Katz Kiely is an organisational change expert (and a truly brilliant human being). She kindly gave me an hour of her time to have a chat about what she’s up to over coffee. Because one of those things involves building a platform that enables collaboration and problem-solving across organisations. And that fits in beautifully with this week’s topic of harnessing the power of the crowd.


At the moment we’re focusing on diversity and divergency on Open for Ideas. And this is something that you’ve got quite a lof of knowledge and understanding about. What do you think are the most important issues that businesses need to deal with right now diversity-wise?

Here’s the thing – I think it depends where you put the beginning and the end of diversity. Being a woman in technology – which I am and always have been – I’ve been sat around board tables with all men or been at networking events with all men.

I went to a convent school which was all girls. It never occurred to me for a second that I couldn’t do whatever I wanted. So I did sciences. Because someone had to do sciences because we were all girls and we had science teachers. So it’s never occurred to me that I wasn’t capable of doing whatever I wanted. And therefore I’ve never felt in a position where I’ve been overshadowed by that.

I don’t consider myself in lots of ways to be ‘a woman’

So I don’t consider myself in lots of ways to be ‘a woman’. I’m a woman who’s a creative who’s a scientist who’s a writer who’s a whatever else. I’m a 360 human being.

And I think that’s the bigger issue for me. It’s stopping thinking about people as minorities or women or men or… at the end of the day, we’re all unbelievably rich 360 multifaceted human beings and we need to figure out how we can allow that to come out.

So diversity is just about difference and the fact that all of us are unique with lots to offer?

Wonderfully unique and creative with different experiences and different ways of seeing the world. And every single one of us has a completely different way of looking at the universe.

Every single one of us has a completely different way of looking at the universe

And therefore, if you’re designing anything within a business context, just with people who’ve got a particular uniform and point of view – or the corporate way of seeing the world – then you’re going to end up with solutions which are uni-faceted and therefore will fail because you’re not finding solutions that work from all different parts of the picture.

Whereas, if you start to change that process so that every time you have a solution you make sure you’re bringing people who have a business aspect, who’ve got a diversity aspect, who’ve got a sustainability aspect, who’ve got an IT aspect – so that you’re actually bringing people with really different ways of seeing the same problem – get them together to try and figure out the right solutions moving forward, then you’ve got some chance of it actually working.

Organisations are pretty awful at embracing the 360 human being. They like pigeon holes and definitions and silos. What can organisations do to become more embracing of every aspect of human beings?

It takes time for culture to change. But I think we’re still working in companies that were designed for the industrial age. We’re still working with companies that are designed as machines. With blueprints. And as if we were all cogs. As if we were all there to serve the machines – or to serve the people who were serving the machines – to make widgets.

It takes time for culture to change

And we’re not there anymore.

I think back in those days it may have made sense for people to all wear the same clothes and behave in the same way because we were there for a very specific reason. We were resourced to make those machines keep running. We’re not in that world anymore. And so the kind of struggle between moving from that mechanistic view of organisations to a completely people-centric view of organisations – it’s really difficult. And you also can’t make people do these things.

The worst thing you can do to a human being is try to squish them into uniformity.

Most of the companies that I’m working with understand they need to change their shape and their operating structures. Some of their C-level leaders are actually incredibly switched-on and understand that they need to change to a more organism-like company. They have an idea of how they’re going to do that. But rather than working with people to try and change those operating models, they command and control. Or they bring in consultants. And actually what they are doing is launching these grenades onto unsuspecting people by telling them “we’re going to work in a different way”.

Suddenly they’re going to give you collaboration enterprise software and that’s going to change all of our behaviours. And these poor people who’ve been operating in a particular way for very many years suddenly have this thing come at them. “What do you mean we have to start using collaboration software? What does that mean?”

The whole premise of what I’m doing at the moment is the fact that we’ve got two key states of being. We’ve got the reward state. And in the reward state, which we evolved so we could keep societies and communities together, we are collaborative and innovative and our health is really good and we like to communicate. It’s all about the individuality of people getting on with each other.

We’ve got six times more neural pathways which are constantly looking for threats

And then there’s the threat state. And the threat state is the fight or flight mode which we evolved so that when we’re being attacked we’d be able to run away. Which was kind of important for any man. We’ve got six times more neural pathways which are constantly looking for threats. So when you look at what happens inside organisations now – as far as change goes – when any change comes at an individual without them really understanding where it’s come from, they immediately go into fight or flight mode. They immediately resist and become more entrenched in the way they were before.

So trying to change a big monolithic organisation where people have had ‘professional personas’ and have had very siloed ways of working, and they’ve become used to that, trying to change them is not something you can do by just telling them they have to start operating in a different way.

It’s nice to have ‘own clothes Fridays’. But that’s not going to change the way people are. And it’s certainly not going to make them feel safe enough for them to be able to be 100% them. And feel safe enough to be able to be the wonderful, diverse, rich human being they’re capable of being.

You understand more than a little bit about leadership and how leaders inspire and inform change. How do you go about getting people to think in what seems to be such a radically different  – and far more loving – way?

It’s really hard. And actually, I think a lot of the white, middle-aged men from Eton who run most of our big companies…

I’m not from Eton but I tick all of the other boxes

Hahaha. My big brother leads a company. he is a brilliant leader and he works on empathy. He believes fully that if he wants his crew to come with him, he has to make sure they’re walking by his side. And not by dragging them along or pushing them along, which is what most people do.

Some people are so caught up in their own ego that they’ll never become anything other than those command and control and “I know best” leaders. But I think what will happen is the leaders who curate and empower and inspire and allow people to be the best they can be, their shareholders are going to end up understanding that that way of leadership gets the best for the company.

I think that the approach to recruitment’s going to change

So I think that the approach to recruitment’s going to change as people understand that the command and control way of doing things just doesn’t work anymore.

Plus we’re walking into a scenario where there will be a lot more millennials in the workforce soon and they’re not going to put up with that shit. They’re not going to have people telling them what to do because they’ll just go somewhere else. They’re going to go to a Google or a Facebook or a Zappos or one of these new-style, organic, participatory organisations.

So I think the dinosaurs, which are led by dinosaurs, will disappear in the same way that 50% of S&P companies have disappeared since 2000. It’s like you either start leading in a way that’s appropriate for the 21st century or you’ll become redundant and irrelevant.

Some of them – forget it! – they’re never going to change! But I think there’s a shift going on and they’ll weed themselves out.

The dinosaurs will disappear in the same way that 50% of S&P companies have disappeared since 2000Click To Tweet
It’s a proper ‘survival of the fittest’ – it’s the best traits that will survive in this new environment?

And also we’re working in an environment, remember, where there’s going to be 40% less jobs in 10 years time – AI, robotics, driverless cars – so that means that we’re not going to have these companies. What we’ll have is a bunch of individuals. And we’ll move to more of a collective-gig economy. And the people who’ll be able to cope with that best are the people who are self-driven and probably empathetic – because if you’re having to work with different groups of people you just need to be able to get on with people.

Or again some people will become redundant or have to change their behaviours.

It’s quite a creative thing to take your skills and pivot. Isn’t this something we should be teaching the generation who are at school at the moment?

I don’t think it’s just about the young ones

Oh my god! Yes! And I think education in the way it is now is educating our young ones for a world that doesn’t exist anymore now – let alone in 10 years time. Those kids should be being taught how to love to learn as opposed to learn the curriculum. They should be being taught how to problem-solve and how to collaborate and how to skill-shift – as opposed to specifics. It just seems ludicrously irrelevant to me now.

But I don’t think it’s just about the young ones either. Actually, what’s going to happen to the old ones when we’re moving towards a hundred year life? When people will be alive for a hell of a lot longer and the redundancies are going to get a lot higher.

And we don’t have the economy with the pension funds that we used to have.

We do not.

I was talking at a conference the other day and the guy before me was talking about longevity – talking about six different ways where we’re getting to the point where we could live up to 140 with a brilliant life. Amazing! Thank God for technology! Thank God for genetics! And all the rest of it! I’m a massive techno-utopian.

I’m a massive techno-utopian

But at the same time, last year a bunch of women – thousands and thousands and thousands of women who’d been putting money into a pension pot expecting to be able to draw their pension at 60  – were suddenly told they’d have to wait until they’re 65. So we’re going to have thousands and thousands and thousands of women who are living on less than £8,000 a year, waiting for their pension. What the fuck are they going to do? I’ll tell you what they’re going to do – they’re going to get more and more dissatisfied and they’re going to start making decisions about our leadership based on the massive distrust that they’re feeling because…

Philip Green’s got an even bigger yacht than he used to have?

Yeah! There’s a growing amount of people who believed in a bunch of systems and frameworks that are frankly inappropriate and they were wrong to trust in the first place. But who knew? And that ends up with all sorts of weird societal and political anomalies happening, without wanting to state the bleedin’ obvious!

On a positive note, you were also mentioning collaboration. So collaborative problem solving, collaborative creativity, collaborative innovation is very much part of the future of the workplace. You’ve been looking at this within organisations. How much are you able to tell us about this?

I can tell you quite a lot about this!

Over the last 10 years, I’ve done nothing else apart from think about approaches to how you get people from different places across organisations to start working together in a meaningful way. And how to break down those barriers. And there’s an approach I’ve developed which has its own little bit of science attached – it’s all based on neuroscience and behavioural psychology and social physics and all of those things.

It basically starts with what we were just talking about – you cannot change the state of an organisation unless their leadership completely buys-in with the concept of what a good, collaborative, participatory company looks like. So that’s the first thing you have to tackle. And then once you figure out what any particular challenge is inside the organisation, what you need to do is zoom out and actually look at that challenge in a holistic way (I hate that word but can’t find another word to replace it!) And then once you know which department is going to be affected by that particular challenge, then you can figure out who the internal influencers or change agents are within those departments. You can then bring those people together into design thinking workshops to collaboratively come up with solutions to that identified challenge.

We’ve been doing that for years for all sorts – pharmaceutical, financial, the UN – so we know that it works and now we’re turning it into a SAS platform.

People are more disengaged at work than they ever have been before

If you’ve got a problem, the problem is this: people are more disengaged at work than they ever have been before. 67% of the worldwide workforce is disengaged with their jobs – 32 million people going into work every day – just at the FTSE 500 – not giving a shit about what they do. So people are a massive problem when you start looking at how to embed transformation across an organisation. Because if they’re resistant, it’s never going to work.

But at the same time, every single one of those people inside the organisation has got an idea for something that can be improved. And what the platform does is offer a way by which people can post their ideas for things that can be improved within the organisation. And then if enough other people agree that’s something that really needs to be looked at, the company knows to take it seriously enough to deal with that challenge. So the challenge-finding becomes an emergent process and allows people to interact with each other in the process.

And then the company also knows who’s been most involved – or who’s most interested in that challenge.

What quite often happens when we do these kinds of collaborative workshops is the company might go “Well, I don’t know. Maybe we should invite all of the SVPs from different departments together” – which is fine but they’re generally not really the change-agents. They’re probably people who are quite political and who’ve worked very hard to get to that position. Whereas the way the platform works is it doesn’t really matter if you’re an intern or whether you’re an SVP or whether you’re on the board, it’s bringing people from across the different silos, across the different levels together to try and find a solution that might work for the organisation.

It’s a 360 solution made by people who are being valued for being 360 people with their own opinions.

You cannot change the state of an organisation unless their leadership completely buys-in Click To Tweet
And from a diversity point of view, I guess it means it’s the ideas that rise to the surface regardless of the status of the human being who came up with them?

Yes. And they literally do bubble up on the platform.

And we seem to forget that change is really difficult and communication is a really, really big part of that. Just making a decision and then communicating that you’ve made that decision and therefore everybody’s going to do it is like – eeeeeh… probably not. It’s probably not going to work.

So a lot of what the platform does is to pick up and disseminate stories and reward people for coming up with ideas and reward people for actually finding solutions. It’s starting to take the behaviours that you need to instill into a successful, collaborative organisation and rewarding them consistently – so it’s embedding those behaviours across the organisation.

So this will hopefully be out in the next year or so?

Yeah, the beginning of next year we’re hoping to have the first – we’re calling it an MDP – Minimum Delightful Product. Because it is.

The other problem around so many enterprise platforms that are available now – and I’ve used many of them – they’re horrible. For some reason enterprises assume that as soon as people go inside a company, they’re happy to use crap interfaces and crap UX and forms and statistics and – funnily enough – they don’t really want to do that. They actually want to be using platforms and apps that are vaguely reminiscent of the things they choose to use at home. So that’s what ours does as well. It’s fabulously gamified and fun and oxytocin-releasing.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited about anything in my life!

What we want the platform to do – I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited about anything in my life! – is to provide the data by which we can start to flatten organisations. So you can give the leadership a really clear visualisation of how their organisation is operating. Because what happens now is that whoever’s reporting into leadership, they just want to make them happy so they present a story that’s generally got very little to do with the reality of what’s going on. And we’ve heard all the horror stories over the last couple of years about what happens when the bottom of the organisation doesn’t have a clear line of communication to the top. Things go badly wrong for the brand. 

So this, basically, is generating and collecting behavioural data from across organisations as well. It’s allowing the leadership to get constant sentiment tracking from across the organisation to see where things are happening rather than listening to what management tells them is happening.

And the most interesting thing, in many ways, is that every time we sell a licence to a corporate, we’ll give a free licence to a not-for-profit.

We call it people-powered transformation. And I think it’s the only way we can move forward. It’s like how do we start to go through these changes with people, using each opportunity as an opportunity to bring people together.

Is there anything that somebody who’s in a position that’s not a position of power can do to start moving things forward within an organisation? Apart from just resign?

I always say that we won’t go in unless we start with a leadership workshop.

We won’t go in unless we start with a leadership workshop

We’re hardwired to resist the ‘other’. We actually produce neurochemicals when we see something that’s unfamiliar to us that makes us feel resistant and aggressive, actually, because we’re tribal creatures. So if somebody starts behaving in a way that is ‘other’ then what tends to happen is that you get pushed out by the corporate antibodies.

And so, if you don’t get that strategic buy-in from the top to say we’re going to identify these individuals and we’re going to reward and respect these individuals so that other people realise that they should be adopting similar behaviours, I think it’s really difficult for individuals inside organisations to push change.

I mean, when I was at the UN, the only way I managed to make that happen is because I went to see the secretary-general and said there will be times – because I’m not going to be the most popular person at this party – that I’m going to have to go “you’re my champion”.

So what I would say then for somebody who’s a change-agent inside an organisation, make sure that you get championship right from the very top so that you can do damage at a peer level.

Get championship right from the very top so that you can do damage at a peer levelClick To Tweet

https://i1.wp.com/openforideas.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/katzkiely2.jpg?fit=1024%2C576https://i1.wp.com/openforideas.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/katzkiely2.jpg?resize=150%2C150Dave BirssDiversity & Divergencybehaviour,change,collaboration,education,leadership,management,minorities,neurochemicals,organisation,pensions,platform,sexism,women
Katz Kiely is an organisational change expert (and a truly brilliant human being). She kindly gave me an hour of her time to have a chat about what she’s up to over coffee. Because one of those things involves building a platform that enables collaboration and problem-solving across organisations. And that...
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Dave Birss
Founder and Editor at OpenForIdeas.org
Dave is obsessed with creativity. He's been a musician, illustrator, stand-up comedian, poet, radio DJ, television presenter and advertising creative director. He also wrote A User Guide to the Creative Mind.
Now he runs Open for Ideas and helps individuals and companies become more creative.
You can find him speaking at conferences all over the world. And sharing his thinking in boardrooms, universities and dimly-lit pubs.