Never Stop Learning

never stop learning

Stay Relevant, Reinvent Yourself, and Thrive

 

Almost every conference I have attended in the last ten years has highlighted the rapid changes that we are experiencing in every aspect of society. Companies need to evaluate digital futures, new technologies, and global strategies. Individuals need to develop plans to keep developing their skills.

How do we best deal with this constant pace of change?

Brad Staats is an associate professor of operations at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. His new book, Never Stop Learning: Stay Relevant, Reinvent Yourself, and Thrive, provides the framework to help all of us become dynamic learners. He says that, “If we fail to learn, we risk becoming irrelevant.”

He also says that we aren’t so great at learning.

I recently spoke with him about his extensive research into learning.

 

“One of the most powerful ways we can learn from others is to ask, ‘What do you think?’ and be open to the answer.” -Bradley Staats

 

Learning is a Key Differentiator

Why is learning more important today than in past generations?

Learning has always been a key competitive differentiator. What has changed is that things are moving faster and increasingly we are in a winner take all (or at least most) environment. There are four factors I’d highlight that are driving these changes. The first is routinization. Through the use of technology (information and otherwise) we can knock out repeatable tasks. That means our attention can turn to new things where we can innovate. If one looks at job changes in the US over the last 30 years, the data reveals that routine jobs are flat and growth has only occurred in the non-routine settings.

jobs

The second driver is specialization. Knowledge around us is increasing, often exponentially. It is estimated a physician would need to read 29 hours a day to stay current on all the necessary knowledge. So we are forced to pick areas to dig in. The third driver is globalization. In the 1990’s, in particular, the global economy opened up as countries like India, Russia, Brazil and China flooded the global labor market with talented individuals. Success is no longer a local affair, it is a global one. Finally, we have digitization. We can capture knowledge digitally and share it around the world. All of these factors mean that great products and services can quickly capture markets and squeeze out others—so we have to learn if we are going to stay relevant. As Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, has said, “Ultimately, the ‘learn-it-all’ will always do better than the ‘know-it-all.’”

 

“Whatever we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.” -Otto Rank

 

Why are we so bad at learning?

How to Seek, Seed, and Scale Innovation

change

The Change Maker’s Playbook

Innovation is dynamic, iterative, and even messy – but with the vast problems facing the world, and opportunities to harness people’s creativity, passion, and desire to make an impact, there has never been greater potential to make a dent in as-yet unsolved economic, social and other issues. Leadership qualities, not always and not simply technology, are the essential ingredients.

I recently spoke with Amy J. Radin, author of The Change Maker’s Playbook: How to Seek, Seed and Scale Innovation in Any Company. Amy is a nationally recognized Fortune 100 Chief Marketing and Information Officer.

 

“Purpose defines what you stand for and why your business exists.” -Amy J. Radin

 

The Power of Purpose

I love this line in your new book: “Purpose defines what you stand for and why your business exists.” Tell us more about the power of purpose and why it’s so important to change makers.

Purpose defines the marketplace problem the change maker wants to solve. It’s why they pursue an innovation.  They see the need to create something new, to fix something they see as really broken.

Purpose is grounded in emotion, but it’s far from touchy-feely. Purpose:

  • Focuses everyone on unifying beliefs, makes collaboration the norm, and aims resources at the vision and nothing else.
  • Minimizes the corrosive effect of internal politics — everyone is committed to the same point on the horizon. Purpose is an energy booster.
  • Sets the goal post on achieving aspirations to meet real market needs. Of course, financial results matter, but the purpose-driven team delivers financial impact and sets itself up to meet broader stakeholder needs.

 

“Purpose means knowing what you stand for, why you want to exist.” -Amy J. Radin

 

Resourcefulness is a key behavior of change makers. How should leaders encourage resourcefulness?

Resourceful leaders are those who can find a path forward no matter what. Doing so means they are making progress even though they have what can look like severe resource shortages.

Much of anyone’s resourcefulness comes from an ability to help everyone in their orbit to be more resourceful.

First, be a role model of resourcefulness behaviors.  My favorite example of all time is one I uncovered while doing the research for The Change Maker’s Playbook: Drew Lakatos co-founded ActiveProtective, a company working on an innovative device – think of it as the wearable equivalent of an inflatable air bag — to attack the growing medical and social crises caused by millions of seniors’ falling every year in this country. He had purpose and passion, but lacked capital.  So, he went around to junkyards one Saturday morning, and extracted non-bloody air bags from wrecked cars. Then he combined these with bicycle tire inner tubes, working with his local tailor to create components of early proof-of-concept designs – for a few dollars apiece. They were convincing enough to win critical support to get to the next steps.

Second, when assessing potential hires, listen for stories of how they have demonstrated resourcefulness in their lives. If you don’t hear evidence of real tenacity, move on.

Third, be open-minded about how things are done, not just what is getting done. Being resourceful means finding and supporting non-obvious ways to accomplish milestones and achieve goals.

 

“Resourceful leaders treat others with respect and value people as people, and as a result inspire and attract others to enable their purpose.” -Amy J. Radin

 

Fourth, promote a culture where seeking help is a mark of leadership and strength, not a sign of weakness. I see organizations where people are afraid that they will be fired if they admit ignorance. I see cultures punishing people who admit they don’t know something or would like help. These are environments where innovation cannot ever be successful.

 

“Resourceful leaders are those who can find a path forward no matter what.” -Amy J. Radin

 

Lessons from Edison

How Leaders Create Engagement and Competitive Advantage

purpose

How Leaders Create Engagement

A decent product at a fair price with good customer service may once have been enough. No longer. The bar has moved. Employees and customers want organizations to do some social good along the way.

My friend and bestselling author John Izzo is out with a new book, co-authored by Jeff Vanderwielen: The Purpose Revolution: How Leaders Create Engagement and Competitive Advantage in an Age of Social Good. The book is full of examples and ideas to help you move your organization to one that is infused with purpose.

I recently asked John to share more about his research and work in this area.

 

“Winning in the purpose revolution requires authenticity.” -John Izzo

 

4 Forces Driving Change

You say that there is a revolution happening right now and ignoring it will send your company to irrelevance. What is it and what forces are driving it?

The revolution is a desire among employees, customers and investors to leverage social good with their choices. This is a revolution of AND not OR. Employees want everything they have always wanted, but they also want a job that gives them a sense of purpose in a company they feel is doing good in the world. Customers want products that excite them at a good price, but they also want to leverage good with those choices—and certainly buy things that cause no harm. Investors was a return on money, but the fastest growing funds are those that also promise social impact.

In an age of commoditization, the marketplace is filled with many similar products, and purpose is a way for companies to create brand differentiation based on values, not just product.

What’s driving the revolution are four primary trends. The Millennials are now a global force with a strong set of values around creating social good and having meaning in their work. The boomers are moving into the “legacy” stage of life where the impact they leave starts to compete with ego. The rising middle class in the developing world is another major driver, as people rise out of poverty, they are able to think about the social good in their choices. Finally, business is both blamed for some of the world’s biggest challenges but also increasingly seen as the key to addressing those same issues through corporate social responsibility.

 

“Purpose is a way for companies to create brand differentiation based on values, not just product.” -John Izzo

 

Connect Purpose to Contribution

How do leaders help employees connect purpose to work contribution?

The first step is to have a clearly articulated compelling purpose that is authentic. Starbucks’ purpose is to “inspire the human spirit one cup of coffee at a time” while 3M’s is to “advance every life and improve every business while using science to solve the world’s greatest challenges” (like sustainability).

The second step is to drive job purpose more than job function. Focus on the real impact jobs and teams make. Have every person identify the purpose of their job and the same for every team. Consistently tell stories of how your company makes a real difference. Bring in customers to tell their stories, and create space for employees to do the same. One large bank we worked with started having a standing agenda item in every branch: “How did we make a difference for a client since last time we met?” In the branches that did it, engagement went up 23% and sales went up 18%!

 

Move Purpose to Center Stage

Be a Force for Change

violent leadership

Violent Leadership: Be a Force For Change

 

To achieve a goal, you need planning, action, risk and disruption. In Violent Leadership: Be a Force for Change, Wesley Middleton argues that leaders should be a force for change.

Wesley Middleton is the author of Violent Leadership: Be a Force for Change, co-founder and managing partner of Middleton Raines + Zapata LLP, a tax and accounting services firm.

I recently spoke to Wesley about his book.

 

“The word refers to a distinctive type of leadership that is passionate, innovative, and disruptive and above all takes things by force.” -Wesley Middleton

 

Wesley, I’ve studied every type of leadership you can imagine. I’ve attended every seminar and read literally thousands of books. But this is a first. Violent leadership. Tell us more about this and why and how you started writing about it.

As I grew in my business, I learned that my ideas and thoughts weren’t “normal” for my profession. At the time, I didn’t recognize it. I believed that everything I was saying and doing was what everyone thought. It was when I started hearing “no” a lot and other professionals began questioning my ideas that I realized I was not thinking like everyone else. Because of that I began to write my experiences in short blog fashion and began to capture my thoughts and ideas on paper. After writing several articles and blogs, I realized I had a theme that was rooted in my faith. I lived by Matthew 11:12.

Matthew 11:12 (KJV) reads, “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent take it by force.” The Modern English version says, “The kingdom of heaven is forcefully advanced, and the strong take it by force.” I was living by those incredible words: violence as force and as leadership.

Due to the obvious nature of the word violent, I kept it to myself. The phrase “Violent Leadership” is not something you would expect to see in the business world, yet it was what I lived by. The word refers to a distinctive type of leadership that is passionate, innovative, and disruptive and above all takes things by force. It does not refer to fighting, anger, or brutality. It is a positive and energetic pursuit of purpose and success. I decided to tell the world.

violent leadership book coverViolent Leadership has been my style of leadership from day one. It has evolved and grown, been tempered and threatened with termination, but it is still at the core of my belief that goals and success do not just happen. Achievement takes planning, action, risk, and disruption—it takes Violent Leadership.

 

 

“Be the thermostat that sets the tone and culture in your firm.” -Wesley Middleton

 

Have a Willingness to Fail

Lessons for Non-Profit and Start-Up Leaders

Tales from a Reluctant CEO

Maxine Harris and her partner Helen Bergman started a business and grew it to $35 million through trial and error and constant change. In her new book, Lessons for Non-Profit and Start-Up Leaders: Tales from a Reluctant CEO, Maxine shares lessons that can benefit all of us starting something new. She shares how they overcame obstacle after obstacle to succeed. I recently spoke with her about the lessons she shares in her new book.

 

When should a start-up start thinking about culture?

Culture is not really something that you think about when you first start a business. You might say, we want to be casual or formal, or we want to maintain an air of professionalism, but short of being doctrinaire, you can’t really control what organizational culture will become.  More than anything, culture evolves from the personalities of the founders. I happen to be very chatty and like to ask a lot of questions.  Some employees see that as friendly; others see it as intrusive.  When I push people to “think smart” and try to do things in better and more creative ways, some people see me as demanding and judgmental, others feel that I am encouraging and stimulating. In both cases, it is the employee who identifies culture based on how they interpret what is going on.

Culture is one of those things that exists in the eye of the beholder.  An employee, an outside consultant or a business colleague takes a step back and sees the unspoken rules and nuances of the organization.  Sometimes people are only aware of the organizational culture when they are asked what they like or don’t like about their jobs. When we asked people who were joining the organization what they were looking for in their selection of a job, we got a glimpse into the kind of culture in which they would feel most comfortable.  And while many said they were looking for an environment in which their opinions were valued and respected, others wanted a cultural milieu in which the boss would tell them what to do and they would have clear guidelines for performance.

Over the years, as Community Connections grew in size and diversified in its programs, culture changed. You could feel the difference. A business with three employees can’t help but be informal and casual.  But as we grew and increased our size to over 400 employees, it became impossible not to have some hierarchical structure. You can remember the names of three people, but when the size gets big, and leaders are rushing from one meeting to the next, it’s hard to be as friendly as you’d like to be.

 

“Culture is the arts elevated to a set of beliefs.” –Thomas Wolfe

 

You wrote fairy tales for each chapter. That’s unusual in a business book. Why did you decide to do that?