Who am I?

Patrick Lambe has neatly joined Dave Snowden’s challenge to the traditional MBA with a thoughtful piece by Olivier Amprimo of Headshift on the consequences of corporate specialisation. All of these are worthy of reading. For me, however, the post that brings everything into perspective makes no reference to any of these. It is Shawn Callahan’s summary of character — how we define it for ourselves, and how we really act in extremis.

Shawn uses an excerpt from Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting to illustrate how one’s perceptions of character (“who are you?”) are challenged and ultimately forged by crisis.

I would never wish this level of drama upon anyone in real life—remember, McKee is advising screenwriters— but it demonstrates that character is revealed under pressure. It’s probably one of the reasons we intuitively watch our leaders when a crises occurs to see what they do because their actions reflect under pressure their character.

When looking for ‘Who am I?’ stories you will need to seek out those times when you were under the pump, or it didn’t go the way you expected. What did you do? Alternatively find stories of when others were under pressure and you admired how they acted.

Taken together, these blog posts should cause anyone with a management or leadership position to think carefully about their own character. Does your approach to management depend heavily on the flawed and narrowly focussed thinking that Dave Snowden deplores in the typical MBA? Do you rely on technology to solve problems, rather than “thinking things through with people and implementing changes in practices and processes” as Patrick puts it? How would you behave in a crisis? Who are you?

There is even a knowledge management point to this. Shawn’s post finishes with a description of a project he ran for the Australian Geological Survey Organisation:

In 1996 I helped the Australian Geological Survey Organisation document their scientific datasets. We put a heap of effort into designing the database and then went to the scientists and asked them to describe their datasets. They scoffed at the suggestion, reminding us that they had a mountain of data and little motivation to do anything with it apart from publishing papers. We were stumped until we cottoned on to the fact that their culture was defined by the imperative to publish or perish. We revisited our project design and created the idea of a published dataset. It was linked to their performance management systems but most importantly each published dataset could be officially cited in their personal bibliographies. We went back to the scientists and asked whether they would like to publish their datasets and there was an instant line up.

Knowing what constitutes a crisis for the people around you can help to define the purposes and outcomes of a KM project.

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