This blog is a collection of simple wisdoms from influencers I admire.

Dorie Clark

In a globalised society, your ideas can attain greater scale than ever before possible.

Make a commitment to something larger than yourself. A great idea is about more than just you.

The best ideas don’t stay tied to their creators forever, they go out into the world and make a difference because people make them their own.

Seth Godin

The choice to push all of us toward a universal normal merely to help sell more junk to the masses is both ineffectual and wrong. The opportunity of our time is to support the weird, to sell to the weird, and, if you wish, to become the weird.

Peter Drucker

Every organisation must prepare for the abandonment of everything it does.

Margaret Heffernan

Thinking is a rather prosaic, low-tech concept, often forgotten and easily underrated.

Immanuel Kant

Dare to think!

Virginia Satir

Get excited about who you are, what you are, what you have and what can still be for you. Tune into your own wisdom. Your responses to the events of life are more important than the events themselves.

Naval Ravikant

Live the life you have. Embrace the future. Set up systems rather than goals.

Be radically honest and truthful.

Believe in compound interest – everything runs on compound interest, from business to personal relationships.

 Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times. The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.

Margaret Mead

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

More beautiful questions

Innovation starts with thinking about, asking and owning the answering of questions. The payoff to asking better questions is that we can tackle the unknown and find better solutions. Innovators move the world forward through questions. They ask – What if? Why?

As we grow from children into adults, we learn that playing it safe has merits. Questions can show weakness, ignorance and may be perceived as challenge – thus unveiling unwillingness or a lack of desire to co-operate. Questions slow things down and introduce perceived inefficiencies. Many of us, over time, become more measured in the questions we ask. Some just stop questioning altogether. Questions can be risky. But this stepping back comes at a huge cost. We miss opportunities to check our understanding, and we gradually lose our natural sense of wonder and curiosity. Questions allow us to organise our thinking about what we do not know. Asking a good question can challenge a long-held wisdom, and put new perspective to the familiar. Questions help us to solve new and unfamiliar problems. Questions can change us, and the world around us.

If more beautiful questions have so much to offer us, particularly as we wake up to the imperative of ‘curiosity’ at work, why don’t we spend time thinking consciously about how we question, and aiming to improve the questions we ask? Encouraging questioning and developing skills in this art and science seem highly undervalued. What if we could harness the beautiful power of questions to move us into new dimensions?

Getting to more beautiful and purposeful questions – a few pointers

  • There is no right or wrong question, but a good question is rooted in an authentic curiosity. This is different to a criticism in disguise, or an ‘ask’ to prove a point.
  • Explore the question with the person who asks it. Turn the question around and out. Ask what everyone else thinks.
  • Encourage questions, and don’t think you always have to answer them. Encourage ownership of questions. Every innovator starts out with ownership of a question.
  • Create a culture of valuing questions. There needs to be a better understanding of the value of questions and what questions do, so that they are better received, and so that we get better at asking them.
  • Don’t let questions become career limiting moves. Don’t label questioners as obstructive and disagreeable. Instead, support people in the practice of their skill to ask more beautiful questions, the kinds of questions that move us forward.
  • There is something to be said for the total novice or rookie, who poses the question that may seem ‘stupid’ but that actually naturally challenges accepted wisdom. Why have we always done it this way? Who comes to something with innocent eyes, and what questions do they have?
  • Encourage shared ownership of questions. This is sometimes referred to as collaborative enquiry, where everyone plays a part in answering the question. You can use techniques like Lego Serious Play to model the answering of questions, and to generate more questions to be asked.
  • Be conscious of what you think you already know. Our own depth of knowledge can conspire against questioning. A sense of knowing can mean we stop asking where it might matter most.
  • Practice your questioning and develop it like a skill. Questioning is one of the 5 skills of the Innovators DNA that can be learned and practiced.

Have a go at asking and answering these questions yourself, right now:

What is the big question in your organisation / your work … how might we / I? Can you turn your mission statement into a mission question? What if companies replaced their mission statement with a mission question, and then shared ownership for answering that question with the whole company? What impact would that have?

This post draws a lot on The Knowledge Project, Farnam Street Blog, by Shane Parrish, this episode: “Improve Your Life by Improving Your Questions”. The podcast is an interview with Warren Berger — journalist, speaker, author and self-proclaimed questionologist. Explore this topic in more depth by listening to the full podcast or read the book, A More Beautiful Question. It shows how the world’s leading innovators, education leaders, creative thinkers and start-ups ask game-changing questions to nurture creativity, solve problems and create new possibilities.

Unleashing the big c

I recently took part in a Connectle on Innovation Mindsets. The panel of speakers was impressive and inspiring. Take Ira Munn from Ierospace. Ira is changing the world, one Drop at a time. Later this year he will launch The Drop, a 3D-printed, energy-efficient, electric vehicle kit made from up-cycled local plastic, like the plastic clogging up our oceans. Making the body of each Drop with recycled PET plastic and a hardener additive reduces the amount of energy consumption and the amount of carbon burn in the manufacturing process. The Drop can be charged at charging stations and standard household outlets. Due to the weight of the vehicle and new technology, it has incredible range. We have the ability to go from vision to vehicle in months not years thanks to 3D printing, says Ira. This is big C – breakthrough creativity.

Adaptation that is creative, rather than reactive, leads us to a better place in the future. Mostly, in our organsiations, we are doing the little c – the incremental builds and innovations, the adjacencies. So how do we get to big C?

People who change the ways things get done start somewhere. They build their skills like a muscle. And we have tools at our disposal to do this. I use one such tool, Lego Serious Play, to open minds and unleash creativity with groups. We get participants to play with Lego, and to model their ideas. First we chat through creativity, and what makes a creative organization. And that often prompts a comment about how hard it can be to push breakthrough ideas through large, legacy organisations and systems. So this post shares thoughts on unleashing the big C.

Anyone can learn to be an original

Creativity is an expression of our uniqueness. To be creative is to be vulnerable. Creativity is also, by its very nature, disturbing. So first, acknowledging these feelings in yourself, and in those around you, is a good start. Added to that, stop thinking that the most successful entrepreneurs (inside and outside of organisations) are creative geniuses who stumbled across that ‘one big idea’. Adam Grant presents the research on this – most of these successful people are relatively ordinary people with original ideas, and perhaps surprisingly, they are taking very calculated risks. He calls them Originals, and whether at home or at work, he believes that all of us can learn to be Originals. Anyone can learn to recognise a good idea, to speak up without getting silenced, and to get new ideas to stick. Think about building a muscle. Managerial bias (evaluating the outliers OUT), confirmation bias (looking for evidence to prove you are right), and too much deep knowledge in one area can do you a disservice. Some breadth and some depth of knowledge is most helpful, says Grant. Think too about kissing a lot of frogs – and by that we mean coming up with sheer numbers of ideas, because one will stick at the right time in the right place. Take feedback from creative peers, not necessarily your evaluative management team as a first point of call. You could also do well to look out for those people who have passion for ideas as well as the execution of them.

Do new things – the seven dimensions of creativity

Doing new things, like playing an instrument or traveling to a new place, is good for your creativity. Spend time with people who are different to you. This stretches awareness, of self and of the world. It also induces a certain humility into your worldview, because over time you become aware of what you do not know. Or put another way, you become aware of just how much there is to know. Awareness is one of the seven dimensions of creativity according to Nick Heap. The others are listed here:

  • Play, which produces new insight and action, and demands the ability to suspend judgement and allow new ideas and experiences to connect and form. It is one of the reasons I love to work with Lego.
  • Flexible Persistence, because anything new challenges what is established, and you need to be flexible and persistent to ensure your ideas do not fail prematurely. You need to take others with you, influencing them and understanding ‘what’s in it for them’, so that you can harness organizational energy in pursuit of success.
  • Purpose. People show up for things that are bigger than just themselves. What’s the purpose behind what you are doing? Is it communicated and understood?
  • Attention. New ideas need positive attention, attention nourishes creativity. Yet new ideas in their essence may not fit, they disturb, and so often we do not give them attention. Think about how you might reward for innovative ‘tries’ in your context.
  • Inspiration. What is inspirational in your context? How do you inspire as a leader?
  • Power – a strange dimension, one might think. Heap defines this as the ability to make good things happen. It is about taking charge of our own destiny and creating new realities, rather than playing what John Sanei calls the victim, waiting on what other people decide.

“No organisation can be creative unless it has lots of powerful people who can be models for others. You can learn to be more powerful.” – Nick Heap

Co-consulting to feed creativity, and other final tips

Encourage employees to support each other, using a co-consulting approach. This gives attention to each other and to new ideas, which feeds the creative process. Co-consulting is where one person talks about and explores an issue while the other listens, encourages, asks questions and challenges assumptions. Relax the rules so that people can play a little, just make the outcomes clear. Commit to building your influencing skills, so you are the change maker not the victim of a system that paralyses you. Try to think broadly and openly, and embellish your ability to do this by doing new things with new people. Lastly, search for the truth, in the context of your true north.

“We have the ability to come together, where creators can become consumers. We can do things differently, one drop at a time.” – Ira Munn

 

 

These are my top picks for 2017. They all point to a recognition, an awareness that is bubbling and rising. As individuals and organisations, we’re coming to know that we have influence, but that the influence we have can be shaped, developed and directed in more profound ways. The works I have highlighted below ask questions we need to answer, as people and groups with power: Why am I on this career path, in this particular job, or in this organisation? Do I like ‘the way things get done around here’? What impact are we having on tomorrow, and who benefits from what we do, and how? Who doesn’t benefit, and am I ok with that? What can I/we change?

   Of the four works, three are books, and two of them are South African publications. The last work is a podcast by Naval Ravikant. Naval is the CEO and co-founder of AngelList. He’s invested in more than 100 companies including Twitter, Yammer, and many others. But this podcast is not about early stage investing. Naval is an incredibly deep thinker who challenges the status quo. As far as podcasts go, it’s a long one (2 hours). Trade a movie or two episodes of your favourite series. Naval might just change the way you think about, and live, your life. 

1. ORIGINALS, How non-conformists move the world, by Adam Grant @AdamMGrant

In his book Originals, Adam Grant explores how innovators see the world differently. But what sets this book apart is the way he champions us all to be originals – and improve the world in so doing – by recognising good ideas, speaking up without getting silenced and getting new ideas to stick.

Grant also debunks some commonly held myths. The greatest creators don’t necessarily have the deepest expertise, but rather the broadest perspective. Success is not usually attained by acting ahead of everyone, (first mover advantage) but often by waiting for the perfect time to act. Procrastination can be good. And the best entrepreneurs are not risk maximisers, they actually take the risk out of risk taking.

This book is definitely worth a read if you want to champion new ideas. It is packed with research and case studies.

2. The WELLBEING ECONOMY, Success in a World Without Growth’ by Lorenzo Fioramonti @lofioramonti

Place humans and nature at the forefront of economic objectives, says Prof Lorenzo. “We need an economy that empowers people; we need ‘pro-sumers’ rather than consumers – people that produce and consume in different ways.”

This manifesto for change in South Africa comes from a strong belief that the pursuit of growth results in more lossess than gains, and often in damage, conflict and inequality. Breaking free from the growth mantra allows us to build a better society that puts wellbeing at its centre, boosts small business and empowers citizens as collective leaders of tomorrow. Reading this book makes us more aware, prompts us to connect the dots, and also to make changes within our own spheres of work and life.

Walk the wellbeing economy talk and get your copy at local bookstore LoveBooks http://www.lovebooks.co.za/.

3. ‘WHAT’s YOUR MOONSHOT: Future-proof yourself and your business in the age of exponential disruption’ by John Sanei @IamJohnSanei

Cape Town-based trend and innovation strategist, John Sanei, explains what it takes to thrive – rather than merely survive – in our exponentially changing times. He decodes the mega-trends reshaping human behaviour and the way we do business, and explains how to innovate your business so as to make a positive impact on millions, if not billions, of people.

Much of the first part of the book focuses on the mindset to thrive, and moving from being a victim to being an architect of the future. Studies prove that we can change our mindsets from fixed to growth, and when we do, it leads to increased motivation and achievement.

‘Brilliant read for any entrepreneur. Very relevant. Easy reading. Loved it.’ – Shantelle Booysen – Business woman of the year.

4. Naval Ravikant on Reading, Happiness, Systems for Decision Making, Habits, Honesty, via Farnham Street Blog @naval

This wide-ranging interview is about habits, decision-making, mental models and life. I did warn you up front, it is almost two hours! Grab a pen and paper, and listen in chunks. I found it to be full of simple, relevant wisdoms.

https://www.farnamstreetblog.com/2017/02/naval-ravikant-reading-decision-making/.

Each one of these picks has significantly shaped our thinking and our work at 33 Emeralds. I hope they also inspire you to action. Share this post and your thoughts on twitter: @gaylinjee

An earlier version of this article was written for Talent Talks Africa.

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Many organisations remain unclear about what they are really trying to achieve on this here planet we call our home. When asked, Why does your organisation exist? they answer thus: ‘to make money’. Because to them, money is the most important thing. It is what they measure and what they prize above all else, especially above people. They talk about resources, scale, competition and maximising profits. Will these organisations survive so long into the future?

Making money is essential, but it is not a purpose. Read the inspirational classic from psychiatrist Viktor Frankl: Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl practiced logotherapy, from the Greek word logos (‘meaning’), asserting that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful. Newer kids on the block are talking the same language. Watch Simon Sinek’s TED Talk How great leaders inspire action, by starting with Why.

A reason for existing is important to people. A reason for existing is also important for organisations. The powerful work on the exponential organisation defines a new (hugely successful) breed of organisation, “one whose impact (or output) is disproportionately large — at least 10x larger — compared to its peers because of the use of new organizational techniques that leverage accelerating technologies”. Exponential organisations all have this in common – they embrace a Massive Transformation Purpose (MTP).

“The more we organize around massive transformative purpose, the harder we’ll work, the more dedicated we’ll be, the faster we can solve big problems—and maybe most importantly, the more fulfilled we’ll feel about the work we do.”

Peter Diamandis, Singularity University.

Perhaps our Why’s are not more present and lived because we are not clear on them – as individuals or as organisations.  So this post provides a few ways we can get more clarity.

For individuals, you can take a WHY Discovery Course online from Simon Sinek. Your why is the reason you get up in the morning. Everyone has one, and knowing it helps you to make better choices, at work and at home.  In the interactive course,  you discover and articulate your personal WHY — the purpose, cause, or belief that inspires everything you do. As Sinek says, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

I also like the process traced out by Peter Diamandis of Singularity University to create your Massive Transformative Purpose.

MTP.pngCreating your MTP

You can create your MTP by asking yourself the question: Who do I want to create a lasting and positive impact for? Next you identify the problem you want to solve. You can do this by writing down 3 items that get you really fired up. Now score each item against these questions, with a rating of 1 for little difference, to 10  for a very big difference:

  • At the end of your life, if you had made a significant dent in this area, how proud would you feel?
  • Given the resources you have today, what level of impact could you make in the next 3 years if you solved this problem?
  • Given the resources you expect to have in 10 years, what level of impact could you make in a 3-year period?
  • How well do I understand the problem?
  • How emotionally charged (excited or riled up) am I about this?
  • Will this problem get solved with or without you involved?

Add up your scores for each item. What gets the highest score? Focus on that item.

Here are some examples of MTP’s to inspire you: 

Virgin Galactic: “We are creating a Spaceline for Earth with the goal of democratizing access to space for the benefit of life on earth.”

X Prize Foundation: “Bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity.”

TED: “Ideas worth spreading.”

Google: “Organize the world’s information.”

Tesla: “Accelerate the transition to sustainable transportation.”

There’s a secret to motivating individuals and teams to do great things: It’s purpose.

My hope for all organisations of the future is that they leverage abundance, having rediscovered a respect for humans and our natural systems, that they value what it is uniquely human and liberate it. Meaningful and lasting impact through innovation comes from having the freedom to create.  The real shift happening, is from competing and controlling, to creating and liberating. And a larger purpose will direct it all.

Gaylin Jee is Founder of 33 Emeralds, and Co-founder of Sync the Future. She pushes comfort zones with new and sometimes radical thinking and practical tools, so that we can empower our collective futures. 

 

 

 

 

Getting on with AI

At the 2017 Robot Art Competition, robotic painters produced paintings like graduating art students, described as ‘aesthetically ambiguous’. The bearded face of a man stares out from one canvas, another depicts human emotion with jagged, gloomy stripes of black and purple.

AI is a field of computer science that mimics the natural learning process of the human brain by creating artificial neural networks. Developing machines that think is not new. World War II code-breaker and mathematician Alan Turing trailblazed the idea. Virtual assistants such as Apple’s Siri use AI engines to respond to enquiries. Siri can learn by using the feedback it gets to refine the results it provides. That’s why you can ask Siri to call ‘Dad’, once you’ve told it what name in your contacts is your father.

Most of us don’t intimately feel the impact of AI in our lives, or perhaps recognize it as the engine behind Siri, for example. And some of us assume ‘not in my lifetime’. Since WWII, we have come a long way. And with Google, Facebook and Microsoft investing heavily in AI systems, the future will start to look a lot closer.

AI is already advanced enough to enter into companies by way of virtual assistants, and in industries such as banking, as virtual tellers and advisors. AIs are good at processing huge amounts of data, and that’s valuable for services such as fraud detection and security surveillance. They are being used in law and medicine, not only to read and assess documents but to make recommendations, while advances in robotics are allowing doctors to perform surgeries remotely. It’s possible that soon simple surgeries will be performed by AI. South Korea has already introduced a tax on robots. They fear robots may take away jobs leading to mass unemployment. And Elon Musk is worried about AI. Speaking from a vantage point of being intimate with cutting-edge AI tech, he thinks AI could pose a threat to humanity. An AI already exists that can solve the Raven Progressive Matrices Test, an intelligence test of visual and analogical reasoning, better than the average American. Then there is Pepper, the humanoid robot featured in the cover picture, designed to read emotions by analyzing expressions and voice tones. (See this interview with Pepper.)

In future, diversity at work will include AI’s

We should learn to get on well, says Benjamin Wolh in his article ‘How artificial intelligence and the robotic revolution will change the workplace of tomorrow’, because diversity at work in the future will certainly include AIs. If robots are great at many things we don’t like or are not very good at such as performing repetitive, monotonous tasks, concentrating for long periods of time and quickly searching vast databases of information, we should welcome automation of tasks. We could do ourselves better service by putting our unique human attributes to work.  But what does it mean to be human, what value do we bring? In a sense, a lack of better insight in this area is part of the problem.

Liz Ryan, Founder of the Human Workplace, will tell you that we have lost ‘humanity’ in the workplace:

‘There are people in this world who cannot tell you what they think and what they believe. They simply don’t know. They are programmed to be the person they think someone in authority — a hiring authority, for instance — wants them to be.’

For the longest time we have been working hard at managing down the human factor. Humans have posed challenges to the idealistic, ultra-productive workplaces.  They have emotions, they get sick, they get tired, and they get ‘sick and tired’.  Humans can relate and create however, and when in FLOW and working together, they can innovate new and better futures.

Working alongside machines will involve learning how to be better at being human

Michael Harré, AI enthusiast and lecturer in Complex Systems at the University of Sydney, says that living and working with AI will push us to rethink basic assumptions about our sense of self. He believes that we will have to revise what we think consciousness actually is. Preparing for a robotic future of working more alongside machines, will force us to learn how to be better at being human.

The truth is, AI is coming for a lot of the jobs we know now. Whole careers will be innovated out of existence. But we will also innovate whole new careers into existence. People who are flexible and open to learning will continue to be in demand, says Harré, as will those who are more willing to be agile within the jobs they take.

We need to rethink what it means to be human, and what’s deeply valuable about that. Given we’ve spent a lot of time taking the human elements out of workplace, that’s going to be a big shift for some.

 

“If you’ve always done it that way, it’s probably wrong.”  

– Charles Kettering, holder of 186 patents.

We tend to concentrate on things we already know, and time and time again, we fail to take into consideration what we don’t know. This focus on the familiar has costs. It was Nassim Taleb in his book Black Swan who pointed out that banks and firms are vulnerable to rare and unpredictable events called “Black Swan” events, that incurred losses beyond those predicted by their financial models. As humans, we have a tendency to find simplistic explanations for these events retrospectively. Taleb is not advocating that we attempt to predict Black Swan events, but rather that we should build a robustness in the face of those negative ones, and that we should exploit the positive ones that occur too.

In thinking about his ideas, what if we could to do more of this in our workplaces?

  • Unlock the ideas and contributions of more than just the usual suspects like those in positions of leadership, those in traditionally defined and recognized professions, or those who shout the loudest
  • Expect and encourage more than one right answer in solving complex challenges – rather than assuming that a right answer already exists
  • Make ‘thinking deeply’ about new answers welcome and not viewed as wasting time (this thinking has been described as a desirable form of procrastination at work, and was referenced by a panel on ‘Creativity as a business resource’ at the recent Leaderex 2017 conference in JHB)
  • Make it possible for your employees to find and create connections between ideas, visions, offerings, challenges, so that we build new visions in place of over-relying on what worked in the past
  • Get commitment to making it happen – not through sharing a vision, but through engaging people in the process of thinking deeply about, constructing and connecting all the possible ways of doing things.

So how do we closing the knowing-doing gap? There are practices and methods to assist.

Facilitated sessions using Lego, for example, can be used to set constructive, participatory, insight-rich working grounds. A facilitated LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® session can open access to new ideas, locate challenges, create visions and ways forward, and secure stronger commitment to making things happen. By ensuring everyone participates and contributes, time spent together can be more efficient and productive. Here is a bank of case studies using Lego: http://seriousplaypro.com/category/serious-play-case-studies/

There is also a method to form teams that respect, encourage and develop a diversity of game changing contribution. I speak widely already about the GCIndex and its applications so I am not devoting more time to it here.

The reality is, in current workplaces, long-term business success is not down to one person with one idea, nor is creativity the job of one department. There are many new ways of doing, methods, tools, assessments. We just need to provoke our appetite to try some of them out. Don’t we? #mindset

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