I need your help.
I’ve been asked to reflect on 3 questions for an interview this week on the Innovation Ecosystem podcast. Founded by anthropologist turned executive Mark Bidwell in 2016 this is a prolific and thought-provoking podcast series that has provided a platform for many thought leaders in the innovation area the past few years, including Scott Anthony, Steven Kotler and Dorie Clark, as well as world class performers from the worlds of business, sports, science and the arts. Executive health, sustainable performance at work, and many of the other themes covered in this column the past 24 months have made frequent appearances and I had the pleasure of being interviewed in season 1 of the show to talk about my Sustaining Executive Performance program and book. I’m looking forward to a return based on the recent release of Chief Wellbeing Officer, but I’m a bit apprehensive.
Mark asked me to reflect on 3 questions as a primer for our interview, and I’m really not sure how I’m going to answer them. Maybe it’s due to their slightly personal nature, or the fact that I’ve been travelling most of this month firmly on ‘holiday mode’, whatever the reason I thought that writing about them for this months column would help me to work towards the answers. So here goes:
1. What is your most significant failure/”low”, what have you learned from it, and how have you applied that learning?
We don’t like failure. Much has been written on the importance of it for learning, especially in the innovation space, but who can truly move on from what sounds reasonable in theory, to welcoming it in practice? Some of my own teaching in recent years has included aspects of creating space for failure, and trying something new when the stakes are a little less high than usual.
For example, I clearly remember that multiple Olympic track cycling Champion Chris Hoy would crash in some of his races, but only in non-Olympic years. I’m sure he didn’t get to the start line and have the specific intention of falling off his bike – to do so at over 70km/h requires a day or two in hospital, but I am sure he was experimenting and trying new ways to win, which carried the increased risk of losing. Getting to the Olympic Games, and even during Olympic year was about sticking to tried and tested tactics, often discovered during those interim years.
I still believe in all of this, but the dynamic changes significantly when failure is unexpected. I’m starting to formulate some of my thoughts to answer Mark’s question based on my experiences of the past few years, where I fully expected the growth curve I was on to keep climbing. In hindsight, I was at the end of one curve and faced with the challenge of moving to another. We’ve touched on the concept of such S curves for learning in a previous post, reflective of Chapter 7 in the new Chief Wellbeing Officer book.
Some of my learnings from this transition period of the last few years have included prioritising the building of personal relationships over work performance, and accepting jobs which may have been financially less rewarding but allowed me and my organization to stretch and grow in a different direction.
2. How do you remain creative and expose yourself to fresh perspectives?
Another fascinating question, and one we’ve touched on in this column when discussing the importance of our social and physical environment for behaviour change. Whether we talk of the dangers of groupthink or being trapped in a social media bubble, I firmly believe we need to constantly look to ‘re-design our feed’ – something I experimented with via this column last year when opening up my Wednesday afternoons to anyone who wanted to have a conversation (with admittedly limited success).
I’ve been lucky enough to be aligned with fresh perspectives given my background in design, which is multi-disciplinary and collaborative and nature, and also through living in different countries. Living day to day in a different culture with a different language and customs really does open ones’ eyes to a different way of doing things. On a more concrete level I often try and have real conversations with people I meet accidentally on my travels. I try and understand their lives a little in the few minutes we spend together. Talking only to clients and executive students would tend to give me a skewed view of the world.
Cultivating curiosity is also supported by reading, something I’ve really tried to improve in the past few months. (I benefit from tracking and accountability, so you can check out my newly created Goodreads profile here!) Finally, my role as a parent also helps. When my 3 year old son asks me about something he is seeing for the first time, but which I’ve been aware of, or seen for the past 40 years of my life, it really does help stay fresh and challenge assumptions.
3.What have you changed your mind about recently?
I’ve saved the best, or hardest, to last. I have no idea how I’ll answer this. I do see the value in asking the question and have discussed it many times this year with my executive students. ‘Strong opinions, loosely held’ is the mantra espoused by many in the agile and digital transformation fields, including my friend and agile expert Jeff Gothelf. The days of the leader having all the answers are long gone, rather the leader needs to be able to flex according to new inputs. Such changes of mind can be surprising, such as the New York Times reporting recently of the Republic senator and former speaker of the house, John Boehner, changing his mind on the legalization of cannabis of medicinal use. You’ll have to listen to my interview to see how I answered this one.
So what about you? Could you answer these 3 questions? Check out the Innovation Ecosystem podcast here to see how many others answered these questions in the season 4 wrap-up episodes (numbers 75-77) as well as my own my conversation with Mark.
About the Author
Dr. Steven MacGregor is the CEO of The Leadership Academy of Barcelona [LAB] an executive education provider and management consultancy with clients including McKinsey, Telefónica and Uber. A Visiting Fellow at the Glasgow School of Art he teaches on open and custom programs at IMD, IE, IESE and CEIBS. Formerly a visiting researcher at Stanford and Carnegie-Mellon he is the author of Chief Wellbeing Officer (LID 2018) and Sustaining Executive Performance (Pearson 2015). His twitter handle is @spmacg.