perspective

Be An Explorer, Not A Tourist

I was in Bali in June last year, chasing some much-needed sun in the midst of the dark New Zealand winter. I took a surfboard with me, of course. Like about one million other people who had the same idea that I did.

I’d never surfed in Bali before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. When I arrived at the beach on that first day, the swell was up, and it looked pretty awesome. Except for one thing: there were around 100 other surfers in the water, spread across the break like ants that had discovered a honey-smothered piece of toast on the ground.

I sat on the beach, feeling heavy in my chest, wondering how I was going to have a good time out there. I’d almost resigned myself to paddling out and being surfer #101, when out of the corner of my eye, I spotted another sweet looking break about 400 metres down the beach. Except that this one had only two people on it. Curiosity piqued, I picked up my board, wandered as slyly as I could down the beach, and paddled out.

It was perfect. The three of us spent a couple of hours riding countless waves that we had all to ourselves, while just down the beach the hoards were all bunched together on top of each other, fighting for a spot in the lineup. We couldn’t believe it. We kept joking to each other “shhh, don’t talk too loud, they might see us!”

Afterward, I got to thinking that it’s all too easy to go with the herd. Especially when you find yourself in a new situation. You can think: “well, that’s what seems to be the go around here. These people must know what they’re doing, so I’ll do that too.”

It’s the Tourist mindset versus the Explorer mindset. The Tourist follows the crowd. The Explorer watches what the crowd is doing and then makes up their own mind about whether they want to follow the crowd or not. The Tourist’s agenda is to tick the box. The Explorer’s agenda is to discover. The Tourist’s main concern is to stay safe (“don’t get lost, Myrtle!”) while the Explorer’s main concern is to create an interesting experience.

We have both mindsets available to us all the time, of course. The tourist mindset is useful to help us scope things out. But if we want to forge new and better ways, it’s not enough.

I reckon our world has too many Tourists and not enough Explorers. It’s too easy to accept ‘what is’, even though ‘what is’ is clearly not working as well as it could be. Explorers find new ways, show them to others, and help other Tourists tap into their inner Explorer.

Where in your life are you being too much of a Tourist, when you could be more of an Explorer? What would happen if you chose to dial up your Explorer?

Here are three ways to tap your inner Explorer:

  1. Do one thing each day that scares you (thanks, Eleanor Roosevelt)
  2. Ask yourself “what’s the normal routine around here?” and do the opposite (e.g. if you usually have meetings where everyone sits down, make it a standing meeting. Call it an experiment).
  3. Hang out with other Explorers. They’re infectious.

Back to my surf session. Maybe there were rules that I didn’t know about. Maybe the first spot I went to was known as ‘the place’ to surf in the area, and that’s where the cool people go. Maybe the spot I ended up surfing at was full of taboos and stories about the bad things that will happen if you surf there. Who knows? What I know is that I had a great, memorable surf and I felt the better for it.

Sometimes you need to separate yourself from the herd.

 

Photo: Digby Scott

Like this post? You’re only getting half the story. Sign up to my ‘Fresh Thinking’ newsletter, delivered monthly to your inbox.

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

Like this post? You’re only getting half the story. Sign up to my ‘Fresh Thinking’ newsletter, delivered monthly to your inbox.

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

How To Stay Valuable.

How valuable are you to your organisation? Or to your clients? You must add some value, right? Otherwise why would they hire you?

In a disruptive, fast-moving world, what’s valued today is less likely to be the same as what’s valued tomorrow. Consider the plethora of evidence out there to show us that the jobs we used to think of as safe are no longer safe. For example, the rise of the driverless car has huge implications for jobs, and not just for people who drive for a living. Wired Magazine’s founder Kevin Kelly says that if your job, or your workforce, has any element that is about improving efficiency or productivity, that part of it will most likely “go to the robots” in the next few years.

Of course, this pattern has always been with us. We no longer having typing pools, CD stores, or milk delivery to our door. The value that these services provided is now delivered in other ways. As technology and culture evolves, so do we, along with the jobs we do.

In an age of rapid change and disruption, the most successful people and organisations deliberately and constantly pay attention to where and how they add value. This ensures their relevance and sustained longevity in the market. They live the wise words of Albert Einstein:

“Try not to become a person of success, but rather try to become a person of value.”

What does it take to do that?

To my mind, it’s all about deeply understanding and artfully blending three elements: You, Them  and It*:

 

Positioning Model

‘You’: the unique talents, perspectives and qualities you bring.

‘Them’:  whoever you serve: employers, stakeholders, clients, customers, society at large.

‘It’: the problem or need that’s causing ‘them’ to be willing to pay someone (like you or your organisation) to help them solve it.

You become, and stay, valuable by constantly working the intersections:

Perception: Master the art of seeing what’s really going on. Become an eternal student of your craft and understand the forces that shape it. The broader and deeper your perception of ‘it’, the more you can bring to the table. What are the major forces that are shaping your profession or industry? What do you see that most people don’t?

Attention: ‘They’ will have a certain take on the world, as seen through their preferences, priorities, abilities etc. To be useful to them, you need to understand that take. What is their attention focused on? How could you help them with that? And what part of the broader picture are they not seeing that you could help shed some light on? 

Connection: The currency of connection is genuine interest. When you can show someone you get them, and their issues, in ways that highlight your unique relevance, the more likely they will want to keep you around. What can you do more of to make a genuine connection with the people that you serve in a way that makes a significant difference to them?

Something to try:

Recently, I wanted to get a better understanding on how I add value to my clients. So, I decided to email some questions to a few of them that I knew would give me straight-up answers. Here’s what I asked:

  1. What’s the first thing you think of when you think of me?
  2. What edge / uniqueness do I bring when we work together?
  3. How does that make a difference to you?
  4. What do you consider my unique expertise to be in?
  5. If you were recommending me, how would you describe me to someone else?

The result? Pure gold. I got rich insights into their take on all three circles and the intersections. It’s affirmed what I think I’m doing well, and uncovered some things I didn’t even acknowledge were valuable. I’ve taken that information and used it to shape what I offer, so I can (hopefully) continue to stay valuable over time.

Try this exercise out with some of the people in your, or your organisation’s, ‘them’ circle. You’ll likely be amazed at what you’ll learn, and it will give you a foundation for you to stay valuable well into the future.

 

* The ‘You’, ‘Them’ and ‘It’ headings originally came from the very elegant ideas on how to position yourself as outlined in the book ‘Sell Your Thoughts’, by Matt Church, Peter Cook and Scott Stein. I’ve evolved those ideas to create the model you see above.

 

Like this post? You’re only getting half the story. Sign up to my ‘Fresh Thinking’ newsletter, delivered monthly to your inbox.