I had a Groundhog Day experience last week. I found myself interviewing the same person twice within a couple of weeks, with two different consulting colleagues, producing two completely different outcomes. The first time, the focus was on building an analytical model for a large hospital I happen to be consulting to. The solution was largely framed by the consultants: all that was needed was some data. The interviewee, who is in charge of one of the practices of this hospital, was composed and professional. He provided a lot of the requested information, but there was no warmth on either side. When the allotted time was up, it was clearly time to go.
The second time, the agenda was open. The focus was on understanding what the executive thought the company should do. Although starting in guarded fashion in light of his previous experience with the consultants, the executive progressively grew more excited, spent twice as much time as was allotted, and even got up in the middle of the discussion to print a slide that represented his vision. In the end, he asked us what we thought of his ideas and whether we could help him socialize some of these ideas with his management colleagues, volunteering that he is not very good at arguing for his vision at management meetings.
Having gone through my Groundhog Day moment, I found myself discussing with my analytically inclined colleagues what the value of our interviewee’s enthusiasm (and willingness to expose vulnerability) really is. If you are a left-brained top manager (or consultant), your answer is likely to be “not much.” The emphasis will be placed on proving (rarely) or disproving (most of the time) the validity of the vision that was expressed, and trying to remain as emotionally uninvolved as possible to avoid bias. The value of the top manager or consultant is in providing a greater level of expertise than the interviewee, which largely requires puncturing holes in his argument. If you believe in co-creation, however, you will value the emotional excitement in itself, will view your role as channeling the laudable energy, and will less likely feel the urge for intellectual one-upmanship. Of course, you will still want to validate that the interviewee is not talking through his hat, but the energy will have value in itself. This redefines the role of the top manager or the consultant as a partner in a “win more–win more” relationship, rather than as a Cassandra showing that the other person’s idea is flawed.
Of course, the two sides will happily caricature each other. Analytical minds will be tempted to describe the co-creation folks as spineless apologists for mediocre executives advancing their agenda, while co-creation people will be tempted to describe analytical types as irrelevant model-builders who will always remain on the expert sideline by failing to understand management dynamics.
What is needed is a giant ecumenical embrace that recognizes the value of both points of view. Being surrounded by engineers in my professional life, I have taken to writing a simple equation that attempts to capture both dimensions of the co-creation process:
Transformation = Ideas x Energy
The quality of ideas matters a lot. But the passion of individuals for these ideas also has value. In the end, there is a multiplicative effect between the two, i.e., the best ideas charged with the energy of the right people are the ones most likely to be transformative.
In the business world, I believe that energy is massively underplayed and analytical evaluation overplayed. The training at major business schools remains predominantly analytical (because teaching about models is easier than teaching about people and teams, although some schools are working hard on changing that). There may also be a male bias: since guys tend to be less intuitive than women about other people and continue to dominate the management ranks in most parts of the world (with some exceptions), the overall bias remains analytical. Also since business is largely about metrics (with money the ultimate one), it is easiest to think of everything else being numbers-based, which avoids the confusion of having to factor the human thing in the equation.
I gotta go now. My healthcare executive has had another thought he’d like to share. He and I, we’re now co-creating the future of healthcare.