Key words and terms
Needless misunderstanding, ambiguity and conflict can occur when language and key terms are used without checking that their meaning is understood and shared. Failure to confirm meaning of the words that are important in our work together can seriously limit our ability to create and communicate ideas, reasoning and our intentions, which are the foundation of our creating and working together.
We can save a lot of time, sharpen our reasoning abilities, and communicate with each other more effectively if we watch for disagreements about the meaning of words and try to resolve them whenever we can. This glossary is provided to clarify the meaning attributed to key terms used in this SI&I website.
We welcome your suggestions for additions to this list.
Bad behaviour can taint the useful meaning of words like Leadership, Democracy, Power, Winning, Development. At the end of the Glossary are terms whose socially accepted meaning could usefully be re-defined.
Specific steps to achieve a goal or objective.
Active listening is a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding. Often when people talk to each other, they don’t listen attentively. They are often distracted, half listening, half thinking about something else. Not listening to respond, but listening to understand and remember. Short TED talk on listening better - Julian Treasure: 5 ways to listen better
Confidence that a particular model is an accurate description of reality, based upon what you know. It's a bit like the betting odds on a particular outcome. Our description of gravity appears to be pretty good, so it might be odds-on favourite that an apple will fall from a branch to the ground.
Capacity vs. Capability vs. Competency
Ability, capability, and capacity are synonyms in many of their uses. All are frequently used to refer to one’s power to perform an action. Capacity carries a sense of volume or quantity. Capacity is often considered to be inborn, whilst ability is learned. Capability tends to refer to extremes: to have the capability to write a 10 page essay by tomorrow. One can either do it or not do it. Ability is more of a continuum. I might have the ability to write a novel, but I wouldn't say I have the capability. In general usage the terms are used interchangeably. Capacity also includes external factors. A person might have the skills and knowledge to perform but without necessary resources and support they cannot be successful.
Capability can also be defined as mastery over a range of tasks or functions acquired through experience (professional and personal) and training (formal and informal). The term ‘capability’ is differentiated from ‘competency’ which is seen as an ability to undertake a range of tasks or functions. In this sense capability can be seen as a meta-competency that integrates the relevant competencies, experience and knowledge into a coherent set of behaviours.
Consensus decision making is a creative and dynamic way of reaching agreement between all members of a group. Instead of simply voting for an item and having the majority of the group getting their way, a group using consensus is committed to finding solutions that everyone actively supports, or at least can live with
Continuous Improvement and Innovation (CI&I)
A shared process that enables individuals, teams, businesses, networks, projects and organisations to focus their thinking and action to achieve improvements and innovations regularly and frequently.
Critical Success Factors
Those few things (3-6) that must go well to ensure success / key jobs that must be done exceedingly well to be successful (from Daniel 1961). In any organization certain factors will be critical to the success of that organization, in the sense that, if objectives associated with the factors are not achieved, the organization will fail – perhaps catastrophically so. Consider the corollary: Critical Failure Factors - conditions which, when present, ensure failure. History.
Design is a process that leads to an outcome. For example, before building a house we design it by developing a blueprint that provides a level of detailed thinking that considers how all the parts work together to achieve an outcome. This is distinct from planning which is merely the allocation of time and resources.
Anthropologist Robin Dunbar suggests that the average person can only maintain about 150 primary, I-care-you-care relationships. The simple reason for this is that we reach certain cognitive limits, and because there is simply not enough time for more without diffusing the quality of all relationships. Obviously, the number is fuzzy, because with changes in culture come changes in relationships, and because relationships themselves are difficult to define precisely because they are not quantifiable. But if we assume 150 as a hypothetical constant, variable across some range, then the range itself is a valid premise for a few conclusions. For implications read...
Refers to a feeling and the distinctive thoughts associated with it, along with the psychological and biological states that, all together, predispose a person to act (Goleman, 1995). For a leader, the challenge is to help herself, and group members, identify their emotions and the source, and express them in a way that contributes to - rather than detracts from - group effectiveness.
The ability to be aware of and manage your emotions, to use your emotions in motivating yourself to achieve goals, to have empathy for others, and to effectively deal with emotions in your relationships with others. If a group does not deal with emotion productively, it negatively affects the group's performance, the ability to work together in the future, and the individual's personal and professional development. A leader can help a group shift from being afraid of dealing with their emotions to helping them use emotion to improve the quality of their work and their relationship. Goleman, 1995. Slaovey and Mayer, 1990.
A specific area, with boundaries on which to concentrate attention, thinking, feelings and action to meet a specific need, opportunity or solve a problem for a clear SMARTT outcome goal.
Focus is your ability to centre your attention and energy on a specific task, object, or activity, for a sustained length of time. It allows you to shut out distractions, so that you can work persistently to achieve a desired state or goal.
The clear short; medium and/or long-term clear SMARTT outcome goal/s towards which resources and effort are directed. Broad and measurable, goals when achieved support the accomplishment of the mission.
Grassroots innovations are networks of activists and organisations generating novel bottom–up solutions for sustainable development; solutions that respond to the local situation and the interests and values of the communities involved (Seyfang and Smith, 2007; p.585). Grassroots innovations differ from technology or market innovations in a sense that they usually have motives for creating social good rather than pure monetary proﬁts (Seyfang and Smith, 2007). This in turn can give an opportunity to the development of new social experiments that would not have been developed or implemented in a purely proﬁt-driven context (Verheul and Vergragt, 1995).
Improvement vs. Innovation
Improvements are enhanced practices, processes, systems, products or services, whereas innovations are new practices, processes, systems, products or services. Both must add real value.
Anything we can study or anything that informs. A collection of notions, rather than a single coherent concept. (Geoff Nunberg: Farewell to the Information Age)
The means through which an organisation makes available resources to support people in their work. Just as in building a house a contractor must develop mechanisms to get the right building materials and bring them to site, builders of learning organisations must develop and improve infrastructural mechanisms so that people have the resources they need: time, management support, money, information, ready contact with colleagues, and more.
New practices, processes, systems, products or services that add value. Compare with 'improvement'.
A thing that an individual, team, project or business aims to achieve.
The art and process of influencing people to strive together, willingly, to achieve shared goals.
Leadership is not just for people in positions of power. Everyone leads every day. It starts with the leading the self, leading family and friends and, if developed, then leading/influencing the world. It is not the domain of super-heroes. It is the responsibility of everyone.
The means (includes systems, processes, practices and tools) by which something is achieved.
A system of methods and mechanisms used in a set and sequence, to achieve specific goals.
A means or manner of procedure, system, process, practice and mechanisms to achieve specific goals
The purpose of an organisation. A mission describes what an organisation does, who it does it for and the benefits provided. A mission is not a time-bound objective.
The force, quality, motion, impetus and velocity for the goal
A present and compelling reason for doing anything. An important or urgent personal, project, business, community or industry requirement, that must be addressed in order to achieve specific goals.
A purposeful, value-adding partnership based on reciprocal transactions between partners that facilitate the exchange of experience and knowledge between members of the network.
Specific, quanitifiable, lower-level targets that indicate the accomplishment of a gola.
A set and sequence of actions and tools/mechanisms to achieve specific goals.
A set of alternatives, options, prospects or ideas for advancement or greater success in achieving a goal.
To create capabilities by intentionally imposing order and structure.
An intentionally arranged collection of resources and the interactions they support.
Partnership is a dynamic, interdependent relationship between individuals or groups, usually involving close cooperating that is characterised by understood, mutual and specified intentions, purposes, roles, rights and responsibilities.
A clear and compelling statement about where we are going to guide us to do our best possible work. A direction, but not necessarily a destination, to allow for adjustment as a clearer understanding of reality emerges through the work. Continually check the purpose statement is still valid and true and adjust to changing need and learning as you go. Extrinsic purpose is something determined by a human, as opposed to teleology, the philosophical doctrine that final causes, design, and purpose exist in nature.
A set and sequence of key actions and tools/mechanisms to achieve specific goals.
Accepted rules about how people or things function and behave. They provide guidelines for the taking of action and the implementation of systems and processes. The principles one follows are based on the assumptions we make about how the world operates and also embrace core values. They reflect long-term intentions but are not necessarily permanent.
"As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
The ratio of outputs divided by inputs. Improving productivity means more immediate outputs can be delivered with fewer inputs, one way of realising increased value for money.
A set and sequence of specified steps, mechanisms and actions for achieving a specific result.
A tool for ordering one's perceptions about alternative future environments in which one's decisions might play out. Scenarios encourage the exploration of multiple "futures" and the perceptive development of decisions or strategies that will serve the uncertain future well. (Schwarz 1996, van der Heijden 1996). Plausible, coherent stories about the future aimed at making sense of uncertain issues, and clarifying strategic options for decision-makers. Scenarios provide a non-threatening environment for exploring multiple perspectives, creating a shared language and leading to understanding and trust.
Strategic Planning is the process of defining an organisation's plans for achieving its mission. A strategy is directional in nature; although descriptions and analysis of the present situation are included, a strategic plan does not merely endorse the status quo, it directs change of some kind (Cassidy 2006).
A systematic, long term plan or course of action designed to achieve specific outcomes, and to deal with uncertain future circumstances which could impact on the achievement of the outcomes. "In strategy it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things." - Miyamoto Musashi, samurai warrior. "Industry executives and analysts often mistakenly talk about strategy as if it were some kind of chess match. But in chess, you have just two opponents, each with identical resources, and with luck playing a minimal role. The real world is much more like a poker game, with multiple players trying to make the best of whatever hand fortune has dealt them." —David Moschella 1999.
Sustainable Improvement and Innovation (SI&I)
A system model that is designed to achieve and sustain successes, improvements and innovations.
A group of interacting, interrelated parts which form a complex and unified whole, and that operate together for a common purpose.
Systems Thinking Frames issues, clarifies interdependencies and causalities between system elements and leads to the identification of important intervention points for stakeholders to enact change. See Systems Thinking for Leadership page.
A set and sequence of key actions and methods/mechanisms to achieve specific goals.
A small number of people, committed to work together for a common goal with individual skills, roles and responsibilities.
A set and sequence of key items to achieve specific goals.
Development and application of tools, machines, materials and processes that help to address needs and problems. A technology consists of two essential components: a ‘hardware’ aspect, consisting of the tools, materials and mechanisms that embody the technology, and a ‘software’ aspect, consisting of the information base or process in which the tool is embedded so that it can be more easily integrated and applied in a management system.
Any instrument designed for a specific purpose that makes achieving a goal more effective and/or easier. A tool is neither an input or an output. It is usually not consumed during the process. Marshall McLuhan famously said "We shape our tools. And then our tools shape us." McLuhan was referring to the fact that our social practices co-evolve with our use of new tools and the refinements we make to existing tools. It is a good warning to be careful and purposeful in our selection and use of tools.
Are a measure of the ultimate worth of a thing or an action. They can represent principles, standards, or rules of conduct derived from one’s worldview.
An ideal an entity intends to pursue. A vision links the entity to the future and is a source of inspiration. It can be broader than the entity's capabilities. description of what you want to exist in the mid-term or long-term future if your goals are successfully achieved.
Worldviews are sets of basic beliefs, images, and values that make up a way of looking at and making sense of the world around us. They shape how we interpret and interact with our environment and other people. A set of assumptions about reality.
Claiming back the positive power of terms
Say 'developer' and many people would describe a member of the 'white-shoe brigade', building Spanish villas on exploitable land around the world; turning communities into a carbon copies of somewhere else. However, the beautiful word 'developer' originates from 'de-vellum'. A vellum is a seed coat that can hold the seed in stasis until conditions are right for its growth. To de-vellum is to remove the husk that prevents the natural qualities of a seed expressing itself and becoming the unique being its DNA has planned for it. A developer has the responsibility to provide the conditions for the seed to be what it is best designed for. Like a gardener, the developer removes obstacles, waters and nourishes the organism so it can grow strong and fruitful. The gardener does not try to make a cabbage a rose, nor a rose a cabbage.
Any self-contained unit of information independent of its instantiation in physical or digital form.
Often seen as the act of transferring one set of ideas to another, the root of the word comes from 'educe' to draw out. So it can be more usefully seen, like development, as the act of drawing out the inherent knowledge and potential of another person.
It is time to turn the perception of leading as being done by someone in a position of authority to being something we all do everyday. The more leadership done, the better quality leadership we have, the greater our chance of dealing with some of the great challenges coming at us this century. It is important that we all develop our leadership skills, starting by leading ourselves first.
Power has come to be seen negatively as 'power over'. However, in science, power means 'work done' or 'energy converted'. We can see power as our ability to convert our energy expended into worthwhile outcomes, a very useful concept indeed.
Some think that to win, others must lose. However, if we think win-win, we can negotiate and strategise to achieve the needs of all players, more of the time.