Insights on Becoming an Effective Learner

We learn the most from that which challenges us the most.

I remember having learned server side scripting many years back completely on my own. I had no special resources, no advanced tools and no external guidance – just a lot of willingness to pick up the skill. It wasn’t easy and that made it all the more interesting.

But as we grow in our career and life, we avoid the discomfort involved in learning new things, which eventually slows down the process of learning.

I recently came across interesting insights on “How to Become a More Effective Learner” by Laura Entis at Entrepreneur.

The article presents interesting findings on how we learn. The article reports that we learn the most when:

  • We embrace the discomfort of learning (we learn more when we struggle)
  • We space out our learning events such that we have an opportunity to learn, unlearn and relearn
  • Contextualize our learning and map it to as many contexts as possible

Here is a quick sketchnote version of what I learned about learning from insights presented in the article.

Craftsman Spirit

Do you consider yourself as an artist and your work as art?

Art isn’t just about doing fancy stuff or indulging into painting, dancing etc. Your work becomes art when it changes others for better. When your ideas and insights change the conversations. When you overcome resistance to start, execute and most importantly, finish what you start. When you have the humility to accept what needs to improve and change. When you have the courage to truly ship your work, let it intersect with the context and make a difference. When you bring your humanity into everything you do. When you refine, improvise and evolve your art.

I learned a great deal of this from Seth’ Godin’s life changing book “Linchpin” which I also reviewed on this blog (with one question interview with Seth Godin).

In Japanese, the word “Shokunin” means artisan or craftsman. Shokunin Kishitshu means “craftsman spirit”. I read an interesting post on some of the key elements of Shokunin spirit.

Here is a quick sketch note I created based on the post by Karri R. at Warrior Life. When I created this sketchnote, I was prompted to ask three questions:

  • Are you doing the work you can be truly proud of? Do you take pride in whatever you are currently doing knowing that the way you do it makes a difference?
  •  Are you raising the bar for yourself? Do you always try to refine your ways of working and elevate the level of your work? Do you constantly look for newer ideas and insights that can help you in your work – directly or indirectly?
  • Is your work making a difference to others? In what ways? Are you aware of the impact of your work and do you try to maximize the impact to bring about a positive difference around you?

BONUS: Read this 100 word story “In 100 Words: Improvement and Tending a Garden” that captures the second element of craftsman spirit so well.

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).

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.

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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?

Also Read:

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.

Related Posts at QAspire Blog:

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. 

Related Posts at QAspire Blog:

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

Leadership, Learning and Personal Knowledge Mastery

One of the crucial leadership skills for today and future is ability to learn constantly from various high quality sources, synthesizing information and collaborating with a community to get a better grasp of the constantly changing reality.

Leaders also need this vital knowledge to scan the horizon and trends to make better decisions.

In this context, I read the HBR article titled “The Best Leaders are Constant Learners” by Kenneth Mikkelsen and Harold Jarche. I have been following Harold Jarche’s work through Twitter and his blog and this post provided a very clear view of the Personal Knowledge Mastery model. In the post, they say,

leaders must scan the world for signals of change, and be able to react instantaneously. We live in a world that increasingly requires what psychologist Howard Gardner calls searchlight intelligence. That is, the ability to connect the dots between people and ideas, where others see no possible connection. An informed perspective is more important than ever in order to anticipate what comes next and succeed in emerging futures.

Here is the sketch note I created based on this post.

Bonus: 

In 100 Words: Invisible Chains

Once there was a circus Lion who was so tamed/trained that he never knew about his real strengths. He was then left in the jungle where real Lions lived. Upon seeing other Lions, the tamed Lion started running fiercely driven by fear until he saw his own reflection in a pond. He realized that he was also a Lion as powerful as others.

Metal chains are easier to notice but mental chains of our past experiences, fixed beliefs and perceived limitations are invisible. Mental chains are best broken with curiosity, openness to new experiences/ideas and an attitude of lifelong learning.

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Also Read: Other Insights and Parables in 100 Words

Skills For Future Success in a Disruptive World of Work

My dad retired as a Library Science professional soon after which the profession of Library management was transformed by digital forces. With the rise of digital content, we now needed different kind of librarians who could help us walk through this maze of information and find what we need, not just deal with only physical books. The way libraries are structured and run has completely changed (and it continues to evolve).

In past 15 years, we have seen number of businesses being disrupted or transformed completely by digital forces. This may accelerate in future with the continuous rise in automation.

Experts predict that we are heading towards a “jobless future” and that it is both an opportunity and a threat. Even if we don’t think too much about what happens over a long frame of time, we can still agree that what bought us here (technical skills, expertise etc) may not be sufficient to take us towards success in a volatile future. What skills do we need more of as we head into future?

I read an interesting (and long) post by Janna Q. Anderson titled “The Robot Takeover is Already Here where she says –

“Skills young people should be learning to be prepared for a career in 2020 include:

  • The ability to concentrate, to focus deeply.
  • The ability to distinguish between the “noise” and the message in the ever-growing sea of information.
  • The ability to do public problem solving through cooperative work.
  • The ability to search effectively for information and to be able to discern the quality and veracity of the information one finds and then communicate these findings well.
  • Synthesizing skills (being able to bring together details from many sources).
  • The capability to be futures-minded through formal education in the practices of horizon-scanning, trends analysis and strategic foresight.”

Here are a few skills that I would like to add along for succeeding now and in future.

  • The ability to learn constantly in a self-directed mode
  • Social Intelligence and ability to connect with people beyond geographical barriers virtually in a deep/meaningful way and collaborate.
  • Adaptive mindset to evolve the thinking and learning to keep pace with the pace of changes around us.
  • Interdisciplinary thinking (more here)
  • Critical thinking (more here)

“The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not in fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates

The future that comes to us (and generations to come) will always be uncertain and outside of our control. The key to navigate through uncertainty is to focus inwards on developing agility in skills, learning and mindset – all of which are completely in our control.

Update 29.07.2016 – And here is a sketch note version of Fast Company’s article “These Will Be The Top Jobs In 2025 (And The Skills You’ll Need To Get Them)

The Love of Learning

How do you respond constantly to the disruptive forces at work? How do you navigate in a world of work marked with constant and rather rapid changes? What is the key to success in an increasingly uncertain future?

Vivek Wadhwa wrote an interesting article at Washington Post titled “Love of learning is the key to success in the jobless future” which I read with great interest.

Here is a snippet from the post:

“A question that parents often ask me is, given that these predictions are even remotely accurate, what careers their children should pursue … I tell them not to do what our parents did, telling us what to study and causing us to treat education as a chore; that instead, they should encourage their children to pursue their passions and to love learning. It doesn’t matter whether they want to be artists, musicians, or plumbers; the key is for children to understand that education is a lifelong endeavor and to be ready to constantly reinvent themselves.”

Just today, I heard myself saying this in conversation with a colleague,

If someone ever asked me, “If there was ONE lesson you had to share with your own kids about how to succeed in their career?”, I wouldn’t wait for a moment before saying, “Learn constantly, for the joy of it, on your own and make it a lifelong habit.”

In early years, ability learn on our own increases confidence. The mindset of constant learning is a mindset of an explorer who is constantly looking for ways and creating maps on the go. It expands our cognition and as we engage more in learning, we start seeing connections between what seemed like discrete dots. It expands our  cognition and awareness. Most importantly, self-directed learning moves the focus of our attention inwards. When we cannot control what is happening outside us, we can always choose our response to those external events. Constant learning allows us to respond better. Research also indicates that later in life, constant pursuit of learning leads to regeneration of brain cells.

After reading this article, I am a bit relieved that my advice in this hypothetical situation wouldn’t be completely out of place.

Here is to the spirit of staying hungry and staying foolish. Happy Learning!

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P.S: I am currently learning how to deepen my learning experiences through the power of visual note taking. You can see my experiments here.

Interdisciplinary Thinking

Technology and sociology are two different disciplines. But when technology transcended the boundary and met sociology (or the other way around) – social media was born. It completely transformed how we communicate, consume information and sell.

If you are playing a guitar, you are dealing with two disciplines. The art of dynamically arranging musical notes in a certain sequence AND the physics of how sound is produced – i.e. stroking the strings that create vibrations in a hollow space to produce music.

New ideas, knowledge, solutions and innovation happens beyond the boundary of one discipline. In a dynamic world that we live in, problems are never clearly defined and solutions have to evolve as the understanding of problem or context evolves.

In an evolutionary environment, possibilities are endless and to tap into these possibilities, we need more interdisciplinary thinking. We need to transcend the boundaries of our specialization and understand the whole system we operate in.

Only then can we create new knowledge, learn holistically, solve interesting problems and drive innovation.

Fluid Learning


“The tools of the mind become burdens when the environment which made them necessary no longer exists.” – Henry Bergson

When solving problems, we love standard solutions and tools. What worked for us in the past becomes our tool to solve problems in the future. A psychologist named Raymond Cattell termed this as “crystallized intelligence” – ability to use learned knowledge and experience. It is much like water frozen in to pieces of ice. It cannot flow.

But, we cannot solve problems of today with techniques of yesterday. With rapid changes all around us, it is even more crucial that we pay attention to “fluid intelligence” – to analyze and solve problems in novel situation without excessively relying on past knowledge or experiences, to observe the patterns and think critically. 

When it comes to learning constantly, we need both. While driving, we need the rear view mirror to avoid accidents but we can’t drive forward only looking at the rear view mirror. Fixed learning and experiences of the past equips us better to handle uncertainty but in itself, they cannot help us navigate the uncertainty. For that, we need an ability to learn, unlearn and relearn quickly in line with the given context. We need an ability to not let past experience interfere with the possibilities. We need to learn to navigate without a map – or create a map as you go along. We need a keen observation of patterns that emerge as we apply the learning. When we do this consistently, learning flows and grows.

The tools of our mind are fixed, but the environment is constantly evolving.

Our tools and methods of learning have to evolve too!


Also Read: Specialization is a Journey, Not a Destination

Specialization is a Journey, Not a Destination

I recently read this amazing quote from Robert A Heinlein which nicely captures the essence of my own belief about learning and specialization.

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, fight efficiently, die gallantly.

Specialization is for insects.”

Let me share a story of my friend who was laid off in the 2002 dot com bust. He worked on a technology that was on its way to obscurity. After he was asked to leave, my friend walks up to his boss and talks about what organization needed then. Boss talked about a customer who wanted people who could work on a shiny new programming language. My friend took up the challenge to retool himself on this new technology in one month with a condition that if he failed at client interview, he will walk out voluntarily.

He worked very hard to learn the new language. Before he completed one month of his notice period, he not only cleared the interview with a customer but also landed on foreign shores for an onsite opportunity.

From a layoff situation to an exciting new possibility in a very tough economic environment is a truly inspiring story of our ability to reinvent ourselves.

We live in times when change is not only constant but unnervingly rapid and our ability to learn constantly is the single biggest differentiator. My friend demonstrated learning agility as a response to a tough situation. But we, in this hyper-connected world, don’t need to wait for any rude shocks. We have glorious opportunity because knowledge is democratized and ubiquitous. Connecting meaningfully with others has never been so easy, provided we are intentional about it.

Specialization is not a destination but a journey. Of constant learning. Of applying our lessons in unique business contexts. Of evolving our comprehension and connecting the dots. Of sharing our lessons generously. Of doing something about what we know. Of picking up new skills. Of adopting and adapting.  Of staying hungry and foolish forever.

I have seen so many specialists who cannot let go of what they know already. When fixed knowledge is the only hammer you have, every problem you encounter will start looking like a nail.

The key is to NOT let that happen!

The Culture of Innovation and People Dimension: #IHRChat

Yesterday, I managed to get back to favorite social learning platform – #IHRChat to learn and contribute my insights on the all important topic of building a culture of innovation and the people dimension.

The guest on the chat was Steve Shapiro who is a leading keynote speaker, author and innovation advisor. Here are some of the key lessons from the tweet chat. (Read the storified version of the chat here).

Q1: How do you define innovation ?

Innovation is not always about new, but about value addition in meaningful manner – Dr. Tanvi Gautam

Two definitions. 1) adaptability. 2) value – Stephen Shapiro

To truly innovate, you must look at problems with a different lens. BREAK the #StatusQuo – Steven Z. Ehrlich

To innovate is to ensure survival in an uncertain world – Dr. Tanvi Gautam

Innovation is about acknowledging new frontiers. Kodak knew that digital will disrupt, but never acknowledged. – Tanmay Vora

Change that unsettles us and helps us look at the world and its problems differently – Nidhi Sand

And it is an end-to-end process that starts with an opportunity/problem and ends with the creation of value – Stephen Shapiro

Q2: What is the difference between innovation and creativity?

Creativity is about ideas. Innovation is about the creation of value. – Stephen Shapiro

Asking for ideas…is a bad idea. Focus on solutions to well-framed challenges. Stephen Shapiro

Creativity is the seed. Innovation is the fruit. – Gurprriet Siingh

Innovation is NOT about thinking outside the box!!! You want to find a better box. – Stephen Shapiro

Creativity is the fuel that fires the rocket of innovation into orbit! No fuel, no innovation. – Rajesh Kamath

Innovation leads to value creation for customers, partners, corporations and people. Creativity may create value. – Vivek Paranjpe

You can be creative without being innovative but not vice versa. – Dr. Tanvi Gautam

Q3: What drives innovation in a company?

Create a culture of experimentation. You don’t want to fail…you want to learn through small scalable experiments. – Stephen Shapiro

More often than not, it is the human desire to make a difference that drives innovation anywhere. – Gurprriet Siingh

Largescale innovations need Leadership of cross functional teams based on competence need of the time not based on hierarchy. – Vivek Paranjpe

Vision is one the principle drivers of innovation. Culture and Leadership are the others – Vipul Agarwal

Org has to be very clear about what is the difference between incremental change and innovation. – Jaya Narayan

Know where to innovate. Innovate where you differentiate. This is CRITICAL! Don’t innovate everywhere. – Stephen Shapiro

Leadership and strong cultural to ‘be the change’ fosters innovation – Mayanka Batra

“If you put fences around people, you get sheep. Give people the room they need.” William McKnight #Culture – Tanmay Vora

Q4: What are the competencies and mental models of an innovator ?

3M is masterful at taking a solution from adhesives and applying to reflective or abrasives. Cross-pollination is helpful. – Stephen Shapiro

Another competency: don’t get attached to your own ideas. Confirmation bias will kill innovation. – Stephen Shapiro

When the latest innovation is being lapped up by the  market, the innovator asks ‘what’s next’? – Rajesh Kamath

Very high on perseverance, influencing ability, keen observation, experiential quick learning & ownership – Sneha Khasgiwale

Tolerance for ambiguity. Patience with Failure. Impatience with good enough. – Dr. Tanvi Gautam

Take risk, Learn from failure, Do better than before and Explore new frontiers – Shishir Misra

When most people tend to ask why, innovators tend to ask why not! – Dr. Tanvi Gautam

The ability to connect the dots. Bring solutions form one domain to another. – Stephen Shapiro

Innovators are Problem finders. Risk Takers. Persistent. Adaptable. – Tanmay Vora

Q5: Where do organizations go wrong when it comes to innovation ?

Mistake: attempting to innovate everywhere. Only innovate where you differentiate! Work with partners for the rest. – Stephen Shapiro

Incremental ideas tend to get flushed as innovation. – Kaushik Srinivasan

Innovation requires time, space, flexibility, freedom. Not allowing these could be disastrous. – Keerthi Kariappa

Overly focusing on ‘old school’ ways like bell curves, KRA’s, narrow metrics, command&control while still expecting innovation. – Tanmay Vora

Thinking that this Innovation will last a decade. – Rajesh Kamath

Expecting everyone to innovate. In all areas. Carpet-bombing versus targeted innovation. – Gurprriet Siingh

Delegating innovation to someone else basis hierarchy and process. – Tanvi Mishra

Organizations put the ‘ideas’ guys on pedestal but don’t celebrate the ‘execution’ folks enough! – Eklavya Sinha

Q6: How do you deal with people out to kill innovation ?

You need to create “pain” for others if they are to change. So if someone is killing innovation, you need to create a pain. – Stephen Shapiro

Stop trying to win over them; start trying to win them over! – Rajesh Kamath

If all else fails, walk away and find a more supportive environment. Be pragmatic and realistic about what won’t work. – Gurprriet Siingh

Often its easier to “flip” the opinion of opponents by problem solving their concerns. Ambivalent people are toughest. – Greg Githens

They are not detractors, they just haven’t been converted yet. Leveraging innovative ways of evangelising is key. – Michael Carty

Communicate relentlessly. Elevate your game. Raise the bar. Focus on “Why” before “How” – Tanmay Vora

Show them their benefit, create strong networks so they believe in you and show them ‘what’s in it for them’ – Mayanka Batra

Best way is to start with small experiments that prove your ideas. – Stephen Shapiro

Q7: How can we measure innovation?

How much it changed the lives of people along with not impacting the environment adversely; while creating material value! – Rajesh Kamath

Value creation is the ultimate measurement – Shishir Misra

Measure innovation not just by ROI but the investment in the future – Dr. Tanvi Gautam

the end game is of course value creation. But that is a lagging indicator. – Stephen Shapiro

Setting up metrics before innovating will kill innovation. After innovating, the only metric is value generated. – Tanmay Vora

With over 1.5K tweets in less than one hour, it was almost like boarding the super-fast learning train on innovation. While the chat was progressing, the hashtag #IHRChat was trending at #1 in India on Twitter – simply amazing!

Thanks to the #IHRChat community for their generosity and to Dr. Tanvi Gautam for building up this wonderful community of learners and teachers.


P.S: Thanks to Georgia Tech for mention of my article “Indispensible Traits of A Collaborative Leader” in their Leadership Education and Development section.