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The Best Way to Learn as an Executive? Assume You Know Nothing

The Best Way to Learn as an Executive? Assume You Know Nothing

One of the biggest challenges in growing and scaling a business quickly is raising the bar on the CEO and the senior team. If the leaders of the busin

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One of the biggest challenges in growing and scaling a business quickly is raising the bar on the CEO and the senior team. If the leaders of the business don’t continuously learn and expand their thinking, the company will be stuck and growth will be anemic. Grow the leaders and the company will follow naturally. But it’s not easy.

As a leadership and strategy coach, one of my first jobs is to make sure the right people are in the right seats. But I also need to make sure they have the right mindsets. I can have the best experts in the world with decades of experience, but if they are closed to new ways of thinking and new strategies, all of the coaching in the world won’t make a difference.

I often get brought into situations where the business is stuck and performance is lackluster. And when I speak with the executives in these situations, what I typically find is that they tell me they’ve studied every angle of the business and have tried every possible option.

In these cases, I encourage them to adopt a beginner’s mindset and look closely at the business and the challenges they face. By doing so they will see new information, reveal new opportunities, and uncover possible strategies they’ve missed to date.

Here are the three key principles that I explain in my meetings with senior teams in order to help them embrace a beginner’s mindset and unleash their growth.

1. Forget what you’ve learned.

One of the first things I encourage executives to do is to forget what they’ve learned. The best way to do this is to pretend you’re an intern on your first day of work and think about what questions you would be asking. What would you want to know, and what would be the most important thing for you to understand about the business?

I will often do an exercise where I have them explain the situation and problem to me as if I’m just out of school and this is my first job. How would they break down the situation, information, and the options under consideration?

Invariably, we stumble on a few things that either don’t make sense or they can’t answer very well. And therein lie new opportunities to discover and learn. These usually lead to options that haven’t been considered before.

2. Sharpen your observation skills.

I have a Youtube video of two teams each passing a basketball. One team is wearing all white and the other team is wearing all black. The instructions are to count the number of passes the team in white makes in the video. I sometimes offer a reward for the people who can count correctly for added emphasis.

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What they don’t know is that a few seconds into the video, a person in a gorilla suit begins dancing through the frame. Then I ask how many passes people counted and often get several correct answers. But when I ask how many people saw the gorilla, everyone stares at me with blank expressions.

When I go back and show them the video and they see the gorilla as plain as day, they are dumbfounded. Then I explain that their business problems are in the same situation. They are focused on seeing only a certain type of information. And by slowing down, taking a different perspective, and noticing more, they can uncover new insights.

3. Ask why, a lot. 

When I first introduce this idea, people laugh and say, “We should just add a 5-year-old to the leadership team and they can ask why of everything, ad infinitum.” But it’s more than that. Yes, you need to ask why, but you need to target key assumptions and then drill down strategically. 

One of the key techniques developed by Sakichi Toyoda at Toyota along with its now-famous just-in-time approach to production was the Five Why’s method of problem analysis. By asking why a problem happened and looking at the possible answers and asking why again to find the next level of answers and then repeating that until you’re five levels deep, you get to the core causes of your problems.

Leadership teams can use this same recursive questioning to dig deep into situations and uncover the root cause of their issues and thus find root solutions to the problems they’ve been facing.

While developing a beginner’s mindset is not easy, individuals and teams that learn to do it well will discover better ways of doing things and will solve problems at a deeper level. And in a high growth industry that is quickly changing and evolving, the company that can learn and change the fastest will naturally win in the market.

This article is from Inc.com

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