Henry Ford is reported to have said, “Why is it that every time I hire a pair of hands, they come with a brain attached?” This thinking is a reflection of how work was managed in a manufacturing era, where the repetitive nature of tasks required people to think as little as possible. The purpose of a team during these times was to manage the execution of a repeatable process as efficiently as possible. Leaders relied on authority, hierarchy, incentives, rewards and punishments to keep teams productive. History has shown that this approach was successful and worked well in a manufacturing era, however times have subsequently changed.
For decades doctors believed that stomach ulcers are caused by stress and spicy foods. Something many people still believe today. Ask a number of people what causes stomach ulcers and you’re most likely to hear one of them say stress.
You may be surprised to find out that in 1985 the Australian doctor Barry Marshall publish research proving that stomach ulcers are caused by the bacteria Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) and not by stress or spicy foods!
Successful leaders know that they must get out of their comfort zone to succeed. Great leaders from history are those who have spent a large amount of their time outside their comfort zone.
Leaders who take risks and step into their learning zone are those that succeed. It’s only when you can give up what’s safe and familiar that you create opportunities and develop new capabilities. As you do, you expand your influence and gain the skills required to take on bigger and bigger challenges.
In the fast paced, turbulent and uncertain world of today learning becomes a source of competitive advantage. The gap between where you are today and where you want to be in the future is crossed by gaining new knowledge and learning new skills.
“I’ve always thought that success on the job is based on how fast you learn and not what you know… the best CEOs I see are introspective. They learn every day. That’s what I try to do.” – Jeff Immelt, GE CEO, Q&A with GE’s Jeff Immelt, Bloomberg
The big question then becomes “how can we develop leaders who are fast learners?”
Leading successfully in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world demands rapid learning. As Jack Welch observed “an organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.”
Learning under conditions of uncertainty is a topic addressed in the book “Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work” by Liz Wiseman which describes a study that explored how experienced versus inexperienced people learn and tackle problems.
Wiseman’s research provides fascinating insights into how leaders can improve their learning in a VUCA world.
Benjamin Franklin was a man who got things done.
Benjamin Franklin “was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and in many ways was “the First American”. A renowned polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat.”
To illustrate just how much he got done consider the following list of inventions and achievements.
- Invented the lightning rod
- Invented bifocals
- Invented the Franklin stove
- One of the first Maps of the Gulf Stream
- Made numerous electricity discoveries
- Founded First Fire Insurance Company in America
- Established First Fire Department in Philadelphia
- Established First Public Circulation Library in America
- First Postmaster-general of the United States
- All this whilst running a printing business!
Certainly an impressive list of achievements!
At this point I’m sure you may be asking yourself, how did one person manage to accomplish so much?