Accelerating Change And Transformation In Legacy Organizations

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“Without evidence that the present is deficient in some way, motivation to innovate is lacking.”  -Amy Edmondson via Teaming to Innovate

We live in a world that is facing a plethora of digital transformations that are continuously shifting society, industries and our organizations.  Shifts that span from incremental too disruptive and even volatile, from exhuming small industry changes to extinguishing entire institutions.  Transformations, that unless willing to change, adapt, adopt, and transform, are taking their toll on legacy, or well-established organizations.

Legacy organizations can often lose their pioneering spirit in favor of a settler mindset, as we have seen with companies such as Kodak, Nokia, Motorola, and Yahoo, often losing their ability and willingness to remain adaptive to today’s changing world, inhibiting the level of current and future impact that can be created and sustained through ongoing innovation.  As well as legacy organizations that met, when faced with an urgent need to innovate, adapt, and transform, companies such as Blockbuster, Radioshack, Borders, and Circuit City to name a few, were unable to make that transition or transformation in a manner that allowed for their future relevance or survival.

As Joanna Bakas shares in the article Why legacy organizations need to clearly separate their Performance Engine and Innovation Engine, “What is holding us back is our inability to unlearn accepted paradigms, ways of doing and thinking.”

Which is not only important for our legacy organizations in moving forward in a more relevant manner, but for the leadership that is guiding our legacy organizations towards those next steps into the future.

Leading in today’s more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environments necessitates creating organizational and team cultures that are embedded within and upon a foundation of trust and safety.  It requires engaging the mindsets that allow for the curiosity, inquiry, critical thinking, and problem-solving to face these new challenges in new and novel ways, with the ongoing willingness and ability to reframe the lens to which we apply to those challenges in order provide a diversity of solutions that effectively expand our individual and organizational boundaries.  It will also necessitate a willingness to become deeply reflective towards our current mental models in ways that allow us to break down and dislodge the thinking, perceptions, processes, frameworks, and systems that have become both entrenched and often irrelevant, in order that unlearning and new learning can exist.  Today’s leaders will also need to engage the “around the corner” forward and futuristic thinking that allows for an ongoing flow of new ideas, new thinking, and new knowledge to be consistently infused into the individual and organizational networks in ways that allow for creative and innovative disruption to spread and scale in ways necessary to meet the growing adaptive challenges that the leaders of today’s legacy organizations are and will face.

Today’s leaders need to create an “organizational brain” that is better positioned and equipped for the accelerated pace and volatility of change and digital disruption that we are currently facing from our modern world.  Effectively finding processes to break down those organizational inhibitors that keep us mired in stasis and “what we have always done” frame of mind, towards a focus upon and a better understanding of the “why” behind the deep need for ongoing learning, growth, and innovation.  It is realizing that learning, growth and innovation are not just a “good” to have, but a real necessity for ongoing relevance, stamina and resilience necessary to stay effective in a world where today’s new quickly becomes tomorrow’s antiquated.

In reflecting on the growing importance of leaders in legacy organizations, especially those leaders who can effectively “think around the corner,” here are 4A’s that could and should stay in continuous consideration through any change or transformation process:

  • Agility – too often, the complexity of the challenges and problems we are facing pushes leaders to entrench and insulate, in a belief that a greater certainty, predictability and safety can be created for the organization.  However, agile leaders and organizations see and use the current velocity of change as an opportunity, rather than a deficit.  They acknowledge the tension that exists between stability and adaptability, which necessitates ongoing updates to their processes and systems.  It is in recognizing that there is a definite need to engage risk, while remaining strategic towards that need and, in effect, enabling the organization to remain agile in the face of these tensions, and it requires today’s leaders to view agility from a cognitive, strategic, and operational lens.
  • Adaptability – necessitates the need for experimentation, for discovery learning, in determining how shift our attitudes and beliefs that allow individuals and the organization to not only internalize, but to move more relevantly into these new environments, dilemmas, and challenges they are being thrown into, which can feel a bit disruptive, both individually and organizationally.  But, as Heifetz and Linsky share from Leadership on the Line, “adaptive work creates risk, conflict, and instability because addressing the issues underlying adaptive problems may involve upending deep and entrenched norms.”  Which is the deep work of today’s leaders, for which Heifetz and Linsky add, “thus, leadership requires disturbing people – but at a rate they can absorb.”
  • Action – needs to serve as an individual and organizational orientation, otherwise, without action, very often our institutional norms lead us more often than not towards innovation theater.  We talk about it, we think about it, we discuss it, we learn about it, we plan for it, but we actually do very little of it.  Inability to move towards action, to engage an action orientation as individuals and organizations, will do little effectively move us towards any form of transformation, except as serving as a vision without a vehicle.
  • Adoption – as Denning and Dunham share in The Innovator’s Way, “Innovation is the art of getting people to adopt change.”  In many ways, it is not enough to allow individuals and organizations to adapt to the changes they are facing, if it does not change how they think and do.  It is not enough to just allow individuals and organizations to “absorb” this change, if we constantly and consistently find our individuals and the organizations recoiling back to the safe and familiar.  Today’s leaders, if we are to become more successful with innovation, must create the processes and systems that engage the attitudes and beliefs that allow for adoption of the change to occur, and sustain.

It does not end here, as there are many other A’s to consider…

Such as “ability” and whether the skills and tools are in place for change or transformation to effectively engage and sustain.  Or “attitude” and whether our beliefs will allow for individuals and the organization to truly adapt and adopt towards the change or transformation initiative.  As well as “avoidance” and whether our bias’ and fears will keep us entrenched in the known of what we have always done and been.  It is also in being able to “acknowledge” and even accept our current and often brutal reality, if we are able to move forward in a more positive manner.  It is also realizing that past “accomplishments” and “attainment” can serve as success indicators that keep us from seeing the need for any change or transformation.

In closing, any change or transformational effort is a heavy lift, and for legacy organizations, it can be even heavier.  Being “aware” allows leaders to recognize the resilience and stamina that will be required not only of leadership, but of all individuals and the organization, if the initiative is to have any real and lasting impact.

“Society has a grand immune system designed to suppress new ideas.  To keep the water running and sustain life’s other necessities, society’s natural resistance to ingenuity surfaces in the form of doubt, cynicism, and pressure to conform.  It takes tremendous endurance to survive such resistance.” -Scott Belsky via The Messy Middle: Finding Your Way Through The Hardest And Most Crucial Part Of Any Bold Venture

“Even if you do possess the single-minded focus necessary to pursue a particular idea, your journey forward will be full of battles.  Whether you work alone or with a team, you will become mired in the challenge of staying productive, accountable, and in control.  These journeys are physically and psychologically exhausting, and the road is littered with the carcasses of half-baked ideas that were abandoned or surrendered along the way.  It is a tragic truth that most new ideas, despite their quality and importance, will never see the light of day.” -Scott Belsky via Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming The Obstacles Between Vision And Reality

 

Building Deeper Understandings (Series): The Cycle Of Vulnerability

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“Employees, as well as leaders, long for certainty.  Formerly, securing a position in an organization meant getting employment for a lifetime.  This is no longer true.  As organizations face more challenges than ever before, employees face more uncertainty, particularly about the security of their jobs.  As a consequence, they experience additional stress as well as feelings of isolation.  In struggling to find a new vision, they become frustrated and often panic.  What they should do instead is learn to tolerate and respect the discomfort of their uncertainty and thereby unleash their creativity in the interests of organizational change.”  -Porter O’Grady and Mallach via Quantum Leadership: Building Better Partnerships for Sustainable Health

We can ill-afford to take veneer approaches to the thinking, ideas, learnings, strategies, concepts, systems, that we believe will be necessary as leadership understandings and skillsets in creating momentum and moving our educational organizations into the future in a more relevant, more transparent, more sustainable, and more innovative manner.

  • We cannot tell people to be creative and believe it will just happen…
  • We cannot tell people to be innovative and believe it will just happen…
  • We cannot tell people to be vulnerable and believe it will just happen…
  • We cannot tell people that we are going to create capacity and believe it will just happen…

And yet, very often, that is just what we do.

As leaders and learners, we need to create much deeper and more transparent understandings of vital concepts that will allow us to create and build the spaces and environments, as well as the learnings and understandings, that will allow us to actually move towards the engagement of those ideas and concepts in ways that not only deepen our understandings, but allow for the necessary and strategic action that leads towards the relevant change, improved outcomes, and increased value for individuals and the organization that create and scale positive momentum.  Especially, if we have determined those ideas, learnings and understandings to be both important and vital to our future success.

If this is to happen, we have to become not only much more strategic and intentional, but much more curious and inquisitive, both as individuals and organizations.  It is not an either/or proposition, as if individuals are not learning, then the organization is, for the most part, not learning, and it is in our willingness to stay curious and inquisitive that learning engages and occurs, both at an individual and an organizational level.  For, it is in that willingness to learn, to grapple with new ideas and thinking, that the boundaries of the known are expanded and capacity is created across the organization.

For, in the end, we will continue to struggle to engage and scale what we do not understand.

Just as creativity is not best initiated by continuing to tell people to just “be creative,” either is approaching the idea of risk and risk-taking with wide-eyed abandon.  And since risk will be required of all leaders and organizations in both the present and the future, it is in realizing that taking a risk is also a matter of being intentional, being strategic, and understanding that some form of failure is always inherent in the risk.  Which deepens the understanding that in the knowing that the possibility of failure exists does not exonerate us from the need for risk to be taken, but being open to approaching risk in a much more intentional manner and approach the risk strategically in ways that can mitigate the risk to much lower and acceptable levels.  It is also in determining proactively in how to respond if failure occurs, both individually and organizationally, and how the most important residue of that failure, the learning, will be gleaned from the process to determine the “learning gap” from where you are and where you wanted to be and to best determine next steps in moving forward.

Risk not, want not.

For, we will be best served by the ability and manner in which we facilitate our way forward and how we engage our people and organizations in the design the future, which will require greater clarity and a more coherent and transparent approach to how communication occurs and positively spreads between individuals and across our organizations.  Especially in a time when we are shifting from more technical problems to more and more adaptive challenges, when leaders can no longer have all the answers, in a time when the quality of our questions ultimately leads to the effectiveness of our solutions.

Which means that today’s leaders must get much more comfortable with growing levels of uncertainty and not-knowing, and the deep feelings of vulnerability, openness, and even risk that the unknown ultimately has the ability to create.

As Brene Brown shares, “I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad.  My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few.”  For which she adds, “Vulnerability here does not mean being weak or submissive. To the contrary, it implies the courage to be yourself. It means replacing “professional distance and cool” with uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.  Opportunities for vulnerability present themselves to us at work every day.  More importantly, Brown describes vulnerability and authenticity as lying at the root of human connection.  And human connection is often dramatically missing from workplaces.”

Which makes vulnerability less of a feeling and more of a leadership skillset for today’s leaders, especially as Harvard Business Review puts forth the, “alarming fact that 70% of employees are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” at work.  As a consequence, they are “less emotionally connected” and also “less likely to be productive.”

Vulnerability is owning up to the very idea that we can’t know it all, we can’t, don’t and won’t have all the answers, or will be able to fix every problem.  Which can be very conflicting for a large portion of leaders.  It is also in recognizing that there is no shame in that, rather it serves in the first step of owning our own willingness to grow, to evolve, and to continue to learn and adapt in a much more authentic manner.

Vulnerability, especially for today’s modern leaders serves as part of a lifelong journey to growing and evolving, as well as serving as necessary and needed skillset and competency.  As Porter O’Grady and Mallach share in Quantum Leadership, there are “seven cycles” to this journey of vulnerability for leaders, which would include the following:

Becoming Vulnerable – requires today’s leaders to become much more comfortable in dealing with and residing in the uncertainty and unknowns that exist in today’s world and moving today’s organizations forward into the future.  It is in understanding your strengths, as well as your weaknesses, and the limits of your capacity and how to not only be aware of those limitations, but not allow those limitations to hinder or diminish your ability and effectiveness as a leader.  Realizing that we all have limitations and that there is no roadmap for the future, necessarily invites in a sense of vulnerability, which today’s effective leaders understand and learn to work effectively with that tension that exists between knowing and not-knowing.

Taking Risks – today’s individuals and organizations can ill-afford to not engage in creative and innovative thinking, but it is also in understanding that creative and innovative thinking leads to ideas that will ultimately require taking a risk.  Inability to take a risk, will ultimately diminish the creative and innovative thinking that needs to occur in organizations for a better approach to designing their future and moving forward.  However, to be effective, today’s leaders must also determine how to effectively approach and engage in risk-taking that minimizes the possible negative effects or outcomes on individuals and the organization that risk can create.  Which requires leaders to take a much more proactive and less reactive stance, both in the engagement of the risk as well as the final response to the outcome of the risk.  As Porter O’Grady and Mallach share, “Risk-disposed leaders motivate others by showing what can be done, not merely by sermonizing about opportunities. They also need to exhibit candor and vulnerability, to identify value in marginally successful efforts, and to allow others to take risks and experience success and failure.”

Stretching One’s Capacity – every individual and organization has boundaries, those borders where the known and unknown intersect.  A place where both peril and possibility co-mingle.  It is in moving past those boundaries, in stepping out into the unknown, that we engage new learnings, new ideas, new thinking, in which new capacities are built, allowing for us to not only stretch beyond our current individual and organizational capacity, but past those borders that confine current capacity.

Living the New Reality – too often, especially in the midst of the uncertainty, unknowns, and even chaos that surrounds any type of change or transformation, we find individuals and organizations recoiling back to the safety and comfortableness of the known.  Even when the known can be perilous to creating a more relevant future.  Allowing individuals and the organization to gain a handle on this tension created by the change or transformation, to provide some sense of equilibrium in response to the disequilibrium created by the shift, can help to avoid this ongoing recoil to the status quo.  Which is why it is vitally important that leaders create an environment where individuals and the organization can feel safe to “adjust” to the disequilibrium and tension created from this change or transformational initiative.  Which includes opportunities for experimental, discovery learning to be engaged, as well as space to share what is working and/or not working.  As Porter O’Grady and Mallach add, leaders must be able to “encourage vulnerable behaviors,” “accept that unanticipated outcomes will occur, both positive and negative,” and work towards “coaching others to sustain the new knowledge,” while keeping individuals, teams, and the organization focused on the “original purpose.”

Evaluating the Results – in any transformation, we often allow our mental models of the past to leverage too much bearing on the change in the present.  Our mental models can inhibit our ability to frame our outcomes in ways that are more relevant for the future, often keeping them grounded in our past.  If we are going to move towards the vulnerability of more creative and innovative thinking and ideas to push new possibilities, then we often have to be just as creative and innovative in the way that we determine our metrics and what results and outcomes we are aiming to achieve.  As a leader, seeing an outcome, especially when it is less than expected, as an opportunity, a learning gap, allows individuals and the organization to not only find safety in taking risks, but to see the outcomes of those risks as opportunities for new learning.  Especially if we are going to make better decisions on next steps into the future, while realizing that this process is an ongoing iterative cycle of ongoing discovery and learning.

Cherishing the New Knowledge Gained – as with any learning cycle, we often step out of the cycle either too soon or before the cycle has run its course, thereby limiting the opportunities for learning from both the anticipated and unanticipated results.  Utilizing the learning gleaned from the cycle to better determine next steps in staying the course or determining a needed pivot to close the current gap between the present reality and the outcomes of the original aim.  In going through this cycle, the vulnerability to being open allows new learning to be gained from each cycle outcome, allowing our individual and organizational boundaries to be stretched farther and further through this iterative cycle, pushing individuals and the organization beyond the current level of the known.

Begin the Cycle Again – as Porter O’Grady and Mallach put forth, “at the end of the vulnerability cycle, the challenge is to identify what was valuable and what was problematic and begin the process again with the next opportunity or challenge.  Repeating positive efforts is as important as avoiding negative results.”  Which is foundational towards the becoming of a true and authentic learning organization, rather than continuing the fallacy of acting as a knowing organization.

It is in this ability to remain vulnerable in the face of the growing complexity, uncertainty and unknowns we face as leaders and as organizations, that we allow for the creative and innovative thinking that engages the experimental and discovery learning that pushes us and our organizations to new levels of capacity, allowing us to stretch beyond the current borders of the known.

“Frustration and fear typically fuel the search for certainty, a search that wastes significant time and effort.  In any organization, situations and relationships are usually too complex to be predictable, and therefore a degree of uncertainty is unavoidable.  If fear of the unknown is allowed to rule, the result is organizational inertia and continued reliance on past practices.  Despite believing in the need for change or in the savings to be gained from a new technology, leaders place too much emphasis on the failure of past innovations and sit back and do nothing.”

“By admitting you are uncertain and not all-knowing, by being willing to put aside long-standing mental models, you open yourself to the possibility of incredible growth and rewards.”  – Porter O’Grady and Mallach via Quantum Leadership: Building Better Partnerships for Sustainable Health

 

Engaging The Entrepreneurial Mindset: The Extra “E” In STEAM

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“Not everyone can be or even wants to be an entrepreneur, but everyone should want to be entrepreneurial.”  -via Inc.

This idea of being entrepreneurial is not a new concept, rather, it is one we have been discussing for years.  However, it is a concept that is beginning to be discussed in educational arenas more often, as of late.  So, before moving forward, let’s spend a minute in grounding ourselves in clarifying the difference and understanding of being an entrepreneur, as opposed to being entrepreneurial.  Especially as this differentiation can be supportive in determining why it may be important for students and for their future when we also consider the differences between “following your passion” and “turning your passion into your profession.”  So, let us dig in and dive a bit deeper…

According to Enterprising Oxford, being entrepreneurial is “not just about starting a business, or spinning out a company from research.  It’s a mindset, or a way of thinking.”  Whereas, Google shares that an entrepreneur is, “a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so.”  And, for educational purposes, we may want to focus a bit more on the entrepreneurial than the entrepreneur side of things.

Which is a difference that we have to become much more cognizant of, as well, especially as the world of work continues to shift and change, often in some very exponential ways.  As McKinsey&Co shares in their paper Education to Employment, “Leaders everywhere are aware of the possible consequences, in the form of social and economic distress, when too many young people believe that their future is compromised.”  Which, for many students and young people, a future compromised is exactly how they feel.  A future that is becoming much less obvious, and much more ambiguous and uncertain.  For which McKinsey&Co add, “The journey from education to employment is a complicated one, and it is natural that there will be different routes.  But too many young people are getting lost along the way.”

In a time of deep digital disruptions, automation, and an infusion of artificial intelligence  with growing capabilities that are putting their stamp on both our personal and professional spaces, especially in the world of work, just telling people to “follow their passion” can be a recipe for disaster towards their future success.  As example, no one wants to engage in an extra twelve years of education and the possible educational loans that accompany that education, in order to become, let’s say a radiologist…to then realize that there is a very good possibility that there will be only a limited future in that profession due to its high probability for automation.  The goal of a postsecondary education for most students is to provide opportunity for a more stable opportunity towards a professional pathway, not as a gamble that can possibly leave them underemployed or unemployed, while saddled with educational loan debt.  Or, as McKinsey&Co put forth, “Only half of youth surveyed believe that their postsecondary education had improved their changes of securing employment.”  Which often means that today’s students have to have a much deeper understanding of the education to employment pipeline, of the system.  They need to have a much greater awareness of the path and the outcomes it is leading them towards, than just moving forward on the mantra of “follow your passion” as a pathway to their future.

As Entrepreneur shares, “It’s not enough to just have a good idea and get a little traction.  Real change requires a more ambitious canvas.”

While, having two sons that are in the midst of considering and determining their pathway, I am finding the importance in instilling skillsets and a mindset that is much more entrepreneurial towards their future.  Which allows them to “follow their passion” while engaging in the skills, skillsets, and mindset that allows them to better determine how “following your passion” can actually lead to better outcomes and a better future for them.  By honing an entrepreneurial mindset, they are engaging in the thinking and skillsets that will help them allow that passion to fuel their determination towards seeing how their passions have both niche and wider opportunities for their future.  Or, if that passion may need and or require a bit of reframing, a change in perspective, or a different lens in order that it is actually leading them down a more successful path for their future.

Which, is actually taking an entrepreneurial mindset towards the mantra of “follow your passion.”

With that in mind, let’s look at some ways that we can engage a more entrepreneurial mindset for our students that can positively support them for their future:

  • Create Your Space“following your passion” is also in being able to see how that “passion” has a future and then determining how to define that niche and begin to create the future for yourself.  We live in a time where and entrepreneurial mindset provides the impetus to create your space that brings others to your passion, allowing you to see a space for that passion, and how that passion can be turned into a profession that can flourish in the future.
  • Challenge Conventional Wisdom – part of joining together creative and innovative thinking with problem-solving is the willingness and ability to challenge the conventional and or status quo was of thinking and doing.  To do this requires today’s youth to spend much more time determining and then asking both deeper and better questions, which has not always been the focus of a traditional education, which is often answer-focused.  It is in those questions, in seeking out problems that need solving, that students can reframe from focusing on obstacles and become more focused on seeing possibilities.
  • Step Into Uncertainty – when we begin to focus on questions more than answers, we finding ourselves slipping into unknown territory, one that is filled with more uncertainty than certainty, which can be uncomfortable.  Persisting in these spaces is quite difficult and requires high levels of persistence and resilience to push through our constant want for stability and safety.  Building up this tolerance for ambiguity is vital in a world that is becoming more complex and volatile under the accelerating pace and rate of change.
  • Amplify The Message – today’s students need to know how to communicate effectively, both written and orally.  And they need to be able to communicate in this manner in a variety of arenas.  Being able to communicate in this manner, is often referred to or known as being “purple people,” as they are able to communicate in a tech space (red) just as effectively as they are able to communicate in a leadership space (blue).
  • Engage Strategically – whether getting down to the root cause, being able focus down to the core of a problem, or determining how to engage in calculated risk, it needs to be engaged in a strategic manner.  Using data, incorporating evidence, determining best practices, or even engaging in experimental and discovery learning, doing so in a strategic manner is paramount to making stronger choices that lead to better outcomes.  It is not enough to just see the problem, if you are unable to strategically approach the problem in a way that leads to better solutions and improved outcomes.
  • Pivot As A Strategy And Process – too often we try to follow the “garden” path and find ourselves caught up in an endless loop of sameness, entrenched in the known.  And then wonder why we never gain new ground or achieve greater success.  Instead, determine when a pivot is necessary and needed, in order that it moves you to new places, new destinations, new outcomes.  We cannot believe that following the well-worn “garden” path will take us any other place than what we already know.  Those unwilling to pivot, often remain on the “garden” path and continuously wonder why it is not taking them “anywhere” different.  Individual agility and adaptability is often in knowing when that pivot is necessary and needed.
  • Everyday Better – understanding that learning has become an everyday way of existing, moves the idea of learning from an event to an integrated way of existing.  It is in understanding that there isn’t really failure, but learning, more learning, new learning, that leads to new starting points, helps us see the journey as just a part of living, growing and evolving.  Knowing that learning is now a necessity for a world that is constantly changing and evolving, allows students to view learning as a process, rather than an event or an end point.
  • See The System – today’s students, especially in a world that has become more connected, more networked, and much more collaborative, need to see not only from a systems view and how all of those systems connect and interact, but how to work more effectively within those systems.  Especially in a time when those systems and platforms provide much more opportunity for their entrepreneurial mindset to be engaged to the benefit of seeing how “following their passion” can lead to better outcomes for their future.
  • Curiosity, Confidence, And Courage – building up a sense of curiosity, confidence, and courage will allow the above skillsets to be engaged with not only more positivity and willingness, but in a more meaningful manner.  When students run into obstacles, instead of giving up or losing hope, curiosity, confidence, and courage provides them the push forward to find the possibilities that often lay just outside and beyond those obstacles.

While not everyone will end up being an entrepreneur in the future, being entrepreneurial can provide students the skillsets and mindset that can provide the learning that will allow greater access to a world of work that is changing and shifting in some very exponential ways.  It is not just in “following your passion” but in determining ways to make “following your passion” actually work towards a profession that can lead students towards a more positive and meaningful future.  And as Reid Hoffman shares, “Society flourishes when people think entrepreneurially.”

“All humans are entrepreneurs not because they should start companies but because the will to create is encoded in human DNA, and creation is the essence of entrepreneurship.”  -Reid Hoffman

Facing The Future: Deeper Learning

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“If you don’t reinvent yourself, change your organization structure; if you don’t talk about speed of innovation – you’re going to get disrupted.  And it’ll be a brutal disruption, where the majority of companies will not exist in a meaningful way ten to fifteen years from now.”  -John Chambers, Executive Chairman of CISCO

We live in a world that has always had to deal with change, a world that is constantly evolving.  Yet, it is in recent times, that these cycles of change have begun to accelerate at an astonishing rate, pushing us into new and often unknown environments that are becoming much more turbulent, much more volatile, and much more uncertain towards this new pace of change.  And it is not just the speed of change that is evolving, but the level of connection through our many networks and platforms that is allowing change to  infiltrate, disperse and diffuse at such a heightened and rapid rate across our individual, organizational, and societal ecosystems.

Unfortunately, especially in the face of today’s modern pace of change, that we find our organizations struggling, as they are still learning how to engage effectively to these connections, platforms and networks; learning how to create the environments and spaces where the novel and new have opportunity to percolate, incubate, and exist.  Which means that many of our organizations are not only struggling to parallel pace the new speed of change, but find themselves spinning into irrelevance as they struggle to unentrench themselves from the command and control, hierarchical structures and systems that have mired them in continual sameness, often inhibiting their ability to stretch beyond their current level of the known.

Rather, it is those organizations that have created environments and spaces where the novel and new, where creative and innovative thinking and doing can actually infuse from the edges into the core of the organization, that are actually able to create some semblance of relevance through the creation and support of networks that enhance organizational idea flows and provide the platform to diffuse those new ideas and new knowledge across the organizational learning ecosystem.

These organizations are moving from static and solid structures towards more fluid and integrated systems.  Organizations that are able to take advantage of experimentation and discovery learning in response to what is captured from their internal and external networks, creating the learning and knowledge that expands their organizational boundaries farther and farther into the unknown, in more confident, effective and relevant manner.

It is in this work, that our individuals and organizations learn to become much more agile and adaptable towards change.  It is in their ability and willingness to engage in “deeper learning” that our individuals and organizations will learn to access the knowledge and learning that will enable them to better approach and solve the problems we are facing in not only more effective, novel and new ways…but to move to a place where we are connecting the disparate and disconnected dots that will be needed as we move farther away from those technical problems and more towards the adaptive challenges that truly shaping our modern times.

While continuously curating new knowledge and skills and working towards the idea of lifelong learning is now a necessity and requirement for today’s individuals and organizations, it is also not enough.  It is imperative that we are developing that knowledge, learning and skills in a way that it is also transferable.  Where we are consistently building up our fluency towards that knowledge, learning and skills in ways that it becomes automatic and easily transfers towards helping us solve the problems and challenges we are facing.  We engage in deeper learning in an effort to create more fluidity to applying our knowledge and skills, building more comfort and automaticity to transferring that knowledge to new situations, which will become more and more imperative to our work as individuals and organizations as the complexity and chaos of a world in the throes of constant, relentless and accelerated change pressing down upon us.  As the National Research Council’s Education for Life and Work puts forth, “Part of deeper learning is that the knowledge of the learner is organized and stored in a way that is easily retrievable and useful.  It is efficiently coded and stored.  And it is not just stored, but it is accessible and useful towards solving new and or unknown problems.”

For which Mehta and Fine add from In Search of Deeper Learning, “The generation of students coming of age today will be asked to navigate, survive, and, if they can, help to heal the world they have inherited.  Schools will need to do their part to develop skilled, creative, educated, informed, and empathetic citizens and leaders – the kind of people that our economy, society, and democracy demand.”

If we are going to become much more effective in not only dealing with the accelerated and turbulent pace of change and this definitive shift from technical problems to adaptive challenges, we are going to need to push into deeper learning, not only for the future of our students, but for the future of our individuals, leaders, and organizations.  Especially as we work to build up the knowledge, the capacity, and the competencies that will allow our individuals and organizations to move more effectively into this very uncertain and non-obvious future we are all facing.

“The new social contract is different: Only people who have the knowledge and skills to negotiate constant change and reinvent themselves for new situations will succeed.  Competency in twenty-first century skills gives people the ability to keep learning and adjusting to change.”  -Ken Kay, Chief Executive Officer EdLeader21

 

Uniquely Human: Creative People, Creative Future

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“Despite concerns that they are not prepared for the new era and the job losses that will result from automation, majorities in Canada, the U.K., and the U.S. believe that advancements in machine learning will do more good than harm overall. And when asked about the best skills to withstand artificial intelligence, six in 10 respondents in Canada and the U.K. believe teamwork, communication, creativity, and critical thinking are most important in the new era of automation; whereas Americans are split 50-50 between those “soft” skills and technical skills like math, science, coding, and working with data.” -via TechXplore Ignore the hand-wringing headlines about the impending AI revolution, but get ready for the disruption

We live in a time of disruption…

A time that is being defined by the current level of digital disruption we are experiencing.  And unfortunately, it is technology, not humans that seem to be taking center stage and playing the hero in the future narrative we are currently writing.

In many ways, we only have ourselves to blame, as we have set the stage for this story…

From government, to business, and even education, we have pushed through the 19th and 20th centuries on a mantra focused on efficiency and standardization.  Our Tayloristic assembly-line approach that provided efficiency and effectiveness in prior times, seems to be a bit of our undoing in the present and for the future.  As John Hagel shares in Rethinking Race Against the Machines, “If you have tightly scripted jobs that are highly standardized where there’s no room for individual initiative or creativity, machines by and large, can do those activities much better than human beings.  They’re much more predictable, they’re much more reliable.”

Efficiency and standardization has become a sign of our past and present times…

For our future, of one that is being continuously shaped and shifted by our ability to automate and infuse artificial intelligence, this idea of standardization should then be sending some very strong signals of discord and incompatibility.  Especially as we find that the very idea of standardization has set the stage for the entrance of machine learning and with it, greater levels of automation.

Which means we have to begin to consider not only the skills that will be necessary and needed in and for the future, but those skills that are also uniquely human.  Those skills that stand the test of time, and automation.

While there are many, the road always seems to lead back to creativity.

In many ways, we live in times where we all have to be creative now, no matter what we do.  Creativity has always been, and even more now, continues to be a vital skillset for the future.  Unfortunately, in the past, we tended to relegate creativity to something that was only needed by the artistic class, rather than a skillset that serves us all, in both our personal and professional lives.

Too often, we have limited the idea of creativity to that of the artist, instead of seeing that creativity can exist in all that we do.  Especially as we look to the future and the skills that it is requesting – critical-thinking, problem-solving, communication, collaboration, innovation – we see that creativity can and should be infused into how we approach and utilize all of those skills. As Creative Director Stefan Mumaw defines it, “Creativity is problem-solving with relevance and novelty.”  Which means, that we live in a time when efficiency and standardization have effectively run their course, and the need for more creative thinking and creative solutions is taking center stage and exponentially expanding into every profession.

In an age that is being defined by automation and artificial intelligence, we can no longer afford to not be creative.

We begin first by realizing that creativity is not a trait that only certain “artistic” individuals are born with.  Rather, it is a skill that we all possess.  Creativity is a skill that we can continuously improve upon, that we can continue to get better at.  However, with that said, it is also like a muscle, and the more we use it the stronger it gets.  And vice versa.  The less we use it the more atrophied it gets.  Which is why it is important that we exercise our creative muscle more and more, as it is a skill that makes us uniquely human in a time when what makes us uniquely human is becoming more and more vital to our future success.

Second, we have to determine, in regards to creativity, that we begin to unlearn, in order that we may reengage and relearn.  As what we have learned, is that we have become better and better over time of diminishing our creative spirit.  As shared in the article, What is Creativity? Defining Defining the Skill of the Future Kylie Ora Lobell adds, “Research proves that non-creative behavior is learned overtime.  According to George Land’s Creativity Test, young children are creative geniuses, and become less creative as they age.  His study took a group of 1,600 five-year-olds and tested to see how creative they were.  Ninety-eight percent were deemed creative geniuses, thinking in novel ways similar to the likes of Picasso, Mozart, Einstein and other creative personalities.  He tested them again at 10 years old.  That number dropped to 30 percent.  By 15 years of age, it had declined to 12 percent.  He gave the same test to 280,000 adults and found that only 2 percent were creative geniuses.”

We can no longer afford to diminish, be that in our business or educational organizations, the creativity and creative thinking of our people.  Instead, we have to look to opportunities to reengage and flex our creative muscles, especially in a time when the solutions to our most pressing problems may require a much more creative and innovative approach.

Or as Mike Walsh shares in his book The Algorithmic Leader, “Here is the important part of the story: while machines will get dramatically better at extracting insights from data, spotting patterns, and even making decisions on our behalf, only humans will have the unique ability to imagine innovative ways to use machine intelligence to create experiences, transform organizations, and reinvent the world.”

While the future is currently being defined by changes brought on by the digital disruption, automation, and artificial intelligence, which is bringing about deep changes to how we communicate, learn, live and work.  What have to realize, especially in regards to this skills upheaval, is that some skills will continue to shift and change, and some skills will continue to stand the test of time.

Creativity is one of those skills to continuously stands the test of time.  One of those skills that remains uniquely human.

So, while it seemed that in the Industrial Age, we were intent on finding the Einstein’s.  In the Exponential Age, more and more, we find ourselves looking more for the DaVinci’s.

“You can provide a great education, but if that education is not getting drafted into future skills, questions will be raised about the value of that education.” -T. Kapilashrami, Group Head, HR Standard Chartered Bank

 

 

 

 

The New Electricity: And The Challenge Of Change

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“The adoption and integration of artificial intelligence into the global economy is set to impact the lives of hundreds of millions of workers around the globe.  Some experts estimate this disruption could result in the loss of up to 50% of the world’s jobs as these positions are replaced by AI and Automation.  Preparing the global workforce for this disruption and equipping displaced workers with new skills that allow them to succeed in this environment is essential.  The challenge posed by preparing the workforce and allowing workers to continue to add to their skills for the future will require coordination on the part of higher education, business and government.”  -Facing the Future: U.S., U.K. and Canadian Citizens Call for A Unified Skills Strategy for the AI Age via Northeastern University and Gallup

For many, we seem to be approaching the future unfolding before us with very trepidatious steps, moving forward with a sense of both wonder and fear of what is to come.  It is a time of great change, and it remains difficult to fathom how deep and far-reaching these changes will be.  This is a mind shift for all of us.  As this digital disruption is touching every part of our lives, both personally, professionally and socially.  As Andrew Ng, former Baidu Chief Scientiest, Coursera co-founder, and Stanford Adjunct Professor shares, “Artificial Intelligence is the new electricity.”

And it is on a course, much like electricity, to change everything.

Many see the often volatile and accelerated rate at which technology is bringing about change as a Pandora’s Box that needs to be closed, and closed soon.  However, that is a door that will no longer shut, as innovation has this tendency and will to find its way.  Make no doubt about it, this disruption is upon us and no matter how many times we click our heels and mumble “there’s no place like home,” it remains wishful thinking to believe that things will go back to “how they used to be.”

So now, the question becomes, what kind of narrative is it that we are going to write for the future?

Will this be a technology-centered story?

Or will this be a human-centered future?

What we often fail to realize, is that we are the ones in control of determining who will be the hero in this narrative…

And unfortunately, right now, technology seems to be winning that recognition.

But it does not have to be that way.  

In all actuality, it is up to us to design the future, not for the future to design us.  We have to strategically determine what kind of world we want to create, what kind of world we want to live in, and not just accept the future that is coming at us as predetermined and set in stone.

We are the future-makers and we write the story.

While there is no crystal ball that allows us to determine how to future-proof our children for a world that is shifting in exponential ways, we can sometimes turn to the past to see how it may shed some light on how to approach this uncertain and often ambiguous future.

Which takes us back to Andrew Ng and the idea of Artificial Intelligence as being the “new electricity.”  As we compare the disruption of electricity in the past, to our current technological and digital disruption.

While the times and the pace of change were quite different, we can see parallels in how overwhelming these “industrial revolutions” were to people, both personally and professionally, and what they required of people, especially in the midst of deep personal, professional, organizational, and societal shifts.  Shifts that required…

  • Adaptability and Agility
  • Initiative
  • Resilience
  • Critical, Creative and Innovative Thinking
  • Problem-Solving
  • Learning New Skills and Behaviors
  • Shifting of Mental Models

While, with every paradigm shift, the mantra remains that there have never been times like these before…we realize that there really have never been times like these before.  Especially as companies like McKinsey Global Institute share research that points to, “Automation technologies are likely to transform the vast majority of jobs” and “The next generation of digital tools will bring even more far-reaching changes in the decade ahead.”  It becomes very difficult to determine if we will cope effectively with the current and coming changes that will be brought upon us by the accelerating nature of innovative technologies and the digital disruption.

Especially as business, government, higher education and education as a whole struggle to parallel pace the current rate and volatility of change.

We know that these shifts of the past were disruptive as well, but we adapted, adjusted, and learned to move forward.  However, many say that this change is different and it is difficult to determine how effectively we will come out on the other side.  Which means we are going to have to be much more determined in how we strategically design our way forward, as well as remain vitally aware of current and coming shifts to better support us in how we prepare our children for this very non-obvious and unknown future.

Especially if we are going to create a human-centered future narrative where our children truly become the hero of the story…

“A central challenge in the automation age will be connecting millions of displaced workers to new, growing jobs.  Some may need to change jobs within the same company, and employers would provide the necessary training in these situations.  But many workers may need to find work with new employers or make even bigger transitions to different occupations in new locations.  A survey of US households found that more than half of workers displaced between 2005 and 2015 found their next job in a different industry.  For these workers, governments and other stakeholders can help to make local labor markets more fluid and easier to navigate.”  -The Future of Work in America: People and Places, Today and Tomorrow via McKinsey Global Institute

The Two Camps: Dystopia Or Utopia?

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“Our observation is that the experts engaging in the current debate about knowledge work automation tend to fall into two camps – those who say we are heading inexorably toward permanent high levels of unemployment and those who are certain new job types will spring up to replace all the ones that go by the wayside – but that neither camp suggest to workers that there is much they can do personally about the situation.”  – McAfee and Brynjolfsson via Only Humans Need Apply: Winners and Losers in the Age of Smart Machines

And while the debate rolls on, we just don’t know which way the scales will tilt for the future…dystopian or utopian?

How much of an affect will this digital and technological disruption, especially in regards to automation and artificial intelligence, have on society?  Will it be eradication, augmentation or freedom from jobs and work?  Will we be facing technological unemployment or technological freedom from employment?  Will safety nets such as Universal Basic Income or a “Robot Tax” as Bill Gates has mentioned, be necessary to keep people and the economy running?

Let alone, all of the other issues and concerns that are rising up from this digital and technological disruption and the advent of artificial intelligence, such as data privacy and surveillance, algorithmic bias, digital manipulation, cyberattacks and cybersecurity, and technological transparency.

But these are concerns that we must be wary towards, the growing societal shifts and changes we must have awareness of, and the plethora of questions that we must be asking of ourselves.

We can either choose to let the future happen to us, or we can determine ourselves to be designers of that future.

As Davenport adds in Only Humans Need Apply, “This was what economics Nobel laureate Robert Swiller had in mind when he called advancing machine intelligence “the most important problem facing the world today.”  He elaborated, “It’s associated with income inequality, but it may be more than that.  Since we tend to define ourselves by our intellectual talents, it’s also a question of personal identity.  Who am I?  Intellectual talents are being replaced by computers.  That’s a frightening thing for most people. It’s an issue with deep philosophical implications. Are we having these conversations? Is this being discussed in a proactive manner, rather than waiting for reactive response?  Are we discussing beyond the fiscal, welfare ramifications, to the wellness issues that may accompany the trajectory we have set ourselves towards.”

While we can never be completely sure of what kind of future we are hurtling towards, much of the current data and surveys do show that most people are at least nervous or somewhat concerned about the advancement of today’s technological capabilities, especially regarding Artificial Intelligence.  As Allan Dafoe, associate professor of international politics of artificial intelligence at Oxford shares in the Vox article, The American Public is already Worried About AI Catastrophe, “People are not convinced that advanced AI will be to the benefit of humanity.”

Concerned or not, it is difficult to forecast a future that is divided so glaringly by such different viewpoints and divided camps on where this technological and digital disruption is headed.  As Davenport shares in his book Only Humans Need Apply, “Silicon Valley investor Bill David and tech journalist Mike Malone, writing recently for Harvard Business Review, declared that “we will soon be looking at hordes of citizens of zero economic value.”  Whereas, when we look to the outlook of the other camp, we find CNBC shares, “By 2020, artificial intelligence (AI) will generate 2.3 million jobs, exceeding the 1.8 million that it will wipe out.  In the following five years to 2025, net new jobs created in relation to AI will reach 2 million, according to the report.”

At some point, we must become not only much better at building up our forecasting skills for the future, but determining how we better prepare our students for not only a very non-obvious future, but a future that is in the throes of constant and an accelerated pace of change.  As Chief Economist for the World Economic Forum Jennifer Blanke shares, “disgruntlement can lead to the dissolution of the fabric of society, especially if young people feel they don’t have a future.”

And it is up to us to make sure that our children and students are not left staring at a bleak horizon, but are so well-equipped that they will need sunglasses from the glare beaming off the brightness of the future.

In some ways, we have to begin to “robot-proof” our future generations from the outcomes of this digital and technological disruption.  The interesting thing about what is often considered “robot-proofing” are actually just extremely important skills and skillsets that we would want our children and students to carry into the future anyways.

Skills such as adaptability, agility, learnability, cognitive flexibility and elasticity, complex problem solving, critical thinking, leadership and decision making skills, creative and innovative thinking, adaptive thinking, sense making, computational thinking and technological skills, growth mindset, interpersonal communication skills, emotional intelligence, diversity and cultural intelligence, and social and emotional skills and skillsets.

More than ever, educators and education must have a deeper awareness and better understanding of the societal shifts that are occurring, as preparing students for an automated future has become a very different proposition.

We need to feel a sense of urgency and agency in determining how we prepare our students for the future, acknowledging that both of the camps that McAfee and Brynjolfsson spoke of previously are a possibility.  But in the end, we have to begin to acknowledge that no matter what future we find ourselves facing, different skills and skillsets will be needed for our children and students to negotiate the future in a much more positive manner.

For these reasons, as well as the societal shifts and changes we are currently and will be witnessing in the future, we are going to have to determine not only how we become much better at building up the foundational skills, but then determining the variety of other skills that must be integrated within and built upon those foundational skills.  It is in this AND mindset that we determine how we work towards a more equitable future for all students.  Which means providing individual access points and supports for all students in their growth and mastery of both the foundational, as well as the future skills that will be needed for positive access, options and ability to traverse a world that has become much more digital, automated, and artificially infused.  Skills that are much harder to automate and will be much more in-demand, no matter what camp the future fall into.

“There is an understandable temptation to focus exclusively on smaller, possibly more feasible, policies that might nibble at the margins of our problems, while leaving any discussion of the larger challenges for some indeterminate point in the future. This is dangerous because we are now so far along on the arc of information technology’s progress. We are getting onto the steep part of the exponential curve. Things will move faster, and the future may arrive long before we are ready.”  -Martin Ford Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future