Conclusion

[UPDATE] The ebook of ‘30 Days on Oblique Strategies is now available to buy on leanpub

My thirty day experiment of using Oblique Strategies in a work context has now finished. I thought I’d write up some form of concluding statement with my reflections over the last 30 days.

Expectations

My first thought when reflecting upon the last 30 days is that it was not as exciting as I thought it would be…

…I don’t know why but, having researched Oblique Strategies I think part of me thought that I might end up going down some weird and wacky paths as dictated by the cards. I think my expectations were too high because I underestimated the extent to which the constraints of work and social norms would bound my interpretation of the cards. What I hadn’t factored was how things such as my role, others views of my role, my perception of others views of my role and my own view of my role and myself as a professional person would restrict the types of interpretation that I was able to make and the actions I took from those interpretations.

Having reflected upon the last 30 days I can see that often the reaction from the Oblique Strategy card was an intellectual reaction that ultimately might have manifested itself in some physical actions. Whereas I think my preconceptions when I started thinking about undertaking this process was that there may be more significant physical reactions from the cards and I think this was a fundamental misconception. The context that I was pulling cards within was a thinking and feeling context, it makes sense therefore that the result of pulling the card would be most immediately be an intellectual result. Maybe that is my nature, to intellectualise and rationalise rather than physicalise or emoticise.

Hard

Sometimes fitting pulling a card into a day was hard, sometimes I nearly forgot. I’ve pondered what that meant, often it meant that I was just to busy or engrossed in activity and I guess in a certain sense that’s OK. The benefit of the cards is to unblock yourself when your flow has been blocked. If I’m working and I’m in the flow all day then what benefit is there to pulling a card? None is my current answer. Where the difficulty in pulling a card might be telling is on days where maybe I should have pulled a card but felt too busy to, not because I was in flow, but because I was too busy banging my head against the blockages without having the self awareness to stop, pause and pull a card. One example stands out when I pulled the “water” card. I simply got up, went to get a drink from the water cooler and stood looking out of the window drinking the water. Returning to my desk having had my frustrations punctuated by a simple, tiny break, I had sat down with a fresh perspective and the work I did immediately afterwards was all the better for it. It seems so simple really, you are stuck so take a break and when you come back you have a new, fresh angle, there is nothing groundbreaking in that, but the thing is, If I hadn’t pulled that card (or probably more pertinently any card) then I would have still be stuck in the mental treadmill. The effects of pulling and interpreting the cards wasn’t purely intellectual however. They did make me think about things from different angles and those different angles did influence my behaviour as can be seen from my daily diary.

Questions and Answers (hopefully)

So at the end of 30 days I think there are some natural questions to ask myself and to answer myself to conclude:

Would having the reflection points during the day without the cards had the same effect?

I don’t think so. The cards aren’t a straight mirror on yourself, the clue is in the name in that they give you an oblique view of your context. Sometimes it’s helpful sometimes it’s not, but either way the perspective is different from just taking a break and whether you heed the card or not some element of its interpretation still lodges in your decision making.

Will I use oblique strategies in the future?

I guess the real question is will I find myself in the situation where my creativity needs a kick start or my doubt needs to be turned into conviction? The answer to that is yes, so Oblique Strategies will remain something I keep in my toolbox that can help me be the more productive and creative individual that I want to be.

Do oblique strategies work in the work environment?

I did get some odd looks when I told some of my colleagues. The idea that you might leave decision making up to a random card might undermine your professional credibility, but that simply isn’t what it’s about. Anyone Who would blindly follow the literal instruction of a card is an idiot. Sometimes I did take a literal interpretation of a card, but that was a choice amongst other possibilities where I felt my interpretation made the most sense within the context of the situation. To answer the question, yes I think using Oblique Strategies in a work environment do ‘work’ and the last 30 days have been more interesting and insightful because of their use.

Thanks

Thank you very much for reading this blog and thanks to those people who emailed, tweeted or chatted to me about this process your interest and support have been much appreciated. If anyone else would like to share their experiences of using oblique strategies in a work context then please get in contact, I’d love to hear from you.

Day 30

Situation

Doing some last minute prep for the workshop described in the day 29 post. Still thinking through the possibilities for the still undefined ‘workshop’, I thought I’d pull a card to see if my interpretation of it might help settle my anxiety.

Card

Interpretation and Reaction

My interpretation of this card helped me make a decision. I decided to push a diagram   that I had prepared that highlighted the wider business context of the subject of the workshop. If my original concern was how may different directions the workshop might take and how I might be able to cover all these bases, it struck me that one way combat that anxiety was by laying out all those directions as an opening gambit. By providing the contextual view of how the topic sat amongst other areas, as a map for the discussion it meant, just like a map, we could use the diagram to get back to the main topic after each diversion. The outcome was this approach worked quite well within the workshop. Taking some control of the direction of the workshop within the workshop helped allay some of my anxiety and having that map to navigate around the discussion was I think not only helpful for me but the other attendees.

Day 29

Situation

Doing some prep for a workshop where the subject area was clear, but the format and agenda and what the organiser wanted to get out of the meeting was unclear. I was thinking about how to prepare for the meeting and worrying about how to prepare when the direction of the workshop could take many different directions.

Card

Interpretation and Reaction

My interpretation was that I should focus on more signal and less noise, that my prep should be very focused in the areas in which it could maximise the value. Rather than trying to cover all the bases and pre-empt all the possible directions that the meeting might go I focused on the most important ‘notes’ to me. The outcome was that I worried less, didn’t kill myself trying to do too much and became even clearer about the points that i was most concerned with, this gave me more confidence going into the workshop, that I had a solid core of topics to started from.

Day 28

Situation

Doing some strategy work with a senior manager, think about how best to sell my view of some elements of the required strategy.

Card

Interpretation and reaction

My interpretation was that I should try and think less about what I want and more about what I can empirically justify that should be part of the strategy. The outcome was that my awareness of points during the work where I was straying from fact to emotion was heightened. I think the result was that the piece of work is shorter, more factual and therefore more solid as a piece of strategy.

Day 27

Situation

Meeting with a stakeholder to discuss a project. Thinking about how the scope of the activity might be changed to better align with other activity that is planned or underway and how I can communicate this to the stakeholder who may be reticent to see the wider picture if doing so might delay or detour their plans.

Card

Interpretation and reaction

It was bizarre that I pulled this card given the context, my interpretation was that the instruction on the card was exactly what I wanted to express to the stakeholder. The outcome was that I started working on a couple of diagrams to use in the meeting to show both context of the change activity and the potential opportunity of alignment. During my chat with the stakeholder I introduced these diagrams and they became a focal point of the discussion. The end result was I felt the meeting went really well and I’d got my point across as well as I could, aided by the diagrams as focal point.

Day 26

Situation

Doing some prep before heading to a meeting with a stakeholder to talk through the finer points of a piece of strategy work that we’d been undertaking. I need to run through some ideas I had about telling a compelling story to some senior management about the benefits of executing the proposed strategy

Card

Interpretation and reaction

My interpretation of this was that I try to think about the detail and the permutations of the phasing of the strategic roadmap. When it came to it, our discussion didn’t go in that direction. The specific situation needed to concentrate on broad brush strokes, big statements that would hopefully make a big impact. The outcome was that whilst I did think about the card and it did make me rethink my approach, I still continued along e lines I had planned. So what was the benefit? I guess having that checkpoint to stop and rethink was useful and in a different situation maybe I would have followed through on my interpretation.

Day 25

Situation

Turning some notes and pictures from a workshop into useful views for my stakeholders. I began to question my approach.

Card

Interpretation and reaction

This card made me think about about the amount of information I’d captured in. The workshop (a lot!) and how by trying to shoehorn the information into the current abstract views that I was planning to create I might lose some of the important information I had captured. The outcome was my plan altered slightly. I still created the diagrams that I felt were appropriate to communicate effectively with my stakeholders, but I also put in the extra effort of documenting the information that I’d gathered that didn’t fit into the diagrams I created. I then packaged the two up into a single document, so that when shared with my stakeholds they had my, edited view of the world (the diagrams) but also the unfiltered raw information that had been captured. Hopefully by sharing the information in this way I’m reducing the risk at an ‘important thing’ for someone else isn’t missed.

Day 24

Situation

About to head into a meeting with a colleague to discuss customer relationship management approaches and principles that relate to it.

Card

Interpretation and Reaction

I imagined the generic sound of children singing, then thought more specifically about my daughter singing. This led me to think about what it is to be childlike and my first thoughts were about honesty and guilelessness (if that’s even a word). From these thoughts my interpretation of the card was that I should be honest and guileless, guileless in regards to be open about my aims and prejudices in the context of the meeting. During the meeting I was sure to take the opportunity to share and be open, to state that I wasn’t sure when I wasn’t sure for example. I think this helped set the tone for the meeting and both my colleague and I shared quite freely our thoughts and concerns in a way I don’t think we would have if I hadn’t been so open. Reflecting back on it I Think sometimes we play a certain amount of unconscious poker with our colleagues, being careful to filter our thoughts or our inadequacies. I think is is often to the detriment of the common cause and I think that it is ego that drives this detrimental effect. It reminds me of a recent meeting where a colleague was clearly out of his depth on a subject matter and as a result kept clinging to a very abstract view of the problem space and was resistant to my efforts to narrow down the focus and understand the areas where he was being obfuscations through his abstractions. If my colleague had been adhering to my interpretation of the card we could have been so much more productive, by recongnising, admitting and focusing on the areas in which  knowledge or thinking was lacking. We could have identified ways to overcome those areas, to the benefit of the common cause, which at its simplest is improving the companys ability to deliver services its customers.

Day 23

Situation

About to head into a meeting with various stakeholders from different teams within the IT and Change functions.

Card

Interpretation and reaction

I could only think to interpret this quite literally and being constrained by my literal interpretation, I couldn’t think of a sudden, destructive and unpredictable thing to do in the context of the meeting that wouldn’t be unprofessional or inappropriate, so I’m sad to say I didn’t take and action off the back of pulling this card.

Situation

In between tasks, just finished one and was thinking about what to do next.

Card

Interpretation and reaction

I went through my todo list and plumped for the most boring thing I could find which was, doing my expenses. After that I did some long overdue admin in our architecture repository, converting principle documents from one template to another. The outcome of pulling this card? Well I got some money back that was owed to me and I finally hit off something’s that had been hanging around n my todo list for far too long :) not exactly life changing, but useful nonetheless.

Day 22

Situation

During day 21 I knew that on day 22 I would be travelling to London for an important meeting with some ‘important people’. As I wouldn’t be able to take the cards with me I decided to pull one card in advance to think about during my day.

Card

Situation and Interpretation

I think this was a very fortuitous card to pull given the situation. The subject matter of the meeting was important to me, the participants in the meeting were important ones and so there was a sense of anxiety going into the meeting that it would go well and that I would perform well. My interpretation was that I should have courage and respond to my instincts without letting doubt overpower me and prevent me from acting in the moment.

During the meeting I took a risk and took an opportunity to take the initiative. We were discussing a subject area that seemed to lack clarity so I started drawing on a board whilst trying to replay the themes of the conversations, hoping that in doing so I would give my colleagues some greater clarity on the topic. This is something I do all the time in my job, but it isn’t something i’d done with these particular stakeholders. If I had not had courage then I wouldn’t have stood up and taken the iniative and the clarity that was forthcoming from my intervention may not have arrived at all, or may have taken a lot longer.