What is your remarkable? Are you selling it?

In 1991, Douglas Edwards became Google’s first brand manager. The company was barely a year old and Edwards was employee number 59. For his interview, Google co-founder Sergey Brin turned up wearing a T-shirt, gym shorts and in-line skates. He asked Edwards to answer his famous challenge.    After five minutes to think, I want you to explain something complicated to me that I do not already know.   If the candidate wasn’t the right fit, at least it could be an hour of insight gained, airing, absorbing and debating new opinions. Edwards passed the challenge. He was invited for sushi with the team after the interview.

A few weeks after joining, Brin suggested:

“Why don’t we take the marketing budget and use it to inoculate Chechen refugees against cholera. It will help our brand awareness, and we’ll get more new people to use Google.”

At the time Edwards thought this to be a bold and revolutionary approach (a little crazy perhaps?) to growing market share. But as he explains in this excerpt from his book I’m feeling lucky – the confessions of Google employee number 59, a little while later he agreed that saving lives was probably a better use of budget than running ads, which just annoyed people to no effect.

 

The idea of ads annoying people to no effect is one Seth Godin speaks widely to. The end of the TV-Industrial Complex has not resulted in the end of Television Thinking. Television thinking is trying to reach everyone by any means any time with your message. It was based on the principle of interruption, interrupt your audience and grab their attention, bombard them with a message.

The alternative to this thinking is permission marketing, defined as the privilege of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want them. And to get this right we must create and sell things that are remarkable, not only because the other options are boring but because they will be unsuccessful, no matter what anyone tells you.

Seth Godin issues an energetic plea for originality, passion, guts and daring.What is your remarkable-

‘Today, the one sure way to fail is to be boring (or annoying)…make a difference at your company by helping create products and services that are worth marketing in the first place…’

I agree.

Edwards says he quit the advertising agencies he worked for before Google because he didn’t like the idea that he might have to sell something he didn’t believe in. At Google there was a headlong rush to reshape the world in a generation, accompanied by impatience with those not quick enough to grasp the obvious truth of Google’s vision.

Remarkable.

What’s your remarkable? Are you selling it?

Make it Work

I’ve been working with some coaching clients this week and I find myself saying this quite a bit:

“Make it work”

This simple phrase can say two things. Firstly, whatever it is, the block, the challenge, the issue, resolve it. Get to a better point or place, refuel or restore the relationship, find a better way to do things, catch a new idea. Make it work.

The second way of understanding this I only realised after I had said it out loud myself, on leaving, head halfway out the door. Make it Work. Focus on what inspires you, what you enjoy doing and make it what you do, full-time in place of part-time or out of work hours. Find a larger significance and purpose for it. Make it your work.

Can you?

Make it work

 

Seek inspiration beyond the oversimplfied

As guru Brian Solis recommends, I like to seek inspiration beyond the oversimplified.

At our fingertips online is a generous sharing of insights and opinions, thought-provoking, present, creative, curious and clever. Whatever you are looking for you can find. It’s up to you to pick, pocket and personalise your sources.

I’m sharing a few of my secret sources here. They inspire me, shuffle my thinking and give me ideas to connect to each other.

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Ideas

https://www.brainpickings.org/ described as ‘An inventory of the meaningful life’ and ‘cross-disciplinary interestingness, spanning art, science, design, history, philosophy, and more.’

https://aeon.co/ ‘Ideas and culture.’ Aeon is a digital magazine of ideas and culture, publishing an original essay every weekday.

http://nymag.com/scienceofus/ ‘What studies say about human behaviour and productivity.

And then there is http://www.getpocket.com. Pocket is actually bookmarking tool. But it also curates content and delivers it to me in a newsletter. It looks for articles based on the articles I have previously bookmarked or saved to Pocket. What they feed me is spot on. Quite ingenious really. Almost every headline fascinates me.

Rather than bemoan our world that is so information-laden, I celebrate the rich access to all this clever insight and opinion. As said above – it’s up to you to pick, pocket and personalise your sources.

Where do you find your inspiration?

People want power because they want autonomy

A new study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin presented two different conceptions of power to us, power as influence and power as autonomy.

“Power as influence is expressed in having control over others, which could involve responsibility for others. In contrast, power as autonomy is a form of power that allows one person to ignore and resist the influence of others and thus to shape one’s own destiny.”

The authors were interested in which of these two conceptions satisfies people’s desire for power. Do we want power to control others through our influence, or is it more about increasing our own autonomy?

Power ImageThe studies across three different continents, Europe, US and India, offer evidence that:

“… people desire power not to be the master over others, but to be the master of their own domain, to control their own fate”.

We want power over people because we want to be free. This absence of constraint, of plans not being thwarted, of ambitions not being frustrated, in essence an increase in power as autonomy, seems to quench our thirst for more power. But an increase in power as influence does not seem to have the same result, it does not quench that thirst.

The freedom to make your own decisions, and the sense of well-being that comes from doing what you want, is important.

As Julie Beck notes in her article in The Atlantic:

“All told, this research indicates that the desire for power may be somewhat misplaced: Generally, when people say they want power, what they really want is autonomy. And when they get that autonomy, they tend to stop wanting power.”

Tell me about the last time you failed

On the whole, expect to fail. Do it quickly. Learn. Move on. Perhaps even to something different. That’s the new formula. And it makes sense to have new formulas in light of the fact that the business models we used yesterday no longer seem to produce the results we need for tomorrow. The rules of the game have changed. And it happened while we were sleeping. It’s called the World After Midnight (WAM).

“Most of us spend our lives acting rationally in response to a world we recognise and understand but which no longer exists.” Eddie Obeng on the WAM

 

Smart FailureThis new formula for success goes by the name of rapid fire, rapid fail. Obeng calls it Smart Failure. Failing fast and often is the best approach and the key to success in many areas of business, says a Mu Sigma Report (a decision and analytics firm). Take it from the software industry, and as an approach echoed by engineers working in the pharmaceuticals, material sciences and automotive industries. To develop a successful product, try out many ideas through successive experimentations. Technology can enable that. Then learn from each small failure, so that your end product is better. Failure isn’t bad for business, it leads to something else happening.

‘When you view building a business as a series of experiments, you start to see failure as an inevitable step in the process.” Andrew Filev, CEO and founder of Wrike, a software firm in Mountain View, California.

But can we widen this approach to other working contexts? Are we ready to fail? And are customers and brands ready for that too?

In business we have spent a lot of time trying to reach ‘perfect first time.’ For years we have aimed to refine and control, to measure and predict, to reduce margin for error, streamline. We have thoroughly believed and put full effort into making our work, outputs and our futures more knowable, comfortable and sure.

Yet rapid change and technological evolution (which we all drive) is painting a future quite different from this. We can’t predict with too much accuracy. Now our task is to accept that and to learn to work with iterations of a future. We have to be committed to the experiment without being sure of success at the end, or what exactly the success might be. We need to be able to try something new that nobody has done, and get it wrong. We haven’t let go to that quite yet. We ask people to be creative and innovative, but in our organisations we still have a relatively poor tolerance for getting it wrong. We see it and often feel it as incompetence.

When we do start to let go, it will show in the people we look for – we’ll want people who know how to fail and can learn from it. In interviews, we’ll ask: “Tell me about the last time you failed?” or “How often do you fail?” At regular meetings we might ask “What are you learning from your failures?” or “How many failures have you had so far?” We might even ask future employers: “How does your organisation fail?”

Sound far-fetched? Maybe it’s the language we’re using. It seems somewhat black and white for the complexity of our world.

Some worldview adjustments on failure will emerge over time. Failing may just become smart.

Are you ready for a game-changing future?

Our desire to attract and recruit Game Changers is increasing.

That’s because they can use the chaos of rapid change and advancement to fuel organisation competitiveness and success. Game Changers drive innovation. We need innovation to survive. But recruiting Game Changers is just one of the steps to a future-fit organisation and not necessarily the first. Few organisations are ready for the Game Changers they seek, or have within their midst.

Game Changer

Game Changers are people who accelerate evolution at every level. They have this ingenious ability to see round corners and to spot hidden or less than obvious opportunity. Their openness to new ideas and willingness to take risks combined with a high drive to initiate change means they can upend organisations, industries and markets. And they do, because they are typically obsessive about turning their ideas into reality. However it is actually quite common for Game Changers to leave large organisations. Why is this?

To understand more about Game Changers, business insight and talent consultancy eg.1 carried out research and produced this report “The DNA of a Game Changer.” Their work sheds a lot of light on a much-needed group of talent with the potential to change landscapes for those around them. Game Changers are described as needing space and latitude to be creative and to demonstrate their value to the business. Their obsessive imagination and relentless focus on making their ideas real is what we seek yet it also means they can come across as demanding, uncompromising and impatient. They can alienate others and appear disruptive. Frustration can drive Game Changers to seek fulfilment away from the structures that limit them – slow moving, hierarchical and risk-averse organisations.

If we want Game Changers and the successes they drive in our organisations, we need to ensure they are championed by an individual who is senior or has influence within the organisation. We also need to get comfortable with allowing them the freedom they crave to make decisions as well as give them permission to take some risk (and fail). How many of us do this already on a day-to-day basis?

And it doesn’t stop there. Even solo Game Changers or innovation heroes will not produce the competitive edge we need for what lies ahead. We need to think about the collection of individuals who, together, can accelerate evolution at every level. These are not collections of Game Changers, or Game Changers and their minions. There are other roles that help to secure game changing results. The four additional roles identified in the eg.1 work for truly game-changing teams are Play Makers, Strategists, Polishers and Implementers.

Nathan Ott (CEO of eg.1) and Dr John Mervyn-Smith (Chief Psychologist of eg.1), in collaboration with Dr Adrian Furnham (University College London) have designed a way to identify these role players. It is called the GC Index and it is a completely online tool that assesses real and potential contribution of individuals to a company, role or project. It challenges traditional methods – in place of measuring personality type, skills or leadership qualities, it focuses on output. That’s a welcome distinction. The eg.1 work turns a corner in the way we approach the future.

Are you ready to change the game?

For more information about the GC Index and how it can be used in your organisation, drop us a mail. We are accredited to administer the tool and to deliver personalised feedback.

 

 

Are you in good shape? #futureskills #futurethinking

We are gradually phasing into a digital world, one that is starting to look and feel very different. And yet in our organisations, we still focus so much on what we have been used to in the past. We look for and build more traditional leadership and management skills.  Our HIPO’s (high potentials) are typically good at strategy and implementation. And we reward them for climbing a ladder to larger budgets and bigger teams. But will these HIPOs prepare us adequately for what’s ahead?

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‘We can no longer predict the future with any accuracy, but we can build ourselves to flourish there.’

 

 

Do you still think you can predict and control what happens tomorrow? Is your strategy to hang on to what you have, to keep doing what you do better than anyone else, to avoid out-disruption through your excellence, tweaking bits at the sides with a new product or service?  That is not likely to be enough.

What never seemed possible is now reality. New technologies, ways of living, consuming, working and interacting emerge all the time. We need people in our organisations who think and see things differently, who drive new frontiers, who believe in their ideas and pursue them, who take risks. What we offer (like the corporate ladder) may no longer be attractive for the people we need most, if it ever was.

Embracing and leveraging a future that looks little like today is held somewhere in the way you think. Vast and constant change presents a steady flow of new opportunity. Our mindset and the way we view the world, and the skills we build to thrive within it, are critical enablers to unlock that. But they are so often overlooked as we debate the differences between management and leadership, fight over technical expertise, and insist on ways of working that simply do not yield the outputs we need.

How about shaping a future that changes the game? How about refreshing the lens on the people you need, how you attract them, and the ways of working that make this all possible?

It is likely that the outputs and skills we need most will be in short supply tomorrow, exactly because many people and organisations are just ‘hanging on’, being buttressed by change and disruption.

Your appetite to explore and develop the skills you’ll need for tomorrow will become a competitive lever for you. Proactively and positively crafting your own future using new technologies will become essential.

At 33 Emeralds we challenge you to think about how you are going to fare in a world that is uncertain and unpredictable. We have worked with many individuals in organisations, as well as game changers who have left corporate life to shape their own craft. We believe in a business case, offer simple insight, and assess appetite for risk and change. We form intelligent strategy and define approach to fit current realities, allowing you to experiment, build your own savvy, and execute on whatever it is you have lined up.

Are you in good shape for tomorrow?

It is our belief that focusing on predicting the future will leave us short. Instead, we should aim to build ourselves for it. And then approach it with glee.

If there is nothing that excites you about your future, perhaps you should give us a call.

What can you see? Innovation for life

Jamie Lawrence speaks about the real power of a growth mindset on HR Zone. People with a growth mindset, put simply, believe they can. They embrace learning and fear failure less. Here are a few examples from Jamie’s post that illustrate the difference between a growth and a fixed mindset:

Fixed: This is too hard

Growth: This may take some time

Fixed: I’m no good at this

Growth: What am I missing?

Fixed: I made a mistake (messed up)

Growth: Mistakes help me to learn (what can I learn?)

When I read Jamie’s post, I was struck by the thought that a growth mindset must be an essential enabler of innovation, but also innovation with significance. I have written before about following your passion and why this could be the worst piece of career advice, and how innovation on its own is can be empty:

‘The world has an infinite supply of interesting problems. The world also has an infinite supply of important problems. I would love for people to focus on the latter.’ Andrew Ng, founder of Google Brain and co-founder of Coursera.

Just for a moment, empty your mind. Think about it as a blank slate. Imagine your work is empty of fulfillment and significance. What if that emptiness was then viewed as a snow-white page ready for prints? What if you then applied a growth mindset to what you could do?

The innovators DNA talks to 5 key skills we can all refine. Implicit in this work is the belief that these skills can be developed by anyone. One of the 5 skills to refine is to be able to observe the world like an anthropologist. Anthropology teaches us to be aware of the lens through which we view the world, and to observe ‘the other’. When you attempt put your own worldview aside, it is amazing what you can ‘see’.

How can what you do merge with what you like to do, and with what is significant?

What can you innovate into your life? Is ‘life’ and ‘work’ as separate as you thought? Is innovation for life? The future may hold fewer boundaries than we’re familiar with. Let’s see who can get used to that.

What do you expect from disruption?

There’s plenty of chat about how vulnerable the financial services sector is to being significantly disrupted. From a consumer (human) perspective, we are coming to expect a lot more than good service and competitive offerings from our financial services partners. By good service we include attentive, quick, personalized, easy and cheap to access (no waiting on costly helplines or in patience-testing queues). We want intelligent responses, queries that are fully solved and solutions that meet our changing needs and pockets. And we expect this in more ways than traditionally we’ve been offered (telephone, face to face, website), because we are starting to understand that technological advancement and applied thinking is making this possible.

So here’s Mondo. Time for a new kind of bank.
‘Beta-test the bank of the future. New features weekly.
We’re building a smart bank from the ground up to deliver intelligent banking on your smartphone. Think timely alerts, useful data and instant payments. We’d love your help.
Be one of the first 500 people to try the bank of the future.’
Would you sign up for Mondo?

The point is there is a large vacuum between what we are beginning to realise is possible, and what we are currently offered, a chasm that over time will be crossed.

In response to the need to up their game, the EFMA 7th Annual Innovation in Retail Banking Report shows a growing trend for banks to invest in start-ups through dedicated venture funds or on an ad hoc basis. Banks have an opportunity to collaborate and partner with start-ups to launch new products and services, and thus drive innovation and transformation. To maximize benefit, you need to reposition your view of start-ups as disruptive competitors, and start working more closely with them.

‘More and more banks are setting up accelerators/incubators, or are working with independent accelerators/incubators.
Investment in innovation has been increasing consistently for the last few years at most banks according to our surveys. There are signs that this investment is making a difference in that innovation performance is also perceived to be improving.’

But let’s hold up a real mirror on what we’re doing internally too. It’s not so much about the hub and the ideas (although these are obviously important). It is about the people (humans) who will make them a reality for your consumers (humans). What they do, every day, is key – the activity, outputs and mindsets that you encourage, reward and enable, with employees, suppliers, contractors, consultants and wider networks.

MotivationsInvesting in hubs and start-ups may bring an innovative streak into your mainframe, creak it a little, but the people who drive your business forward day in and out need the right mind and skillsets, skills of the future. They need to be equipped for the innovation age we operate in. That includes leaders and others in so-called positions of ‘authority’. Without an honest appraisal of what happens on the ground, innovation is at most idealism.

So apply this ‘start-up’ partnership modelling, like EFMA says we can do with innovation hubs and new fintech entrants, to people performance.

What is your investment in people and skills innovation hubs?
Who are you partnering with for this element?

How are you preparing your teams for continued ‘failure’ – which is famously touted by the top management thinkers and business gurus as the bedrock of true innovation? How is your mainframe skillsbank increasing over time with the sort of skills you need to build for the future? What skills will you need? How do you enable experimentation, partnership working, social collaboration? How are you spotting, enabling and rewarding innovative thinkers and doers within your organisation? They are not the people who typically show up on your traditional talent management ladders. Nor are they necessarily motivated by the promise of climbing the corporate ladder.

If you don’t want to be out-disrupted, you need to think about the people and partners who can take you there, the way business gets done on a daily basis, and what sort of players you’re liberating in your organisation.  For the new skills economy is rapidly dawning, and the corporate ladder is practically dead.

From old to new rules – the space we choose to play in

I think we need a shift in lens.

The change we see (and drive) in the world generates a constant stream of opportunity to be explored. When we are paSky through barsranoid, we are defensive, which makes us operate by old rules, ‘close in and protect’.

If we lift ourselves away from paranoid, we have the space to get curious, expand, explore, collaborate.

We can’t predict what’s going to happen with any accuracy, or control too much for it. But we can build ourselves to play in the new future.

That’s the shift I think we need.

Digital li(f)e craft

‘we are a culture that conflates happiness and success’

A new craft has emerged in the digital age: to capture, polish and publish a perfect life. We crop, recolour and hashtag our posts to embellish them, and to direct the impressions our readers take from them.

Chompoo Baritone recently created a clever set of posts. It pokes fun at Instagram users and the application of this craft to make their lives seem more glamorous or exciting. It removes the dull, useless detail that means nothing or little, or detracts from the focus we set. We cut out what we don’t want others to see. Photographers have been doing this for years. Here is a link to the work ‘‘How people lie about their lives in Instagram’.

Li(f)e craft

Li(f)e craft

The concept of the double life, the one we lead and the one we aspire to, is not new. Adam Phillips in Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life, beautifully summarised by Brainpickings in this post, spells it out.

We may need to think of ourselves as always living a double life, the one that we wish for and the one that we practice; the one that never happens and the one that keeps happening… We make our lives pleasurable, and therefore bearable, by picturing them as they might be; it is less obvious, though, what these compelling fantasy lives — lives of, as it were, a more complete satisfaction — are a self-cure for.’

And,

Our utopias tell us more about our lived lives, and their privations, than about our wished-for lives. In our unlived lives we are always more satisfied, far less frustrated versions of ourselves…’ – Phillips

Brands create and feed us images and experiences of that perfect, unlived life. It’s the not having that frustrates, and creates desire. We’ve coined the term FOMO to label that cognitive over-saturation of perfection in what we see of others – it stands for fear of missing out.

Is there anything wrong with a bit of digital li(f)e craft, at an individual level? Is it motivating, self-reinforcing or depleting? Does social media allow us to amplify a serial self-perfection-promotion that’s more mask than is good for us? Is there a shadow rising, born from this intoxication?

Carl Jung investigated how we live our lives through the persona. The persona is the mask we use to present ourselves to the world. What Jung called individuation, or healthy adult personal development and adaptation to the world, is a process of tearing away the mask that conceals our true selves and only presents what the world most wants to see from us or expects of us. It is the ‘Instagram’ self, the one we want others to believe, love, admire, envy.

The mask becomes a shadow if it is only a manifestation of the unlived life, and nothing more.

Establishing your own interface with the world, not only what others want to see, is realistic, more flexible and easier to manage. It helps to navigate adult society without colliding or hiding from the true self. To present what is not perfect or conflated or shaped by ‘likes’ is risky but rewarding over time – in place of momentary happiness there may be a semblance of longer lasting fulfilment. It is the bedrock for resilience, psychological congruence (or a lack of dissonance) and meaningful engagement. It also opens up the space for connection, development and feedback that relates to you, not your fantasy life. I think brands are starting to reach that tipping point. The perfection they once poured out is gradually being replaced with something more authentic, something with real people in it. The ever-happy, giggly personalities issuing the odd “awe” are not accessible, nor are their relentless selfie-pouts and animated hand gestures. People need to from relationships with people who deliver to needs over time. The rest is just a short-lived theatrical tease, closing on the curtain call.

Too much digital li(f)e craft, over-fascination with and broadcasting of perfection, a mask, through aesthetics or ‘happiness’, leaves the narrative we build about our lives wanting. So the risk is that the narrative is inauthentic. The mask covers rather than connects.

We live in an age where we are exposed to multiple sources of information and perspectives, we can collect, digest, influence and be influenced. You no longer have to be the big company, a politician on the news, or simply be rich to have influence and audience. You can build a following through what you believe, say and do. We are empowered because we are connected, to information, to others. We have a myriad of tools at our disposal for articulating and engaging the authentic self, through the medium of our choice, at the exposure that matches our personal comfort levels.

Continued self-promotion and craft without meaningful engagement is bound to have a shelf life. Just like it has for brands. Opening up an authentic face for your brand, for you, is powerful. We can craft and drive our influence and presence in the world without bombarding our ‘fans’ with perfection. We can offer more.

In a world that’s flying into new horizons and perspectives, with more access and connection than ever before, old rules (broadcast / push / bombardment) promoting ‘self’ or the unlived life are running out. They have increasingly less attraction. This age offers, paradoxically, a real opportunity to be authentic.

The digital divide once scared me. I was afraid of who could access the real me, and what they could do with that. And then I remembered Jung and all he had to teach. I was reminded that the narrative of your life is built through exposure, exploration and authentic engagement. That’s risky as you must reveal some of your true self, not the utopia of the unlived life. But other options for me lacked depth and sustainable fulfillment. They seemed to shelter and limit growth. Growth is something we need in this digital age, learning, growth, renewal, curiosity, connection, collaboration.

Life has shades beyond Instagram fixes. If you enjoy your digital craft, that could be harmless enough. We all do it to some extent. But never lose sight of navigating your own exposure to the world, at the comfort and through the mediums of your choice. Take a few risks on your authentic self. There’s more out there than our special (imaginary) unlived life.

Strong, or human

‘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.’

Liz Ryan

Who am I?

What are your strengths? Do you list them on your LinkedIn or Google+ profile? Most of us do. And this showcase often sounds a lot like, well, the businessperson next door. We have an idea of what makes us desirable and wanted at work, so that’s what we look for in ourselves and that’s what we profile.

But these days you may be more attractive for what stands you out, what makes you different. And yet when I ask the question: ‘What stands you out?’ I almost always get a great response for a game of personal strengths buzzword bingo. Liz Ryan is right – a lot of people will tell you they are who someone wants them to be.

When I am assisting others to profile themselves, and I realize I am on a straight path to winning a bingo championship, I take the time to ask these questions:

  • What was in the working day where you woke up and were excited to get started?
  • What was in the day when you come home feeling great?
  • What were you doing when you forgot the time and lost time?
  • How do people describe you? What words do people use, think of all the examples you can, informal and formal.
  • How do you make life better through what you do?
  • Tell me what you do, pretend I work as far away from your industry as possible, and wouldn’t understand any jargon at all. Think about your first language being my third.

As they talk I just record their spoken thoughts, keywords mainly. I try to note their actual words and not my version of what they are saying, or my summary of it.

When you both look at the notes afterwards, you start to get a sense of a person and not just a list of strengths. A few preferences emerge, a few values spill out and suddenly you see there is a human, there on the page, waiting for a sentence or two in which to show up, uniquely. When you pull this into a bio with a bit of narrative, it unmistakably belongs to just one person, one human, not a scorecard.

Digital guru Brian Solis says that effective engagement is inspired by the empathy that develops simply from being human. So when you craft or update your bio online, take a little time to ask yourself, in place of ‘How I am strong?’:

How am I human?

It’s a good starting point for engagement.

Follow your passion – the worst piece of career advice

In previous blogs I’ve posted about the skills we need for a prosperous digital present and future, and the ones that are likely to be in short supply. I’ve been asking the question of how we drive our own value propositions over time, one, because there is more choice and focus if we do it for ourselves, and two, because we can, thanks to our context of rapid change and technological advancement.

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Today I came across an article written about Andrew Ng, which deepened my insight. Ng is the founder of Google Brain, a deep-learning research project supercharged by Google’s vast stores of computing power and data. Ng also co-founded Coursera, the largest provider of open online courses or what we know as MOOCs, with partners Princeton, Yale and top schools Europe and China. In his interview for the article, he said that ‘follow your passion’ is probably the worst career advice you could ever give or get. His reasoning?

Ng says we are very rarely good at something when we start out, and yet we have to be good at something to be passionate about it. He does believe we can become good at almost anything. In place of following a passion when choosing where to focus your energies, we should look at what opportunity there is to learn and what the possible impact is.

‘The world has an infinite supply of interesting problems. The world also has an infinite supply of important problems. I would love for people to focus on the latter.’

The key in preparing for the future is also moving away from the repetitive and routine. This is where I think his work chimes with Seth Godin. Highly repetitive and routine tasks lend themselves well to eventual automation. That means a loss of jobs. Young people who can identify and make the most of opportunities to learn and have impact – solving real and important problems – and who seek out non-repetitive and non-routine, are on the right path.

What I like about Ng’s approach is that he also believes that innovation and creativity are teachable. They are not ‘unpredictable acts of genius’ so much as processes that are systematic that we can all improve on. Ng runs his own workshop on the strategy of innovation.

‘When you become sufficiently expert in the state of the art, you stop picking ideas at random. You are thoughtful in how to select ideas, and how to combine ideas. You are thoughtful about when you should be generating many ideas versus pruning down ideas’.

Building people for the non-routine, the human, the creative and the innovative – that’s what we’re seeking out. And we need scalable ways of doing that. Ng believes this is possible. We’re just not there, yet.

To be or not to be – the real digital leadership question

IMG_0558An authentic self is what we seek to articulate across our social media platforms. That establishes our presence, and presence is a precursor to influence. Influence is the new currency online. However when we share what we believe in and what we endorse, we take a risk.

There are unprecedented levels of social self promotion taking place online, and lets face it, sharing something that others like makes us feel good. Liking or sharing is akin to stroking, and we all like a bit of stroking. It’s a simple feedback loop, often quite immediate, and showcased for all to see. We come to know over time the type of content that gets shares and likes and ‘engagement’. Which begs the question, in world where all this activity is deemed ‘good’, over time do we end shaping our sharing of self to what gets most stroked?

Game changers, free thinkers and other mavericks have never traded on being liked. They push boundaries, change the rules, introduce new ways of seeing and believing, sometimes uncomfortable ones. The hardest part of an authentic online presence is putting out what might not get likes, but rather stirs controversial comments. It takes courage to say what you mean, because not everyone will like it, that’s your risk.

Don’t be tempted to show up only in ways that feed the populist version of ‘like’. Push the boundaries you believe in. All the great shape shifters do. And their ultimate influence is worth so much more, because it started with something they believed would make a difference, something they thought about and felt strongly about.

The digital world has introduced a new playing field. And it’s not all about being liked. Aim for more than being popular and engaging, aim to influence because you believe in a new way of thinking or doing things that will make a difference. That’s digital leadership.

All change please

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.

A value proposition for the future

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.

Why? A blog on innovation

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’.

In your Pocket

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?

Superman is dead, and other thoughts on leadership

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