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Kathryn Hume, Voice over, Jo’Anne Langham
Voice over 00:02
This is the Reimagined Workforce podcast from Workforce Transformations Australia. The podcast for people and culture professionals seeking to drive meaningful, impactful and financially sustainable workforce transformation through curiosity, creativity, and data science. In this podcast, we hear from talented and innovative people making a positive difference for their people, their organisations, and those their organisations serve. They share stories and learnings to help others on their path to transforming their workforce today and tomorrow. Now, here’s your host, Kath Hume.
Kathryn Hume 00:40
So Joanne Langham is the founder of Spark Tank, which is an innovation platform that uses a process of neural collaboration that enables concurrent and simultaneous streams of ideation on the same topic. Jo is an entrepreneur and innovator. She is highly skilled in human centred design, statistical data analysis and public administration design. She also has a strong consulting background as well as 15 years as a senior executive in the Commonwealth public service. Her qualifications include a Doctor of Philosophy in the measurement, evaluation, and accountability of public sector design for citizens, and a Master of Philosophy focused on economic psychology, tax compliance, and service design from the University of Queensland. Jo is passionate about the democratisation of ethics of design, as well as making creativity accessible for all. Jo, welcome to the reimagined workforce podcast. Thanks, Kath, happy to be here. And it’s super exciting. Now I’ll just preface this conversation by explaining we we are planning to do a episode with Ed Morrison. And Ed and yourself have been working together and Ed introduced me to you. And I’ve been very fortunate in that. And that’s one of the great benefits of doing this podcast, I have to say is the amazing people that I’m getting to speak to who otherwise I don’t think, our paths would cross. So thank you for being here today. I’m really intrigued to have this conversation. You’ve done a lot of work in human centred design for government organisations over 20 years plus. Could you explain how you’ve landed on the human centred design approach?
Jo’Anne Langham 02:23
So I started out my career actually, I did a journalism degree many, many years ago. And at the end of that, I really liked the design part of it. So I was lucky enough to be employed by a typesetting company in Canberra. And I learned about design. And whilst I was there, one of the things that really struck me was how we could design things that just didn’t make sense. We were very poor in the way that we often communicated in design. We would make things look really pretty. But the function didn’t work. I have a particular example that I usually talk to people about, I had my grandmother, one night was trying to cook some sausages, and she had macular degeneration. And she pulled out this bottle thinking it was cooking oil, and made sausages with it. And it was actually detergent liquid, because it was in the same bottle by the same brand. And this is the sort of thing that used to really bother me about what was happening. So so many things were being designed and then the thought that went into them to actually make sure that they function the way that they did, and that they didn’t cause harm was my interest. So I was then lucky enough to work with what was an American, human centred, or it used to be called user centred design company back in the 90s. And that’s where I learned the craft. So I’ve been very lucky to be able to employ those skills in areas where I believe I have a big impact. So the public sector, which I know a lot of people go, “who does design in places like the tax office?” But all of the things that we just take for granted around us things like job keeper or job seeker, those things that came out during the pandemic. Someone had to design that It’s not just oh you sit down and take the policy and you’ve got a system to build. You’ve got to you’ve got to design interactions for all kinds of tools, and they’ve all got to come together and lots of systems have to work together. And they have to make sense from the user’s point of view, from the citizen‘a point of view. And that’s the work that I was very lucky to be involved in.
Kathryn Hume 04:51
And I understand that you bring in a lot of empathy into your design work, what role does that play in leading and guiding the work that you you do?
Jo’Anne Langham 05:00
Well, empathy is actually probably one of the most important tools that we have anyone has not just as a designer, but empathy is the thing that enables us to view the world from someone else’s point of view. So when you’re looking at it from a designer, or a design point of view, you’re actually trying to understand the experience that someone else is having. And that can give you insights that just because of your experience, you can’t see. So when you’re dealing with citizens, for example, what you’re trying to understand is they’re very different experience of a system that they may have very little real understanding of, they don’t understand the laws, or if they do, they have a very superficial understanding of the laws. Or they may have constraints that actually really impact their ability to do the things that they need to do in the system. So using that, you can generally see where the flaws are, where the problems in the system are, and then find solutions to actually fix those things.
Kathryn Hume 06:11
Yeah, I think that’s what I’ve really enjoyed about my work is when you do empathise with people, and you do get to look at how they see the world and feel and the emotions that they’re experiencing, in that it’s such an eye opener. And it’s, I think I’m often really surprised, because I haven’t taken the time initially to think of things in that light. And that’s what I do really love about collaboration is getting people to have a voice and being able to listen to others and hear what their perspectives are. Because it’s such a great way to inform the what we eventually design. So Jo, I have been listening to Ed’s book over the weekend. And it has reinforced to me that the question that I like to start at the beginning of my episodes is guests what their reimagined workforce looks like. And it’s been really affirming that Ed includes that in his book and talks about the importance of giving people a shared understanding of a positive future that they’re trying to create. So on that note, I’d really like to ask you, what does your reimagined workforce look like?
Jo’Anne Langham 07:23
So that’s a great question, the whole thing of the reimagined workforce well I actually try to do things, how I would like the workforce to be in the future now. So one of the things that I think is really important, from the last couple of years, as COVID actually forced us to move into this space where we’re working remotely and more flexibly. And for me, that’s really important, because I believe people have the right to be able to work in different ways. And to be able to work at hours or at times, that makes more sense for them with their life, because people have these other commitments outside of work. So I know, like I raised two kids, but I also had caring responsibilities for my grandmother. And my work had to fit around that. And often I’d be working late at night or on weekends. But being present in the office seemed to be a really important thing to some people, which had no impact whatsoever on my ability to produce good results. And so I guess my thing is really about ensuring that we enable people to be the best worker that they can be. But give them the flexibility to have, you know, all of these other things in their life and be able to manage those in a way that makes sense. The other thing that’s really important to me is the dissolution I guess, sort of hierarchy. So the ability to be able to listen to people at all levels and get ideas and, and be able to hear the voices of different people across an organisation because everyone has great ideas. And if you can tap into that brain power across your whole workforce, I think great things can be done. But we don’t do that particularly well, we tend to give that power to a small number of people to make decisions, which is great, that needs to be I guess you’d say an adult in the room to actually make decisions because sometimes it comes down to that. But they’re not always the ones with the solutions. And people at all levels have great solutions. So that’s, that’s one of the things I’m also really passionate about is listening to your workforce. And not just saying it in a in a token way but actually doing it and hearing what’s being said and then using that information to improve the way things are done.
Kathryn Hume 09:50
Because I think if we listen to people and they know we’ve listened and don’t act on that, that actually is more detrimental than if we didn’t even try listening in the first place.
Jo’Anne Langham 10:01
absolutely you must, you must actually hear and take that on board. And sometimes you may not agree with everything that you hear. But you need to consider what the other people’s perspectives are. And, again, that comes back to my I think my view on using empathy as a tool. Empathy is a great tool, and being able to hear those voices incorporated when people hear that when they hear that they’ve been listened to, and they feel that it’s again, you get this nice little piece of discretionary effort will often come through when people feel that they’re being valued and listened to.
Kathryn Hume 10:40
And one of the things I really struggle with is how you do that at scale. So I wonder if this is a bit off script, but I wonder if that’s where spark tank comes in. And maybe it would be useful here to for you to talk about Spark tank and whether or not that might help in addressing that problem of how do we listen to a multitude of people at the same time? Yes, well,
Jo’Anne Langham 11:06
Spark tech came about because of my work in government will come from a number of different facets. But one of the reasons why it I started to look at this was because of my work in government doing large scale community engagement. So a lot of my work with human centred design was listening to the community. And we did that through things like interviews and observations and, and surveys. But I really wanted to engage people in the design process. And you can do that. But you do it in a very one on one level. So you do prototyping, you engage them in the development of CO design. But trying to get people to work on a problem and get their ideas in traditional brainstorming type of methods is very cumbersome. When you try to get 50 people in a room and brainstorm and you get all of these sorts of problems like groupthink, you get normative influences social social influences, where people don’t want to say the wrong things. They judge themselves, so they self evaluate. So there’s all these things that come into play as us as humans. So what I wanted to do was develop a technology that enabled people to collaborate with it without any of those things interacting with the quality of the output or the the ideas. And so I actually did this work at the University of Queensland, I was challenged by one of the senior lecturers to show how design could be used in business and actually used effectively because they just didn’t understand what was designed. And how did it relate to business. So I, we had to do a large MOOC, so a massive online, open source course. And I built this in as a simulation into the course. And we ran it with 10,000 students internationally online. And I was absolutely gobsmacked at the results. We weren’t, I wasn’t expecting it to be as effective as it was. But when I analysed the data, because I was able to collect all the data from this and then code it and and see what was really going on. The results were 10 times more effective than a traditional brainstorming process. So we also were working with these really large groups. But we were getting quality results that were beyond anything that we had expected. So I was really excited to be able to do that. And then I went on to create a platform from that, where groups can actually use this platform to run asynchronous brainstorming sessions, so over a period of time, like a week or a month, or they can do it in real time. So you could get 1000 People online together for 45 minutes or an hour and work on one problem and get the results. And that for me was really exciting is that you can get this really large scale collaboration. For me being able to tap into the brain power of all of those people at once. Without all of those bias just is magic.
Kathryn Hume 14:16
Yeah, I’d love to have a play with that platform. It sounds phenomenal. And that ability to reduce that group thing. And I did I think I’ve spoken a few times about this on the podcast is I did a master’s degree in quite a while ago. But one of the things that I learned throughout that was the benefit of asynchronous learning in the way that it provides. You know, the introverted students with the opportunity to speak up in a way that’s safe because they’ve had the opportunity to reflect on what they’re going to say evaluate come up with the justifications that they need to and it really actually lead to a higher level of thinking so their cognitive processes in coming up with that his responses was much higher. And I actually used it in a high school environment. And actually the results were there. So I think what I try and do with my human centred design approach is my backgrounds actually learning and design. And I really try to design the experience. So the people who are going through that design process actually learn throughout the process as well. And so that’s what I’ve done with a little bit of some of the things that I’ve done at New South Wales Health and especially to do with workforce planning. And that’s, I guess, where the passion comes from here is to, to look at, okay, what are the approaches, different organisations and people are applying to solve these really complex, wicked problems in we’re facing with workforce at the moment. So have you had a chance to apply any of your work to work find Workforce Solutions,
Jo’Anne Langham 15:52
some of them some of the work that I did in when I was in one of the government departments, you could say, I was looking at that, I guess I did a review of one in one of the big government departments, I led a review. And we had to engage with and consult with a lot of the workforce to essentially change how they were going to be working. So workforce structures, also the types of work that they would be doing. And this was well, before I had developed the platform, but it was still using human centred design methods. So I guess that’s the weird thing is that here’s human centred design are being put in charge of fairly large review process. And I did, I actually did a lot of collaboration rather than consultation with the employees during that process. And I think that that was one of the things I was most successful with, because this, this had been a review that had failed twice. So I was like, the third person could come in and to have a go of it. And I was only given five months, it was supposed to be an 18 month process. And I was literally at the last five months. But what I did was I did a lot of roundtable discussions, cafe World Cafe type style conversations, brainstorming sessions, talking to these people or getting them to express their ideas, not just focused on the problems. So what was the challenge, but focused on the solutions, not just having them express, I’m really upset with this, or I don’t want this to happen, but actually coming up with the solutions. That was that was the critical component here is focusing them on the positive outcome, rather than complaining. And I don’t want to say complaining, it’s probably not the right word. But by focusing them on the positive aspects of it, it actually gave them some power in the situation to help solve the problem, rather than looking at the negative parts of what was going on. And I was able to get that process done. And the whole review was over in under five months. And we were able to complete it. And I think part of it was because I spent a lot of time listening to people, and not just hearing their complaints, but actually hearing their solutions to the problems that went on. So yes, that’s probably one of the biggest ones, I do apply it in smaller ways, though I, a lot of the time, the work that I’m doing these days is in smaller groups, teams of eight to nine or 10 people. And I try to hand the baton over to them, and get them to address the problem. I know I did one recently with actually 60 people, it was a faculty at the university. And they engage their students, the researchers, the teachers, the professional staff, and were looking at their forward strategy. And interestingly enough, we used some really creative tools, we used a thing called scenes, which is a it’s like Lego series play. So it’s a play technique. And we got them to imagine the future in 10 years time with a whole heap of challenges, what were the considerations that they would need to address and then to look at their current strategy, and then see whether that future whether they will be able to address it with with their current strategy, and it was a real light bulb moment for a lot of people there because they realised that they were very focused on now and inwardly, but by looking at the future, and being able to project backwards, they were able to bridge that gap and now they’ve got some very different innovative ideas about what they’re going to do.
Kathryn Hume 19:58
That is brilliant and it in the episode that I recorded with Helen Finneran, so she’s from Victoria health. And her reimagined workforce for health was that people were more responsible for their own health and well being. And that peers actually play a role in delivering health care to people. And it’s about being proactive and avoiding ill health. And that future is completely different to the model that we have at the moment where the health system is there to address problems when we become sick. And I loved it because it completely reframed. And then the the scenarios that she presented following that were all around that positive framing and that future that she’d created, which, if we’d had a different future that we were aspiring to, the solutions would be completely different. And that’s what I love about this approach. And that, I guess, is why I use that Appreciative Inquiry question around what does the reimagined workforce look like? Because I really love getting people to think of, you know, how could this look differently and in healthcare, I think it really needs to look differently in lots of government organisations. Because, as you know, we don’t have the supply that we did before. And we rely on recruitment. So we need to have these innovative ideas.
Jo’Anne Langham 21:23
Sorry, just so this was actually the School of Public Health, strangely enough, was the group. And then we’re using very, very open creative techniques to be able to think differently about how they challenge the way that they plan and go forward with their workforce. And I think they’ve got some really interesting, diverse ways of doing what they’re going to do. So they’re building in things like, how do we use indigenous processes? How do we look at equity, equity as a as a, a goal, you know, a North Star in the health system? But then doing that in an environment, that could be really challenging, because I think we’re going to have a whole heap of other challenges in the future. But, we need to think differently about how we go forward.
Kathryn Hume 22:20
I’d really love to explore with you that tension between when you’re in a government organisation, you’re responsible to the public, you’re using public funds. So there’s a need for certainty, there’s a need to demonstrate positive return on investment, yet design thinking can be a little bit messy, and it can take a little bit longer to get to the eventual outcome. It requires that creative thinking it requires a bit of failure along the way, how do you balance that tension between the need for certainty and the need to bring in some level of creativity?
Jo’Anne Langham 22:52
I actually liked the way you phrased that, because people think that design doesn’t give you certainty. It’s actually the least riskiest way of doing what we’re doing. Some people, they just leap to a solution. And they think, oh, right, so we’ve got this thing at the outcome, and we’re going to just work towards it. But what happens if that solution is the wrong solution? So you just go quickly to the wrong solution, find that out, and then move on to the next one. So there’s not a lot of it’s actually doing that is highly risky. Whereas using design, what you’re doing is you’re taking short or incremental step in the right direction, and you’re testing things as you go, and you’re learning. So you’re building this body of knowledge, and you’re doing it based on really tangible things, which is the human experience. So when people say to me, where we’re going to, you know, go and do this thing, we need some extent not so well. So we just get to the wrong solution quickly? Is that really where we’re going? Or should we get be getting to the right solution? So there is that tension, I know what you’re saying but that’s, I think, comes from a lack of understanding of what the process itself is. And really what the outcomes are. People think that a nice straight line is the way to go. But if you’re if you’re off by even a millimetre, a millimetre here, is going to be possibly a mile at the solution stage. So what we want to do is keep that course correction happening as we’re going along. And design is the tool to do that. Design is also the tool that challenges the biases that we naturally think, are the solution. So all of these things that help us make decisions, cleverly, I must say our brains are very, very good at helping us live in this really complex world. But we have these biases that make us go down a path that may not necessarily be the right solution for everyone. It might be the right solution for us, but not for everyone else. So design and challenges those things that actually, most people say, Oh, design is just common sense. Now it’s not, it’s actually not common sense it, it is the thing that we use to test those cognitive biases that we’ve got, and to challenge that thinking and to get us on the right path. So design is actually the more sensible, less risky approach.
Kathryn Hume 25:27
Yeah, and I think I’ve mentioned this before, but there was an episode with Ian Arnold, where he mentioned I said to him, why’d you apply human centred design? And he just really purely and simply said, because we’re more likely to get it right. You know, and that is, ultimately, if we’re going to invest all the time and energy, and especially when we’re collaborating, because it does require time and effort to be invested by other people. We want to have a positive impact, which actually probably leads me to then the question around evaluation, because what I really like about when I did some research into your work over the weekend, it’s this evaluation framework that you’ve worked on, and how the ultimate goal is the positive impact, we have not the measurables that we might deliver along the way. So can you talk to us a little bit about how you came to develop that evaluation framework? And how we can all benefit from it?
Jo’Anne Langham 26:18
Yes. So I got very tired of answering questions about well design, how do we know it’s actually better? What we’re doing now? Well, there’s some really obvious things that make it better, but to be able to give some really hard evidence. And because I was working in a department where we did have a lot of people who are very number focused, I guess, I wanted to show with real data, evidence based information that what we were doing was having a positive impact. So a long way to do it is to actually go to a PhD. I don’t recommend it, for anyone to go into this. But I wanted to understand what was the actual impact of the outcome that we were having. So not the productivity measures that government tends to, to use to evaluate the quality of what they’ve delivered? So we delivered a project on time and in budget and those sorts of things. I wanted to see, well, what was the impact that we had on the citizens for the delivery of this service? So that’s, that’s what I wanted to do, because I wanted to see, can we measure that outcome? And also, could it be something that helps us identify steps within that process where we could be focused on spending money in a more productive way? Because that was that was the other thing is the system is very complex, it’s very big and sometimes we have a limited budget. But we also don’t necessarily spend the money on the right things within that process. So being able to identify, first of all, the outcome and whether you’ve had the impact that you wanted, but then within the process, saying, well, actually, this point, if we just touched this point, and did this bit better, and we focused our energy and money on this, we’d actually achieve an 80% improvement. So the evaluation framework is really meant to do those two things, it’s meant to be able to help you identify all of the steps during the process and see, really the quality of each of those and where the hotspots are, but also then look at the outcome and say, you know, what was the success? So it actually has a score. So it creates a score out of 100. And you can identify each of the steps throughout that process to say, well, this is achieving a low score, whereas this part’s achieving a high score, so you can see where things are going wrong.
Kathryn Hume 28:50
And that’s all understand you’ve got lots of algorithms built into that process to be able to weight different metrics. So there’s lots of rigour around that. So it gives people a level of comfort that the results are actually demonstrating real outcomes.
Jo’Anne Langham 29:07
Yeah. Oh, absolutely. So I have used it to measure a number of things. The example that I had in my PhD was around evaluating the experience for small business starting up in Australia, and being able to see, where were the things that went wrong? And what was the actual experience like, and what we found was that the setup of the financial systems was a critical component. So not having that finance right at the beginning. That was a key one. I’ve applied it to a few other big systems. So I did some work in Canada, working with them on a variety of different designs and impacts both within the government departments that I was looking at, and also external. There was a couple where we did one on the workforce, we actually did a mental Healthcare game that had been created to support people within the organisation. But we were also doing things like evaluating the quality of their individual areas like an innovation lab. It’s it is a little bit complex, but we can actually measure pretty much anything that we want to understand. And particularly when it comes to impact. I think that’s the thing we should be doing is actually looking at that rather than saying, did we spend that money within the time that we said we were going to really what was what was the impact that we had on that system? I think I’ve said to you before, I’d love to get my hands on the aged care system, aged health care system, because I would love to be able to identify how we could target particular parts of the system to improve the overall system.
Kathryn Hume 30:50
And I’d love to connect you with Helen for the Finneran because I think the two of you could do amazing things together. I’ve got two more questions, I am conscious of time, you mentioned innovation labs, I’m really keen to explore that a little bit further, you’re able to talk to us about what that is and how that works and how that contributes to achieving these better outcomes.
Jo’Anne Langham 31:09
Government departments are not set up generally to be innovative, okay. Government organisations are designed to be rigid, stable, and to resist disruption. Okay, so if you’re going to try and innovate within an organisation like that, it’s really hard because there’s all of these fail safes in place to actually prevent that from happening. Some of the government departments I used to joke you’d say that theoretically, or metaphorically, you could set up a bomb within the organisation and go off and just go, because it wouldn’t it wouldn’t shatter anything, the organization’s are really stable. So an innovation lab is actually designed to enable within a safe space for you to do disruptive things to experiment without it being stifled by the structures that are in place. And what tends to happen with these innovation labs is because they’re so out of step with the rest of the organisation, they only survive, usually, three years, three years is sort of the average that and you’ll see, there’s lots of examples that we can talk about mind lab, or even the Australian government labs tend to stick around for about three years, but eventually get because of the tension of the organisation, the stability of the organisation, they tend to collapse, they, they get dissolved. But they are really important places for public sector staff, employees to be able to come along and try things and experiment and do things differently, to come up with the new ideas, and then take some of that back. So without that, there’s no place for public sector employees to really challenge their thinking, and do it in a way that doesn’t threaten the existing structure. So I’ve worked with a number of these labs, I really enjoy working in them. But they’re, they’re quite difficult. They’re in a highly political space. So I say political, little P, there’s lots of internal organisational politics. But there are also usually challenging systems that are really very structured, and are meant to be enduring. So you have to really be prepared to do some creative things to push and challenge those things. Yeah, so the work I’ve done in the innovation labs, though, is basically either as a human centred designer, facilitating and, and challenging some of those executives, but I’ve also used it my evaluation framework to see how effective those places are. One of the areas that we find, is it well, I, when I’ve measured measured what’s going on, we find that people come in, they come up with great ideas, they get to the prototyping stage, but then when they have to take it back to the place where they have to employ it, that’s where it just falls over. So you get these great designs that are produced in these spaces, that then they’re not deployed, because it’s actually taking them into a political sphere, where you’re then dealing with that organisational structure that you have to overcome. So there needs to be something to bridge that space. And one of the things that I believe, could have some success, I haven’t seen it work completely is where you have like a tripartite a arrangement where you’ve got government, academia, and industry working together, and that there’s mechanisms in place to ensure that whatever is developed can go through to the full build, and having those three forces might actually enable But I haven’t seen it successfully done yet. Generally, they, they tend to only have a lifetime of about three to five years.
Kathryn Hume 35:07
And I think Alicia Cooke was in our first episode, and she talked about that issue of we’re very good at planning, but we don’t necessarily follow through on implementation. I think that is part of the puzzle. And she also talked about that problem that we have, where we have people who graduate and we’ve invested a lot of money in their education. But then when they go and start practising, they, they leave the career early for whatever reason, I think that tripartite arrangement that you you’re talking about, you know, I’d love that. Many years ago, I worked at an organisation that was looking at transitions of kids from school to work. And it was a government funded organisation, but not a government organisation. And they did some amazing things. And the person who was in the podcast that I recorded last week, which I think will come out on the fifth of April, so before this one, but he is doing some incredible work, it says a beautiful human, his name’s Kieran Murrihy, but he goes out into communities, and often rural or regional, finds kids who’ve got something that they’re passionate about, but they don’t necessarily have the tools to implement. But he goes and connects them with people in the community. And then they become this little partnership and our group, and they all work together. So the kids learn, but they’re actually doing things for their communities that really matter that are going to endure and really making some positive things happen in those communities, which I just love.
Jo’Anne Langham 36:38
Well, I think that’s also where, you know, when you’re able to talk to Ed, this is the bit that I think he fits really neatly into. So he has done a lot of work with some amazing spaces. But he enables that cross collaboration that happens between, like across government, with industry and communities, and also academia, obviously, but bringing them all together in the same space and having them work together in a transparent but also in a in a way that they’re speaking the same language. I think that’s part of the challenge is making that happen. But he, he does that from the ground up. And so I think that will be a useful conversation, because it’s not a we need to have communities actually work from that base, and help them solve their own problems. It’s something that can be applied also within organisations. So it’s not just something that’s in communities, but in organisations as well. It’s very much that using the the ground up approach to helping workforces deal with problems, but actually solve some of these more complex issues that one or two people at the top cannot solve. So yes, I think that will be a useful conversation with him.
Kathryn Hume 38:01
I’m looking forward to it. That whole idea of bringing diversity into the conversation that he speaks about is really it’s a positive step forward. I think. I have one last question. Before we finish up when we spoke last week, you explained to me that you have a creativity warmup. And when you explain what that activity is, and we don’t need to go into what that is, but I’m really, really got me thinking about is it like a muscle that we need to get started? And when you say about warming up by doing that, how does that work? And how does that improve the creative ideas that flow afterwards?
Jo’Anne Langham 38:42
Yes, well, it is a muscle, well, it’s not actually a muscle, but it’s a skill that we need to practice. And it’s very much about if you know, Daniel Kahneman, or Kahneman and Tversky’s work, you’ll know about slow and fast thinking. And it’s very much about moving our brains backwards and forwards between the two systems, and actually getting us to break also some of those biases that I was talking to you about. So the activity that I get people to do, it’s a really silly activity, but it also makes them feel less self conscious about coming up with creative ideas, because our brain is actually wired to be resourceful, but often a lot of the structures that we have in place around us, particularly in organisations, make us very focused on doing things in a certain way. So what I try to do is get people to break some of those before we start the creative process. So to stop self evaluating, or self censoring, basically, to not look to see whether people are improving your idea or not. So the activity, we get people to put silly things together so it’s you know, you get to words like I’d say a jelly bean and a house, what would you do if you put these two things together, and it doesn’t matter what the outcome is, it’s really just getting the brain to get into that creative space. Like what we would be when we were kids, if I don’t, if you remember playing as a kid and having imaginary castles and imaginary adventures, and, and so that’s really where we need to get our brains in this places to use our imagination to come up with these new worlds. So that’s the activity. And yes, I do believe we need to practice that skill, we don’t do it particularly well. I know I was out at the at an open day recently for the university and I saw a bunch of students trying to do a puzzle, one of those nine pieces puzzles that you you made out of wood, and you had a minute to solve it to get a prize or two minutes to solve it to get a different kind of prize. And I would say I watched probably several 1000 students, and I only saw less than a dozen, solve that problem in that timeframe. And I was shocked, quite frankly, because that was the sort of the thing that we did lots of when we were kids. But it’s that sort of practice that I don’t think we’re doing enough of today, maybe we are in a digital way. But I was quite shocked to see that some of the students weren’t able to do it, we need to practice some of these things to get our brain in that space where we can be more creative.
Kathryn Hume 41:29
And I think that’s what I was trying to allude to when I talked about that tension between certainty and creativity. And I was at a Benny Button workshop last weekend, the speaker was talking about the importance of it was actually about well being. But the importance of making work fun. And I think this is where human centred design, creativity can actually lead us to a workplace that is enjoyable, that we achieve better outcomes, because we can measure the impact that we’re having. We know work needs to be purposeful these days to attract and retain talent. So I think all of the things that you’re doing is a beautiful blend that is actually going to contribute to solving these workforce problems that we’re having.
Jo’Anne Langham 42:16
I hope so. And for me, having fun at work is imperative. I don’t want to work at a place where I’m going to work and just going through the motions. And the people that I’ve worked with i want them to be there having a good time you spend so much of your life in these places, or for you to be wasting it in feeling unhappy. Now you can have fun doing whatever it is that you’re doing. Whether it’s packing boxes, or or solving some of the most complex problems in a scientific lab, doesn’t really matter. You’ve got to you’ve got to enjoy what you’re doing, but also just have a bit of fun. It is actually what stimulates creativity is that positive outlook. So yeah, very important.
Kathryn Hume 43:03
I love that you mentioned that that is been my mantra from day dot when I first started I, my career, I really couldn’t understand why people would exist in careers or jobs that they didn’t enjoy. Because I really, almost to your words, exactly. I just feel that we spend so much of our lives working, we need to make sure that we’re enjoying it. Because how devastating to think that you’d waste your life. You’re going to so much of your life doing something that’s not fun. One thing I did learn at a presentation pre COVID with Arne Pradhan, and he was talking about this concept. And I said, But hang on a minute, you know, how do we it was about learning? And how do we get people in to learn and he talked about and there’s a really good YouTube video on that I’ll I think it was actually a TED Talk that I’ll put in the show notes, but about dividing work into performance signs and learning zones. And so when you do have to perform and when there is no margin for error, identifying that and recognising that this is my performance side and saying I can’t make a mistake here, this whole fail fast and all of that doesn’t apply here. I have to be on my game, I have to you know, be able to think clearly and do my job really well. But then understanding that then there’s another part of our work where we do need to grow and we need to move out of our comfort zone, we do need to fail a little bit and that’s maybe where we can bring that creativity and that’s the Learning Zone and that’s where we can have fun and being able to design work. Go back to our original question around the reimagined workforce. And you mentioned around redesigning work and maybe we could think about that when we redesign work on that lens and empower people to actually craft their own work. In that way, so as we can actually get that mutual benefit for organisations and the people in them?
Jo’Anne Langham 45:07
Yeah, look, I think it’s interesting that you talk about failure, and I liked the distinction of having a performance zone versus whatever else you want to call it Learning Zone. But I don’t talk about failure. I talk about learning. And when we’re doing design, and I think that’s the thing that when people they associate failure with a disaster, whereas it’s actually what we’re talking about is learning that this thing didn’t work in whatever way we expected it to. So it didn’t meet our expectations, or it didn’t go the way we thought it would. And that is a learning. So when I say to people, we’re not we’re not talking about failing, we’re actually just talking about what are we learning from from this activity. So maybe there’s a bit of that because I think people get very focused on some of these words, that failure has these really strong negative connotations, but learning doesn’t learning is how we move forward and how we evolve. So maybe having a process of performance. That’s where the hard stuff where you have to be 100% on your game. It’s particularly in healthcare, as you said, we don’t want them playing with the system when it matters. But then a time where it is about learning and experimentation and improving and evolving and all those positive words that we can use to help us change. That’s what I tried to say experimental work requires you to test something and learn what, what you need to adjust what you need to change to actually make it work the way you want it to. But I think that’s really important.
Jo’Anne Langham 44:10
That’s actually what people do. And I think if people can start thinking about it, because it’s that mantra of the fast, fail early. And that was used when there was designers doing it, where design failure for design was, was not what it means. It, it’s actually, it’s a good thing to learn, quickly, learn and evolve what you’re doing weekly,
Kathryn Hume 47:33
which is what we need to do in today’s fast and ever changing world that we’re living in. Yes, absolutely. I could talk all day. I’d say that all the time. But I genuinely think the good thing is I’m hoping that maybe we do get the chance to bring you back and have that conversation with Ed, because I know you’ve done some amazing work together. I’d really like to learn more about that. And I’m sure our listeners would too. But thank you, thank you so much for taking the time. You’ve got up very early for me today. So I do appreciate that. If anyone did want to get in contact with you, is there a way that they can do that?
Jo’Anne Langham 48:07
The easiest way is to get me through my LinkedIn page. So Joanne Lang, but you can also reach out to me through spark tank, Spark bank.com.au, any of the email there you can also contact me through that.
Kathryn Hume 48:21
Fabulous, thank you so much. And I will put those links into the show notes as well. Well, thank you for your time. Happy Monday morning. I hope you have a great week, and I look forward to talking to you again. Thanks so much, Joe. Thanks.
Voice over 48:33
Thanks for listening to the reimagined workforce podcast. We hope you found some valuable ideas that you can apply to transform your own workforce today and tomorrow. Additional information and links can be found in the show notes for this episode at workforce transformations.com.au/podcast. Please share this podcast with your community and leave us a rating to let us know what we can do better for you