What Is Our Future Narrative?

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“We cannot teach our kids to compete with machines who are smarter – we have to teach our kids something unique. In this way, thirty years later, kids will have a chance. Everything we teach should be different from machines. If we do not change the way we teach, thirty years from now we will be in trouble.”  -Jack Ma founder of Alibaba

In many ways, the goalposts have shifted…

What has served us well in the past, is far from being enough to serve us well in the future. Lack of awareness, and/or inability to see this shift, often keeps us focused on chasing that which has, or will quickly become obsolete.

While basic literacy and numeracy skills remain imperative and foundational to future success, they are moving farther and farther away from serving as the essential skills needed for success in the knowledge economy, of what many refer to as the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

And for that reason, we have to deepen our understanding of what changes…and what remains the same.

As author Yuval Noah Harari warns, “Artificial Intelligence will trigger the rise of the useless class.” For which he adds, “Most of what people learn in school in in college will probably be irrelevant by the time they are 40 or 50. If they want to continue to have a job, and to understand the world, and be relevant to what is happening, people have to reinvent themselves again and again, and faster and faster.”

Which is becoming the new normal, especially as companies are finding themselves disrupted quicker and more often. Requiring the kickstarting of new careers and making ongoing upskilling and reskilling basic professional requirements for remaining employed in the 21st century. As an example, in response to the current digital disruption occurring, a variety of statistics reveal that 52% of Fortune 500 companies have either gone bankrupt, been acquired, or have ceased to exist, since the year 2000. It is these kinds of disruptions, which then also have both societal and systems affects. The declining lifespans of our organizations have and will continue to have systems affects on the world of world. As shared by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “The average worker currently holds ten different jobs before the age of forty, and that today’s youngest workers will hold 12 to 15 jobs in their lifetime.” Which then requires ongoing adaptability, agility, and learnability of those entering the workforce to just remain relevant to the ever-shifting and changing world of work.

The dynamics of the digital disruption, have had and will continue to have far-reaching systems impact on our society, from government, to business, and education. We are going to need to build the awareness and insight that allows us to become much more proactive, than our current reactive in our stance to these changes. As Paul Daugherty, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer for Accenture shares, “In our business, we talk about emerging technologies and how they impact society.  We’ve never seen a technology move as fast as Artificial Intelligence has to impact society and technology. This is by far the fastest moving technology that we’ve ever tracked in terms of its impact and we’re just getting started.”

And it is not just Artificial Intelligence’s impact on the world of work, as Tristan Harris, Co-Founder and Executive Director for the Center for Humane Technology adds, “By allowing algorithms to control a great deal of what we see and do online, such designers have allowed technology to become a kind of ‘digital Frankenstein,’ steering billions of people’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.”

As we design our way forward, and as artificial intelligence and automation become much more prevalent and ingrained in our everyday professional and personal lives, we have to become more aware of how these systems will have great affect on our children and their future. It will necessitate equipping our children and students with the necessary and needed skillsets that allow them access and entry into more equitable, ethical, and human-centered future.

Not only must we provide our students with the foundational educational skills of the past, we must also engage them with skills and skillsets that will best serve them effectively in the future, which would include the ability to:

  • Efficiently network, utilize a variety of platforms for knowledge building, creating ongoing pipelines of learning and idea flows
  • Display cultural, social, and emotional intelligence
  • Engage innovative, creative, critical, and complex thinking and problem-solving
  • To connect ideas and information quickly
  • Show greater initiative and proactiveness
  • Model and growth and exponential mindset
  • Utilize strategic decision-making
  • Strong use of communication skills, both written and oral (Purple People)
  • Collaborative skills and ability to work well with others in team environments, both internal and external of the organization
  • Technology skills, deeper understanding of its uses and how to move from consumption to creation (computer science)

In many ways, we have to be able to prepare our children and students with a greater sense of learnability, agility, and adaptability for their future, in response to the profound shifts we are witnessing, and in response to the current and future digital disruption that is coming, spurred on by heightened levels of automation and an increasing power of artificial intelligence.

It is difficult to ignore the dystopian, jobless future narrative that seems to be endlessly forecasted for the future. We hear the stories of the coming of automation, augmentation, and the growing capabilities of artificial intelligence. However, we must never forget that we are the current creators and authors of this narrative, a narrative that our children and students will continue to write. A narrative that is both ours and theirs to manufacture. We must never forget that we have the ability to design our future, and it is up to us to design that future in a way that is to be more equitable, ethical and human-centered.

“Part of why predicting the ending to our AI [artificial intelligence] story is so difficult is because this isn’t just a story about machines. It’s also a story about human beings, people with free wills that allow them to make their own choices and to shape their own destinies. Our AI future will be created by us, and it will reflect the choices we make and the actions we take.”  -Kai-Fu Lee via AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order


Experimentation Matters

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“Experimentation matters because it fuels the discovery and creation of knowledge and thereby leads to the development and improvement of products, processes, systems, and organizations.”  -Stefan Thomke Experimentation Matters: Unlocking the Potential of New Technologies for Innovation

Never has there been an easier time for us to ask more what if questions, while actually having greater access to the tools and means to actually explore those questions; cheaper, easier, faster.  However, far too often, we often continue to be satisfied in playing it safe, staying content with what is, what we have, and what we’ve always done.  Yeah, we all know, change is hard.

And yet, as we have all heard at one time or another, there will be no innovation without exploration and experimentation.

Which is healthy to consider, as we see the rising importance of creativity and innovation in almost every profession is vital to the ongoing growth and progress of today’s organizations.  In a time of turbulent change, accelerated through an overwhelming growth in data, both experimentation and discovery learning will be vital to keep our organizations vibrant, flexible and future-relevant.

As Emilia Saarelainen shares in the article Why There’s No Innovation Without Experimentation,  “Experimentation is a bit like innovation, a word that can mean different things to different people and in the worst case, it is just an empty word without meaningful intent.  However, experimenting itself doesn’t need to be complicated, in the purest form it is about trying thing out in small-scale.  We don’t need to know the extensive experimentation vocabulary to test our ideas or to experiment.  We can spend ages on brainstorming good (or bad) ideas, but without testing them, they are just concepts without any evidence to prove that they would work.  So the question to ask is not “what’s your idea?” but “how have you tried to test it?”

The funny thing is that we are often experimenting continuously on an ongoing basis, both in our personal and professional lives, without even knowing or acknowledging we are doing it (utilizing what Henry Mintzberg consider more of an emergent than a deliberate strategy towards experimentation).

The problem with this approach, especially across an organization, is that without creating any type of process and/or systems for engaging experimentation, as well as a lack of determining any goals or outcomes up front for the experimentation, we find ourselves spinning our organizational wheels.

First, lacking any organizational process or system the learning from the experimentation is often lost, or remains stasis, stagnant and fails to have any level of reach by its limited ability and access to create flow across organizational learning networks.

Second, without setting goals and outcomes up front for the experimentation, it is difficult to determine if you have hit the target you were working towards, or not.  Setting goals and outcomes up front allows for greater feedback and learning from the experimentation, as the point where end up becomes a valuable space for improvement.  The in-between gap of where we wanted to be and where we ended up serves as our learning gap.  It is that space, that gap, that we gain feedback that loops back to us providing important information for progress.  This learning gap provides the impetus for iteration and next steps, as well as providing new learning and knowledge along the way.

Third, when experimentation happens in individual pockets lacking any organizational processes or systems, the learning and knowledge gained from the experimentation fails to scale to any level across the organization, leaving that learning and knowledge in static pockets.  If we are to scale innovation across our organization beyond bright spots, we have to make sure that the learning and knowledge gained from ongoing experimentation flows to all levels of the organization.

As Thomke puts forth, “Indeed, at the heart of every company’s ability to innovate lies a process of experimentation that enables the organization to create and evaluate new ideas and concepts for products, services, business models, or strategies.”  For which he adds, “All companies have some experimentation process at work but not everyone organizes that process to invite innovation.”

In their Harvard Business Review article The Discipline of Business Experimentation, Stefan Thomke and Jim Manzi provide a set of question that can serve as a pre-flight checklist for running any type of organizational experimentation:

  • Does The Experiment Have A Clear Purpose?
  • Have Stakeholders Made A Commitment To Abide By The Results?
  • Is The Experiment Doable?
  • How Can We Ensure Reliable Results?
  • Have We Gotten The Most Value Out Of The Experiment?

Just remember, experimentation is not easy and it is often accompanied by fear; a fear of failure, a fear of the unknown, a fear of stepping out the status quo and the pushback that it will create, as well as the fear of the changes and course adjustments it might require as it creates new data, new learning, and new knowledge that will eventually lead to new behaviors, new ways of thinking and new ways of doing.

Experimentation often shifts not only behaviors, but mindsets.  Especially in its action-orientation.

We are beginning to understand that we live in an exponentially evolving world, a world in the throes of constant change, a world that pushes us to live more and more in a beta-state.  It is that beta-state, that beginners mindset, that allows us to be more open to experimentation and more open to the often unexpected answers it provides and the plethora of new questions it provokes.  It forces us to not predetermine our solutions and answers up front and then make the results fit what we already think we know and have previously decided.  It requires us to be open.

Which can be a heavy leadership lift.

Too often we feed people a false narrative about creativity and innovation, instead of the reality, which is that it is and can be really hard work.  It can be difficult and even a bit scary.  It requires resilience, a willingness to persist, and to consistently practice experimentation that leads to engagement in discovery learning.

For innovation is founded in a constant search for better, which necessitates ongoing bouts of experimentation.  For creating greater value, be that for an individual, a team, or an entire organization, requires ongoing not only greater levels of awareness for today’s leaders, but ongoing cycles of experimentation, discovery, implementation, iteration, adoption, standardization, and disruption.

“Innovation is not driven by a single great idea or the result of magical serendipity; innovation is a process of disciplined exploration and experimentation.”  -Lisa Kay Solomon




Hootenanny #CUEBOOM

I was privileged to be able to attend the CUE Hootenanny at the San Diego Maritime Museum with 50 incredibly dedicated and awesome educators.  Jon Corippo, the Executive Director of CUE had mentioned that at the end of the day they would be giving away “golden” clickers to the best #CUEBOOM.  While I did not get a chance to participate in the #CUEBOOM, earlier in the week I had a flash of inspiration and thirty minutes later this spoken word piece rolled out.  So, while I did not participate in the #CUEBOOM, I thought I would share the result of that flash of inspiration (even though it is a bit raw and unfinished)…


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What’s that you say?

You can be anything you want to be, I hear.

Just follow my passion, move forward without any fear.

Yet, all I see when look around is chaos, crisis and fear?

A world encased in…





I still hear that the future is so bright that I’m going to need sunglasses,

but I don’t always see the skills I’m going to need taught in many of my classes.

Worksheets continue to overshadow time for moonshots,

And I’ve noticed that rows still take precedence over circles

But wait, should I be worried that my passion for what I want to be may be stolen by robots?

A world consumed by…




And Eliminate

What am I facing, what will be left

Are we gambling with the highest level of future theft?

What are we facing, exponential possibilities, or a dystopian future,

Or will UBI and colonization of Mars eventually serve as our 21st century suture?

Artificial this

Artificial that

As Friedman has said, we live in a hyper-connected world that is officially flat

Give you a device and teach you a few lines of code

Uh-oh, didn’t teach you how to think different, so you never broke out of the mold.

How do I gain access to this new world?

Where’s my entry point to a better future?

Design is no longer just about products and couture,

It is in providing me a variety of opportunities,

Not just cognitive left-overs that take me towards a bleak future.




Don’t be afraid to tap my soul,

I am still trying to find out who I am, what is my role?

Take a chance, be vulnerable, be a model, be the one that helps me discover my goal.

Don’t ground me down in days filled with rote, please

When today’s world is demanding a much better understanding of the 4Cs.

Yes, things are much different today

Finding it much harder to find the signals, to see the way


Hold on

Sorry, too late, your chance is gone.




Help me discover and hone the skills that Silicon Valley cannot replicate.

Equality may be great,

But equity is what we need.

We count on you because Superman is VR and only Artificial Intelligence is coming,

We hope that you can help us prepare for a world that is difficult to determine,

What it is, and what it is becoming.



5C’s For Focusing Organizational Innovation

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“Your primary job as a leader is not to innovate; it is to become an innovation architect, creating a work environment that helps your people engage in the key innovation behaviors as part of their daily work.”  -Miller, Wedell-Wedellsborg via Innovation As Usual: How To Help Your People Bring Great Ideas To Life

Far too often, we approach the idea of innovation as this nebulous concept, in much the same manner as we might consider the existence of a distant planet.  We know its there, we know its size, we know its distance from us, we even know its atmosphere and what it is made up of, and yet, we still wonder how much do we really know about it?

For many, innovation is that distant planet in their organization.  There is this acknowledgement that it exists, both internally and externally, as well as inside and outside of their profession.  There also may have even been opportunities to attend “innovative” conferences, read up on the research around it, as well as learn of the myths that still tend to surround it.

And yet, it still seems to exist as this nebulous concept, this distant planet that we don’t truly understand or know enough about to feel comfortable in exploring. 

So what often happens is that we approach it in our organizations and institutions with these broad stroke statements and platitudes.  We talk about being innovative, taking risks, moving quickly to failure, pushing the envelope, being disruptive, thinking different, without truly defining what that means, what that sounds like, or what that even looks like, for individuals, teams or the organization as a whole.

Most of the time, we approach it with a hope that we will get “innovatively lucky.”  If we keep it as a nebulous concept and allow it to exist as this distant, far-away planet in our organization, maybe people will be willing to step up and provide some new, imaginative and creative ideas and thinking that will push us forward in some dynamic fashion or manner.

We approach it with strategic hope.

In many instances, we don’t want to scare people away from being creative or innovative, so we keep the rhetoric light, easy and safe.  Often using “innovatively lucky” and “hope” as the strategic plan in moving forward.  We try and get people to go play in the safety of the “innovation sandbox,” hoping they will provide some new insight, until we can truly wrap our heads around what innovation really means for the individuals and teams working in our organization or institution.

On the other hand, while we know that innovation will be vital to moving forward more relevantly as individuals, teams and organizations, we also tend to fear that invoking terms like accountability, constraints, focus, metrics, and standardization would end up diminishing and depleting our willingness to pursue and engage in any innovative efforts or pursuits.  Instead, we rely on “hope” that the innovative efforts will, for some reason, be tightly aligned to the work of our teams and the organization or institution.

Which, more often than not, will not be the case. 

Too often, when there are no constraints or focus for innovation, the innovative efforts of people are not always closely aligned to the vision of the organization.  So instead of terms like accountability, metrics and standardization diminishing and squelching people’s innovative efforts, what really happens is that the lack of innovative focus or alignment to a north star, more often than not, extinguishes the innovative spark as the organization finds itself unwilling, unwanting, or unable to pursue those innovative efforts and outcomes.

The inability or unwillingness of the organization or its leadership to focus the innovative efforts on the front end, ultimately leads to frustration and disinclination, especially as people’s innovative efforts are not only not “lucky,” more often than not, they do not lead to or come to fruition on the back end.

Today’s organizations and institutions need to approach innovation in a much more transparent, focused, and  systemic way across the entirety of the organization. 

There needs to be a north star, a direction and a vision conveyed transparently throughout the organization of what is trying to be accomplished.  A direction of how people’s innovative efforts, if they are to provide the greatest value for our individuals, teams, and those that the organization serve, need to be aligned to this north star.

As Paul Plsek shares in the book Accelerating Health Care Transformation with Lean and Innovation, “If we are going to innovate, where are the areas and what are the big dots we are trying to move?” 

Otherwise, innovation without a vision or north star to serve as a guide, becomes little more than a discovery game of trying to find the new, rather than a deeply empathic process of searching for value creation that leads to both individual and collective impact.

Or, as Eric Ries shares in The Lean Startup, “Success is not delivering a feature; success is learning how to solve the customer’s problem.”

In fact, when innovation is not creating authentic value or a better way forward for those it serves, it is often found to be unnecessary or unwanted.  Which is often the case in many organizations, as we find ourselves caught up in the chase for the shiny and new becoming the real value proposition.

We find that our focus becomes bent on creating the next breakthrough product, service, support, or program…rather than focusing in on and considering how our innovative efforts are creating an experience of improvement and value.

It is within that mindset, that people are intrigued and drawn to the new, as they see the benefits and the value proposition that is being provided and offered over what currently exists.

Unfortunately, if we continue to approach innovation as this vague and ambiguous concept of how we change our way forward, we will continue to see diminished efforts from our individuals, teams, and organizations.

For continuous improvement and innovative efforts to be engaged across our systems, there needs to be an understanding and focus of what we are trying to achieve, what we are trying to improve, and what we innovating towards.

Especially when our improvement and innovation efforts necessitate people working their way collaboratively through and iterating cycles of experimentation, discovery, learning, spread, scale, and ultimately standardization, which are not only necessary, but ongoing, iterative and repeating.

To better support the innovative efforts of our individuals, teams and organizations, as well as shifting away from the nebulous concept of “hope” and “innovatively lucky” serving as our way forward, there are 5C’s that can be considered for focusing the efforts of the organization in a more strategic manner to better engage and improve the innovative efforts of its people and teams:

  • Clarity – How are leaders and the organization creating a deeper understanding of the vision and north star?  How are innovative efforts playing into and aligning with that vision and north star?  Providing clarity and coherence on the front end, keeps people from being frustrated on the back end.  It keeps the leaders, the organization, as well as individuals and teams from being at odds with each other as they find that their innovative efforts are in vain, as they are misaligned to moving the organization forward towards the determined vision.
  • Capacity – Platitudes and permission are not enough to support people in their innovative efforts.  If we are going to expect our individuals and teams to be more innovative, if we are going to be transparent in how we focus and align our innovative efforts, then we also have to be prepared to provide the opportunities to build capacity and capability to engage in innovative work, at all levels of the organization.  Otherwise, we move our people and teams towards organizational frustration when we provide capacity without autonomy, or autonomy without capacity.  This is not an either/or proposition, rather it is one of AND.
  • Constraints – Providing flexible constraints does more to engage, than diminish the creative and innovative efforts of individuals and teams.  Too often, the question we start and stay with is, “What can we do?”  But we can’t be afraid to also ask ourselves, “What should we do?”  Just because we can do something does not mean that it should be done.  Understanding the design of what you are trying to accomplish through your innovative efforts better allows for creating the constraints that drive people and teams towards those outcomes.  Once we have determined “What we should do?” we can then begin to consider and ask “How might we?”
  • Collision – Impact, impact, impact.  Innovation is most easily adopted when it has individual and collective impact.  Innovation should be solving a problem or problems, not adding to them.  It is vital to not only keep focused on the organizational north star, but just as much on the value proposition of what these innovative efforts will provide to the individuals and teams within the organization.
  • Challenge – While innovation can be both incremental and disruptive, it should be invested in reaching challenging targets.  If it is easily accomplished, attained and accepted, then how truly innovative was it?  We have to understand that with any innovative effort, the change that often accompanies it will be met with some form of pushback.  Understanding that will allow us to not be inhibited by the willingness to set challenging targets for our innovative efforts.

Consideration of these 5Cs, especially in a time when words like “creativity” and “innovation” are often thrown around in platitudes, allows an organization to focus their innovative efforts in providing real problem solving power and new value propositions for their people and teams.

“The starting point lies in realizing something important: innovation may seem to be an elusive phenomenon, but the possibility of innovation permeates our lives.  Just think about it: every single day, people face the opportunity to try something new, to do something different from how they did it yesterday.  -Miller, Wedell-Wedellsborg via Innovation As Usual: How To Help Your People Bring Great Ideas To Life


Future of Things (FoT): In An Era of Encroachment

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It’s interesting how seldom we consider what we believe to be innovative today, will eventually become the status quo of tomorrow.

Not that long ago we marveled at the idea of humans being able to fly.  Now we have more than eight million people who fly through our skies each day, supported by an intricate infrastructure and expansive system of supports worldwide to ensure the safety and comfort of those eight million arrivals and departures.  No longer do we contemplate the wonder of flight, as much as we complain of small seats and the lack of wifi.

As Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, USA puts forth, “[In the future], the Internet will disappear…you won’t even sense it, it will be part of your presence all the time.”  Which makes me think of how far we have come from our first curiosity and wonder of the possibility for flight, to what we have created today.  We no longer marvel or fancy the idea of flight, or how far the current level of technology has really taken us, or even the incredibly vast infrastructure and system we have created in support of flight.

Rather, it has just become a natural part of our everyday life.

In many ways, we stand at that same place of consideration, curiosity and wonder we had towards flight, when it comes to this idea of automation and artificial intelligence in today’s world.

Determined to figure out what we can do, well before we know out what we should do.

Which takes me back to the idea of flight and Eric Schmidt’s quote on the presence of the Internet, especially in light of the rapid and accelerated pace of change in today’s world…

It makes me wonder if automation and artificial intelligence will just become the new normal and natural part of our everyday lives in the future?  If so, how long?  5 years?  10 years?  20 years?  How long before its presence is no longer noticed or felt, it just is?  And how will that change our personal and professional lives?  How will it change the way we live and work?  How will it change our world and our place in it?  

While we don’t have that same intricate and expansive infrastructure and system that we have since built up from that first flight, we do know that idea of automation and artificial intelligence in our world is no longer that grounded and curious wonderer envisioning a time in which flight is possible.  From agriculture to manufacturing, from driverless cars and trucks to neural networks, the march is on.

The question then is no longer if it is coming, but where is it actually taking us.

And while we are not in a time where automation and artificial intelligence can take away all of work, it is definitely a time of encroachment into that world.  As Thomas Davenport and Julie Kirby share in Only Humans Need Apply, “As computer programs focus on the tasks they can do, it’s those pieces of jobs that are taken away.  The encroachment happens one task at a time, meaning that a job that is only 10 percent automatable doesn’t go away.  It’s just that, now, nine holders of that job can do what used to be the work of ten.”  

As they add, “Instead, they’re just nudged, nudged, nudged toward the door.”

In many ways, automation and artificial intelligence are like the early days of flight, as we figured out what we could do, it also opened up a plethora of new possibilities and new pathways as it expanded its wings into the future.  No one could have foretold from those first flights, the level of sophistication that we would have today, as well as the millions of jobs and opportunities it has provided for people, from airports to travel agencies.

But what we do know, it required new skills, new learnings, and the ability to adapt to those changes.

So, then the question becomes, will automation and artificial intelligence have the same effect on our future world as flight has had on our past?  Or will it be different this time, as many have predicted.  Will its ramifications on the future dare us into new arenas or  push us into dire straits?  Will automation and artificial intelligence decimate jobs and work as we have known it, as many have anticipated, or will it rewrite the rules of work?

While time will only tell, for now, we must be aware that we exist in a time of encroachment by automation and artificial intelligence.  

Which means we are living in the nudge.  A few jobs here, a few jobs there.  Often barely noticeable.  Almost like a frog that has found its way into a vat of heating water, we don’t understand that the water is boiling until it is too late.  Or as Hemingway adds, “gradually, then suddenly.”

It doesn’t mean that we no longer need cashiers, it just means that we don’t need as many.  It doesn’t mean that we no longer need radiologists, we just don’t need as many.  And so on and so on.  I think you get the picture.

As this encroachment increases, so will the need for people to adapt and learn.  It requires that we are constantly upskilling our knowledge and our skillsets.  Especially as Davenport and Kirby share, “The parts of our jobs we’ll keep are just the parts that can’t be codified.”  For which they add, “If work can be codified, it can be automated.  And there’s also the corollary: If it can automated in an economical fashion, it will be.  Already we’re seeing a rapid decomposition of jobs and automation of the most modifiable parts – which are sometimes the parts that have required the greatest education and experience.”

Which means, in the future, like the Internet that Eric Schmidt speaks of, upskilling will need to become a natural part of our existence.  To the point that it won’t even be felt.  Continuous learning will just become a part of who we are and how we live and work.  There will be this need for us all to become curious, creative, critical thinkers.

Especially as automation and artificial intelligence enhance the “threat of deskilling.”  Davenport and Kirby add in Only Humans Need Apply, “The jobs are deskilled when technologies are introduced that no longer require workers to have formerly necessary skills – meaning that semiskilled our unskilled workers can now hold those jobs. In turn, the labor force is deskilled when, enough machines having taken over a particular task, the skill becomes a ‘lost art’ to people.”

In many ways, we are seeing the deskilling of the “hard skills” and the necessity for upskilling what are known as the “soft skills,” or those skills that remain difficult for automation and artificial intelligence to replicate and codify.

Either way, awareness is paramount as automation and artificial intelligence begins to get its wings.  

Which means that the question is no longer as much about whether automation and artificial intelligence will come after my job, but whether or not I am continuously learning the skills, skillsets, and knowledge that will still make me viable and valuable whether automation or artificial intelligence comes after my job or not.

I will leave you with these thoughts from Davenport and Kirby, “It’s important to understand all this because, in our work alongside cognitive technologies, we will need to keep adjusting to their evolving capabilities.  To be able to anticipate how our own roles will change, we must be able to predict the pathways from today’s state of the art to future possibilities.”  For which they add…

“Complacency is not an option.”

Discovering Emergent Innovation In The Educational Ecosystem

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“Innovative organizations regularly change the ‘rules of engagement’ with ideas, isolate and define problems in new and unusual ways and look harder for plausible solutions.” -Emergent Innovation: A New Strategic Paradigm via The Journal of Strategic Leadership

What we often fail to realize is that innovation is already occurring across our organizational landscapes on an ongoing basis.  Whether or not we are open to recognizing it is a very different story.  Pockets of positive deviance exist, both individually and organizationally, providing new ideas and novel solutions to the problems that endlessly plague our organizational ecosystems.

Unfortunately, especially in times of change, we fail to allow space for the emergence of that innovation.  Most often, we lack the will or ability to engage those novel and new ideas and solutions in constructive ways that spread and scale at any level.

In most cases, we find organizations sporadically searching out external consultants and ideas, hoping to ride the promises of the quick wins and quick fixes that abound within the ecology of education.  Rather than taking the time to recognize the possibilities and bright spots that are already emerging within and across the organization.

And while we can see the success that these positive deviants are creating within the system, we avoid those novel and new solutions for the fear of the disruption,  disequilibrium, and instability that those ideas have power to create across the organizational landscape.  Or we look to find excuses to the “why” and “how” these bright spots are determining ways towards creating success within the system, with the same resources and support.  As they often say, it is difficult to be a prophet in your own land.

Especially, in the midst of the chaos and turbulence that erupts in times of great change, we spend little time in recognizing the innovative opportunities that are emerging.  Rather, we spend more time recoiling back from the volatility that ensues from these disruptive forces, insulating the organization in a facade of safety and stability, predicated on the comfort of static, status quo processes and structures.  We find ourselves resorting to reactive actions, rather than engaging in proactive feedback loops.

Rather, we spend minimal time and provide little to no space for the emergence of the novel and new.  Let alone the recognition of the positive deviance spread across the organizational landscape and how to effectively engage the learnings of those bright spots within the organizational ecosystem in an effort to scale up the innovation that is emerging and emanating from those bright spots.

To engage this emergence, Goldstein, Hazy and Lichtenstein share in their work, The Complexity and the Nexus of Leadership, four phases that “operate together to bring about adaptive emergence.”

Those four phases they include are Disequilibrium Conditions, Amplifying Actions, Recombinations, and Stabilizing Feedback.

Let’s take a quick look into each of these phases and how they support emergent innovation:

Disequilibrium Conditions: for emergent innovation to take hold, there must be a level of disequilibrium that is occurring within and across the organization.  It requires moving past “the use of models of stability” and “enforcing top-down structures” that protect and insulate organizations from the discomfort that change is creating, and recognizing the novel and new ideas and innovations that are emerging through this disequilibrium.  Too often, this disequilibrium is too uncomfortable to tolerate, pushing both individuals and the organization away from what is emerging and the implications of that emergence.  Organizations that are able to push through the discomfort, open themselves to what Goldstein, Hazy, and Lichtenstein refer to as “opportunity tension” which allows for leadership to “engage, plan, pursue and capitalize on the potential.”

Amplifying Actions: as Goldstein, Hazy, and Lichtenstein share, “As disequilibrium increases, most organizations will see an increase in stress and tension, as well as an increase in in experiments in novelty.”  Unfortunately, in the midst of this disequilibrium, leaders will look for ways to de-stress and stabilize the system, instead of increasing their innovative efforts to push forward into this change with more effective ideas and solutions.  Leadership will often look fervently to past practices to keep the organization locked in linear and predictable processes and structures that provide some sense of stability.  As Goldstein, Hazy, and Lichtenstein add, leadership needs to learn to “live with-and-even-embrace-the discomfort of disequilibrium, encouraging experiments and amplifying successes in whatever form they may come.”  Which is a reason that many organizations never reach a state of change, as they tend to recoil back in the face of the stress of this instability.  As the authors add, “As stress and intensity grows, the system approaches the possibility of a state of change.”

Recombinations: Goldstein, Hazy, and Lichtenstein share that, “Once a critical threshold is crossed, the system’s inertia has been overcome.  The organization now enters a period when it can be influenced by forces for emergent order.”  What is vital to this, is the understanding that individuals and the organization must push through the disequilibrium brought on by these change forces, rather than giving in to the discomfort and recoiling back to the safety and stability of what it has always known, what it has always done.  It is in this phase that individuals and the organization can be driven by the learning that accompanies ongoing experiments in novelty and determining how that learning can move the organization forward more effectively and relevantly.

Stabilizing Feedback: as Goldstein, Hazy, and Lichtenstein put forth, “Finally, new emergent order, if it is indeed creating value, will stabilize itself in order to retain this increased capacity.”  For which they add, “As this stabilizing process takes hold, the system finds the appropriate ways to position itself for overall sustainability in the ecology.”  It is at this point that change truly takes hold in the organization and moves from the novel to a new way of operating and working.  It is where the innovation diffuses across the organizational ecosystem.

Understanding these phases of emergent innovation better prepares our individuals and organizations to withstand the disequilibrium and instability that can often accompany the change of the new.  It provides a framework for pushing through the discomfort that is often at the core of embracing emergent innovation and the organizational change accompanies it.

“Emergent events are driven by an entrepreneurial opportunity that pushes the organization outside its normal ruts and into taking new directions.”

Very often…

“A state of disequilibrium or instability…led to an unexpected outcome, namely, the emergence of the unexpected.” -Goldstein, Hazy, Lichtenstein via The Complexity and the Nexus of Leadership: Leveraging Nonlinear Science to Create Ecologies of Innovation



Networks: An Engine For Scaling Learning And Innovation (Part 3)

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We live in a connected world, wait, strike that…

A highly connected world.  Or as Thomas Friedman might say, we now live in a “hyperconnected world.”

Inability to tap into the diversity of thinking and novel and new ideas that exists within those networks, severely limits our individual and organizational ability to move into the future in a much more progressive and relevant manner.

It is within these spaces, these networks, that connectivity is acquired and achieved, cognitive resources and idea flows are managed and exchanged, and where provocation for action upon these ideas is often mediated, accelerated and catalyzed.

Or as the work Network Science by the National Research Council shares, “Networks lie at the core of the economic, political, and social fabric of the 21st century.”  For which the National Research Council adds, “Society depends on a diversity of complex networks for its very existence.”  And yet, “In spite of society’s profound dependence on networks, fundamental knowledge about them is primitive,” at best.

What we are learning, especially as we look at the scaling up and proliferation of networks across society, and the level of data and knowledge they are providing, is that today’s organizations must learn to support a much more robust and dynamic set of internal and external networks, utilizing a variety of metrics that lead to a greater understanding how divergent idea flows, as well as organizational novelty and innovation awareness and dissemination can be cascaded across the organizational landscape in much more fluid, clear and coherent manner.

Today’s organizations must be able to unlock and engage both internal and external networks, in an effort to not only tap into a diversity of voices, but a diversity and divergence of thinking and ideas.  These networks not only provide a platform for engaging an ongoing flow of the novel and new, they also create a cognitive space to play with ideas that often leads to not only the creation of new knowledge, but new actions and new ways of working.  Unfortunately, most organizations plateau from an inability to create more dynamic, robust and expansive networks of learning that feed forward these idea flows that lead to the creation of new knowledge and curation of new learning.

Rather, most organizational networks remain fragmented at best, unable to tap into these internal, external and periphery idea flows that feed the core of our organizational ecosystems with a steady diet of new and innovative thinking and ideas, keeping us caught in a constant iteration and amplification of the known.  Constantly caught up on a never ending chasing or our own tail on the hamster wheel of what we don’t know, we don’t know.

Which again is unfortunate, as authors Krebs and Holley share in their work, Building Sustainable Communities Through Network Building, where research from as far back as the late 1990’s shows the benefits of networks within large organizations, for which the provide below:

  • Teams with better access to other teams inside and outside the organization finished their assignments faster.
  • Teams with better connections discovered, and transferred, the knowledge they needed within the organization.
  • Managers with ‘better connections’ [inside and outside the organization] spotted and developed more opportunities for their departments or organizations.
  • Project managers with better network connections were more successful in reaching project goals within time and financial parameters.

So even in the 90’s, years before the explosion of the instant access provided by today’s social networks, we see research illuminating the benefits of how networks not only allow for enhanced communication, but increased speed of learning and spread of innovation across our organizations.

As with many things, it is not an either/or proposition.  It is not just about internal or external networks, rather it is about AND and the ability for both to exist in a dynamic and interrelated manner within an organization.  It is about connecting the inside, both the core and periphery, as well as the outside.  It is in that combination our networks allow for the access, reach, spread and scale of new and novel ideas that allow innovation to move across our organizations in a much more fluid and dynamic manner, at all levels. Or as Krebs and Holley add, “The lack of outside information, and dense cohesion, within the network, removes all possibility for new ideas and innovations.”

It will benefit today’s leaders and organizations to spend time investing in and learning how networks can better serve our individuals and organizations for scaling the level of learning and knowledge that is necessary to stay vital and relevant in a world of accelerated and often turbulent change.  Or as the National Research Council puts forth in the work Network Science…

“In summary, human understanding of networks has the potential to play a vital role in the 21st century, which is witnessing the rise of the Connected Age.  There is an enormous demand for information on how to design and operate large global networks in a robust, stable, and secure fashion.”



Creating Organizational Relevance

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“It is the very uncertainty, unpredictability, and uncontrollability of organizational processes that signal the adaptive capability of complex systems; their capacity for the emergence of novel practices, processes, and routines is at the heart of an ecology of innovation.”  -Goldstein, Hazy, Lichtenstein Complexity and the Nexus of Leadership: Leveraging Nonlinear Science to Create Ecologies of Innovation

Learning lies at the very heart of any complex, adaptive and innovative system.  Especially those organizational systems that are able to continually grow and evolve.  And while we can let that statement linger, it is not enough.  It requires more, much more.

It requires…

A diversity of learning

Curation and creation of new knowledge

Environments of experimentation where novel and innovative ideas and thinking can emerge

Spaces where ideas can collide to create new thinking and ideas

Engaging learning networks and idea flows, both internally and externally

Ongoing reflection of mental models, assumptions and cognitive biases

Ability to adapt and change in response to the ongoing emergence of the new

Unfortunately, in the midst of today’s organizational complexity and chaos that encompasses today’s accelerated and turbulent change cycles, leaders look to insulate and simplify, instead of embracing the opportunity and/or opportunities that begins to emerge from this complexity and chaos.

When change is needed most for an organization, it is often the status quo and stasis that is sought out and exemplified (both consciously and unconsciously).

In the face of change, whether incremental and/or disruptive, the comfort of the known is often held up as a model to stave off the fear of the unknown, even when the current model is proving to be ineffective.  There is safety in the known.  Unless the emergence of the novel and new can provide a strong promise of future success it is squeezed out in favor of the familiar and known.

Which is why the above “requirements” are necessary for any organization to be able to continually adapt and maintain innovative ecologies, environments, and ecosystems.  

Or as the old adage puts forth, “you don’t know what you don’t know” remains true for our organizations, as well as individuals.  For much of what happens in an organization is based on a “we’ve always done it this way” approach to working that has seldom been considered or questioned.  Which then begets the question, are the individuals and the organization itself on a journey to continually seek out “what it doesn’t know?”  Or is it happy to remain in the comfort of the known, often at its own peril and relevance.

For which Goldstein, Hazy, Lichtenstein add, “Since ecologies are driven by all of the exchanges, interchanges, interactions, and connectivities existing between its subsystems, whatever is essential takes place at these interfaces.”

Which reminds us that if individuals and organizations are not searching out and creating new learning and knowledge, engaged in internal and external learning flows and networks, seeking out and allowing for experimentation and the emergence of the novel and new, and constantly reflecting on their mental models as they collide with a diversity of learning and ideas, those “exchanges, interchanges, interactions, and connectivities” will do little to move individuals and organizations beyond and amplification of what is already known.

Or as Goldstein, Hazy, Lichtenstein share, “At the core of ecosystems are patterns of interactions – the vital exchanges – that connect all the subsystems together.”  For which they continue, “Because a complex system is composed of interdependent, interacting subsystems, information about the functioning of the system is distributed throughout the networks of connection.  This nexus of relations is the source of influence, the driver of innovation, and the regulator of change.”

Which reminds us that all individuals and organizations have their own borders, their own space where the known and the unknown intersect.

It is at this intersection, that the future relevance of our organizations is often determined and discovered.


Beyond Reverse Engineering: In Consideration Of Continuous Improvement (Part 3)

“But why are you so interested in the solutions we develop for our specific problems?  Why do you never study how we go about developing those solutions?  Since the future lies beyond what we can see, the solutions we employ today may not continue to be effective.  The competitive advantage of an organization lies not so much in the solutions themselves – but in the ability of the organization to understand conditions and create fitting, smart solutions.”  -Mike Rother Toyota Kata: Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness, and Superior Results

Years and years of leadership and organizational indoctrination has done very little to prepare today’s leaders and organizations for a future world that has shifted and a past world that no longer exists.  Leadership and organizational frameworks and structures that have often touted…

Answers over Questions

Control over Autonomy

Technical over Adaptive

Structure over Process

Bureaucracy over Agility

Standardization over Differentiation

Compliance over Creativity

Implementation over Innovation

Short-term over Long-term

Reform over Transform

In a world that has doggedly determined to accelerate the pace of change, linear mindsets and linear ways of thinking are often lulling leaders and their organizations into stasis and status quo ways of operating and responding to this turbulent manner of change.

Instead of responding with an “abundance” mentality of determining the opportunity that exists and arises from this chaos, most leaders and organizations rather choose to apply a “scarcity” mindset and look more towards finding ways to safely insulate themselves from the volatility that surrounds them and their organization.

In many instances, they choose to recoil and then reform…rather than adapt and move to transform.

So, rather than moving towards gaining the ability to adapt and transform, many of our leaders and organizations choose instead to try and “reverse engineer” their way forward.  For which Mike Rother shares as the process of “taking an object apart to see how it works in order to replicate it.”  

Which has been a continual problem plaguing our educational organizations for a plethora of years.  This idea that we can take something apart, see how it works, and then easily replicate it in our own organization.  Just like putting a new overhead on the projector.  Easy.  Right?

Only it’s not right and it’s not working…

Or as Mike Rother adds in Toyota Kata, “We have been trying to copy the wrong things.”

Rother provides us with 3 reasons in Toyota Kata as to why “reverse engineering” isn’t working:

  1. Critical Aspects Are Not Visible: Which means that you can’t employ the things you see without being able to understand the things that you can’t see.  The underlying  processes that led to the visible changes.  Or as Rother purports, “We have been trying to add practices and principles on top of our existing management thinking and practice without adjusting that thinking and practice.”  For which he adds, “techniques will not work properly, will not generate continuous improvement and adaptation, without the underlying logic, which lies beyond our view.”  Too often we try and change behaviors without attending to the thinking and mindset that enables those behaviors.  Without attending to the mindset, this approach to change will always be veneer at best.
  2. Reverse Engineering Does Not Make An Organization Adaptive and Continuously Improving: Organizations have this tendency to jump right to solutions without determining if they are even solving the right problem.  And if they are solving the right problem, are they really gathering a divergence and diversity of thinking towards solving that problem.  Too often, as we look towards this “reverse engineering” way of working, we try to save time by moving right to implementing solutions that worked well for other leaders or organizations, without considering the context, time and a culture in which those solutions were created…and then seem perplexed when they fall flat in our own organizations.  As Mike Rother adds, “Focusing on solutions does not make an organization adaptive.”  Instead of focusing on solutions, look to create the environment and processes that lead to the thinking and doing that provides the ability and capacity of the organization to continuously improve and adapt.
  3. Trying To Reverse Engineer Puts Us In An Implementing Mode: Focusing on solutions over engaging better problem-solving processes leads to an organization, “having an implementation orientation” which “actually impedes our organization’s progress and the development of people’s capabilities.”  Which takes us back to linear mindsets and linear thinking, which is based in trying to create certainty, which is very much in alliance with an organization being in implementing mode.  Whereas, a problem-solving orientation allows leaders and organizations to become much more comfortable with the uncertainty that is required of being more adaptive and focused on continuous improvement.  If we are going to move from where we are to where we want to be, it will require taking a path that is often filled with uncertainty and unknowns.  Or as Rother shares, “If we believe the way ahead is set and clear, then we tend to blindly carry out a preconceived implementation plan rather than being sensitive to, learning from, and dealing adequately with what arises along the way.  As a result, we do not reach the desired destination at all, despite our best intentions.”

We fail to adapt and continuously improve as leaders and organizations when we try to “reverse engineer” our way forward into a very uncertain and unknown future.  We have to understand that there is a large chasm of this uncertainty and unknown that lies between where an organization is and where they eventually want to be…and inability to deal effectively with that chasm of uncertainty and unknown that stands before us will impede progress towards that preferred future that stands waiting beyond.

“If someone claims certainty about the steps that will be implemented to reach a desired destination, that should be a red flag to us.  Uncertainty is normal – the path cannot be accurately predicted – and so how we deal with that is of paramount importance, and where we can derive our certainty and confidence.” -Mike Rother Toyota Kata: Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness, and Superior Results

Facilitating Transformation

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“The more complex and unfamiliar the challenge we’re facing, the more important it becomes to test and adjust the underlying ladders of inference, beliefs, and filters we’re using to tackle it.”  -Craig Weber Conversational Capacity: The Secret To Building Successful Teams That Perform When The Pressure is On

No matter how many great ideas, strategies and levers that we can string together towards organizational transformation, if leaders are unable to facilitate their teams through and towards the conversations, processes, structures, and environments that actually lead to that transformation…not much has or will change.

Which means that today’s leaders have to be willing to push their teams into much more uncertain and uncomfortable terrain, where our mental models, maps and bias’ are placed on reflective display.  Where diversity of thinking and candor are natural and positive elements of the teams they engage and lead.

As Craig Weber adds, “The capacity to transform conflicting perspectives into learning gives a team an additional advantage that is invaluable in challenging situations where our old ways of thinking no longer fit the bill.  People with different perspectives are able to generate not just more learning, but a deeper, more powerful kind of learning.  They’re more agile, astute, and adaptive because they can deliberately double-loop learn.”

However, before we can get to what double-loop learning is, we should begin with defining both single- and double- loop learning.

According to Google,

Single-loop learning seems to be present when goals, values frameworks and, to a significant extent, strategies are taken for granted.


Double-loop learning occurs when error is detected and corrected in ways that involve the modification of an organization’s underlying norms, policies and objectives.

To add to that definition, Craig Weber shares, “Whenever there’s a gap between the consequences we intend and the results we achieve, learning is required.  There are two very different kinds of learning we can employ.  When things don’t work out as expected, the easy path is to simply circle back and adjust our actions (our strategy, behavior, or plan).  This is called single-loop learning.”

Which means that single-loop learning is best suited to the routine, technical problems that are stretched across our organizational landscape.  The issue with single-loop learning is that today’s leaders are seeing a big shift…from a decrease in the technical, routine problems to a heightening and growth of the adaptive challenges that are coming at them and their organizations in today’s turbulent and changing world.

To make matters worse, not only are teams and organizations struggling to engage and embrace more double-loop learning in their processes, they actually continue to engage single-loop learning as their go to response to these growing adaptive challenges they are now facing.  Which is a concern, especially in a time when organizational transformation is often vital for the future and the mere survival and relevance of many, if not most organizations.

Or as Weber adds, “In adaptive circumstances, where the problem is poorly defined, no proven solution exists, and our old habits of thought no longer fit the predicament we’re facing, single-loop learning is grossly inadequate.”

In the turbulent times we are now living in, one of accelerated change that is unleashing a densely growing number of adaptive challenges, double-loop learning will be vital to our ability to question our assumptions, reflect upon our mental maps and models, as well as test our often unconscious confirmation bias’.  Double-loop learning serves as a lens for ongoing review of, rather than blind acceptance of the assumptions of what we determine to be true.

Which means today’s leaders have to facilitate the spaces and environments where positive conflict and candor can be incorporated into engaging a variety and diversity of thinking and ideas that lead to greater capacity, especially in response to the adaptive challenges that now face our teams and organizations.

As Weber purports, “Holding our ideas, views, and perspectives more like hypotheses that need to be tested – a hallmark of more disciplined mindset – is conducive to double-loop learning.  When we hold a view like a truth it makes it much harder to question it, much less correct it.  But when we treat our thoughts, assumptions, and beliefs as suspect, it makes it easier to adjust or change them when they don’t pass muster.”

Our world has and is changing, often in a rapid and volatile manner.  It is not enough for our behaviors to change in response, so must our thinking and the lens’ that drive that thinking, both individually and organizationally.

“Trapped on the hamster wheel of their outdated thinking, unable to adapt to the novel predicaments they face, a team that can’t deliberately double-loop learn grows increasingly ineffective in a dynamic environment.”  -Craig Weber Conversational Capacity: The Secret To Building Successful Teams That Perform When The Pressure is On