“What is dangerous is not to evolve.” That’s a quote that I included in my first e‑book. It’s from Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon.
In an excellent recent blog post, Jason Fried offers “Some advice from Jeff Bezos”, which expanded my appreciation for Bezos’ thinking as well as the thinking of all progressive leaders.
Fried, who had the chance to talk with Bezos for 90 minutes, reports that Amazon’s leader believes that people who are right a lot of the time are “people who often changed their minds.” According to Fried’s report, Bezos also said that he doesn’t favour people who always think the same way. To Bezos, consistency of thought is an overrated characteristic, and it’s fine to advocate a new idea even though it might contradict something one said yesterday. Moreover, Fried reports that Bezos also respects people who are willing to reconsider problems once “solved” — because it shows that they’re, literally, open-minded.
I really like the idea expressed in the blog that leaders need a well-defined point of view but that they should consider it an “temporary”. Nothing worse than someone who refuses to accept change and, as a result, refuses to change what he or she thinks. Tell me you haven’t encountered someone who stubbornly refuses to budge from their point of view no matter what the height and width of new information dumped onto their desktop. Isn’t this the essence of contemporary architect Anthony Lawlor’s thinking: “Thus, flexibility, as displayed by water, is a sign of life. Rigidity, its opposite, is an indicator of death.” [For more of Lawlor’s thinking, go here.]
In the organisational world, this flexibility is now being called “learning agility”, and it has become a rather hot topic in leadership development circles. While there are several notions of what learning agility actually is, there is also a growing sense that the mindset, skillset and behaviours associated with learning agility do indeed help leaders perform better when faced with rapidly changing environments and the corresponding ambiguity that accompanies them (what I call “disruptive ambiguity”).
Research from a growing number of scholars suggests that leaders who are able to seek out, manage, understand and ultimately learn from new and challenging experiences are able to act decisively even when uncertain. As a result, learning-agile individuals can effectively take in and process information, integrate new ideas with previous experiences, reflect upon new insights and generate solutions to problems that ultimately lead to new ways of doing things. In my experience, agile leaders are best suited to utilise opportunity foresense when confronted by disruptive ambiguity. That is, agile leaders don’t allow themselves to become stuck with the solutions that worked for yesterday’s problems, even if they themselves were the ones who came up with those solutions.