites are ‘groupshift’ and ‘mindguard’. The following definitions are from Wikipedia (I do read other things too BTW):

Groupshift is a phenomenon in which the initial positions of individual members of a group are exaggerated toward a more extreme position. When people are in groups, they make decisions about risk differently from when they are alone. In the group, they are likely to make riskier decisions, as the shared risk makes the individual risk less.

A mindguard is a member of a group who serves as an informational filter, providing limited information to the group and, consciously or subconsciously, utilising a variety of strategies to control dissent and to direct the decision-making process toward a specific, limited range of possibilities. Multiple mindguards are frequently present in groupthink situations.

The techniques utilised, consciously or subconsciously, by mindguards include:

 

  • time pressure in regard to decision-making
  • bandwagon effect/information cascades
  • reframing situations to increase pressure toward or away from a specific outcome
  • creating a sense that group cohesion will suffer if unanimity is lacking

 

The inventiveness of the English language makes me so happy; you could say – in the spirit of this post – that it’s a happymake. Group-working is predominantly, although not exclusively, verbal, so it’s a dynamic where words count for a lot. The power of words can’t, and shouldn’t, be under-estimated; they are seriously dangerous when used to distort and mislead – an ‘alternative fact’ is not an ‘alternative fact’; it is a lie. What we choose to say and how we choose to say it influences others’ perceptions of us and our ideas, and in group-working, our words can either open up or shut down new thinking.

Image: ‘Evil’ Maria, Metropolis (1927) from https://ufilmanalysisrobinson.wordpress.com/page/11/

Are You Sitting Uncomfortably?

I loathe physical discomfort in any form: pop socks pulled into the toe of my shoes; jersey sleeves bunched up into my armpits from a too-snug winter coat; scratchy shirt collars or labels; basically, anything that rides or slips or pulls or constricts makes me disproportionately grumpy. So it was disheartening to discover that discomfort goes hand-in-hand with innovative thinking. In order to come up with new ideas, your mind has to be wearing the mental equivalent of an itchy woollen hat. Your achievements, accomplishments and known abilities are like those flannel pyjamas you wore all Christmas – they might be comfortable and comforting, but you’ll never bring anything new into the world if your brain is contentedly sitting on the sofa, eating too much cheese and watching Poldark.

More than once during my Churchill trip to the US, the people I interviewed spoke about the unease that comes with new ways of working. It might be a new partnership, a new programme format, or a new audience, but without prior experience to fall back on, they have to feel their way ahead, and this produces some anxiety. Of course, the payoff comes when the partnership is established, the programme is delivered and the audience is developed – that knowledge is hard-won and should be acknowledged. It’s satisfying to know something now that you didn’t know before, but then what? Back on with the itchy woollen hat I’m afraid.

This realisation has changed how I think about my own accumulation of experiences. When I was in my first gallery job, I couldn’t learn fast enough; I was desperate to know ‘the way’ (wax on, wax off) as quickly as possible. With a few more years under my belt, I got quite cocky and thought I had it sorted. I had run enough projects, worked with enough artists, and delivered enough talks to know what I was doing, thank you very much. I thought I had mastered ‘the way’ and was now in a position to show others. I didn’t know it at the time, but by luxuriating in this sense of my own expertise, I was putting on those flannel pyjamas. What has become clear to me from my Churchill trip is that the work is never done, ‘the way’ must be constantly questioned and reformed, and satisfaction always has to lie slightly beyond reach. This is one of those annoying truths that they don’t tell you about as a kid.

I was watching David Bowie: The Last Five Years a couple of weeks ago, and he said pretty much the same thing, albeit classier: If you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being. Go a little bit out of your depth, and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting. (c.52 mins)

So if we know where the good ideas live, why don’t we go there more often? I suspect it’s because self-doubt and fear of failure live there too (which would make for an interesting sitcom). Because we’re social animals, it’s uncomfortable to be separated from the pack and to vouch for an untested idea – What if it’s rubbish? What if it doesn’t work? What if I make a fool of myself? What if I’m humiliated? Self-defeating thoughts and vulnerability keep us from true innovation. David Jones would have stayed within his depth; David Bowie didn’t.

It’s useful to conduct a career health-check from time to time on one’s comfort levels. The areas of practice that feel most safe and assured are probably also the ones most in need of disruption. Fortunately, the pros of discomfort far outweigh the cons. Doing new things is mentally stimulating and exciting, and tackling fears will ultimately lead to increased confidence. My Churchill Fellowship has been one enormous itchy woollen hat. It was daunting enough to dive into twitter and blog my thoughts, let alone cross the Atlantic to interview strangers, but this experience has changed me, and for the better.

In conclusion: – be more Bowie and stay away from flannel pyjamas.

Image: https://uk.pinterest.com/pin/156077943313549143/