How my praxis is changing

For many years, my practice was mainly about process consulting, with some research on the side. Because I love reading and theorising, my work always combined operational with conceptual development. I think my most significant value add to my clients was in the informal coaching and decision support I gave them on the side.

Over the years, the commissions I received to mainly do research, conceptual development or decision support work steadily increased. Still, I wanted more, as my programme was still mainly organised around consulting assignments. Then last year it happened. For the first time, research, conceptual development and decision support was my primary source of income. These are longer commissions to figure something out, develop a framework, or synthesise a lot of literature and research.

I get these commissions because my clients are finding value in the topics I am researching, and they are interested in leveraging these insights in their work. So my consulting assignments now become the place of integration, while my self-funded and commissioned research becomes the source of inspiration, ideas and curated content.

At last, I am consulting on the side. Almost all my short term process consulting assignments are now about applying or leveraging my research. My consulting contracts are now about weaving together my research in a way that helps my clients make better decisions and lead healthier and more innovative organisations. What I find rewarding, is that research topics that I struggle to keep apart in my mind, all seem to flow together at my clients. The consulting work is still important, but now my world is increasingly organised around my research interests.

For instance, some of my current research themes are:

  • Strengthening meso organisations, and figuring out how societies create, modify and measure these organisations
  • Establishing technological intelligence in industries, regions and organisations to sense discontinuous technological change Enabling innovation cultures that leverage tacit knowledge Enabling teams to draw on complexity thinking to search and discover for opportunities for systemic change.
  • Developing our systemic insight methodology and tools that enable teams to search and discover for opportunities of systemic change in complex or ambiguous environments.
  • How do societies learn, adapt and develop appropriate physical and social technologies? How does this dissemination happen? Is there really a paradigm shift to a “fourth industrial revolution?” or is this just hype?

I have seven or eight of these themes, with some being more coherent while others are still more disordered.

Now at my clients, these themes weave together in amazing ways:

  • I am helping a ministry of trade and industry to establish a technological change observatory to better anticipate and respond to technological disruption. This assignment combines my exploration in meso organisations, but it also harnesses my work on technological change and measuring change.
  • In another country, I am assisting a newly established think tank in developing a strategy, and in promoting knowledge intensification in the broader economy. This project draws on my work on meso change, but it also draws on my earlier experience in helping teams to conduct and make sense of industrial analysis.
  • In yet another context, I am helping an industry body to make sense of an industry diagnosis that we conducted on their trade members to understand their reality and the dynamics in their industry. This was part of a larger assignment to help a skills development project figure out how it can better support dual vocational education and job creation.

I am enjoying this new balance. It is gratifying to synthesise many loose strands into simple organising frameworks. It draws on my strengths of reading broadly, tinkering with ideas, finding literature from wise scholars on these ideas, and finding ways to make these concepts useful to my clients.

Published by

Shawn Cunningham

I am passionate about how organisations and institutions change in developing and transitioning countries. I essentially work between organisations, communities, industries and experts.

One thought on “How my praxis is changing”

  1. It is great to hear that your work develops as you want, which is well-deserved, I am sure, but also very difficult to achieve in practice. Approach you are now applying in work with clients shows that clients are not only concerned how to survive every working day with all of its dynamics (which is a daily challenge for all of us, I believe), but ready to engage in activities that can give long term perspective, thus enabling stronger influence on how their business will develop in future, which is encouraging and inspiring. Wish you and your clients every success and many interesting discoveries. Looking forward to hear more about initiatives such as the mentioned technological change observatory.

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