Why and How should Leaders practice Systems Thinking?

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In the LOs Model, created and researched by implementing systems thinking approach, nine organizational systems affect learning. Communication is the most important system that has the greatest impact on learning. The other three systems which have very serious effect on learning are leadership and management, vision and strategy and performance management. Let’s overview leadership and management in LOs, and especially discuss why and how leaders should practice systems thinking.

Leaders and Leadership in LOs

The leadership practices of the three types of leaders that are executive leaders, local line leaders and internal networkers play a critical role in supporting learning. The leaders in LOs are actually leaders of learning because they are designers and stewards of learning.

Executive leaders understand that change is learning and learning is change, so they support the building of learning infrastructures and model the step-by-step process of developing the norms and behaviours of learning culture. In recent years, the foundation of Corporate Universities and Academies of many companies are very good examples for the support of executive leaders and their efforts to create learning culture. I have personally witnessed the genuine dedication of top executive leaders and their support in the foundation of a very successful Corporate Academy. Moreover, the support of the executive leaders has continued so that the Academy has won many awards.

Local leaders are actually the first line managers. The most important role of local line leaders is to design practical learning processes and to lead their realization. After establishing the learning processes, local line leaders should play the role of trainers because they are better than professional trainers since they have trustworthiness coming from their practical knowledge and experience. They can experiment if new learning capabilities result in improved business outcomes. Committed local line leaders are needed since important progresses cannot be made without them. That is why nowadays, first line managers are trained as coaches and mentors. They master skills which can help them to understand the training needs of their teams and skills that can help them to develop people.

Internal networkers or community builders are employees who are all over the organization, and they support organizational experiments and diffusion of new learning. They can function as project managers, co-facilitators, learning historians, and as employees who bring together like-minded people. The most significant feature of internal networkers is that they figure out and comprehend the informal networks that expand information and innovative practices. Internal networkers are effective because they are accepted as trustworthy, knowledgeable, and committed employees who are not a threat to other people in the company. Although they do not possess any positional authority, they are successful. The power of their beliefs and the clarity of their ideas are the origin of the only authority they have. Their main limitation is that they can do little to oppose hierarchical authority, and they have no power to alter organizational structures or processes. Despite the fact internal networkers are needed in organizations, they will be beneficial only if they are in strong cooperation with line and executive leaders. In fact, community networkers can build learning communities that can energize learning and spark creative inspiration and innovation. I think that it is time to support internal networkers who can be very successful advocates of learning.

Management practices in LOs

Management practices in LOs are radically different from the ones in traditional hierarchical organizations. They are based on leaders’ and managers’ continuous learning instead of relying on past experiences. Management practices in LOs aim to encourage, recognize and reward managers and leaders whose behaviours reflect five dimensions that are openness, sense of efficacy, empathy, creativity andsystems thinking.

Openness means that organizations, leaders and managers have to be open to all possibilities in order to figure out tendencies and create choices. This is needed for learning to happen. Managers have to want to give up control that means dealing with details. Focusing on details restricts potential learning. The most important remark that has to be made is that micromanagement and the need of detailed information can be substituted with the need for common and shared values. Managers must understand that their own values and experiences are not superior to the values and experiences of their teams. For learning, understanding cultural diversity and possessing cultural tolerance and even humility are very essential.

A sense of personal efficacy is a feature of leaders and managers in LOs. They are actively self-aware and proactive problem solvers. Also, they believe that they can and should learn to significantly influence their world. Nowadays, many of the managers know their values and goals, yet they do not know, or they do not get feedback from others about the effect of their behaviours. Self-awareness from reflective introspection is not true. For learning, managers have to find information about the impact of their behaviours on others. Shortly, the personal efficacy of leaders should be evaluated and various types of feedback should be given.

Empathy is essential characteristic of leaders and managers in LOs. They have to be sensitive and concerned for human nature. Besides, they must be interested and skilled in repairing strained relationships. Learning empathy is used in repairing relationships. Repair skills are implemented in resolving breakdowns in communication. In conflicting situations, leaders and managers have to remember their responsibility to repair relationships and use empathetic skills like taking the other individual’s perspective, or looking for the new and different dimensions of the other individual and the situation.

Personal flexibility and risk taking, the two aspects of creativity are essential for learning. Tolerance for ambiguity is also needed, but personal flexibility is the main one. It is an ability of leaders to modify their behaviours according to the current realities. Some leaders and managers may be afraid of taking risks because risks can lead to failure. Moreover, they may avoid learning since most of the time learning may result in failure as well. However, some leaders rather than concentrating on the accuracy of their functions may want to take risks and be creative. The current business world requires leaders to be flexible and to take risks to approach and solve problems in different ways. They know that they can fail productively, and they also know that failure is a learning that can later lead to further creativity.

The last leadership practice is systems thinking. Systems thinking is the most important discipline in Peter Senge’s Learning Organization Theory. The discipline of systems thinking is useful for seeing and understanding wholes, interrelations and change patterns. Systems thinking is a set of principles taken from physical and social sciences, engineering, and management, and a set of tools and techniques borrowed from “feedback” concepts of cybernetics and “servo-mechanism” engineering theory. In the modern world, there is enormous amount of complexity because of information overload and accelerated change. There are also issues such as global warming, ozone depletion and international drug trade. All of them are examples of “systematic breakdowns” created from the unmanageable complexity.

Why should Leaders practice Systems Thinking?

They should practice systems thinking because of organizations breakdowns, which result from not being able to utilize the diverse organizational functions for generating innovative products or services; and also not being able to utilize the diverse talents of employees into a productive whole.

“Coming out of the worst economic downturn in our professional lifetimes – and facing a new normal that is distinctly different – it is remarkable that CEOs identify creativity as the number one leadership competency of the successful enterprise of the future,” said Frank Kern, senior vice president, IBM Global Business Services “But step back and think about it, and this is entirely consistent with the other top finding in our Study – that the biggest challenge facing enterprises from here on will be the accelerating complexity and the velocity of a world that is operating as a massively interconnected system.

How should leaders practice systems thinking?

1. By understanding the levels and causes of organizational complexity:

In organizational context, there are four levels of organizational experience that are interconnected and cause complexity. The first level is the external world. This is environment, competitors, and customers. The second one is the organization’s and managers’ own actions such as strategies, management practices, policies and procedures. The third level is the organization’s and manager’s own problem-identification, problem definition, and problem solving processes like culture, expertise, and functional orientation just to name but few. The last level is organizational consciousness that is the experience of all of the above. Leaders in any organization are engaged in the four levels of experience. They are also engaged in maintenance learning that is needed in handling predictable everyday events. This is possible only if the internal and the external environments are unchanging.

2. By managing anticipative and participative learning:

Now, change is continuous, and that is why maintenance learning should be replaced by innovative learning that has two types anticipative learning and participative learning. Leaders should manage anticipative learning by helping employees and the organization to forecast future needs and events. They should provide the conditions for employees to work together, participate in dialogues, and empathise with each other so that participative learning can happen.In participative learning, employees question assumptions, find out the activities that are not productive, and cease doing them, so they make product and service improvements and innovations.

3. By realizing that they are not helpless reactors but anticipative participants:

A shift of mind by practising systems thinking will help leaders to understand complex situations and realize that they are not helpless reactors to the present but active participants in shaping the reality and creating the future.They also have to grasp the idea that doing the obvious things does not result in obvious and desired outcomes. They can achieve this by practising systems thinking and learning that in detail complexity there are many variables.

4. By managing dynamic complexity:

In dynamic complexity cause and effect are subtle, and the effects of interventions are not obvious. Dealing with dynamic complexity is impossible because management tools are not designed for this. On the other hand, the real leverage or the most effective action in most leadership situations is comprehending dynamic complexity, not detail one. Many of the business activities are dynamic in nature for instance balancing market growth and capacity expansion, improving quality and satisfying customers. Dynamic complexity can be managed by seeing the major interrelationships underlying a problem. Shift in mind is the gist of systems thinking, and it is seeing interrelationships rather than linear cause-effect chains and seeing process of change rather than snapshots.

5. By understanding “feedback”:

The practice of systems thinking starts with the idea of “feedback” that illustrates how actions can reinforce or balance each other. “Feedback” means a reciprocal flow of influence. In systems thinking every influence is both cause and effect.As a result, for each situation a systems diagram with feedback loops may be drawn. Reinforcing and balancing feedback and delays are the crucial elements of systems thinking.

6. By managing reinforcing feedback system:

In reinforcing feedback system, small actions can grow into large consequences without being noticed. Being able to see this system may help leaders to influence how it works. For instance, in human resources management, managers cannot figure out that their own expectations affect subordinates performance. When there is an employee with a high potential, a manager gives special attention to develop that potential. The employee is successful and the manager helps him/her further. On the contrary, a manager views an employee as not very capable and does not support him/her. The employee’s performance becomes even worse and the manager’s attention decreases even more.

7. By managing balancing feedback system:

In a balancing process, sources of stability and resistance are discovered. A balancing system is a system, which is seeking stability. In nature and in business, balancing feedback systems are very common. Management of the balancing process is very hard because goals are implicit. This can be illustrated by discussing a case. A manager in quickly growing training business tried to reduce burnout among professionals by writing memos and shortening working hours. All these measures were to stop overworking. However, he was not successful because employees ignored the memos, and they continued to work at home. The real reason for this failure was the manager himself who set an unwritten norm of working seventy hours per week. Consequently, the employees worked like him because hard work was the key for promotion. This balancing process with its implicit goal and norm generated problematic behaviours. In comparison with reinforcing loops, balancing ones are more difficult to see since they are hidden, and it looks like nothing is happening.

8. By understanding delays:

Systems also have delays, which are interruptions between leaders’ actions and their consequences. For example, delay occurs when leaders invest money in a new project, and it is known that it will pay off after a period of time. In all feedback processes, there are delays, which are either unrecognised or not well understood.Systems thinking is related with the long-term view, so delays and feedback loops are very significant. In the short term, they can be overlooked because they are not consequential. However, in the long term they occur and cause problems.

In conclusion, practising systems thinking is focusing on the whole instead of its parts. It is an ability to understand the relationships, effects and delays among information, problems, people, events, departments and systems. Leaders should practice systems thinking and encourage their followers to practice it as well because only through systems thinking collective learning can occur. Shortly, systems thinking is a powerful tool for creative problem solving and innovation.

Source: Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the LearningOrganization, USA: Currency Doubleday, 1ed, 1994

(Posted also on LinkedIn Pulse)

Intrinsic Motivation and More

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Employee retention is a very popular and recent HR challenge. Companies have used different solutions to overcome it. Two of them are employee engagement and employee empowerment. These two HR practices are usually implemented to retain employees, yet the problem still remains because the root is not only extrinsic as compensation and benefits but actually intrinsic, very natural, human and psychological. It is related with employee motivation. Nowadays, in the open talent economy, employees are highly skilled and knowledgeable. They do not look for jobs and careers. They want experience by adding value and engaging in tasks that motivate them intrinsically. One of the recent motivational theories that focuses on increasing intrinsic motivation is for sure Daniel Pink’s theory.

Pink’s Theory

In his motivation theory, Daniel Pink states that businesses and leaders should use a new approach to motivation which is based on self-determination. According to it, people have an innate drive to be autonomous, self-determined and connected to one another. Organizations should focus on this drive when managing their employees by creating settings which support the human innate need to direct their own lives, learn and create new things and contribute to their organization and the world. Pink’s terms for these are autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Autonomy

Autonomy gives employees some freedom over some or all of the four main aspects of work. These are time, technique, team and task.

Employees are free to do their tasks whenever they want to. The important thing is the output. That is why nowadays, flexible work time is implemented by many companies.

What about technique? In the past, managers dictated how employees should complete their tasks. The traditional management style is not compatible with the modern business world. Now, leaders and managers should be mentors and coaches. They should provide initial guidance, and then allow employees to tackle the project as they wish rather than having to follow strict procedures. Employees want to decide by themselves how they do their job.

Team work is important part in professional life. Usually people are assigned to teams. What about letting employees to choose their team? Although this can be the hardest form of autonomy, it will be great to allow employees some choice over who they work with. Only one person cannot have all the competencies to do projects that solve complex problems. Teams nowadays are formed so naturally by complementing competencies so employees have to choose team members according to the required competencies.

The last aspect is task. Leading oneself is a very important competence that all modern professionals should possess. They decide when, how and with whom to do their job tasks. In addition, managers should allow employees to have regular “creative” days where they can work on any project or problem they wish. There are studies which show that many innovations are generated during this “creative free time”. It is known that many innovative companies such as Google for example use this technique.

Mastery

In my last post 2015: New Year for Your Personal Mastery, I discussed the topic of personal mastery. People are responsible for their own personal mastery, yet companies and leaders are responsible as well. They should support personal mastery and allow employees to become better at something that matters to them and the organization.

Pink emphasizes Goldilocks tasks and environment for mastery. Do you rememberthe Goldilocks principle? Diverse talent should generate the right amount of creative energy in order to be creative and innovate. How?

Pink uses the term “Goldilocks tasks” to describe those tasks which are neither very difficult nor very simple. These tasks push the employees out of their comfort zones, and allow them to stretch themselves and develop their competencies further. Only in this “just right” condition employees have the chance for mastery. When the given tasks fall in the other two extremes the results are boredom and anxiety. In other words, when the tasks are easy and simple for employees, they are bored. If the tasks are too difficult, employees might be frustrated, anxious or stressed.

According to Daniel Pink, four essentials are required to foster an environment of learning and development. These are autonomy, clear goals and immediate feedback and Goldilocks tasks. Learning organizations are organizations that support learning, and they are the suitable environment for mastery.

Purpose

Purpose is to take actions in order to fulfill employees’ natural desire to contribute to a cause greater than them. Leaders and managers should communicate and make sure employees know and understand the organization’s purpose not just its profit goals. Employees, who understand the purpose and vision of their organization and how their individual roles contribute to this purpose, are more likely to be satisfied in their work.

Communicating organization’s mission and vision is important and using the appropriate language is also essential. As Pink states, leaders and managers should use purpose-oriented words and utter pronouns such as “us” and “we”. Consequently, this will inspire employees to talk about their organization in the same way. They will feel as a part of the greater cause, or they will commit to the whole.

Organizations should place equal emphasis on purpose and profit maximization. Research shows that the attainment of profit goals has no impact on employee’s well-being. Organisational and individual goals should focus on purpose as well as profit.

Autonomy, mastery and purpose will increase intrinsic motivation of employees, and this also will result in increased employee satisfaction.

Employee Empowerment

What is employee empowerment? Employee empowerment is giving employees a certain degree of autonomy and responsibility for decision-making regarding their specific organizational tasks. It allows decisions to be made at the lower levels of an organization where employees have a unique view of the issues and problems. Actually, they have to be empowered to make decisions about their own tasks because they are the ones who know the best. That is why there is a need for a management practice of sharing information, rewards and power with employees so that they can take initiative and make decisions to solve problems and improve service and performance. Empowerment is based on the idea that giving employees autonomy, resources and opportunity as well as holding them responsible for outcomes of their actions, will contribute to their learning, mastery, job satisfaction and happiness.

One company case study can be used to illustrate employee empowerment. The Walt Disney Company is given as an example for the use of employee empowerment strategies. It has actually invested great amount of time in teaching their employees the Disney Company’s mission and values. Passion as well as devotion from actors and staff is one of the five important features of working for Walt Disney. Disney describes their employees as cast members in order to break the regular boundaries of the manager and employee relationship. Besides, it makes use of advancement, community and positive outlook in their organizational culture for empowering staff members.

Employee Engagement

Employee engagement can be defined as the relationship between an organization and its employees. Engaged employee are usually very enthusiastic about their work. They are intrinsically motivated to take positive actions to further the organization’s reputation and interests. On the contrary, when employees are not engaged, they make minimum efforts to perform their jobs. They do not try hard to add value to their organization. Stated shortly, organizations with high employee engagement will outperform those with low employee engagement. Engaging employees or making sure that they are committed and productive in their work can benefit the organization as much as it can benefit employees.

For ongoing employee engagement some strategies should be applied. They are very similar to Pink’s theory. The most important is to engage employees by providing purpose bigger that their daily tasks. Organization’s mission and vision, brand that is products or services must be the guiding purpose in everything employees do. Besides, communication on continuous basis is required so that employees know how they and the organization are doing. Another one is for sure employee empowerment. The best engagement is to empower all employees to do their best by providing the leadership, resources and training employees need to realize their potential that is actually personal mastery. The best result is that it is also much easier to retain employees who are empowered, engaged and committed to the success of their organization.

One case study for employee engagement is Mars company that has 70 000 employees in 73 countries. Mars believes that well-being underpins engagement and productivity. As a result, Mars supports its employees to manage their health and well-being. There are mutual benefits for Mars, the employees and their families. For instance, the well-being strategy in the UK included focus on diet and physical activity just to name a few. One campaign gave the chance for employees to have blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose checks.

Employee Retention

Employee retention simply refers to the ability of an organization to retain its employees. When retention is low, it means that employee turnover is high. The reasons for employee turnover might be absence of career paths, lack of recognition or poor employee-manager relationships. The main objective of companies is to decrease employee turnover.

One business case to depict this is Harrods. To reduce employee turnover Harrods has implemented some strategies such as a better management structure and improved benefits. Apart from the external motivators like the system of rewards and incentives, Harrods improved work schedules which helped employees to have a better work-life balance. Moreover, Harrods also provides a wide variety of development opportunities for its employees. During performance appraisals, managers talk to employees about their progress and ambitions, so that employees identify their personal development targets. These are the so called autonomy and mastery in Pink’s theory.

Different Approach

How does Kevin Roberts, the CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi retain top talent? Now, we know the answer. It is short and simple. He does not. Kevin Roberts knows that if he gives his employees four things, they will want to come back. These four things areresponsibility, learning, recognition and joy.

Are not they very similar to autonomy, mastery and purpose? Giving responsibility is actually giving purpose and autonomy to achieve. Mastery is only possible through continuous learning and development. Joy is the result of autonomy and mastery. It is the satisfaction of adding value to the job, organization, community and the bigger whole. Recognition is not discussed in Pink’s theory. Organizations need to adopt a culture of recognition because people feel happier when they know that they are valued, loved and supported. As a concluding sentence, I would like to directly quote Kevin Roberts’ words which actually summarize so many modern HR and leadership trends that hopefully will be implemented soon.

“…we don’t look for functional expertise;

we look for curiosity and passion

and the ability to work in a culture

where the outcome is

collaborative connected idea creation…”

(Posted also on LinkedIn Pulse)

New Year: One of the Many for Your Personal Mastery

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Personal Mastery is a lifelong discipline of personal learning and growth, and it is a very special type of proficiency in personal and professional aspects. People who have high level of personal mastery are in an ongoing mode of learning and development since they are aware of their ignorance, incompetence and growth areas. They enlarge and enrich their competences to reach the goals and results that they really pursue in life. Consequently, they fully develop to their potential. The foundation of personal mastery is competences and knowledge, but it also requires some spiritual growth. Reactive viewpoint is not compatible with personal mastery, so we have to approach life as a creative work. Every new year is a new opportunity for turning life into a masterpiece. Here is 2015, a New Year for Your Personal Mastery. Maybe you can try to integrate personal mastery in your personal and professional life. You may basically do it by continually engaging in two activities that are clarifying what is important for you and learning how to see current reality more clearly. You can achieve personal mastery by practicing the seven principles.

1. Clarify Your Personal Vision

Vision is what you desire for the future. Personal vision is your future aspirations, goals and ideas that come from within you. Your personal vision is not relative but intrinsic. Relative vision means competition with others, and when the competition finishes the vision is over as well, and a new one is needed. Intrinsic personal vision is an ongoing process of discovering and clarifying what you really want. Your personal vision may have many goals. For instance, personal goals such as being healthy, happy and successful, and material goals like money, house, car and so on. Continuously discovering and clarifying your personal vision is the easiest practice of personal mastery.

2. Manage Your Creative Tension

What you really want and pursue in your life is your personal vision. Your current reality is the place where you are relative to what you want. Creative tension is the force that tries to align your current reality and your personal vision. Holding and managing the creative tension is very difficult when there is a gap between your personal vision and your current reality. For example, let’s assume that you want to become an entrepreneur and start your own business, but you do not have the capital to invest. Thus, your vision may seem unrealistic so that it can lead to frustration. On the other hand, the same gap defined as creative tension may be a source of motivation for you, and it may also burst energy for your action. Peter Senge illustrates the idea of creative tension with the rubber band metaphor that represents the gap between reality and vision. If this rubber band is stretched to align the reality and vision, tension between them is formed. This tension tries to find a resolution, which may be reached by pulling your current reality toward your personal vision and vice versa. Sometimes, you might feel another type of tension which is emotional such as anxiety or stress. Experiencing emotional tension instead of creative one may result in lowering your personal vision. The most important is to master the creative tension that is a source of energy for perseverance and patience so that you can follow your vision and struggle for its realization. At the end, the results that you may achieve are either success or failure. If you succeed, you will experience happiness and satisfaction, whereas if you fail you may experience unworthiness or powerlessness. Failure is the evidence that the gap between vision and current reality has not been overcome. Still, failure is your chance for learning. It helps you to learn and understand the incorrect structures of current reality and the fact that some of your strategies did not work as you had expected. Failure may also lead you to scrutiny and clarification of your personal vision.

3. Overcome the Structural Conflict

Senge describes a second rubber band that operates in just the opposite direction. It pulls you away from your vision towards your beliefs that you cannot do or change anything, so you may feel powerless or unworthy. All these form the phenomenon of structural conflict. There are many strategies for you to solve the structural conflict. One strategy is that you can give up your personal vision because handling and solving the structural conflict is not an easy task. The other two strategies are conflict manipulation and willpower, and they may help you to defeat the structural conflict. You can choose to manipulate the structural conflict through self-manipulation toward a goal or creation of an artificial conflict by avoiding what you do not desire. The best strategy to overcome the structural conflict is to activate your willpower which is defeating all kinds of resistance in order to achieve your goals and vision.

4. Commit to the Truth

Personal mastery needs commitment to the truth that is also an effective strategy for overcoming structural conflict. Commitment to the truth is your engagement in questioning theories and trying to understand the nature of events and the structures underlying them. If you are a person with very high level of personal mastery you can grasp the structural conflict underlying your own behaviors. You can understand that not the others, but you are responsible for the outcomes of events. A great shift of mind leads to discovering structures and manipulating them with ease. It means finding the truth, seeing reality as it is, and comprehending and removing the self-imposed distortions of reality. Your commitment to the truth or questioning theories is a very important principle that you should practice. Only you can find the truth, and only you can see the reality as it is.

5. Use Your Subconsciousness

According to Senge, another principle of personal mastery is using your subconsciousness. People with high level of personal mastery can do very complicated tasks very easily since they can deal with complexity through their subconsciousness. Your subconsciousness is related with how you learn. At the beginning, learning a new task requires conscious attention and effort. Later after learning, it can become unconscious. Your ability to link awareness and subconsciousness is very important for your personal mastery. You can reach this by focusing on desired results. This skill is very crucial since subconsciousness has a specific characteristic to respond to a clear focus. If you do not have a clear focus, or if there is confusion between your intrinsic and extrinsic or secondary goals, the subconsciousness cannot focus. Focusing and making clear choices is not only important for subconsciousness, but also it is the most effective leverage of human awareness. If you need or want to focus your subconsciousness you can apply two techniques which are imagery and visualization. For achieving success in applying these two techniques, one factor is very crucial. This factor is actually what the most important thing is for you. You have to use your subconsciousness in order to learn and reach your vision. Engaging in personal mastery actually means your active involvement in imagination and visualization. You have to continuously imagine and visualize your personal vision and see its clear picture in your mind.

6. Balance Your Reason and Intuition

Existing structures of reality dictate human behaviors, and also other structures may be created through human behaviors. Most of the people are not aware of structures because they cannot see them. Simply, they do not know how to perceive structures. In order to succeed in achieving your personal vision, your ability to integrate your reason and intuition is really critical. In the past, reason was considered to be more important than intuition. Nowadays, it is advised that intuition should be used to solve issues that are completely rational. In people with high level of personal mastery the integration of reason and intuition is inborn capacity because they try to use all resources at their disposal. You can connect your reason and intuition only through your systems thinking ability. Intuition cannot be explained in terms of linear logic which is defined as understanding of the cause and effect relations that are close in time and space. Consequently, you cannot understand your intuition by thinking linearly and logically. You have to see your connection to the world. It derives from your systems thinking ability, and it is your skill of figuring out the inter-dependencies between your behaviors and your reality. Learning continuously will help you to consistently broaden your awareness and understanding and to balance your reason and intuition.

7. Commit to the Whole

The last principle of personal mastery is commitment to the whole. Actually, your commitment to the whole should be the real outcome of your personal mastery. Only achieving your own self-centered, narrow and individualistic goals cannot satisfy you or the people who have connection to the world and feel responsible for the benefits of all. You need something larger than yourself, or you need the whole such your organization, community, society and the world. Aligning your personal vision with your commitment to the whole can give you more satisfaction and happiness because you can contribute to the development of your organization, community, society and the world as a whole.

Let 2015 be one of the many years for Your Personal Mastery. I hope the seven principles for practicing personal mastery will help you to realize your vision. I wish you healthy, happy and successful 2015. Happy New Year!

Source: Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the LearningOrganization, USA: Currency Doubleday, 1ed, 1994

(Posted also on LinkedIn Pulse)

The Waste of Creative Talents

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The waste of natural resources is a very serious and globally discussed environmental problem. Moreover, the most unique and precious natural resources are people and their talents, and unfortunately, they are also wasted. Creative human talents are easily wasted in economically poor countries where people do not have access to education. They are also wasted in developed countries where people have the chance to be educated, but education does not support them to develop their talents and unleash their creativity.

Creativity is putting your imagination to work, and it has produced the most extraordinary results in human culture.” Sir Ken Robinson

Children are very creative, and they naturally express their creative talents. However, they cannot use their talents and creativity for something productive and useful that can contribute to the development of human civilization. Now, let’s consider adults. They are “grown up children” who have “lost” their creativity, but they can be productive and innovate. Adults unlike children can contribute to the progress of humanity. They can use the “small amount of creativity” left in them, but they do not want to because of lack of motivation, or they cannot because of real life obstacles. In addition, social structures and organizational barriers drain adults’ creative inspiration and creative power.

George Land’s Creativity Test

George Land developed a creativity test which was used to select the most innovative engineers and scientists to work for NASA. The assessment was successful, and he decided to try it on children. “What we have concluded,” wrote Land, “is that non-creative behavior is learned.” Land’s conclusion is based on his research which he conducted in 1968. The research study tested the creativity of 1,600 children ranging in ages from three-to-five years old. He later re-tested the same children at 10 years, and again at 15 years of age. The test results:

  • 98% (5 years old)
  • 30% (10 years old)
  • 12% (15 years old)
  • 2% (280,000 adults)

When we analyze this data, the difference between 5 years old and 10 years old children is 68%. What a great decrease in creative behavior! The difference between 10 years old and 15 years old children is 18%. The drop of creativity in a period of 10 years is 86% which is really shocking!! This number reminds us of Sir Ken Robinson’s most popular TED talk “How schools kill creativity”. When we compare the results of 5 years old children with the results of adults the number is 96%!!!

Wasted Creative Talents

Nowadays, there is this common viewpoint that modern educational system all around the world needs to be changed. In other words, there is a need for educational reform. Since education is still based on the principles of the Industrial Period, the outcomes are not suitable for the 21st century world. The 21st century needs individual talent who is very creative and who can innovate. However, the system still implements the methods of mass education and standardized testing. On the other hand, what about adults? Have you ever asked the question “why adults are not creative”? Nobody discusses the reasons for the lack of creativity in adults. Maybe it is time to discuss this topic because there is a need for creative workforce that is innovative. It is time for change. The answers to “why” are clear. The answers of “how” are so many, and there are many creative solutions that can make the modern schools and organizations to be focused on individual talent and to be engaged in nurturing creativity.

“You can’t just give someone a creativity injection. You have to create an environment for curiosity and a way to encourage people and get the best out of them.” Sir Ken Robinson

Graham Wallas’ Stage Model

How can we generate creative solutions? There are many methods. Graham Wallas developed one of the first models of the creative process. He presented it in his work “Art of Thought”, published in 1926. Here are the 5 stages:

  1. Preparation– This is the first stage in which a creative individual or a team focuses minds on a problem and analyzes it.
  2. Incubation– In this stage, the creative individual or team internalizes the problem into the unconscious minds.
  3. Intimation– In the third stage, the creative individual or team “feels” the solution is on its way.
  4. Illumination– This is also called “insight”. In this stage, creative ideas burst forth from their pre-conscious processing into conscious awareness.
  5. Verification– In the final stage, the individual or team consciously verifies, elaborates and then applies the idea.

Prove Your Creative Talent

Do you wonder how creative you are? Do you think that you are very creative or not creative at all? You can test your level of creativity by clicking on the link below. Believe me it is fun. The test evaluates your creativity level measured across 8 different metrics. You will be very surprised that even though you are an adult, you are still very creative.

http://www.testmycreativity.com

It would be great if we could know more about the results of the other test takers, and especially if we could compare the results of adults with those of children. However, this is not possible, and I think this is not very necessary because despite his/her biological age every human being is exceptionally creative. That is why it is time to stop the waste of creative talents. It is time to find collective and creative solutions…

(Posted also on LinkedIn Pulse)

Discussion, Dialogue and Cultural Competence

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Communication is the most important variable in the Learning Organization Model. It is actually the most critical organizational system that supports learning and has the greatest positive effect on it. Transfer of data, information and knowledge in any organization is very essential, so communication has to be very effective and efficient. However, only genuine and sincere communication among employees is the ground for trust, cooperation and individual, team and organizational learning and development. That is why organizations which aim to become better learning organizations (LOs) should use some strategies for more open and trustworthy communication because only such communication can lead to learning, continuous innovation and business success.

Communication Strategies in LOs

  • Communication with the external world that is customers, suppliers, business partners and competitors is fast and continuous.
  • Organizational structure is flat and has decentralized but completely connected communication networks.
  • The most recent high-technology is utilized to solve the problem of information overload.
  • Communication flows in all directions.
  • Individual and organizational barriers of communication are removed.
  • The barriers of source credibility and biased opinions are demolished.
  • Informal communication is free and effective.
  • Participation in discussions and dialogues is balanced.

Discussion and dialogue are the two kinds of discourse that are very important for communication. David Bohm, a contemporary physicist and a leading quantum theorist, contributed to the study of discussion and dialogue. For teams and team learning in LOs, participating in discussions and dialogues is important. Team members have to know the difference between discussion and dialogue, and also they have to be skilled in practicing them.

Discussion

In a discussion, a topic is analyzed from many and different viewpoints, but the purpose is to choose one winning viewpoint that is going to be accepted by the team. Stated differently, the aim of practicing a discussion is to analyze a situation, problem or solution by presenting and defending different opinions, and finally one shared team decision is made.

In discussions, the two roles of a team manager or leader are enriching collective inquiry and building consensus. “Focusing down” and “opening up” are two types of consensus.

  1. In “focusing down”, team members’ opinions are analyzed, and views that are common are used for forming consensus.
  2. In “opening up”, each team member has an opinion, which is his/her perception of reality. If members try to look at the reality from each other’s perception, they can see different things that are not seen when there is only one opinion.

Team learning occurs through practicing dialogue and discussion whose fundamental elements are inquiry and reflection. Team members or employees in LOs possess the two required skills. Consequently, dialogues and discussions can happen because employees can make inquiries and reflect. In team learning, keeping the balance between dialogues and discussions is very important because actually they are each other’s complements.

On the other hand, the aim and rules of the dialogue and discussion are different. Since the distinction between discussion and dialogue is made, team learning is possible, and teams in LOs learn continuously. If team members cannot distinguish them, the result is neither dialogue nor discussion. A successful learning team has the capability to switch from dialogue to discussion and vice versa. This is possible because for both of them the skills of inquiry and reflection are used.

Dialogue

The origin of dialogue is the Greek word dialogos. “Dia” means through and “logos”means the meaning. The definition of dialogue is “free flow of meaning among people” Going beyond any employee’s understanding is what a dialogue aims. No one gains a victory in a dialogue. Employees express their assumptions so that they disclose their experience and thoughts. A common meaning is developed, and insights are gained. In a dialogue, complex issues are explored and views are expressed so as to a new view is created.

According to Bohm, there are three conditions for a dialogue.

  1. The first one is suspending assumptions. It means that team members are aware of their assumptions, and they try to question and observe them. In a dialogue, team members can understand their own assumptions more clearly since they have the chance to compare and contrast their own assumptions with the assumptions of the other team members.
  2. The second condition is seeing each other as a colleague. A dialogue can happen only when employees accept each other as colleagues, so a positive mode is created. It helps employees to take the risk of suspending assumptions. Seeing each other as colleagues is more beneficial when there is a contradiction between opposing views than agreeing the same views.
  3. The last condition is availability of a facilitator. The role of the facilitator is to guide team members to be responsible for the process and the results of a dialogue session. He/she also prevents the dialogue from turning into a discussion. The facilitator has a very delicate position of being knowledgeable and helpful on one side, and being distant on the other so that team members involved in the dialogue do not lose their opinions and responsibility.

For becoming a better LO, these three conditions should be easily set so that team members are involved in dialogues. Why? Dialogues are actually collective inquiry and reflection for the team. The free flow of ideas can lead to shared learning and new inspiration. Engaging in dialogues is a powerful communication strategy that can be very helpful in solving complex problems and finding quick and great solutions. Also, it should be underlined that dialogues are the grounds for creative ideas and innovation. Companies that want to become better LOs should practice the art of dialogue.

21st century organizations are global and multinational. Employees, team members, managers and leaders live and work in different countries all around the world, so they are culturally different. They communicate face to face in meetings, or they communicate by using the modern technological tools such as the Internet, computers, smart phones etc. Speaking a common language such as English is essential. However for successful communication, only the verbal language is not sufficient. As it is known, communication includes more than words. It includes eye contact, facial expressions, gestures and proximity. All of these elements are very culturally specific, and that is why they are so different for different cultures. Moreover, different cultures mean different values, beliefs, world views, life styles and traditions, so employees from different cultures have different mental models, thoughts, ideas and opinions. All employees working in global and multinational organizations need a new competence called cultural competence that is so essential in increasing employees’ empathy while communicating and engaging in discussions and dialogues.

Cultural Competence

Cultural competence can be defined as the ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures. In the organizational context, it is the ability to communicate successfully while working and cooperating with colleagues from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

Cultural competence has four components:

  • Awareness of one’s own cultural worldview
  • Attitude towards cultural differences
  • Knowledge of different cultural practices and worldviews
  • Cross-cultural skills

Developing cultural competence results in an ability to understand, communicate and effectively interact with employees across cultures. Organizations and teams composed from culturally different employees need cultural competence in order to communicate successfully. Exciting!!! It is time to learn more about other cultures. Global talent mobility which is movement of talent where it is needed and relocating it in different regions and countries is going to require more than cultural competence. It is going to require cultural “what”. Any guesses?

(Posted also on LinkedIn Pulse)

What are the Goldilocks Conditions for Creativity and Talent?

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Have you ever watched “The history of our world in 18 minutes” presented by David Christian? It is one of the 11 must-see TED Talks. If you have not watched this great talk yet, here is a chance.

Have you liked it? It is really very inspiring, isn’t it?

Who is Goldilocks?

Goldilocks was a little girl who lived with her family. One day, she lost her way in the forest. She saw a cottage. It belonged to three bears that were the big Papa Bear, the middle-sized Mama Bear and the tiny little Baby Bear. The three bears were not at home because they went out for a walk and left their porridge to cool. Goldilocks went into the cottage, and she saw the three bowls full of porridge. Since she was so hungry, she started eating from the big Papa Bear’s bowl, but the porridge was too hot to eat. Next, she tried the middle-sized Mama Bear’s bowl, and it was too cold. Finally, she tried the tiny little Baby Bear’s bowl. It was “just right”, and she ate it. Then, Goldilocks went upstairs. After trying the Papa Bear’s bed that was too large and Mama Bear’s bed that was too small, Goldilocks chose to sleep in Baby Bear’s bed because it was “just right” for her… (The Story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears)

What is the Goldilocks Principle?

After testing all three examples (the three bears) of two items (the porridge and bed), Goldilocks decides that one of them is always too much in one extreme (too hot or too large), one is too much in the opposite extreme (too cold or too small), and one is “just right”. The Goldilocks Principle states that something must fall within certain margins, as opposed to reaching extremes.

Similarly to David Christian’s talk in which The Goldilocks Principle and Conditions are applied in history, they are also applied in many other disciplines such as engineering, economics, biology and developmental psychology.

What are the Goldilocks Conditions for Creativity and Talent?

The creative process is actually a change process by which old order and structures are changed into a new order and new items. Novelties are created. Also, the general tendency of the talent who has deep inspiration and great desire to create is to get into “creative mush” and create something new. Talents’ creative process is very similar to the one of the universe as David Christian states “the general tendency of the universe is to move from order and structure to lack of order and lack of structure in fact to mush”.

Besides, the talents’ creative process is difficult just like David Christian’s words “our universe creates complexity with great difficulty”. A talent can create only with great difficulty because in the creative process, there is nothing at the very beginning. Then, there is the creative inspiration, idea and motivation to start the process. It is like the first threshold, The Big Bang and all the thresholds in human history.

In his talk, David Christian explains the three Goldilocks Conditions for life. These are the right amount of energy, diverse chemical elements and liquids. Two of these conditions can be implemented for creativity and talent. The Goldilocks Conditions for Creativity and Talent are right amount of creative energy and diverse talents.

Right Amount of Creative Energy

In my opinion, every human being is a talent with very unique and endless creative power. It is really vital and critically important for the talent to be in the special environment that can nourish his or her creativity. As a result, by using his or herdiverse elements” such as knowledge, skills and competencies, this talent can generate “just-right” amount of creative energy to create and innovate.

In an organization where talent management and development policies are used, the organizational talent or all talents are managed. Here again the “just right”leadership and management are needed. If there is too little or not enoughleadership and management, the talents’ creative potential is not managed. This is one of the extremes, and the other extreme is when there is too much leadership and management, then, there is too much control and not enough freedom to let the talents to be creative and to generate new ideas and solutions.

Diverse Talents

As I have mentioned, every human being is a talent. He or she has such special diverse talent because of her or his very individual knowledge, skills and abilities. Every talent has very diverse competencies that make him or her very unique. It is impossible to discuss the possibility of having two identical talents.

David Christian says “… now the universe is chemically more complex, and in a chemically more complex universe, it’s possible to make more things…. All employees in an organization are like “the diverse chemical elements of the periodic table” or they are diverse talents. Similar employees with similar characteristics will not generate creative energy. Only diverse talents in an organization can be creative to innovate. Consequently, diverse talents and their creative energy are needed for new product and service development and innovation.

To sum up, like studying the Big History of our world, maybe it will be very useful to examine the whole life of a talent and especially trying to understand his or her potential, creative energy, diversity, competencies and his or her thresholds moments in life. Moreover, the past thresholds of an organization should be studied and the new threshold moments of innovation should be supported. The Goldilocks Principle and Conditions for individual and organizational talent and creativity are essential. The collective human talent and creativity can lead to many small and big innovations, ordinary and very extraordinary inventions and the progress of humanity. I believe that this principle and its conditions should be provided for each and every human talent starting in childhood while formal schooling and continuing into adulthood while working. Only then, this talent can develop and release his or her creative energy and make a positive impact in human history.

(Posted also on LinkedIn Pulse)

Learning Agility

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“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

I am sure you can remember this quotation by Alvin Toffler, who is the “world’s most famous futurologist” (Financial Times). Human brain has a very original structure that helps us to learn, unlearn and relearn. During the Agricultural and Industrial Periods, people learned, and the knowledge they had was sufficient to live and work for many years. However, in the 21st century with the drastic and continuing changes in technology and in all other facets of modern life, we are forced to unlearn what we know and later relearn differently by adding new connections. We have to learn new concepts, acquire new knowledge and master new competencies at a very high speed. Shortly, we have to adapt to changes by learning, unlearning and relearning and that requires a new ability called learning agility.

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Learning Agility

Learning Agility is the ability and willingness to learn from experience, and subsequently apply that learning to perform successfully under new or first-time conditions (The Korn Ferry Institute). Agile learners have the following characteristics: First of all, they are self-aware. They know their own personal strengths and weaknesses. The second important characteristic is that agile learners are curious. They always ask “why” and “how” questions. Next, agile learners acquire and use rules and principles, make fresh connections and take initiative. The last two characteristics of agile learners are that they are quick and broad thinkers.

Here are the 5 factors of learning agility (The Korn Ferry Institute):

  • Mental Agility: ability to examine problems in unique and unusual ways.
  • People Agility: skilled communicator who can work with diverse types of people.
  • Change Agility: likes to experiment and comfortable with change.
  • Results Agility: delivers results in challenging first-time situations.
  • Self-Awareness: extent to which an individual knows his or her true strengths and weaknesses

Agile Leaders

Currently, learning agility has been accepted as one of the most important leadership competencies. It has been discussed that it is even more important than IQ, EQ and educational level, and it has been defined as a powerful predictor for future leadership success (The Korn Ferry Institute). Only highly agile leaders who continuously learn can cope with the VUCA world. Only leaders who learn from experience and who are not afraid to implement and experiment in new situations can deal with the Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous business world. That is why learning agility assessment tools are used to evaluate leaders’ learning agility. Besides, they are also implemented to test the learning agility of High Potential Talent. They are used to find, develop and keep the Talent. Nowadays,leaders should be highly agile, but this is not enough because they have to beagility role models as well. They have to inspire learning agility in their followers, and even coach them to become agile learners. Why? The answer to this “why” question is because companies have to become better Learning Organization (LO), or organizations that have to be more creative, innovative, inventive and successful.

Collective Learning Agility

LOs are organizations where individual employees, teams and the organization as a whole learn. Individual, team and organizational learning happen simultaneously. In the LO Model, the learning variable is the sum of individual learning, team learning and organizational learning, and the three levels of learning have around 0.80 influence on learning. The strongest correlation is between organizational learning and learning. In the LO Model, organizational learning is the most important for being a learning organization. However, to become a better LO learning, unlearning and relearning should happen simultaneously. Stated differently, better LO means an organization that has very high learning agility. The leaning agility not only of leaders but of all employees is very important. As a result, it will be a good idea to discuss the collective learning agility of LO that aims to become a better, more competitive, more sustainable and agile LO.

Bersin by Deloitte defines collective learning agility as: At an organizational level, the term refers to programs and processes designed to enhance the organization’s collective ability to acquire new knowledge and skills, and to stay ahead of the market. (http://www.bersin.com/lexicon/Details.aspx?id=14906). Employees in any organization work together and learn together while working. There is some collective learning agility. In the past, it was not very high because there were not many novelties to learn. All 21st century organizations need very high level of collective learning agility since there is constant change. That is why there is a need for training programs which develop collective learning and collective learning agility. What are the benefits of collective learning agility? Creativity and innovation are just two to name here. Acquiring new knowledge and skills on organizational level will lead to different thinking, and consequently, to different problem solving. In other words, collective learning agility will positively affect creativity of the whole organization. Creative thinking and creative problem solving will naturally result in product and service innovation.

Finally, developing the collective learning agility by developing the three levels that are individual, team and organizational learning agility is needed to become a better LO which is at the same time creative and innovative. Collective learning agility practiced daily will help to become very agile LO that quickly learns, adapts, unlearns, changes, relearns, develops and succeeds.

(Posted also on LinkedIn Pulse)

L.I.F.E.

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Human beings learn throughout LIFE because they have this inborn capacity and urge to learn. The impotant point is that L.I.F.E. is actually a learning process full of fun. Learning Is Fun Everyday !!!

Children

The most natural learning occurs in childhood since children learn effortlessly and joyfully when they play games. Playing is learning for them, and children start learning LIFE while playing games.

Playground

It is the playground where children learn and have fun. There is no hierarchy, and children are free just to be as they are. Every child participates in games and simply plays.

Fun

During this free play, children take risks and experiment which is actually the fun of playing. The trill of playing triggers their imagination and creativity. For children, Learning Is Fun Everyday.

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Creativity

Children are creative because they are free to experiment while playing. Having fun while playing enriches their creativity. Stated shortly, it is a two directional process of nourishing creativity.

Learning Organizations (LOs)

Nowadays, many companies are trying to become better Learning Organizatons. They can become better LOs simply by understanding and applying the anology of children’s playing and learning.

Playground

The Learning Organization (LO) should be like a playground for grown ups. It should be the safe place to take risks with new ideas and behaviors. It should encourage grown ups to step out of their comfort zones and challenge them to strech beyond percieved limits, or in other words, to give them the freedom TO BE.

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Fun

Companies should become better learning organizations because it is much more fun to work in a LO. Why? Mainly because hierarchy is demolished. Positions do not determine the amout of contribution. Shortly, everyone is free to express views freely. Moreover, everyone’s opinions are valued, so people feel that they are not the human resources, but they are valuable creative TALENTS. Consequently, fun and joy while working increases motivation and productivity. It gives people the positive feeling that future can be much better and brighter.

Creativity

In IBM 2010 Global CEO Study, creativity was selected as the most crucial factor for future success.

https://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/31670.wss

Companies have to be able to adapt as circumstances change, and they should be able to develop new products and services as new opportunities emerge. In order to become more competitive, they need company culture in which creativity is a habit and innovation is a routine. Only the LO where learning on organizational level is promoted can create the culture of creativity and innovation. LO is the playground of creativite ideas and innovative approaches and solutions. Everyday, working should be actually learning together because

LIFE is working and working is L.I.F.E., or Learning Is Fun Everyday !!!

(Posted also on LinkedIn Pulse)