Accelerate Your Development

Write It Down

 

Journal1 (1).jpg

One of my three notebooks.

 

Fresh ideas are powerful currency. New thinking can lead to renewed energy to tackle gnarly issues. Flashes of insight can spur new actions and new results. When you want to make change happen, your ideas are the starting point.

And, for most of us, life is super-busy. It flies by like your view from a rushing train. Ideas appear, and in the blink of an eye, they can quickly zoom out of view again, lost to us, as we fly ever onwards down the track.

The good thing is that we have this amazing technology available to us to help us capture those ideas as they emerge before they rush past and visit some other passenger further down the line. And that technology is cheap and easy to use. It’s called pen and paper.

If you write an idea down, the more likely you are able to do something with it.

There’s actually a bit of a debate about whether writing stuff down helps or not. Some research asserts that it helps us remember the important stuff. and it contributes strongly to our wellbeing. On the other hand, reaching as far back as Plato’s day, there’s a line of argument saying that note taking makes us lazy. I reckon it’s the wrong debate. Like all good practices, it’s about your intention behind the doing. Let’s look at that a bit more.

To my mind, there are two basic types of ‘writing down’. Taking notes, and creating ideas.

Taking notes (of a conversation, a lecture, or making a shopping list) is good for ‘storage’ purposes. It’s akin to taking a photo of an interesting slide you see at a conference, or grabbing an online article and adding it to Evernote. You’re grabbing the content, but you’re not really thinking too hard about it. You simply do it so you can retrieve it later. It gives your brain a break from having to remember everything and helps you stay organised.

The other purpose of writing down is to serve a creative process. Isaac Asimov said, “writing is simply thinking through my fingers.” The act of picking up a pen with the intention of “thinking through my fingers” forces your brain to work harder. You have to think about what you want to say or create. In that creative process, you bring into being something new.

My blogs are my creative ideas written down. I’ve had to think about what I want to say, and how I want to say it. The process of writing creates both the form and the substance of something new.

Leonardo Da Vinci is generally regarded as the epitome of what it means to be curious, and I suspect that was enhanced by his propensity to ‘write it down’. He carried a notebook with him everywhere and wrote down anything that moved him. For example, here’s one of one of his to-do lists that would put most of us to shame.

Here are a couple of ways I apply these ideas:

Notebooks: I carry three notebooks around with me: one for taking notes of client conversations, one for my daily to-do lists, and one for capturing and developing my own occasional flashes of brilliance and insight. I also have one in my car’s centre console, so when I’m listening to podcasts, I can write down ideas that grab me (when I’m stopped at the lights of course!) I’m always writing in some form or another.

Insights and Actions Log: In my workshops, I have participants use an ‘insights and actions’ log to capture relevant ideas as they arise. It’s simply an A4 piece of paper with a line drawn down the middle. The left-hand column is called ‘Insights’, and that’s for the ideas. The right-hand column is called ‘Actions’ and that’s for writing down what they are going to do with the ideas. Because an idea is more useful if you act on it in some way.

Ideas are everywhere. The trick is to capture them so you can use them.

Sound like a good idea? Great. Write it down.

 

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Are you a Change Maker? The next intake of my Change Makers programme is on 4 August 2017Learn more.

Courage is a Practice

When people face something big and scary, they’ll often say “I need to muster up the courage to tackle that.”

Courage Pic by E (1)

Kind of like courage is something that’s scattered around the place in small bits, and they just need to gather up all of those small bits and create a big courage ball. Then they’ll be OK, and they can lean into the big thing and do what it takes.

Kind of like courage is something you need to draw on only occasionally. Like this:

Baseline Courage Graph 1

The rest of the time you just cruise.

You wish. Life doesn’t work like that.

What if you viewed courage as a daily practice? Like going to the gym? Where you focus on building up your courage muscles so you can be ready to use them anytime something scary comes across your radar. Like this:

Baseline Courage Graph 2

Daily living offers us heaps of opportunities to be courageous:

  • Saying ‘no’ when you usually would say ‘yes’ (and vice-versa)
  • Letting go of the need to control things so tightly
  • Approaching the person that makes you nervous
  • Speaking up and speaking out
  • Making a decision even when you don’t have all the information
  • Letting someone know bad news
  • Challenging your story about what you believe life is all about

When these types of challenges are thrown at us, we often let them go through to the keeper. If we do take them up, they can feel like hard work, and we shake in our boots. All because we haven’t developed our courage muscles enough.

Develop your courage muscles through daily practice, and when the big gnarly ones come along, you’ll be ready. The big decisions won’t feel so big anymore.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “do one thing every day that scares you.” She was on about what I’m on about.

So, what will it be today?

 

For more on building courage, check out a couple of my other posts:

 

Illustration: Elizabeth Scott

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Are you a Change Maker? The next intake of my Change Makers programme is on 4 May 2017. Learn more.

How To Be Curious

The late novelist David Foster Wallace tells a wonderful story about ‘incuriosity’ in his commencement speech This Is Water:

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

We can all be blind, at times, to the world around us. We might think we know how stuff works, what drives our people, that we’ve got the solution to the problems. But do we really?

A team of organisational development (OD) professionals was tasked with helping the senior leaders of their organisation to have better and more frequent ‘talent conversations’ with their people. The OD team, convinced of the value of this activity, spent months developing easy-to-use tools and frameworks to help the leaders. But they struggled to get any traction. It took another few months of trying to adapt the tools to make them even better, until someone asked: “wait a minute, do these leaders even want to have talent conversations?”

The answer was a resounding ‘no’. The OD team had assumed that the leaders were keen, but in fact, they were terrified. Not because they didn’t know how. But because they saw the conversations with these ambitious people as creating a threat to their own job security.

This is a case of not seeing the water you’re swimming in. When you’re so close to your own perceptions of how the world works, you can forget to ask the bigger questions that really matter. Knowledge overwhelms curiosity.

There’s a correlation between the amount of knowledge you think you have and the amount of curiosity you demonstrate. fMRI research suggests it looks like this:

curiousity-knowledge-model-1

When there’s a gap between what you think you know, and what you think could be known, you’re curious.

Let’s break it down a little more:

curiousity-knowledge-model-2

When you have no knowledge of something, there’s nothing to be curious about. Think of the young fish in the water. That’s ignorance.

When the old fish swims by, you start to get curious. What’s he talking about? That’s wonderance.

When you realise you’ve actually learned something new, when you ‘see the water’, you can apply that knowledge to your world. That’s confidence.

When you think you know everything, you think there’s nothing to be curious about. You know it all, right? That’s arrogance.

In a world that values answers, it’s tempting to rush towards the right-hand end. Ryan Holiday, the author of The Obstacle is the Way, says when your ego gets bigger than your ears, your curiosity starts to die.When people keep calling you superman, soon enough you start to believe you are.

The trick is to stay curious at all times. To stay in that place between wonderance and confidence. Know what you know, and be humble about it. In a world where yesterday’s solutions are less effective at solving today’s problems, those who can stay curious will help us create new ways forward.

Transportation expert Wanis Kabbaj is a good example. He’s been trying to solve the increasingly huge traffic problems that rapid urbanisation presents us with. He asked: “what if traffic flowed through our streets as smoothly and efficiently as blood flows through our veins?” By simply asking that question, and being in ‘wonderance’, he’s taken our thinking in a new direction that just might yield new solutions. Check out his TED talk on that here.

Fortunately, we aren’t fish. If we choose, we can see the water. We’re born with an innate sense of curiosity: that strong desire to know and learn. Unlike other living things, we’re wired to ask “why?”

Curiosity is one of the critical meta-skills for interesting times. When your tried-and-true methods don’t work like they used to, then it’s time to dial up your curiosity. If you want to reinvent how things happen in your world, your starting point is curiosity.

Here are six ways to upgrade your curiosity:

  1. Expand Your Mind: Read and listen outside of your usual bubble. Subscribe to podcasts that cover a wide range of subjects, like NPR’s TED Radio Hour. Go into a new agent and buy magazines that you wouldn’t usually read. Sign up to Blinkist to absorb 15-minute book summaries in written and audio format.
  2. Expand Your Experience: Get yourself out of your comfort zone. Walk a different way to work. Hang out with people who think differently to you. Visit a new country each year. Go test yourself.
  3. Ask Better Questions: Be like Wanis Kabbaj. Make your default questions “why?” and “what if?” Sound like your three-year-old self.
  4. Cultivate ‘Beginner’s Mind’: Learn something completely new. That could be a new language, a new skill, a new sport. I’ve written about that idea before.
  5. Notice others: (Discreetly) observe someone in a coffee shop or a meeting, and imagine what it might be like to be them.
  6. Notice yourself: Reflect daily on your experiences, and what you made of them. Even just five minutes of journaling a day can help hone your self-curiosity.

Curiosity is the driving force behind human development. More than ever, the world needs you to be curious. Where could that be true for you?

 

Photo: Curious Cows

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Are you a Change Maker? The next intake of my Change Makers programme is on 3 March 2017. Learn more.

Opportunity and Agency

Opportunity abounds. We just need to cultivate our own agency to attract it.

In my MBA class the other night, the students and I were looking at the forces and trends shaping the future of work and careers. The discussion naturally led to what the implications were for them, and how they might act or think differently as a result. Most believed that the trends, while unsettling and disruptive, also presented huge opportunities for how they could positively shape their careers in the years to come.

But, how to capitalise on these opportunities?

On the board, I drew a big circle:
opportunity-and-agency-1

This represents all the opportunities out there.

Then, I drew a smaller circle in the middle:
opportunity-and-agency-2

This represents your agency: your ability to act to attract and capitalise on opportunities.

It’s kind of like Covey’s Circle of Influence. But different.

The point being it is our agency that makes the difference to what opportunities we can see and capitalise on. The more agency you have, the more you can attract, create and act on opportunities.

How do you enhance your own agency?

  1. Understand yourself. Your strengths, talents, passions, drivers. Jim Collins’ Hedgehog Concept is a useful frame here. What are you passionate about? What strengths do you most enjoy using? Use those as a starting filter.
  2. Cultivate a diverse and thriving network to help you identify and shape new ways into opportunities.
  3. Take courageous action. And then do it again. And again.

I think the last point is the key. When I have built a strong sense of agency, it is simply because I have decided to do something. And done it.

And when I have had a strong sense of agency, life feels good. When my sense of agency is diminished, life is harder. To me, that makes it a concept worth paying attention to.

How about you?

 

Are you a Change Maker? The next intake of my Change Makers programme is on 15 December 2016. Learn more.

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A Map To Change

 

Most people find changing behaviours hard work. Our brain wiring is often set to drive a default pattern of behaviour, and unless we can get a good look at the wiring diagram, we’re going to be playing around in the dark.

Here’s a tool that my clients find really useful to help them change to become more of the person they want to be. If you’re trying to change, but are making less progress than you’d like, try this on for size. I call it the ‘Bigger Me’ tool.

Step 1:

Download and print off the bigger-me-template

It looks like this:

bigger-me

Step 2:

You’ll need some sort of development goal in mind. An idea of the sort of person you want to become. Maybe more influential. Maybe more patient with less competent people. Less dominating in meetings. More confident with senior management. Greater comfort with ambiguity. Pick something that’s important to you. At the top of the template, write down that goal, and the benefits of being that way.

Let’s use the example of ‘being less dominant in meetings’:

Development Map Template Top Shaded

Step 3:

Thinking about your development goal, ask yourself this question:

“If I was operating this way all of the time, what would a ‘fly on the wall’ see me doing?”

In box 1, write down what you’d actually see yourself doing. Be specific. “If I was actually being less dominant, a fly on the wall would see me:

  • Letting others finish their sentences
  • Asking more questions
  • Allowing more silence between my words
  • Giving the chairing role to someone else.”

Write your own answers in box 1.

Development Map Template 1 Shaded

Step 4:

In box 2, write down the mindset you want to have that will allow you to be this way. You could say “What would a ‘fly-in-the-mind’ see me thinking?

  • Everyone has something good to offer
  • What’s most important is for everyone to have their say
  • I’m curious as to where this might lead”.

 

Development Map Template 2 Shaded

Boxes 1 and 2 represent the “bigger you”: the behaviours and mindsets that reflect the more ‘grown-up’ version of you.

 

Step 5:

Now complete the same steps for the left hand side. Start with box 3. The behaviours you want to let go of, or at least ‘dial down’. What would a fly-on-the-wall typically seeing you doing now? In the example, we could have:

  • Talking over the top of people
  • Putting my point of view out there before others
  • Dissecting other’s points of view by finding the holes in their rationale
  • Chairing every meeting

 

Development Map Template 3 Shaded

 

Step 6:

Now complete box 4: the mindset that drives your current behaviour. Example:

  • If we don’t do it my way, it won’t work
  • If I let everyone have their say, I’ll lose control of where I want this to go
  • If I let everyone have their say, we’ll be here all day, and we don’t have time for that

 

Development Map Template 4 Shaded

 

Boxes 3 and 4 represent the ‘smaller you’ – the behaviours and mindsets that represent your current way of operating. Once you’ve completed the first four boxes, you’ll probably be feeling some tension between the smaller you and the bigger you . That’s deliberate and part of the exercise – without discomfort, we don’t change. Sit with it.

 

Step 7:

Come up with at least three things that can help you get into the “right” frame of mind and embody the “right” behaviours (sorry, the pun was there for the taking!) Example:

  • Read this map before every meeting
  • Write down three questions I could ask in the meeting
  • Ask someone else to chair the meeting
  • Do the ‘door framing’ exercise before every meeting

 

Development Map Template 5 Shaded

 

And here’s your completed map:

Development Map Template Example

 

Why does this work?

We’ve all heard the analogy of the iceberg: we only see 10% of what’s really going on (tip of the iceberg / the behaviour) and that the stuff under the waterline (our mindset) is 90% of the total picture. Our thinking drives our behaviour, so we need to map out our thinking, both current and desired, to change our behaviour.

The smaller me / bigger me tension is critical, as it provides the discomfort we all need to get us moving.

Writing down the benefits is another form of motivation to move towards the ‘bigger me’.

Tips for putting it into practice:

  • Print out your completed map and have it easily accessible. Ideally, keep it visible.
  • Give it to your coach, manager or a trusted colleague and ask them to hold you accountable
  • Do a different map for each behaviour you want to change.

 

 

Are you a Change Maker? The next intake of my Change Makers programme is on 15 December 2016. Learn more.

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Meta-Skills For Interesting Times

 

Robert Kennedy Intersting Times 2

“May you live in interesting times.
May you live in an interesting age.
May you live in exciting times.”

This phrase purportedly has it’s origins in China.  Over the past couple of hundred years, its popularity in the western world has tended to peak whenever the world goes into turmoil. I think it’s fair to say that we’re living through interesting times right now.

Some might say the changes and challenges we face in the world today are unprecedented. While that might be true, let’s not get too excited. Back in the day people were saying the same thing. They got through it.

And, if you think about it, the challenges YOU face in your life and times are unprecedented, at least for you. Assuming you’ve only been on the planet this one time, you’re writing your playbook as you go. That takes some doing.

Interesting times test us. They challenge our assumptions and boundaries, and ask us to invent new ways of seeing and living in the world. That goes for whether we are talking about individuals, organisations or whole societies. The work of leadership is to step up to those challenges and create a way through.

There are a few key skills that make the difference to whether we thrive or just merely survive during interesting times. Beyond the technical skills required for specific roles or situations, these are meta-skills that are fast becoming prized in organisations and communities the world over. Savvy companies, particularly in disrupted industries, are looking for, and appointing, leaders who embrace disruption, can connect across diverse demographics and cultures, and are exceptionally curious, open-minded, and courageous.

The World Economic Forum, The Institute for the Future, and futurists such as Bob Johansen have all researched and reported on the types of work skills required for 2020 and beyond. In synthesising their findings, the conclusion is that we need to shift from a world that values Conformity, Competencies and Certainty to one that embraces Curiosity, Connectedness and Courage.

Six C's model v2

 

These are the skills we need to cultivate in ourselves and the people who will help us to navigate these interesting times.

Courage

To act without being assured of success, without needing approval or permission, to experiment, innovate and try new approaches, be agile, and to challenge existing ideas and practices. For more on this, see my post “Do You Need Confidence, or Courage?”

Connection

The ability to seek out and connect meaningfully with a diverse range of people, apply social intelligence, serve others, and to collaborate effectively in a wide array of settings. The ability to deliberately cultivate an effective network  is an essential skill in interesting times.

Curiosity

The insatiable drive to ask questions, learn, unlearn, sit with ambiguity and ‘not knowing’, to step back, critique, and make sense of things objectively, to seek and find deeper meaning in the patterns, and see things from new and different perspectives, to have novel and adaptive thinking. Leonardo Da Vinci was a master of curiosity, which helped to make him one of the most creative people the world has ever known.

What would be the value in having more of these three C’s, both in your organisation and for yourself?

While aspiring to having more of these three C’s, we also need to transcend (but not throw out) another set of C’s:

Certainty

We are wired for certainty. In fact, our brains crave it. Certainty helps us make predictions more confidently, so we can operate in the world without having to use a huge amount of mental resources for each and every activity. In interesting times, the challenge is not to get rid of the need for certainty, but instead to learn to live in paradox: to create certainty while knowing that nothing is certain (besides death and taxes).

Competencies

For a most of the latter half of the 20th century and well into the current one, the default method of thinking about development has been through the lens of competencies i.e. the behaviours and skills you demonstrate. This approach overlooks the fact that our behaviours are guided by our mindsets – the way in which we think and see the world. If we want to thrive in interesting times, we need to move beyond upgrading competencies to also upgrading our thinking. This is known as vertical development. As Einstein said “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Conformity

Like certainty, conformity has its place. We need standards, norms and laws to keep things running smoothly. In interesting times, it is often these norms, and their underlying assumptions, that are being tested. Rather than uphold conformity for it’s own sake, the more useful approach is to get behind the reason for the rule, and explore its usefulness in the current context.

Making It Happen

To cultivate your own three C’s of Courage, Connection and Curiosity, start with these tips:

Three Actions for Building Your Three C's

What Next?

If you’re interested in cultivating more Courage, Connection and Curiosity in your organisation, please get in touch for an interesting conversation to see what we can do together.

And download my latest thinking on how to future-proof your organisation by developing the three C’s in your next generation of leaders: How To Play With Fire – Equip Your Next Generation of Leaders To Deal With Anything

 

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How To Play With Fire

What if you could equip your next generation of leaders to deal with anything? If you could achieve that, what might happen?

My latest white paper describes why this challenge is so important right now, and what you can do to future-proof your organisation, and our wider society, in the turbulent environment we find ourselves in.

Here’s a taster:

Let’s put it on the table. The vast majority of organisations put too much leadership development emphasis on people who are already in traditional leadership roles. And not enough on the people who are the promise of the future.

Imagine a fire. The hottest part of the flame is at the bottom, not the top. The top gets all the attention, but the bottom is where the real energy is. You want to be able to harness and use the energy of the people nearer the bottom for positive change. Don’t snuff it out before it gets going.

Download the white paper to learn more about:

  • Why investing development efforts only in traditional leadership roles is folly
  • The new realities and challenges we face in the 21st century
  • Strategies for future proofing your organisation and our wider society

How To Play With Fire Cover Photo

How To Play With Fire. Equip your next generation of leaders to deal with anything.

Click here to download.

 

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