Random finds (2016, week 6) — On diversity, the future of work and asking questions

Mark Storm
6 min readFeb 12, 2016

Every Friday, I run through my tweets to select a few of the observations and insights that have kept me thinking over the last week.

Hiring for diversity

Earlier this week I wrote down some random thoughts on polymaths, dabblers and everything in between, and the importance of understanding that the most exciting inventions and innovations occur at the intersection of disciplines. To make full use of these cross-discipline opportunities, hiring for diversity is increasingly important. But hiring alone isn’t enough. Far from it, says Aleah Warren, managing consultant at the strategy firm Paradigm (Why Diversity In Hiring Is Only One Part Of The Puzzle, FastCompany).

“Ultimately, when employees feel the need to hide their differences (even if they don’t leave), their companies lose out on the benefits of having those differences in the first place,” says Warren. “After all, one reason why more diverse companies perform better is because diversity itself spurs innovation. People from different backgrounds bring unique perspectives and expand others’ thinking. Without an inclusive culture, companies miss out on that wide range of experience and thought.” And on opportunities for innovation and renewal.

In Digital Companies Need More Liberal Arts Majors (Harvard Business Review), Tom Perrault, Chief People Officer of Rally Health, writes that companies should begin preparing themselves to be the powerhouses of tomorrow by bringing in more employees with liberal arts skills. Rather than scorning philosophy or history majors who have spent years wrestling knotty theoretical issues and then explicating them in precise details, companies should understand that the skills these students possess will help them become the leaders and CEO’s of tomorrow.

“But there will be a limit to how far computers can replace human capabilities, at least in the near long term. What can’t be replaced in any organization imaginable in the future is precisely what seems overlooked today: liberal arts skills, such as creativity, empathy, listening, and vision. These skills, not digital or technological ones, will hold the keys to a company’s future success. And yet companies aren’t hiring for them. This is a problem, […] and it’s only going to get worse,” according to Perrault.

Or, as Daniel Pink puts it: “The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different mind — designers, story tellers, carers, empathisers, big-picture thinkers and meaning makers.”

Esko Kilpi on the ‘architecture of work’

Also Esko Kilpi talks about the changing architecture of work: “The task today is to understand what social technologies, social complexity and networks really mean, as the next management paradigm is going to be based on these.”

(If you’re interested in the future of work and all things related, I suggest you follow @EskoKilpi on Twitter.)

A few, somewhat random quotes from this timeless, must-read interview:

“It is not the corporation that is in the center, but the intentions and choices of individuals. This view of work focuses attention on the way ordinary, everyday work-tasks should enrich life and perpetually create the future we truly want through continuous creative learning. Work and learning are the same thing.”

“As we want to be more creative and human, the focus of management and management theory should shift towards understanding participative, self-organizing responsibility and the equality of peers.”

“The architecture of work is not the structure of a firm, but the structure of the network.”

In a more recent post (A new agenda connecting people and business), Kilpi writes:

“The post-industrial revolution is a revolution in power. More and more opportunities are being democratized. The new power is vested in knowledgeable people. Just as the Industrial Revolution catered to managers and firms, the post-industrial world rewards individuals and networks. But we don’t yet have the words, the new vocabulary of the new age.”

He then refers to Nilofer Merchant (@nilofer) as “a leading voice in creating the post-industrial narrative.” Merchant is one of the very few management thinkers who help to make sense of the new world. Among the concepts that she has coined is Onlyness. She explains: “Onlyness is what only that one individual can bring to a situation. It includes the journey and passions of each human.”

If you don’t know Nilofer Merchant, take some time to watch her keynote for the 6th Global Peter Drucker Forum (Vienna, Austria, 2014):

The importance of asking the right questions

From Nilofer Merchant to another regular keynote speaker at the Global Peter Drucker Forum: John Hagel III, co-chairman for Deloitte’s Center for the Edge.

In an interview with MIT Sloan Management Review (The Dark Side of the Digital Revolution), Hagel talks about how digital technology puts pressure on businesses to fundamentally change their strategies and cultures. Right at the end, he makes an interesting remark about the importance of asking the ‘right’ questions:

“Leadership in the future, I believe, is actually around being able to frame the right questions, the highest-impact questions, where the leader is actually saying, ‘I have no clue, but this is a really important question. And if we could figure it out, we would do amazing things.’ That’s a completely different model of leadership.”

Some questions indeed have the potential to catalyse breakthroughs and inspire transformations, while others lead to stagnation and demoralization. According to Marilee Adams, president and founder of the Inquiry Institute and author of Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, the difference lies in whether you ask learner questions or judger questions. Learner questions facilitate progress by expanding options, while judger questions impede progress by limiting perspectives.

“Learner questions are open-minded, curious, and creative,” she says. “They promote progress and possibilities, and typically lead to discoveries, understanding and solutions.” By contrast, judger questions are more closed-minded, certain and critical. “They focus on problems rather than solutions and often lead to defensive reactions, negativity and inertia.” (How The Most Successful People Ask Questions, FastCompany)

A bit more…

For those who have missed Peter Vander Auwera’s essays on the Essence of Work.

“These are not my own thoughts,” he writes. “Many are evolutions of deep insights by people much smarter than me. In every post, I will obviously reveal that source of the inspiration that keeps challenging me in my work. I am just re-chewing the source, sensing it, and trying to make sense out of it.”

And so he did, a lot of sense. You will find all ten essays here, including a short introduction: https://petervan.wordpress.com/2015/08/16/the-essence-of-work-introduction. Don’t forget to watch Dave Gray, founder of the design consultancy XPLANE and author of Gamestorming and The Connected Company, on liminal thinking in Vander Auwera’s first essay on belief systems.

strategy+business published an in-depth conversation with Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser on the next industrial revolution. In it, Kaeser describes how Siemens — an industrial powerhouse founded in the 19th century — is transforming itself into a digital manufacturer that can thrive in the 21st century.

“If you look at a company culture and what it takes to stay alive for the next generation or two, or maybe even longer, you need to look at the purpose of the company. Why is it that I’m going to get up in the morning and go to work at that company? Why do I believe it is worth going the extra mile and giving my extra five cents? The way we’ve been defining the purpose at Siemens is that we are a ‘business to society’ enterprise,” according to Kaeser.

More here: http://www.strategy-business.com/article/Siemens-CEO-Joe-Kaeser-on-the-Next-Industrial-Revolution?gko=efd41.

ThoughtWorks has published the first two chapters in a series on organizational transformation: Change Drivers & Measurers of Success and Seven Pitfalls to Avoid During Organizational Transformation.

“Most transformations will fail to reach the promised pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, because organizations will not change existing definitions of success and failure quickly enough. In the new world, the goal is to minimize waste, accelerate innovation, embrace complexity, decentralize decision-making, and deliver customer value better and faster than the competitors. Yet most organizations do not have KPI’s aligned with these goals, which can prove fatal for the change initiative.”

You’ll find both chapters (and many more insights on transformation) here: https://www.thoughtworks.com/insights/transformation.

And finally, EgonZehnder’s Ulrike Krause and Ashley Summerfield met up philosopher Julian Baggini to talk about, amongst other things, shifting identities.

Baggini: “We should also remember that identities can shift with context and make the most of that fact. Consistency is not sameness. There is no contradiction between being softly spoken in some contexts and speaking forcefully in others, as long as we are not conveying contradictory messages. Similarly, a major contract might call for hard bargaining, while an employee’s request for flexible working might require as much flexibility as we can provide. So we need to avoid cultivating identities that are too sweeping, such as ‘I am a tough negotiator’ or ‘I am an accommodating manager’.”

More here: http://www.egonzehnder.com/the-focus-magazine/topics/the-focus-on-identity/essay/in-search-of-self.html.

“Certainty is a form of hiding.” — Seth Godin



Mark Storm

Helping people in leadership positions flourish — with wisdom and clarity of thought