The more I talk through the idea of “quality of conversation” with executives and managers i meet and work with, the more I have absolutely no doubt that the quality of analysis and decision making that goes on in an organisation is directly related to the quality of conversation.
So I was intrigued to read how Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel winning Psychologist, and his long term partner in research, Amos Tversky worked together. (Amos Tversky would have shared the Nobel prize were it not for having died in 2002, Nobel prizes only being awarded to living people. )
Kahneman described how their work was a long conversation. Through out his book, “Thinking, fast and slow” Kahneman describes how they would talk to one another testing ideas and developing them over periods of time. Often they would take long walks together, talking through things and developing their ideas, hypotheses and devising appropriate experiments.
They would invent a question and jointly examine their intuitive answers. Each question was a small experiment, designed to elicit an intuitive answer and then explore its validity, to examine how judgements were actually formed.
Recently I was asked to look through a strategy document from a client. What struck me was how few questions, and how little analysis there was. There were almost no clear hypotheses about why things were wrong, or what needed to change as circumstances were changing. There was almost a complete lack or challenge, questioning and therefore proof testing.
One of the reasons I like to use an expanded variation of the Richard Rumelt, approach to defining a strategy (see ‘Good strategy, Bad Strategy’) is that it forces an explicit analysis and characterisation of a problem before potential strategies are formed. In my experience of working with this approach with clients, much of the common understanding and clarity of approach comes from the quality of conversation that takes place in this problem analysis and characterisation stage. That is BEFORE the strategies are chosen. if they can agree on the characterisation of the issue, even though it might be wrong, at least they have a hypothesis to test with their strategy and strategic actions that follow on.
In other words it is the quality of that conversation that makes the difference in execution. Even if the analysis turns out to be wrong, they have agreed a course of action, tested it, learnt from it and can now devise (In a conversation) an alternative characterisation to address.
Quality of conversation is critical: whether doing research into the psychology of conversation, or whether analysing and devising the strategy for your organisation.