Illustration of a brain inside a head

21 Nov 2017

Isn’t it nice when we just listen? The power of openness

snook and openness

Through openness we deliver lasting, demonstrable, and measurable improvements and by working together, we achieve what matters most.

By gaining a better understanding of what matters to people, we can design services that matter. In order to achieve that we have to embrace openness, inviting people in and encouraging as many people as possible to join the conversation. Dismantling any barriers, real or self-imposed, allows us to start listening.

  • If you grant that an organisation exists because it is necessary to society - because it responds to people’s needs - the basic rule of management is self-evident: learn what the people want and respond accordingly.
    Konosuke Matsushita

The God of Management

Konosuke Matsushita wrote the introductory quote in his book, ‘Not For Bread Alone’ when he was 89. He had started his working life almost 80 years earlier and had gone on to build Panasonic, one of the largest and most respected electrical appliance firms in the world. Along the way he became known as the ‘God of Management’. Building his empire gave Matsushita invaluable experience, yet he admitted he was still learning. Being open was the first but most important lesson he shared. What he said then still stands true today.

The integration of what people say and how people say it underpins everything we do at Snook. Our work engages real voices to create long-term relevance. By listening to a variety of voices, we create something more multi-dimensional as people talk and focus on different things.

Ask, listen, do

We concentrate on asking people what matters to them, actively listening and then using that knowledge to do what is most important and relevant. The doing part is not just responding to the wants people share with us – it’s about figuring things out. Identifying if a want is really a need and then acting accordingly.

Matsushita recognised, as we do, that the notion and practice of openness is never-ending. There is always more to learn, no matter how many years one focuses on a particular area of service, community, or business. That’s simply because nothing ever stands still. People change, needs change, and environments change. Everything is in a constant flow, so we need to continually remind ourselves to ‘ask, listen, and do’.

Being open is essential if you want to deliver something people can use and is relevant to them. It gives you shared ownership, transparency, and quality – each essential to a sustainable future. Inviting people to participate in a conversation means the positive outcomes will be much more than the sum of their individual parts. It is also deeply rewarding from every perspective. Not only is this approach good for the people who are the users of a service but, as importantly, it is good for the people who provide that service. After all, they are users too. The power of openness creates shared understanding, provides context, and enables action. The result will then be something that is sustainable as well as relevant.

To serve, you need to listen

In September Sarah and I spoke at the International Service Design Experience in Cork, Ireland. It was a fantastic event full of engaging speakers, each and every one practicing service design in some form and sharing valuable insights and observations from their years of experience.

The event was a statement from our hosts, and former client, Cork City Council that they are open to their citizens. By practicing openness, and working with citizens to understand their needs, they will be transforming and improving the services they provide going forward.

We are immensely proud to have worked with them to help them reach this point.

We believe that to serve, you need to listen, as the work we do depends on being in sync with people. This means that the tools and processes we use must allow people and the organisations we work with to acknowledge and embrace the fact that we are all part of a larger community. It also recognises that the opportunity for change can, and often does, come from outside, and you need openness to ensure you draw the knowledge from a wider group.

Openness empowers you and your community

By being open, you’re empowered to act with conviction. You do what you know is right. Your ideas have been built, tested, taken apart, rebuilt and tested again. The outcome is something that you, your community and your organisation can be proud of.

To build the right services and deliver change takes vigilance, good processes and adequate resource. It also requires all stakeholders to be invested in the outcome. The process moves you away from the present and gives everyone a shared vision for the future.

There will be barriers to overcome, cultural and commercial, but remember this is about people and not Post-its.

Openness. It’s harder. But in the long-term – it’s easier.