About Conversation Kindling

The purpose of this blog is to share stories, metaphors, quotes, songs, humor, etc. in hopes they'll be used to spark authentic and rewarding conversations about working and living fruitfully. There are at least three things you can gain by getting involved in these conversations. First, you'll discover new and important things about yourself through the process of thinking out loud. Second, you'll deepen your relationships with others who participate by swapping thoughts, feelings, and stories with them. Finally, you'll learn that robust dialogue centered on stories and experiences is the best way to build new knowledge and generate innovative answers to the questions that both life and work ask.


I write another blog called My Spare Brain. This is where I am "storing" ideas for use in future books, articles, blog posts, speeches, and workshops. There is little rhyme or reason for what I post there. I do this to encourage visitors to come as treasure hunters looking for new ways of seeing and thinking vs. researchers looking for new or better answers to questions they already know how to ask.

29 January 2010

Are You Learning as Fast as the World Is Changing?

The late Peter Drucker once said:
"My ancestors were printers in Amsterdam from 1510 or so until 1750, and during that entire time they didn't have to learn anything new."
That sure wasn't the case in 1972 when I was hired by The Wilson Learning Corporation to be a sales rep and workshop facilitator. On my first day on the job, Larry Wilson - founder and CEO - handed me two things: a Mickey Mouse watch, which was to serve as a constant reminder that work should be fun; and a copy of the book Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. Further, he directed me to a page in the book where Toffler described a Survival Kit for the Future. Toffler said that in order to survive the shattering stress and disorientation that is induced in us by subjecting us to too much change in too short a time, we need to do three things: learn to learn, learn to choose, and learn to relate. He went on to say:
"The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn."
Hmmm, I thought. I'd better get on that. I think I'll start tomorrow; I've got too much going on to think about doing it today. And, of course, tomorrow came and I was so busy that ...

I don't see myself as an exception to the rule here. I think most people view learning much as I do - or at least as I viewed it until a few years ago: as something that can be put off. Why? Because I'm smart; I'm educated; I'm experienced; I've got a job; I'm good at it; I'll get promoted; I'll make it to the top; I'll retire here. Besides that, I'm busy; I've got meetings; I have to answer my email; business is great and we need to get out there and ride the crest; business is in the tank and we've got to spend every waking minute figuring out what's wrong. Want more? I'm already learning. I surf the web; I watch TV; I read the Wall Street Journal; I subscribe to the latest and greatest business magazines; I practically camp out in the business section of the bookstore; I listen to podcasts; I get RSS feeds from my favorite bloggers; I attend industry conferences; etc. If that ain't learning, I don't know what is.

Sound convincing? I think so, and if you are doing all those things, you are certainly learning something. But, are you learning the right things?

When Richard Pascale appeared at The Masters Forum a few years ago, he said our knowledge can be sorted into three different containers:

First there is what we know we know. In this container we can put things where we know both the questions and the answers. Learning here is about finding better answers or fine-tuning.

Second there is what we know we don't know. Here we know the questions, but don't have the answers. Learning here is about finding answers to questions or problem-solving.

Third is what we don't know we don't know. Learning here is a search for new and relevant questions.

He went on to say that successful companies are usually very good at gathering the knowledge they need to do better and better at fine-tuning and problem-solving. Then he issued a warning:
"Nothing fails like success. The more successful you are the more apt you are to confine your learning to the first two containers; you turn inward and focus on making your economic engine run as smoothly as it possibly can. This is most often where trouble begins, because while you are concentrating on fine-tuning and problem-solving, you miss the early signs that the world around you is changing in a fundamental way. And one day you wake up to find that the you are no longer relevant."
Conversation:
  • What percentage of your learning efforts are focused on fine-tuning and problem-solving vs. trying to figure out what you don't know you don't know?
  • How important is finding the new and relevant questions?
  • Timothy Leary said there are three ways to increase your intelligence. First, you should continually expand the scope, source, intensity of the information you receive. Second, you should constantly revise your reality maps, and seek new metaphors about the future to understand what's happening now. Third, you should develop external networks that allow you to spend much of your time with people as smart or smarter than you. Are you purposely doing any of those things now? If not, why not? If so, how is it going for you?
Afterwords:
"Life has got a habit of not standing hitched. You got to ride it like you find it. You got to change with it. If a day goes by that don’t change some of your old notions for new ones, that is just about like trying to milk a dead cow." - Woodie Guthrie
"We are not what we know but what we are willing to learn." - Mary Catherine Bateson
"Given the fast-changing and ever increasing complex nature of the world, gaining insight into how patterns are forming and structures are developing represents the most powerful way of managing in the new economy" - Winslow Farrell, How Hits Happen
"It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be...This, in turn, means that our statesmen, our businessmen, our everyman must take on a science fictional way of thinking. - Isaac Asimov
"Don't confuse the edge of your rut with the horizon." - Gary Hamel

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