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).

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:

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.

– – – – –

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.

– – – – –

Also Read: Other Insights and Parables in 100 Words

In 100 Words: Agility and Embracing Uncertainty

We are comfortable with what is predictable. This impacts our choices because we want to maximize the chances of success.

Then, once in a while, we are thrown into situations where we have no control. It compels us to carve a way out and create a map as we go. We learn the most here.

The key to success in VUCA world is to embrace the uncertain without waiting to be thrown into it. That which is predictable merely keeps us in the game but when we embrace (and succeed at) the new and the uncertain, we elevate our performance.

– – – – –

Also Read: 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!

– – – – –

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.

Building Critical Thinking Muscle: An L&D Mandate

Last week, I was invited as a guest on PeopleMatters #TChat (Twitter chat) on the topic of developing critical thinking muscle within the organization and the role of learning and development. I was joined by Mahalaxmi R who is the CLO & Global Head Talent at Airtel and Rajesh Lele. It was fun contributing and learning a great deal in return from the Twitter HR community. Here are the highlights from the chat. (You can see more tweets at the storified version of the chat)

Q1: Why do you think Critical Thinking is an essential skill to be built across the organization in today’s context?

A1 Organization grows (or doesn’t) one decision at a time. Critical thinking is an enabler of effective decision making. – Tanmay Vora

A1. Helps in reducing risk in & raises quality of decision-making. Helps problem-definition & solving by testing assumptions. – Rajesh Lele

A1 It’s a VUCA world! Crucial decisions are needed to be taken at every level in the organization, everyday without much guidance – PearsonTalentLensInd

A1. The application of #CriticalThinking results in better decisions, fewer mistakes & improves d level of collaboration – Ester Martinez

A1. Today’s interconnected #VUCA world demands CT as a necessary competency. – Tanaz H Mulla

A1 Critical thinking skills are basic building blocks for higher level competencies like strategic thinking. – Tanmay Vora

Critical Thinking is identified as one of the core skills of 21st century workforce to deal with an evolving landscape. – Sahana Chattopadhyay

A1 Several important workplace competencies hinge on critical thinking – PearsonTalentLensInd

Q2:How can Critical Thinking be developed? Share interventions that work best to build Critical Thinking?

A2 Assessments are a good starting point – both for evaluating current competencies as well as when hiring talent. – Tanmay Vora

A2.“Clear thinking requires courage rather than intelligence.” ~ Thomas Szasz –Develop courageous conversations – Rajesh Lele

A2 When you need quick strengthening of CT skills, selecting critical thinkers during hiring yields faster results  – Tanmay Vora

A2 Self Assessment and Development of Data driven approach are some of the tool to develop #CrticalThinkingAkanksha Mishra

A2 Having leaders in organization who are critical thinkers sets the right precedence for everyone to think critically – Tanmay Vora

A2. Developing Critical Thinking requires skills like reflection, assessing assumptions and biases, evaluating options. – Sahana Chattopadhyay

A2. Projects that bring divergent thoughts and multi stakeholders together =best way to learn. – MAHALAKSHMI R

A2 Case studies, Simulations, Summary of past business decisions Experience, if not forgotten, can be a guide to the future. – Gurpreet Bajaj

A2/2 Leaders to encourage others to voice their thinking. Ensure employees have the ability to get to an answer by solid reasoning – Gurpreet Bajaj

A2 Beyond training, experiential learning sessions & workshops involving problem solving, thinking and writing helps. – Tanmay Vora

Don’t forget traditional problem solving tools –5Why, TRIZ, etc & go beyond. Build a “love for solving problems” – Rajesh Lele

A2 Developing CriticalThinking needs practice to train the mind to think in a certain way. RED model helps – PearsonTalentLensInd

Q3. Who is the owner and stakeholders involved in this process of infusing Critical Thinking across the organization?

Critical Thinking is every corporate citizen’s responsibility. Begins at the individual’s desk. Institutional approach secondary. – Rajesh Lele

A3 Senior leaders of the organizations are the first stakeholders in creating the culture of critical thinking. – Tanmay Vora

Most orgs now anyways look for leaders who can connect the dots +build strategy that’s inclusive which is a clear case for CT – MAHALAKSHMI R

Everyone, it is part of organizational culture – Subir Chatterjee

a) Leadership to Demonstrate open culture to challenge status quo b) L&D to Drive c) People to be naturally inquisitive! – Gurpreet Bajaj

Managers, leaders & each individual. Managers as coaches. Individuals as self-driven learners. It’s a life skill everyone needs – Sahana Chattopadhyay

It is the leadership teams role. If all decisions are data driven and not people dependant then it will percolate – Gautam Ghosh

Anyone who decides in an org context is a stakeholder – esp. senior leadership and middle management – Tanmay Vora

Q4: What are the road blocks that L&D practitioners & Managers are likely to face in implementing these change intervention?

Danger in focus only on tool/ methodology without behavioral anchors in implementing critical thinking skills – Rajesh Lele

Biggest challenge: aligning every single decision making individual to the critical thinking agenda. – Tanmay Vora

Roadblocks in the form of established processes, drive for productivity/speed over quality, mindset of what worked in the past – Sahana Chattopadhyay

Biggest roadblock would be if CT becomes a HR agenda instead of biz demand – MAHALAKSHMI R

When obstacles arise, you change your direction to reach your goal, you do not change your decision to get there, Zig Ziglar – Ester Martinez

Failure to take real problems of the business in the intervention. #ActionLearning & real projects best teacher – Rajesh Lele

A4. Fixed Mindset is the biggest challenge. Leaders, by majority, have a bias towards action. CT hence lags behind – Tanaz H Mulla

A4 Over reliance on best practices and past experiences without aligning them to current context can be a major roadblock.Tanmay Vora

Managing resistance – Critical thinking isn’t easy and doesn’t come to everyone naturally. – Tanmay Vora

A4 a) Conflicting Cultural Hypocrisy- Open vs Closed; b)Training Program vs Change? c) Limited business grounding for mentoring CT – Gurpreet Bajaj

Q5. What are the benefits that organizations can derive from these training interventions?

A5 Better decisions and planning. Better problem solving. Improved analytical skills. – Tanmay Vora

Resilience and ability to deal with change, agility over rigidity, growth over fixed mindset when #criticalthinking is adopted. – Sahana Chattopadhyay

Thinkers at all levels; Empowered and engaged employees who can see their impact on bottom line,Transparency,Respect,Innovation – Gurpreet Bajaj

Sustained biz success due to a.Well thought through strategy. b. Higher thought diversity & inclusion c. Long term view – MAHALAKSHMI R

A5 An organization with critical thinkers is likely to be more collaborative, strategic, innovative, make better decisions & grow well. – PearsonTalentLensInd

Critical thinking and creative problem solving are intricately linked – drivers of innovation. – Tanmay Vora

This is the reason why I love tweet chats – in just about 30 minutes of time, so many diverse perspectives came to the fore from equally diverse participants – talk about the power of community in learning!


Also read: My article series on critical thinking at Pearson TalentLens Blog.  

Lessons from 9 Years of Blogging

QAspire blog completes 9 years this month and here is how I feel at the moment.

They say and I agree that time flies when you are having fun. 2006 was a year when I had just transitioned into my first leadership role. Every single day and interaction with others was turning out to be a tremendous learning experience. (and it still does!) I felt a strong need to document my lessons somewhere and just about the time I started journaling my learning in a paper diary, I discovered blogs. After initial experimentation, I started writing on this blog in April 2006 – a time when Twitter was a new born and Facebook was a toddler!

In August 2006, my blog (then named “Software Quality and Management Insights”) was first noticed by Michael Wade who added it onto his blog roll. In a comment on this blog, he encouraged me by saying,

“I enjoy reading your blog. Anyone who can write clearly on software issues is, in my mind, the equivalent of a translator of ancient Greek.”

When encouragement started flowing through comments and conversations, my enthusiasm for blogging just went up. I realized soon that generosity is the currency in social world – the more you share, contribute and converse, the more you learn, gain and connect. This is even more crucial in a hyper social world that we live in today.

Starting this blog was a play for me and there were no external goals like getting more traffic or building the subscriber list. The goals were (and and still are) internal – to have fun, to learn, to sharpen the writing and to connect with others meaningfully. I learned that the only way to really learn more about things is to do them in spirit of curiosity, play and joy. Have you ever noticed that a kid learns the most between first three years of their lives and then, when they are subjected to scores and grades in the school, their joy is robbed? All rewards, recognitions and external validations are merely by-products of pursuing the inner joy of doing things.

Blogging strengthened my faith in humanity. Kindness and generosity has enriched the web and made it into what it is today. I learned that people are amazing. When you work hard to blog, every single comment, mention, view, re tweet and ‘like’ feels nothing less than a gift. The generosity and kindness of people in blogosphere (and in social media) has never failed to amaze me.

As the community around this blog grew, I was drawn to pick up the phone and talk to some people across the globe whose work I admired. These calls not only strengthened the relationship but took it to a different level. Conversations are a currency of social media and so, I learned that in social media, being social is far more important than the media.

What started as a medium to document lessons soon became a platform to express my thoughts. Any act of self-expression requires a great deal of emotional labor and is fraught with risk of failing. I learned that if we have ideas or strong beliefs on something we care about, it is our obligation to express. Our fear is mostly imaginary.

In 2010, I experimented with writing three posts each week. Recently, I experimented with daily blogging. My big learning from these experiences is – inspiration never comes before discipline – and if it comes, it does not stay. Inspiration first looks at your preparation and discipline before showering the grace. As they say,

“Discipline and perseverance beats talent.. every single time.”

Writing for a long time gives you a good view into your own mind and how thoughts have evolved. Contexts changed, thinking evolved and learning grew. This observation of the self tells me that learning is not an destination but a journey – a journey where perspectives grow, focus widens and old beliefs may give a way to newer ones. Writing a blog is perhaps the best way to stay in touch with your own thoughts.

I continue to enjoy this fascinating journey and looking forward to conversations, learning and connections it brings along.


A Note of Gratitude:

I know I can’t thank everyone who has encouraged me by visiting this blog, commenting on it or amplifying it elsewhere, but here is a list of people I am totally grateful to have connected with amongst many others:

Rajesh Setty, Michael Wade, Kurt Harden, Wally Bock, Nicholas Bate, Utpal Vaishnav, Mitchell Levy, Becky Robinson, Mary Jo Asmus, Phil Gerbyshak, Lisa Haneberg, Tanvi Gautam, Ashok Vaishnav, Folks at Pearson TalentLens, John Hunter, Dan McCarthy, Paul Schwend, Gautam Ghosh, Yashwant Mahadik, Nisha Raghavan, Mike Wong, Folks at WittyParrot, Gurprriet Singh, Folks at SHRMIndia, Folks at Hirers, Jurgen Appelo, Folks at ActiveGarage, PeopleMatters Team, Folks at Impackt Publishing, Karen Martin, Jesse Lyn Stoner

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!

Commitment and Power of Daily Practice

In 2010, one of my goals was to publish on this blog thrice a week – on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. By committing completely  to this schedule, I eliminated the self-discretion associated with it. I did not have to think if I should write on a particular day, because I had to show up and write. No one would have punished me if I failed to write but I still wrote as if someone would. It lead me to read more, connect more and explore more.

What did I learn from this experience?

In situations where we have a choice of not doing  and no external penalties associated, we end up compromising. Isn’t this the reason why most people find it difficult to keep their own resolutions? We need an external force to be disciplined in areas that we ourselves feel are important!

One of the themes that occupies me is the power of daily practice. Can I do something everyday about things that matter to me? We grow in our careers and learn because we show up for the work and do it daily. We sleep everyday. We eat everyday and it nourishes us.

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” – Zig Ziglar

I believe that daily practice is as nourishing– it forms a pattern of activities and these patterns are powerful. They inculcate habits. They ‘train’ us. They help us focus. Whether it is writing, learning a new skill, physical exercise, eating right or pursuing your hobbies, there are few things as powerful as a commitment to do it daily. When we eliminate the choice of doing it, we create space for creativity. We can focus on “how” we do the thing. We can alter our ways. We can make it better. We can adapt and optimize. And then, we learn.

“I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.” – Haruki Murakami (via Brain Pickings)

So, here are my first two steps in this journey of daily practice.

  • Identify (or acknowledge) things that matter the most.
  • Do them daily.

Sometimes, simplifying our lives is just about making things binary – either we do it completely with the whole heart in it or not at all. It is a commitment to overcome the first hurdle – our own resistance. A commitment to do, adapt and learn.

I am keen to see what lessons does this journey manifest!

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In the Photo: Graffiti art at abandoned factories in Tampere, Finland (Jan 2015). Artists use these dead walls as a canvas for their art to give them a new lease of colorful life.

Podcast: Leveraging Social Media for Learning and Leading

I am thankful to Mike Wong of Business Insights Podcast for interviewing me on the topic “Leveraging Social Media for Learning”.

Talk about ‘social media’ and people quickly talk about tools like Twitter and Facebook. But like all other ‘tools’, social media tools don’t help much unless they are used for a purpose. In this podcast, I discuss the usage of social media for the purpose of learning and building thought leadership.

In this short podcast (18 minutes) interview, I share my ideas on the following three questions:

  • What are the fundamentals for thriving in a social world of work?
  • What techniques do you use for learning through social media?
  • Can social media help in generating thought leadership and influence?

Here are a few snippets from the podcast:

“Success in social media happens when you focus on ‘social’ aspect more than ‘media’ aspect (tools).”

“Being social means you listen first and care about what others have to say.”

“Generosity is the currency on social media.”

“It is vital to filter information that best suits your context. The best way to deal with information overload is to filter relentlessly.”

Please listen to the podcast here OR using the audio control below.


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Related Posts at QAspire:

3 C’s for Learning and Leading on Social Media

With advent of social media tools, our ways of learning, sharing and leading have undergone a sea change. Blogs, Twitter, Massively Open Online Courses (MooC’s) and a variety of other tools are nicely complementing books and classroom based learning.

Social Media is a great platform to learn, share, be a part of learning communities and build your thought leadership. Here are three C’s that can help you do just that.

  • Create meaningful stuff and add your unique voice to it. Share what you learn. Write regularly – it not only improves your writing but also helps in clarifying the thought process. Select your tools carefully. I use Twitter to share short bursts of insights and lessons which then expand in form of blog posts.
  • Curate ideas around what you care for. There is so much information out there and effective curation helps people find the most useful stuff. Curation assimilates and filters great ideas from others, gives them a new life and amplifies the reach. I use Twitter to curate useful ideas and insights that I come across.
  • Contribute to ideas of others. Take those ideas forward by adding your own unique and meaningful perspectives to them. Comment on the blogs of others. Participate in Tweetchats, online events, forums and share your ideas. Generous contribution is the currency of social media.

When you do this consistently over a period of time and keep doing it better, you get three more C’s.

  • Community of influential and generous folks that you can rely on for learning.
  • Credibility that you build around your work.
  • Confidence you gain through validation of your ideas.

So, the next time you use social media with an intent to learn, think about how you can put these three C’s to work!


In the pic: The Rock Garden of Chandigarh

#2014in5Words: Opportunities. Change. Learning. Serendipity. Love.

I came across the hash tag #2014in5Words on Twitter and that prompted me to write more about it. It is interesting how 5 discrete words can describe the core themes of a year gone by. On Twitter, I wrote:

#2014in5Words Opportunities. Change. Learning. Serendipity. Love.

Opportunities.

In 2014, I got plenty of opportunities to make a positive difference to individuals and businesses. Opportunities came in all sizes – from small help requests to large scale consulting assignments and everything in between. I am grateful for all opportunities I encountered to help others, share my lessons and learn a great deal in return. My big lesson?

Opportunity never comes across labeled as opportunity. It comes in form of a problem or situation. Apply your skills, experience and competence to solve the problem without anyone asking you to do so and you increase your chances of getting more opportunities.

Change.

2014 was really a year of transition. Taking up a senior leadership role at a large financial services product company was a leap of faith in many ways. It required me to move to a different city (with family) and experience a completely new culture/people.  I had so many reasons to resist this change, and yet, I just went in head first. This was not merely a change, but a transition. Change is everything that happens externally – outside of us. Change is gross. Transition happen within us, and is subtle. My big lesson?

In change, we grow. In transitions, we evolve!

Learning.

I have been a huge fan of self-initiated, self-directed learning. Everything I have learned so far has been self driven. To continue that streak, I took up a few MOOC courses, read so many good business books, hundreds of blogs and participated/contributed in various Twitter Chats. My big lesson?

Learning agility – ability to learn (and unlearn) constantly and apply those lessons to a specific business context is a critical career (and life) competency.

Serendipity.

I like to plan things in advance and execute those plans with zeal. But after everything experienced in 2014, I learned that serendipity can take you to places you never imagined. It is not the same thing as getting lucky. It is about doing great work and creating the dots. Serendipity connects those dots in mysterious ways and brings forward an opportunity. I was fortunate to be at the right place at a right time on my occasions – not because I planned for it but because I constantly focused on creating the dots by doing, contributing and sharing. My big lesson?

In a networked world, you increase your chances of serendipity if you share your skills, learning and expertise generously to add value; even when the fruits of your efforts are not tangible or visible. 

Love.

“To be excellent at anything we must first love our work”, they say. Like everyone else, I love my family and friends – the foundation on which I can stand tall. But I am also grateful to have work that I really love doing and knowing that it makes a difference. My big lesson?

Love is an ultimate leadership tool – it is about how much care about your people and their well being. Leadership love is about creating an environment and establishing a context where people shine. This ecosystem is the key driver of engagement.

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Over to you! If you were to describe your #2014in5Words, what would those words be? Share them in the comment or via Twitter.

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