It Is Not About The Past, But The Future

We tend to grab onto the past and use it to design the future. It’s a profound failure of imagination. So say Stephen Gill and David Grebow. They add that the future is no longer about looking for continuity with the past and choosing shinier versions of existing technologies and trends.

This reminds me of Eddie Obeng’s work on the World After Midnight. We are still using yesterday’s models and hoping they will solve tomorrow’s challenges. That’s not impossible, but it will become increasingly unrewarding.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Sometimes there needs to be a disruptive idea that lights up the crystal ball and makes us look at the future in a new way.”

You can read the full article by Gill and Grebow on the Association for Talent Development website here, but in essence they speak to a fundamental shift in training and learning, from managing hands, to managing minds. The future of learning for them is about managing minds. EQ will be important. Companies will be enabling learning, but not necessarily directing it.

I agree. Employees are catching on to the benefit of learning how to learn. Push is slowly giving over to pull, where some of us realise that we can draw down what we need from the eco-system that sits around us. That eco-system could offer the tools and tech to find out what we want to know, to communicate, to work together, to make sense of what we can do and how we do it.  Smart organisations help to set up those eco-systems. Their employees can experiment a little with what they find around them, and they’re encouraged to do that. After all, big and small ideas and innovations fall out of this type of enabled serendipity.

And so the shift extends, from managing hands, to managing minds, to perhaps a connecting of minds (which happens beyond the boundaries of the traditional organisation). A little more control and direction is relinquished, and a little more agency adopted on the part of employees.

We are fortunate to live in the times we do, with all this technological advancement. We can access learning and connection everywhere. That is just as well, for the Fourth Industrial Revolution is fast approaching. And the survival of the fittest in this revolution will not be those most responsive to change, but rather those who are one step ahead of it.

This article was first published on Talent Talks Africa.

Let’s try Deep Work, hailed as a superpower of the 21st Century

deep-workI have discovered something new I like called absorb state, described by Gregory Ciotti as one of 7 ways to boost your creativity. Absorb state refers to a period of consuming information only, not creating or delivering any output. The concept is also referred to as ‘batching’. It replaces what Linda Stone calls ‘continuous partial attention’, where you give in to the temptations of multitasking on other aspects of your work.

‘Having a clear rule that forbids any distraction during focused work was freeing’ reported Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for focussed success in a distracted world. He experimented with hard focus for a day where you have to focus at least 30 minutes on every single task you do. All work is chunked into blocks of at least 30 minutes. So if you check emails, you have to spend at least 30 minutes on emails and other small diversions.

 

Batching is hard, concluded Newport from his experiment. It turns out you really need to plan ahead to ensure you have all the material and information needed for some focused blocks of work. You cannot leave one task to spin off an email requesting information, or to set up a meeting. Because you need to stay focused on your task for 30 minutes at least. But if you did ‘defocus’, you’d then need to spend the remainder of the 30 minutes doing more of what you’d jumped ship to do.

But on the flipside, he experienced more time in a flow state that he can remember experiencing in recent times. And the quality of his work improved. Added to that was increased efficiency around small task completion.

‘Deep work provides the sense of true fulfilment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy.’

Given these insights, and the appeal of spending quality time in absorb state, I think I’ll give it a try.

Disrupt yourself

disrupt-yourself

The best way to predict the future is to create it. – Peter Drucker.

Looking at what the future holds should be like looking at we want to create. As Vala Afshar notes, companies do not disrupt, people do.

One drives innovation and disruption in the organisation through driving personal disruption. And according to Whitney Johnson, a leading thinker on driving corporate innovation through personal disruption, the S curve developed in the early 60’s beautifully architects a map for personal disruption. To reach mastery, we must find ways to course along that S-curve journey.

“At first when we try something new the progress is slow, but as we hit the steep part of the curve, the fun begins…. With learning, progress doesn’t follow a straight line.”

Johnson’s 7 variables to reach mastery along the S curve resonate powerfully. Here they are:

  1. Take the right risks: starting something new is risky. Position yourself to play where no one else is playing (Read more on Blue Ocean Strategy if you are not familiar with the thinking).
  2. Play to your distinctive strengths: disruptors look for unmet needs, and match those with their strengths. (Take a look at the GC Index with it’s key 5 roles for Game Changing outputs. This Index measures proclivity, or how we like to contribute in role and at work, is strengths-based, and develops influence and impact).
  3. Embrace constant constraints: see things differently. ‘Constraints aren’t a check on our freedom, but rather a valuable tool of creation.’ (Read Why Breakout Growth Requires Us To Break Good Habits by A Beautiful Constraint)
  4. Battle entitlement: ‘entitlement will stifle innovation at all levels’, says Johnson. If you believe the world owes you, your S curve journey will be slow and even stunted. Give more than you take. No one really likes people who feel they are entitled to things.
  5. Step back to grow: be adaptable and curious. Sometimes that means recalibrating your metrics, and moving what feels like sideways, back or down. To disrupt you may need to redefine success.
  6. Give failure its due: get on your own S curve. Expect to fail. It is not a referendum on you. Learn. Make original mistakes. To disrupt you must walk into the unknown, and that is risky. Winners quit all the time, they quit the right stuff at the right time. – Seth Godin
  7. Be discovery driven: you can’t see the top of the curve from the bottom. Explore. Be curious. Search yet-to-be-defined places.

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.

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.

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.

The knowing doing gap

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.