Education

Critical thinking in the information age, by Tom Lock

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Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 15.58.26What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

~William Henry Davies

During the Talent Innovation Masterclass, Lynda paused her keynote talk for two minutes of silence. It felt like an hour. This would usually be a nightmare scenario for a speaker; the creeping self-consciousness evoked in the audience painfully stretching out the seconds. But this was a period of controlled reflection, as attendees were asked to study a painting during the period of silence. To decontextualise and condense their focus for a moment of pure visual association.

Perhaps in the context of a presentation, enforced silence is at least initially a discomforting experience for the audience. Yet having overcome the quiet by focusing on an image, the audience were able to collect their thoughts and extract greater depth from the material before them. A singular focus allows us to engage with content in a more critical, immersive way. By stopping to think in the workplace, we open up space for creative, expressive thoughts, as opposed to functional duties. Consequently, we are more likely to innovate.

But what relevance does this have for a Masterclass on Talent Innovation? Well, with automation encroaching upon jobs of all skill levels, the Masterclass was an important opportunity for us to think about the uniquely human skills we bring to work that cannot (yet) be computerised. These quintessentially human qualities include creativity, curiosity and innovation and they are the qualities that underscore the success of our organisations. However, as Lynda cautioned in her keynote, many companies are subverting these human qualities by designing jobs that place multiple demands and obligations on people, that leave very little discretionary time, and that place multiple constraints on what people can and cannot do. The result is the squeezing out of the space for creativity – that invaluable human quality.

There is no doubt that we in live in an information-saturated age. Our working lives, living in busy cities, and widespread connectivity offer a wealth of constant data and change. In particular, visual imagery is everywhere we look. It offers the perfect form to capture the millisecond measurement of the modern attention span. Harvard Professor of Humanities Jennifer Roberts has sought to buck this trend. Professor Roberts felt that her role as an educator was to a large extent to help her students “learn to learn.” By that she meant helping them decelerate and pay deep attention to what they are studying.

According to Professor Roberts, outside of a space of learning, students are driven towards immediacy by social and technological pressures. Professor Roberts realised that she had to give her pupils “permission and the structures to slow down”, by explicitly engineering the pace and tempo of their learning experiences.

In one particular class, she asked her students to choose a single painting for a research project. Once chosen, their first task was to study the picture for three hours: a painfully long time to consider a still object. The students were asked to note down their evolving observations and any questions or speculations that arose. The time span was explicitly designed to seem excessive. Also crucial to the exercise was the museum or archive setting, which removed the student from his or her everyday surroundings and distractions.

At first many students resisted the exercise, failing to see how the small, still frame of the painting could warrant three hours worth of study. Was it possible to hold three hours worth of stimulation and thought in a single work of art? Yet having completed the exercise, many were amazed by the recesses of explorative thought that this contemplation had unlocked.

The exercise demonstrates the difference between things looked upon and things seen, offering an interesting meditation upon the parallel rise of connectivity and mindfulness in modern society. The Internet and MOOCs offer access to a wealth of material, but access does not equate to knowledge: just because we have observed something, does not necessarily mean we have truly understood and absorbed it. To turn access into learning requires time, discipline and patience.

So, how can apply this within our organisations? And, what potential does this have in helping us bring those uniquely human skills to work?

Organisations seeking creativity and innovation from their people must consider how they may be eroding their employees’ ability to focus and decelerate through too many demands and obligations. This ultimately requires a brave call from managers, who must seek to cut menial tasks and process in order to reduce the burden on talent. It requires them to free up their teams so that they can bring those uniquely human qualities to their work, and can focus and think critically in an otherwise accelerated world.

For more information on the topics covered in this blog, contact Tom: tom@hotspotsmovement.com

Source: http://harvardmagazine.com/2013/11/the-power-of-patience

Photograph ©2013 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Beyond Our Nature – Insights from Davos 2015

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Lynda - Hot Spots Movement - Portrait by LK - web size 72dpi

The global challenges facing the world – such as rising poverty, youth unemployment and climate change – are not themes that are new to Davos. What is new for Davos 2015, is a growing realisation that to address these challenges we have to go beyond human nature. Let me explain. Underlying all these global challenges are many stakeholders each of whom have their own approach and way of looking at the world. Take youth unemployment as an example. When young people are able to get jobs it is because many stakeholders work together: companies create jobs for youngsters; governments shape fiscal and regulatory environments that encourage job creation; educators focus on skills that are important to the job market and the young people themselves are motivated and able to look for work. When it works it is because within this complex system, multiple stakeholders are able to understand each other, and to act on this understanding.

And here is the rub. As the neuroscientists at Davos reminded us, we humans are evolutionarily exquisite at working with small groups of people who are very similar to us – and particularly so if they are related. In fact, as Dunbar has shown, anything above 150 people and natural groups break up. We are pre-disposed to like people who are like us, we imitate people we admire, and across our networks our behaviours and attitudes are contagious.

So whilst we are exquisitely evolved to work in tribal groups, little in our evolution prepares us for the sorts of challenges we are now facing. Challenges that can only be solved if we are able to work in huge groups, containing many different types of people, negotiating across complex alliances.

Of course technology (which is accelerating some of these global challenges) is also providing an array of solutions. When thousands of people are able to work together in virtual communities and when their insights are augmented by artificial intelligence, then complex problems are more likely to be understood.

But is understanding sufficient to get them solved? One of the sessions I attended at Davos this year looked more deeply at alliances. What became clear was that the alliances that are capable of addressing these global challenges – indeed of addressing the challenges of innovation and resilience – are extraordinarily complex. They require people who are very different from each other to have some empathy for each others’ position; they require a process to build trust when many of the stakeholders are virtual strangers and don’t spend much time with each other; and they require a process of commitment making that is more complex than much we have seen before.

All of this is indeed possible, but it goes beyond our human nature. So the question I think we face is whether we will be constrained forever by our evolutionary behaviours and attitudes, or whether we are able in a sense to leap beyond them. How we do this then remains the key issue. When human nature changes (for example our attitudes to slavery or women’s rights) it is because across society the narrative and stories change, owing to courageous role models. The societal discourse itself then begins to evolve.

Addressing many of the world’s challenges requires us to move beyond our human nature. Now is the time for stories to be told about how it could be, and for role models to courageously act out collaboration and alliance building beyond the tribe.

The Future of HR – Building Collaborative Insight

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Lynda - Hot Spots Movement - Portrait by LK - web size 72dpiAdvances in technology have revolutionised the way we collaborate in our personal lives. We have daily updates even from distant friends through Facebook news feeds, we rent hotel services through peer-to-peer platforms like AirBnB, and we seek help and advice from user forums rather than company manuals. Where we have made far less progress however, is in awakening this new era of collaboration in the workplace. Indeed, while collaborative technology is at our fingertips, we still gravitate towards conventional and outdated approaches to information sharing, decision-making and personal development. But why is this?

My many years of research have taught me time and again that a company’s culture is often at the heart of the issue. Even organisations that invest time and money in collaborative platforms like Yammer and Chatter, fail to see the impact they hoped for because they neglected to assess whether or not their company’s culture encouraged collaboration. Indeed, if performance management processes, remuneration systems, and job deigns are all individually oriented, then companies are unlikely to see employees dash to engage with collaborative technologies. To make collaboration work then, we must view an organisation as a system and develop processes and practices that give clear signals in favour of collaborative behaviour. But who in the organisation is able to transform culture in this way?

Of all the functions in a company, HR is the guardian of the future and the most influential in transforming culture. In the coming years it will fall to HR teams to foster collaborative cultures through rewards and recognition for knowledge sharing, complementary skill development within teams, and a renewed focus on network building. This challenge is the current focus for my research team at the Future of Work Research Consortium. Over the next few months we will be working with our members – some of the world’s leading organisations – to craft the future of HR and define the capabilities needed for this function to be the driving force behind collaborative organisations.

The Future of Talent in South Africa, with Mandisi Feni, HR Director at Ricoh

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EmmaThis week, I was in Johannesburg catching up with Mandisi Feni, HR Director at business solutions company, Ricoh. Over a coffee in Ricoh’s South Africa Head Office, I asked Mandisi what were the most pertinent HR challenges facing Ricoh and other companies operating in the region: “Recruiting for executive positions can be a difficult task” he said. “Often we have to rely on international talent due to shortages in the local market, which means persuading people to relocate far from their home countries.” Mandisi felt that many people are put off by some of the fears around relocating to developing regions, such as instability and high crime rates. However, opening people’s eyes to the reality of the many opportunities and the excitement of operating in emerging markets was central to successful international recruitment campaigns, “this is a very exciting time for South Africa. We are one of the biggest economies on the continent alongside Nigeria, and are well placed to tap into other interesting markets in this fast-growing region.”


I asked Mandisi about the local talent pool in South Africa and his view on the education system: “I feel that the quality of students matriculating now is actually falling below previous generations. We still have a way to go in terms of equipping people with the skills they need to join the workforce ready-to-go,” he said. I asked what Ricoh was doing to solve the skills gap for its new graduates, “We take great care in on-boarding our new hires and have put in place a highly effective one-year programme. The first three months of the scheme are focussed on ensuring our hires have the foundation skills and capabilities they will need in order to unleash their potential here at Ricoh. They spend the remaining nine months in Ricoh offices, getting to know the team, the culture and effective ways of working.” Mandisi was enthusiastic about the ability of companies operating in South Africa to take on and train up local talent to become future leaders with valuable insight and connections in the region.


Finally we spoke about the great diversity in South Africa and the opportunities this presented for collaboration, “There are 11 national languages in South Africa, of which I speak 7,” Mandisi told me, having just taken a phone call in Xhosa (the language recognised for its distinctive use of clicks). “This reflects the great cultural variety in the region, and is just one of the many beautiful aspects of South Africa.” I had to agree. During my two week trip to Johannesburg and Cape Town I experienced the true warmth of this growing economy. What struck me most about South Africa and the many people I met, was the capacity for transformation. This vibrant country has emerged from a very recent and troubled past with an unmistakable desire for progress and a remarkable ability to make change happen. For businesses operating in the region, this capacity is perhaps the most alluring factor. Indeed, in South Africa, anything is possible.

MIT engages teenager to help design MOOCs

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Emma

by Emma Birchall, Head of Research, Future of Work
MIT is currently working on the format of its mass open online courses (MOOCS) with the help of a 17 year-old student from MongoliaBattushig Myanganbayar managed a perfect score on one of the university’s electronic engineering courses when he was just 15. Now a student at MIT, he is also helping them design the courses in a way that will appeal to high school students and others who don’t already have a degree-level education.

MIT aren’t the only ones interested in what Gen Z thinks – we’re conducting a Gen Z survey as part of our Talent Innovation theme for the Future of Work Research consortium. To find out how your organisation can get involved, contact tina@hotspotsmovement.com.