Category Archives: education

Preparing the Next Generation for a Post-Digital Age

Preparing the Next Generation for a Post-Digital Age

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

An education is supposed to prepare you for the future. Traditionally, that meant learning certain facts and skills, like when Columbus discovered America or how to do long division. Today, curricula have shifted to focus on a more global and digital world, like cultural history, basic computer skills and writing code.

Yet the challenges that our kids will face will be much different than we did growing up and many of the things a typical student learns in school today will no longer be relevant by the time he or she graduates college. In fact, a study at the University of Oxford found that 47% of today’s jobs will be eliminated over the next 20 years.

In 10 or 20 years, much of what we “know” about the world will no longer be true. The computers of the future will not be digital. Software code itself is disappearing, or at least becoming far less relevant. Many of what are considered good jobs today will be either automated or devalued. We need to rethink how we prepare our kids for the world to come.

Understanding Systems

The subjects we learned in school were mostly static. 2+2 always equaled 4 and Columbus always discovered America in 1492. Interpretations may have differed from place to place and evolved over time, but we were taught that the world was based on certain facts and we were evaluated on the basis on knowing them.

Yet as the complexity theorist Sam Arbesman has pointed out, facts have a half life and, as the accumulation of knowledge accelerates, those half lives are shrinking. For example, when we learned computer programming in school, it was usually in BASIC, a now mostly defunct language. Today, Python is the most popular language, but will likely not be a decade from now.

Computers themselves will be very different as well, based less on the digital code of ones and zeros and more on quantum laws and the human brain. We will likely store less information on silicon and more in DNA. There’s no way to teach kids how these things will work because nobody, not even experts, is quite sure yet.

So kids today need to learn less about how things are today and more about the systems future technologies will be based on, such as quantum mechanics, genetics and the logic of code. One thing economists have consistently found is that it is routine jobs that are most likely to be automated. The best way to prepare for the future is to develop the ability to learn and adapt.

Applying Empathy And Design Skills

While machines are taking over many high level tasks, such as medical analysis and legal research, there are some things they will never do. For example, a computer will never strike out in a Little League game, have its heart broken or see its child born. So it is very unlikely, if not impossible, that a machine will be able to relate to a human like other humans can.

That absence of empathy makes it hard for machines to design products and processes that will maximize enjoyment and utility for humans. So design skills are likely to be in high demand for decades to come as basic production and analytical processes are increasingly automated.

We’ve already seen this process take place with regard to the Internet. In the early days, it was a very technical field. You had to be a highly skilled engineer to make a website work. Today, however, building a website is something any fairly intelligent high school student can do and much of the value has shifted to front-end tasks, like designing the user experience.

With the rise of artificial intelligence and virtual reality our experiences with technology will become more far immersive and that will increase the need for good design. For example, conversational analysts (yes, that’s a real job) are working with designers to create conversational intelligence for voice interfaces and, clearly, virtual reality will be much more design intensive than video ever was.

The Ability To Communicate Complex Ideas

Much of the recent emphasis in education has been around STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) and proficiency in those areas is certainly important for today’s students to understand the world around them. However, many STEM graduates are finding it difficult to find good jobs.

On the other hand, the ability to communicate ideas effectively is becoming a highly prized skill. Consider Amazon, one of the most innovative and technically proficient organizations on the planet. However, a key factor to its success its writing culture. The company is so fanatical about the ability to communicate that developing good writing skills are essential to building a successful career there.

Think about Amazon’s business and it becomes clear why. Sure, it employs highly adept engineers, but to create a truly superior product those people need to collaborate closely with designers, marketers, business development executives and others. To coordinate all that activity and keep everybody focused on delivering a specific experience to the customer, communication needs to be clear and coherent.

So while learning technical subjects like math and science is always a good idea, studying things like literature, history and philosophy is just as important.

Collaborating And Working In Teams

Traditionally, school work has been based on individual accomplishment. You were supposed to study at home, come in prepared and take your test without help. If you looked at your friend’s paper, it was called cheating and you got in a lot of trouble for it. We were taught to be accountable for achievements on our own merits.

Yet consider how the nature of work has changed, even in highly technical fields. In 1920, most scientific papers were written by sole authors, but by 1950 that had changed and co-authorship became the norm. Today, the average paper has four times as many authors as it did then and the work being done is far more interdisciplinary and done at greater distances than in the past.

Make no mistake. The high value work today is being done in teams and that will only increase as more jobs become automated. The jobs of the future will not depend as much on knowing facts or crunching numbers, but will involve humans collaborating with other humans to design work for machines. Collaboration will increasingly be a competitive advantage.

That’s why we need to pay attention not just to how our kids work and achieve academically, but how they play, resolve conflicts and make others feel supported and empowered. The truth is that value has shifted from cognitive skills to social skills. As kids will increasingly be able to learn complex subjects through technology, the most important class may well be recess.

Perhaps most of all, we need to be honest with ourselves and make peace with the fact that our kids educational experience will not — and should not — mirror our own. The world which they will need to face will be far more complex and more difficult to navigate than anything we could imagine back in the days when Fast Times at Ridgemont High was still popular.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog and previously appeared on Inc.com
— Image credits: Pixabay

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Implementing Successful Transformation Initiatives for 2024

Implementing Successful Transformation Initiatives for 2024

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

Transformation and change initiatives are usually designed as strategic interventions, intending to advance an organization’s growth, deliver increased shareholder value, build competitive advantage, or improve speed and agility to respond to fast-changing industries.  These initiatives typically focus on improving efficiency, and productivity, resolving IT legacy and technological issues, encouraging innovation, or developing high-performance organizational cultures. Yet, according to research conducted over fifteen years by McKinsey & Co., shared in a recent article “Losing from day one: Why even successful transformations fall short” – Organizations have realized only 67 percent of the maximum financial benefits that their transformations could have achieved. By contrast, respondents at all other companies say they captured an average of only 37 percent of the potential benefit, and it’s all due to a lack of human skills, and their inability to adapt, innovate, and thrive in a decade of disruption.

Differences between success and failure

The survey results confirm that “there are no short­cuts to successful transformation and change initiatives. The main differentiator between success and failure was not whether an organization followed a specific subset of actions but rather how many actions it took throughout an organizational transformation’s life cycle” and actions taken by the people involved.

Capacity, confidence, and competence – human skills

What stands out is that thirty-five percent of the value lost occurs in the implementation phase, which involves the unproductive actions taken by the people involved.

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) supports this in a recent article “How to Create a Transformation That Lasts” – “Transformations are inherently difficult, filled with compressed deadlines and limited resources. Executing them typically requires big changes in processes, product offerings, governance, structure, the operating model itself, and human behavior.

Reinforcing the need for organizations to invest in developing the deep human skills that embed transformation disciplines into business-as-usual structures, processes, and systems, and help shift the culture. Which depends on enhancing people’s capacity, confidence, and competence to implement the “annual business-planning processes and review cycles, from executive-level weekly briefings and monthly or quarterly reviews to individual performance dialogue” that delivers and embeds the desired changes, especially the cultural enablers.

Complex and difficult to navigate – key challenges

As a result of the impact of our VUCA/BANI world, coupled with the global pandemic, current global instability, and geopolitics, many people have had their focus stolen, and are still experiencing dissonance cognitively, emotionally, and viscerally.

This impacts their ability to take intelligent actions and the range of symptoms includes emotional overwhelm, cognitive overload, and change fatigue.

It seems that many people lack the capacity, confidence, and competence, to underpin their balance, well-being, and resilience, which resources their ability and GRIT to engage fully in transformation and change initiatives.

The new normal – restoring our humanity

At ImagineNation™ for the past four years, in our coaching and mentoring practice, we have spent more than 1000 hours partnering with leaders and managers around the world to support them in recovering and re-emerging from a range of uncomfortable, disabling, and disempowering feelings.

Some of these unresourceful states include loneliness, disconnection, a lack of belonging, and varying degrees of burnout, and have caused them to withdraw and, in some cases, even resist returning to the office, or to work generally.

It appears that this is the new normal we all have to deal with, knowing there is no playbook, to take us there because it involves restoring the essence of our humanity and deepening our human skills.

Taking a whole-person approach – develop human skills

By embracing a whole-person approach, in all transformation and change initiatives, that focuses on building people’s capacity, confidence, and competence, and that cultivates their well-being and resilience to:

  • Engage, empower, and enable them to collaborate in setting the targets, business plans, implementation, and follow-up necessary to ensure a successful transformation and change initiative.
  • Safely partner with them through their discomfort, anxiety, fear, and reactive responses.
  • Learn resourceful emotional states, traits, mindsets, behaviors, and human skills to embody, enact and execute the desired changes strategically and systemically.

By then slowing down, to pause, retreat and reflect, and choose to operate systemically and holistically, and cultivate the “deliberate calm” required to operate at the three different human levels outlined in the illustration below:

The Neurological Level – which most transformation and change initiatives fail to comprehend, connect to, and work with. Because people lack the focus, intention, and skills to help people collapse any unconscious RIGIDITY existing in their emotional, cognitive, and visceral states, which means they may be frozen, distracted, withdrawn, or aggressive as a result of their fears and anxiety.

You can build your capacity, confidence, and competence to operate at this level by accepting “what is”:

  • Paying attention and being present with whatever people are experiencing neurologically by attending, allowing, accepting, naming, and acknowledging whatever is going on for them, and by supporting and enabling them to rest, revitalize and recover in their unique way.
  • Operating from an open mind and an open heart and by being empathic and compassionate, in line with their fragility and vulnerability, being kind, appreciative, and considerate of their individual needs.
  • Being intentional in enabling them to become grounded, mindful conscious, and truly connected to what is really going on for them, and rebuild their positivity, optimism, and hope for the future.
  • Creating a collective holding space or container that gives them permission, safety, and trust to pull them towards the benefits and rewards of not knowing, unlearning, and being open to relearning new mental models.
  • Evoking new and multiple perspectives that will help them navigate uncertainty and complexity.

The Emotional Cognition Levels – which most transformation and change initiatives fail to take into account because people need to develop their PLASTICITY and flexibility in regulating and focusing their thoughts, feelings, and actions to adapt and be agile in a world of unknowns, and deliver the outcomes and results they want to have.

You can build your capacity, confidence, and competence to operate at this level by supporting them to open their hearts and minds:

  • Igniting their curiosity, imagination, and playfulness, introducing novel ideas, and allowing play and improvisation into their thinking processes, to allow time out to mind wander and wonder into new and unexplored territories.
  • Exposing, disrupting, and re-framing negative beliefs, ruminations, overthinking and catastrophizing patterns, imposter syndromes, fears of failure, and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
  • Evoking mindset shifts, embracing positivity and an optimistic focus on what might be a future possibility and opportunity.
  • Being empathic, compassionate, and appreciative, and engaging in self-care activities and well-being practices.

The Generative Level – which most transformation and change initiatives ignore, because they fail to develop the critical and creative thinking, and problem sensing and solving skills that are required to GENERATE the crucial elastic thinking and human skills that result in change, and innovation.

You can build your capacity, confidence, and competence to operate at this level by:

  • Creating a safe space to help people reason and make sense of the things occurring within, around, and outside of them.
  • Cultivating their emotional and cognitive agility, creative, critical, and associative thinking skills to challenge the status quo and think differently.
  • Developing behavioral flexibility to collaborate, being inclusive to maximize differences and diversity, and safe experimentation to close their knowing-doing gaps.
  • Taking small bets, giving people permission and safety to fail fast to learn quickly, be courageous, be both strategic and systemic in taking smart risks and intelligent actions.

Reigniting our humanity – unlocking human potential  

At the end of the day, we all know that we can’t solve the problem with the same thinking that created it. Yet, so many of us keep on trying to do that, by unconsciously defaulting into a business-as-usual linear thinking process when involved in setting up and implementing a transformation or change initiative.

Ai can only take us so far, because the defining trait of our species, is our human creativity, which is at the heart of all creative problem-solving endeavors, where innovation can be the engine of change, transformation, and growth, no matter what the context. According to Fei-Fei Li, Sequoia Professor of Computer Science at Stanford, and co-director of AI4All, a non-profit organization promoting diversity and inclusion in the field of AI.

“There’s nothing artificial about AI. It’s inspired by people, created by people, and most importantly it has an impact on people”.

  • Develop the human skills

When we have the capacity, confidence, and competence to reignite our humanity, we will unlock human potential, and stop producing results no one wants. By developing human skills that enable people to adapt, be resilient, agile, creative, and innovate, they will grow through disruption in ways that add value to the quality of people’s lives, that are appreciated and cherished, we can truly serve people, deliver profits and perhaps save the planet.

Find out more about our work at ImagineNation™

Find out about our collective, learning products and tools, including The Coach for Innovators, Leaders, and Teams Certified Program, presented by Janet Sernack, is a collaborative, intimate, and deeply personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 9-weeks, and can be customized as a bespoke corporate learning and coaching program for leadership and team development and change and culture transformation initiatives.

Image Credit: Pixabay

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Why Successful Innovators Are Curious Like Cats

Why Successful Innovators Are Curious Like Cats

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

In our previous blog, we shared how consciousness, imagination, and curiosity are the fundamental precursors to creativity, invention, and innovation. Where consciousness encapsulates our states and qualities of mind, our capacity for imagination and curiosity are the necessary states of mind that stimulate creativity, all of which propel successful innovators to bring the new to the world differently.

Yet, according to a recent article by the Singularity Hub “OpenAI’s GPT-4 Scores in the Top 1% of Creative Thinking”:

“Of all the forms of human intellect that one might expect artificial intelligence to emulate, few people would likely place creativity at the top of their list. Creativity is wonderfully mysterious—and frustratingly fleeting. It defines us as human beings—and seemingly defies the cold logic that lies behind the silicon curtain of machines.”

We have a “Sputnik moment” to further our creative abilities

Revealing that their recent study into the striking originality of AI is an indication, that AI-based creativity – along with examples of both its promise and peril – is likely just beginning.

“The creative abilities now realized by AI may provide a “Sputnik moment” for educators and others interested in furthering human creative abilities, including those who see creativity as an essential condition of individual, social, and economic growth”.

  • What if we, as humans, could compete with, and perhaps even complement, AI-based creativity and become successful innovators?
  • How might we spark our imagination and curiosity to gain new knowledge that reduces ignorance and sustains our relevance to benefit all of humanity?

How does this link to cats – successful innovators are like cats!

As an animal lover, and the second servant to two sublime household pet cats, I have always wondered why our cats are so curious, always exploring and getting into everything, and yet are also well known for having at least nine lives.

This, in many ways, is a similar experience of many successful innovators, who apply their capacity for imagination and curiosity to explore and navigate the edges of the system and wander into wonder into surprising states of boundarylessness.

In a LinkedIn blog, David Miller shares that:

“Leonardo Da Vinci taught us that curiosity is the basis for creativity and innovation. The more relentless our curiosity, the more likely we will be innovative and creative, and possibly one step closer to perfection. If we want to build innovative organizations, we should start by creating curious organizations which nurture and enhance the curiosity of people”.

  • Exploration and discovery

According to a post in Quora, “Why are cats so curious” the common saying that “curiosity killed the cat,” is not entirely accurate and states that:

“Cats are naturally curious animals, who also have a strong survival instinct that helps them avoid dangerous situations. Humans, on the other hand, have evolved to have a powerful curiosity that drives them to explore and discover new things”.

  • Imagination and curiosity

Suggesting that intentionally applying our imagination and curiosity, potentially enables us humans to become successful innovators, who can both survive and thrive, in today’s globally hyperconnected, constantly uncertain and continuously changing VUCA/BANI world, in ways that benefit all of humanity.

Where we have an opportunity to focus and harness our imagination and curiosity toward becoming successful innovators who cultivate and exploit their curiosity as a radical force.

Curiosity as a radical force for unforeseen bonuses

According to the author, Philip Ball in his book Curiosity – How Science Became Interested in Everything curiosity is a radical force, introduced in the mid-sixteenth century, fuelled within scientists and philosophers with a compulsion to understand why and how.

Enabling curiosity to become the engine that drives both knowledge and power, reduces ignorance and has become a source of “unforeseen practical bonuses” in all of the sciences, and innovations, since then.

Curiosity and creativity spur innovation

Curiosity is derived from the Latin “cura” which means to care. In a sense, this potentially makes successful innovators and innovative entrepreneurs “curators” of curiosities and strangeness.

Richard Freyman, in an article on curiosity, in the FS blog, states that curiosity has to:

“Do with people wondering what makes something do something. And then to discover, if you try to get answers, that they are related to each other – that thing that makes the wind make the waves, that the motion of water is like the motion of air is like the motion of sand. The fact that things have common features. It turns out more and more universal. What we are looking for is how everything works. What makes everything work”.

Someone who evokes and cares for what exists now and for what could exist possibly exists in the future by:

  • Demonstrating the mental acuity, fitness, and readiness to find the peculiar and the unusual in what surrounds them, and an ability to break up familiarities and seek new associations and unlikely connections,
  • Disregarding convention and traditional hierarchies, and allowing their minds to wander into spaces that are unknown, invisible, and intangible,
  • Harnessing their attention and patience to evoke, provoke, incubate, and generate deep and bold questions that they listen to, to result in profound* insights.

What can successful innovators learn from cats?

A recent blog post, Why Are Cats So Curious? The Science Behind Cat Curiosity, explains that a cat’s insatiable curiosity develops as a result of its survival instinct. Cats have mental acuity and fitness, because like successful innovators, they are:

  • Incredibly intelligent, and have the ability to learn from experience and remember it for years.
  • Opportunistic creatures, and are always on the lookout for a chance to explore their environments.
  • Attentive and observant, and have a heightened sense of awareness and constantly observe their surroundings, and listen deeply, to attend to, and discover any new, or missing objects or movements in their environment.
  • Always on the move, and are driven by their need for constant exploration and mental stimulation.
  • Protective in investigating any potential threats to their own and others close to them.

How to cultivate your curiosity like Leonardo De Vinci

The creative brain balances intense focus with relaxed states like daydreaming and the time and space for mind wondering and wandering. Doing this activates both our imagination and curiosity and guides any problem-solving efforts with emergent, divergent, and convergent breakthrough ideas and illuminating insights.

  1. Active minds, and are always asking powerful questions and searching for answers in their minds, through mind wandering and mind wondering in expectation and anticipation of new ideas and increased knowledge related to their questions.

They are grounded, mindful, and attentive in observing and recognizing ideas when they emerge.

Be a successful innovator like Da Vinci ask bold and difficult questions, listen deeply, and use the answers to develop your knowledge, and to inform your creative ideas for invention and innovation:

  • How can I see this situation with fresh eyes?
  1. Open minds, and come from not knowing, are always searching, sensing, and discovering new worlds and possibilities that are normally not visible, in that they are often hidden behind or below the surface of normal life.

They are open to sensing, perceiving, and illuminating possibilities to crystalize new ideas.

Be a successful innovator, like Da Vinci, and keep notebooks and a daily journal by retreating, reflecting, and recording your time mind wandering and wondering in your search for insights and answers to things you don’t yet understand.

  • What might I be assuming about……?
  1. Flexibility, adaptability, provocation and playfulness, and challenging routines, seek excitement, new adventures, and a variety of things that attract attention, increase knowledge and play, and search for a more meaningful life.

They seek learning as a fun way of expanding and applying both knowledge and imagination, as a mechanism for co-creating ideas, staying relevant, and being informed and innovating in ways that illuminate people’s hearts and minds towards effecting positive change.

Be a successful innovator, like Da Vinci and ask provocative and disruptive questions, such as: “Why do shells exist on top of mountains, why is lightning visible immediately, but the sound of thunder takes longer to travel? How does a bird sustain itself up in the air”?

  • What am I missing? What matters most?

Increasing our knowledge for the benefit of humanity

Like cats, and like Albert Einstein, we can apply our imagination and curiosity and become successful innovators who explore and navigate the edges of the system, wander into wonder and surprising states of boundarylessness, in ways that benefit all of humanity, and make cultivating and harness your imagination and curiosity a daily habit:

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day.” – Life Magazine 1955

Find out about our collective, learning products and tools, including The Coach for Innovators, Leaders, and Teams Certified Program, presented by Janet Sernack, is a collaborative, intimate, and deeply personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 9-weeks, starting October 3, 2023.

It is a blended and transformational change and learning program that will give you a deep understanding of the language, principles, and applications of an ecosystem focus, human-centric approach, and emergent structure (Theory U) to innovation, and upskill people and teams and develop their future fitness, within your unique innovation context. Find out more about our products and tools.

Image Credit: Pixabay

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An Innovation Lesson From The Rolling Stones

An Innovation Lesson From The Rolling Stones

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

If you’re like most people, you’ve faced disappointment. Maybe the love of your life didn’t return your affection, you didn’t get into your dream college, or you were passed over for promotion.  It hurts.  And sometimes, that hurt lingers for a long time.

Until one day, something happens, and you realize your disappointment was a gift.  You meet the true love of your life while attending college at your fallback school, and years later, when you get passed over for promotion, the two of you quit your jobs, pursue your dreams, and live happily ever after. Or something like that.

We all experience disappointment.  We also all get to choose whether we stay there, lamenting the loss of what coulda shoulda woulda been, or we can persevere, putting one foot in front of the other and playing The Rolling Stones on repeat:

“You can’t always get what you want

But if you try sometimes, well, you might just find

You get what you need”

That’s life.

That’s also innovation.

As innovators, especially leaders of innovators, we rarely get what we want.  But we always get what we need (whether we like it or not)

We want to know. 
We need to be comfortable not knowing.

Most of us want to know the answer because if we know the answer, there is no risk. There is no chance of being wrong, embarrassed, judged, or punished.  But if there is no risk, there is no growth, expansion, or discovery.

Innovation is something new that creates value. If you know everything, you can’t innovate.

As innovators, we need to be comfortable not knowing.  When we admit to ourselves that we don’t know something, we open our minds to new information, new perspectives, and new opportunities. When we say we don’t know, we give others permission to be curious, learn, and create. 

We want the creative genius and billion-dollar idea. 
We need the team and the steady stream of big ideas.

We want to believe that one person blessed with sufficient time, money, and genius can change the world.  Some people like to believe they are that person, and most of us think we can hire that person, and when we do find that person and give them the resources they need, they will give us the billion-dollar idea that transforms our company, disrupts the industry, and change the world.

Innovation isn’t magic.  Innovation is team work.

We need other people to help us see what we can’t and do what we struggle to do.  The idea-person needs the optimizer to bring her idea to life, and the optimizer needs the idea-person so he has a starting point.  We need lots of ideas because most won’t work, but we don’t know which ones those are, so we prototype, experiment, assess, and refine our way to the ones that will succeed.   

We want to be special.
We need to be equal.

We want to work on the latest and most cutting-edge technology and discuss it using terms that no one outside of Innovation understands. We want our work to be on stage, oohed and aahed over on analyst calls, and talked about with envy and reverence in every meeting. We want to be the cool kids, strutting around our super hip offices in our hoodies and flip-flops or calling into the meeting from Burning Man. 

Innovation isn’t about you.  It’s about serving others.

As innovators, we create value by solving problems.  But we can’t do it alone.  We need experienced operators who can quickly spot design flaws and propose modifications.  We need accountants and attorneys who instantly see risks and help you navigate around them.  We need people to help us bring our ideas to life, but that won’t happen if we act like we’re different or better.  Just as we work in service to our customers, we must also work in service to our colleagues by working with them, listening, compromising, and offering help.

What about you?
What do you want?
What are you learning you need?

Image Credit: Unsplash

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3 Ways to View Your Innovation Basket

(including one that makes Radical Innovation easy)

3 Ways to View Your Innovation Basket

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

You are a rolling stone, and that means you gather no moss!  You read the September issue of HBR (and maybe last week’s article), tossed out your innovation portfolio, and wove yourself an innovation basket to “differentiate the concept from finance and avoid the mistake of treating projects like financial securities, where the goal is usually to maximize returns through diversification [and instead] remember that innovation projects are creative acts.”   

Then you explained this to your CFO and received side-eye so devastating it would make Sophie Loren proud.

The reality is that the innovation projects you’re working on are investments, and because they’re risky, diversification is the best way to maximize the returns your company needs.

But it’s not the only way we should communicate, evaluate, and treat them.

Different innovation basket views for different customers

When compiling an innovation basket, the highest priority is having a single source of truth.  If people in the organization disagree on what is in and out of the basket, how you measure and manage the portfolio doesn’t matter.

But a single source of truth doesn’t mean you can’t look at that truth from multiple angles.

Having multiple views showing the whole basket while being customized to address each of your internal customer’s Jobs to be Done will turbocharge your ability to get support and resources.

The CFO: What returns will we get and when?

The classic core/adjacent/transformational portfolio is your answer.  By examining each project based on where to play (markets and customers) and how to win (offerings, profit models, key resources and activities), you can quickly assess each project’s relative riskiness, potential return, time to ROI, and resource requirements.

The CEO: How does this support and accelerate our strategic priorities?

This is where the new innovation basket is most helpful.  By starting with the company’s strategic goals and asking, “What needs to change to achieve our strategy?” leadership teams immediately align innovation goals with corporate strategic priorities.  When projects and investments are placed at the intersection of the goal they support, and the mechanism of value creation (e.g., product, process, brand), the CEO can quickly see how investments align with strategic priorities and actively engage in reallocation decisions.

You: Will any of these ever see the light of day?

As much as you hope the answer is “Yes!”, you know the answer is “Some.  Maybe.  Hopefully.”  You also know that the “some” that survive might not be the biggest or the best of the basket.  They’ll be the most palatable.

Ignoring that fact won’t make it untrue. Instead, acknowledge it and use it to expand stakeholders’ palates.

Start by articulating your organization’s identity, the answers to “who we are” and “what we do.” 

Then place each innovation in one of three buckets based on its fit with the organization’s identity:

  • Identity-enhancing innovations that enhance or strengthen the identity
  • Identity-stretching innovations that “do not fit with the core of an organization’s identity, but are related enough that if the scope of organizational identity were expanded, the innovation would fit.”
  • Identity-challenging innovations that are “in direct conflict with the existing organizational identity.”

It probably won’t surprise you that identity-enhancing innovations are far more likely to receive internal support than identity-challenging innovations.  But what may surprise you is that core, adjacent, and transformational innovations can all be identity-enhancing.

For example, Luxxotica and Bausch & Lomb are both in the vision correction industry (eyeglasses and contact lenses, respectively) but have very different identities.  Luxxotica views itself as “an eyewear company,” while Bausch & Lomb sees itself as an “eye health company” (apologies for the puns). 

When laser-vision correction surgery became widely available, Bausch & Lomb was an early investor because, while the technology would be considered a breakthrough innovation, it was also identity-enhancing.  A decade later, Bausch & Lomb’s surgical solutions and ophthalmic pharmaceuticals businesses account for 38% of the company’s revenue and one-third of the growth.

One basket.  Multiple Views.  All the Answers.

Words are powerful, and using a new one, especially in writing,  can change your behavior and brain. But calling a portfolio a basket won’t change the results of your innovation efforts.  To do that, you need to understand why you have a basket and look at it in all the ways required to maximize creativity, measure results, and avoid stakeholder side-eye.

Image Credit: Pixabay

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Why You Should Care About Service Design

Why You Should Care About Service Design

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

What if a tool had the power to delight your customers, cut your costs, increase your bottom line, and maybe double your stock price? You’d use it, right?

That’s precisely the power and impact of Service Design and service blueprints. Yet very few people, especially in the US, know, understand, or use them. Including me.

Thankfully, Leala Abbott, a strategist and researcher at the intersection of experience, innovation, and digital transformation and a lecturer at Parsons School of Design, clued me in.

What is Service Design?

RB: Hi, Leala, thanks for taking the time to talk with me today.

LA: My pleasure! I’m excited about this topic. I’ve managed teams with service designers, and I’ve always been impressed by the magical way they brought together experience strategy, UX, and operations.

RB: I felt the same way after you explained it to me. Before we get too geeked up about the topic, let’s go back to the beginning and define “service.”

LA: Service is something that helps someone accomplish a goal. As a result, every business needs service design because every business is in the service industry.

RB: I’ll be honest, I got a little agitated when I read that because that’s how I define “solution.” But then I saw your illustration explaining that service design moves us from seeing and problem-solving isolated moments to seeing an integrated process. And that’s when it clicked.

LA:  That illustration is from Lou Downe’s talk Design in Government Impact for All . Service Design helps us identify what customers want and how to deliver those services effectively by bringing together all the pieces within the organization. It moves us away from fragmented experiences created by different departments and teams within the same company to an integrated process that enables customers to achieve their goals.

Why You Need It

RB: It seems so obvious when you say it. Yet so often, the innovation team spends all their time focused on the customer only to develop the perfect solution that, when they toss it over the wall for colleagues to make, they’re told it’s not possible, and everything stops. Why aren’t we always considering both sides?

LA: One reason, I think, is people don’t want to add one more person to the team. Over the past two decades, the number of individuals required to build something has grown exponentially. It used to be that one person could build your whole website, but now you need user experience designers, researchers, product managers, and more. I think it’s just overwhelming for people to add another individual to the mix. We believe we have all the tools to fix the problem, so we don’t want to add another voice, even if that voice explains the huge disconnect between everything built and their operational failures.

RB: Speaking of operational failures, one of the most surprising things about Service Design is that it almost always results in cost savings. That’s not something most people think about when they hear “design.”

LA: The significant impact on the bottom line is one of the most persuasive aspects of service design. It shifts the focus from pretty pictures to the actual cost implications. Bringing in the operational side of the business is crucial. Building a great customer journey and experience is important, but it’s also important to tie it back to lost revenue and increased cost to serve

Proof It Works 

LA: One of the most compelling cases I recently read was about Autodesk’s transition to SaaS, they brought in a service design company called Future Proof. Autodesk wanted to transition from a software licensing model to a software-as-a-service model. It’s a significant transition not just in terms of the business model and pricing but also in how it affects customers.

If you’re a customer of Autodesk, you used to pay a one-time fee for your software, but now you are paying based on users and services. Budgeting becomes messy. The costs are no longer simple and predictable. Plus, it raises lots of questions about the transition, cost predictability, control over access, managing subscriptions, and flexibility. Notice that these issues are about people managing their money and increasing costs. These are the areas where service design can truly help. 

Future Proof conducted customer interviews, analyzed each stage of the customer journey, looked at pricing models and renewal protocols, and performed usability studies. When they audited support ticket data for the top five common customer issues, they realized that if Autodesk didn’t change their model, the cost of running software for every customer would increase by 40%, and profit margins would decrease by 15% to 20%.

Autodesk made the change, revenue increased significantly, and their stock price doubled. Service design allows for this kind of analysis and consideration of operational costs.

How to Learn More

RB: Wow, not many things can deliver better service, happier customers, and doubling a stock price. Solid proof that companies, and innovation teams in particular, need to get smart on service design. We’ve talked a lot about the What and Why of Service Design. How can people learn more about the How?

LA: Lou Downe’s book is a great place to start Good Services: How to Design Services That Work. So is Woo, Wow, and Win: Service Design, Strategy, and the Art of Customer Delight by Thomas A Stewart and Patricia O’Connell.  I also recommend people check out The Service Design Network for tools and case studies and TheyDo, which helps companies visualize and manage their service design.

Image Credit: Pixabay

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Leaders Avoid Doing This One Thing

Leaders Avoid Doing This One Thing

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton


Being a leader isn’t easy. You must BE accountable, compassionate, confident, curious, empathetic, focused, service-driven, and many other things. You must DO many things, including build relationships, communicate clearly, constantly learn, create accountability, develop people, inspire hope and trust, provide stability, and think critically. But if you’re not doing this one thing, none of the other things matter.

Show up.

It seems obvious, but you’ll be surprised how many “leaders” struggle with this. 

Especially when they’re tasked with managing both operations and innovation.

It’s easy to show up to lead operations.

When you have experience and confidence, know likely cause and effect, and can predict with relative certainty what will happen next, it’s easy to show up. You’re less likely to be wrong, which means you face less risk to your reputation, current role, and career prospects.

When it’s time to be a leader in the core business, you don’t think twice about showing up. It’s your job. If you don’t, the business, your career, and your reputation suffer. So, you show up, make decisions, and lead the team out of the unexpected.

It’s hard to show up to lead innovation.

When you are doing something new, facing more unknowns than knowns, and can’t guarantee an outcome, let alone success, showing up is scary. No one will blame you if you’re not there because you’re focused on the core business and its known risks and rewards. If you “lead from the back” (i.e., abdicate your responsibility to lead), you can claim that the team, your peers, or the company are not ready to do what it takes.

When it’s time to be a leader in innovation, there is always something in the core business that is more urgent, more important, and more demanding of your time and attention. Innovation may be your job, but the company rewards you for delivering the core business, so of course, you think twice.

Show up anyway

There’s a reason people use the term “incubation” to describe the early days of the innovation process. To incubate means to “cause or aid the development of” but that’s the 2nd definition. The 1st definition is “to sit on so as to hatch by the warmth of the body.”

You can’t incubate if you don’t show up.

Show up to the meeting or call, even if something else feels more urgent. Nine times out of ten, it can wait half an hour. If it can’t, reschedule the meeting to the next day (or the first day after the crisis) and tell your team why. Don’t say, “I don’t have time,” own your choice and explain, “This isn’t a priority at the moment because….”

Show up when the team is actively learning and learn along with them. Attend a customer interview, join the read-out at the end of an ideation session, and observe people using your (or competitive) solutions. Ask questions, engage in experiments, and welcome the experiences that will inform your decisions.

Show up when people question what the innovation team is doing and why. Especially when they complain that those resources could be put to better use in the core business. Explain that the innovation resources are investments in the company’s future, paving the way for success in an industry and market that is changing faster than ever.

You can’t lead if you don’t show up.

Early in my career, a boss said, “A leader without followers is just a person wandering lost.” Your followers can’t follow you if they can’t find you.

After all, “80% of success is showing up.”

Image credit: Pixabay

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Imagination versus Knowledge

Is imagination really more important?

Imagination versus Knowledge

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

Is imagination really more important than knowledge? How does imagination link to catalyzing collective innovation and unleashing corporate vitality?

When I did my research, I discovered that the answer is actually paradoxical!

Albert Einstein famously said “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.

Why is the answer so paradoxical?

According to a well-researched and scientific article “Einstein’s most famous quote is totally misunderstood” in BIGTHINK magazine, the author suggests that he’s really doing is encouraging people to look beyond the current, conservative frontiers of what we know and into the realm of what we’re compelled to explore next.

He describes that imagination, in Einstein’s mind, is shorthand for a thought experiment: to simulate the consequences of a theory in a regime that’s yet to be tested, where the imaginative predictions were all well-quantified far in advance of the observations/experiments.

  • Both knowledge and imagination

This means that for your imagination to take you to worthwhile places, you also need a strong foundation of knowledge of the subject to build your theory or idea.

This makes it a “both/and” paradox.

This means that you need both a deep knowledge of the subject or problem and a capacity to create, evolve and exploit mental models of things or situations that are often counterintuitive and counterfactual and don’t yet exist.

Doing this enables you to generate new lines of feeling and thinking, and to connect fields, problems, and ideas that others find unrelated. To ultimately inspire, and result in collective innovation.

How does this relate to innovation?

Most of us are already aware that companies increasingly need to innovate — across strategies, operations, offerings, and business models. Especially when business environments are experiencing a range of global and local crises, accelerating change and ongoing, relentless instability and uncertainty. Where many have become survival focused, and adopt a short-term reactive lens in attempts to restore “normality” and arrest a decline in long-term growth rates and competitiveness.

As well as arrest a serious decline in their corporate vitality.  Which is crucial for long-term success, growth, and sustainability. Yet some companies are unaware that imagination is upstream of innovation. Sadly lack the focus towards entering this critical realm and leveraging it to stimulate a capacity for collective innovation which is needed for corporate vitality to thrive.

Corporate vitality enables organizations to thrive

An organizational culture that embraces corporate vitality enables them to thrive, by knowing how to shape visionary strategies in the imagination age that enables it to:

  • Rebound and reinvent themselves, under pressure.
  • Ignite people’s imagination to co-create ideas.
  • Collaborate to accelerate collective innovation.
  • Deliver and accelerate growth in a VUCA/BANI.

Yet, according to research by the BCG Hendersen Institute in an article “Competing on Imagination”

“Big businesses often struggle to make use of imagination. They may try to make it a predictable process, and end up with routine and incrementalism. Or they may treat it like a magical power, celebrated in tales of great innovators, in the hope that good ideas will appear as needed. As companies grow, it becomes harder to be imaginative. Larger companies tend to focus on exploiting what they know and what originally gave them scale”.

What else inhibits the development of corporate vitality?

The BCG research also reveals that most companies don’t yet know how to ignite people’s imagination. Which is required to co-create ideas and collaborate.

Often because they usually lack the motivation, rigor, and knowledge required to:

  • Clarify, ignite, and activate imagination: what it means and how it works at either an individual or collective level.

Which restricts an ability to develop the capacity required to deviate from the norm and emerge creative insights and breakthroughs, invent, and innovate on a scale.

  • Strategically and systematically improve the individual and collective capacity to imagine: which keeps them stuck within their own spheres, and focuses on averages rather than on exceptions.

This also restricts individual and collective investment in creating free time and space for daydreaming, mind wandering, and meandering into the unknown.

  • Cultivate individual and collective imaginative capacity through social transmissions: that evoke new questions and provocative ideas.

Which keeps them restricted to the confines of their own, or current mental models, rigid role parameters, and focus on metrics and conventional short-term siloed approaches.

Ultimately inhibiting our capacity to alter our cognitive habits, allowing our minds to make new associations, develop, and experiment with new ideas.  That forms the foundations for cultivating a culture that catalyzes collective innovation and unleashes corporate vitality.

Taking a neurological approach

Research presented by Gabriella Rosen Kellerman and Dr Martin Seligman, in their recent book Tomorrow Mind enables us to take a neurological approach towards igniting people’s imagination – to arouse our curiosity and co-create ideas, that result in collective innovation.

  • Default Mode Network (DMN)

Stating that when we allow our minds to wander and daydream, our brain doesn’t just “power down.” Instead it “switches to a new mode of thinking, one so vital that it is our default – or the activity our brains jump to in every free moment” which specializes in two processes: imagining and planning.

This is known as our Default Mode Network (DMN). Which activates when we let our minds wander or drift into a daydream, to create spontaneous oscillations that allow us to observe novel thought streams and extract new patterns, generalizations, interpretations, and insights.

It is the place our best ideas come from.

  • Discovering what does not yet exist

In this realm, our minds break the bonds of space and time, blending memory and fantasy, creating an eternal cycle that dances between exploitation and exploration.

Allowing us to exploit our “knowns” and explore new possibilities by imagining scenes that differ radically from the actual past and the actual present, allowing us to discover and learn deeply about what does not yet exist.

What does this mean to organizations, leaders, and coaches?

  • Power of provocation

ImagineNation™ has pioneered innovation coaching by presenting The Coach for Innovators, Leaders, and Teams Certified Program, globally online for more than 10 years.  To teach the traits, mindsets, behaviors, and skills to ignite people’s imagination, based on our experience that consciousness, imagination, and curiosity are the precursors to both creativity and innovation.

Where consciousness contains the states and qualities of the mind, which is where our imagination is located, creativity is the process of bringing something new to the mind, and innovation is bringing the new to the world.

  • Being a disruptive provocateur

We teach participants to become “disruptive provocateurs” who know how to compassionately, creatively, and courageously create collective holding spaces.

That creates the permission, safe space, and trust for developing generative thinking processes that enable peoples to see and solve challenging problems that evoke and emerge new discoveries, and creative ideas and generate learning by:

  • Disrupting peoples’ habitual feelings and thought processes and comfort zones,
  • Co-creating the permission, safety, and trust to deviate and differ,
  • Space and time for elasticizing and stretching habitual thought processes.

Imagination can be provocative because it arouses scenes that differ radically from the actual past and the actual present. This allows us to discover and learn deeply about what does not yet exist. It enables us to focus on being intentional, in taking intelligent and right actions to solve the problem differently and develop corporate vitality.

  • Power of prospection

Developing the co-creative frequencies requires us to alter our cognitive habits, allowing our minds to make new associations, develop, and experiment with new ideas, and cultivate a culture that embraces corporate vitality. This involves the capacity to imagine alternate futures, and developing prospection skills – “the ability within each of us to think about the future and envision what’s possible.”

According to USA-based leading global coaching platform BetterUps’ Report on the Future Minded Leader:

“Imagining ourselves into alternate futures and evaluating them as a way to make decisions and guide present action is unique”.

These occupy at least one-quarter of our waking thoughts, and when it comes to imagining the future, we are at once both our most optimistic and pessimistic selves, which is, in essence, also contradictory. Because we can both project optimism about what is to come and make risk-averse decisions to build the foundations for envisioning a range of desirable and alternate futures.

  • Sparking corporate vitality

Building an “imagination machine” – an organization where the imagination of individuals work together is fully supported intentionally and by design involves creating space for our Default Mode Networks (DMN) to activate and lay the foundations for collective innovation by:

  • Creating space and time for reflection enables people to regain control of their attention and minds, and to allow spontaneous, generative mind wandering – by engaging in simple activities like walking, reading, bathing, exercising, and free writing.
  • Making it safe and permissible to regularly expose people to the unfamiliar and the unknown – by building their discomfort resilience, provoking and elasticizing their core and habitual thinking processes.
  • Coaching, teaching, and training people to view their worlds systemically, to wander and daydream at the edges of the social fields – to sense, perceive and emerge anomalies, and counterintuitive and counterfactual patterns and trends.
  • Coaching, teaching, and training people to safely disrupt and challenge their habitual mental models – by creating mindset flips and paradigm shifts, developing their curiosity, and enhancing their cognitive diversity and agility.
  • Introducing more playfulness into the working environment – by improvising, exploring, introducing business simulations, and learning events, as well as gamification, to generate insights, that saturate us with ideas that we can then incubate.

Imagination, collective innovation, and corporate vitality

When we combine a rigorous approach to expanding and applying both our knowledge and our imagination, we can co-create ideas, and innovate in ways that illuminate people’s hearts and minds.

By altering and elasticizing our cognitive habits, allowing our minds to make new associations and unlikely connections, we can develop, and experiment with new ideas, and cultivate a culture that leverages and scales collective innovation that unleashes real corporate vitality.

Image Credit: Pixabay

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The Paradox of Innovation Leadership

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

Most of us are aware that both the organizational leadership and cultural paradigms have shifted, due to the accelerating demands of the current global VUCA/BANI operating environment. Requiring us to make sense of and navigate the paradoxical nature of innovation leadership. By developing multiple perspectives to re-think how to respond positively and creatively to the high levels of tension and range of massive disruptions we collectively face in our current high-speed, constantly changing, global operating environments.

According to Otto Scharmer in a recent article for Resilience Magazine, we are facing a looming paradox – “we know almost everything that is necessary to prevent civilizational collapse – we have most of the knowledge, most of the technologies, and all the financial means necessary to turn things around – and yet we are not doing it”.

To truly differentiate ourselves and do the “right things” as adaptive and agile 21st-century leaders, and coaches, it’s crucial to learn the “soft skills” required to cultivate true, and relevant multiple perspectives. To better serve people and unlock and mobilize their collective genius to co-create a future that is regenerative, peaceful, and just, for all of humanity.

What is a paradox?

In a White Paper – Managing Paradox, Blending East and West Philosophies to Unlock Its Advantages and Opportunities from the Center for Creative Leadership, authors Jean Brittain Leslie, Peter Ping Li, and Sophia Zhao, use the term “paradox as a general term to describe the tensions individuals face due to the coexistence of conflicting demands”.

That a paradox can also be described as tensions, dilemmas, conundrums, polarities, competing values, and contradictions, and have these principles in common:

  • It is often difficult to see the presence of paradoxes in organizational life and in a VUCA and BANI world.
  • They are not problems that can be solved, as they are often unsolvable.
  • They are of cyclical or recurring nature.
  • They can polarize individuals into groups.
  • They are potentially positive when managed.
  • Managing paradox involves developing a mindset (and perspective) beyond “either/or” logic (A is either B or not B).

Polarity is the preferred term used in long-time practitioner Barry Johnson’s work. Duality is also used, referring to the yin-yang perspective on a paradox – a pair of opposite elements that can be both partially conflicting and partially complementary.

Mastering the paradoxical nature of innovation leadership requires developing the soft skills to hold two trains of competing or complementary thoughts, or perspectives, simultaneously. This enables innovation leaders to connect to, explore, navigate, and discover new territories to sense possibilities, seize opportunities, and simultaneously solve complex systems and challenging problems differently – in ways that add value to the quality of people’s lives they appreciate and cherish.

Why is it important to navigate a paradox?

Innovation leadership involves cultivating a paradoxical mindset that enables us to work outside of the “either/or” binary and logical perspective and work within the “both/and” non-logical and multiple perspectives, by knowing how to see both the:

  • Perspectives clearly,
  • Positive and negative consequences of each perspective,
  • Interrelationship and interdependence between each perspective.

Shifting perspectives – Taking a skills-based approach

A recent MIT Sloane article “Taking a skills-based approach to culture change” reinforces how important it is to support digital, cultural, and other transformation initiatives by developing people’s “soft skills”, through innovation leadership learning initiatives, specifically to develop the thinking skills required to hold multiple perspectives:

 “Unlike most types of culture initiatives, a skills-based approach can more effectively infuse new culture components into scale-ups and international incumbents alike. This approach is particularly effective for developing what many refer to as soft skills, such as perspective-taking. This ability to step outside one’s own perspective to understand another person’s point of view, motivations, and emotions helps build a psychologically safe environment in which people dare to share ideas and unfiltered information”.

  • Developing perspective-taking skills is fundamental to mastering the paradoxical nature of innovation leadership. It enables leaders and coaches to connect to, explore, navigate, and discover new territories to catalyze and harness people’s collective genius and shift perspectives differently.
  • Developing the 21st-century leadership superpowers necessary to reimagine, reinvent, design, and deliver innovative solutions to complex and challenging problems.

Making the shift – Taking the first steps

Barry Johnson’s work states that:

“Managing paradox involves moving from focusing on one pole as the problem and the other as the solution (either/or thinking) to valuing both poles (both/and thinking)”.

This is supported by a recent article “The Six Paradoxes of Leadership” by PWC:

 “Paradoxes are not new to leaders, but they are becoming have become increasingly important for leaders to navigate”.

Drafting six key questions for leaders and coaches to consider by hitting their “pause buttons” and directing their focus and attention:

 “The most urgent in today’s context and will remain important in the future. The paradoxes should be considered as a system; they impact each other and all need to be balanced simultaneously. To truly differentiate yourself as a leader, learning how to comfortably inhabit both elements of each paradox will be critical to your success.”

These multiple perspective-shifting questions include:

  1. How might you, as both a leader (and coach) learn how to navigate a world that is increasingly both global and local?
  2. How might you, as both a leader (and coach), learn how to navigate both the politics of getting things to happen and retain your character and integrity?
  3. How might you, as both a leader (and coach) develop the confidence to act in an uncertain (and BANI) world and the humility and vulnerability to recognize when you are wrong?
  4. How might you, as both a leader (and coach) learn how to execute effectively whilst also being both tactical and strategic?
  5. How might you, as both a leader (and coach) become increasingly tech-savvy and remember that organizations are run by people, for people?
  6. How might you, as both a leader (and coach) apply the learnings and successes of the past to help guide and direct you in the future?

Making the shift – Learning the innovation leadership fundamentals

At ImagineNation™  we have accredited more than 100 leaders and coaches globally as professionally certified coaches for innovation in our global bespoke online coaching and learning products and programs has validated three key poles innovation leadership requires.

Which is to know how to effectively move from focusing on one pole as the problem and the other as the solution (either/or thinking) to valuing both poles (both/and thinking) and developing multiple perspectives:

  • Both Push and Pull: noticing when people are neurologically stuck in a flight/fight/freeze mode and are reticent and unable to make the shift toward a desired future state. Leaders and coaches can safely push people towards what is urgent and “necessary” to change to survive, and simultaneously pull them towards both the benefits, rewards, and desirability of the future state and towards mobilizing them towards energetically engaging and enrolling in it.
  • Both Strategic and Tactical: noticing when people are so busy that they “can’t see the forest for the trees”, or are caught up and lost in tasks, and activities involved in getting things done, quickly, and often thoughtlessly. Leaders and coaches can focus on both what they are trying to achieve, and why they are trying to achieve, it whilst simultaneously engaging people in completing the task and observing and considering it strategically and systemically.
  • Both In the Box and Out of the Box: noticing what are peoples’ core operating systems, and being present to what is true and real for them, without judgment and with detachment. Leaders and coaches can focus both on “what is” the person’s perspective, situation, and current reality, whilst simultaneously evoking, provoking, and cultivating “what could be possible” and eliciting unconventional multiple perspectives that catalyze creative thinking differently strategies.

Grappling with the future is paradoxical

Today’s strategic landscape is like nothing we have ever seen before, which makes innovation leadership and innovation coaching skills more important than ever.

To re-think for a new age, how to courageously confront and solve serious dilemmas and complex problems, how to adapt to complex systems, be creative in transforming time, people, and financial investments in ways that drive out complacency and build change readiness.

To then deliver deep and continuous change and learning to equip and empower innovation leadership to develop the multiple perspectives required to deliver valuable and tangible results, whilst simultaneously opening new pathways to a future that is regenerative, peaceful, and just for all of humanity.

Image Credit: Pixabay

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How to Make Navigating Ambiguity a Super Power

How to Make Navigating Ambiguity a Super Power

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

You are a leader. The boss. The person in charge.

That means you know the answer to every question, make the right decision when faced with every choice, and act confidently when others are uncertain. Right?

(Insert uproarious laughter here).

Of course not. But you act like you do because you’re the leader, the boss, the person in charge.

You are not alone. We’re all doing it.

We act like we have the answers because we’ve been told that’s what leaders do. We act like we made the right decision because that’s what leaders do in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world where we must work quickly and flexibly while doing more with less.

But what if we didn’t? 

What if we stopped pretending to have the answer or know the right choice? What if we acknowledged the ambiguity of a situation, explored its options and interpretations for just a short while, and then decided?

We’d make more informed choices. We’d be more creative and innovative. We’d inspire others.

So why do we keep pretending?

Ambiguity: Yea! Meh. Have you lost your mind?!?

Stanford’s d.School calls the ability to navigate ambiguity “the super ability” because it’s necessary for problem-finding and problem-solving. Ambiguity “involves recognizing and stewing in the discomfort of not knowing, leveraging and embracing parallel possibilities, and resolving or emerging from ambiguity as needed.”

Navigating ambiguity is essential in a VUCA world, but not all want to. They found that people tend to do one of three things when faced with ambiguity:

  • Endure ambiguity as “a moment of time that comes before a solution and is antagonistic to the objective – it must be conquered to reach the goal.”
  • Engage ambiguity as “an off-road adventure; an alternate path to a goal. It might be rewarding and helpful or dangerous and detrimental. Its value is a chosen gamble. Exhilaration and exhaustion are equally expected.”
  • Embrace ambiguity as “oceanic and ever-present. Exploration is a challenge and an opportunity. The longer you spend in it, the more likely you are to discover something new. Every direction is a possibility. Navigation isn’t simple. It requires practice and patience.

Students tend to enter the program with a resignation that ambiguity must be endured. They leave embracing it because they learn how to navigate it.

You can too.

In fact, as a leader in a VUCA world, you and your team need to.

How to Embrace (or at least Engage) Ambiguity

When you want to learn something new, the library is one of the best places to start. In this case, the Library of Ambiguity  – an incredible collection of the resources, tools, and activities that professors at Stanford’s d.School use to help their students build this super ability.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the number of resources, so here are three that I recommend:

Design Project Scoping Guide

  • What it is: A guide for selecting, framing, and communicating the intentions of a design project
  • When to use it: When you are defining an innovation project and need to align on scope, goals, and priorities
  • Why I like it: The guide offers excellent examples of helpful and unhelpful scoping documents.

Learning Zone Reflection Tool

  • What it is: A tool to help individuals better understand the tolerance of ambiguity, especially their comfort, learning, and panic zones
  • When to use it: Stanford used this as a reflection tool at the end of an introductory course, BUT I would use it at the start of the project as a leadership alignment and team-building tool:
    • Leadership alignment – Ask individual decision-makers to identify their comfort, learning, and panic zones for each element of the Project Scoping Guide (problem to be solved, target customer, context, goals, and priorities), then synthesize the results. As a group, highlight areas of agreement and resolve areas of difference.
    • Team-building – At the start of the project, ask individual team members to complete the worksheet as it applies to both the project scope and the process. Individuals share their worksheets and, as a group, identify areas of shared comfort and develop ways to help each other through areas of learning or panic.
  • Why I like it: Very similar to the Project Playground concept I use with project teams to define the scope and set constraints, it can be used individually to build empathy and support amongst team members.

Team Dashboards

  • What it is: A tool to build trust and confidence amongst a team working through an ambiguous effort
  • When to use it: At regular pre-defined intervals during a project (e.g., every team check-in, at the end of each Sprint, once a month)
  • What I like about it:
    • Individuals complete it BEFORE the meeting, so the session focuses on discussing the dashboard, not completing it
    • The dashboard focuses on the usual business things (progress against responsibilities, the biggest challenge, next steps) and the “softer” elements that tend to have the most significant impact on team experience and productivity (mood, biggest accomplishment, team balance between talking and doing)

Learn It. Do It.

The world isn’t going to get simpler, clearer, or slower. It’s on you as a leader to learn how to deal with it. When to slow it down and explore and when to speed it up and act. No one is born knowing. We all learn along the way. The Library will help. No ambiguity about that!

Image credit: Pexels

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