Author Archives: C. DAY

COVID-19 and the Great Reset

McKinsey & Co. Briefing Note

Amid one of the greatest bull markets ever for technology, semiconductor fabs must find ways to keep up. And all advanced-industry companies should organize for speed to sustain their current pace.  A new McKinsey report lays out what it will mean for companies to switch from running on adrenaline to making organizational speed a permanent part of their cultures.

This week, McKinsey healthcare researchers documented the shortage of medical oxygen in developing countries, a long-standing problem made worse by COVID-19. New ideas can help these regions meet short-term needs and set the foundation for a better long-term future. Our industry research focused on semiconductors and the industries that make and use advanced electronics. Chips control everything from toys and smartphones to laptops and thermostats. In the pandemic, demand has soared for many of these products—even as supply chains have faltered and geopolitical tensions have risen. But will the boom last? Such questions have semiconductor companies thinking about their manufacturing plants. In a winner-take-all industry, even a slight edge in manufacturing can help a company capture an outsize portion of revenues (exhibit). Our new report outlines the essential ingredients of tomorrow’s successful fab.

Chipmakers and other advanced manufacturers have been running hot for six months now, with some notable notches in their belts. One factory recently ran at more than 90 percent capacity with only about 40 percent of the typical workforce. But few leaders think the pace is sustainable. Our new report lays out what it will mean for companies to switch from running on adrenaline to making organizational speed a permanent part of their cultures. The pace is unlikely to slacken soon. As our new global survey suggests, the appetite for automation has not dimmed. Instead, the factors for success are shifting. More and more, successful organizations are finding ways for people to work in concert with new technologies. In fact, automation is among the key themes that can lift India to prosperity. That’s the conclusion of a new report from McKinsey Global Institute published this week. The pandemic has sounded a clarion call for India to accelerate growth. Our analysis suggests that a program of targeted reforms, including greater productivity in several sectors, can help the country produce the 90 million nonfarm jobs it needs to create by 2030. This week, McKinsey researchers also examined cash management at privately owned companies and reviewed lessons from the past for US governors and mayors planning a second term. We are in the thick of August, the time of year when many people take a break, or at least slow down— even in a pandemic. With that in mind, McKinsey broadened its annual summer reading list and asked 60 diverse leaders to share books that have inspired them, that have provided a much-needed respite, or that they look forward to reading. We hope you draw some inspiration from this list and find ways to restore yourself during these unusual times.

Making a New Start in a Business of Their Own.

In April, Dave Summers lost his job as director of digital media productions at the American Management Association, a casualty of layoffs brought on by the pandemic.  Mr. Summers, 60, swiftly launched his own business as a digital media producer, coach and animator who creates podcasts, webcasts and video blogs.

And in September, he and his wife, who teaches nursery school, moved from Danbury, Conn., to Maryville, Tenn., which they discovered while visiting their son in Nashville. “My new work is all virtual, so I can live anywhere,” he said. “Not only is it a cheaper place to live, we love hiking and the outdoors, and our new town is in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.”

Droves of small businesses have been shuttered by the economic fallout of the coronavirus, but for Mr. Summers, starting a new one was the best option.

In fact, older Americans had already been starting new businesses at a fast rate. In 2019, research from the Kauffman Foundation, a nonpartisan group supporting entrepreneurship, found that more than 25 percent of new entrepreneurs were ages 55 to 64, up from about 15 percent in 1996.

Across the age spectrum, there has been a rise in new business start-ups since May, according to the Census Bureau. The surge is likely “powered by newly unemployed individuals opting to start their own businesses, either by choice or out of necessity,” according to the Economic Innovation Group, a bipartisan public policy organization.

https://www.census.gov/econ/bfs/index.html

“Older women, in particular,” said Elizabeth Isele, founder and chief executive of the Global Institute for Experienced Entrepreneurship, “are highly motivated to start their own businesses to foster their own economic self-reliance, support their families and also provide employment for others in their communities.”

  Weekly Business Applications by Likely Employers

Weekly Update on COVID-19’s Impact on Business Formation and Entrepreneurship: September 4

Stay-at-Home Side Gigs

For stay-at-home parents juggling a million different things with a pile of pandemic worry to boot, adding an at-home business might seem overwhelming.  But, it doesn’t have to be.  We’ve found a super site for moms called “invisiblemoms.com” started by Gwen Payne.  Here’s an offering:

Money-Making Side Gigs for Stay-at-Home Parents

Before the internet, stay-at-home parents had few opportunities to earn money. But now, there are countless lucrative and fulfilling jobs that can be done from home! The best part? You don’t have to give up valuable time with your kids to earn a living and start putting some money away for the future. If you’re a stay-at-home parent looking for freedom and flexibility in your work life, check out the following ideas!

Start an Online Business

If you’ve always dreamed of starting your own business, this could be a great opportunity to make your dreams a reality. Launching a home-based business is relatively easy. You don’t have to secure a large investment for a storefront, warehouse, or office space. You don’t have to hire employees, and you don’t even need a product! Many e-commerce store owners start by drop shipping products directly from suppliers so they don’t have to buy and store inventory.

Of course, if you’re launching a business, there are legal matters to address first. Structuring your business is an essential element of the start-up process. To keep things easy and straightforward, consider forming a limited liability company (LLC). An LLC protects your personal finances from business debts or lawsuits but allows for more flexibility—and involves less paperwork—than a corporation. Just make sure you understand the specific rules and regulations around forming an LLC in your state before moving forward.

Sell Handmade Products

Enjoy getting crafty? If you have a knack for creative work, consider selling your handmade crafts! You can sell nearly any handmade item online, from custom clothing and home décor to candles and bath bombs. Keep it simple and set up your store on a handmade goods e-commerce platform like Etsy, Absolute Arts, Aftcra, and Cratejoy. Once you’re set up, all you have to do is promote your shop, and you can start making sales!

Launch a Home Daycare

Since you’re already at home taking care of your kids, why not add a few more to the mix? As Brightwheel explains, launching your own home daycare could be a great way to make money doing what you’re already doing—albeit with a little more responsibility. Before you get started, you’ll have to learn about the daycare licensing requirements in your area to ensure you can comply with all government rules and regulations. You will also have to do plenty of research to determine your rates, ensure profitability, and develop a successful marketing plan.

5 Tips to Start Advertising Your Home Daycare Fast

Become a Pet Sitter

You can also make money caring for other people’s pets! People hire pet sitters when they have to leave town for a couple of days without their beloved furry friends. Typically, pet sitters stop by owners’ homes during the day to feed, walk, and play with their pets, but you can also board pets in your own home overnight. If you love animals and you have a big backyard, this could be a great side-gig for you.   https://www.petsit.com/starting-a-pet-sitting-business

Find Freelance Work

If you’d rather work as a contractor than a business owner, freelancing is an excellent choice. Freelancers work in a wide variety of industries, from web development to social media management. You can turn nearly any skill into a freelance position. For example, if you’re a strong writer, you could write marketing copy, website content, and blog posts for businesses all over the world. All you need is a great website—or a profile on a freelancing platform—and you can start finding clients right away!

Thanks to the internet, parents no longer have to choose between earning income and staying home to raise their kids. Whether you decide to try freelancing, launch a dropshipping business, sell handmade products, join an affiliate program, or work as a pet sitter, you are bound to find a fulfilling career online. Don’t be afraid to test out a few ventures until you find a work-from-home project that fits you best!

Courtesy Gwen Payne Website, “The Invisible Moms” – https://invisiblemoms.com

 

Future of Work.

Most know our 90% focus these days is on the future of work, a change accelerated by COVID-19.  A new study by the World Economic Forum below lists the top 10 jobs needed, and you will see the common denominator is entrepreneurship.  Why then, is not entrepreneurship MANDATED in every K12, college, and university in the world?  At least my community college specialty is leading the way with re-skilling adults and expansive entrepreneurship for-credit and not-for-credit curriculums through NACCE.com, National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship.

After years of growing income inequality, concerns about technology-driven displacement of jobs, and rising societal discord globally, the combined health and economic shocks of 2020 have put economies into freefall, disrupted labour markets and fully revealed the inadequacies of our social contracts. Millions of individuals globally have lost their livelihoods and millions more are at risk from the global recession, structural change to the economy and further automation. Additionally, the pandemic an

the subsequent recession have impacted most those communities which were already at a disadvantage.

We find ourselves at a defining moment: the decisions and choices we make today will determine the course of entire generations’
lives and livelihoods. We have the tools at our disposal. The bounty of technological innovation which defines our current era can be leveraged to unleash human potential. We have the means to reskill and upskill individuals in unprecedented numbers, to deploy precision safety nets which protect displaced workers from destitution, and to create bespoke maps which orient displaced workers towards the jobs of tomorrow where they will be able to thrive.

However, the efforts to support those affected by the current crisis lag behind the speed of disruption. It is now urgent to enact a Global Reset towards a socio-economic system that is more fair, sustainable and equitable, one where social mobility is reinvigorated, social cohesion restored, and economic prosperity is compatible with a healthy planet. If this opportunity is missed, we will face lost generations of adults and youth who will be raised into growing inequality, discord and lost potential.

The Future of Jobs Report provides the timely insights needed to orient labor markets and workers towards opportunity today and in the future of work. Now in its third edition, the report maps the jobs and skills of the future, tracking the pace of change and direction of travel.

This year we find that while technology-driven job creation is still expected to outpace job destruction over the next five years, the economic contraction is reducing the rate of growth in the jobs of tomorrow. There is a renewed urgency to take proactive measures to ease the transition of workers into more sustainable job opportunities. There is room for measured optimism in the data, but supporting workers will require global, regional and national public-private collaboration at an unprecedented scale and speed.

The COVID-19 pandemic-induced lockdowns and related global recession of 2020 have created a highly uncertain outlook for the labor market and accelerated the arrival of the future of work. The Future of Jobs Report 2020 aims to shed light on: 1) the pandemic-related disruptions thus far in 2020, contextualized within a longer history of economic cycles, and 2) the expected outlook for technology adoption jobs and skills in the next five years. Despite the currently high degree of uncertainty, the report uses a unique combination of qualitative and quantitative intelligence to expand the knowledge base about the future of jobs and skills. It aggregates the views of business leaders—chief executives, chief strategy officers and chief human resources officers–on the frontlines of decision-making regarding human capital with the latest data from public and private sources to create a clearer picture of both the current situation and the future outlook for jobs and skills. The report also provides in-depth information for 15 industry sectors and 26 advanced and emerging countries.

Automation, in tandem with the COVID-19 recession, is creating a ‘double-disruption’ scenario for workers. In addition to the current disruption from the pandemic-induced lockdowns and economic contraction, technological adoption by companies will transform tasks, jobs and skills by 2025. Forty- three percent of businesses surveyed indicate that they are set to reduce their workforce due to technology integration, 41% plan to expand their use of contractors for task-specialized work, and 34% plan to expand their workforce due to technology integration. By 2025, the time spent on current tasks at work by humans and machines will be equal. A significant share of companies also expect to make changes to locations, their value chains, and the size of their workforce due to factors beyond technology in the next five years.

Skills gaps continue to be high as in- demand skills across jobs change in the next five years. The top skills and skill groups which employers see as rising in prominence in the lead up to 2025 include groups such as critical thinking and analysis as well as problem-solving, and skills in self-management such as active learning, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility. On average, companies estimate that around 40% of workers will require reskilling of six months or less and 94% of business leaders report that they expect employees to pick up new skills on the job, a sharp uptake from 65% in 2018.

The future of work has already arrived for a large majority of the online white-collar workforce. Eighty-four percent of employers are set to rapidly digitalize working processes, including a significant expansion of remote work—with the potential to move 44% of their workforce to operate remotely. To address concerns about productivity and well-being, about one-third of all employers expect to also take steps to create a sense of community, connection and belonging among employees through digital tools, and to tackle the well-being challenges posed by the shift to remote work.

In the absence of proactive efforts, inequality is likely to be exacerbated by the dual impact of technology and the pandemic recession. Jobs held by lower wage workers, women and younger workers were more deeply impacted in the first phase of the economic contraction. Comparing the impact of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 on individuals with lower education levels to the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, the impact today is far more significant and more likely to deepen existing inequalities.  The window of opportunity to reskill and upskill workers has become shorter in the newly constrained labour market. This applies to workers who are likely to stay in their roles as well as those who risk losing their roles due to rising recession-related unemployment and can no longer expect to retrain at work. For those workers set to remain in their roles, the share of core skills that will change in the next five years is 40%, and 50% of all employees will need reskilling (up 4%).

The public sector needs to provide stronger support for reskilling and upskilling for at-risk or displaced workers. Currently, only 21% of businesses report being able to make use of public funds to support their employees through reskilling and upskilling. The public sector will need to create incentives for investments in the markets and jobs of tomorrow; provide stronger safety nets
for displaced workers in the midst of job transitions; and to decisively tackle long- delayed improvements to education and training systems. Additionally, it will be important for governments to consider the longer-term labor market implications of maintaining, withdrawing or partly continuing the strong COVID-19 crisis support they are providing to support wages and maintain jobs in most advanced economies.

Courtesy of  WEF, World Economic Forum October 2020 Report  

Full PDF Report on https://www.weforum.org/reports

The Advantage of Intentional, Lifelong Learning

Learning itself is a skill. Unlocking the mindsets and skills to develop it can boost personal and professional lives and deliver a competitive edge…especially today with COVID-19, a Gig Economy, and job elimination from artificial intelligence automation.

The call for individuals and organizations alike to invest in learning and development has never been more insistent. The World Economic Forum recently declared a reskilling emergency as the world faces more than one billion jobs transformed by technology. Even before COVID-19 emerged, the world of stable lifetime employment had faded in the rearview mirror, replaced by the expectation that both executives and employees must continually refresh their skills. The pandemic has only heightened the urgency of doubling down on skill building, either to keep up with the speed of transformation now underway or to manage the particulars of working in new ways.

Despite this context—and the nearly constant refrain for people to adapt to it by becoming lifelong learners—many companies struggle to meet their reskilling goals, and many individuals struggle to learn new and unfamiliar topics effectively. We believe that an underlying cause is the fact that so few adults have been trained in the core skills and mindsets of effective learners. Learning itself is a skill, and developing it is a critical driver of long-term career success. People who have mastered the mindsets and skills of effective learning can grow faster than their peers and gain more of the benefits from all the learning opportunities that come their way.

This article, supported by research and our decades of experience working as talent and learning professionals, explores the core mindsets and skills of effective learners. People who master these mindsets and skills become what we call intentional learners: possessors of what we believe might be the most fundamental skill for professionals to cultivate in the coming decades. In the process they will unlock tremendous value both for themselves and for those they manage in the organizations where they work.

Unlocking intentionality

Formal learning opportunities account for only a small percentage of the learning a professional needs over the course of a career. Everyday experiences and interactions offer tremendous learning opportunities, but only if you intentionally treat every moment as a learning opportunity. While intentional learners embrace their need to learn, for them learning is not a separate stream of work or an extra effort. Instead, it is an almost unconscious, reflexive form of behavior. Learning is the mode and mindset in which intentional learners operate all the time. Although they are experiencing all the same daily moments anyone else might, they get more out of those opportunities because everything—every experience, conversation, meeting, and deliverable—carries with it an opportunity to develop and grow.

Each of us can become an intentional learner. There are two critical mindsets (or things you need to believe) and five core practices (or behavior that collectively reorients you toward learning in everything you do). It’s not as hard as it sounds; in fact, you’re probably doing some of these already.

Foster learning by adjusting two critical mindsets

Mindsets are powerful, often exerting tremendous influence on behavior, sometimes unconsciously. When built on a foundation of self-efficacy*—the belief that your actions can help you achieve desired outcomes1 —two mindsets serve as especially powerful fuel for intentional learners: a growth mindset and a curiosity mindset. While some people may have a natural proclivity to these mindsets, the important thing is that they are neither fixed nor immovable. In fact, part of their power is that they can be developed.

*Self-efficacy is the definition of an entrepreneurial mindset.  All need the lean startup entrepreneurship skills to survive and thrive in the new digital (think A. I.) environment.

Adopt a growth mindset

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s popular work on growth suggests that people hold one of two sets of beliefs about their own abilities: either a fixed or a growth mindset. A fixed mindset is the belief that personality characteristics, talents, and abilities are finite or fixed resources; they can’t be altered, changed, or improved. You simply are the way you are. People with this mindset tend to take a polar view of themselves—they consider themselves either intelligent or average, talented or untalented, a success or a failure. A fixed mindset stunts learning because it eliminates permission not to know something, to fail, or to struggle. Writes Dweck: “The fixed mindset doesn’t allow people the luxury of becoming. They have to already be.”2

In contrast, a growth mindset suggests that you can grow, expand, evolve, and change. Intelligence and capability are not fixed points but instead traits you cultivate. A growth mindset releases you from the expectation of being perfect. Failures and mistakes are not indicative of the limits of your intellect but rather tools that inform how you develop. A growth mindset is liberating, allowing you to find value, joy, and success in the process, regardless of the outcome.

Cultivating a growth mindset can begin with shifting your inner dialogue from beliefs about your ability (a fixed mindset) to beliefs about your opportunities and needs (a growth mindset)—for example, from “I’m terrible at giving presentations” to “I need more practice presenting in front of others.” Similarly, “I’m not good enough to be promoted to supervisor” might become “I need some additional experience before I’ll be ready for promotion.” Simple restatements have a dramatic impact on what you believe about your own abilities. A fixed mindset often runs deep; it may take constant practice to reframe your default thoughts.

Feed your curiosity

Curiosity, the engine of intentional learning, can be cultivated, even in those who don’t consider themselves naturally curious. Think of curiosity as priming the pump. It’s what gets your learning started. Curiosity is awareness, an openness to ideas, and an ability to make connections between disparate concepts.

The research tells us that curiosity matters for three primary reasons. First, inspiration is strongly correlated with an intrinsic desire to learn. Curiosity sparks inspiration. You learn more and more frequently because you are curious. Second, curiosity marks the beginning of a virtuous cycle that feeds your ability as a self-directed learner. Finally, research suggests that curiosity doesn’t diminish with age, so it can serve you at any point in your career. Although your learning methods will change over time, curiosity will keep the spark of motivation alive.3

Consider a few practices to strengthen your curiosity muscle:

  • Face your fears. Fear is a significant barrier to curiosity; confronting those fears can be an important way to unlock learning skills. Spend a bit of time reflecting. What prevents you from asking questions in meetings? What keeps you from trying new things? What makes you reluctant to accept new assignments? Once you name what you are afraid of, you can decide how to address it.
  • Seek novel experiences and ideas. New environments, new experiences, and exposure to new groups of people can all spark curiosity. Your search for the new can be as dramatic as moving to a new country or as simple as watching a documentary on a topic you don’t know anything about. The key is to avoid stagnation by feeding your mind with something new.
  • Focus on what you love. Your curiosity doesn’t have to be confined to your career—cultivating the muscle in anything you do will serve all parts of your life. Consider collecting skills and interests outside your day job. Maybe you love podcasts, build engines, coach a sports team, or play an instrument in your spare time. Whatever you love to do, do more of it.

Whatever form curiosity takes, it helps you stay open and aware, broadens your perspective, and readies you to learn. Because it looks different in every person, the best advice is to just start. Get curious. Ask questions. Find something you are interested in and try it. When you become tired, try something else, but don’t stop trying things.

Practice, practice, practice: The five core skills of intentional learners

A growth mindset and active curiosity are the fuel of intentional learning. But when you develop your learning muscles, it’s also important to modulate these forces and direct their energy effectively. Five best-practice behaviors help intentional learners get the most out of their experiences: setting goals, protecting time for learning, actively seeking feedback, conducting deliberate practice, and reflecting to evaluate yourself and determine your progress.

Set small, clear goals

Intentional learners are anchored in tangible goals, so they can use curiosity as an effective tool instead of a source of distraction. Learning-science scholars draw a bright line between a learner’s goal and the ultimate “stickiness” of learning. Learning takes hold when you can retain and use what you have learned. The stickiest kind of learning happens when you are trying to accomplish something you care about.

Both a growth and a self-efficiacy mindset define the entrepreneurial mindset.  The key to unlocking a life-long learning curiosity is to learn and practice entrepreneurship to ensure a secure future (income).

Starting (or Reinventing) a Thriving Pandemic Business

The crisis has led many Americans to start new ventures or reapproach old ideas.

From late March to mid-July, more than 420,000 small businesses closed permanently, according to a Brookings Institution report released in mid-September.  That’s more than typically shutter in an entire year. “We look set to lose at least as many small businesses in this year alone as over the four-year period from peak to trough during the Great Recession,” the report warns.

These enterprises are fragile: “47% would have to rely on personal funds to fill a 2-month revenue gap, 88% rely on their personal credit score, and only 44% have had a bank loan in the past 5 years,” the report’s author, Steven Hamilton, tweeted the day it was released. “I worry about the destruction of intangible capital—like links between businesses and their workers, suppliers and customers—when hundreds of thousands of otherwise-viable businesses fail. Big businesses reorganize; small businesses dissolve. There are big macro effects too,” he wrote in another tweet

A bit of hopeful news is that while business formations declined in the spring, they are on track to outpace recent years, according to a separate paperthe think tank released the same day. The Census Bureau shows formations were up by about 4.8% in the second quarter over the first quarter. A big question is whether enough people will launch enough new businesses to offset the closed ones. Another unknown: Will lawmakers and others do enough to prevent more closures?

A big question is whether enough people will launch enough new businesses to offset the closed ones. In more stable times, there is significant turnover, with the net stock of small businesses growing by about 25,000 annually, according to the report.

Another unknown: will lawmakers and others do enough to prevent more closures. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said President Donald Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis might change the tenor of the stimulus talks by emphasizing the seriousness of the pandemic, Bloomberg News reported on Oct. 2.

Many struggling entrepreneurs are trying to reinvent their businesses to better address life during a pandemic. “The challenge here is people don’t know how long or deep this is going to go,” says Luz Urrutia, who was a banker for about two decades before becoming the chief executive officer of Opportunity Fund, the nation’s leading nonprofit microlender to small businesses. A survey published in September by JustBusiness, an advice site from online loan marketplace Fundera, of more than 400 entrepreneurs launching new ventures showed restaurants, bars, retail stores, and music venues among the top industries for respondents. About half indicated the new venture will be their first.

Businessweek is profiling a handful of entrepreneurs who have recently launched new businesses, to share advice and information from their experiences. Up first: California Family Bonds Selling Pandemic Supplies

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-10-05/small-business-what-one-family-learned-from-launching-wholesale-operation?sref=JuSsFiEr

Courtesy Bloomberg Businessweek by By Nick Leiber

When Your Competitor Becomes Your Collaborator

On this episode, Julianne Pepitone sits down with GSK’s Chief Scientific Officer Hal Barron to learn about collaboration when it comes to solving major challenges in human health. She learns how Hal defines what makes a great partnership and how he finds the people who are key to helping his team discover the next great innovation in medicine.

 https://www.megaphone.fm       ——-       The Podcast.

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THIS EPISODE:

JULIANNE PEPITONE:

How do you collaborate with a direct competitor? In the race for a COVID vaccine we’re hearing about lots of competitor collaborations, including GSK. Hal, for those of us not in pharma, I think the perception is that this is a hyper competitive industry. So to hear you talking about sitting down with folks who you compete with, especially in working toward a COVID vaccine, it feels surprising.

HAL BARRON:

I was talking with a friend of mine from Johnson & Johnson. He said, “Why don’t we just form a group? All the heads of R&D, we should just meet weekly and figure out what the heck to do.”

So we did it. It kept growing and growing and we meet and we’d just bring up problems and say, “Well, what do you do about that?” Then it came down to how do we make better vaccines? Then the concept of, should we be sharing data? Should we be helping each other be successful in different ways? The answer was sure, and everyone said, “Terrific idea. Let’s do it.” The key thing was, let’s fix this thing. Scientists and science is almost like a superhero these days. It’s the only way to get this planet back in shape. It comes with a tremendous responsibility to do this thoughtfully. We’re just trying to make the world a better place.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

FastCo Works is Fast Company’s branded content studio. 

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Innovation: Where Good Ideas Come From

What is more important to the entrepreneurial process than good ideas?  This gem of a book documents the “natural history of innovation”,  The latest and greatest non-fiction books are summarized in one book for every entrepreneur and entrepreneurship educational program.

Quick Summary:  Both evolution and innovation thrive in collaborative networks where opportunities for serendipitous connections exist. Great discoveries often evolve as slow hunches, maturing and connecting to other ideas over time.  

Here are nine lessons covered in the book:

Lesson 1: Evolution and innovation usually happen in the realm of the adjacent possible.

Four billion years ago, carbon atoms mulled around the primordial soup. But as life began, those atoms did not spontaneously arrange themselves into complex life forms like sunflowers or squirrels.

First, they had to form simpler structures like molecules, polymers, proteins, cells, primitive organisms and so forth. Each step along the way opened up possibilities for new combinations, expanding the realm of what was possible, until finally a carbon atom could reside in a sunflower.

Similarly, eBay could not be created in the 1950s. First, someone had to invent computers, then a way to connect those computers, then a World Wide Web for people to browse and then a platform which supported online payments.

Both evolution and innovation tend to happen within the bounds of the adjacent possible, in other words the realm of possibilities available at any given moment.

Great leaps beyond the adjacent possible are rare and doomed to be short-term failures. The environment is simply not ready for them yet. Had YouTube been launched in the 1990s, it would have flopped, since neither the fast internet connections nor the software required to view videos was available then.

The predominance of multiples in innovation highlights how the adjacent possible is constrained by existing parts and knowledge. A multiple occurs when several people independently make the same discovery almost simultaneously.

Joseph Priestley and Carl Wilhelm Scheele isolated oxygen in 1772-1774, unaware of the other’s advancement. But they did share the same starting point, because their search for oxygen could not begin until the gaseous nature of air was first understood. Thus it was inevitable some scientists would reach their discoveries at around the same time.

Lesson 2: World-changing ideas generally evolve over time as slow hunches rather than sudden breakthroughs.

Although in retrospect great discoveries may seem like single, definable eureka-moments, in reality they tend to fade into view slowly. They are like gradually maturing slow hunches, which demand time and cultivation to bloom.

According to Darwin, the theory of natural selection simply popped into his head when he was contemplating Malthus’ writings on population growth. But Darwin’s notebooks reveal that far before this so-called epiphany, he had already described a very nearly complete theory of natural selection. This slow hunch only matured into a fully-formed theory over time.

Only in retrospect does the idea seem so obvious that it must have come in a flash of insight. Upon hearing of the theory for the first time, a supporter of Darwin even exclaimed “How incredibly stupid not to think of that.”

Another slow hunch led to a revolution in the way we share information today.

As a child, Tim Berners-Lee read a Victorian-era how-to book and was fascinated by the “portal of information” he had found. Well over a decade later, working as a consultant at the Swiss CERN laboratory and partially inspired by the book, he tinkered with a side-project which allow him to store and connect chunks of information, like nodes in a network. Another decade later, CERN officially authorized him to work on the project, which finally matured into a network where documents on different computers could be connected through hypertext links. After decades of Berners-Lee’s slow hunch maturing and developing, the World Wide Web was born

Lesson 3: Platforms are like springboards for innovations.

Ecologists use the term keystone species to describe organisms which are disproportionately important to the welfare of the ecosystem. On a small island with no other predators, a pack of wolves keeps the population of sheep under control, thus stopping them from eating the island bare and collapsing the entire ecosystem.

But around two decades ago, ecologists understood that a very specific and important type of keystone species warranted its own term entirely. Ecosystem engineers actually create habitats for other organisms, building platforms from which several others benefit. Consider for example the beavers that dam rivers turning forests into wetlands, or the coral that builds thriving reefs into the middle of the ocean.

Such platforms exist in the sphere if innovation as well, and they are used as springboards to leap into the adjacent possible. The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a good example of such a platform. Originally developed for military use, it has now spurned countless innovations from GPS trackers to location-based services and advertising.

Platforms often stack on top of each other, meaning that one platform provides the foundation for even more platforms, which again produce countless new innovations.

Beavers fell trees that rot and attract woodpeckers to drill nesting holes in them. But once the woodpeckers have left, these holes are occupied by songbirds. The woodpecker has also created a platform.

The story of Twitter is similar: the Web was based on existing protocols, Twitter was built on the Web and now countless apps have been designed on the Twitter platform, the adjacent possible being expanded at every step.

“Ideas rise in crowds, as Poincaré said. They rise in liquid networks, where connection is valued more than protection.”

Lesson 4: Innovation and evolution thrive in large networks.

The basis of all life on earth (and likely any extraterrestrial life out there) is carbon, because it is fundamentally good at connecting with other atoms, and can thus construct complex chains of molecules. These connections allow new structures like proteins to emerge. Without carbon, the earth would have likely remained a dead soup of chemicals.

Connections also facilitate ideas. When humans first began to organize themselves into settlements, towns and cities, they became members of networks, which exposed them to new ideas and allowed them to spread their own discoveries. Before this happened, a novel idea by one person could well die with her, since she had no network to spread it to. Great ideas rise in crowds.

To better understand the roots of scientific breakthroughs, in the 1990s psychologists decided to record everything that went on in four molecular biology laboratories. One imagines that in a field like molecular biology, great discoveries are made by peering through a microscope. Strikingly, it turned out the most important ideas arose during regular lab meetings, where the scientists informally discussed their work.

Other studies have shown that the most creative individuals have broad social networks that extend outside their own organization, and hence get new ideas from many different contexts.

Cities facilitate such large networks which allow ideas to be diffused and combined in novel ways. This is one of the reasons why cities are disproportionately more creative than smaller towns. Today though the greatest such creative network is not a city at all, but the World Wide Web, creating, connecting and diffusing ideas more effectively than any network before it.

Lesson 5: Collaboration is at least as important a driver of innovation as competition.

The ability of inventors and entrepreneurs to capitalize on their discoveries is often cited as a fundamental driver of innovation. But while the commercialization potential of inventions indeed spurs innovation, it also generates patents and other restrictions, thus hindering the circulation and further development of ideas.

Thus with regard to innovation, the very markets which are supposed to guarantee efficiency by rewarding inventors are in fact structurally inefficient, because they artificially prevent ideas from propagating and combining with others.

Over the past 600 years, the way that great inventions and discoveries are made seems to have gravitated increasingly away from individual inventors and toward networks of people. And even as the age of capitalism dawned and bloomed, most great discoveries have gone unrewarded by the markets. The World Wide Web, the theory of relativity, computers, x-rays, pacemakers and penicillin are but a few examples where the inventor has not profited.

Certainly market-spurred innovation has been far more effective than innovation achieved in command economies like the Soviet Union, but that still does not mean it is the optimal way forward. Yes, inventors may well deserve to be rewarded, but the real question should be how to increase innovation in general.

In the Origin of Species, Darwin himself placed equal emphasis on the wonder of complex collaboration between species as on the natural selection that comes from competition for resources. Similarly open networks of connections among innovations can be just as generative as vigorous competition. Free markets have greatly spurred innovation, but so has the collaborative, open way of sharing knowledge in networks.

Lesson 6: Lucky connections between ideas drive innovation.

The ability of carbon to connect with other atoms was vital for the evolution of life, but a second, randomizing, force was also necessary: water.

Water moves and churns, dissolving and eroding everything in its path, thus fostering new kinds of connections between atoms in the primordial soup. Just as importantly, the strong hydrogen bonds of water molecules helped maintain those new connections.

This mix of turbulence and stability is why liquid networks are optimal both for the evolution of life and for creativity. Innovative networks too must teeter on the brink of chaos, in the fruitful realm between order and anarchy, just like water.

Random connections drive serendipitous discoveries. Dreams for example are the primordial soup of innovation, where ideas connect seemingly at random. In fact, neuroscientists have confirmed that “sleeping on a problem” greatly helps solve it. Centuries ago, the German chemist Kekulé dreamt of a mythological serpent devouring its own tail, and subsequently realized how carbon atoms in a ring formed the molecule benzene.

But it seems chaos and creativity are linked even on a neurological level.

Ideas are in fact manifestations of a complex network of neurons firing in the brain, and new ideas are only possible when new connections are formed.

For some reason, neurons in the brain alternate between states of chaos, where they fire completely out of sync with each other, and more organized phase-lock states where large clusters of neurons fire at exactly the same frequency.

The period of time spent in either state differs from brain to brain. Somewhat counter-intuitively, studies have shown that the longer the spells of chaos a person’s brain tends to experience, the smarter the person usually is.

Lesson 7: Serendipitous discoveries can be facilitated by a shared intellectual or physical space.

When ideas converge in a shared physical or intellectual space, through for example people from different disciplines meeting, creative collisions happen. Consider the modernist cultural innovations of the 1920s. Many of them were largely a result of artists, poets and writers meeting at the same Parisian cafés. Shared interactions allow ideas to diffuse, circulate and be combined randomly with others.

On an individual level, facilitating such serendipitous connections is simply a matter of simultaneously introducing ideas from different disciplines into your consciousness. Innovators like Benjamin Franklin and Charles Darwin favored working on multiple projects simultaneously, in a kind of slow multitasking mode. One project would take center stage for days at a time, but linger at the back of the mind afterwards too, so connections between projects could be drawn.

The philosopher John Locke understood the importance of cross-referencing as early on as 1652, when he began developing an elaborate system for indexing the content of his commonplace book, essentially a scrapbook of interesting thoughts and findings. Such books formed his repository of ideas and hunches, maturing and waiting to be connected to new ideas.

On an organizational level, the key to innovation and inspiration is a network which allows hunches to mature, scatter and combine with others openly.

The greatest such network in existence is, of course, the World Wide Web, where a wealth of ideas is not only available, but hyper-linked for easy connections between several disciplines.

“Some studies suggest as much as 95 percent of medical technology donated to developing countries breaks within the first five years of use.”

Lesson 8: Great innovations emerge from environments that are partly contaminated by error.

Error is present in both the evolution of life and the innovation of great ideas, and it is not always a bad thing.

Consider natural reproduction: genes are passed on from parent to offspring, providing “building instructions” for how the offspring should develop. Without occasional mutations, meaning random errors in those instructions, evolution would have long ago come to a virtual standstill. The elephant’s tusks or peacock’s feathers would have never emerged if only perfect copies of existing genes would have propagated. Mutations endow creatures with new traits. While most of them fail fantastically, these errors also produce a few winners, thus driving evolution.

Similarly, Alexander Fleming only discovered penicillin because of an error: he mistakenly allowed a bacteria sample to be contaminated by mold and began to wonder what had killed the bacteria. In fact, major new scientific theories often begin as pesky little errors in the data which keep demonstrating that something in the dominant theory is wrong.

Unexplained errors force us to adopt new strategies and to abandon our old assumptions.

In a study, psychologist Charlan Nemeth showed two groups of people slides with various colors on them, and asked the subjects to free-associate words after seeing each slide. Here’s the twist: into the second group, Nemeth inserted actors who occasionally claimed to see different colors than the actual one shown, e.g. “green” when the slide was in fact blue.

The first group came up only with the most predictable associations, e.g. “sky” for a blue slide, but the second group was far more creative. The “error” introduced into the group forced them to consider more possibilities than just the obvious ones.

Lesson 9: Innovation thrives on reinventing and reusing the old.

Evolutionary biologists use the term expatiation to describe the phenomenon where a trait originally developed for a specific purpose is eventually used in a completely different way. Feathers, for example originally evolved as a method for temperature regulation, but today their airfoil-shape helps birds fly.

Ideas are often similarly repurposed along the way. Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web as a tool for scholars, but in the course of time it became a network for shopping, social networking and pornography, among other things. Johannes Gutenberg, on the other hand found an innovative use for a 1000 year-old invention: the wine screw press used to squeeze juice out of grapes. Using this ancient technology and his knowledge of metallurgy, Gutenberg created the world’s first printing press.

Unconventional uses for old, even discarded items and ideas spur innovation. Nairobian cobblers make rubber sandals out of car tires, and Gustave Flaubert wrote Sentimental Education as a contortion of the bildungsroman genre. The old is reshaped into the new.

Discarded spaces are also transformed through innovation. Just like the skeletal structure left behind by dead coral forms the basis of the rich and thriving ecosystem of the reef, abandoned buildings and rundown neighborhoods are often the first homes of innovative urban subcultures. Their unconventional thinking and experimentation often has no place in glitzy mainstream malls and shopping streets initially. Old buildings allow subcultures to interact and generate ideas that then diffuse and spill over into the mainstream.

Courtesy Blinklist Magazine, Nov. 2013, “Key Lessons”.

Reskilling for Life – Become an “Intentional Learner”

The most fundamental skill: Intentional learning and the career advantage.

Learning itself is a skill. Unlocking the mindsets and skills to develop it can boost personal and professional lives and deliver a competitive edge.

The call for individuals and organizations alike to invest in learning and development has never been more insistent. The World Economic Forum recently declared a reskilling emergency as the world faces more than one billion jobs transformed by technology. Even before COVID-19 emerged, the world of stable lifetime employment had faded in the rearview mirror, replaced by the expectation that both executives and employees must continually refresh their skills. The pandemic has only heightened the urgency of doubling down on skill building, either to keep up with the speed of transformation now underway or to manage the particulars of working in new ways.

Despite this context—and the nearly constant refrain for people to adapt to it by becoming lifelong learners—many companies struggle to meet their reskilling goals, and many individuals struggle to learn new and unfamiliar topics effectively. We believe that an underlying cause is the fact that so few adults have been trained in the core skills and mindsets of effective learners. Learning itself is a skill, and developing it is a critical driver of long-term career success. People who have mastered the mindsets and skills of effective learning can grow faster than their peers and gain more of the benefits from all the learning opportunities that come their way.

This article, supported by research and our decades of experience working as talent and learning professionals, explores the core mindsets and skills of effective learners. People who master these mindsets and skills become what we call intentional learners: possessors of what we believe might be the most fundamental skill for professionals to cultivate in the coming decades. In the process they will unlock tremendous value both for themselves and for those they manage in the organizations where they work.

Unlocking intentionality

Formal learning opportunities account for only a small percentage of the learning a professional needs over the course of a career. Everyday experiences and interactions offer tremendous learning opportunities, but only if you intentionally treat every moment as a learning opportunity. While intentional learners embrace their need to learn, for them learning is not a separate stream of work or an extra effort. Instead, it is an almost unconscious, reflexive form of behavior. Learning is the mode and mindset in which intentional learners operate all the time. Although they are experiencing all the same daily moments anyone else might, they get more out of those opportunities because everything—every experience, conversation, meeting, and deliverable—carries with it an opportunity to develop and grow.

Each of us can become an intentional learner. There are two critical mindsets (or things you need to believe) and five core practices (or behavior that collectively reorients you toward learning in everything you do). It’s not as hard as it sounds; in fact, you’re probably doing some of these already.

Foster learning by adjusting two critical mindsets

Mindsets are powerful, often exerting tremendous influence on behavior, sometimes unconsciously. When built on a foundation of self-efficacy—the belief that your actions can help you achieve desired outcomes1 —two mindsets serve as especially powerful fuel for intentional learners: a growth mindset and a curiosity mindset. While some people may have a natural proclivity to these mindsets, the important thing is that they are neither fixed nor immovable. In fact, part of their power is that they can be developed.

Adopt a growth mindset

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s popular work on growth suggests that people hold one of two sets of beliefs about their own abilities: either a fixed or a growth mindset. A fixed mindset is the belief that personality characteristics, talents, and abilities are finite or fixed resources; they can’t be altered, changed, or improved. You simply are the way you are. People with this mindset tend to take a polar view of themselves—they consider themselves either intelligent or average, talented or untalented, a success or a failure. A fixed mindset stunts learning because it eliminates permission not to know something, to fail, or to struggle. Writes Dweck: “The fixed mindset doesn’t allow people the luxury of becoming. They have to already be.”2

In contrast, a growth mindset suggests that you can grow, expand, evolve, and change. Intelligence and capability are not fixed points but instead traits you cultivate. A growth mindset releases you from the expectation of being perfect. Failures and mistakes are not indicative of the limits of your intellect but rather tools that inform how you develop. A growth mindset is liberating, allowing you to find value, joy, and success in the process, regardless of the outcome.

Cultivating a growth mindset can begin with shifting your inner dialogue from beliefs about your ability (a fixed mindset) to beliefs about your opportunities and needs (a growth mindset)—for example, from “I’m terrible at giving presentations” to “I need more practice presenting in front of others.” Similarly, “I’m not good enough to be promoted to supervisor” might become “I need some additional experience before I’ll be ready for promotion.” Simple restatements have a dramatic impact on what you believe about your own abilities. A fixed mindset often runs deep; it may take constant practice to reframe your default thoughts.

Feed your curiosity

Curiosity, the engine of intentional learning, can be cultivated, even in those who don’t consider themselves naturally curious. Think of curiosity as priming the pump. It’s what gets your learning started. Curiosity is awareness, an openness to ideas, and an ability to make connections between disparate concepts.

The research tells us that curiosity matters for three primary reasons. First, inspiration is strongly correlated with an intrinsic desire to learn. Curiosity sparks inspiration. You learn more and more frequently because you are curious. Second, curiosity marks the beginning of a virtuous cycle that feeds your ability as a self-directed learner. Finally, research suggests that curiosity doesn’t diminish with age, so it can serve you at any point in your career. Although your learning methods will change over time, curiosity will keep the spark of motivation alive.3

Consider a few practices to strengthen your curiosity muscle:

  • Face your fears. Fear is a significant barrier to curiosity; confronting those fears can be an important way to unlock learning skills. Spend a bit of time reflecting. What prevents you from asking questions in meetings? What keeps you from trying new things? What makes you reluctant to accept new assignments? Once you name what you are afraid of, you can decide how to address it.
  • Seek novel experiences and ideas. New environments, new experiences, and exposure to new groups of people can all spark curiosity. Your search for the new can be as dramatic as moving to a new country or as simple as watching a documentary on a topic you don’t know anything about. The key is to avoid stagnation by feeding your mind with something new.
  • Focus on what you love. Your curiosity doesn’t have to be confined to your career—cultivating the muscle in anything you do will serve all parts of your life. Consider collecting skills and interests outside your day job. Maybe you love podcasts, build engines, coach a sports team, or play an instrument in your spare time. Whatever you love to do, do more of it.

Whatever form curiosity takes, it helps you stay open and aware, broadens your perspective, and readies you to learn. Because it looks different in every person, the best advice is to just start. Get curious. Ask questions. Find something you are interested in and try it. When you become tired, try something else, but don’t stop trying things.

Practice, practice, practice: The five core skills of intentional learners

A growth mindset and active curiosity are the fuel of intentional learning. But when you develop your learning muscles, it’s also important to modulate these forces and direct their energy effectively. Five best-practice behaviors help intentional learners get the most out of their experiences: setting goals, protecting time for learning, actively seeking feedback, conducting deliberate practice, and reflecting to evaluate yourself and determine your progress.

Set small, clear goals

Intentional learners are anchored in tangible goals, so they can use curiosity as an effective tool instead of a source of distraction. Learning-science scholars draw a bright line between a learner’s goal and the ultimate “stickiness” of learning. Learning takes hold when you can retain and use what you have learned. The stickiest kind of learning happens when you are trying to accomplish something you care about.

Consider these best practices for goal setting:

 Courtesy McKinsey & Co., Lisa Christense SF, Jake Bittleson Chicago and Matt Smith Paris.