Words of wisdom for leaders young and old, global and local, from Estelle Metayer, an adjunct professor with McGill University’s leadership business programs
“Keep learning” is the mantra of modern management. You have to keep up with the constant stream of new information, new technology, new paradigms – new everything. But sometimes one of the keys to progress is “unlearning.” Dumping old skills and habits is often more valuable than learning new ones. Here’s my list of the top things that managers need to unlearn immediately.
1. Focusing – and missing the point
Since the debacle of the massive mergers of the ’80s, companies have been told to focus, focus, focus. It’s time to stop that. By focusing too much, you fail to notice what is happening at the fringes of your industry. Grocery retailers did not anticipate Amazon’s launch of Dash that allows you to order food from home. Taxi companies missed the threat of Uber, which connects people to drivers and carsharing opportunities. Many industries have yet to think about the repercussions of Google’s driverless cars, already in beta in Berlin.
2. PowerPoint meetings – and missing the real conversation
When was the last time your meetings did not include a PowerPoint presentation? Sitting through hours of badly constructed slides and clip-art is a brain killer. Try a walking meeting, watch at TED video, go to a museum and find some art that evokes the issues at hand – anything to stop being PowerPointed to death.
3. Working via meetings and e-mails – and missing real thinking
We’re like hamsters on a spinning wheel – reading e-mails, going to meetings, reading more e-mails. Mangement expert Henry Mintzberg found that managers find 30 minutes uninterrupted time only every three weeks. You have to build in time for deep reflection. I call it “time for the sandbox.” Monday mornings are good, or Friday afternoons. Read blogs, explore unique websites, write in your journal.
4. Googling everything – and missing good information
Over 90 per cent of managers admit they use Google to find all their information. But less than 3 per cent of all the information available on the Web has been indexed by Google. Today the Invisible Web is where the best structured information can be found, often right in government databases of corporate information such as corporate filings, birth certificates, and factory plant blueprints. Check outwww.completeplanet.com, where over 70,000 such databases can be accessed. Social media like Twitter are also valuable for searching. If someone tweeted it, it’s been manually screened and recommended.
5. Staying connected online 24/7 – and missing real interaction
Get disconnected once in a while. In Germany and France, a recent law forbids employers to e-mail after-hours. Don’t neglect the power of striking up a conversation with the person next to you. On a recent flight, I sat next to the head of procurement for KLM, flying to buy a flight simulator from CAE Electronics. I learned about new visual technologies, about the concern of suppliers who use Windows and the likelihood it will be obsolete in a few years. None of this would have crossed my path if I had not flipped off my iPad.
6. Getting an MBA – and missing real world experiences
Companies seek to recruit people with an analytical mind, curiosity, the ability to see patterns and make decisions. Few of those skills are taught in current MBA schools. If you like marketing, get a degree in anthropology. If you’re interested in digital strategy, learn programming. Study economics and history to understand global competitiveness or become a trader or investment analyst. A pilot’s licence helps with decision making, and working at an NGO helps you learn how to find and motivate dedicated people.
7. Looking at big patterns – and missing the exciting small ones
Stop reading Fast Company or Wired, believing you’re accessing the top insights about trends on the boulevard. Once technologies and business models make it to the press, the patterns are passé. Look instead for tiny patterns. Go to the Burning Man cultural festival, or the forward-looking Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Read science fiction writers. Scan the newest patent databases. Follow scientists and hackers on Twitter (some of my favourite curious minds include @bill_fischer, @moisesnaim, @digitaltonto or @felixbbopp).
8. Living in an adults-only world – and missing the intelligence of youth
We have to stop talking solely to adults in our organizations. Try inviting some high school kids to your strategy sessions and see the brilliance in these minds. Kids ask the questions you forgot to ask. They are less adverse to new business models, not being anchored to the past so they can challenge assumptions and allow for oblique thinking. Teens are more technology savvy than most of us. At the minimum, hire young recruits and ask them to train your senior execs in new technologies and social media.
9. Trying to control it all – and missing the benefits of open innovation
Stop protecting everything; invite the public in. Lego asks its customers to invent their future products on its Lego Ideas website. GE started sharing its patents online via Quirky in 2013 so inventors in their community can help develop new products. Ask your fans to design your next advertising campaign, like Harley Davidson did. Tap into the infinite potential of your customers and communities.
Published in the Globe & Mail October 9. 2014
Estelle Metayer (@Competia) is the principal and founder of Competia, a leadership and strategy consulting firm, and is an adjunct professor with McGill University’s leadership business programs.