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Jul 10, 2019

When the railway was first invented over 200 years ago, doctors believed that its speed – less than 20 miles per hour – was a life hazard. By comparison, the current digital transformation feels like a real race. And yet: before long we will realize it’s been a leisurely ride so far, compared to what lies ahead. In other words, change won't slow down. It will continue to pick up speed – and it's high time we get ready. So what’s the best way to prepare for rapid change? My answer is: through learning.

Much more than acquiring knowledge

When I speak of learning I don’t mean the acquisition of theoretical knowledge or academic titles. Both are purely intellect-focused, whereas the kind of learning I’m talking about involves much more: It is the experience-based acquisition of skills in three areas: head, heart and hand. The more aware we are of these three kinds of skills, the better will our decision-making become – because experience-based learning helps gain clarity. 

A market-leading company once hired me to help ensure effective and fact-based decision-making in a strategy meeting. At several previous occasions, the attending executives had gotten caught up in energy-draining conflicts. So I suggested having a conflict resolution workshop to precede the actual meeting, but that proposal was rejected. "It's all gotten too emotional as it is," I was told. So the strategy meeting took place, it focused on the strategic issue at hand, and it failed again.

Why? From what I observed, each of the participants was eager to contribute their own specific expertise. As a consequence, the whole discussion centered around the “head” element – which, as mentioned before, is just a fraction of the overall picture. Truly effective and fact-based decision-making requires all three elements: head, heart and hand – and since we never broke down the conflict into those three we couldn’t establish the clarity needed to resolve it.

One-sided strengths won’t do

In my coaching sessions, when I speak to managers about the importance of getting educated in all three areas, both for themselves and their staff, they often tell me: But everyone has their specific strengths – some are excellent rational thinkers, others get things solved in emotional ways, yet others are simply hands-on people. So why not focus on people's specific skills and preferences?

The answer is: When a situation reaches a certain level of complexity, one- sided strengths simply won’t do. The world around us is getting increasingly dynamic, complex, and full of uncertainties – so skills we’ve developed in just one area won't suffice to deal with those multiple uncertainties. With all areas of life increasingly interlinked and interwoven, everyone needs much more than expertise in their field – especially leaders.

Make sure you get off the slow train

As a board member or manager, the decisions you make are mainly based on your broad experience and in-depth management knowledge. But there is a third key element that is gaining importance: listening and observation skills. More and more, you’ll need to listen and observe how, in this rapidly changing environment, people act and make decisions. Once you round of your learning in all three elements – head, hand and heart – you’ll be able to make sure that you and your staff pick up the speed required.

You’ll get off the slow train and board the 21st century high-speed express.