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.

What is your company’s Mindset Orientation?


Even a giant can streamline, increase speed and encourage innovation. 

General Electric (GE) has done this through making lean startup part of the mindset and the culture at the organisation, using a programme called FastWorks.

Leader of GE Culture and co-founder of GE FastWorks, Janice Sempe:

“We had a culture of being addicted to being right, … we had a culture of perfection. We didn’t know how to partner with our customers and see their problems from their perspective.” “We had to train our leaders to lead in a different way. We had to get them to ask questions in place of provide answers.”

Often our focus is on activity, or getting things done. If we shift the focus from customer requirements confusion to customer validation, to building a minimum viable product and then pivoting, to learning as we go along, we get better product to market more quickly. In place of having thinly spread teams, GE builds dedicated teams. These teams are fast, and focused. Using FastWorks, GE has successfully introduced lean startup principles in a non-tech environment, and in a highly regulated industry.

Based on the lean startup methodology principles of Eric Ries, creator of the Lean Startup methodology, FastWorks is essentially a set of tools and practices designed to build better products for customers, more quickly. There are 100s of FastWorks programmes across GE. FastWorks decreases the cycle time for product development. GE uses it to get closer to customers, to encourage innovation, increase speed to market, improve chances of success, and, generally, to make it easier to get things done.

Sempe shares the challenges and tangible successes that GE has driven through creating a culture of experimentation in the podcast interview How An Enterprise Makes Lean Startup Part of The Mindset And Culture. These kinds of successes she notes are about a lot more than training. You have to think more broadly about your organisations ability, in terms of its behaviours and cultures, to support the application of a lean startup approach. This is more than giving permission to fail, it is asking the questions: What new skills are needed and can be developed? Will new behaviours required be rewarded? How will our performance management system support this? What are the new expectations we have of employees?

At GE, 5 new belief statements were introduced. They wanted to think about failure in a different way, and to reframe barriers, giving permission for people to accept and adopt new ways of thinking and acting. Not meeting an outcome is a great way of getting to a better solution. You learn as you go along. The bold GE statements are:

  1. Customers determine our success
  2. Stay lean to go fast
  3. Learn and adapt to win
  4. Empower and inspire each other
  5. Deliver results in an uncertain world.

The GE performance management system has also been reworked, from a linear process of setting and measuring goals at the start and end of each year, to an on-going process that encourages asking the right questions. It allows for adaption. Employees are expected to experiment and pivot based on what they are learning from their customers.

It would be naïve to think that an organisational change like this is easy. Sempe says they are learning as they go, and she admits that it is hard. There has been considerable commitment to the programme. In the first year of implementation, Ries trained around 1000 GE executives on Lean Startup. There are also numerous coaches in the organization. But the results are tangible. Sempe offers two proof points in her interview:

  1. A new product (an engine) getting to market 2 years ahead of competitors with significant cost savings to the company, positioned very well with customers as a result, by using FastWorks principles;
  2. An efficient low cost energy solution for their power and water business, development costs were reduced by 60% by using the principles of FastWorks.

Define your company's mindset orentation

The Singularity Hub describe FastWorks as part of the company’s Mindset Orientation, or MO, one of 8 principles for leaders to make the most of the exponential age. It is worth reading the article to find out what the other 7 are.

What is your organization’s mindset orientation? What commitment is there to learning and adapting faster than the change that’s happening around you?


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.

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.