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Wednesday, 4 August 2021

A quest for understanding

episode summary

“Seek first to understand and then aim to be understood” Stephen Covey

The content or subject matter in a meeting, such as data, facts, information and insights is the equivalent of sharing ‘knowledge currency’. 

In this podcast chat with Helen Chapman and Amy Webb, we observe how we often fall short of reaching the true value potential of information exchange. Even the sexiest PowerPoint deck can fall flat. The conversation covers how sharing a deck is usually a one-way process of presenter to listener. PowerPoint is a great and trusted friend, but has its place and is limited when it comes to true knowledge sharing and understanding, even if it is accompanied by a Q&A.

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Episode transcript

Never go to another meeting but instead simply choose to have the right conversation with the right people at the right time it's time to stop the routine it's time to stop having meetings for the sake of it it's time to stop wasting time I'm Helen Chapman and I'm Amy Webb, the rest is over to you let's get going…


Helen Chapman: Amy! You know that term, and I think it was Stephen Covey who said it, which is, “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.”

Amy Webb: I've never heard that. I really like that. That's something new for me today thanks!

Helen Chapman:  Well there you are! Yes, so you know the quest is if you get off your own agenda and listen to what other people are trying to explain, if you can understand first -then aim to be understood, it means that you're being mutual in your communication, in your dialogue and discussions with people. So, seek first to be to understand and then to be understood. Now what where this takes me to - you know our Kaleidoscope…?

Amy Webb: Yes

Helen Chapman: We have got a Venn diagram essentially that we lovingly call the TFP Meeting Kaleidoscope™ it's the simplest of ways to look at what is actually going on in a conversation in a meeting at any one time. So we know there are three things going on concurrently and there are three circles in our kaleidoscope, one circle is about the People and we in our podcast so far I've talked a lot about Stop: ‘going to meetings’ and rather concentrate on the people in front of you and understanding them. So the people in meetings are what makes the meeting happen. The next circle is Content, so it's what the people are talking about. The 3rd circle is Process, so how the people are going to use the subject - the process that they're going to use to get the subject shared and understood. And then all three circles converging in that middle bit in the middle which is the holiest of all holy grails which is Purpose. Why are we having this meeting? Why are we having this topic conversation? What's it all about anyway? So the TFP Meeting Kaleidoscope™ is those component parts.


Now, the “seek first to understand and then to be understood” can happen at the People level, it can be enabled at the Process level but what I would love is to kick around today in this conversation is the idea of Content and what is content anyway, because I've got an idea that people in a trance like sort of away think “we've gotta talk about our year-end results” or “we've gotta talk about the next action plan” or “we've gotta nail the next product innovation” or “the next design process”, without really stopping to consider what is it about all of those things that really needs to be shared for conversation. So people will think for example something about product design and they all think we've got to have a meeting and will pull an agenda together all about product design or the subjects to be discussed, without really stopping to consider what is it about this subject that we need people’s input on? And what is it about the subject matter that needs the benefit of all the brains in the room to work it out or consider it or explore it together? And so what ends up happening is a list of agenda items, with somebody who's going to present this, somebody else who's going to present that, somebody else who's going to present something else and then if we're lucky we'll have a Q&A a question and answer at the end of a presentation before we move on to the next one. And I feel like him I've got a big drum to bang here about stop! not just Stop: ‘going to meetings’ but stop just getting hold of topics and bashing each other over the head with some information about it. Start considering what are we trying to do with this content? So let me give you some examples….. and I'm keen to hear sort of what your thoughts are about this. So for example, typical content of meetings are things like sharing data and facts, you know, “these are the half year results” “these the quarterly results” “this is how much we how much product we sold” “this is how much increase or decrease in customer satisfaction” or what have you, so data and facts. They'll share experience, opinions, feedback and insights. But without a real understanding of what the purpose is of actually sharing all of this. There's a book by two Japanese gentlemen Nonaka and Takeuchi, and their book is entitled the Knowledge Creating Company, where knowledge sharing is the key to liberating the potential of all and they talk about: if not if knowledge or information is shared in a way that is accessible to the brains in the room, it means that 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 equals more. So information I give information that you share back information that we get from somebody else should increase our shared pot of knowledge such that together we have everything we need or we know what we're missing and we can go and get it. The problem is that people hold knowledge as power and people tend to hold knowledge to themselves, so when we see people in meetings presenting something I often observe them presenting it as “I am the power owner of this data…..


Amy Webb: This is my data…

Helen Chapman: ….this is my domain, I'm sharing this with you because you need to understand how much I  know, and I'll get your questions for clarity, but really I am the knowledge owner and it's almost like a power thing. And I just think it's such a shortcoming in what could be possible.


Amy Webb: Yeah, because that way of thinking about anything really stops actual collaboration. If you're perceiving yourself as being like this is my thing and you’re getting a look at it, rather than working with each other.  That's bound to hold back an entire team,   especially if everyone's functioning like that with their specific content area. It's like working in silos which we talk a lot about, like I'm working over here this is my stuff, you're working over here and this is your stuff and then every now and then we have a meeting where we get together and I harp on about my stuff and you harp on about your stuff and then we go back and do our work, which seems pointless and you're bound to end up with someone in that meeting who's like “why am I here?” either I've got nothing to share or no-one really wants to hear my questions, or because it is just about presenting information.

Helen Chapman: Exactly and that all comes back to, and you know how much I harp on about mindset, but it comes back to what I really believe can be achieved with the information that I've got so to quote Nonaka from the Knowledge Creating Company, he says: (and I'm reading this) is, “Knowledge is produced and consumed simultaneously, its value increases with use rather than being depleted like a commodity.” So in other words, it's a bit like in our conversations whether we're making a podcast or whether we're just talking to each other Amy, you and I share our knowledge with each other all the time and I always feel like my original knowledge base was increased because you have how we can share knowledge with each other. So this idea that knowledge, the value of it, increases with use rather than is depleted. And above all, Nonaka goes on to say, “Knowledge is a resource that's created by humans acting in relationship with one another.” So in other words you and I value each other’s point of view, we share information and knowledge with each other such that the whole is  1 + 1 = more, and that isn't just about what we know or what we don't know, it's about our relationship and what we care about how the other person might improve but I know.


Amy Webb: It strikes me as an issue of security, if you're feeling like you need to prove yourself then that's really difficult to be in that mindset, if you're feeling like protective over what you have because you're not in a safe space to openly share, then that's why these patterns happen. It really, again like we've spoken about before, requires trust, requires trust that you know the other person in your team has your has your best interests at heart and you have their best interests, at heart and sadly that’s not always the case in lots of peoples organisations.

Helen Chapman: Yeah, true. You know it's fascinating. And, again I come back to this, I have a belief that people do what they do with good intention, you know people are not looking to nobble each other so to speak, they're not looking to trip each other up, that but there is a propensity to hold knowledge as power and to demonstrate my ability with my knowledge in a way that I ‘perform my knowledge’ into the group, so in the end it comes down to an assessment of how well I presented it, how good my PowerPoint slides looked, how compelling I was in the delivery, how I could answer the Q&A, and all of that is about the perceived power of that person and perceived value of that person and then the ‘face’ that they - their ‘performance’, you know, back to this thing that we've talked about before with performance. Which is very different to that person coming in and thinking “well, I've got a lot of information on this, I think I've got it all covered, I think I've got what we need, you're in good hands, but there's a couple of things here I really could do with some input on” and that is it very different mindset to, “I've got it nailed”. You know, to coming in and saying “Okay, I might be missing something” or “I could just do with you helping me work something out”.


I had an interesting conversation about two weeks ago where I was helping a client to design a series of topics in a meeting that they were having, and the particular knowledge holder asked me a really genuine question which was: “there are people in the team who really don't know anything about this subject and I'm not sure what value they're going to bring to the conversations and I know that they are really busy and I know that they could probably just do with this time back to go and do other stuff that they could be doing” and I was really conflicted, now I'm going to in a second, let you know what I said but I'm just curious…..

Amy Webb: I feel conflicted as well.

Helen Chapman: Do you? What is it what does it make you think?


Amy Webb: Well, firstly, my thoughts are that I think it’s absolutely appropriate and good to be trying to not overwhelm people’s time, and if someone really doesn't need to be in a meeting don't expect them to be there. If their time can be better used elsewhere, if they are going to be sitting in that meeting thinking why on earth am I here? I've actually got nothing to contribute or this actually isn't relevant to me. So, I think that's a really, really positive thing to be trying to be respectful of people’s working day.

But then my other thought is……. how did you say they phrased it?..... they know nothing about this this subject… My other thought is that sometimes you need fresh eyes, sometimes you need someone slightly removed from a project to ask the questions that no one else will ask because everyone else is just kind of going through the motions and you need someone to go: oh! why you doing it like that? So actually there is a lot of benefit that can be had from having someone who doesn't know anything about the content and also my third thought is that people will surprise you and actually they might know more than you think.

Helen Chapman: Absolutely, and all of those points that you've covered are exactly where my mind went. And because this person I was talking to, he’s a good guy and he is thoughtful about his colleagues and his intention was just give them some time back…

Amy Webb: He's not trying to exclude people..

Helen Chapman:  No, no, he wasn't trying to. It was it was a genuine care for them as well as his subject matter, but in the end we thought about it and he actually fell down on the side of I'm going to invite them and they might want to stay and want to contribute, so gave them the option to contribute with their naive perspective, so that they could come and ask the naive question like you said or they know that they've got the choice and I felt it that was a good compromise. I also loved the fact that he'd considered this he hadn't just decided to ram the whole group with his subject, to expect that everybody - he had thought about who was there, and, how contribution might work which I thought was thoughtful, but he tried something different. And the people concerned decided to stay so even though they are really busy they were curious enough about the subject area and they were interested and stayed. And so what happened in that context was the whole pot of knowledge, a bit like a good investment plan in the bank, the whole pot of knowledge grew in terms of breadth of knowledge but also depth of knowledge and everybody benefited from the naive perspective, which in the end was a fantastic thing.


Amy Webb: Yeah. Your talking about the naive perspective is making me think about spending time with my 2 year old son because there's something about when you're around children and they ask you a question and you're like ‘I'm an adult I know things’ and they ask you a question and you're like ‘I actually don't know, I'll let's look it up or let us learn or let's get a book’ from a 2 year old and because they have no preconceived ideas about the world, there just looking at something in front of them and asking that naive question and also when they ask you a question and you have to be very clear in what you're trying to communicate it puts you through a thought process that you've not been through before about your own preconceptions. So, distilling something down to be understood by someone who has no knowledge of the content that they are asking about actually does you a favour because it forces you to be really clear about your own knowledge, your own thoughts and concisely translate that message to someone, and that is really helpful for you as well as yes for the naive perspective.

Helen Chapman: Agreed, absolutely and you know that it was one of my favourite metaphors here we go again with another metaphor is the Hans Christian Andersen story of the Emperor’s New Clothes and the fact that it was the child in the crowd that spotted was that the Emperor was completely naked, and the child in the crowd didn't know the rules or what they should be saying, where the rest of the crowd were going ‘Oh Emperor you look amazing!’ the kid in the crowd, he said well ‘you're actually stark naked haven't got anythin on!’ so yes that naive perspective is just something to be valued.

My laptop is about to run out of battery!

Amy Webb: Oh, go grab your charger!

Helen Chapman: I need to plug in bear with me.


Alright, OK I'm back, battery pack plugged into laptop…

So where this takes me….. thinking about the idea of knowledge creation in organisations is if knowledge is to be shared and built on and in that way, it adds rigour to decisions that we make in order to move the business forward. Think then about knowledge that is shared out-loud versus knowledge that is kept in people’s heads.  So back in the day when I was working in inside organisations there would be a manual for this and a manual for that and a handbook for operating practises and rules and regulations and all of that know-how it was written down in books and manuals and these days books and manuals typically are replaced with online versions or the stuff that you can look at on your laptop. Nonaka Takeuchi in there talk about explicit knowledge which is knowledge that is shared and available and people can pick it up and use it. And then the idea of tacit knowledge the knowledge that people walk around with that isn't often shared and that you don't often know that people have got until it's too late sometimes until they leave the organisation and take all of that knowledge with them. The idea therefore is trying to take something which is tacit which is in somebody's mind and turn it into something that is accessible to many which is quite a tricky thing to do.

Amy Webb: How do you do that? Where do you even start? because we talk about ‘the universe of you’ There are things within everyone that will bring enrichment. So where do you even start with trying to pull stuff out of people?


Helen Chapman: Yeah…’s an interesting one isn’t it? I know from our point of view, in our business, we've got something called Theory Thursday..

Amy Webb: We all love Theory Thursday

Helen Chapman:  and Theory Thursday was created to help people who are new to something, for example, with you becoming a TFP Visualiser, is helping you to understand why we visualise, how we visualise and how we work with groups to support them. We know that Theory Thursday has grown like Topsy and its becoming a symbol of our organisation isn’t it, where the team get together, we look forward to seeing each other, different members of our team now lead Theory Thursday which is wonderful and it’s a shared….

Amy Webb: Really, really good.

Helen Chapman: So that’s an example of where we’re taking something for example like group process theory which I have as tacit knowledge and making it accessible so that all of you can ask me questions about it. Similarly with Phoebe with her work in creating amazing visuals, with Aslak who's got such a lot of knowledge around culture for example, with Ellie and all of the work that we're doing around media and social engagement and so on and really being able to tap-in at our theory Thursday anchor points to bring all of that together. And that’s a really practical way of doing it.


Amy Webb: And it is making me think Helen about what you were saying about how knowledge is just is built on it's not lost and in all of those sessions it never feels like someone has given up anything or let anyone in on any trade secrets, so for example Ellie talking us through all of the amazing work that she does for the social media, all of that brought so much more appreciation for what she does because we as a team can't be aware of the in's and outs of everyone else's job all the time unless we create space to better understand each other and so nothing was lost. What was gained though was a lot more support a lot more appreciation a lot more encouragement a lot more how can we help what more can we be doing and that there only was growth from that nothing was sacrificed.

Helen Chapman: Agreed and end the it's lovely to hear you say this coz I mean, I just think that it comes back to a mindset of a belief in generosity, a belief in giving to each other a belief like you say that if I if I give you my tacit knowledge I'm not losing anything. I gain and it just makes me realise that to describe something that each of us hold the knowledge that we have in ourselves, to be able to get that out of our heads through our words to describe it to other human beings so that they understand it actually has a benefit of helping us understand it more ourselves and so the benefit is of growth.

Amy Webb: Yep, all round for everyone involved.

Helen Chapman:  Yes, I have a number of clients who really espouse and work with a Growth Mindset and growth mindset thinking about ‘how can we?’ rather than ‘why can't we?’ is the generosity of ‘we can’ and sharing and together we're better you know this idea of growth by giving and a generosity of spirit I think is such a powerful thing and something that I think we as a business all share, and when we work with clients in a similar way in a week you and I and the rest of the team often talk about helping our clients to be independent from us by giving them access to what we know and how we work so that they can do it without us and that builds even more trust overtime because we don't lose anything. It means that another team is able to work well in their conversations with each other and together in doing that way we all grow and that and that is a real mindset thing so even if sometimes you're not quite sure or we're not quite sure how to make it happen to come back to – “and if I was going to be generous about this what might I do?” I think is a fundamental way of operating.


Amy Webb: I think is very countercultural, in especially corporate settings when people enter the business world they’re told like ‘Ohh it's dog-eat-dog, everyman for themselves’ and it really does breed a scarcity mindset so to try and stand against that and think of that generosity that growth mindset how can I be giving to those around me and therefore receiving from those around me in a mutual way rather than taking from, it is really against the norm but I think that then would make you stand out as a business.

Helen Chapman: Yes I agree, couldn't agree more,


Amy Webb: So I don't think that we can leave people necessarily with practical tips for this because I think it is such a mindset shift that's needed that again comes from needs to come from within and needs to start with the individuals, but have you got a key takeaway for our listeners.

Helen Chapman: I do and I think it comes back to the component parts of the things that are happening in meetings so the TFP Kaleidoscope™ so there are people in meetings talking about stuff, the stuff being the content. The content that's brought to a meeting needs to be done so in a purposeful way so there needs to be a reason why you're bringing it, recognising that too much information will clog up the conversation, too little leaves it a bit thin but the right amount the right angle on the content or the subject matter being  brought to get the benefit from the brains in the room is the way to go. And to think that knowledge sharing plus knowledge sharing means something - performing to a PowerPoint to demonstrate your knowledge and that you're knowledgeable on something, is interesting and might be quite impressive but doesn't actually do a great deal for you for the team for the business. So treat knowledge is a real rich commodity that if it's shared well and engaged with well can really make everything grow.

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