Think differently – do differently #FutureWork

By Gaylin Jee

think-differently-do-differentlyI have taken to including a short Think Differently session in my workshops with clients. It consists of riddles and brainteasers designed to engage, amuse and challenge. There are small prizes for those who can solve the riddles and teasers, and more prizes for those who are creative with their answers. Some come away bristling with satisfaction, others are annoyed. They are all entertained and stretched. And that’s the point of the session – to leave for a moment our groomed intention to find and offer a right answer, and instead to follow our own curiosity and find a different answer, our own answer. I want to inject an appetite for that, because it’s going to become more essential that we can think, and do, differently.

Think differently, see things differently, get to a place where you can actually do things differently, and you’re more likely to end up in the Blue Ocean.

“Creating blue oceans builds brands. So powerful is blue ocean strategy, in fact, that a blue ocean strategic move can create brand equity that lasts for decades.” – W. Chan Kim, Professor of Strategy and Management at INSEAD and Co-director of the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute.

Here is a summary of Blue Ocean Strategy if you are not familiar with the thinking, Blue Ocean Strategy: Creating your own market, and an early Harvard Business Review write-up about it: Blue Ocean Strategy.

But here is the challenge. We’re not set up to think differently, and it is risky to do so. People who think and do differently can get hurt in organisations. In one large FS organisation it was simply understood that no items got a ‘red’ on the traffic light reporting system for a large project. That meant failing. And then everyone else could see you/your team/your unit were failing. The reporting didn’t reflect real progress, and surface real risks that could be mitigated for, it was about ensuring that you were not seen to be failing. How would sticking your neck out in this environment work, when time and budgets are the prize winners?

Take a look at the Millennial Disruption Index, a US study, but insights worth heeding globally: banks – your future customers would rather visit the dentist than listen to what you have to say. 73% would be more excited about a new offering in financial services from Google, Amazon, Apple, PayPal or Square than from their own nationwide bank. Nearly half the respondents in this study are counting on tech start-ups to overhaul the way banks work. They believe innovation will come from outside the industry. Given some of my own banking experiences, from the inside and as customer, I have to agree.

Establishing satellite innovation labs, or hubs, or hobnobbing with fintech start-ups seems like a very small piece of the puzzle you need to think differently about. I’d be inclined to shine the lens a little more on the motherships, the large institutions lumbering on with unwritten but carefully obeyed rules about status reports. I’d have a very frank conversation about “the way things get done around here”. That statement is another way of describing the real organisation values. On the end of that statement you could put “To Succeed”, or even “To Survive”.

The right-answer approach, and right-first-time, has been the bedrock of the ideally operationally efficient and nimble organisations we have been ruling over for years. This one-right-answer, time-and-budgets approach, often seeded in what worked in the past, seems to be a chain tightening around the necks of corporates who continue to mildly heed the imperative of establishing environments at work where it is safe to look for and experiment with different answers that might work. Or might not.

Our organisations are set up for traditional high potentials who are typically good at strategy and implementation, and understanding of incremental innovation or what we call polishing. We lay out ladders for these traditional leaders to climb, if they prove they have the right answers and the top-down, sealed-up script to implement them.

But how the world is changing – it is networked, participatory, choice-laden and unpredictable. Here today, disrupted tomorrow. How refreshing. Think Uber, AirBnB and all the other over-used examples. We need a wider range of roles, and appetites, to refresh our future.

Peter Druckers’ words seemed so outlandish at first, but feel perhaps less so now:

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

Playing in a nimble and efficient space may be risker, it seems, than actually sticking your neck out. Because over time you will be out-disrupted. But what courage it takes to think and do differently in the environments we create and reinforce at work.

Grow and support appetites for thinking and doing differently. Get your head around new roles, like Game Changers, Play Makers and Polishers. If not for your organisation, then at least for your longer-term self.

 

The wisdom to engage the group, and other new rules of work

By Gaylin Jee

There are 22 applicants for a role you are filling. So let us imagine that you invite them over at the same time for an open house over pizza. They all need jobs, so you tell them, “If you want me to hire you then just get everyone else a job.” Within 13 days, one candidate lands jobs for 3 other people. Having discovered a new skill, this candidate pulls out to go and pursue a career in recruitment.

This is part of a story from Brooke Allen, reported on by Adam Grant (author of Give and Take) in The Atlantic. Allen had the wisdom to engage the group in helping, not only with his decision, but also with helping each other to find work.

These are new rules of work.

Allen’s ad originally asked for someone “with a good heart and a giving personality.” That’s so unlike what we have been conditioned to ask for. Not formal enough, assessable, measurable, barely tangible. Is this fitting for serious business?

Write the new rules of work (1)

Over pizza candidates get to see the actual place of work, they meet the people they’ll work with, and they learn about the work itself. But at the open house pizza gathering Allen sets up, he also lays out these rules:

  • I’d rather everyone help each other find work than try to convince me they are better than the rest. I’ll help you find work, too.
  • If someone is “overqualified” for the position, I will try to find them a better job elsewhere rather than pay less than I should.
  • I have to care enough about you that I will tell you reasons the job I am offering might not be best for you, and you need to care enough about me to tell me why you might not be my best choice. Once we get all the objections on the table, we can address them, and only then will we both be capable of making a good decision.
  • I won’t get between you and your dreams. If you have a dream, I need to know what it is so we can figure out if this job gets you closer. If you don’t have a dream then that’s fine, as long as you really want one and you’re not addicted to wishing and complaining. I’ll consider hiring you if you can make my dreams yours too.
  • If you don’t have a requisite skill right now, I won’t hold it against you as long as you get up to speed before I make a hiring decision. People should help each other learn things, and I’ll help too.

We can write the new rules of work.

Do these really work in practice? Decide for yourself. There are a few more examples or stories in the Quartz article How to hire good people instead of nice people.

Some parting words (rules) from Allen which I like. Aim to treat others the best way you can imagine treating them, be honest and they cannot help being honest back, be authentic and they cannot help being authentic back. Strive to be a better person than you are, and you’ll figure out the rest. 

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.

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.

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.

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.