Thursday, July 10, 2014

More than AEC 2015, how do we face the 21st century?

The good news is we’re not alone facing the challenge. “All over the world, formal education systematically suppresses creative thinking and flexibility. National strategies to raise standards in education are making matters worse because they’re rooted in an old model of economic development and a narrow view of intelligence. For economic, cultural and political reasons, creativity should be promoted systematically at all levels of education, alongside literacy and numeracy. . . . Companies now face an unusual crisis in graduate recruitment. It’s not that there aren’t enough graduates to go around, it’s that too many of them can’t communicate, work in teams or think creatively.” [Jim Burke, Reimagining English: The seven personae of the future; English Journal 99.2 (2009), pp 12-15, The National Council of Teachers of English]

“Creative thinking involves calling into question the assumptions underlying our customary, habitual ways of thinking and acting and then being ready to think and act differently on the basis of the critical questioning.”[] In the same material, one would read the components of critical thinking as follows: (a) identifying and challenging assumptions; (b) recognizing the importance of context; (c) imagining and exploring alternatives; and (d) developing reflective skepticism; [and that] creative thinkers would consider rejecting standardized formats for problem solving; [and] have an interest in a wide range of related and divergent fields; take multiple perspectives on a problem; use trial-and-error methods in their experimentation; have a future orientation; and have self-confidence and trust in their own judgment.”

How do we reconcile that in a hierarchical system and structure like ours? A survey of PricewaterhouseCoopers spells out“the most important ingredients to successful innovation: (1) The right culture to foster and support innovation; (2) Strong visionary leadership; (3) Willingness to challenge norms and take risks; (4) Ability to capture ideas throughout the organization; (5) Capacity and capability for creativity.” [Business Innovation Done Right, 26th Sept 2013]

While the above speaks to business organizations, culture is a fundamental given if innovation is to be fostered and supported. And thus beyond the imperatives of roads and bridges or infrastructure, for example, economies and nations need to innovate with their products and services in order to be competitive. The days of comparative advantage are over; it is now about competitive advantage? For example, Filipinos speak English and are conscientious workers and so OFW remittances are the backbone of our economy. But as we now know, our neighbors lead us across the board in terms of competitiveness.

And critical to competitiveness and innovation is strong visionary leadership. Chancellor Angela Merkel comes to mind. Instead of succumbing to populist demands, she had the vision to lead Germany to embrace RE or renewable energy, for example. The average German was cursing her; that she was insensitive – as their utility bills spiked up – and promised she wasn't to lead Germany for long. She’s still around!

“We have our work cut out for us when it comes to navigating complex problems, in large part because we are hard-wired to seek certainty as quickly as possible. The research of decision scientists reveals that our best strategy for tackling these problems is to harness cognitive diversity, because groups do better than individuals, including those with the highest IQs. Complex problems are characterized by confusing systems of causal interactions; untangling these requires multiple different points of view. Diversity . . . trumps ability.” [The Hidden Enemy of Productive Conversations, Ted Cadsby, Harvard Business Review, 4th July 2014]

“But the benefits of cognitive diversity do not materialize automatically — they have to be engineered. And groups are just as vulnerable as individuals to the number one enemy of productive thinking: path dependence. Path dependence is the tendency for things (such as events, belief systems, personalities, evolution, and conversations) to unfold in ways that are constrained by the parameters of the path they are on. It represents the enormous influence of the past on the future.”

“When thinking does not stray from certain parameters, creativity and results are sacrificed. The more we’re aware of the paths that constrain our thinking, the less captive we are to them. To generate deeper and more creative insights, leaders have to push a group’s thinking beyond the narrow paths that otherwise take hold. High quality conversations require stewardship. Leaders need to create and encourage constructive dissent to open up new possibilities, expand insight, and generate better decisions.”

“Constructive dissent depends on two conditions: genuine independence of thought and constructive engagement between team members. Leaders must encourage their teams to speak freely and independently, to correct one another’s errors and build on good ideas, and to allow the insights of others to deepen their own thinking. Flexible, expansive conversations that resist path-dependent thinking are the best (and only) way to navigate an increasingly complex world. And fostering them is one of the most important jobs of our leaders.”

“No matter what your age or your life path . . . it is not too late or too egotistical or too selfish or too silly to work on your creativity. . . . I have come to believe that creativity is our true nature, that blocks are an unnatural thwarting of a process at once as normal and as miraculous as the blossoming of a flower at the end of a slender green stem.” [How to Get Out of Your Own Way and Unblock the “Spiritual Electricity” of Creative Flow, Maria Popova, Brain pickings, 4th July 2014]

The first time my Eastern European friends and I talked about how to win in the market place eleven years ago, they thought it was insane. “We don’t even have a plan for the balance of the day. We’re Bulgarians; we take it as it comes. We never talked about the future. All we knew was we had our daily provisions of bread and a handful of vegetables courtesy of our Communist masters – and not much else. And so we learned how to create different salads out of the few veggies, raise livestock and other vegetables and make rakia (an alcoholic beverage from fermented fruit) at home.”

Two days after I got back from New York recently, I attended a business review session between a business unit and a regional team, and they proudly presented the product development plans for several years. It was just the middle of the current year and I was asking about the year’s numbers. And the regional manager talked about their three focused countries and their respective business dynamics, with the largest one firing on all cylinders. And then the business unit manager grinning from ear-to-ear discussed the progress of the expansion of the manufacturing facilities “because we have to be ahead of the curve.” These ex-socialists were born and raised under Communist rule; and today they talk like Fortune 500 managers.

Even socialism/communism wasn’t cast in stone?

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