Monday, September 29, 2008

Resilient Thinking: Leading in a world of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity

“Its not what happens to you in life. Its how you react to what happens to you that makes the difference.”

One of the biggest challenges a leader faces today is learning to live with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity despite an increasing oversupply of information. This makes decision making more difficult and problematic than ever before. How can we deal with this growing confusion in our world?

Using Resilient Thinking we can turn around the above with a combination of Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility. The 4 antidotes to Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity work like this:

Volatility Yields to Vision:
Vision means having a clear intent, a clear direction for your actions. Vision is much more important than foresight since it seeks to create a future, not just study the future. With clear vision, creative space opens for innovation within the parameters you specify. A bold vision sees beyond volatility, with a calm perspective not trapped by assumptions of the present.

Uncertainty Yields to Understanding:
Listening leads to understanding, which is the basis for trust. You must learn to listen carefully without judging too soon. Today’s world creates urgency to act quickly, but sometimes it is a false sense of urgency. The best leaders have the presence and calm inquisitiveness to listen before talking.

Complexity Yields to Clarity:
Leaders must help others to make sense of complexity. Today’s world rewards clarity because people are so confused that they grasp at anything that helps them to make sense out of the chaos. The thoughtful leader’s quest is to be both clear and accurate, simple without being simplistic.

Ambiguity Yields to Agility:
Leaders cannot surrender to ambiguity; that would lead to paralysis and confusion. Rather, they must learn how to be agile and respond to attack and a continually changing business environment. Today’s world rewards networks because they are agile, while it punishes the rigidity of command/control hierarchies.

How can Leaders embed these four values into all levels of their organizations? It starts with applying the Foresight -> Insight -> Action Cycle which will be the subject of a future blog post.

*Based on ideas from the book: “Get There Early. Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present” by Bob Johansen, publisher by Berrett-Koehler, 2007
Get There Early: Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Creating Moments of Insight – The Key To Getting Results Through Others

"An insight is a restructuring of information. It's seeing the same old thing in a completely new way. Once that restructuring occurs, you never go back." - Earl K. Miller, Ph D. Neuroscientist at M.I.T.

One of the greatest moments in problem solving is the emergence of a break through idea, or the sudden flash of new understanding that we call an insight. Also known as “Aha” or “Eureka” moments, an insight is a sudden burst of activity in the right hemisphere of the brain that lasts for about 300 milliseconds. In comparison to normal analytical thinking an insight is instantaneous: the answer arrives like a revelation. This is usually followed by a feeling of certainty that accompanies the new idea.

“Your brain knows much more than you do. An insight is a fleeting glimpse of the brain's huge store of unknown knowledge.” - Mark Jung Beeman, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology, Cognitive Neuroscience Program, Northwest University

What leads to moments of insight? How can you create or enable them? How can you create moments of insight in others? Imagine how effective we could become if we had several insights every day, or if we could bring about insights in others as and when we wanted. The job of a leader is to get results through others. Whatever your natural leadership style: Coercive, Authoritative, Affiliative, Democratic, Pacesetting or Coaching, creating insights in the people around you will enable you to capture their hearts and minds, align their thinking and secure their total commitment to your cause. Creating insights in others is the simplest and most effective way to get results through others. There are 3 phases to creating insights:

The Preparatory Phase:
The brain requires considerable computational power to process truly new and original thoughts. Therefore various sensory areas of the brain like the visual cortex need to go silent. The brain suppresses all possible distractions. This is the same reason we close our eyes when we are trying to think. "Focus is all about blocking stuff out" - Mark Jung Beeman

The Search Phase:
Almost all of the possibilities your brain comes up with are going to be wrong. The brain will keep on searching or, if necessary, change strategies and start searching somewhere else. Sometimes, just when the brain is about to give up, an insight appears. The suddenness of the insight comes with a burst of brain activity in the form of a spike of gamma wave activity in the anterior superior temporal gyrus (aSTG) in the right hemisphere of the brain. This is the area of the brain used for understanding linguistic nuance, processing of jokes and for creating insights. This requires the brain to make a set of distant and unprecedented connections.

The Relaxation Phase:
The drowsy brain in an unwound and disorganized state is open to all sorts of unconventional ideas. We do some of our best thinking when we are half asleep. That's why so many insights happen during warm showers. The Concentration Paradox: Concentration, it seems, comes with the hidden cost of diminished creativity. We must concentrate on the problem and at the same time concentrate on letting the mind wander. The Focus Paradox: the ability to focus on not being focused. The brain must be focused on the task at hand and then be transformed by accidental, serendipitous connections. Predictive neural indicators are a steady rhythm of alpha waves emanating from right hemisphere. Alpha waves correlate with a state of relaxation which makes the brain more receptive to new ideas and unusual associations of ideas.

Insight Activation:
Immerse yourself in the problem until you hit an impasse. Then when it seems that nothing good is being accomplished, find a way to distract yourself, preferably by reading a book on a totally unrelated subject or going for a walk. Then, suddenly, the answer will arrive when you least expect it.

Creating insights in others is the single most effective leadership skill that I know of. It transcends coercion or authority. It transcends influence and persuasion. People always like best, and are motivated to act on, their own ideas. Creating insights in others allows you to transfer knowledge and ideas that are immediately appropriated by and become synonymous with the other person’s thinking. This is leadership by design and leadership by co-creation of desired outcomes through individual personal conviction. Activating insights in others comes through dialog based on asking questions. See previous post: Asking Questions in Colour.