Pushing Past Groupthink

“An advance in a single field never triggers substantial change. Change is triggered by the cross impact of things operating together.” –Keith Sawyer via Group Genius

We live in a time where we have open and broad access to a multiplicity of ideas and thinking.  And while this expansiveness of contact and connection can be exhilarating, it can be just as overwhelming and confining. Especially when we choose to limit our interactions and access to a very limited palate, to a very insulated and uniformed connectedness.

But for many, too much infusion of diversified thinking and ideas can feel chaotic and disorganized. So we pull back and retreat from this openness. Especially when it makes our world feel muddled, messy and disordered. We push back in the opposite direction. We look for safety in conformity. We look to diminish any and all dissonance and conflict from the organizational landscape. In fact, we go as far as to believe it is the obligation and duty of the leader to eradicate this discord and engage our institutions in harmonious agreement.

And while that creates veneers of niceness and congeniality in our teams and organizations, it also…

Triggers the eventual demise of any and all creative and innovative thinking and ideas.

What we have to realize, is that the more we wring out the positive conflict that arises from diversified thinking and ideas in our organizations and institutions, the more we mainstream our connected platforms and third spaces, the less and less creative and innovative our individuals, our teams and our organizations eventually become. Eliminating cognitive conflict confines us to homogenous and harmonized groupthink.

And unfortunately, it is difficult to collide a diversity of ideas and thinking in an environment of groupthink.

In a time when creative and innovative thinking, ideas and problem-solving are at a premium, we need individuals and teams that can effectively engage positive cognitive conflict. We need leaders who permeate their organizations and institutions with a multiplicity of thinking and ideas that cross-pollinate and dissolve environments of groupthink. We need leaders who are planting much more bountiful learning harvests across their organizational ideascape.

“The most surprising creative insights always result from connections among different bodies of knowledge…” -Keith Sawyer Group Genius


The Arc Of Transformation

At some point in time, deep and disruptive change will come a calling, be it for our civilizations, our societies, our cities, our institutions, our organizations, our systems, structures, processes and even for us individually.  And most often it is both inevitable and unavoidable. The only question is whether we saw it coming or were we caught completely by surprise?

Not to be dour, but everything in this world has a shelf-life, an expiration date. And for that reason, we have to be both ready and willing to throw out the old and usher in the new when things have reached their limit of usefulness and value. The problem is that many organizations and institutions tend to stretch things far beyond their capacity to remain fresh and new.

Which often requires a complete overhaul. A tipping point. One of deep change that leads to full renovation and eventual transformation.   

For those that haven’t noticed, we’ve reached that tipping point. A time of overhaul and renovation. You might say we are living in the midst of this arc of transformation. It is all around us; in society, business, education and most importantly, in leadership.

For so long leadership, while seeing incremental improvements, remained mired in stasis from its own idea of what leadership was and is. But we are beginning to see deeper, grander shifts and changes in how we perceive leaders and leadership. We are now beginning to see the effects of this transformation, this movement to reinvent and reimagine leadership from this hierarchical, structured, command and control fixture of the past into more socially cognizant, emotionally aware, intrinsically motivating influencers and architects of the future.

And while this change will not occur overnight, it is shifting and moving at a much more intense and hurried pace. It requires today’s leaders to really look at where they are on this arc of transformation and how they are mindshifting themselves, their leadership and their organization into the future.

Review some shifts below and begin to determine your point of shift, in regards to your leadership, on this arc of transformation

  • Authoritative to Collaborative
  • What to Why
  • I Tell to We Learn
  • Siloed to Collegial
  • Answers to Questions
  • Stasis, Status Quo to Pivot, Agile
  • Implementer to Interactive
  • Disconnected to Connected
  • Analog to Digital

These are just a starter, but they get us to begin to reflect on our path and how we are transitioning and progressing on the arc of transformation for reimagining and reinventing our leadership.

The arc of leadership transformation is about making deep shifts that provide the type of leadership for our organization’s that is more authentic, relevant and engaging. For this to happen, we need leaders who are transitioning from silos and command and control strategies to collegial and collaborative environments that engage the creative and innovative thinking of entire organization. This is a systems change, it is moving from parts to whole, to creating new and invigorated systems that are more dynamic and vibrant.

It is about creating relevance in a time when organizations are quickly becoming irrelevant.  It is about creating engagement at a time when disengagement has become the norm.

This is a much more participatory and collaborative style of leadership. Which is indicative of the changes that are happening across society from business to education. People are looking for the opportunity to engage and work in deeper, more meaningful ways. They are looking to be part of something bigger than themselves. They are looking for the opportunity to contribute and serve. They want their work and their life to have value and leave a positive imprint on their community and the world.

Which is why we must begin this journey to reinvent and reimagine the very face of modern leadership.

To make this transition across the arc of transformation.

(This arc of transformation is just the tip of the iceberg, additions are welcomed as we work to expand our leadership into the future by building capacity and infusing new learning)

Catalyzing The Learning Ecosystem

The future work of leadership in our organizations will not only be the necessity to stream new learning but, to act as catalysts to cascade and infuse that learning through our organizational networks and systems. 

The constant has and is changing and in some ways, it both scares and exhilarates us to our very core. Not just because it’s changing, but because we are not truly sure where this change is taking us, or even what that destination will eventually look like.

However different that future might be, in order to get there, we first have to come to grips with the idea and understanding that we are no longer the gatekeepers, no longer the guards to the wonderful world of learning and knowledge. But understand, this is not so much a local phenomena, as much as it is a global one. And for whatever gatekeepers that do remain, our world is focused on tearing them down in triumphant fashion.

From education to business, we live in a world that has become an open source.

A worldwide platform of collaborative information that we can both take from and add too. The only key needed in this open source world is the ability of our individuals and organizations to better equip themselves to access this information in ways that enhance their capacity to synthesize and utilize this information effectively.

This no longer about just enhancing the learning experience, as it is about leaning into new possibilities of what learning is, what it is becoming, and what it could be. It is this thought that pushes the conversation beyond engagement, to one of relevance.

We can no longer rest on the laurels of the past. We have to take a long hard look at the learning we are providing, for both students and adults, and begin to ask ourselves if what we are providing is truly relevant for preparing our individuals at all levels to deal effectively and successfully with a rapidly changing and evolving world.

And if the answer is we are not, then we have to determine what needs to change.

This is not just about 21st century learning, this is determining if we are envisioning new avenues to prepare individuals at all levels for the profound shifts being presented to us by the exponential economy?

And how are those new avenues truly preparing our individuals and organizations to be creative and innovative problem-solvers able to provide real value for themselves and their organization?

The exponential economy does not just ask it, as much as it demands it. The new literacy of learning demands much more from our students and our adults.

This is not just about technology, even though technology plays an enhanced role in this process. This is about exploring the possibilities of our imaginations and invoking the tools and platforms that allow us to best push these possibilities into realities. And for the organization, this is about evolving forward in more agile and adaptable ways that allow those possibilities to guide our conversations in order to overcome the obstacles and assumptions that have often stood in the way of progress and momentum.

From ‘formal’ to ‘third spaces’ we need leaders and pioneers who are willing to grapple with the uncomfortableness of change and the status quo that holds it back. Leaders who can us push forward in the face of uncertainty and unknowns, that have previously caused us to recoil into the safety of what we have always done, always been.

This will be deep and difficult work. It will require leaders who are willing to be the pioneers and the architects of a new ecosystem of learning.

Leaders who are willing to prepare their people and their organizations for the exponential economy and beyond.

Leaders who are willing to be modern day learning catalysts.

The Changing Face Of Modern Leadership (full ebook-pdf)

‘The Changing Face of Modern Leadership’ manuscript is the second ebook to be released through my blog.  It was written a few years back (under contract for a major publisher-free here), but I think you will find it has real relevance and value for today’s leaders as they look to be more innovative and effective in the face of the rapidity and turbulence of change.  Enjoy!

The Changing Face of Modern Leadership-Shifting A Mindset (full ebook-pdf)

The Learning Organization

At some level, all institutions and organizations are grounded in permanence and status quo…the innovative ones have learned to transcend that permanence by cascading new learning to scale up their networks and effectively mobilize the entire ecosystem of the organization.

The problem with the majority of today’s learning organizations, is that they’re not learning.

For the majority of the history of our organizational institutions, information was seen as the kingpin to their ongoing progress and success. It was gathered, hoarded and safeguarded, only to be accessed by a select few. Unfortunately, many organizations have failed to understand or come to the realization that this way of working is no longer effective or progressive, though many organizations still tend to operate in this manner.

What many organizations have failed to realize, as the world shifts, is that information is not as valuable as it used to be. In fact, information is everywhere and access to it is available to just about any and everyone. The creative and innovative organizations that are flourishing in today’s change world, have learned that it’s not the information that is valuable, but the ability to access, curate, learn, and apply that information in ways that grow the individual, as well as the whole of the organization.

But, before we go any further, we really need to create a working definition of what a learning organization actually is, or at least should be.

So we will turn to Google for our working understanding of a learning organization, which they define as “the term given to a company that facilitates the learning of its members and continuously transforms itself.” Let’s really think about that definition. It might even be worth reading again, for there is some heavy lifting in those few words. A learning organization is a facilitator of the ongoing learning of its people in an effort to continuously transform itself.  Just think about how deep and heavy that truly is…

An authentic learning organization is not focused on incremental improvement, but continuous transformation.

The problem is that most ‘learning organizations’ are so steeped in information hoarding, implementation sustainability and replication of best practices that the facilitation of ongoing learning and continuous transformation are not even on their organizational radar. We spend more time trying to do what we already do better (efficiency), than trying to learn, grow and transform ourselves (effectiveness). So much so, that new learning and continuous transformation rarely find a spot on the organizational agenda.

So we focus on sustaining process. However, what we fail to realize is that sustainability is no longer viable option for our institutions and organizations, especially when we need organizations that can learn, process, pivot, adapt and proceed in much more agile ways. The more we face uncertainty, ambiguity and unknowns from the profound shifts that occurring in society, the more we will see the necessity for faster and deeper learning at all levels of an organization that will allow us to push past mere sustainability and towards greater adaptability and agility.

In today’s modern world, the greatest mover or inhibitor for organizational change and growth will be the proficiency of your system to create continuous and intentional learning and idea flow across all levels of your institution or organization.

As you begin to determine if your organization or institution is truly a learning organization, think about applying these three questions…

-Is your organization agile and adaptable? (have you moved past sustainability and replicating best practices towards utilizing new learning to transform your individuals and your organization?)

-Is your organization creative and innovative? (have you created environments and systems that tap into and engage the creative and innovative thinking of your individuals, to effectively increase scale and capacity?)

-Is your organization inquisitive and curious? (have you created networks to infuse and stream continuous flows of new learning and thinking that cascade across and throughout the organization?)

Today’s leaders must be social architects, creating learning environments and cultures that engage and capture the creative and innovative capacity of the entire organization.

The Mindset Of Mess And The Art Of Deconstruction

“One way to better accept yourself as a human being is to move from a merely intellectual understanding that messes are part of the creative process to a visceral understanding of that truth.” -Eric Maisel via Creativity for Life

For children, there is nothing in the least bit difficult in the statement above. As adults, it can often be one of the hardest things in the world to come to terms with and learn to accept. We’ve been programmed throughout our whole life to clean up our messes and to tidy up the spaces in our life, both personally and professionally. And the older we get, the greater our affinity for a more orderly and organized life and world. We go to great lengths and spend an inordinate amount of time bringing that order into our life.

And those habits and attitudes get ingrained…deeply.

Which is why, what sometimes has been learned, must also be unlearned. Especially, when it inhibits progress and new learning. We have to be able to unlearn, to intentionally deconstruct learning, habits, and mindsets that serve as inhibitors to future growth and progress, both individually and organizationally. Especially, in an age when change and new learning are pushing us beyond the threshold of what we are physically and mentally able to handle. Most of us spend each day teetering on information and data overload.

This constant need for neatness and order, as well as information overload has created a mindset for most adults that they are neither creative nor innovative. Whether it’s the messiness of the matter, the weariness or lack of time to consider tapping in to those abilities, or a lifetime of having it pushed under the surface. For whatever the reason, too many adults have created a ‘fixed’ mindset around creative and innovative thinking, doing and being.

Pushing past this acquired mindset will require our leaders and organizations to be more intentional in reviving these abilities in our people and our teams. Just understand, it will not be easy. There will be push-back and resistance all along the way. Not because people don’t want to be creative and innovative, but because it will be difficult and uncomfortable. But isn’t all change, at some level. Changing mindsets, habits, attitudes and behaviors are always difficult to overcome.

For most of us, we have spent our entire life creating a neat and orderly package of our life, and now we are trying to undo and unwrap that package. Creativity and innovative thinking is asking us to allow a bit more mess into our life, a bit more risk, a bit more uncertainty, and a bit more unknown.

Discovery and experimental learning require pushing a bit of that mess and chaos back into the process. For, there are no directions, no map to show the way forward, and no predetermined destination. And most often it does not happen in neat and orderly rows. It requires deconstructing a mindset that we’ve spent our whole life constructing.

As Eric Maisel shares in Creativity for Life, “Do you understand in your heart of hearts that messes and mistakes are not only okay but part of the creative process and crucial to the process? They are not the goal – the goal is excellent work. But our mistakes are as integral to the process as falling down is integral to learning how to walk.”

And it doesn’t end there. When you find that you’ve effectively pushed yourself and your organization into this creative and innovative shift, this uncomfortable state of messiness, it requires you to dig even deeper. It also requires us to dismantle our attitudes towards perfectionism. To allow ourselves to be more vulnerable, both as a learners and leaders.  It requires us to deconstruct our affinity for the ‘expert’ mindset in favor of a ‘learner’ mindset.

Creative and innovative thinking, doing and being is really asking us to undo years and years of training. It is asking us to replace this perfectionist way of thinking and performing in our life and work and replace it with an action-orientation.

Or as they have a tendency to say when facing uncertainty and unknowns, sometimes you have to learn to build the plane while you are flying it. Or as Eric Ries shares in The Lean Startup, it is the difference between launching a rocket and driving a car. (The Difference Between Launching A Rocket And Driving A Car)

Sometimes you have to forego the strategy, the planning, and the illusion of the perfected plan and get to driving and allow the steering wheel to provide the course adjustments along the way.

As Eric Maisel shares in Creativity for Life, sometimes you have to approach creativity and innovation like a baby learning to walk. The baby does not plan, strategize, or prepare for any length of time in order to try and take that first step. Rather, the baby has an action-orientation. It does not waste precious time worrying about falling or not perfecting its first step out of the gate. Those thoughts are never even entertained. Rather, the focus is on giving it a go. Let’s get started and see what happens. And even if a baby falls, getting right back up to try again is the attitude of the day. There is tremendous resilience and stick-to-it-ness. A baby is not worried about failing or falling, but has focused a mindset entirely on the outcome, on reaching the destination.

So not only is being more creative and innovative require us to infuse a bit more mess into our life, it requires unlearning of old thinking, old habits and ingrained mindsets that only serve as obstacles. It requires us to deconstruct those obstacles in order to make room for the new. To forego our current comfort and our need for perfectionism, if we are to discover new and better ways of thinking, doing and being.

“An infant would never think, “I will not walk until I can walk perfectly.” Only adults think such inhuman, antiprocess, paralyzing thoughts. If an infant wants to get the toy across the room she will crawl, walk, tumble, or fly. She will do whatever it takes – because she actually wants that toy. Make yourself that beautiful vehicle of vitality and desire, and fail as many times as necessary as you strive to get from here to there.” -Eric Maisel Creativity for Life

Updating Our Operating Systems

“When it comes to organizations, constant change is inevitable and everything is a prototype.” –Tim Brown via Change By Design

For far too long we’ve come to view our organizations and institutions as unchanging, enduring and timeless structures inhabited by ingrained, monotonous processes, stagnant, fixed cultures, lackluster missions, and uninspiring visions. For far too long and too often, our institutions and organizations have been more responsible for lulling us into monotonous, mechanical implementation than advocating for creative and innovative thinking and problem solving.

In too many instances, we’ve come to see our institutions and organizations as static structures, rather than evolving ecosystems.

But, in many ways, we’ve found comfort and sanctuary in this established system. It required little change and disruption upon us as individuals, and even less upon our organizations and institutions. Steady and routine provided a sense of safety and security.

Unfortunately, that has always been a façade. Inability to engage in continuous learning and growth has always eventually led to insignificance and irrelevance. The thing was, in the past, it happened at a much slower and less noticeable rate.

A time that no longer exists, for us or for our institutions and organizations…

Disruptive or not, the speed of change has ramped up exponentially. We are seeing rapid changes in societal, business and educational structures. Change is no longer just upon us, it has pushed us out of the lake and into the rapids. The risk is no longer in moving too fast, as it is in waiting too long. Indecisiveness is often a liability in our modern world. Experimental and discovery learning is a necessity for infusing adaptability and agility into our institutions and organizations.

We can no longer be afraid to tinker with our processes and systems.

We have this expectation that our technology and operating systems should be upgraded continuously, and yet, fail to overlay that same expectation upon the institutions and organizations that we deeply invest a good portion of our life into. We expect our smartphones to be upgraded more than the systems and processes that infiltrate our institutions and organizations.

And that has to change…

Or as Tim Brown states in Change By Design, we must be “prototyping an organization.” We have to be more intentional in designing the systems and processes in our institutions and organizations that can allow for them and those who work within them to keep pace with the demands, the turbulence and the rapidity of change. All of which, hinge on the ability of our institutions and organizations to learn better and faster.

We have to be more intentional in designing systems that not only improve the flow of new ideas and thinking, but begin to overhaul what we learn, how we learn, in ways that provide deep value to both the individual and the organization.

“Institutions must evolve with changing environments.” –Tim Brown Change By Design

The Profound Shifts Of An Entrepreneurial Economy

“Innovative opportunities do not come with the tempest but with the rustling of the breeze.” -Peter Drucker

The world in which we live is undergoing some very profound shifts. From the economy to education, change has become more rapid, more turbulent and more chaotic. A process that has become so intense we’re even struggling to name it, to determine if we are residing in the knowledge, the entrepreneurial, the exponential, or the innovation economy. Or maybe, just maybe, we have a foot in all four of them.

These profound shifts are affecting us as individuals, and as organizations. It is affecting how we work, how we learn, as well as the skill-sets and abilities that will be necessary and needed for us to be functionally successful in the midst of these changes. In some ways, we’ve turned our back on the past and have set sail for full speed ahead, for a world that will never be the same again.

Or as Peter Drucker informed us in 1985, “The emergence of the entrepreneurial society may be a major turning point in history.” And the more we move forward, the more we see the predictive wisdom in his words. We are in the midst of profound paradigm shifts.

As we look around us today, there is one thing we can’t deny, startups and entrepreneurialism has and is making a major impact on the economy and the world in which we live. A mindset and way of working that is pushing beyond the workforce and seeping into institutions of every kind. It is requiring us to be more flexible and adaptable. It is no longer the world of one job and one set of skills to carry us through to retirement. Or as Drucker shares, “The correct assumption in an entrepreneurial society is that individuals will have to learn new things well after they have become adults – and maybe more than once.” Drucker continues that, “In an entrepreneurial society individuals face a tremendous challenge, a challenge they need to exploit as an opportunity: the need for continual learning and relearning.” And in no other time in the history of our world, has that understanding been more true than of the time we are living in now.

It was almost as if Drucker was gazing into the future. Especially, when you think of the appropriateness of his words for the change world we are facing, both as individuals and as organizations. This need for continual and ongoing learning and relearning, of constructing, deconstructing and reconstructing our knowledge, our processes, our structures and our systems. Much of what we see Peter Drucker expounding upon in 1985, is hitting us in a fast and furious fashion in 2015.

Just think of how on point, this excerpt from the 1985 Peter Drucker book ‘Innovation and Entrepreneurship’, is for us in 2015:

“One implication of this is that individuals will increasingly have to take responsibility for their own continual learning and relearning, for their own self-development and for their own careers. They can no longer assume that what they have learned as children and youngsters will be the “foundation” for the rest of their lives.” It will be the “launching pad” – the place to take off from rather than the place to build on and to rest on.”

We live in a time, where organizations no longer want people that need to managed. Rather, they are looking for creative and innovative problem solvers who can self-direct themselves and their own learning. Or as Drucker adds, “And only they themselves can take responsibility for the necessary learning and relearning, and for directing themselves. Tradition, convention, and “corporate policy” will be a hindrance rather than a help.”

Are we seeing more and more of a need for lifelong learners as relevant and necessary for success in a shifting, global economy?

And the answer is a resounding yes! It is no longer just enough to know, you have to know ‘how’. You have to be able to create your own access if you are going to have the advantage to be successful in this ‘new’ economy. Which is why Drucker saw that, “This also means that an entrepreneurial society challenges habits and assumptions of schooling and learning.”

This new economy is not only shifting our workforce, but education as well. And for that reason, too often we say that we are not preparing our students for an unknown world. Rather, we must be preparing our students to be flexible and adaptable to a world that is undergoing profound shifts.

We must be preparing our students to be able to self-direct themselves and their learning that will allow them to shift, pivot and adapt as necessary, in order to be successful in this entrepreneurial environment.

To be creative and innovative.

To be problem-solvers.

To be curious question chasers.

To be architects of their own future.

And most important, are we hearing the rustling of that breeze?