Ideation and Entrepreneurship: Interview with Liz Alexander and Naveen Lakkur

Dr. Liz Alexander (who I interviewed in 2013 on the topic of thought leadership) and Naveen Lakkur (Director, Founder Institute, India) wrote a new book titled “FOUND – Transforming Your Unlimited Ideas Into One Sustainable Business. The book is short but powerful enough to help entrepreneurs and ideators in bringing their ideas to life by following a proven five part framework. I loved the simplicity of the framework and real-life case studies which complement the insights.

 

I interviewed Dr. Liz and Naveen Lakkur to learn more about the book and how it can help ideators and entrepreneurs.

[Tanmay Vora] Thank you Liz and Naveen, for sharing your insights here. I read your new book “FOUND – Transforming Your Unlimited Ideas Into One Sustainable Business” with great interest. I was curious to know what prompted you to write this book?

Thank you, Tanmay, for your interest in FOUND, which was a labor of love for us both. We always intended that this contribution be a catalyst that increases the success rate of entrepreneurship, not just remain a book. Especially since there seemed to be such a waste of time, energy and financial resources by many entrepreneurs in pursuing ideas that could not support sustainable businesses. You may have seen the statistic quoted by Adeo Ressi, the CEO and founder of Founder Institute in the Foreword to our book, that only about four in every 1,000 startups founded each year create a global impact. That equates to a 0.4% success rate, which I think you will agree is shockingly low. We sincerely hope that by following the proven, five-part process outlined in our book, we will see a considerable improvement in this figure in the months and years to come.

only about four in every 1,000 startups founded each year create a global impact. That equates to a 0.4% success rate

[Tanmay Vora] What is the number one thing according to you that keeps people from acting on their ideas?

It’s a great feeling, isn’t it, when you have what you believe to be a winning idea? You imagine that executing on it will be fun, easy, and rewarding. It’s only when you have to take action that you are thrust back into the world of reality. So we would say “fear of failure” is the top thing that stops people from moving forward with their ideas. Because then they have to face up to the fact that their desired outcomes may or may not come about. You have to have a strong heart and a huge amount of commitment to succeed as an entrepreneur—in fact, any kind of ideator. Which is why, for many people, it’s more comfortable for them to say, “I could have gone ahead with this idea, but….” and find excuses for not taking action. Despite the fact that there is always a huge amount of learning and benefit that comes out of seeing whether that idea could have become a viable business or a new product or service within an organisation.

“fear of failure” is the top thing that stops people from moving forward with their ideas.

[Tanmay Vora] Ideas are cheap, they say, execution is everything. But executing on an idea that is not viable is even worse. Is there an approach to guide us when assessing the business viability of our ideas?

You’ve hit the nail on the head of what the FOUND process is all about, Tanmay. The five-part framework we make available to readers reduces the time, money, and effort they may have otherwise expended on an idea that couldn’t become a business.

Let us offer a story from the book to illustrate what we mean. One of mentees that worked with Naveen through the Founder Institute, Bangalore had a background in Human Resources. He had a concept he called “Experience Zones” that he believed would boost employee engagement in large organizations. This, as we know, is a major issue to be solved. So you would expect that there would be no end of companies all vying to back this HR executive’s idea, right?

Sadly, that wasn’t the case. When he had visited 25 different companies to ask them what they thought of his idea, everyone said it was great and he should move ahead with it. But the “N” within the acronym FOUND stands for Negotiation. By that we mean getting more than tacit agreement. This ideator’s assignment was to get at least three letters from companies prepared to financially back his idea. But none of the 25 people who had been so enthusiastic about the overall idea were willing to put money into it.

That’s just one of the five parts of the FOUND process and all of them are essential as a discipline to follow if an entrepreneur (or intrapreneur) wants to confirm they have a market that will pay for their solution.

[Tanmay Vora] What are the top three things that an entrepreneur should do before they start acting on their idea?

What entrepreneurs should always look for is to offer a solution that fills a current or potential market need, rather than create a solution that’s looking for a problem to solve.

We’re going to offer three things that should only come after the five things entrepreneurs need to go through when reading FOUND. And they are all to do with creating a community that truly supports the business:

1. Co-founders who can bring different skills and experience to the business, perhaps through a background in marketing or sales or different technical competencies.

2. Customers who, early on in the development of the business, are willing to pay for the solution and prove there is a ready market for it.

3. Catalysts, such as ideation specialists and intellectual property lawyers whose expertise can help guide the start up through some of the stormy waters that lie ahead.

By engaging with all three of these groups, the business can truly accelerate. What entrepreneurs should always look for is to offer a solution that fills a current or potential market need, rather than create a solution that’s looking for a problem to solve.

[Tanmay Vora] My last question stems from Naveen’s introduction in the book which says “Converting Creative Concepts into Commerce with Compassion”. People believe that in most cases, commerce and compassion don’t go well together in a world of cut-throat competition. What does compassionate commerce really mean?

Thanks for this question, Tanmay. I (Naveen) has always believed that these two concepts can co-exist. If you take the definition of compassion it means having a deep awareness and sensitivity for others, especially when it comes to their misfortune. In the Free-Flow chapter of our book we point to how so many successful ventures have been the result of different emotions experienced by the founders.

It is that compassion in understanding that there are major pain points that you can solve for others that makes for the most successful commercial enterprises

Take redBus in India, for example. The whole idea came from the fact that one of the co-founders, Phanindra Sama, wasn’t able to buy a ticket to travel back to his home town during a major festival. It wasn’t just his disappointment that caused him to take action and create redBus but his recognition of how much distress this kind of lack of organization causes others.

In fact, we quote his co-founder, Charan Padmaraju in the same chapter who said, “It was all about building something that would be useful to someone.” It is that compassion in understanding that there are major pain points that you can solve for others that makes for the most successful commercial enterprises, in my view.

My specialization is to play the role of a catalyst to help these creative concepts become commercial realities, with compassion built in. Otherwise all we have is cutthroat competition.

[Tanmay Vora] Thank you so much for sharing your views here, Naveen and Dr. Liz. I am sure readers of this blog will find these ideas and your book, useful in bringing their creative concepts to life.

Thank you for the opportunity to share our perspectives on the ideation process, Tanmay. We’d like to close by pointing out that by following a similarly disciplined process to the one outlined in our book, the Founder Institute has achieved a 91% success rate in terms of ideas that survive, a 70% success rate of entrepreneurs that execute on their plans, and close to 45% success rate of ventures that have attracted external funding. By any measure, all of those statistics are considerable improvements on the 0.4% figure we mentioned in our first response.

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Leadership: Start With Trust

Leadership starts with influence and influence starts with trust. Ability to truly connect with others is vital for leaders to build an environment where a leader is trusted for the intentions before being respected for competence.

I once worked with a new CEO who came on-board, took charge and immediately got into action. I remember when he first met a group of senior folks, he started with his introduction and talked at length about his past experience, competence and all the great things he had accomplished. Soon after requesting a short template introduction from all of us, he started off with his grand plans about the organization. He clearly failed to build a non-threatening space for other leaders and came across as someone who was ego-centric and hard-nosed.

Our first instinct as human beings when we assume a leadership role is to show our strength, competence and skills and prove a point about our fitment to the role.

I was reminded of the CEO (and many other leaders I worked with) when I read the classic Harvard Business Review article titled “Connect, Then Lead” which says,

A growing body of research suggests that the way to influence—and to lead—is to begin with warmth. Warmth is the conduit of influence: It facilitates trust and the communication and absorption of ideas. Even a few small nonverbal signals—a nod, a smile, an open gesture—can show people that you’re pleased to be in their company and attentive to their concerns. Prioritizing warmth helps you connect immediately with those around you, demonstrating that you hear them, understand them, and can be trusted by them.

I think of the CEO again who was, through his aggressive show of strength, able to generate dispassionate compliance to his decisions. One of the biggest challenges for leaders is to create an ecosystem where people exercise their discretion (tapping into intrinsic motivations). Trust is a good place to start.

I strongly recommend that you read the HBR article “Connect, Then Lead” by Amy Cuddy, Matthew Kohut and John Neffinger for rich insights on this topic.

Here is a short summary of key insights that stood out for me from the article in a sketch note form.

Related Resources at QAspire

  • Graceful Leadership 101: Free PDF Book

  • Taking Charge of a Team? Avoid These 4 Mistakes

  • Leading Others: How NOT to be in Control

  • Leadership and Building Emotional Infrastructure
  • When Does Real Learning Happen?

    Learning, the real learning, happens…

    • When you are intentional about learning
    • When you are driven by an intrinsic need to advance and not only by external triggers and rewards.
    • When you ask more questions to get to the WHY of things (and then to what and how)
    • When you carry an open frame of mind that is receptive
    • When you look for process and patterns even in discrete situations
    • And when you use your understanding to connect the dots and look at a larger picture
    • When you enjoy the process of learning without getting too anxious about the results and goals.
    • When you are self-aware (of your own beliefs, thoughts, values and perceptions)
    • When you experience, execute, iterate and test your hypothesis
    • When you reflect deeply on your experiences
    • And when you share your lessons (and process) with others generously so that they can learn (and also contribute)
    • When you surround yourself with passionate learners, mentors and coaches (and be a part of a learning community)
    • And engage others (community) meaningfully in collaborative problem solving
    • When you are able to collect, synthesize and process information from varied sources
    • When you solve interesting problems
    • And be able to create a map on the go (rather than relying on tried and tested methods)
    • When you overcome the fear of making mistakes
    • When you think critically
    • When you execute in short bursts, fail small and realign your approaches
    • When you Unlearn (let go of the old ways of thinking and doing)
    • When you apply lessons in line with unique needs of the context
    • When you synthesize your lessons and apply meta-lessons in across disciplines
    • When you are generous enough to share what you know, teach, coach and mentor others
    • When you are comfortable with inherently ambiguous nature of learning (and ability to hold two contrasting thoughts without being judgmental)
    • When you are comfortable also with the emergent nature of learning
    • When you don’t allow your learning to crystallize but keep it fluid and evolving.
    • When you truly start believing that self-directed and self-initiated learning is the best way to learn (for a lifetime).

    Leaders Need Three Kinds of Focus

    I once worked with a CEO who was paranoid about results, so much so that he never cared for relationships with those who delivered the results. The end results weren’t surprising – the intended results were never delivered because people either stopped caring or moved on. The loss was almost irreparable. Leading in a complex world is almost like a tight rope walk and leaders cannot afford to have singular focus on either task or relationship. They have to constantly strike a balance between needs of the context, their own needs and the needs of others.

    In this 2013 HBR video (6.42 mins), Daniel Goleman explains why leaders need to cultivate their awareness at three levels and what they can do to improve upon these three areas of focus.

    Here is the sketchnote version I created to capture the essence while seeing the video:

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    12 Critical Competencies For Leadership in the Future

    The rate of change in the business world today is greater than our ability to respond. In a world that is often described as VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and ambiguous), there are major tectonic shifts that demand a new mindset of leadership. First, let us look at these shifts.

    In recent years, we have seen disruption of market leaders like Kodak and Nokia amongst many others. The average lifespan of an S&P 500 company has gone down from 67 years in 1937 to 18 years in 2011. With advances in technology, mobiles are becoming more of a convergence device that replaces so many utilities (calculators, alarm clocks, small digital cameras etc.) that we used otherwise. Generations at workplace are changing and new generations bring different values, expectations and mindsets at work. Rise in automation is resulting in heavy disruption. Right from purchasing stuff to booking taxies and filing tax returns, everything is increasingly being automated. The agents, middlemen and the whole supply chain related to these services is being disrupted. And, we are not even talking about automated cars yet – the next big frontier for the technology battle!

    With a hyper connected workforce, organization cultures have become transparent. With opportunities abound, employees are “volunteers” who have global choices. In this world, having a compelling purpose is a mandatory pre-requisite for profits to follow. Traditional hierarchical structures are fading away to give way to purposeful networks and communities of people working together to achieve a shared purpose. The cumulative impact of these forces demands a new mindset and competences for leaders to be able to stay relevant and make a positive difference to people and hence, business. 

    Having a compelling purpose is a mandatory pre-requisite for profits to follow

    If you are a leader at any level in a modern organization or aspiring to be one, here are some of the critical competencies and skills you need to thrive in a VUCA world.

    1. Develop an Adaptive Mindset: To navigate successfully through the maze of VUCA, leaders will need to be comfortable with unclear situations and travel into unexplored paths. This means leaders will encounter “first time” situations more often and they need to build their muscle to still deliver results. With “rapid prototyping” approach, leaders will need to constantly experiment to get early and frequent feedback that enables constant realignment.

    2. Have a Vision: Vision is a perpetual force, a critical anchor that drives decisions, actions and judgments. With a younger workforce that is purpose driven, having a compelling vision for the future is also a key driver of engaging and retaining high performing team members. In fact, a compelling vision is an important pre-requisite for any community or network to succeed. Leaders who will thrive in future are the ones who have a clear vision of where they want their organizations and teams to be. 

    3. Embrace Abundance Mindset: Abundance mindset sees possibilities where a constraint mindset sees challenges. A leader’s ability to spot the white spaces, unique problems and interdisciplinary intersections is as critical in the new world as their ability to “do something about it.” In VUCA world, leaders have to listen to the future by virtue of constantly scanning the horizon, being future minded and having strategic foresight without losing the sight of the current reality. When they do this, leaders build a unique ability to see through contradictions towards a future others cannot see. 

    4. Weave Ecosystems for Human Engagement: One of the biggest leadership challenges is to create an environment that taps into intrinsic motivation of people. Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends 2015 reports that softer areas such as culture, engagement, leadership and development have become urgent priorities on a CEO’s desk. An ecosystem of human engagement is created when leaders understand the basic drivers of human engagement – the need for trust, the need to have a hope, the need to feel a sense of worth and the need to feel competent. At a time when most “engagement initiatives” are aimed at providing external motivation, we need leaders who can build trust through integrity and results, who can mentor and coach others, who can clarify the meaning of the work people do and build a positive influence. 

    5. Anticipate and Create Change: When changes around us are constant and rapid, leaders have to use the wisdom from their future mindedness and strategic foresight to “create change” before an external change forces them to react. When leaders ride the wave of changes, they have to involve people in the change process, prioritize what’s important and execute changes in smaller iterations. Leaders nurture change by maintaining balance between the needs of the context, needs of others and their own needs. 

    6. Self-Awareness: Leaders cannot succeed unless their personal vision and values overlap with organization’s vision and values. It is only when leaders are aware of their preferences, ways of working and possible blind spots that they can really bring their true authentic selves into the game and bring about a significant difference to the team, organization and hence the industry. 

    7. Be an Agile Learner: Rapidly changing context is like a treadmill that compels leaders to learn constantly in a self-directed mode. Leaders have to be constantly curious and carry a “beginners mind” which is also willing to give up on familiar approaches (unlearning). Leaders need meta-cognition and awareness of the bigger picture. When thrown into unfamiliar situations, leaders need to learn immersively from those experiences.

    8. Network and Collaborate: To make the sense of changing trends, practices and expectations, leaders in today’s world need to collaborate relentlessly within and outside the organization. A social mindset enables leaders to create, engage with and nurture purposeful business and social networks through social media and in-person communication. 

    9. Relentlessly Focus on Customer: Customer centricity is and will remain at the heart of effective leadership. Helping customers navigate through the changes is as critical for leaders as it is to steer their own organizations effectively. Customer centric leaders truly “listen” to the voice of their customers, engage deeply and build long term relationship by adding substantial value to the customers. 

    10. Develop People: Leadership in the new world is beyond external tags and titles. It is about serving effectively to the needs of the stakeholders – the most important ones being the people who make things work. Leaders, in this world, have to model the behaviors they seek, help people in building their skill set and attitude, create learning forums, design work to tap into potential and most importantly, lead through their influence and not through their authority. The primary task (and an obligation) of a leader is to build more leaders. 

    11. Design for the Future: Leaders are designers of the systems for the future. They do so by building an emotional infrastructure, organization structures, methods and processes. If organizations are purposeful networks of people, leaders need a compelling purpose that people in the organization share. Leaders will have to pay equal attention to leveraging diversity and draw on multiple points of views and experiences.

    12. Constantly Clarify and Communicate: When working with global work force, leaders will need an ability to communicate effectively across cultures. Like a location pointer on a GPS map, leaders have to constantly clarify the current situation with respect to changing external demands. Equally important for leaders is to re-iterate and reinforce vision, values and strategies. Finally, leaders have to help others in clarifying the meaning of their work. Communication and clarity are the currencies of effective leadership.

     

    The hallmark of VUCA world is that there are no silver bullets. Successful leaders have always been adaptive to the context they find themselves in. The future is not a distant dream, it is here and now. Leadership today is all about shifting our mindset, values and organizations to a better place.

    (This article originally appeared in People Matters Magazine, Dec 2015 issue)

    Consume Less, Create More

    That was my mantra in 2015 and beyond. As we start a new year, I revisited this mantra and a few additional thoughts came to the fore.

    Consume Less

    Consumption is a critical element in one’s ability to create anything. So, consumption, by itself, is not all that bad. The problem of our times is  consumption by default. We first consume and then think if we really needed it. This is true for almost everything – from stuff we buy to the content we read, from events we attend to conversations we engage in. Unfortunately, technology has made consumption all the more easier which only adds to the problem. Have we not seen people who are constantly busy on their phones consuming stuff without moving a needle for anyone? We need to jump off the consumption treadmill.

    The goal, then, is to consume mindfully and there seem to be two ways to do it:

    1) Consume mindfully by having right set of filters that help you decide if something will *really* add value and increase your ability to create. When you consume mindfully, less is actually more. When you have better filters, you gain that which is relevant. Consuming mindfully also means being in the moment while you consume and not rush through the process.

    2) Practice the fine art of subtraction – we don’t need more and more. We need less that is more (useful/helpful/enriching etc.) Sometimes, the only way to find if something is useful is to “try” it. But often, once we try something, it stays with us because we are not so good at subtracting stuff – at eliminating that which we don’t really need.

    “Minimalism is not subtraction for the sake of subtraction. Minimalism is subtraction for the sake of focus” – Source

    Create more

    Most of us, I assume, long to create stuff that changes us and others for better – whether it is a radical new product or a one-on-one conversation with a colleague. Mindful consumption increases our capacity to create.

    “Create what?” – you may ask.

    When we exercise mindfully, we create health. When we consume food mindfully, we create wellness. When we travel mindfully, we create enriching experiences. When we converse mindfully, we create relationships. When we create what we truly love, we create joy and meaning. When we share generously, we create connections and conversations. When we connect mindfully, we create learning. When we work mindfully, we create remarkable results. When we prioritize mindfully, we create focus. When we serve mindfully, we create contentment. When we meditate, we create wellness. And we make a positive difference to ourselves and others through our creations.

    To be mindful is to be present in the moment, immersed in doing whatever you choose to do. The fact that individually, we can only do so much, we have to choose our battles carefully and subtract the rest!

    The time saved through mindful consumption is the time spared for engaging in creative pursuits.

    So my mantra for 2016 (and beyond) is the same as it was in 2015 – Consume Less, Create More. I look forward to doing better and raising the bar for myself.

    – – – – –

    Also read at QAspire:

    Real Influence is a By-Product

    The world today reveres influence and this leads people to chase influence. When influence becomes a goal, you can easily lose focus on what truly builds influence.

    Influence – real influence that changes people and their behaviors for better – is a by-product of:

    1. Clarifying your values to yourself and hence to others
    2. Living those values and setting the right example (being authentic and integral)
    3. Making a meaningful contribution to community (yes, business IS a community)
    4. Being super-generous about sharing your work, insights, art and gifts
    5. And being a champion at listening to others (listening is a way to respect others)
    6. Building trust one contribution, one conversation and one result at a time
    7. Truly connecting with others (technology is just a medium)
    8. Believing in your insights and ideas (strength of belief feeds passion)
    9. And still being flexible and open minded about letting the beliefs and learning evolve
    10. Sharing stories that move people to better position (in thinking and in actions)
    11. Providing a lens to people to see things from your unique point of view
    12. Taking the conversations forward by “adding” meaningful perspectives
    13. Being intentional about being generous
    14. Always being constructive in thinking and ways of working
    15. Being consistent in your pursuits

    What do you think?

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    Disciplines of a Learning Organization: Peter Senge

    If there is one book that has influenced my business thinking the most, it is Peter Senge’s “The Fifth Discipline – The Art and Practice of Learning Organization” and I have referred to it many times over past years on this blog. Written in 1990, the insights contained in this book are even more relevant today when the rate of change has only accelerated – probably a reason why HBR identified this book as one of the seminal management books of the previous 75 years.

    A couple weeks ago, I posted a sketch note on Why Organizations Don’t Learn? based on an HBR article by the same title and someone ended up asking me,

    “How do organization’s learn?”

    This question immediately reminded me of five disciplines of learning organizations that Peter Senge outlines in this book.  They are:

    • Personal mastery is a discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively.
    • Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures of images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action.
    • Building shared vision – a practice of unearthing shared pictures of the future that foster genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance.
    • Team learning starts with dialogue, the capacity of members of a team to suspend assumptions and enter into genuine thinking together.
    • Systems thinking – The Fifth Discipline that integrates the other four.

    Source: Wikipedia

    In the book, Peter Senge offers a wonderful analogy to introduce systems thinking:

    A cloud masses, the sky darkens, leaves twist upward, and we know that it will rain. We also know that after the storm, the runoff will feed into groundwater miles away, and the sky will grow clear by tomorrow. All of these events are distant in time and space, if they’re all connected within the same pattern. Each has an influence on the rest, and influence that is usually hidden from view. You can only understand the system of rainstorm by contemplating the whole not any part of the pattern.

    Businesses and other human endeavors are also systems. They, too, are bound by invisible fabrics of interrelated actions, which often take years to fully play out their effects on each other. Since we are part of that lacework ourselves, it’s doubly hard to see the whole pattern of change. Instead we tend to focus on snapshots of isolated parts of the system, and wonder why our deepest problems never seem to get resolved.

    While the book is a must-read if you want to gather better understanding and context behind these disciplines, here is a short summary of five disciplines of a learning organization in form of a sketch note. 

    Hopefully, this will help others in acknowledging the foundation of what it takes to create a learning organization.

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    A Quick Guide To Managing Conflicts

    In early years of my career, I avoided conflicts just like any other obedient contributor would, not knowing that they were inevitable in the process of doing meaningful work. Most of us learn how to deal with conflicts through our instinctive reactions when we are in middle of one.

    Here’s my one big lesson about managing conflicts – whenever I tried to “react” in the face of conflict, the situation mostly worsened. But when I chose to “respond”, conflict became a constructive learning experience. Response is nothing but a time delayed, thoughtful and goal-oriented form of reaction.

    In an idea cast at Harvard Business Review, Amy Gallo, author of HBR Guide to Managing Conflict at Work, outlines four types of conflicts and offers very useful guidance on how to handle them.

    I outlined the key ideas from the idea cast in form of a sketch note while listening and sharing it here with an objective that others may find my notes useful. Please listen to the idea cast here for more nuanced insights on the topic.

    BONUS: Seth Godin’s guidance on managing disagreements and on managing conflicts with our own selves.

    Mindset Shifts For Organizational Transformation

    Businesses are struggling to keep the pace with rapid rate of change and disruption around. To keep up with the change, businesses try to diversify into newer areas, build products and services to cater to new market needs and innovate. Organizations on their transformation journeys cannot afford to rely only on the technology innovations because innovation is a result of something more deeper – innovation is a result of mindset, behavioral constructs, leadership and culture.

    At ThoughtWorks blog, Aaron Sachs and Anupam Kundu have written an excellent post titled “The Unfinished Business of Organizational Transformation” where they outline the mindset shifts required when transforming the organizations to be more adaptable and agile.

    (HT to Helen Bevan for sharing the post.)

    While you can read the full post here (highly recommended), I created a quick sketch note to outline the shifts in our mindset and behavioral constructs to nurture change and enable organizational transformation.

    Related Posts and Sketch notes:

    Why Organizations Don’t Learn? #Sketchnote

    Organizations that don’t learn constantly, adapt continuously and execute relentlessly are more likely to be disrupted by constant change and competition.

    Peter Senge, in his book defined a learning organization as:

    “where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.”

    We have to go beyond formal learning methods if we have to truly build learning organizations in a rapidly changing world. A learning organization is not possible without learning individuals and individuals learn the most with each other in a network and  and through their work in an culture that promotes informal learning.

    I emphasized culture because it can be one of the biggest bottlenecks in how organizations learn and apply what they learn to create meaningful results. It doesn’t matter how much you invest in formal learning, tools and methods, if you do not have a culture where people are encouraged to share without any fear, learning may not come to the fore.

    Why do companies struggle to become and remain learning organizations? In November 2015 issue of HBR, I came across an article by Francesca Gino and Bradley Staats titled “Why Organizations Don’t Learn” where they outline the cultural and individual biases that don’t allow organizations to learn. They also provide useful tips to overcome those biases.

    Here is a sketch note I created to distill key biases that prevent organizations from learning. To know what you can do to overcome these biases, I recommend you read the full article at HBR. 

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    The Place to Improve the World

    “The social values are right only if the individual values are right. The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then to work outward from there. Other people can talk about how to expand the destiny of mankind. I just want to talk about how to fix a motorcycle. I think that what I have to say has more lasting value.”

    – Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

    Emilie Wapnick on Being a Multipotentialite

    Some of us are fortunate to have found one true calling early in our lives and career but for most of the others, finding what really interests us is an ongoing exploration – a journey where we go along the direction of our energy. And then there people who are wired to have many different (and often evolving) interests.

    In her TED Talk titled “Why some of us don’t have one true calling”, Emilie Wapnick refers to people with many interests as “Multipotentialites.”

    In her talk, she explains:

    “The notion of the narrowly focused life is highly romanticized in our culture. It’s this idea of destiny or the one true calling, the idea that we each have one great thing we are meant to do during our time on this earth, and you need to figure out what that thing is and devote your life to it.

    But what if you’re someone who isn’t wired this way? What if there are a lot of different subjects that you’re curious about, and many different things you want to do?”

    She then defines a multipotentialite as:

    “someone with many interests and creative pursuits. It’s a mouthful to say. It might help if you break it up into three parts: multi, potential, and ite. You can also use one of the other terms that connote the same idea, such as polymath, the Renaissance person.”

    Being drawn to many different things can be easily seen as a limitation but what Emilie found out is that there are tremendous strengths in being this way.

    Based on the talk, here is a sketch note depicting the multipotentialite superpowers.

    And finally, in the words of Emilie Wapnick:

    to you I say: embrace your many passions. Follow your curiosity down those rabbit holes. Explore your intersections. Embracing our inner wiring leads to a happier, more authentic life. And perhaps more importantly — multipotentialites, the world needs us.

    Yes!

    How to Build Real Thought Leadership: Insights by Dr. Liz Alexander

    In early 2013, I interviewed Dr. Liz Alexander on the all important topic of thought leadership (based on her book). In a world where every other person with a blog or a book under the belt claiming to be a “thought leader”, this interview helped me clarify what real thought leadership actually means for individuals and organizations.

    You can read the full interview here and presenting below a sketch note version with key insights that you may find instantly useful. And if you do, please be generous to share it along in your networks.

     

    Other Related Sketchnotes/Posts:

    P.S. Thanks to Harold Jarche for an excellent interpretation of what co-creating knowledge means and featuring my work on his blog. Thanks also to Jane Hart at Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies (C4LPT) for including my sketch note in her October 2015 best posts round-up.

    What Creating Sketchnotes Taught Me About #Learning

    There are people who stick to their primary pursuits for long and then there are those whose energy keeps changing direction. Between these two extremes, there are people who stick to their primary pursuit but still manage to go wherever their energy takes them. I have figured out that I belong to that middle path.

    My alternative pursuits like writing, blogging, photography, social media etc. are my source of creative energy that helps me become more effective at work. The goal of these learning experiments is simple: to experience deeply, learn immersively and share generously.

    The latest addition to these learning experiments is sketch noting. If you are reading this blog regularly, you would have noticed that every post has a sketch note – a visual representation of ideas in one page.

    Inspired by a post from Abhijit Bhaduri and work of Mike Rohde, I started sketch noting ideas two months back and sharing them here. Each week, I created two sketch notes on ideas that really resonated with me out of so many things that I read/saw daily. I enhanced my visual library by studying other sketch notes for illustrations and fonts. I created about 25+ sketch notes in two months and most of these were widely acknowledged via shares, likes, re-tweets and comments.

    Learning becomes even more purposeful when you know others are using your creations meaningfully. Folks at NHS, UK converted my sketch note on 6 Rules of Change into a poster. Some authors requested their ideas in form of sketch notes so they can use it for promotional purposes. People shared these sketch notes in their classes, meetings and even during conferences. Australian HR Institute’s HRMOnline featured my sketch note in their weekly round up video.

    And along the way, I found interesting new applications of this newfound skill. I created handmade “thank you” cards to appreciate people in my team. I experimented with creating sketch quotes – a sketch that adds a different dimension to a quote by someone else. I eventually used sketch note as a presentation for my talk recently. All of this in about 2 months as a side project!

    But then, all this started as a learning experiment. So what did I learn about learning while learning how to create sketch notes? Here we go.

    • Everything you do (or have done) connects: I cleared a state level architecture entrance exam back in 1995 (right after my schooling) for which I worked on my sketching/drawing skills. I could not secure admission and I thought it was all a waste of my time. But when I started creating sketch notes, that practice came in handy. I just had to hone it. Here is my big take away: Not everything we do yields instant rewards and not all rewards are visible. And yet, everything we do (or have done) helps us somewhere in some unique way. Knowing this is the key to synthesize our skills and lessons to create or address a unique context. 
    • Intersections are powerful: Explicit learning deals with absolutes and absolutes are crowded with a lot of commoditized knowledge. Real learning (tacit) happens at the intersection of two or more things. That is where ideas overlap and innovation happens. People create sketch notes about everything – travel, to do lists, notes and so on. I decided to create sketch notes on business topics I care about. That way, I can bring in my own ideas, experiences and interpretations to the illustrations. This is where my ability to represent visually intersects with my interest in the topic and my unique experiences.
    • Learn, Do, Share, Adapt: The first sketch note I created was quite naive (and unfinished) but I still gathered courage to share it on Twitter. Almost instantly, people responded affirmatively. This led to more creation, sharing, feedback and hence improvement. I gained confidence at each stage of this cycle. When we learn from open networks, it is our obligation to give it back in whatever form we can. The feedback, encouragement and support we receive from these networks is just a huge bonus. We need to “learn out loud.” Or as Harold Jarche puts it, co-create knowledge by adding value to existing knowledge through our unique perspectives.
    • Going where your energy takes you is NOT a waste of time: We often think of “return on investment” when learning. But our best learning happens when we learn out of joy. Everything that I have learned so far (personally as well as professionally), I have learned because I was drawn towards it. All I had to do was go with the flow rather than resisting it. And the great thing is – when you learn out of joy, you will never feel like you did a lot of “hard work” to learn. Learning then becomes a way of life.
    • Visual is powerful: Writing about things is a great way to learn but words alone are not sufficient to make the connection between ideas visible. And it is not about drawing skills at all. It is about making the connections between ideas visible, even if it is on your whiteboard. For me, representing ideas in sketch note form allows them to penetrate deeper into my sub-conscious. Research says that doodling improves learning and I’ve experienced it first hand!
    • Excitement is contagious: Learning things builds your mental muscles and generate a different positive energy within you which is contagious. One day, my 9 years old daughter walked up to me with a request to teach her how to create a sketch note. She saw me doodling and instantly wanted to do it. A few people in my teams attempted to represent their project related ideas in form of basic sketch notes. I instantly knew that if I am inspired by learning journeys of others, my own journey may be inspiring others. It is both a privilege and a responsibility.

    We learn by seeing (visual), hearing (auditory), reading/writing and doing (kinesthetic). What is fascinating about sketch noting is that it brings all these modes of learning in the game as soon as you start scribbling your ideas onto that blank piece of paper.

    I am so looking forward to lessons this journey unfolds from here.

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    Additional Resources for sketchnote enthusiasts:

    1. Read a sample chapter from Mike Rohde’s book “The Sketchnote Handbook
    2. The sketchnote podcast by Mike Rohde is a great way to learn the fundamentals.
    3. See the work of beginners featured at Sketchnotearmy.com