Grappling With Gravitas: Why Serious Play Is Serious Business | Three Stories with Scott Stockwell of IBM

Grappling With Gravitas: Why Serious Play Is Serious Business | Three Stories with Scott Stockwell of IBM

Transcript

Dan: Welcome to the Alan Turing podcast, with James Turing and some of the UK’s most exciting forward-thinking business leaders. Today, Alan is famous as the father of computer science and codebreaker of the Nazi Enigma machine and has been celebrated by the BBC as the greatest person of the 20th century. But it wasn’t always that way.

At the time of his passing in 1954, Alan’s life had been defined as much by the tragic way in which he had been treated by the country he had done so much to help as it had by any of his work in mathematics or computing. Alan’s family are keen to do their part in building a kinder and smarter world that Alan envisioned all those years ago – which is why we’ve launched this podcast series in which James Turing, the great-nephew of Alan, will be speaking to some of the women and men shaping Britain today, covering a range of subjects from sustainability and mental health to inclusivity and innovation.

First of all, just a few words about the organisations behind this series. The Turing Trust is a charity run by the Turing family; they refurbish used IT kit, principally from businesses, and install a range of fantastic educational software and provide it to those who need it most. Principally in rural African communities. Their vision is that one day, every child will be able to enjoy the transformative power of technology.

If your business doesn’t yet have a solution for reusing its old IT kit, please do get in touch.

The other organisation behind this series is Boss Digital, which is an agency I launched in 2010 that specialises in helping B2B and professional service firms generate more business online. We’re incredibly proud to be able to help the Turing Trust accelerate their impact.

So, to reiterate: if your company does not have a strategy for its old IT kit, please visit the Turing Trust website and they will help you turn that waste into a tool that will transform the lives of thousands of students.

Over to James.


James: Hi, Scott. Thank you very much for joining me today on the Alan Turing Podcast. If you wouldn’t mind, would you start just by briefly introducing yourself, please?

Scott: Yeah, thank you very much for having me. Hello, everybody, I’m Scott Stockwell. I’m the Editor-in-Chief at IBM for EMEA, so I look after teams that look after content across all of IBM’s brands and service lines in all of the markets across EMEA

James: Fantastic, thank you, Scott.

So, just to begin today, I wanted to ask you whether you could tell us a little story about something from your early years that led you to pursue this particular path in life?

Scott: Yeah, sure. So I can’t say it’s a job that when I was at school when someone said: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I don’t think the Editor-in-Chief in a B2B organisation would have been at the top of my mind. 

So I’m going to take you on a bit of a whistle-stop tour back to the science museum and the children’s exhibit when I was at the tender age of nine. There’s one exhibit which was an automatic door, which I think most kids were completely consumed by. You broke a beam and the door opened, and as a kid what you wanted to do was kind of beat the system. There was always a huge queue for this, and my parents took me there several times, but I was more obsessed with a tube map. 

“As a kid, I found it completely compelling and what I’m mindful of as I’ve gone through my career and I look back at that, it was kind of setting the direction of where I was going to go.”

This was the map of the underground and underneath was every single station and what you could do was put your finger on the origin station and a second finger on the destination station and the map would light up with your perfect route. As a kid, I found it completely compelling and what I’m mindful of as I’ve gone through my career and I look back at that, it was kind of setting the direction of where I was going to go. And I’ve always loved things like textbooks and guidebooks and the person that read the instruction manual. Things like methodologies and method cards. Things I’ve been involved in like design thinking and something called LEGO Serious Play have all been things that have tried to take something complicated and make it simple. Tried to put things into people’s hands that make it easy for them to get something done and have something that’s a bit playful and enjoyable in it. 

“So, the direction for me was to simplify the complicated and make it fun to get work done.”

So, the direction for me was to simplify the complicated and make it fun to get work done. And all the jobs I’ve done have kind of followed that path and that tube map back in the science museum was sort of the thing that set me on the way I guess.


James: Incredible you’ve brought a literal light bulb moment to this podcast, well done.

But yeah, I think that’s something everyone can agree on. When the tech works, it can often make life a lot simpler and certainly, I think I was hearing a kind of ridiculous story about how Google maps and Ben Nevis haven’t been playing ball together as people have been trying to climb up Ben Nevis in a perfectly straight dotted line from the car park.

But I can totally see that and I’ve done one of those LEGO workshops myself as well, and seeing how else you can explain things in life or in business working through those models, is that something you find that you’re able to use through your day-to-day? Using all these models to describe things more simply?

Scott: I would love to say yes. I think many of us have found physically getting together has been, you know, literally impossible for the majority of the last few months and into years. 

The thing I’ve kind of found really fascinating with it is as kids we’ll learn to draw and we communicate through drawing and when we start school we’re kind of encouraged to ditch the drawing and get into writing. You move into adult life and it’s even more writing and PowerPoint comes into your life, and everything becomes slides and bullet points and things that you’re not supposed to read but we still manage to make anyway. 

“So writing into drawing into modelling – the more we can do those things the better, I think.”

The thing I’ve found most interesting recently is the LEGO Serious Play because there is so much that you are subconsciously manifesting in a physical model. You know, everybody can pick up a piece of LEGO and build something and there’s so much meaning that you additionally get in a model than you do in something that you draw, and so much more that you get in a drawing than you do when you write. And I think the more that we can perhaps look at those sorts of techniques for communicating with each other and problem solving and getting work done, a lot of the richness we just bring as a human experience, I think we will get into what we do day-to-day. So writing into drawing into modelling – the more we can do those things the better, I think.


James: Absolutely. And now moving away very slightly from LEGO, if I may. can you tell me a little bit about a challenging period that you’ve faced in your working life and how that’s kind of

ended up influencing the way you manage and lead others, please?

Scott: Yeah, sure, so I worked for Marks and Spencer for 13 years, moved from there into Coopers & Lybrand and got a job in performance improvement. So based on my background, you’ll kind of get the sense that that was probably a brilliant role to put me into.

My first job was in the rather lovely Avenue Louise in Brussels. I worked there for six months, came to the end of that piece of work and got taken aside by the lead partner and was given the coaching that I would never amount to anything in consulting because I had no gravitas. And he then kind of left me with that piece of feedback and walked off. And that piece of feedback stuck with me for many years.

IBM acquired PwC Consulting which was the spin-off of PricewaterhouseCoopers after the merger of Coopers & Lybrand and Price Waterhouse in 2002. and I started to think: “right, where do I fit in in such a large organisation?” I joined a group called EAGLE, which is IBM’s lgbt+ network group, as a way of finding my own community within a big tech company community. For me it was a complete eye-opener, I totally found a new family, it was a really brilliant experience. 

“There are glass or pink ceilings but there are also sticky floors. So you might be holding a limiting belief about yourself or holding truth – something someone’s told you – and it’s holding you back.”

Two years in, the two people that were the co-chairs coincidentally both left at the same time and therefore left the network group with a bit of a void. No one was instantly rushing in to lead it – myself included – and the options were the group kind of collapses or leaders are appointed and it keeps going. And for me, it was more important to keep it going than it was to see this kind of little group of people just disband. As a result of that, I was lucky to go on a Stonewall Leadership Development Course, and one of the facilitators on the course gave us the notion that there are glass or pink ceilings but there are also sticky floors. So you might be holding a limiting belief about yourself or holding truth – something someone’s told you – and it’s holding you back. And for me, that whole “you have no gravitas, you won’t get any further” sort of was one of those aha moments.

In terms of consulting, I’d always sold on work and I’d always had good feedback but I’d always held myself back with this gravitas thing, so to have that kind of bubble burst for me was like a really big thing. But it wasn’t until a couple of years ago, IBM’s Chief Storyteller – and yes, that really is an official job title – left the company. They were running a long training course for our chief supply chain officer sales team; nine-week course, two weeks in and he left. And the organisers came to me and said: “Scott, will you take this programme on? because we really need somebody” and I was like: “Okay, tell me a bit more” and they said, “You’re the only one with the gravitas to actually pull the training off.” 

“Don’t stick to limiting beliefs and really question what you’re being told.”

So suddenly, this gravitas I’d been told I never had, and something I’d never really felt I developed, seemingly, I had in spades to do this course. So for me, that really crystallised, don’t stick to limiting beliefs and really question what you’re being told. And as a leader, it’s something I’m really keen to do with the people that I lead and the people that I manage. If I hear them sort of declaring something which sounds very limiting or I feel they haven’t challenged me on something I’ve actually said to them, I try to make that a conversation that we have so that they really develop their way through that.

James: Very interesting. So it sounds like that negative experience released you in some ways because you had that epiphany moment. but obviously, I get the impression that you were

quite fortunate to have had that epiphany moment and there are probably many others who’ve never had one yet but are just waiting for someone to give that opportunity to them.

Scott: Yeah, absolutely. It’s that sort of pay it forward. I think if you’ve had a bit of insight that really has changed the direction, or made you look at something in a different way, I think the more that you can kind of pass that forward to other people, the better. 

“Until you know what you want to be known for, other people may find it hard to work out what that is, or may be very clear on what they think it is, but it’s not necessarily what you might want them to think it is.”

Certainly, personally, I had a manager once that made it really clear to me I needed to think about what I wanted to be known for. Because until you know what you want to be known for, other people may find it hard to work out what that is, or may be very clear on what they think it is, but it’s not necessarily what you might want them to think it is. 

So, be really clear about what you want to be known for because it helps the decisions that you make and it helps you almost coach other people in what you are bringing and what you hope to receive from that relationship.


James: absolutely. That’s a very good mantra to live by.

I’m going to put you under a bit of pressure now for my third question, which is a prediction for the future. So what do you think might change the market or indeed the broader business landscape in the coming future?

Scott: So this one, and working for a company such as IBM, with so many different technologies that are being developed. There are so many things to choose from. Quantum is the biggest thing on the horizon at the moment. And that’s really coming to light now, but I think it is something that we are all going to be much more familiar with in the future. 

“The thing for me that is going to make the most immediate difference is natural language processing.”

The thing for me that is going to make the most immediate difference is natural language processing. And for anyone that has watched The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy TV series, or has read the books, and can picture a thing called the babel fish. The babel fish was a small fish that you could put in your ear, and it would bring in language and sounds from outside of the world and outside of your universe and translate it in a way that you can understand. And AI and NLP – natural language processing – and speech to text and translations that are being done automatically, for me, feels like everybody is now capable of understanding everybody else. Which is such a huge leveller. 

But it brings with it the challenge that I’ve talked about a little bit before, in that you need to challenge what you are hearing and what was the intent when it was broadcast. Because I think, we are going to have the tooling to make the text and the language understandable, but we are still going to need to work on what was the intent when it was said. For me, NLP and the fact that everyone can understand everyone else just feels like such an amazing thing that could change a lot for a lot of us. 


James: Absolutely. It’s revolutionary. 

But one of the questions that I would have with that is: do you feel like we are getting close to a globally equal impression when it comes to NLP? 

Scott: I think it’s getting to the point where, yes. It will understand tone, dialect and the more that it hears, the more that it will understand. I actually spent some time with one of our development teams last week training AI in a marketing application – which sounds very strange, how would you do that? Literally, you voice commands that you want the system to do and in real-time you would see on the screen how the technology was interpreting the statement and then working with the developers, looking at what the machine has understood from what was said and determining whether that is what you wanted it to do. And when you think about all the different languages that is happening in, and the common understanding that that can bring, it is pretty mind-blowing. 

James: It really is. 

Thank you so much for joining me today, it was truly fascinating. 

Scott: You’re more than welcome. Thank you for having me. It’s been brilliant.