Learning Agility – How skilled are you?

Like many of you, I’ve just jumped right into the new year, with all the intricacies of adapting to the constantly and rapidly changing world of today. One of the thoughts that keeps turning up for me is how much learning agility – the ability to learn quickly in situations that are new and/or changing – is becoming increasingly valuable for experienced Leaders as they try to adapt and upgrade themselves in an onslaught of changes.

Unfortunately, learning agility gets much harder to acquire as you work your way up the corporate ladder; it’s much easier to cultivate and develop when you are younger. First off, as you get older, you get more set in your ways of doing and thinking. It gets harder to change (and to actually realize that you are the one that needs to change). Second, most leaders are used to being experts and they lead from experience – it’s what got them to where they are. But in such a high paced, changing world, no one has the experience to lead. Therefore we have to develop the ability to learn “on the fly”. This can be hard to accept.

Of course being intrinsically smart (learning ability) is important in navigating a constantly evolving environment. But today, being smarter and smarter is not always better. When entire paradigms of working and leading are changing, deep knowledge and cognitive depth can be less important than the ability to change perspectives, to explore new ideas. You can see how knowing how to learn quickly becomes absolutely essential to handle the many curve balls life hands you.

But all hope is not lost. Behavioral aspects of learning agility can be developed. Here are some ways you can get better:

  • You can get better at dealing with uncertainty – put yourself in new situations and environments (both at work and at home) and learn to navigate them.
  • You can get better at seeing mistakes as learning opportunities – we are usually very good with getting things done well, but how are we when we get things wrong? Start to reframe and embrace, or you’ll never fully take risks.
  • You can get better at knowing yourself– start observing when you shut down to ideas and people, and when you open up to them. Study yourself so that you can spot patterns of automated behavior and use that knowledge to get better at listening to others.

The world dynamics of today require higher degrees of learning agility. If we improve our abilities in this area, we are well on our way to start unleashing the capabilities of both ourselves and those around us.

My Wish For You

Even though I am a child of the tropics, to me, this part of the year is magical. I find it comforting to watch the trees and the earth settle down and inwards for a period of quiet and hibernation, cocooning within themselves, waiting to be reborn. I am moved by this.

I am always inspired and energized by stories of resilience, stories that show the profound ability of people to reinvent themselves, to stretch themselves to be the best they can, while still keeping grounded and rooted in their true selves.

Vas Narasimhan, CEO of Novartis, says that the state of actively being inspired is something to cultivate on any leadership journey. I couldn’t agree more, although I believe it to be true for all the journeys we take in life. Being inspired energizes us, it lights us up and it keeps us moving forward, ready to go the extra mile. I’m lucky that in my work I am inspired often and regularly by all the people for whom I serve as witness and partner as they change their lives and the lives of those around them. I see people pushing themselves to stand their ground, to give themselves permission to show up as they are, but also to struggle, strive and change. They create a sense of possibilities for all of us.

For me the above video directed by talented photographer David LaChapelle, embodies the essence of why I’m so inspired and moved by beholding resilience and rebirth.  Besides the utter beauty of the unusual space, grace and music combination, “bad boy” ballet dancer Sergei Polunin’s intensely personal interpretation, his simple and unvarnished presence unleashes a powerful sense of authenticity, self-expression and achievement. I am moved and in awe everytime I see this video, and trust me, I’ve seen it many times! And every time I find it inspiring.

So this year, my wish for you is that you find YOUR stories of inspiration. The word inspiration comes from Latin, and means to inflame or blow into you. So what moves you at your core? What ignites you? I wish that you find those things and that you let them cocoon and develop deep within you so that, when ready, they will help you unfurl a stronger, ever more authentic you in 2020.

All the very best,

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What my smart phone has taught me about perspective taking.

What my smartphone has taught me about taking quick snapshots of anything: You’ve got to experiment with different angles.
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It all started when I was complaining that my photos were all the same: front facing, looking out from my direct point of view, and taken at eye level. My kids said (with that slight note of frustration kids seem to have towards their parents’ approach to technology):  “If you want another perspective, you’ve got to try and actually experiment with different angles – move behind, over, higher, lower your subject, and choose before you just snap the shot!”

Wow. Isn’t that true also of the pictures we create in our minds of people and situations?

Often, and in most circumstances, we just go with our first reaction. It’s easier to accept what you see immediately than to actually take the time to explore the situation from different angles. Rarely do we intentionally put the effort into getting different perspectives on something.  How much better would our judgements and ideas be if we formed our thinking and feelings based on an expanded view and understanding of any given situation?

I think of a quote by the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw:

If a man sees with only one eye, the world appears flat to him, objects and people become mere two-dimensional images. And he cannot discern any meaning in life beyond the crassness of superficial existence.  If he uses both eyes, he gains perspective and can perceive a third dimension of depth, ideas and activities assume relative importance and value, and he understands that there is now more than one way of living.  How deep his understanding and how acute his perception, then, if he sees through four or six or seven different eyes, each distinct and yet each focused on the same situation and the same conflict.

What would change if we tested different perspectives before making a snapshot?

All the Best,

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Why You Shouldn’t Neglect Building Trust.

A few weeks ago, while preparing for a talk, I reached for Amy Cuddy’s book Presence: Bringing your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges. Cuddy speaks about how,  in sizing others up as credible leaders, people ask themselves two questions: Do I trust this person and Do I respect this person?  In the parlance of psychology, these two aspects translate into “warmth” and “competence”, and there is a vast body of research that shows that trust and competence are the two main drivers of credibility.

In the corporate world, we tend to focus primarily on how to become better experts, and much less on how to gain and keep the trust of others. Most organizations are geared to exclusively value competence — it’s how people get promoted, get listened to and gain influence.

But in a world where disruption and constant change is the new normal, agility and the ability to react quickly is just as important. In that case, it’s the leaders that people trust who will be more likely to quickly and effortlessly mobilize people to change, adapt and follow them into unknown territory.

Experience and knowledge are important, but if you want people to follow you, you need them to trust you first, so that they can benefit from your competence.

Knowing this and putting it into practice, however are two different things. And, in fact, while I see that most of my clients understand this, it’s hard for them to pay as much attention to cultivating and developing social connections as they do to the rest of their work.

Why? In a world where we are all constantly busy, it’s hard to slow down to take time to focus on the things that build trust:

  • Listening deeply
  • Taking the time to communicate effectively, authentically and strategically
  • Getting to know people individually as people (I like lunching or coffeeing with people)
  • Practicing kindness and respect towards everyone
  • Developing empathy

What are you doing to actively cultivate and work on your trustworthiness?

All the Best,
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You Cannot Think Yourself Out of a Rut. What to Do Instead.

We all get into ruts: habitual, automatic cycles in our thinking and being. Usually we believe that if we only just think through things clearly, we would be able to be more present, change our mindset more easily. But it’s never that easy. Changing your thinking does not mean that changes in behavior will follow.

For myself, I have found that changing my actual behavior is often much better at changing my mindset than the other way around.

Starting is always the most difficult part. Starting without always having all the right data, or enough data, or the right timing or whatever else we think we need. Just taking a small step. Or half a step.

When you take that first step, you put yourself in a different position, with new points of reference. Your thinking, then, will follow and will course-adjust. I view this as sort of an “agile” approach to changing mindset — not waiting for the big, heavy perfect answer (which can be cumbersome and lengthy), but rapidly testing and improving in small steps.

Here are three prompts I use to jump start this process and help me break out of my automatic/ rote thinking (and I would love to hear yours!):

  1. Radical Exposure to New Things – When I find myself paralyzed – not sure of what to do, feeling I’m not ready, I actively set up “creative dates” with people who I don’t know very well or who are different from me, or with activities (music, museum exhibits) that are outside my usual tastes. Doing so forces me to have a new listening, to open up possibilities in my own thinking.
  2. Focus on your blind spot and what you don’t see. I literally ask myself – what am I not seeing? If I “zoom out” what would I see? If I zoomed in, what would I see? What are other options here that I’m not considering?
  3. Deliberately do the opposite of what you would do – Because I am a little bit of a contrarian by nature, this piece is a little easier for me ☺. I actually enjoy shaking things up. So in instances where I would generally be the first to speak up, I coerce myself to not speak, just listen. If I am always the first person at a meeting, I turn up late. One of the tough ones for me is if I always speak in English with certain situations, I switch to Italian. It can be quite enlightening to stop the routine/the automatic and see how you feel, listen to what people say and notice how you experience things.

Of course, we do actually need to think through things! But thinking alone won’t do anything. The power of thinking is to provide clarity in what you have to do. But the real change will come only when we start to change our behavior.

So what will you do shake things up?

All the Best,

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Often to Move Forward, You Have to Let Go

I have been thinking about ways in which we move forward, and how the hardest part can be just having the courage be in a state of momentary disequilibrium as you move from the known to the as-yet-unknown.

I am reminded of an old post I wrote years ago based on learnings from my friend and personal trainer, Mauro Gumierato, pictured in the photo above.  In his advice on physical dexterity and fitness, I see many parallels and applications to my work on cognitive agility and change.

One key theme is that often when you want to move forward, you have to let go.  Here’s why:

  1. When you are reaching for higher levels of achievement, you have to push away from your comfort zone and let go of that sense of security – In other words, take a (managed!) risk and trust that your training won’t let you down.  There is no way to reach another level of achievement with moving from where you are and accepting that it might take a few tries, and even some pain, to get it right.  This is absolutely true with personal growth and development.
  2. To learn a new skill, sometimes you actually need to throw away what you think you know and start from scratch – what you know might be outdated or irrelevant.  It might have gotten you where you are now, but not where you want to go.  Even worse, it could actually impede your ability to achieve (either physically or mentally).  Sometimes you need to let go of the old and reach out for the new.
  3. For change to be sustainable you need to adapt, not just adjust.  When it comes to motor skills adjusting is making temporary, compensatory changes to something you are doing at the moment; adapting is changing in the way you approach or conduct movements based on new requirements.  The same is true for changes in behavior – particularly today, when what you’re looking for is real and sustainable transformation in an environment that’s constantly and rapidly changing.

Moving on can be difficult.  But remember – the focus is not on the letting go, it’s on the moving forward – on connecting with and achieving new experiences and skills in your life which make you stronger, flexible and agile.

What do you need to let go of in order to move forward?

All the Best,