Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Learning from outstanding executives.

The quickest way to become an old dog is to stop learning new tricks. One of the pleasures and benefits of working on large startups for the past 30-years has been an opportunity to learn from the thinking and actions of many truly outstanding executives. I'll share some of the capabilities that made them so successful this week. I think of these when evaluating the progress of our new president as he aspires to move quickly on many fronts at once in a very volatile world.

Creating a common world view:

One of the more important management skills today is the ability to differentiate between where incremental change is appropriate and where radical change is needed. To conceive of a different world is senior management’s most imaginative and important act. A world view orders reality by giving it meaning, thus allowing the development of “taken-for-granted” meaning sets. When they share a common world view, members of an executive team can move forward together quickly by taking independent but consistent actions.

Sharing values:

Values stem from people’s previous education and experience, sentiments, attitudes about themselves, the obligations they feel toward others, and their ideals and objectives. For each of us, reality is whatever our values allow us to recognize. We tend to reconfirm our values in any situation by selecting from those factors which are consistent with our values and ignoring others which conflict with them. We see only what we expect to see, and therefore reinforce the assumptions and preconceptions which we use as standards for evaluating our observations. When people see things only from their own point of view, the actions of others which are inconsistent with their values seem stupid or unexplainable to them.

Appreciating new metaphors:

A ruling metaphor is used to describe and organize fundamental relationships. When something is new, people wonder how it’s going to fit into the old. They’re bogged down in the metaphors of the past and can’t understand something new that’s outside their current experience. They don’t know how to integrate new messages into familiar patterns of thinking and behavior. We transpose knowledge from one situation to another by means of metaphors and thus build on what we already know or what's already known by others. In an increasingly digital world, we need to move our metaphors from mechanical to biological images.

Being reflective:

Reflective means open, able to take in views and opinions other than our own. Dan Keily, one of America’s premier landscape architects, says that keeping an open mind is what keeps him in business. “On a lot of projects, something doesn’t come out right, either through your own fault or somebody else’s. But often the corrective measures turn out to be better than the original plan. It’s all part of the process of growth, which is what nature is all about. The design gets better the more open and accepting you are because then it’s not static. It’s coming out of life in action. La Corbusier said that creativity is a patient search. I think it’s also a joyful discovery.” The faster the rate of change, the more reflective we must be.

Tomorrow - learning by analogy, staying focused, providing active leadership, cultivating broad interests and capabilities.

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