It has been my privilege to work with executives who are the Olympic champions of their respective spaces, the best people in the world in what they do. These smart high achievers teach me a variety of lessons, from how they overcome challenges to how they develop, grow and create results. Having said that, I am convinced that even the most successful teams fall short of their potential because of suboptimal functioning that make them regularly overlook significant opportunities. As a result, they achieve only about 50% of what they are capable of accomplishing. Astonishing, but true.
My consulting work with these senior teams centers on addressing their opportunities to unleash their greater potential. To create a dramatic improvement and realize an even greater impact, leaders engage in a meaningful growth process, individually and collectively as a team.
What does success look like in such an effort with leadership teams in some of the most admired companies in the world?
Each team is situationally unique. Still, there are some common themes: they raise their game to a whole new level, unleash individual and collective creativity, and discover a sense of shared purpose and inspired commitment. Though these elements generally already exist to some extent, they become even more present and pronounced as a result of our collaboration. For me, the most exhilarating and rewarding experiences are those with executive teams that produce profound breakthroughs by significantly elevating their performance.
At the end of a recent workshop, a senior executive expressed his appreciation by saying, "The innovation process you led with my team was breakthrough, and very different than anything I've experienced before. As a result, we saved months of time we otherwise would have spent trying to reach the strategic agreement and the decisions we made. What especially made this effort outstanding and exceeded my expectations is that we came up with ideas and innovative solutions that we never imagined before. That's what made our collaboration with you priceless."
After an intensive leadership workshop with his organization, a Chief Procurement Officer recently stated, "Aviv, let me say something you typically will not hear from a procurement leader: we got our money's worth multiple times."
What enables these leaders to experience such meaningful transformations? What is the process that creates these outcomes? Why does it work? How do we help leadership teams produce innovative solutions that generate dramatic breakthroughs? How can leaders create a vision that will help them navigate their high intensity roles in ways that engender an even better, more holistically balanced success in all aspects of their life?
My goal here is to help you achieve the same kind of results in your business and in your life by framing the core design principles of the experience I create for my clients. What is the secret? Actually, it is not much of a secret; perhaps it is more accurate to say that it is the "method behind the madness" of the process.
In two words, the "secret" is orchestrated serendipity. That's right, the essence of my approach, the methodology that produces such profound outcomes, is solving to the future by choreographing a convergence of all that's conceivable and more.
Orchestrating Serendipity: 7 Principles for Creating Breakthroughs in Business and in Life
Now, you might be thinking, "That's silly! How can serendipity be orchestrated or choreographed?"
Well, designing your future is exactly the point of this key. You can choreograph, orchestrate and even catalyze serendipity to help create breakthrough outcomes. Frankly, the outcomes my clients describe are enabled by this approach. They experience a discovery zone and collaborative innovation that delivers great multiples on their investment.
Let's address the ROI element in creating the type of collaboration that enables breakthrough result. For me, there is a thrill in producing great outcomes for clients. By that I mean financial returns that exceed 10x or 50x or 200x their investment. In addition, I love having the privilege of watching the personal and professional transformations that leadership team members undergo during these workshops, and the way they use their newfound energy, creativity, and passion to create breakthrough results - for themselves as well as for their company.
The seven principles of orchestrated serendipity (OS)
Most senior executives are surprised by the power of orchestrated serendipity. The experience we create is profoundly different than anything they've encountered, and it is designed to counteract the routine of typical leadership meetings and workshops. Overcoming the gravitational pull of current conditions and challenges is paramount. The reactive nature of the work environment, and the never-ending series of urgent "fire drills" mixed with the inertia, pressures, and general dysfunction of the corporate machine, all conspire to degrade performance and behaviors.
Helping people unleash their natural creativity dramatically enhances their propensity to make meaningful contributions and shape their future. They surprise themselves with their results. It's that simple.
Here are the design principles that guide me in shaping and choreographing transformational experiences that orchestrate serendipity to produce breakthrough outcomes.
Principle one: disrupt habitual patterns
To enable new outcomes, you first must break out of the default inertia by dissociating from habitual thinking patterns. Staying locked in the same routine patterns prevents you from moving forward. In fact, relative to the evolution generated by everyone else operating in your environment, you likely will find yourself moving backwards.
To create a more conducive learning environment, I have my clients convene our work off-site. The physical setup of the room and what happens during the first 90 minutes of the session, including the interactions we initiate, intentionally are designed to facilitate impressions that signify a novel experience. My tone, my cadence, and the starter cues that I provide are intended to enable a shift that introduces a vital focus, catalyzes a new experience, and initiates the brain chemistry of learning. We disrupt habitual patterns and cultivate this shift in the first three hours of the session - and often in the first 30 minutes - by stepping into active listening, and by initiating a practice of reflection.
Principle two: carve a new conversation space
Most executives operate in a highly crowded environment. Their Outlook calendars are full. Meeting agendas are crammed with items. The number of objectives and metrics for which they are accountable clamor for their attention. The market is jam-packed with competitors maneuvering to get an upper hand. Most critically, the executives' thinking becomes crowded and clouded due to the sheer number and complexity of the issues and challenges they must address. Compounding these pressures is the need to address internal company politics, family issues, and the never-ending noise, anxiety and uncertainty at the geopolitical and economical vectors. This mix makes for a densely crowded soup.
The process I apply is designed to help leaders separate themselves from this soul-crushing environment. I cannot expect executives to generate new ideas and develop inspired solutions and agreements inside the same dense soup that produced the fatigue, reactivity, and repetitive arguments that curtail fresh thinking. We must create a new vessel that offers the respite of a clear and expansive space and enables a new conversation, one that stimulates new connections, provokes new ideas, sparks inspiration, and dramatically expands the horizon. As I explain in my book Create New Futures, we carve out this enabling space by introducing a growth mindset and mental models that catalyze the desired shift, and by modeling novel inquiries that frame new conversations.
Principle three: activate curiosity and new synaptic connections
Curiosity is an aptitude, a way of being and an active form of inquiry that prods possibilities. By nature, people are curious. Too often, however, the environment and the corporate machine exhaust that predisposition and the vitality it generates. How do we re-claim our innate curiosity? How do we unleash new thinking that releases creative ideas and innovative solutions?
The first step in entering the discovery zone where new synaptic connections are made possible is suspending disbelief. To come up with new ideas and solutions, you must create new synaptic networks. This leap of faith occurs when you embrace the potential of the present moment openly by releasing all resistance you have been trained to carry into most situations. Catalyzing this shift begins with the presence of the person facilitating the process. My job is to provide the team with the reason to believe in what they do. Toward that end, I must have the courage of my convictions. I am guided by the realization that cynicism is a lie, and that deep inside, most people want to make a difference, contribute to, and participate in meaningful work. I give the executives in my sessions permission to leap into imagining what can be by asking them to suspend disbelief and summon their revitalized and renewed selves. I curate a process that activates curiosity and stimulate novel synaptic connections with inquiries that lead the team to discovery. I invite them to challenge themselves and shift entrenched discussions into breakthrough conversations by breaking free from the habit of defending "the 90% of what we know" and exploring "the 10% we don't know."
Recently I debriefed a strategy session with a senior executive. He made a startling comment that stopped me in my tracks: "This session was a highly impactful process that made me wonder about cause and effect. Did we have high quality conversations because we stayed away from our electronic devices, or was it because our dialogues were so interestingly rich and engaging that we never needed to distract ourselves by escaping to our emails? I believe it was the latter. Because the pace and the modular format kept changing, I remained engaged, never for a moment finding my attention wandering. That's very rare." Absolutely insightful and fascinating. Stimulating curiosity and catalyzing learning, enable us to create engagement depth and intensity that delivers innovation breakthroughs.
Principle four: alternate the foreground and the background
To design a profoundly meaningful experience, prior to every workshop I immerse myself in my client's organizational, business and strategic contexts. This preparation allows me to customize the experience to the opportunities and issues the executives grapple with. It also enables me to provoke transformative insights and bring forward the team's individual and collective strengths by designing a series of cascading inquiries in which the foreground (the "what" discussions) and the background (the "how" dialogues) alternate with other critical conversations. We allow divergent and convergent cycles to inform our exploration and strategy formulation by "playing jazz" rather than following a fixed musical score.
The workshop design alternates the foreground (strategy) with the background (culture) to create an experience that stimulates creativity--creativity that inspires people and accelerates possibilities. I curate the process to help the team integrate conversations about strategic priorities (foreground) with discussions of who we are as leaders, and how will we foster an organizational culture that will catalyze this growth (background).
Principle five: initiate zero-gravity explorations
Current challenges and limitations tend to create heaviness, sap the imagination and energy, and curtail what people can achieve and are likely to do. In my sessions we remove these constraints by first imagining clearly the future we will create. Team members produce TED-like talks that imagine the desired future. I invite people to explore open and emergent conversations, and to embrace a greater degree of the unknown. I ask them to reframe the familiar pattern of "explaining what cannot be done" as "exploring what must become true to achieve our envisioned future." We redirect excuses and complaints into proposals and requests that open the door to previously unimagined possibilities.
Giving people permission to imagine what can be, empowers them to bring forward their most radical ideas. When they jettison unnecessary weight, they are able to escape the gravitational pull of current obstacles, and experience an expansive horizon of possibilities that frees up creativity and excites them about new opportunities. Initiating zero-gravity explorations that access a new future right here, right now, inspires people to embrace the present moment and the possibility it brings.
Principle six: elevate the group's presence (energy field)
Ours is a universe defined by a field of energy potential. Everything we see and interact with is an energy form. All thoughts, ideas, feelings, and perspectives become operative inside an energetic pattern, energy being the essence of life. Our conversations, actions, responses, and behaviors come out of, and create, energetic patterns. Thus, the energy and presence catalyzed by the team makes all the difference in the world and defines what they can and cannot do in terms of innovation breakthroughs and outcomes.
New energetic patterns enable the emergence of high-impact conversations and behavior. The bridging process from current to new patterns requires heightened awareness and an augmented presence. For example, conflicts, dysfunction and broken communication arise because people are not present in the moment. Instead, they run "scripts" and "movies" in their minds that fight the situation at hand and are at odds with the "movies" others have created. No doubt you have experienced situations where the people around the table were viewing different "movies." The way to change old patterns is to catalyze and augment the energy of the team, to facilitate focus, and to offer a way of being indestructibly present.
By shifting your perspective, you shift your energy. You create new energetic patterns when you cultivate intentional behaviors and practices. As the team becomes aware of a different way of being and doing, their members discover the transformative significance of the new approach. As a result, they are able to make a dramatic shift that builds their collective presence and power.
The most essential factor that determines our energy, power and charisma is the "why" - the motivation that propels individual and collective conduct. For instance, some people who try to please others are driven by the desire to be accepted and recognized. This motivation is centered in their personal need (self-centered). People who seek to serve the needs of the situation are driven by a propulsion that is grounded outside of self, in the other and in the broader situation. A third "why" that is more enduring than the first two and creates a more exciting energy and presence, is illustrated by those who create a sustained solution driven by the need to improve the lives of many. Of course, these three types of propulsions are not mutually exclusive. For example, each of their energies may drive the desire for business profitability. In fact, many successful companies have found that employees who are inspired by the higher-level "why" of making a significant difference in the lives of many, experience the workplace very differently than those whose primary motivation is getting a paycheck. In addition, the company's profitability is enhanced. The determining "why" factor that shapes the energy pattern is the central gravitational pull.
Recall principle two: to help people release their mental scripts, we carve a new conversation space. To elevate the team's focus, sense of meaning, and presence, we initiate the purpose inquiry and ask: what is the purpose that propels us?
There are three levels inside the purpose inquiry. At one level we ask, "What do I want for myself?" At a second level we ask, "What can I contribute?" And at a third level we ask, "Who must I be, and what must I do to make the world a better place?" Each of these inquiries promotes different levels of awareness and presence, two elements that are necessary to uplift the team's clarity and intensity.
During my workshops, I enable leadership teams to accelerate novel ideas and breakthroughs by stimulating fresh perspectives that catalyze their potential. Executive teams attain a higher level of coherence by building radical trust and openness. To create these outcomes, I facilitated the workshop around key questions, alternate the foreground and the background, and stimulate new mental models and possibilities.
What else builds presence and energizes the team's exploration? Awareness, self-insight, true care, active listening, thoroughness, humor, original ideas, and the capacity to connect the dots between both the global and the local, and between the personal and the universal. We unleash inspirational energy and tremendous innovative power as we find our individual and collective purpose and growth opportunities.
Principle seven: Inspire forward convergent movement
Forward movement is powered by the energy that produces the prototype of the new future right here, right now. Executives experience the excitement of their creative collaboration and discover the accelerated results they generate in an open, transparent, and trusting environment. To achieve our objective, we must develop takeoff velocity.
Acceleration and momentum are built into the design of my customized workshops. The work we do in two to three days summons the natural genius in people, enabling and inspiring them to produce a prototype here and now, instead of in what otherwise would take them 20 days or 20 weeks.
Creating rough drafts and sketching prototypes during these workshops are integral part of the acceleration necessary to produce orchestrated serendipity. As we disrupt habitual patterns, carve a new conversation space, activate curiosity and new synaptic connections, alternate the foreground and the background, initiate zero-gravity explorations, and elevate the energy field and presence of the group, we inspire forward movement that builds clarity and coherence, and that creates organizational miracles. By "organizational miracles" I mean exciting, breakthrough results produced by the convergence of intelligence and elegance made possible by the spontaneous and rapid development of orchestrated serendipity.