Hindsight Series: Learn Fast
If you have a pulse, you’ll have noticed that things changed fast in 2020. The security of the plans we had, the certainty we had assumed, all got thrown out of the window, by of all things, a tiny virus.
One thing I teach my clients, and help their companies embrace, is to learn fast and stay agile. It's front and centre in some of the successes that I've had in my leadership past. Yet 2020 has absolutely galvanised that view as I've seen those locked in their old ways failing to respond. Leaders who learned fast were proactive and reactive. Their solutions were relevant, and they pivoted productively. The organisations that were agile were just able to move faster. As the environment changed, the needs changed, and the opportunities were seized by those able to learn fast. As leadership guru Tom Peters says, “Test fast, fail fast, adjust fast.” So true and never so important as now.
If our organisations don't learn fast they just get left behind. They ultimately provide diminishing value and end up in frustration. The digital revolution has changed the environment not only in business but personally, socially, and in every aspect of our lives. The rate of digital development is accelerating. The learning curve is getting steeper. Learning fast and adapting quickly in a rapidly changing environment, is now mission critical for survival. 2020 has proved the point beyond all debate. Control is ultimately an illusion; we need to build learning organisations that can adapt fast. That means the way we lead and plan, and the cultures we build, have to be inherently agile. One of my favourite sayings is by the American writer Eric Hoffer “In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”
New knowledge and skills are often needed if we are to effectively change and adapt. One thing I did not expect in 2020 was for me to personally have to change so much. My leadership practice was based on putting groups of leaders in rooms, often in great exotic locations. My business involved lots of travel and lots of face to face. When COVID hit I was in San Diego about facilitate a workshop with people arriving from over 50 countries. It was a big deal, and I was so looking forward to it. It got cancelled two days before it started . People were literally changing planes halfway to San Diego and going home.
When I got back to Sydney, I had 17 events cancelled in 10 days, because all of them involved travel and face to face. I had to change and change fast. It was time to take some of my own medicine. This baby boomer had to learn how to be agile, again. I did my research, watched the obligatory multiple YouTube videos, did a bunch of short courses back-to-back online, and got myself up to digital speed. I built a multi-camera, multi-microphone studio. (Check it out here: https://youtu.be/AwseROTLYpg ) I learned how to use all the software, including eCamm Live, to create a great online user experience. I then rewrote all my programmes from strategy to leadership development to mentoring CEOs to working with boards. They needed to be reconfigured, reconstructed and re-thought through to work in an online environment. I then went back to my clients who all reengaged. I've just had my best quarter since I started Thought Patrol five years ago.
I've had my eyes opened to future online possibilities; I was only dimly aware of. I was able to leverage my time and be more effective with my clients. Recently I had a wonderful confirmation of how well this pivot had worked. I was asked by the largest CEO organisation in the world, YPO, to train their best global facilitators on how to use technology to facilitate with excellence online. Two session for 75 trainers from all around the world, delivered online, of course. I’m living proof that even a Boomer can become a global expert in just about anything, given a pressing need, some time, and YouTube videos. So, my largest lockdown leadership lesson of 2020 was to learn fast. It is something I thought I knew well, but it’s now been highlighted and reinforced, in a close and personal way.