Intruequest Idea Exchange

Thursday, May 7, 2009


I recently attended a professional conference. I had been looking forward to hearing the keynote speakers—well known experts in their fields. As I sat there listening, I realized that they were talking about the same models or information that they’ve shared in publications for years. Meanwhile, I became painfully aware of my learning (or not learning!) thought pattern. I was listening from a stance of “tell me something I don’t already know.” In a number of subsequent workshops that day, I continued to notice similar thoughts and started constantly asking myself, “I wonder how this habit gets in my way of being able to see something new?” Now, I’m thinking about this habit in relationship to leadership and particularly with regard to the extraordinary challenges that leaders are facing at this time. I wonder how “thinking one already knows” is getting in the way of the kind of innovation that’s needed in our current reality? I wonder how often leaders intentionally practice a stance of “not knowing” or “beginner’s mind” in the course of their work days? Maybe this is what we should be teaching more?

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Blogger Intruequest Idea Exchange said...

How confronting!! What leader wants to be in a position of not knowing? We’ve all reached levels of success due to our competency and our accomplishments and then to have to say, “I don’t know” could be a real threat. A threat to our egos, the positions we hold, our livelihood, our identities. As “followers” we feel comfort in our leaders knowing. Who wants to work for a leader who has a beginner’s mind? On the other hand, we can see how much we didn’t know and how that has gotten us into our economic mess, into our climate mess, and into our middle east mess. To be a leader who can confront one’s identity that is tied to knowing and step into not knowing is a sign of true mastery. A sign of mature leadership. How does a leader take a stance in both “knowing” and “not knowing” as a way to redefine the problems that need to be solved or the dilemmas that need to be managed? I’d be interested in hearing stories on how leaders have done this.

May 7, 2009 at 10:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you haven't already, take a look at the movie "Apollo 13". Gene Kranz (Ed Harris) is in charge of the flight operations in Houston. Kranz relied on the skills and expertise of his technicians to solve the problem…to bring the astronauts home safely.

He listened to the experts of their responsible areas of the mission in assessing the magnitude of the problem. He immediately directed the entire team to present ideas to solve the problem, then mobilized the team to implement the solution. The rest is history, the astronauts made it home safely.

Gene Kranz did not have the knowledge to solve the problem given the time constraints, but what he did have was the ability to listen, be open to new ideas, and assess the
validity of options presented…and of course, the courage to make decisions that were immense.

As leaders, we are placed in rapid decision making situations daily. We rely on our experts and team members to provide you with information so that you can make an informed decision.

IT professionals out there that have run a major software release, can definitely relate to this situation. A major software release may involve multiple stakeholders, span various infrastructure platforms, applications, business domains, and operational areas. The release manager goes through a very similar process as Gene Kranz went through when there is a problem discovered late in the schedule, and the implementation date can’t be moved. A scenario may play out like…during integration testing, the test lead communicates a problem…team members weigh in as to how severe the problem is…then teams are dispatched to determine the best solution that will not impact the deadline…time-box the time to get back together to review solution proposals…every minute counts…select appropriate solution and workaround, and dispatch teams to create the fix… The release manager has to rely on the experts, be open to suggestions and viewpoints from the team, quickly assess the risks of any proposed solution, and have the courage to make the decision on direction.

As a leader, especially under critical situations, I tend to rely on the experiences and knowledge of others to derive the best solution, and quickly make the decision on direction to pursue.

May 9, 2009 at 11:04 AM  
Anonymous Bud Sottili said...

I think we do have a tendency to discount great ideas and practical information because it's not the newest thing out there. The challenge is to hear something you've heard before and see if there's now an opportunity for some growth that didn't exist before. Not because the information is new, but because you are new and different from when you heard it last time. They say you can't swim in the same river twice because it's constantly flowing. the great ideas are timeless, and if you couldn't make use of them in the past, maybe you can now because you've changed to the point where you can be more receptive.

May 12, 2009 at 7:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love the reference to the Apollo 13 movie cited earlier. As I watch that movie and Dead Poet Society (another classic)- I believe that they are great examples of leadership as it relates to learning. I believe as leaders we need to spend more time understanding how we learn and how the people that surround us learn. Sometimes it isn't that the people are not open to the idea but it hasn't been presented in a way in which people that need to learn or decide ca absorb the data quickly and than act on it. My challenge to us all is to pay more attention to how you learn and the people around you learn.

May 12, 2009 at 4:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's important to always have a mind set of "not knowing" - that will be the only way to keep your mind open and learning. It is not a character flaw or lack of leadership; quite the contrary. In many cultures though this is very difficult as leadership is expected to have all the answers. It's one thing to be open to new learning with your staff; quite another with your peers and senior leadership. Let's at least start modeling the behavior as leaders in the organizations. Make it okay; even positive for your leaders to have this attitude. You have to start somewhere to begin to make a difference.

May 16, 2009 at 3:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really resonated with this point. I was recently at a leadership conference for the company I work for, and heard several speakers/presentations. I was definitely in the mindset of "tell me something I don't already know!" Some speakers delivered on that, some didn't. I mentioned this to a few colleagues and one replied, "Sometimes these concepts just need to be reinforced," which was a great point. After reading your blog, I am thinking back especially to the presentations that I thought were not unique, and reflecting with a different filter. What could I take away from it despite thinking that it's repetitive? How does it integrate with the other, more innovative (my bias) presentations? Thanks for the opportunity to see more possibilities that I might have closed off.

May 21, 2009 at 3:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having written the original posting, I just have to say that I am SO ENERGIZED by these comments and reflections . . . the Apollo dynamic . . . can't swim in the same river twice . . . the invitation to leaders to start modeling "not knowing" . . . understanding one's own learning process . . . Quite obviously, there is A LOT of wisdom here, which causes me to pose another question: How often, or what percentage of the time, do we think we work or live from this place of wisdom? And from a place of not knowing?

May 23, 2009 at 8:04 AM  

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