Sunday, 31 August 2014

Making a point

All too often mainframes are seen as the expensive piece of kit that sits quietly and works. No-one seems to get too excited about making any changes to it, but they do get excited about cloud technology, mobile apps, and whatever else they see as interesting at the moment. That sometimes leaves the mainframe team unable to argue a case for change. But suppose there was a way of, not necessarily winning every argument, but, certainly, of being able to put up a good fight in the cut and thrust of a finance meeting?

There is a book by NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) expert Robert Dilts called “Sleights of Mouth” that looks at the way arguments are constructed and ways of rebutting each type of counter argument. The theory behind is, basically, that our thoughts and actions are inside, what’s called, a frame of reference, and often we’re not aware of this. These frames of reference can lock us into quite restricted thinking, and so it seems that we have only very few choices. So, a ‘reframe’ gives us a different perspective on a problem, and so opens the door to other potential solutions.

The book also looks at ‘beliefs’, which in this case define the relationship between values and their causes, indicators, and consequences. Beliefs are typically expressed in the form of a ‘cause-effect’ or a ‘complex equivalence’. Cause-effect assumes that one thing causes, or is caused by, another without any hard evidence. You hear people use words like: makes, because, if...then, as...then, then, since, so. Complex equivalence is where complex situations, ideas, objects, or their meanings are equated as synonymous. You hear people say things like: that means, that just means, it must be that, what else could it mean? For example: “The boss has his door closed. That means he’s planning to get rid of the mainframe”.

In his book, Robert Dilts identified 14 different Sleight of Mouth patterns. You don’t have to use them all, but it can be useful to be aware of what the 14 techniques are for when you do need to use them. And, of course, each of the techniques has a name.

So, that was quite a long introduction, let’s have a look at the Sleight of Mouth patterns, let us assume your CFO says, “We need to get rid of the mainframe because the company is losing money” Notice the A because B pattern – so in our response, we can focus on either A or B or both. I will give only one example, the fact is that many others are possible.

1 Intention: what could be the positive intention? In this case saving money (it seems).
Response: I very much admire and support your desire save money, but... 

2 Redefine: how can you lessen the impact of these negatives? Use words that are similar but may infer something different.
Response: I agree we need to look for new ways to save money.

3 Consequences: focus a consequence that leads to challenging the belief.
Response: Taking a look at our corporate spending is definitely the first step.

4 Chunk down: look at a specific element that challenges the belief.
Response: I am not sure how losing our company’s core IT platform will save us money.

5 Chunk up: generalize in order to change the relationship defined by the belief.
Response: Any change to our IT structure can have unforeseen consequences.

6 Counter example: find an exception that challenges the generalization defined by the belief.
Response: It’s hard to see cost savings from losing the mainframe when the work that generates the bulk of our income runs on it.

7 Analogy: use an analogy or metaphor that challenges the generalization defined by the belief.
Response: Not all change is good – ask the climate.

8 Apply to self: use key aspects of the belief to challenge the belief.
Response: Might it not save money to look at some other areas of high spending?

9 Another outcome: propose a different outcome that challenges the relevancy of the belief.
Response: Maybe the problem is not so much whether we get rid of the mainframe, but whether we are doing the right things to cut costs.

10 Hierarchy of criteria: Re-assess the belief based on a more important criterion.
Response: staying in business is more important than our IT policy.

11 Change frame size: re-evaluate the implication of the belief in the context of a longer (or shorter) time frame, a larger number of people (or from an individual point of view) or a bigger or smaller perspective.
Response: Successful organizations have been cutting cost for centuries. Those that stayed in business made the best decisions.

12 Meta frame: challenge the basis for the belief.
Response: Your belief about getting rid of the mainframe assumes that you know the ‘right’ IT infrastructure, and those who do not share your view have negative intentions.

13 Model of the world: look at the belief from a different perspective (model of the world).
Response: Do you know that the majority of Fortune500 companies have a mainframe?

14 Reality strategy: re-assess the belief based on the fact that beliefs are based on specific perceptions.
Response: What particular aspects of using a mainframe do you feel fearful about?

You can find out far more about these in Robert Dilts’ book, but it’s interesting to know that these techniques are out there and available.

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