Q &A

Rotman Management Magazine - - QUESTIONS FOR - In­ter­view by Karen Christensen

mind­set’. The Thinkers50 mem­ber and ex­ec­u­tive ad­vi­sor dis­cusses the mer­its of em­brac­ing a ‘rookie

You be­lieve to­day’s re­al­ity re­quires new ways of work­ing and a dif­fer­ent type of in­tel­li­gence. Please ex­plain.

I think we can all feel the work en­vi­ron­ment chang­ing. In­stead of go­ing to a work­place ev­ery day, we’re op­er­at­ing in a ‘workscape’ char­ac­ter­ized by vast amounts of in­for­ma­tion that we are con­stantly try­ing to process. Work cy­cles are spin­ning faster; we can work more and get more done, but at the same time, things change so quickly that many of us don’t face the same prob­lem twice. In­no­va­tion cy­cles are spin­ning faster, too, which means ob­so­les­cence is in­creas­ing. The things we know to be true don’t stay true for very long.

At the be­gin­ning of the In­for­ma­tion Age, knowl­edge was the crit­i­cal com­mod­ity, but that is chang­ing. To­day, be­ing able to ac­cess in­for­ma­tion quickly — when you need it — is the crit­i­cal skill. There is great power in not know­ing be­cause it pro­pels you up a learn­ing curve where you are driven to find an­swers. In the cur­rent en­vi­ron­ment, the most crit­i­cal as­set is not what you know, but how fast you can learn.

Talk a bit more about the lure of in­ex­pe­ri­ence.

I re­fer to it as ‘be­ing in a rookie state’, and it’s a mind­set you can adopt at any age. It’s a way of ap­proach­ing a task when you are new to some­thing that is im­por­tant and dif­fi­cult. In these sce­nar­ios, you are well aware that you don’t know what you’re do­ing — and that’s a great place to be, be­cause rook­ies are un­en­cum­bered by knowl­edge. They might not have a rep­u­ta­tion to de­fend, which means that in­stead of try­ing to de­fend their po­si­tion, it’s all up­side: they are free to ex­plore new pos­si­bil­i­ties and go down new paths that peo­ple with ex­pe­ri­ence usu­ally won’t go down.

In this new­comer state, we op­er­ate like back­pack­ers ex­plor­ing a new ter­rain; we are both alert and in seek­ing mode. I call it ‘hunter-gatherer mode.’ The value of the new­comer is that they have no in­grained ideas about how things work. When you ask a per­son with ex­pe­ri­ence to do a job, they tend to bring their bag­gage to the ta­ble. In the rookie state, be­cause our sit­u­a­tional con­fi­dence is low, we’re cau­tious. We stay con­nected to our stake­hold­ers, seek­ing sig­nals, and we don’t veer away from them for very long. As a re­sult, we tend to be very re­spon­sive.

In the rookie state, we move quickly, be­cause we don’t yet have any ‘points on the board’, and we re­ally want to score a few. In­stead of try­ing to ap­ply all sorts of so­phis­ti­cated method­olo­gies at your or­ga­ni­za­tion, it’s of­ten bet­ter to do what you can to keep peo­ple in this rookie zone, where they nat­u­rally work with agility and stay close to your stake­hold­ers.

You have said that to­day, hav­ing the right ques­tion is more im­por­tant than hav­ing a ready an­swer. Please ex­plain.

I found this in both of my re­search projects over the last cou­ple of years: the lead­ers who bring out the in­tel­li­gence of their teams think in terms of ques­tions, not an­swers. An­swers are static, but ques­tions are dy­namic; they open up pos­si­bil­i­ties, and the right ques­tion can fo­cus the energy and in­tel­li­gence of a team. Rook­ies are nat­u­rals at ask­ing ques­tions, be­cause they don’t have all that in­grained knowl­edge hold­ing them back. This forces them into ques­tion mode, and that’s a re­ally valu­able state — par­tic­u­larly when things are chang­ing so rapidly.

You have said that iron­i­cally, the most valu­able rookie of all is the sea­soned ex­ec­u­tive. Please ex­plain.

We found that the high­est-per­form­ing rook­ies are ex­pe­ri­enced pro­fes­sion­als at the ex­ec­u­tive level who come out of one do­main and are put into a rookie as­sign­ment where they don’t have all the an­swers. Sure, they bring along lead­er­ship skills, savvy, and an abil­ity to work with peo­ple and com­mu­ni­cate well — but they are thrown into un­known ter­ri­tory. This is where com­pa­nies get the great­est value, be­cause these lead­ers know enough to ask the right ques­tions. They prob­a­bly don’t know enough to have the an­swers, but that opens them up to learn­ing and cre­ates just the right lev­els of vul­ner­a­bil­ity, en­gage­ment and chal­lenge.

When peo­ple know that their leader needs their help, they tend to step up to find an­swers and to in­no­vate. That’s why the great­est value lies keep­ing our most ex­pe­ri­enced pro­fes­sion­als and our most se­nior lead­ers in this hun­gry, un­known space. My fan­tasy sce­nario is that we get to the point where cor­po­rate lead­ers can read­ily say, “I don’t know the an­swer.” Re­ally pow­er­ful things hap­pen when lead­ers at the top are al­lowed to show the chinks in their ar­mour. We’d like to think they have all the an­swers be­cause they rep­re­sent safety and se­cu­rity for the or­ga­ni­za­tion; but the fact is, right now ev­ery­one is wing­ing it — even the peo­ple at the top. We need to give our most se­nior peo­ple per­mis­sion to be learn­ers — to ask ques­tions and draw upon the wis­dom of their teams to find the an­swers.

De­spite all the ef­forts un­der­way to wran­gle Big Data, you be­lieve try­ing to master it will prove fu­tile. Why is that?

There is far too much rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion avail­able for any one per­son to grasp; but on the bright side, there doesn’t ap­pear to be too much in­for­ma­tion for a com­puter or a net­work of com­put­ers to process. The fact is, what ma­chines can

achieve with data is well be­yond the ca­pa­bil­ity of the hu­man brain, so try­ing to win at that game will be fu­tile. One of the most crit­i­cal skills for cor­po­rate man­agers is the abil­ity to mine that data for in­sights. The value lies in know­ing where to look and what the right ques­tions are. As a re­sult, the crit­i­cal skills for man­agers are the abil­ity to ask great ques­tions and the abil­ity to search.

Our search en­gines are ac­tu­ally pow­er­ful metaphors for how we need to work go­ing for­ward and how to be smart in the mod­ern world. We need to be a lot like our mo­bile de­vices: they have very lit­tle stor­age, but they have a lot of pro­cess­ing power. Like­wise, I don’t think we’re go­ing to need to store a lot of in­for­ma­tion in our heads — be­cause we have in­stant ac­cess to it. In the search realm, the re­sults you get vary, based on the ques­tion you ask, so you re­ally have to know how to ask the right ques­tion. You also have to be able to look at what comes up on Google and make sense of what is a good source, what isn’t, and how to process that. Then, the most im­por­tant task of all is to cre­ate wis­dom and in­sight from all of that in­for­ma­tion. Data on its own will never equal in­sight: we have to know how to use it as a spring­board for learn­ing.

Last but not least, a ques­tion from one of our Twit­ter fol­low­ers: Do Mil­len­ni­als have nat­u­ral rookie char­ac­ter­is­tics? And which de­mo­graphic group is in trou­ble?

I do think mil­len­ni­als have a nat­u­ral ad­van­tage in this en­vi­ron­ment, and it has to do with their im­pa­tience and their de­sire to con­trib­ute im­me­di­ately. We need in­cum­bent lead­ers to let go of the idea that new hires need to pay their dues be­fore be­ing given any big re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Mil­len­ni­als are com­ing into the work­force want­ing big re­spon­si­bil­ity im­me­di­ately, and that at­ti­tude gives them a nat­u­ral ad­van­tage in terms of rookie smarts.

As com­pa­nies smarten up to this, they will move be­yond lament­ing, ‘Oh, Mil­len­ni­als are so an­noy­ing; they come in, they want big jobs and then they leave af­ter two years. Why should I in­vest in them?’ Smart com­pa­nies say, ‘You know what? These peo­ple prob­a­bly are go­ing to be mov­ing on to some­thing else in two years, so rather than lament that, let’s en­cour­age them to con­trib­ute from day one.’ I think we need to say to mil­len­ni­als, ‘Come in, con­trib­ute im­me­di­ately, and then we will give you your next chal­lenge.’ If you don’t feed them a steady diet of chal­lenges, they will move on and get their fix some­where else.

In terms of dis­ad­van­taged groups, I found some in­ter­est­ing points re­lated to gen­der. Not sur­pris­ingly, our re­search showed that women don’t nec­es­sar­ily like step­ping out of their zone of com­pe­tence into a zone of in­com­pe­tence. They don’t nec­es­sar­ily favour tak­ing jobs that they’re not qual­i­fied for; so some may need a bit of a push.

At the same time, women tend to have nat­u­ral rookie smarts: the abil­ity to ask ques­tions, to mo­bi­lize, to col­lab­o­rate — and a hu­mil­ity that al­lows some­one to learn in a lot of dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions. They ac­tu­ally tend to do bet­ter on some of these things than men. So there is an in­ter­est-

ing dual­ity whereby women might not nat­u­rally em­brace the rookie zone, but once they get there, they tend to be at their best.

Those who will be truly dis­ad­van­taged will be the highly suc­cess­ful — peo­ple whose ex­pe­ri­ence has led to suc­cess, and then to hubris. Ex­pe­ri­ence is not the en­emy: it is the hubris that is of­ten a by-prod­uct of ex­pe­ri­ence that is our great­est en­emy. Also, there is a whole group of lead­ers in the mid­dle gen­er­a­tionally, who can see that the world is chang­ing and that new mod­els have emerged. They’re mak­ing this men­tal cal­cu­la­tion: ‘How much run­way do I have left? Can I ride out my ca­reer lead­ing the way I have, or do I need to make some fun­da­men­tal changes?’ Those who are un­will­ing to change the way they work are prob­a­bly not only dan­ger­ous to them­selves — they might ac­tu­ally be dan­ger­ous to their or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.