On Thursday 17th I was in London for a few different reasons. One was to go visit a potential organisation I was hoping would become one of the workplace settings/groups for the research I outlined here. But whilst I was speaking at a seminar gig, the opportunity also arose to ask an entirely different organisation to consider getting involved. The differing experiences were frankly astonishing. So I thought I’d ponder them out openly here.
Ok, so first things first, this isn’t any direct, evaluative comparison. I’m not comparing apples with apples. Nor is it in any way judgemental. One visit was carefully planned, following a series of gentle emails to and fro, and a little patience waiting for the right people to become available to talk to: having learnt the hard way in the past, let’s call these ‘organisational gatekeepers’. The other was an entirely fortuitous opportunity: being the in the right position (physically and also perhaps reputationally, having just delivered a seminar presentation about people, workplace change and readiness) to ask the question.
But we can go deeper than that, and explore the similarities and differences. Let’s call these situations [the plan] and [the opportunity]. [The plan] is a coworking collective. [The opportunity] is an organisation in the property industry. It’s not really important to identify them any more than that here.
I sensed urgency from both. People’s time was clearly a valuable commodity not to be wasted. I also sensed the desire for straightforwardness. Personally, ‘academic’ is an ambivalent label. I am proud and honoured (it is a priviledge hard won, after all) yet also painfully aware of the risks of hubris and detachment. So when [the opportunity] gently challenged my difficult academic language, I was momentarily wrongfooted. I thought I was being refreshingly direct! We discussed back and forth for a while, folding and unfolding our arms almost in unison (the networking mirror dance, anyone?!) as we queried, clarified, and requeried to gain better understanding. Ultimately we agreed that I would send further, more complete, information so that the right gatekeepers could consider and make a decision. So what word are you thinking right now? I’m thinking ‘caution’.
[The plan], on the other hand, began by listening patiently and thoughtfully to my explanation for a few minutes. Having practiced my pitch on [the opportunity] it probably flowed a bit more smoothly. The discussion became more balanced. Ideas were shared, and two surprising things happened. Firstly, the ‘yes, we’re in’ was so, well implicit, that I had to double check! Secondly, my research approach became subject to a subtle reshaping to better support [the plan’s] collaborative, open source culture and desire for information to inform and improve. I was invited to speak with another gatekeeper, who appeared (I was rolling with the experience by now) to be the final ‘yes’ I needed. This was an even sharper exchange. I think I got about three minutes into my spiel before several pointedly direct questions about resource commitment, timing and ‘what’s in it for us?’ resulted in both the ‘yes’ I needed followed by one last, energetic introduction to the right person to help me with the logistics. Oh, and by the way would I write them a blog about it, as part of the ‘what’s in it for us’ commitment? So what word are you thinking this time? I’m thinking ‘action’.
I’m not making a point about the right way to do things here, by the way. But I was very surprised about how unfamiliar [the plan] felt – and how alive it was with opportunity. [The opportunity] was what I expected it to be be like, reminiscent of the organisation I am currently part of; an organisation which talks endlessly of needing to behave more like [the plan], after it has taken a proposal paper about it to the requisite committees for consultation. At what point do we stop challenging (not the same as whinging, incidentally) and become part of the institutional behaviour?
Anyway, to cut a long story short, it doesn’t matter how academically robust and/or theoretically fascinating your research idea is. Can you clearly, convincingly articulate, in five minutes (or preferably less):
- What you want to do
- Why it is important
- How, when, where, and with whom
- What the organisation and/or participant individuals are going to get out of it
- Specifically, what the resource commitment is likely to be
…and appear approachable, credible, understanding and passionate about what you are seeking to do?
To cut a long story even shorter:
- [The opportunity] was all about plans
- [The plan] was all about opportunities
So what are you all about, and what do you need to do differently to ensure that is absolutely who you are?