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Exploring Curiosity

Category:Collaboration,Community,Connections,Emotions,Exploration,Fear,Growth,Institutional Innovation,Learning,Opportunity,Passion,Potential,Serendipity,Trust

How many questions do you have? A few questions are OK, but if you have too many, you will start to encounter resistance and rejection. Too many questions are suspect. Don’t you know what you’re supposed to be doing?

Curiosity is an incredibly powerful capability, yet fewer and fewer people have invested the effort to cultivate this capability. As a result, we are missing significant opportunities.

Curiosity is a strong desire to learn something. It is triggered by the realization that there is a lot we do not know, no matter how smart or well-educated we might be. It also is driven by the belief that our lives will be even more fulfilling if we learn more. Curiosity unleashes many questions in our quest to learn more. Rather than seeking to become experts, we seek to remain explorers.

Why is curiosity so important?

We live in a world that is being transformed by the Big Shift. These long-term trends are accelerating the pace of change. Existing knowledge is becoming obsolete at an accelerating rate while new knowledge is expanding.

In the Big Shift world, continuous learning becomes a key to achieving more impact that is meaningful. Let me emphasize also that this learning is not in the form of sharing existing knowledge, as occurs in classes or training programs. The learning that is most valuable and necessary in the Big Shift world is learning in the form of creating new knowledge and practices. That does not occur in a classroom or training room; it occurs out in the world as we encounter new situations that have never been encountered before.

People with curiosity are constantly searching for new situations that can become catalysts for learning. When finding these new situations, they are filled with questions that will help them to seek answers.

What makes curiosity so powerful?

Curiosity has many benefits. People with curiosity are constantly asking questions that can help to accelerate learning.

These questions can become catalysts for serendipity. Answers can come from unexpected sources that the curious person did not even know about. These unexpected encounters can lead to significant new insight.

Asking questions can also build trust. Curious people are acknowledging through questions that they do not know something and asking for help. This expression of vulnerability builds trust and motivates people to share information and knowledge that they might be reluctant to share in a less trusting environment.

Questions can also be a catalyst for building new relationships. Other curious people who are intrigued by the questions being asked by the curious person will often seek out the person asking the questions and offer to collaborate in searching for answers that can help all parties to learn faster.

Curiosity is also powerful because it can become a foundation for several other capabilities that are essential to accelerate learning. A lot has been written about capabilities like imagination, creativity, collaboration, and reflection. These are certainly very valuable and increasingly necessary, but all these capabilities are significantly strengthened by curiosity. If we are not driven to ask questions and explore new territories, we will be a lot less effective in cultivating and pursuing these other capabilities.

What are the barriers to curiosity?

While curiosity as a capability is very powerful and increasingly necessary in a rapidly changing world, many barriers are preventing people from cultivating this capability.

At the level of the individual, the emotion of fear can be a significant barrier. People with fear tend to view acquiring new knowledge as very risky and worry that, if they ask too many questions, they will be viewed as ignorant or incompetent. They avoid questions and try to reassure themselves that they know enough to be successful.

At the level of the institution, there are even more significant barriers to curiosity. As I’ve written elsewhere, large, traditional institutions have embraced an institutional model of scalable efficiency. In these institutions, the focus is on how to become more efficient at scale. Leaders have become convinced that efficiency requires tightly specified tasks that are highly standardized across the entire organization. In these institutions, curiosity is deeply suspect – it prompts people to ask too many questions that distract people from their assigned tasks and those questions are unnecessary if the person has carefully read the process manual.

What is required to overcome those barriers?

Curiosity is such a powerful and necessary capability that we need to find ways to overcome these barriers so that we can unleash the potential that curiosity offers.

The most promising way to do this is to find and draw out the passion of the explorer that resides within all of us. My research suggests that this very specific form of passion is a powerful driver of sustained extreme performance improvement in an increasingly challenging world. People with the passion of the explorer are excited about achieving increasing impact over time in a specific domain, they are excited when confronted with new challenges, and they actively seek out help from others in addressing those challenges.

People with the passion of the explorer are constantly asking questions about the domain that excites them because they are driven to have more and more impact in that domain. The passion of the explorer helps to focus curiosity – rather than just asking questions about anything and everything, and becoming overwhelmed with how much there is to learn, people with the passion of the explorer are excited about a specific domain – it could be anything from gardening to outer space – that focuses their questions.

So, how does one find and cultivate this passion of the explorer? I have come to believe that we all have this passion lurking within us and that we need to make the effort to draw it out. I ended up writing a book – The Journey Beyond Fear – that shares my research into the approaches that can help all of us to find and cultivate this passion.

The bottom line

In a world of accelerating change, we all need to cultivate curiosity as a core capability. This is not only an opportunity but an imperative, even though there are significant barriers that stand in our way. The most promising way to overcome these barriers is to draw out an emotion – the passion of the explorer – that will excite us about the opportunity ahead. By finding and pursuing the passion of the explorer, we will rapidly cultivate curiosity and that, in turn, will help us to cultivate other important capabilities – imagination, creativity, collaboration and reflection – that are essential to accelerate learning in the form of creating new knowledge that can help all of us to unleash exponentially expanding opportunities. So, what are the questions that really excite you?


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Diving Deeper Into Digital Transformation

Category:Collaboration,Community,Context,Edges,Emotions,Exploration,Fear,Future,Growth,Institutional Innovation,Leadership,Learning,Opportunity,Passion,Potential,Small moves,Strategy,Transformation

Digital transformation has become a business buzzword. Everyone is talking about it, but there is a significant missed opportunity. To understand the missed opportunity, we first need to understand the context of the world we live in.

The Big Shift

Long-term forces are re-shaping our global economy and society in profound ways. I have done a lot of research on the Big Shift. It has many dimensions – one of them is the creation of exponentially expanding opportunities. We can create far more value with far less resources and far more quickly than would have been imaginable a few decades. But to do this, we will need to embrace broad business transformation.

From digital transformation to business transformation

Here’s the first problem. Virtually every large, traditional organization has a digital transformation program, but when you probe into what the program is doing, it turns out that virtually all of these programs are focused on applying digital technology so that the organization can do what it has always done, but just faster and cheaper.

Increased business efficiency may be helpful, but it is not business transformation. Business transformation starts with asking the most basic question of all – what fundamentally different business should we be seeking to become?

To answer this question, I strongly recommend that leaders adopt a very different approach to strategy, something I call the Zoom Out/Zoom In approach to strategy. This approach has many benefits, but one of them is that it takes leadership out of their comfort zone, and forces them to look for small moves, smartly made that they can pursue in the short-term to begin their journey to much more profound business transformation.

If we’re serious about pursuing exponentially expanding opportunities, everything in the business will need to change. We’ll need to shift from an institutional model of scalable efficiency to scalable learning. We’ll need to redefine work for everyone in the organization so that people are no longer performing tightly specified, highly standardized tasks and instead are focused on addressing unseen opportunities and problems to create more value. We’ll need to redesign our work environments so that they can support this new form of work. We’ll need to adopt different approaches to growth – rather than focusing on make versus buy as the two key growth options, we’ll need to embrace leveraged growth where the focus is on connecting our customers with a broader range of third parties that can help to address their unmet needs.

That’s profound change in all aspects of our current businesses. What are the barriers and obstacles to overcome? Based on my experience in helping leaders to pursue business transformation, I have only one piece of advice – never, ever under-estimate the power of the immune system and antibodies that exist in every large, traditional organization and which will mobilize at the slightest indication of change to resist that change.

These people are not evil people. They are very well-intentioned, but they are driven by the emotion of fear. They have become very risk averse and believe that the best way to succeed is to continue doing what has always been done to create value.

From business transformation to emotional transformation

To address this barrier and obstacle to business transformation, we need to dive deeper into another level of transformation – emotional transformation. How do we move beyond the emotion of fear to cultivate other emotions that will help us to have more impact that is meaningful to us? That’s the focus of my latest book – The Journey Beyond Fear. I wrote the book because I saw fear becoming more and more prevalent as an emotion around the world.

A key reason for the spread of fear is mounting performance pressure that is also generated by the Big Shift – competition intensifying on a global scale, pace of change accelerating and extreme, disruptive events emerging more frequently. While understandable, this emotion is also very limiting – people who are driven by fear can’t even see the exponential opportunities emerging in the future, much less have the motivation to pursue them.

How do we overcome this fear? We need to find and draw out a very specific form of passion – the passion of the explorer – that resides within all of us and is waiting to be drawn out.

It turns out that the Zoom Out/Zoom In approach to strategy can be very powerful in moving us beyond fear. It focuses people on a really big and inspiring opportunity 10-20 years from now and quickly provides evidence of progress towards that opportunity in the next 6-12 months to help overcome skepticism.

To make the journey beyond fear we also need to cultivate new leadership models – shifting from an expert model where the leader has the answer to all the questions to the explorer model where the leader is focused on sharing inspiring questions and asking for help in coming up with answers.

We also need to adopt different approaches to transformation. Rather than pursuing top down, big bang approaches that draw out the immune system, we should focus on scaling an edge that can become the new core of the business and will embrace all the changes required to pursue exponential opportunities.

Bottom line

Digital technology is a significant catalyst for the need for transformation, but we need to avoid becoming focused too narrowly on digital transformation. Instead, we need to dive deeper into business transformation and then recognize that will require an even deeper dive to a third level – emotional transformation.

This is a huge opportunity. It can help us to move from mounting performance pressure to exponentially expanding opportunity. It’s not just an opportunity – it’s an imperative given the rapidly changing world around us.

I am an optimist. I believe that we can and will move beyond the caterpillars that we are today, focused on just finding ways to move faster. Instead, we will all become butterflies in a thriving world.


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Where to Look

Category:Collaboration,Connections,Context,Emotions,Exploration,Fear,Future,Learning,Opportunity,Passion

Ambergris Cay Island, Turks and Caicos Islands

We live in a world of accelerating change. There’s so much going on around us that we are understandably becoming overwhelmed.

And the advice we get can be very confusing. Many are saying to stay focused on the present. Others tell us to look ahead and focus on the future. And then there are those who insist we should stay focused on the past because we can learn from the past.

So, what is it? My advice is that we need to do all three, but in a very specific sequence, otherwise it will certainly be overwhelming.

Start with the future

We need to start by looking ahead. We need to search for really big opportunities that can inspire us to come together and act with others. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, the Big Shift that we are experiencing on a global scale is creating exponentially expanding opportunities – we can create far more value, far more quickly and with far less resources than would have ever been required in the past.

But those opportunities will not emerge on their own. We need to look for them and actively pursue them. And we need to keep searching until we find a really big opportunity that excites us – let’s not be distracted by an overwhelming range of possibilities in the future.

And, yes, the future is uncertain – to some degree. We need to focus on the long-term trends that are already playing out and that are reasonably predictable.

Starting with the search for big, future opportunities is also important because many of us have adopted a view of the future that focuses on imminent threats. As I’ve discussed in my book, The Journey Beyond Fear, that view of the future is feeding the emotion of fear that more and more of us are experiencing, and that is holding us back from even seeing, much less pursuing, the opportunities ahead.

Focusing on a really exciting opportunity in the future can help us to overcome the fear that we are experiencing today. It can become a catalyst for drawing out the passion of the explorer that will motivate us to act now and pursue the opportunity.

Equally importantly, finding a really exciting opportunity in the future will help us to maintain focus as we deal with the infinite demands on our attention in the present.

Then shift to the present

Once we have a really exciting opportunity in the future that can maintain our focus, we can then shift to exploring the present. That exploration will be driven by three questions:

  • What are resources and capabilities that can help me to address opportunity
  • Who else can I collaborate with to amplify these resources and capabilities?
  • What are major barriers that need to be overcome to achieve opportunity?

There’s a lot to be learned from the present, and that will put us in a better position to learn from the past.

Learn from the past

Once we have a clear focus on the exciting opportunity ahead and the resources and barriers of the present, we’re in a much better position to look into the past and learn from the past.

We’ll now be much more focused on what can be learned from previous initiatives that will help us to achieve even more impact today. Again, the need is to stay focused on what can be learned to achieve greater impact in pursuing the opportunity that excites us the most. There’s so much in the past that can distract us unless we have a clear view of what we are trying to learn.

These lessons from the past can then help us to evolve our initiatives in the present so that we can have even greater impact and accelerate our progress towards the exciting opportunity in the future.

Return to the present and the future

We’re now in a much better position to pursue high impact initiatives in the present. We’ll need to stay focused on the present and continually reflect on the impact that we’re achieving as we pursue our initiatives. What is achieving greater impact than we expected? What is falling short in terms of impact? How can we evolve our initiatives so that we can achieve even greater impact?

As we pursue these initiatives in the present, we will also achieve much greater insight into the opportunity that we are pursuing in the future. It will become much clearer and even more compelling as we learn more about the details of the opportunity and the value that it can create.

Bottom line

Sequence matters. The key is to focus and cultivate the motivation to act and learn.

In the past, the emphasis was focusing on the past because we lived in a more stable world where the past could provide us with valuable lessons about the opportunities in the future. Today, we need to emphasize looking ahead into the future as a launchpad for impact that matters because the world is changing at a rapid rate, and new opportunities are emerging that could never have been addressed in the past.

In the end, we need to focus on action and learning from that action so that we can truly address exponentially expanding opportunities.


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The Paradox of Progress

Category:Collaboration,Community,Connections,Growth,Learning,Opportunity,Paradox,Potential,Trust

Progress can be elusive, even though we have experienced progress on so many dimensions for centuries. One of the reasons progress is so elusive is it requires us to embrace paradox. If we embrace paradox, we have the potential to accelerate and expand progress in unforeseen ways.

What do I mean by paradox? There are endless paradoxes to be addressed, but here I will focus on two. First, we as humans are all unique and all the same. Second, when we interact with each other, we need to both compete and collaborate.

Humans are unique and the same

Well, which is it? Both! There’s one school of thought that celebrates our unique individuality – we were all born with different attributes, we have lived in different environments, and we have evolved a complexity of being that would be challenging to replicate.

Another school of thought emphasizes that all humans are alike and share common attributes. We all seek to be treated with respect, we all have certain basic rights, and we all have certain basic material needs, like food and water.

There’s another perspective that focuses on the importance of diverse groups defined by gender, ethnic origins, age, or other attributes. From this perspective, individuals within groups are similar to each other, but the groups are unique in possessing certain attributes that are not shared by other groups, and that is ultimately what is most important.

We need to embrace all these perspectives. Imagine how much we could accomplish when we come together, driven by our common attributes, and unleash our uniqueness as individuals and as members of diverse groups to explore new approaches to achieving much greater progress.

We need to both compete and collaborate

How can we compete and collaborate? Isn’t it one or the other? No, it’s both.

Competition is a powerful driver of progress because it motivates participants to develop new and powerful ways to achieve more impact that is meaningful to others. In a competitive environment, speed is imperative, so there is a race to come up with better answers faster. Even more fundamentally, competition spurs many to come up with new and meaningful questions that no one has asked before, so that they can pursue different paths that will deliver much greater impact.

Competition is powerful, but collaboration makes it even more effective on so many levels. Think about it. If every individual competes with every other individual, the individuals each have access to limited talent and resources. If individuals come together and collaborate so that they can compete more effectively with others, they will create much more value more quickly than they ever could alone.

Collaboration works because humans are both unique and the same. We can come together because we share certain attributes that help us to build trust with each other. But collaboration also produces more value because we are all unique and can contribute different perspectives and ideas to evolve our approaches in addressing both opportunities and challenges.

Of course, individuals can come together and collaborate within a single organization, but collaboration extends well beyond that. Increasingly, our economy and society are being shaped by ecosystems that bring together many diverse organizations and individuals, so that they can leverage each other’s talents and resources far beyond any individual organization or group.

And collaboration is even more fundamental. Competition works best if there is broad agreement regarding the rules to govern competition so that it does not lead to harmful activity – that requires significant collaboration, ultimately on a global scale. In this context, the collaboration that works best is bottom-up, voluntary collaboration. Without this form of collaboration, competition can quickly become dysfunctional and destructive.

Competition also works much better if there are grassroots initiatives that bring people together to provide mutual aid in times of distress. This provides a safety cushion to ensure that everyone gets their most basic needs met, even when they confront unexpected challenges and difficulties. If these kinds of mutual aid initiatives are in place, we will be motivated to take more risk in exploring new ways to compete and deliver more value.

If anyone is doubtful about the mutually reinforcing effects of competition and collaboration, I would encourage you to visit Silicon Valley. Sociologists have studied the continued success of this region over decades and one factor they have highlighted is a culture that fosters both competition and collaboration.

Bottom line

We are becoming increasingly polarized as we seek to escape paradox. We are either extreme individualists embracing our uniqueness or extreme collectivists embracing our common needs and attributes. We are either avid free market advocates who champion competition as the way forward or we are advocates of alternative arrangements that seek to eliminate competition in favor of collaboration.

This polarization is a major barrier to progress. Until we embrace the paradox of progress and recognize that apparently contradictory approaches and values need to be woven together to create a better and more prosperous society, we will not unleash the progress that we all aspire to see.

We need to come together because we are so different, but have so many similarities. Competing with each other only works when we learn how to embrace collaboration. There’s so much potential to be unlocked when we see the power of paradox.


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Expanding Our Horizons

Category:Collaboration,Community,Connections,Future,Growth,Opportunity,Potential

First, it was the oceans.

Then, it was the forests.

More recently, it became the cities.

Our evolutionary path

Has been long and winding.

Over millennia,

It has brought us closer together,

But we also remain deeply connected

With our homes of the past.

We will only thrive

When all our homes flourish.

Let’s expand our horizons

And imagine what is possible

When we connect

Across all our homes

In even richer ways

That nourish all the participants

And spawn even more participants.

Fertility and longevity

Will enrich all of us.


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What’s Missing in Artificial Intelligence?

Category:Uncategorized

Everyone is talking about artificial intelligence, but we’re missing some key changes that it will unleash. As an optimist, I believe it will be a catalyst for changes that will help all of us to learn faster and achieve more of our potential.

Focus on the data

Where do I start? Let me start by noting that, in all the conversations about artificial intelligence, very few people are talking about the data. Most people don’t recognize that AI is actually extremely stupid without data. Data is the fuel that shapes the intelligence of AI. Everyone seems to assume that more and more data will be available as AI evolves. But is that assumption valid?

The erosion of trust

Here’s the challenge. Trust in large institutions is rapidly eroding around the world. As trust erodes, people are going to be less and less willing to share data about themselves and their activities with large entities. People will increasingly embrace technology tools that can help them be much more selective in providing access to their data. This continues to be a big opportunity for a new kind of business that I called “infomediaries” – businesses that will become trusted advisors and manage our data on our behalf (I wrote about this in my book, Net Worth).

Of course, there will still be a lot of historical data on the Internet accessible to AI but, in a rapidly changing world, the most valuable and useful form of data will be data about current activities and preferences. That data will likely be harder and harder to access when people are less and less trusting of large institutions.

What about tacit knowledge?

There’s another issue regarding data. In a rapidly changing world, data captures a shrinking portion of our knowledge. There’s an important distinction that needs to be made when we seek to understand knowledge. There’s explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge –a distinction first made by Michael Polanyi back in the 1960’s.

Explicit knowledge is knowledge that we can express and communicate in words. Tacit knowledge is knowledge that is embodied in our actions, but that we would find very challenging to express. It’s about knowledge that we acquire when dealing with real-life situations and seeking to find ways to have increasing impact. Some tacit knowledge is long-lasting – it involves mastering enduring skills and practices and cannot be acquired by reading books or listening to lectures. Those who have mastered these skills and practices find it very hard to explain everything they do.

Here’s the challenge – in a rapidly changing world, tacit knowledge increases in proportion to explicit knowledge. We are increasingly confronting rapidly evolving situations and developing practices that will help us to have more impact in these situations, but the knowledge we are developing is largely tacit knowledge embodied in practice. We have a hard time expressing in words and numbers what we have learned.

AI is very good at capturing and studying explicit knowledge, but tacit knowledge is largely invisible to AI. Yet, more and more of our new knowledge is tacit knowledge. If we are serious about learning faster, we will need to find ways to connect with people who have developed new tacit knowledge and build deep, trust-based relationships with them so that we can closely observe their practices and gain insight into the tacit knowledge that is shaping their practices.

So, back to the topic of data. Data is the fuel that powers AI, but data is generated through explicit knowledge. If explicit knowledge is a shrinking portion of our total knowledge, the data fueling AI will be a smaller and smaller portion of the knowledge that is rapidly evolving in our world.

The trends towards decentralization

To learn faster in a rapidly changing world, we will need to build deeper trust-based relationships and to provide improved access to tacit knowledge. This is why I believe we will see an increasing trend towards decentralization of our economy and society. I have written about fragmentation and concentration trends in our economy here.

Decentralization will provide the context for enhancing the potential of AI. It will help us to build the trust that will motivate us to share more of our data. It will also help us to gain more access to the tacit knowledge that can expand the value of our data. The AI apps that will ultimately add the most value are those that focus on gathering access to richer, real-time data about the specific contexts that are most important to the users.

But decentralization stands in sharp contrast to the current direction of AI apps, which are aggressively seeking to gather more and more data, wherever it resides. These apps are providing the insights from that data to a broad range of potential users, regardless of their situation or motivation.

The rise of the Contextual Age

We are in the early stages of a Big Shift from the Industrial Age to the Contextual Age, as I have written here. In short, we are moving from a scalable efficiency model where the key to success was offering highly standardized mass market products and services to a scalable learning model where the key to success is understanding the rapidly evolving contexts of individual customers and organizations, and then offering rapidly evolving tailored products and services to meet their individual needs.

In this Contextual Age, our need for data shifts. Rather than seeking to gather as much data as possible on a global scale, we need to become more focused on gathering richer, real-time data about the specific contexts that matter the most to us.

This will be a significant shift in the direction of AI. Those AI app developers who understand and pursue this shift will be the ones to create the most value. They will also unleash a virtuous cycle because the users of their apps will see significant value in terms of insight that matters to them when they provide their data. This will deepen the trust of AI users and motivate them to provide even more data in their quest for even more value.

Bottom line

AI has significant potential, but only if we recognize the growing challenge of accessing data and the tacit knowledge that is one of the key results of accelerated learning. AI can help us in addressing these challenges but only if we expand our focus to explore what data is most meaningful in a rapidly changing world. As we begin to see the data that matters the most, we can then focus on how to access that data in ways that will deliver increasing value for all and increase our access to even more data that matters.


  • 6

From Expert to Explorer

Category:Exploration,Growth,Institutional Innovation,Leadership,Learning,Opportunity,Passion,Trust,Uncategorized

We are in a Big Shift from experts to explorers. What do I mean by this? We live in societies around the world where “experts” run the show. Given the profound changes that are unfolding in our global economies and societies, we need to shift to explorers who can help us craft new pathways that can create far more value for all of us. Let me explore this in more detail.

Our heritage

Over the past century, we have witnessed the growth of large institutions around the world that have been driven by a “scalable efficiency” model. In this model, the key to success is to do what we have always done, faster and cheaper, at scale.

This model worked very well in a more stable world. The large institutions that run our economies and societies have embraced this model and were able to scale at a rapid rate globally.

In the scalable efficiency model, leadership is awarded to “experts.” These are people who have relevant academic degrees and experience in running similar institutions. Evaluating experts requires a deep dive into their past to ensure they have acquired the knowledge required to manage tightly specified processes and demonstrated the ability to squeeze harder so that all relevant activities can be done faster and cheaper.

Experts have ambition. They are driven to accumulate more credentials and experience that will help them to achieve even greater influence and power than they currently have. But they’re not excited about the unknown – if anything, they are in denial or resisting the unknown.

In a Big Shift world with mounting performance pressure, we trusted leaders who had the relevant expertise – it was all about credentials. These were leaders who claimed to have the answers to all the relevant questions and these claims were credible because they had the relevant credentials.

These leaders embraced the “command and control” approach that governs all scalable efficiency institutions. People needed to obey their commands because the leaders were the experts with all the answers. If they deviated from the scripts and process manuals that were provided to them, they were likely to be fired. Experts pursued a push-based model of resource allocation, pushing the right people and resources into the right places to meet their forecasts of demand.

Our future

We are in the early stages of a profound transformation of our global economy and society. To navigate successfully through these changes, we will need to embrace a very different leadership model. We will need to seek out and nurture explorers, rather than experts.

What do I mean by explorers? I am talking about people who have found and are pursuing a very specific form of passion – I call it the “passion of the explorer.”  These people are excited about opportunities to have more and more impact in domains that matter to them. They are constantly seeking new challenges that can help them to learn faster by creating new knowledge that never existed before. They also are actively seeking help from others in addressing these new challenges – they freely acknowledge that they don’t know the answers and that they need help in finding the answers.

As you can see, explorers are very different from experts. They are looking ahead to anticipate emerging opportunities and recognize that existing knowledge is becoming obsolete at an accelerating rate. As leaders, they are framing powerful and inspiring questions that can pull more and more people to them in an effort to explore and discover answers that can create far more impact that is meaningful.

I don’t want to suggest that experts cannot become explorers. Experts – those with significant credentials and experience – can also be driven by the passion of the explorer. But then they become explorers – they are excited about the questions that don’t yet have answers and the opportunities ahead that have not yet been addressed.

Rather than motivating people with fear, explorers seek to draw out the passion of the explorer in others, so that more and more people are excited about venturing out into new territories and addressing emerging opportunities. Explorers create work environments that support exploration and accelerate learning by drawing people together and focusing them on emerging opportunities. Rather than organizing into hierarchical command and control structures, explorers focus on becoming a catalyst for bringing people together into small impact groups that are focused on action and impact and then expanding impact by organizing larger and larger networks of impact groups.

Explorers generate a very different form of trust compared with experts. Rather than focusing on credentials and past experience, explorers demonstrate a commitment to addressing unmet needs that are meaningful to people. They are constantly seeking out new unmet needs and make it clear they are determined overcome whatever obstacles and barriers that stand in their way as they address those needs. People trust explorers because they see that determination and excitement that will let nothing stand in their way.

While experts tend to be inward looking, focused on how to do existing activities faster and cheaper, explorers are outward looking. They are constantly searching for new unmet needs of stakeholders that can help them to create far more value.

I’ve become a strong proponent of the explorer leadership model in part because of more than 40 years of experience in Silicon Valley. I’ve seen the extraordinary value that explorers can create in startups. Unfortunately, once these startups achieve some scale, investors begin to pressure the explorers to hire “adult supervision.” That means they want the explorers to hire experts who can implement more traditional ways of doing business at scale. As a result, many of these companies becoming captives of the experts.

Why is the explorer leadership model so important? Organizations that continue to pursue the expert model will experience diminishing returns at best – the more efficient one becomes, the long and harder they will need to work to get the next increment of efficiency. In contrast, organizations embracing the explorer model are able to unleash exponentially expanding value. The paradox of the Big Shift is that, at the same time that it creates mounting performance pressure for all of us, it is also creating exponentially expanding opportunities – we can create far more value, far more quickly, and with far less resources than ever before. Explorers are driven to find and address those opportunities.

Bottom line

We’re on the cusp of a profound shift in leadership models. The expert model that served us so well over the past century is now proving less and less useful. We need to embrace a very different model – the explorer model. This model will help us to unleash the exponential value creation opportunities generated by the Big Shift and help all of us to achieve more and more of our potential. This isn’t just an opportunity – it’s an imperative, given our rapidly changing world. The best is yet to come.


  • 0

Strategy As A Catalyst for Change

Category:Uncategorized

What is strategy? In my blog post “What Does Strategy Really Mean?” from a few months ago, I focused on the need to shift from 5 year “strategic” plans that focus on short-term operations. Instead, we need to embrace approaches to strategy that look into the future and anticipate opportunities to create far more value.

That requires a shift in perspective at two levels – from inside the institution to the stakeholders outside and from addressing narrow, short-term needs to anticipating much bigger, long-term opportunities.

In this blog post, I want to focus on another dimension of strategy often overlooked by leaders of large institutions around the world. Rather than viewing strategy as a way to strengthen existing positions, strategy needs to be viewed as a powerful and necessary catalyst for transformation – both within and outside the organization.

Changing within

Many of you know that I advocate a very different approach to strategy, an approach that I call “Zoom Out/Zoom In” and that I have written about in more detail here. This approach has been used by some of the most successful information technology companies.

It focuses on two different time horizons in parallel – the zoom out horizon is 10-20 years and the zoom in horizon is 6-12 months. On the zoom out horizon, the questions are how will relevant markets and industries change over the next 10-20 years and what very large opportunities are likely to emerge over that time frame? The zoom in horizon focuses on identifying what initiatives can be pursued in the next 6-12 months to accelerate progress towards the longer-term opportunity, ensuring that these initiatives have a critical mass of resources in the next 6-12 months, and specifying metrics that can be used to assess progress.

This approach has many advantages over conventional five year plan approaches to strategy, but one important advantage is that it forces leadership out of their comfort zone. If they keep focused on five years, they can convince themselves that they will still be the same business they are today, with some minor changes. On the other hand, if they look out 10-20 years and believe they will be the same business as today, they don’t understand the implications of exponential change. It forces them to ask the most basic question of all: what business will we need to become?

The zoom in horizon then forces them to commit to near-term initiatives that will drive the changes required to become this new kind of business.

Changing outside

When looking out in the future, leaders also tend to believe that the industry and market structures that exist today will persist. In the Big Shift world of accelerating change, that misses a big opportunity.

The opportunity is to re-structure industries and markets in fundamental ways to create more value for customers and new sources of advantage for the providers. Don’t take existing structures for granted – explore how structures could be changed in fundamental ways.

This is an approach that I call “shaping strategies” and explore in more depth here. I’ve studied successful shaping strategies in the past, including those pursued by Bill Gates, Dee Hock and Malcolm McLean. We all know who Bill Gates is, but Dee Hock restructured the credit card industry when he led Visa, and Malcolm McLean restructured the global shipping industry when he developed standardized containers.

Changing inside and outside

I won’t go into detail here, but there’s another approach to strategy that I call “leveraged growth” and have written more about it here. This challenges the conventional approach to growth strategy which focuses on two options for growth – make versus buy. Instead, it emphasizes a third approach to growth that is becoming more and more feasible – growing by mobilizing more and more third parties to deliver value to your customers and capturing some of that value for yourself. Successful approaches to leveraged growth will transform broader markets and industries.

The challenge of change

In a rapidly changing world, we need to embrace strategies that will drive change to create more value for our stakeholders and ourselves. This is not just an opportunity, but an imperative.

The challenge is that we live in a world where people are increasingly driven by fear (as I’ve written about in my most recent book, The Journey Beyond Fear). People who are driven by fear tend to resist change. They come together into the “immune system” in large organizations to resist change. That’s why most of the efforts to drive fundamental change in large organizations tend to fail.

The success of the strategies for change that I discussed earlier depends on discovering ways to help participants move beyond fear and cultivate emotions that will help them to come together and achieve much greater impact through change.

I’ve discussed how these approaches to strategy can help overcome fear here and here.

Bottom line

Strategy needs to be a catalyst for fundamental change, both within our organizations and in our broader markets and industries. This is necessary, but very challenging. These strategies will only succeed if they address the emotions that are resisting change and find ways to excite people about the exponential potential that we can unleash through change.


  • 3

Authors Shaping My Journey

Category:Collaboration,Community,Connections,Context,Emotions,Exploration,Fear,Growth,Learning,Opportunity,Potential,Trust

I’ve often been asked what authors have most influenced me. There are so many that I find that question overwhelming. However, I’m going to focus in this post on four authors who, when woven together, form a tapestry that has shaped my thinking for decades.

Carlota Perez – A unique period of history

Carlota has taught at many universities and in 2002 wrote an eye-opening book, Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital. She looked back in history over several centuries and studied five technological revolutions, including the steam engine, electricity and the automobile. At the risk of over-simplifying her perspective, she found that each technological revolution followed a similar pattern. It started with a burst of innovation in one or more core technologies that led to significant performance improvement, but then the performance improvement leveled off fairly quickly. That set the stage for another burst of innovation in the infrastructures required to deliver the technology to the economy and society but, then again, the performance improvement of the infrastructures leveled off fairly quickly. That then set the stage for everyone in the economy to figure out how to adapt to the change and get the most value from the technology.

While she included digital technology as one of her technological revolutions, she under-estimated the extent to which digital technology has deviated from the pattern of earlier technology revolutions. Rather than quickly leveling off in performance improvement, both the core technology and the infrastructures required to deliver that technology to the economy have continued to improve exponentially in performance improvement.

This analysis led me to see that we are in a very different era from any other in history, one that is catalyzing exponential change over an unknown number of decades. This creates both a significant challenge and opportunity, as we strive to find ways to create more and more value from the exponential changes playing out around us.

Jane Jacobs – Cities as a catalyst for economic growth

Jane was a prolific author, starting with her classic work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, in 1961. Throughout her many books, Jane argued that cities were a key catalyst of economic growth. She inspired quite a bit of controversy by her perspective that top-down urban planning was actually a hindrance to economic growth. Her view was that the potential of cities could only be unleashed through bottom-up organic growth. She argued that the growth and prosperity of cities resulted from a growing diversity of innovators and entrepreneurs who were drawn to cities because of their ability to connect and scale their efforts. The diversity and density of these initiatives has led to the kind of growth and prosperity that we see in ecosystems in nature.

Jane’s perspective led me to more deeply appreciate the role of cities in economic growth around the world. We can accomplish so much more if we come together with many others. But we need to evolve our cities through interactions at the local level, rather than relying on urban planning “experts” to determine what is best for us.

Annalee Saxenian – Cultures as a catalyst for growth within regions

Annalee is a professor at Berkeley who wrote an inspiring book in 1994 – Regional Advantage. She was intrigued by the differing trajectories of two major digital technology centers from the 1970’s in the US – Route 128 around Boston and Silicon Valley. While both began as major technology centers, over several decades Silicon Valley maintained a significant leadership in innovation in digital technology while Route 128 declined in importance. What explained this divergence in trajectories?

Annalee assembles convincing evidence that a major factor in the different paths of these two regions was the very different cultures that dominated each region. In Route 128, economic activity was dominated by a few large vertically integrated companies where employees went to work for their entire careers and rarely interacted with people outside their company. In contrast, Silicon Valley developed a culture where employees transitioning from one company to another every few years was not only accepted, but expected. Also, people often came together outside their companies with people from other companies and they were motivated to ask for help in addressing really challenging problems. The result was a culture that fostered widespread collaboration and collective learning.

Annalee’s research inspired me to see that people coming together in certain areas can unleash much greater innovation and growth if they adopt a culture that fosters connection and learning among a growing number of people. It’s not just enough for people to be together in the same area. They need to reach out and build relationships in ways that will help them to learn faster.

Carol Dweck – Mindsets as a catalyst for growth

Carol is a professor at Stanford University and in 2006 published an extraordinary book – Mindset. The book suggests that people can be placed on a continuum of beliefs ranging from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset tend to believe that they have been given a fixed set of abilities, intelligence, and talents. At the other end of the spectrum, people with a growth mindset believe their talents and abilities can always be further developed through effort and persistence.

These are fundamental beliefs that shape one’s view of oneself and of the world around us. People with a fixed mindset tend to adopt a “win/lose” view of the world with constant competition to see who can capture the most for themselves. People with a growth mindset see the potential for continued growth of performance by everyone. They will be much more motivated to come together and help each other to draw out more and more of their potential.

The good news is that Carol believes that we can evolve our mindsets. If we develop a fixed mindset in our early childhood, we can shift into a growth mindset over time, but we need to make a conscious effort to do that.

Weaving the tapestry

While these authors address a widely different array of topics, I find that their perspectives weave together in a powerful way. Carlota Perez sets the stage by looking at history and helping us to see how different the current stage of technological innovation is from many previous eras. Digital technology has launched a period of exponential change that continues to unfold and will likely shape many decades ahead. In a world of exponential change, thriving and flourishing will depend on finding ways to learn faster. Exponential change also means that we need to shift our focus from learning the form of sharing existing knowledge, which is becoming obsolete at an accelerating rate, to learning in the form of creating entirely new knowledge as we confront new situations never encountered before. So, how do we do that?

This is where Jane Jacobs comes in. She focuses our attention on the role of cities in bringing us together and the power of geographic connection in helping to drive greater innovation and learning.

But then it is Annalee Saxenian’s turn to remind us that culture shapes how people connect. It’s not enough for people to be in the geographic area – they need to embrace cultures that will encourage them to connect and build deeper, trust-based relationships so that they can express vulnerability and ask for help in addressing really challenging questions.

And, of course, we then need to turn to Carol Dweck who shifts our attention to the beliefs about ourselves that shape our choices and actions, and the kinds of relationships we will build with others. If we don’t have a growth mindset, we are very unlikely to build the deeper, trust-based relationships that can unleash the potential of living closer together in urban areas. As a result, we’ll be unlikely to unleash to exponential potential that can come from learning faster in an exponentially changing environment.

But, is that all there is? As those who follow me will recall, I’ve come to believe that heartset is even more fundamental than mindset and will help to shape the mindsets that guide us. We need to focus on the emotions that are shaping our choices and actions. That’s what led me to write my latest book, The Journey Beyond Fear.

A coincidence?

Here’s an interesting observation. All four authors that have had a profound influence on my view of the world are women. Is that just a coincidence?

I don’t believe so. I believe it’s an interesting indicator of the profound differences that define the feminine archetype and the masculine archetype in our societies around the world, something that I have explored here. Women who represent the feminine archetype are much more likely to focus on deeper, long-term relationships, adopt a holistic approach to understand the world around us, and embrace change as a powerful catalyst for growth and learning. These four authors, each in their own way, demonstrate the feminine archetype in action. I am very grateful for their insights and different perspectives from the “conventional wisdom” of the masculine archetype that rules much of our world.

Bottom line

We live in an exponentially changing world that unleashes the potential for exponential learning. But, to address that potential, we need to come together and build much deeper, trust-based relationships. And to do that, we need to embrace a growth mindset where we see extraordinary potential that we can all cultivate that will help us to achieve much greater impact that is meaningful to us, and to others. This will require us to challenge and change many of the beliefs and practices that have guided our behavior in the past. Most fundamentally, we need to address and overcome the emotion of fear that motivates us to resist change and distance ourselves from others.


  • 0

Cultivating and Connecting Capabilities

Category:Collaboration,Connections,Edges,Exploration,Growth,Institutional Innovation,Learning,Opportunity,Passion,Transformation

I’ve long been a contrarian regarding our current view of learning in our work environments. I’ve come to believe that it is a growing barrier to progress. If we’re going to prosper and flourish, we need to embrace a very different approach to learning, one that is much more consistent with our humanity.

Skills versus capabilities

When I talk to leaders about learning, their focus is on learning “new” skills. They are concerned that, in a rapidly changing world, many skills are becoming obsolete. If workers are going to continue to be productive, they need to learn “new” skills. These skills aren’t really new, they’re just skills that most workers haven’t yet acquired. They need to be taught the skills.

Here’s where I start to be a contrarian. I challenge our narrow focus on skills and believe we need to expand our focus in learning to include capabilities. What’s the distinction? Skills are very valuable in a specific context – for example, how to operate a machine or how to use certain applications on a computer. Capabilities, in contrast, are valuable in all contexts – examples include curiosity, imagination and creativity. I’ve written extensively about this distinction here (pdf).

Connecting capabilities to support a new form of learning

Of course, some leaders are beginning to pay attention to capabilities, but they tend to approach them in isolation. We’ve all seen creativity workshops or imagination exercises. What’s missing is the need to connect capabilities. While each capability has some value on its own, the real potential comes when capabilities are combined.

Think about it. Curiosity is about exploration, venturing out into areas that have yet to be understood. But curiosity alone has only limited value. We need to cultivate connection and empathy so that we can form deeper and broader relationships with others. Exploring in isolation is much less rewarding than exploration with others. As we explore, we need imagination to come up with new ideas regarding how to create more value from the areas we are exploring. And ideas alone are not that helpful. We need creativity to help us develop and deploy approaches to help us to actually create the value that our imagination suggested we could pursue.

Done right, connecting these capabilities can unleash a virtuous cycle of learning. As we develop and deploy approaches to creating value with our creativity, our curiosity will gain come into play as we explore the impact that we have achieved. We can come together to imagine even more promising approaches and create even more value.

But this learning is very different from the learning that consumes the attention of most leaders today. When leaders talk about learning, they almost without exception are talking about learning in the form of sharing existing knowledge. This learning occurs in training rooms or through online video courses.

While not dismissing that form of learning, I again want to be a contrarian and suggest there’s a very different form of learning that is becoming much more necessary and valuable. It’s learning in the form of creating entirely new knowledge that never existed before. That form of learning occurs in the workplace, pursued by people who come together and take action as they cultivate the capabilities just described and address previously unseen opportunities to create more value.

While most leaders would acknowledge that this form of learning is important, they tend to confine it to small parts of the organization – research departments and/or innovation centers.

Cultivating capabilities

So, if capabilities are so important, how do we cultivate them? Here’s the good news. These capabilities are all innate within us. You don’t believe me? Let’s go to a playground and look at children 5 or 6 years old. Show me one that doesn’t have these capabilities as they play.

Unfortunately, our schools and our work environments have sought to crush these capabilities. We are taught to simply follow detailed instructions, reliably and efficiently, without asking too many questions or deviating from the assigned tasks. This is the key to success in the scalable efficiency institutions that dominate our world today.

Those capabilities may be hidden for many of us, but they are still there, waiting to be drawn out. How can we draw them out? It will be challenging because it will require very different work environments. We need work environments that will cultivate a very specific form of passion – the passion of the explorer (pdf).

The passion of the explorer has three components. People with this passion are committed to, and excited about, achieving more and more impact that is meaningful in a specific domain. When confronted with unexpected challenges, they become excited about the opportunity to achieve even greater impact. Finally, their first instinct when confronted with an unexpected challenge is how to connect with others who can help them get to a better answer faster.

People with this passion are driven to draw out and cultivate the capabilities I discussed earlier. They are excited about the opportunity to learn in the form of creating new knowledge. Curiosity, connection, imagination and creativity are essential for this kind of learning and they deeply value all these capabilities. They understand that these capabilities are deeply connected and should not be viewed in isolation.

But, here’s the problem. Our work environments today are deeply suspicious of people with the passion of the explorer. These people ask too many questions, they take too many risks, and they deviate from the process manual. That’s why, based on my research (pdf), only about 14% of US workers have this form of passion in their work.

Unleashing passion and capabilities

So, how do we change this? It won’t be easy. It will require us to transform the institutional models that shape all large institutions around the world. As I’ve written about here (pdf), the prevailing institutional model is scalable efficiency where the key to success to do things faster and cheaper at scale. This model has driven the growth of large institutions over the past century but, in the Big Shift, the paradox is that scalable efficiency is becoming less and less efficient because it has a hard time dealing with the accelerating pace of change.

We need to make a shift from the institutional model of scalable efficiency to a model of scalable learning. As already discussed, the focus of this new institutional model is on learning in the form of creating new knowledge by mobilizing people throughout an organization to come together and address unseen problems and opportunities to create more value. These models can scale even further by building networks of relationships among people that extend far beyond a single institution.

The scalable learning model focuses on cultivating the capabilities already discussed and recognizes that the passion of the explorer is the most powerful motivator for people to draw out and exercise these capabilities. It encourages everyone to find and pursue their passion of the explorer.

The scalable learning model challenges virtually all the beliefs and practices that prevail in our existing scalable efficiency models. For this reason, it will be very challenging for existing large institutions to make the transition. As I’ve written about here (pdf), the most effective way for large institutions to transition will be to scale the edge, rather than pursuing “big bang” top-down change programs that seek transform the core of the institution.

As challenging as it might be, the transition will be deeply rewarding. At its best, the scalable efficiency model is a diminishing returns model – the more efficient we become, the longer and harder we have to work to achieve the next increment of efficiency. In contrast, the scalable learning model is an increasing returns model where value can grow exponentially as learning expands its horizons and accelerates.

Bottom line

We live in a rapidly changing world where the most valuable and necessary learning for everyone is learning in the form of creating new knowledge. This form of learning requires a combination of uniquely human capabilities – curiosity, connection, imagination and creativity. People who find and pursue the passion of the explorer are powerfully motivated to develop these capabilities. If we all are going to embrace the passion of the explorer, we need to transform our institutions. It won’t be easy, but the rewards will be enormous. Let’s get started.


NEW BOOK

(if you've read the book, click here)

My new book, The Journey Beyond Fear, starts with the observation that fear is becoming the dominant emotion for people around the world. While understandable, fear is also very limiting.

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The book explores a variety of approaches we can pursue to cultivate emotions of hope and excitement that will help us to move forward despite fear and achieve more of our potential. You can order the book at Amazon.

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