Category Archives: Uncategorized

  • 0

Scaling the Edge – Making It Personal

Category:Uncategorized

I’ve been writing about a very different approach to transformation for over a decade, including here. My writing so far has focused on the imperative for institutions to adopt this approach to transformation in rapidly changing times. In this post, I’ll make the case that it’s also an imperative for us to pursue as individuals.

Scaling the edge

We’re in the early stages of a Big Shift that will transform our global economy and society. This Big Shift will require a fundamental transformation of all our institutions – companies, governments, universities, non-profits, etc. But, having been involved with institutional transformation efforts for decades, my key message to all institutional leaders is to never, ever under-estimate the power of the immune system and antibodies that exist in all large, traditional institutions. At the slightest indication of change, the immune system mobilizes to crush those efforts and defend the existing approaches that have led to success in the past.

This is the reason that the conventional approaches to transformation – I call them the “top down, big bang” approaches – have an extremely high failure rate. So, is there an alternative?

I have become a strong proponent of an alternative approach that I call “scaling the edge.” Rather than trying to transform the core of the existing institution, this approach focuses on driving change on the “edge” of the institution. What do I mean by edge?

It’s a part of the institution today that has relatively modest resources and impact but, if we understand the long-term forces that are re-shaping the relevant markets and arenas for the institution, that edge has the potential to scale rapidly to the point where it will become the new core of the institution.

The commitment is to scale the edge as rapidly as possible and to drive transformation on the edge, rather than trying to get the core to transform. As the edge scales, it will pull more and more of the people and resources from the core out to the edge. In a world of accelerating change, edges can scale at a pace that would have been unimaginable a few decades ago. Before we know it, the edge has scaled to the point where it has become the new core of the institution, not just a diversification effort or growth initiative.

In scaling the edge, the key is to minimize the likelihood that the immune system in the core will mobilize to try to block the scaling edge initiative. In prior research, I’ve identified 12 design principles for scaling edge initiatives in institutions that can help to keep the immune system at bay.

Making it personal

But is scaling the edge only for institutions? I’ve come to believe that it can also provide some helpful guidance for us as individuals, as we confront the same imperative for transformation that our institutions face.

We have our own immune system that we should never under-estimate. The immune system operates at two levels. First, there are the beliefs we have about what is required for success and happiness. Those beliefs come from many sources. Some of the beliefs are shaped by our experiences to date, but many of the beliefs come from our families, communities and broader societies that we live in. From an early age, we’ve been taught that certain approaches lead to success and happiness and encouraged to follow those approaches. Regardless of how those beliefs came to embraced, we understandably tend to resist efforts to shift to alternative approaches.

But, to really understand the source of our personal immune system, we need to go one level deeper – we need to move beyond mindset to heartset. Our actions are shaped by our emotions, not just our beliefs.

As I’ve discussed elsewhere, the dominant emotion that more and more of us are experiencing is fear. Fear is surfacing for many reasons, but a key underlying driver of this emotion is the mounting performance pressure that more and more of us are experiencing. In this context, the emotion of fear is very understandable.

At the same time, though, we need to accept that that fear is a key driver of our personal immune system. When we’re driven by fear, we have a tendency to shrink our time horizons and become more and more risk averse. We want to hold on to the beliefs and approaches that we currently have, rather than venturing out into uncharted territories.

So, what do we do? How do we respond to the imperative to transform while keeping our immune system at bay?

Passion of the explorer

For some of us, the lucky few, the answer is relatively easy – pursue your passion of the explorer. Some of us have found and cultivated our passion of the explorer that motivates us to move forward in spite of our fear. This passion of the explorer generates excitement within us when we’re confronted by new and unexpected challenges because those challenges will help us to have more and more impact in the domain that we have chosen. I should caution here that I am talking about a very specific form of passion that emerged from my research and that I have written about extensively, including here and here.

But, here’s the challenge. Very few of us have been fortunate enough to find and cultivate our passion of the explorer. There are many reasons for this, but a key one is that we live and work in societies and institutions that are deeply suspect of passion. Passionate people are risk-takers, they ask too many questions and they too often deviate from the scripts they’ve been assigned – they’re viewed as trouble-makers in institutions and societies that value conformity and risk avoidance. In the face of this suspicion of passion, many of us have simply given up our search for the passion of the explorer and done our best to “fit in.”

So, in the absence of this passion, how do we overcome the immune system deep within each of us and pursue our transformation as individuals so that we can thrive in a rapidly changing society?

Finding an edge that will unleash your passion

Try scaling the edge. Rather than transforming ourselves overnight, find an edge that can help drive our transformation. How do we do that?

We need to look ahead and look around to scan the horizon for opportunities that have the potential to drive very significant impact. There are two parts to this quest. First, we need to gather enough evidence to convince us that these are opportunities that could create significant impact. This is about evolving our beliefs so that we can begin to focus on opportunities that are really big enough to drive our personal transformation.

But then we also need to reflect on whether that potential for impact really inspires and excites us – we need to move beyond beliefs to emotions. The edges that will motivate us to drive some challenging personal transformation must be exciting enough that they will encourage us to move beyond our comfort zone and continually venture out into territories that can seem very intimidating.

The edge needs to be a seedbed for cultivating the passion of the explorer. As we look at potential edges to scale in our personal lives, we need to look within and see what emotions are being triggered. We may not feel intense excitement at the outset, but we need to at least feel the potential for that excitement to blossom as we move forward. And, if we feel that excitement start to wane as we begin to confront unexpected challenges, we need to be prepared to shift to a different edge to drive our personal transformation efforts.

Finding our edge is about selecting an edge that has the potential to draw out the passion of the explorer. We need to unleash the emotions that will help us to move forward in spite of our fear.

Scaling our edge then involves selecting actions that will help us to quickly demonstrate significant impact in the edge domain with modest effort. If the early actions require significant effort, we’re much more likely to draw out the immune system within us, driven by fear of failure. On the other hand, if the early actions yield significant impact, we’re much more likely to gain more confidence and become even more excited about the opportunity to have even more impact as we move forward.

Before we know it, our actions on our chosen edge will begin to expand in scope and we’ll find more and more of our time and attention consumed by the opportunity to scale the edge.

A personal example of scaling the edge

I have scaled an edge many times in my life. As one example, I was a partner with McKinsey & Company, helping to open their Silicon Valley office and working with clients to evolve their strategies in a world that was increasingly being shaped by digital computing. In the early 1990’s, I saw the emergence of the Internet as a promising new digital platform and I became very excited by its potential to help connect people and create significant value for the economy and society. That became my new edge.

I spent time exploring the start-ups that were pioneering Internet businesses. I then did a consulting project with a major telecom company and convinced them that there was a significant investment opportunity in building out Internet-related infrastructure. That motivated me to launch an Electronic Commerce Practice for McKinsey in 1993, at a time when most of my partners had never even heard of the Internet. It became the most rapidly growing practice in the firm globally. I was then motivated to write two books exploring the business opportunities created by the Internet and they became best-sellers. The rest, as they say, is history.

What got me started on this edge was the inspiring opportunity created by a new generation of technology that had the potential to become a very significant business. But what kept me going was the deep excitement that I experienced as I pursued a set of more and more ambitious initiatives that had growing impact in this domain. I scaled the edge to the point where it became the new core of my life.

Bottom line

We are in a world that demands personal transformation, as well as institutional and social transformation. As we address this imperative, we need to acknowledge and overcome the immune system that resides within all of us and actively resists change. Scaling the edge can provide us with a launchpad to drive that transformation and discover our passion of the explorer that will drive us to continue to evolve throughout our lives. Once we discover that passion of the explorer, we will turn mounting performance pressure into exponentially expanding opportunity.


  • 2

Zoom Out/Zoom In – Making It Personal

Category:Uncategorized

I’ve been writing about a very different approach to strategy for over a decade, including here. My writing so far has focused on the imperative for institutions to adopt this approach to strategy in rapidly changing times. In this post, I’ll make the case that it’s also an imperative for us to pursue as individuals.

Zoom out/zoom in strategy

So, what is zoom out/zoom in? To be clear, it’s not about video conferencing. For those who haven’t been following me, let me offer a very brief summary of zoom out/zoom in strategies. These strategies focus on two very different time horizons. The first time horizon – the zoom out horizon – is 10-20 years. On this horizon, the key questions are:

  • What will my relevant market or arena look like 10-20 years from now?
  • What kind of company or institution will I need to have in order to thrive in that market or arena?

The second time horizon – the zoom in horizon – is very different, it’s 6-12 months. On that horizon, the key questions are:

  • What are the 2-3 initiatives (no more) that I could pursue in the next 6-12 months that would have the greatest impact in accelerating my movement towards the longer-term opportunity I’ve identified?
  • Have I committed a critical mass of resources to these 2-3 initiatives in the next 6-12 months?
  • How would I measure progress and success for these 2-3 initiatives?

Why is this approach to strategy so powerful? First, it helps us to develop focus based on a significant long-term opportunity. In a world where we tend to shrink our time horizons and just react to whatever is going on in the moment, that can be very helpful. Second, it emphasizes the importance of near-term action and impact. Third, it cultivates a learning mindset because we can learn from those short-term actions. The impact we achieve will help us to refine our view of the longer-term opportunity and evolve our short-term actions to have even more impact over time.

This approach to strategy becomes increasingly necessary in the Big Shift world where all institutions confront mounting performance pressure and exponentially expanding opportunity (how’s that for a paradox?). But, guess what? It’s not just institutions that live in this Big Shift world – we all are living in this Big Shift world as individuals, and we have a similar set of challenges and opportunities.

Zoom out/zoom in for individuals

Most of us are so consumed by all that’s going on around us that we rarely look ahead to anticipate the opportunity that could help us to achieve much more of our potential and have far greater impact on those who matter around us. Without a sense of what that opportunity might be, we become lost in the demands of the moment.

And, as challenging as it might be, we need to make the effort to zoom out 10 – 20 years. If we just focus on the next 1-2 years, we’ll likely focus on an opportunity that is interesting, but that pales in comparison to the kinds of opportunities that we could address in the next one or two decades. We need to venture beyond our comfort zone to see for the first time what is becoming possible and achievable.

Yes, looking ahead that far is very challenging in rapidly changing times, but it will force us to focus on the trends that are more predictable. We don’t need to define the opportunity in great detail now – we just need to have enough detail that it can help us to make the choices that matter today.

And then, of course, there’s the need to zoom in to identify the 2-3 initiatives that we could take over the next 6-12 months that would have the greatest impact in accelerating our movement towards the longer-term opportunity. Are we really focusing on the actions that matter the most? Are we tracking our progress that we’re making and reflecting on what we could do to have even more impact?

Here’s another question. For those 2-3 short-term initiatives, are we trying to do them by ourselves? Or are we actively asking others for help and to join us in our efforts to have even more impact? No matter how smart and capable we are as individuals, we’ll likely have a lot more impact if we can motivate others to join us and leverage our own efforts.

The emotional impact of zoom out/zoom in

Our actions are ultimately shaped by our emotions. Zoom out/zoom in approaches can be powerful in evolving our emotions and motivate us to make an effort that would have otherwise seemed to be impossible.

Here’s one of our biggest challenges. As I’ve written elsewhere, more and more of us are experiencing fear as our dominant emotion. While an understandable human reaction to the mounting performance pressure that we experience on a daily basis, fear can also be very limiting. It shrinks our time horizons, increases our risk averseness and erodes our trust in others. We can be caught in a vicious cycle – as fear limits our impact, we become more afraid and limit our impact even more, and the cycle spirals downward.

How do we escape this vicious cycle? Zoom out/zoom in can help on multiple levels. First, it focuses our attention on a really big opportunity to achieve much more impact than we have ever had. Rather than becoming consumed by near-term pressure, we can begin to be inspired by unprecedented opportunity. It can help to motivate us to act and take risk in the short-term because the opportunity is so exciting.

And the zoom in focus also helps us to overcome our fear. It frames actions we can take in the short term that will have tangible impact. We don’t have to wait a long time to see tangible results. And, as we begin to see the impact that we’re achieving in the short-term, it helps us to overcome the skepticism about that longer-term opportunity. Is it just a fantasy that can never be achieved? No, we’re actually seeing impact now – this is worth pursuing.

This is also why it’s so important to frame the zoom in initiatives as collaborations with others versus solo efforts. If we invite others to join us in our near-term initiatives, we’ll find that we’re leveraging our own time and resources for more impact. And, more importantly, we’ll also be encouraged by the fact that others share our excitement and interest in achieving near-term impact. It will reinforce our own excitement and reduce our fear because we have the support of others.

Tying this to personal narratives

Those who have followed me in the past, will begin to see a strong connection between zoom out/zoom in approaches for individuals and the potential of personal narratives that I’ve explored in many previous posts, including here, here and here.

Personal narratives, the way I define them, are about the future, not the past. They’re focused on either a significant threat or opportunity out in the future that shapes our emotions and actions. They also should be a call to action to others. What are we asking others to do to help us in addressing the threat or opportunity that’s most meaningful to us out in the future?

While we all live our lives shaped by our personal narrative, few of us have made the effort to articulate that personal narrative, much less reflect on whether it is the best personal narrative for us. Those of us who do make this effort often find that we are primarily motivated by a view of threat in the future, not opportunity. That feeds the fear.

And when we articulate our personal narrative, we often discover that we don’t really have a call to action to others – we’re addressing the threat on our own, without the help of others. That also feeds the fear – we’re alone and isolated.

The zoom out/zoom in approach that I’ve outlined above can be very helpful in getting us to re-frame our personal narrative. Rather than focusing on threats out in the future, this approach encourages us to identify a really big opportunity in the future that can help us to achieve much more of our potential and have greater impact on those who matter to us.

The zoom in focus helps us to see what actions we can take in the short-term that will expand and accelerate our impact. It also encourages us to look around and identify others who might be motivated by the same big opportunity in the future. We can then frame a call to action for them that will help us to overcome our isolation and leverage our own short-term efforts.

In short, the zoom out/zoom in approach can help to frame a personal narrative that will have far greater impact than the personal narrative we’ve been pursuing thus far. It could even help us to discover and pursue our passion of the explorer!

Bottom line

The zoom out/zoom in strategy approach is not just for institutions, it’s for all of us as individuals. And, it’s not just about strategy. It’s about emotions. The zoom out/zoom in approach can help all of us to overcome the fear that increasingly dominates our lives and cultivate a sense of hope and excitement that will motivate us to move forward in spite of the fear. Done well, it can also help us to draw out the passion of the explorer, but that’s food for another blog post.


  • 4

Capabilities and Emotions

Category:Uncategorized

We live in a rapidly changing world (and I’m not just talking about pandemics). In that world, capabilities, and not skills, will be a key determinant of success. Our emotions will often become a significant obstacle in our effort to cultivate those capabilities. If we’re serious about cultivating capabilities, we need to evolve our emotions and find ways to move from fear to passion.

The role of capabilities

I’ve done a lot of research on the growing importance of capabilities, summarized here and here. Everyone is talking about the need for re-skilling, but alarmingly few are even acknowledging the role of capabilities, much less focusing on them. Let’s define terms. Skills are generally abilities that have value in a specific context or environment, like how to operate a certain kind of machine in a certain type of factory – and we generally have to be trained in those skills. Capabilities, in contrast, have value in all contexts and environments and many of them are innate in all of us, including curiosity, imagination, creativity and empathy.

As we move into the Contextual Age, capabilities help us to quickly and effectively address unanticipated situations so that we can deliver increasing impact. The key to delivering meaningful impact starts with the ability to ask powerful questions based on a deep understanding of the needs of diverse stakeholders and then to imagine entirely new approaches to delivering impact and then to creatively deploy those approaches. And these same capabilities help us to quickly see the impact that is being achieved and evolve our approaches in ways that deliver ever increasing impact.

As if that weren’t enough, these capabilities also help us to develop whatever skills are required to deliver that impact. Skills are still important, but the capabilities help us to figure out what skills are most important in specific contexts. Even better, these capabilities then help us to learn the skills required.

Cultivating capabilities

So, what’s required to cultivate those capabilities? As I mentioned before, these capabilities are innate in all of us. If you don’t believe me, go to a playground and watch children 6 or 7 years old and show me one that doesn’t have the capabilities I’ve described. I use the metaphor of the human muscle to describe our capabilities. We all have them, but some of us choose to exercise them and they grow stronger. Many of us don’t exercise them and they atrophy. But, guess what? They’re still there, waiting to be exercised.

Given that, we need to focus on creating environments that will encourage people to exercise these capabilities and provide the tools to help them cultivate the capabilities. Unfortunately, most of our work environments today are hostile to these capabilities. Take curiosity. Asking questions in many work environments today is viewed as a sign of weakness – you’re supposed to know what to do. Go read the manual.

So, there’s a lot we can do to create welcoming and supportive environments for cultivating capabilities. But, there’s more.

The role of emotions

To cultivate capabilities, we need to focus on the emotions that are shaping our choices and actions. As I’ve written elsewhere, we’re living in a world where the dominant emotion is fear. What happens when we’re driven by fear? We tend not to exercise the capabilities that I’ve been describing. We’re reluctant to ask questions because it will make us look weak. We tend to shy away from being imaginative or creative because that involves taking risk. We tend to be less empathetic because our focus is on protecting ourselves, rather than trying to understand the needs of others.

So, in a world shaped by fear, our capabilities will atrophy. A vicious cycle sets into motion – the more our capabilities atrophy, the more pressure we’ll experience and the more fear will become the dominant emotion, leading us to exercise our capabilities even less. And we go into a downward spiral.

Motivating ourselves

How do we escape this downward spiral? First, we need to acknowledge our fear. Many of us are reluctant to do that because, again, it is viewed as a sign of weakness. But, until we acknowledge our fear, we’ll never see how limiting it is and we’ll never find the motivation to move beyond fear.

Once we acknowledge our fear, we need to reflect on how it reduces our motivation to exercise our capabilities and, as a result, limits our potential for growth. As we begin to see what an obstacle it has become, we can begin to explore various approaches that can help us to move forward in spite of our fear. (We’ll never eliminate our fear – the key is to find the motivation to move forward in spite of the fear.) Those approaches include evolving our personal narrative and finding the passion of the explorer that is patiently waiting to be discovered in all of us.

Motivating others

That’s what we can do for ourselves. What can we do for others? How can we motivate others to move beyond their fear?

I’ll suggest three things: framing inspiring opportunities, posing powerful questions and staging initiatives for impact.

Frame inspiring opportunities. People who live in fear are focused on threats that they see in the future. We can shift that perception by focusing attention on unprecedented and inspiring opportunities that lie ahead in our future. This builds on the paradox that I have described about the Big Shift that is transforming our world. At the same time that the Big Shift creates mounting performance pressure, it also creates exponentially expanding opportunity – we can create far more value with far less resources and far more quickly than would have been possible a decade or two ago. If the opportunity is inspiring enough, it will motivate people to overcome their fear and take risks in pursuit of that opportunity.

Pose powerful questions. The willingness to move forward will be strengthened by powerful questions related to that inspiring opportunity. Any really big opportunity out in the future has a lot of questions attached to it. If we already had all the answers, the opportunity would already have been addressed. Powerful questions can be a strong motivator for action – they are a call to action and learning. They help to focus us and bring us together in a quest for answers.

Questions also reassure us that no one knows all the answers and that it’s OK to ask questions and ask for help. That also helps to move forward in spite of fear. We know that we can ask for help along the way.

Stage initiatives for impact. There’s another way to help people overcome fear. Be thoughtful about staging initiatives for impact. This is a key lesson that I learned from my video gaming days. A key design principle of video games is to stage the challenges. The early challenges can be addressed with relatively modest effort and help to reassure the gamers that they can succeed in their bigger quest.

If people can see quick and tangible impact from their efforts, it helps to build their confidence and willingness to take even more risk as they move forward. It will also help them to learn about what’s required to achieve even more impact.

Bottom line

If we’re serious about cultivating capabilities in ourselves and in others, we’ll need to address our emotions. We’ll need to find ways to make the journey beyond fear. We’ll never get rid of our fear, but we can find ways to move forward in spite of our fear, especially if we can build excitement about addressing opportunities that are in front of us. As we move from fear to hope and excitement, we will cultivate capabilities that will help us to have more and more meaningful impact in the world around us. A wonderful virtuous cycle will be unleashed.


  • 0

Shaping Our Lives

Category:Uncategorized

We live in trying times. Pressure is mounting and we’re increasingly confronting things that we never expected, like the current pandemic. But it goes well beyond the pandemic. For decades, we’ve been facing intensifying competition, accelerating change and encounters with extreme, disruptive events. For individuals, the competition involves workers from lower wage, developing economies as well as artificial intelligence and robotics which are increasingly taking over work that was previously done by humans. The work we thought we could count on looks increasingly precarious.

In this kind of environment, we naturally tend to fall into a reactive mindset and mode of behavior. We become consumed by the latest events and overwhelmed by how much we need to respond to; by the constant push and pull that has become daily life. We lose any sense of focus or prioritization.

The paradox

But, there’s an interesting paradox. Our current pandemic is creating all kinds of new challenges, but it’s also becoming a catalyst for reflection. I’m struck by the number of people in my network of acquaintances who have told me that the pandemic has prompted them to step back and reflect on what is really important and meaningful to them. For many, they are realizing that their work hours are consumed by routine tasks and endless meetings that produce very little impact. And their work hours are crowding out time that they could be spending with friends and family or use for volunteering on projects that really excite them. As they’ve reflected, they’ve come to realize that they’ve been consumed by activities that are not meaningful. It has been an “a-ha!” moment for many.

A pivotal moment in time

In this moment, there’s no better time to evolve our personal narratives so that we can make our lives more meaningful and increase our impact on things that matter.

Those of you who have been following me for some time know that I have a very distinctive view of personal narratives – something that I’ve written about here and here.

Briefly, I believe our personal narratives answer two key questions about our lives:

  1. First, looking ahead, am I primarily motivated by a perception of future threat or opportunity?
  2. Second, what is my call to action to others in helping me to address that threat or opportunity?

Our answers to those two questions shape our lives in profound ways.

We all have a personal narrative, but here’s the thing. Few of us have made the effort to make that personal narrative explicit to ourselves, much less reflect on whether the personal narrative really is one that can help us to achieve more of our potential and achieve impact that really matters to us.

For decades, I lived my life adhering to a personal narrative that had been shaped by my childhood experiences. Like most of us, I had not articulated that narrative to myself. It wasn’t until I was almost 50 that I finally attempted to articulate the narrative that had been driving my life.

It was challenging but it changed my life. It helped me to evolve the narrative so that I could focus on needs that were deep inside me and shape a future that was much more fulfilling. It was an awakening that I found richly rewarding on so many levels.

Turn your pandemic pause into pandemic progress

What better time than now to step back and reflect on our personal narrative? This is why I have accepted the invitation from Trisha Stezzi and her Significance Learning Center to develop a complete 9-week virtual live-taught program on this exact topic called:  Harnessing Your Personal Narrative. You can watch my free master class there as well.

If you’re interested, please sign up here. As a Charter Member of the Course, you’ll receive a 15% discount.

In closing, I firmly believe that now is the time for all of us to come together and find ways to evolve much more meaningful and impactful connections with one another and work on securing a more fruitful future.  To make some of the “a-ha!” moments from above the new normal. Understanding what your personal narrative is and learning how to use it to change your trajectory – all of our trajectories – is the critical first step. That is my mission in this course – to challenge and inspire you to shape your lives through the evolution of your personal narrative.  I truly look forward to the one-one-one interaction and personal support I’ll be able to offer you throughout the 9-weeks of this course, exclusively hosted at Significance Learning Center.


  • 3

Trust and Learning

Category:Uncategorized

Two key themes in my work have been trust and learning. Trust and learning are intimately connected. The challenge we face is that the erosion of trust is undermining our ability to learn and, in a world of accelerating change, the ability to learn will be the key to success.

The need for learning

We’re in the early stages of a Big Shift that’s transforming our global economy and society. The Big Shift creates mounting performance pressure and exponentially expanding opportunity. The only way to move from pressure to opportunity is to find ways to learn faster.

But, let me be clear, when I talk about learning, I’m not talking about training programs that are focused on sharing existing knowledge. I’m talking about learning in the form of creating new knowledge through action and reflection on impact. This form of learning is key to accelerating performance improvement.

But this form of learning also requires taking risks and improvising as one addresses unseen problems or opportunities to create more value. It’s scary – we’re treading on ground where no one has been before.

We can certainly engage in this form of learning on our own as individuals. But, no matter how smart we are, we’re going to learn a lot faster if we come together in small groups that are committed to achieving higher and higher levels of impact – I call these “impact groups.” These impact groups can then accelerate their learning by connecting into broader impact networks that bring together a growing number of impact groups.

The need for trust

But, here’s the rub. Coming together in a quest to create new knowledge requires trust. This form of learning requires much deeper trust than more conventional learning in the form of training programs. If we’re taking a training program, it helps to trust the teachers – do they really have the expertise required to transmit the knowledge? But we don’t really need to trust the others in the training program. And training programs are usually short with a defined end.

To create new knowledge together requires acknowledging to ourselves and to others that there are many things we don’t know and it requires us to be willing to ask for help and to take risk together as we pursue action in unknown territory. That requires deep trust sustained over a long period of time – the learning journey is endless.

The erosion of trust

But, here’s the challenge. Trust is eroding in our institutions and society globally. We’re much less willing to trust each other.

Everyone seems to acknowledge this fact of life, but few appear to want to explore why this is happening and, more importantly, what to do about it. I’ve been exploring this for many years, with my most recent contribution in my last blog post, The Pyramid of Trust.

To really understand the erosion of trust, we need to address it at two levels: the institutional level and the individual level.

At the institutional level, trust is eroding because we increasingly see that there is a growing disconnect between the way that our world is evolving and the way that all our institutions have been designed and operate. The scalable efficiency institutional model that was so successful for more than a century is becoming increasingly dysfunctional. Scalable efficiency is also very inward focused, and we are increasingly realizing that these institutions are not really focused on the interests of those of us who are outside the institution. The institutions that we thought we could rely on are failing us.

At the individual level, trust is also eroding. We’re increasingly feeling isolated and having a harder time building trust with others around us. This is a natural human reaction to mounting performance pressure, a fundamental force in the Big Shift. While this is completely understandable, it’s also increasingly dysfunctional.

At its roots, this erosion of trust among individuals is driven by fear. When we feel fear, we’re much less willing to trust others – it’s too risky. There’s a vicious cycle at work here. The more we feel fear, the less willing we are to trust others, and the less willing we are to trust others, the more fear we are likely to feel . . .

And there’s another level of vicious cycle at play as well. The less we trust each other, the more challenging it will become for each of us to learn faster. The less rapidly we learn, the more pressure we will feel and the more fear we will feel and the less trust we will have in each other . . .

Small moves to re-build trust among individuals

Escaping this vicious cycle will not be easy, but it can be done. It requires embracing an approach that I have been advocating for years: small moves, smartly made, can set big things in motion. Let’s start at the level of the individual.

Re-building trust can’t be done overnight, but it can be done quickly with small moves. Start by reflecting on what really excites you – is there a really big opportunity out in the future that has the potential to motivate you to learn faster?

Then work on finding 2 or 3 others who appear to share your excitement about that opportunity. Bring them together and focus the conversation on what you can do together to achieve more impact in addressing that opportunity. In evaluating initiatives you could take, focus on which initiatives have the most potential for meaningful impact, but also which of those initiatives could deliver tangible impact quickly (yes, it’s a two by two matrix). Seek agreement on the most relevant metrics for impact and then embark on efforts together in a quest to achieve that impact and learn through action.

Give each other encouragement and support as you run into the inevitable unexpected obstacles or roadblocks along the way. Make it clear that you’re in this together and that you’re going to stay together to find ways to overcome the challenges. That will help to deepen trust and to overcome fear – we’re in this together and we can count on each other to be there.

As you begin to achieve tangible impact together, trust in your collaborators will grow. The trust will become even deeper as you begin to reflect on the impact achieved and challenge each other explore ways to achieve even greater impact. It will become clear that you’re committed to a long-term quest shaped by an inspiring opportunity, and not just participating in a short-term sprint.

Stage your way into more and more challenging learning initiatives as your trust deepens. Begin to reach out to others whom your group feels share your commitment to learning and accelerating impact relative to the long-term opportunity that has brought you together. Invite them to join your group.

Chances are these people will be inspired by the trust they see within the core group already there. But the key is to challenge these new members to demonstrate quickly their commitment to impact and learning with others.

As the group reaches its limit of 15 participants, spin out other impact groups and find ways to connect the groups so that they can learn from each other.

Small moves to re-build trust in institutions

The small moves approach also works at the level of institutions, even very large institutions. In fact, the larger the institution, the more important the small moves become as a way to overcome the resistance to change that will inevitably be encountered within the institution (driven by people who are afraid).

As I’ve written about elsewhere, start with data that you already have about your customers and find ways to deliver meaningful value back to customers based on that data. As customers start to see the tangible value you are delivering back to them, they will begin to trust the institution more and be more willing to share more data about themselves. A virtuous cycle can be unleashed by pursuing a “staircase of trust” with small moves at the outset, but a commitment to rapidly increase value delivered over time.

While I’ve framed this in terms of re-building trust with customers, this same approach can be used with all stakeholders of an institution, whether they are commercial enterprises or other types of institutions.

But what does customer trust or stakeholder trust have to do with learning? Ultimately, the success of any institution hinges upon delivering more and more value to these customers and stakeholders. The most powerful way to do that is to engage with customers and other stakeholders to build a deeper understanding of their unmet needs and the approaches that are most effective in addressing those needs. To gain deeper insight into those unmet needs and the most effective approaches, we need to have access to more information about these stakeholders and ultimately engage with them in co-creating the value that can have the greatest impact – and that requires deeper trust.

Bottom line

We live in a world that will require accelerating learning in the form of creating new knowledge, not just sharing existing knowledge. That kind of learning is intimately linked to trust. That’s a challenge because we live in a world where trust is rapidly eroding. The best way to address this challenge is through small moves, smartly made, that can set big things in motion. As individuals and as institutions, we need to craft the small moves that will help us to build trust and learn faster together. If we get this right, we’ll unleash exponential learning and accelerating performance improvement. Let’s get started.


  • 5

The Pandemic Paradox

Category:Uncategorized

We’re surrounded by sickness

Hiding from a hideous bug

While flowers bloom

And Spring spreads its wings.

Crises can narrow our vision

But crises can also be a catalyst

For reflection and learning.

Crises can push us

To hold on to old ways,

But they can also pull us

To explore new ways.

Crises can isolate us,

But they can also

Bring us together.

Crises can make us risk averse,

But they can also

Motivate us to be bold

And take more risk.

Let’s not just

Settle for bouncing back.

Instead, let’s view crises

As a launchpad

So we can spring together

To new levels of achievement.


Subscribe to Edge Perspectives

Subscribe

* indicates required

Search