Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What Have You Learned Today?

Nina Simosko wrote a great post at the Slow Leadership blog. She addresses the issue of "can you ever have learned enough." Somehow, the answer to the question seems obvious, but as she implies, unwittingly, many seem to have stopped learning.

There are all sorts of excuses, probably the most dominant is "I'm too busy," the arrogant ones: "I have such deep experience." The list can go on.

Nina points out: "...thinking that you know it all is a sure sign of troubles to come...." As a consultant, unfortunately, many of the problems I see organizations have is they (and the individuals in the organizations) no longer have the mechanisms to learn. Sheer momentum seems to propel them forward. Learning seems to be limited to reading market research about the industry, analyzing competitor performance, looking at technology developments within the industry.

Yesterday, I was on a conference call with a team of people from a large technology organization. One of the participants---the chief technology strategist---chided the others on their waste of time in trying to understand the needs of their customer's customers and the business side functions (e.g. VP of Sales, Marketing, Strategy) of their key customers. "We work with the technologists in our customers. They know what is needed, they drive the business and its requirements. Talking to the business leaders is a waste of time." This organization is struggling to remain important to its customers--with these views, it is easy to understand why.

Two weeks ago, I spoke to a top executive of a small systems integration company. He had a "formula" for doing business. It had been successful in the past, but was failing now. When I encouraged him to consider some different approaches and to look at different examples, he responded: "We know what to do, we have been successful, we will recover just by executing more sharply and more quickly." My sense is he will continue to struggle, but will never achieve the growth he would like and the organization deserves.

Perhaps I'm lazy, but I have always wanted to look around to find new ideas and consider new approaches. I have always thought it is fantastic to look outside the industry I work in---after all, we all know each other and to some degree are becoming "in-bred." I have discovered a wealth of ideas in other industries that I can adapt and modify to help us innovate and improve performance.

Nina highlights the importance of keeping an open mind. She reminds us that learning and lessons can come from many sources. Learning is not just limited to what we read, what we encounter in classes, what we learn from guru's and consultants. She states, "Wake up each morning and ask yourself, 'What am I going to learn today?'"

I would extend Nina's thoughts by taking a slightly more aggressive position: as individuals and organizations, we must institutionalize curiosity! We must challenge everyone in the organization to learn from both traditional and non-traditional sources. We must challenge them to bring these ideas into the business---not into the suggestion box---but constantly be updating how the business works, based on these new ideas.

In following Nina's challenge---I believe a day is wasted unless you learn something new! Comments?

1 comment:

Nina Simosko said...

Hi Dave and thanks for picking up on my piece from Slow Leadership. I also have a blog of my own where I discuss many other issues of relevance to aspiring leaders and leaders alike which you can check out at www.ninasimosko.com. I would surely welcome any other thoughts you might have on my entries. Also, I noticed that your firm doesn't have a Bay Area presence. If you'd like a referral to someone I know that might be an asset, please let me know.