Richard Branson on Listening

Tom Peters argues that business schools should offer a masters level course on listening. Sadly, the business schools are not listening.

We all have ears, and we all use our ears. So what is the big deal about learning how to listen? The answer is  simple. As Dan Kahneman has pointed out, our instincts guides us to listen for things that reinforce our beliefs. We tend to ignore the other stuff. And most of the time, our beliefs dominate our analytical process.

Richard Branson offers some thoughts about how to listen more effectively. Check it out!

Why Capacity Building is Hard

We are learning a lot these days about how humans learn We still don’t know it all, but we know much more about what happens in the brain during the learning process. And this is changing the way we think about what works and what does not.

The brain is constantly reacting to information that it gains from perceptions. Sometimes those perceptions reinforce prior beliefs and when this happens, the neural pathways in a select area of the brain are reinforced. The belief then grows stronger. Similarly, when we practice a given skill, neural pathways involved in the activity are reinforced. It gets easier for the brain to do the activity in question.

From this perspective, capacity can be seen as the degree of neural reinforcement that is built up in anticipation of what will be needed. Capacity building, therefore, is a strategic challenge. t marries anticipation and preparation. Preparing for something that will not happen wastes time and effort in useless preparation. Worse still, it detracts from our ability to anticipate what will happen.

The next time you are overloaded in dealing with crisis, you might keep the above in mind.

Top Down or Bottom up?

I am still thinking about a distinction made by Sadie Smith about writers. She argues that there are two types – those who work as “macro planners” and those who micro manage.  I think this applies more generally.

For example, my dad was definitely a macro planner. He saw the big picture and and was proud of it.  He would re-arrange the details as it suited him. I am more of a micro manager. I tend to work along given lines — trying to get things right before I move on.

The macro planner knows the end of the story before he starts to write it. He or she thrives on that certainty. The micro manager does not and does not want to.

So which are you?

The Beauty of “no”

As a child, I had a hard time saying “no”. The reason was relatively simple. I was rebelling from discipline, which is inherently a search for an alternative “yes” to an unpleasant “no”.

But Jobs was right. If you want to do insanely great things, you must learn to say “no” to good things that won’t take you to the great level. They are nice but in the end, just distractions.

Alignment and Distancing

Embracing creativity — something we are exhorted to do these days — means embracing a process. This cuts against the grain because we would like to think that embracing creativity is embracing a spontaneous act of just doing it. Just splashing the paint on the wall or madly scribbling about characters and plot. That just isn’t how it works for us.

But what about artists like Mozart? Even with a person like Mozart, process came first. He lived with music for years before he could claim that he had mastered the process of creating it.

So what does this process look like? There are two aspects worth considering. One is something called a “hunger for psychic alignment”. The hunger creates a certain type of pose — one of the intensely receptive mind. The second is distance – distancing oneself form the ego of creation in order to assess the quality of the product. There is, of course, much more more to it. And Zadie Smith has a lot to say about the process of creative writing. Check it out!

Finding Fun?

Engagement and passion are two very much used words these days. We are exhorted to value these emotions because they offer the key to being more creative. And yet, many of us don’t feel engaged. We don’t feel the passion. And we suspect that there is something wrong.

What does one do?  Doesn’t one have to know what one’s passion is before committing to it? Consider this thought from Mark Manson who is asked this question a lot

… what I want to say to these people is this: that’s the whole point—not knowing is the whole fucking point. Life is all about not knowing, and then doing something anyway. All of life is like this. All of it. And it’s not going to get any easier just because you found out you love your job cleaning septic tanks or you scored a dream job writing indie movies.

In other words, we all enjoy things. We all love things. These emotions flow naturally. It is part of being alive. But we often block out these emotions because they appear inappropriate. They won’t make us money or help us climb a career ladder. Consider this

If you have to look for what you enjoy in life, then you’re not going to enjoy anything.

And how does one start unblocking? Well, you might start by just doing stuff for fun. It is funny how contagious that can be.

Augmenting Your Intelligence

I think that this is right (from Singularity Hub)

Forget humans versus machines: humans plus machines is what will drive society forward. This was the central message conveyed by Dr. John Kelly, senior vice president of IBM Research, at the Augmenting Human Intelligence Cognitive Colloquium, which took place yesterday in San Francisco.

Keep in mind that while a computer can now defeat a grand master at chess — even the greatest grand master, a grand master working with a computer can defeat that same solo computer.

Kickstart your Career with Training

One of the more interesting trends these days relates to how “work” is changing. In the old days, the world of work was pretty well fixed. One found a job that started him or her on a career track. And one hoped that with high levels of job performance, the employer would offer the tools to get ahead — including, but not limited to mentoring and training.

Employers still want great workers. But employer needs are changing. They are looking for different things that they used to. More precisely, they are looking for technical knowledge and soft skills. And with a more rapidly changing workplace, employers are less able to guarantee that they can offer you the knowledge and skills that you need to get ahead in your career.

Here is an example. A statement from the CEO of ProtoLabs on who they want to hire.

(we recognize) how important STEM fields are within manufacturing today, and it’s why Proto Labs actively reaches out to college grads who may not be familiar with the current state of manufacturing — a tech-driven industry that is undergoing a digital renaissance

This is a brave new world. And targeted training will play a greater role to upgrade worker skills sets and knowledge bases for workers to fit in. That may be for entry level technical positions. And it may be for ongoing skills development.

Where will you get this? Good question.  Probably not from your school or university. Academics are not that well connected to the above world of work. We are talking about a private intermediary who is networking with employers and offering programming for workers.

I will be searching for the best of these around the globe and bring back reports as I go.

Stay tuned!

Agency Reconsidered

Disruption is a very popular word these days. Tech startups especially like to talk about disrupting an industry. And we usually think of disruption that replaces human effort or mechanical effort with digital tools.

It might be more effective to think of disruption in terms of stories. In the old days, stories moved at a relatively sluggish pace. So, when Ford and GM started the story of consumers buying cars, they were able to dominate that story line for at least half a century. At some point, however, the story changed. It changed because Japanese car makers were able to offer something that car buyers thought was better. The market was disrupted.

These days, stories move faster. So Apple under Steve Jobs got into the mobile device market and started a new story around music with the Ipod, then around communication with the Iphone and then around content distribution with the Ipad. And the story of what people want from mobile devices got very interesting very fast.

If you are a Steve Jobs, this is a “master of the universe” type of game. But most of us are not like Steve. Most of us have our noses stuck deeply into our own stories. We are too preoccupied with these to think deeply about larger story lines.  Ooops!

Does this mean that we will miss out? It might. But then again, it might not — if we had a tool to help us connect to larger stories. What type of tool is that? It is not a digital tool like search. It is a human whose productivity is enhanced with digital tools. It is an agent.

Here is an example of how agency works in the digital age.  An agent beings human skills to the table — in other words, a human can understand the story line.