It is the human interface with new technologies that will mostly likely drive the best personal and business value propositions into the future. Yet both companies and individuals can miss the people behind the tools and the mindset of change for adoption of new tools. I sometimes wonder if one of the barriers to digital transformation lies in a thinking trap we’ve fallen into. It’s about change and the rhetoric around it.

climate-chalkboard_310x206I once attended a Social Anthropology lecture that covered “The myth of the unchanging past’. My much-admired, clever and somewhat quirky lecturer presented it so eruditely, and it’s been with me all the way since I was a student. But it’s taken a while for what was presented to fully sink in.

The myth speaks to the fact that we tend to assume the past never changed, and it was rather idyllic for that. We see the past as rose tinted, constant and in sharp juxtaposition to today, where there seems to be constant change clutter and chaos. Our worldview of change is as an imposter, arriving one night and settling in, needing management and containment. That’s why we have separate ‘change management projects and budgets’, run by change specialists. We don’t see change as part of who we are, and what we drive.

If you think about it, not even two days have ever been the same. Change has always been with us. Yes, the rate of change has increased. But aren’t we the ones with our feet on the pedals, accelerating the pace of change through our preferences, choices, actions and inventions?

If we have come to view change as an outsider to be managed, how does that shape our orientation to both the present and the future?

Drew Hanson interviewed Rita J King in an article for Forbes in 2012: Imagination: what you need to thrive in the future economy. Rita had this to say:

In the Imagination Age, we can collectively imagine and create the future we want to inhabit … The shape of the future is reliant on the ability to think ahead. In the Imagination Age, we are attempting to create the future we can imagine.

If we want truly novel things to happen in our organizations, we need to learn to let go of the thought that we can always foresee and plan what that newness is going to look like.’

Is that a bit of a departure from what is expected of our leaders now?

Change is all about us, it is us, and it always has been. The mindset we need for future imaginations doesn’t manage change the imposter (the thinking trap). It accepts it, lets it out and plays with it – not always an easy thing to get right in an organisation. But there are some skills that we can develop that would be useful for that. I’m interested to hear what you think those are.

What’s your value proposition for the future?

I have a few questions to reflect on.

Here’s the context.  More than a few individuals and businesses are ‘doing’ social media, seemingly because everyone else is doing it.  There is a mix of urge, rush, relish and reticence to be present, present on platforms that are fast-growing or driving lots of referral traffic, new platforms, old ones.  And some are feeling somewhat skeptical about the value of it all.  When times get tough, it’s a low’ish priority, and social activity and commitment drops.

What’s happening is that social wasn’t crafted and formed up front with a good dose of reflection and strategy, and it hasn’t  stuck in any value-driving way.  In place of developing an orientation for the future, we are just busier!

What could be happening, is that social engagement could be steering us to a better place in tough times, keeping a thread that’s linking into the future, staying connected and exploring new possibilities.

So here are the questions:

Do we start with our goals and context as number one, and see how social technology may or may not plug-in, where and how, to everything we do?  Or is it a pack-on?

Is there a change process involved in adopting new social tools?  How does that impact enjoyment, uptake and return?

Do we sometimes say no thanks to some platforms, even if they are (very) popular? (We can and we should.)

What happens when we let an external provider take all the reigns for our social media activity?  Are you just present, with a target frequency of posts?  Do you lose some of the nuance,  because interaction is brokered through a third-party, and you are not close to that interaction?

16054830Social media can activate a piece of a larger puzzle, a plan, a future goal.  To do that, we need to think about our individual context, where we are now, where we might want to be, what tools can make that possible.  Then we need to identify the skills we need and focus on developing them.

The MIT Leadership Framework, one of many, speaks to ‘sense-making’, ‘visioning’, ‘inventing’ and ‘relating’.   Developing and exercising your curiosity, learning, connecting, finding and sharing new insights, showcasing your thought leadership, shaping current and new offerings – that’s leading too.

Leadership is enabled these days with a myriad of new social media at our disposal.  We can all lead, ourselves, others, our businesses.  And we can also shape our own value proposition into the future in so doing.  In place of a one-size-fits all, let’s think about the unique and different, the personalised, the customised.

Explore what’s new out there, evaluate what tools might work for you, say no to ones that don’t, experiment.  Think about what will make you valuable in the future.  Find and remain connected to a network of global early adopters who explore, engage and share.  With curiosity and an open mind, we will delight ourselves.

This is a guest blog I wrote for The Performance Hub.  You can find the original post on their website here.

It is said that everyone saw the apple fall from the tree, but only Newton asked why.

 

What’s the relevance of asking ‘why’?

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A mindset of understanding and inventiveness, which starts with asking ‘why?’, might be essential for operating in a business climate that is cost-pressured, fast-paced and critically customer-centric. Curiosity may not be so bad for the cat after all – the desire to do new things in new ways could hold the keys to successful and abundant futures.

If we are defining innovation quite broadly as the implementation of a new or significantly improved product, service, process or interaction that creates value, then creativity is going to play a key role. Creativity can generate the ideas that, through innovation, eventually add value to your products, services and interactions. Those improvements could offer competitive advantage. They could propel you through tough times and help you truly relish better ones. Think Rene Mauborgne’s Blue Ocean, or Seth Godin’s “Purple Cow.”

Some say creativity is not a discipline as such – but it is essential for innovation.  Without creativity, innovation is stumped. We are naturally creative when we grow up, we can learn to be uncreative. Think about the child that constantly asks why until eventually they’re told not to ask so many questions, or told, ‘that’s just how it is.’

So if we learn to be uncreative, can we learn to be creative again? Many will tell you, yes!  With practice. Here is a quick quiz that will assess your creativity and provide you with a few tools to spark ideas. Clay Christensen also talks about the developing the Innovators DNA, a set of 5 simple behaviours that can be practiced. If these sorts of behaviours aren’t being encouraged somewhere in your organisation, perhaps it’s time to start.

  • Associating
  • Questioning
  • Observing
  • Networking
  • Experimenting

It’s not always easy to support ‘why’. Competing demands can push us towards just getting the job done, in the way we know how. But just getting the job done is no longer enough.

‘Daniel H. Pink looked at society’s future and saw that it belonged to the creative minds.’

If we’re not developing and innovating with the ability to see familiar things in a new light, we may not be around in the future witness the change we didn’t drive. Take a look at some of these future videos, and you’ll get a sense of what I mean.

Gather info, reflect on the root of challenges, push your thinking into what the future might look like, generate and evaluate your ideas, and most importantly, allow some experimentation with the ‘whys’.

How about a job with flexible hours and unlimited vacation?

One that promises ‘your ideal computer setup’, 50% credit towards your purchase of any mobile devices, ergonomic desk setup, wireless stipend, catered lunches and lots of free snacks and drinks.  That’s in addition to 100% Medical, Dental and Vision Coverage, 50% spouse/dependents, and other benefits.

In return, you need to be passionate about what you do.

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That’s what Pocket, offering the app to beat when it comes to bookmarking and managing links, will provide in return for helping to build a company that revolutionises how people consume web content.

Sounds kind of cool, doesn’t it?  Like some people are pushing the box on what we traditionally experience at work (think unlimited holidays).  Something you might want in your pocket?

What do these words describe?   Sense-making, visioning, inventing, relating.

It’s the MIT Sloan 4 Capabilities Leadership Framework.

How many leadership development programmes have a mainframe like this, how many leaders in organisations are developing these critical – some might say ethereal –  components of leadership?  I can think of a few leadership pointers that are less complex to assess, and easier to enhance than say ‘sense-making’ or ‘visioning’.

The truth is, it takes a deep, long, and often hard look at yourself, driven by yourself, to be great at things like relating and sense-making and visioning.  And this doesn’t happen in isolation.

Organisations, or collectives, that have these sorts of capabilities are no doubt better at creating wonderful experiences and products.  They are tapped in, tuned in.  Leaders create and curate the conditions where people who are wondrous at these things are also valued and supported, at more levels than just the top.  It’s not an easy job, producing remarkable things.  Command and control is not so far behind us.  According to Peter Senge, leaders will probably excel in about two of these areas.

How much are our comfort levels are at play when we face developing these leadership skills?  How does this impact the way they percolate through our organisations?

The results of a study by the Institute for the Future (IFTF) are great for pushing thinking boxes.  They speak of skills like ‘cognitive load management’, ‘design mindset’ and ‘new media literacy’ in addition to sense-making and social intelligence, which could be said to map to the MIT framework.  And they say everyone will need them.  Take a look at their skills of the future list here, and their forces shaping the world (which is partly how they arrived at this list of skills).  In 5 minutes, give yourself a score out of 10 for each skill.  How do you measure up?

This is one view, there are many.  I like this study because in place of predicting what jobs are needed, they looked at what skills we will need.  These skills will be in short supply in 2020, says the IFTF.  And we should all be thinking about our value proposition in the future workplace, and about crafting one that we will enjoy.

Perhaps we could plot an assimilation of these skills on the innovation curve.  Early adopters will drive their own value into the future.  They’ll be testing and refining, creating futures. It strikes me as a case of the disrupted and the disrupters.  But that’s a whole other blog.  What you’ll notice is that these skills will start to apply in just about every avenue of your life.

The future is not far away.   Is it already here?   Perhaps the future is starting today.

So here are the questions, the exciting ones.   What does the future require of leadership? What seeds are we planting for the leadership we’ll provide and need in the future?

There is no longer a lone ranger, one hero.  Superman is dead.  That’s ok.

Supermann blaue flamme

Today I have been asking myself this question:

Who puts into practice all the top tips we’re gifted with through our plentiful social media streams?

Last year I conducted a little experiment.  It was motivated by a theme that runs through a lot of my work – choosing to be smart about how we manage our working lives and the vast amounts of information we encounter on a daily basis.  The experiment was this: I had booked a longish holiday but wasn’t savouring the thought of returning to an overly full inbox of emails to process.  Before I left for the holiday, I cancelled my subscriptions to updates, newsletters etc.  In short, I didn’t miss much of what was being delivered to me, and it was a good chance to refresh or ‘re-relevance’ the slate.

Now I am doing another experiment based on the question above. I read at least five to ten ‘top tip’ articles a week.  Some of them really offer little gems that we all could use to maximise our enjoyment of life and work. I am intrigued to find out how much of the advice we receive every day on Twitter and LinkedIn is put into practice.

Here are some of the titles of recent ‘top tip’ articles:

▪    4 ways to fast track that promotion

▪    5 ways to make your employees hate you

▪    10 tips to a more professional Linkedin profile

▪    11 rules of highly profitable companies

▪    12 tips for team building

▪    33 ways to be an exceptional entrepreneur

Jeffrey Pfeffer spoke about a ‘knowing – doing’ gap. We know what to do, we just aren’t closing the loop and doing it for better results.

Using the hashtag #DoingGap, through my twitter account (@gaylinjee), I am going to turn the ‘top tips’ from these articles into questions, to see who is actually putting them into practice and with what effect.  Join me and add your own answers.  I’d love to hear them.

In Why Being Social Makes You a Better Leader, Geil Browning talks about a new era of leadership where relationships and social connectivity matter more than ever before for powerful leadership.
Agree?
She says a social, relational approach is going to take you places, and that’s characterised by:
  • intuitive thinking
  • care for how decisions affect people
  • orientation toward relationships and a desire to get things done through people
  • a collaborative, team focused approach
  • an ability to connect ideas and work to people.

The last 3 points are most interesting.  We have powerful new tools at our disposal.   Ideas, people and social technologies are all growing up together, creating something that’s different from before.  That’s powerful.  A leadership revolution is drilling its way up through the core of ‘the way things used to happen around here’.

I like these words from Jane McConnell (@netjmc):
‘Certain social capabilities disrupt the way organisations work, challenging hierarchical management.  HR no longer controls the definition of expertise: experts emerge in discussions in internal social networks.  Communication no longer completely controls the message, the target and the timing: employees share information and make announcements spontaneously in blogs and discussion groups.’
The bird at the top of the perch is no longer necessarily the leader.
Social leaders can be anywhere.
This blog was first published in Aug 2013