Nothing is more important than developing the ability to learn and understand new things that enable you to change.
If you can change your future is open.
If you are incapable of change your future is closed.
This is an old question, "To be or not to be."
In this modern world everything is shifting. As a CEO, or a board member, having an appreciation of that movement is essential. The world is now driven by the efforts of volunteers. The productive capacity in India and China is destroying industrial jobs in countries like New Zealand. There is no possibility of reversing that trend. Our task is to find new directions; alternative ways to succeed. We need to build a bigger thinking box, to give ourselves more space to move. The key is innovation, but whenever we think of innovation our minds revert to thinking about new products, patents and intellectual property protection. We go back to the old industrial model, and shut off the opportunity to think in new ways that a moment ago was so close.
Thomas Kuhn in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions suggests that senior people in science even with the best motives are largely incapable of change. Even in the face of scientific evidence, they deny that their own ideas have been proven inadequate. If that's also true of people in general, if that's also true of people in business, we are all in deep trouble. Adaptation is critical to survival. How can we become more adaptable?
First: let me say that Kuhn is right, but as an educator I know that it doesn't have to be that way. People can learn, and people can change their ideas and views. Being older is a fact that may be an advantage or a handicap, depending on the person. What we need are more open questions to drive our curiosity, and some process to maintain our learning rate. People can future proof their employment. Companies can future proof their existance.
We might start by not ignoring the problem. In this web site I have a section called "elephant mapping". An "elephant" is any difficult concept you have yet to master, "elephants" are created by asking better questions. Leadership is about having the vision that allows questions that challenge our understanding and threaten our complacency, to be seriously considered. Identifying new elephants, and understanding them, is how you create new business opportunities. Thinking can create a bigger thinking box. Help your staff to think inside that enlarged reality. This process is knowledge driven, and it takes lots of talking to spread the ideas and to drive the use of that knowledge forward. In most firms that talking is not being done.
When other people are unaware of "elephants" you as a leader need to be actively looking for them. What is the critical question? What is the question we fear so much that we can't even think about it? That is your task, but best if it's not your task alone. Finding elephants and understanding them, and using them to make the business grow, is the future.
In a word: Learning
In a sentence: Each person needs to actively be engaged with other people in trying to improve their own understanding and practice. This is easier if you are part of a community of practice, disciplined to keep some private records, and making a small but genuine effort to learn something every day.
In a paragraph: The idea that we need to "think outside the box" to develop new ideas leads us away from the solution. That's what you are forced to do when you've already failed. We hope to avoid that situation. Instead think of enlarging your own box, expand your own real working space by learning more. Even better, several people doing that, together enlarging the effective operating space of the firm. In Think and Grow Rich Napoleon Hill in 1934 explained the principles: spend an hour reading every day, create a mastermind group, keep your own records of your activities. Not magic, just neglected, simple things that are seldom done. Besides today, using the Internet, we might do it slightly differently.
The Key Idea: You have to train your own brain, you can't rely on someone else to do that.
The modern version of Napoleon Hill's book, is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R Covey. My own well worn copy has 25 post-it-notes stuck in the pages. Covey is very good in explaining that private knowing and understanding must precede business and public success. He speaks well on choosing appropriate goals and communicating with others.
Covey neglects, in my view "not knowing" and "vague ideas" that are the motivation for learning. In a world driven by strongly stated business objectives and supported by positive thinking, it's very hard to make any space for "not knowing". The closeness of the team and committment to the chosen direction can leave us blind to anything else. We cannot always know what is important, or what objective is best. "To be, or not to be, that is the question". Finally we choose: and live or die by the outcome.
We learn from what we do. All progress in a knowledge economy is driven by volunteers. I propose that I am employed as an educational consultant to your firm, initially to yourself, (Or maybe to the chairman of the board) and later to selected members of the BOD or senior staff. (Selected really means self selected, this is work each person must want to do, each one is a volunteer.) The key lesson I've learnt in the last 8 years is the error we make in trying to soak up all the data that parades itself past us every day. It can't be done. The key is to develop forms of communication that allow people to develop vague ideas into strong ideas, that allow people to learn what other people know, that allow people to help to build that larger effective working space that I've spoken about. That's the task.
Personally I'm very keen to work with the ideas of Professor Graham Nuthall of the University of Canterbury. The key to Nuthall's research is to know that "we learn what we do". Reading and listening are very low level forms of doing, they do not engage us in activities strongly enough to promote much learning. We may read, we may listen, we may attend certain meetings or functions, but the degree of learning we achieve is minimal.
Leadership demands a high degree of self belief and a committment to agreed objectives. The things we believe make our success possible, but they also cause our failures. Positive thinking can be the source of your success. Positive thinking can equally as easily be the source of your blindness and the cause of your failure. It takes real courage, the sort of courage that only strong leaders can exercise to explore "not knowing" and to nurture "vague Ideas".
There are no guarantees. This is a journey each leader has to take. That journey is being avoided. The price of avoidance is loss of leadership.
I would like to begin to work with you, but that requires your decision to do something. Can we start with a meeting?
John Stephen Veitch
164 Condell Avenue, Papanui
Ph:+64 3 352-8372
Skype Name: johnsveitch
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