Creating an innovative workplace where people thrive
In this update I bring you the transcript of part one of an interview Bill Fox conducted with me in his Forward 2.0 conversation series about creating innovative workplaces that enable people to thrive. I hope you find the ideas we explored provocative and valuable.
"Audaciously utopian visions often get actualized a century later."
You can listen to our recorded conversation here.
Welcome to my interview with Aviv Shahar who is Founder at Aviv Consulting. Aviv helps leaders create new futures by unleashing strategic innovation. He is also the author of Create New Future: How Leaders Produce Breakthroughs and Transform the World Through Conversation.
Bill: I read your book to prepare for this interview, and the depth and coverage on conversations were impressive. When I started this interview series, I had this idea to ask a series of questions that could help us create a better workplace, but I didn't fully appreciate the powerful role of conversations. One big learning I've had from this interview series is the power of conversations. Several executives and CEO's who I interviewed have gotten back to me after they were observing what I was doing and said we need to have this conversation in the workplace. I think as you know, there's a wonderful marriage of what you're doing, and what I'm doing.
Aviv: That's great. That's really the right kind and the delicious response you should get from CEOs in these dialogues.
Bill: Yes, exactly. This interview series started as an experiment. I really wasn't sure CEO's would answer them. I got a lot of positive feedback from some top CEOs, which really gave me the momentum and energy to keep doing more.
Aviv: That's great Bill.
Bill: So, Aviv, thank you for your courage and willingness to take on these questions. Not everybody I ask takes up the challenge, so you're in a special category right from the start.
If you're ready Aviv, I'll ask you the six core questions before getting into some additional questions I came up with from reading your book, Creating New Futures.
Aviv: Yes, please.
Bill: How can we create workplaces where every voice matters, everyone thrives and finds meaning, and change and innovation happen naturally?
Aviv: Let me for a second or two just turn the tables around and ask you first back because I know this is the core of the first question you ask to people you've interviewed. It is important to ask you, what was the genesis of this question in you? What was the trigger that catalyzed it? And then I might try to thread my way through this compound question.
Bill: That's a great question and I love starting with your question. I'll try not to go back too far because there are a number of places to start, but really it started 10 years ago when I was leading a transformation project. For the third time in my career after getting a transformation project to a great point of success, new executives take over and all the work that was done just falls away. So that's when I set an intention to have an impact on how organizations transform.
I left that job without a job in hand, and my intention seemed to set synchronicity in motion. One of the first things I came up with was an interview series called 5 Minutes to Process Improvement Success. The leading question was, "What is your best Improvement strategy that has worked really well for you?"
From the beginning, I rarely got an answer about process improvement. It was always something deeper. It was all about trust, understanding the status quo, and things of that nature. It was surprising me (and others), and that ignited an inner leader journey for me as I started to look at the deeper side of things.
After I did 50 interviews, I felt this was never about process improvement, and it was silly to go on in this direction. I set it aside to see if something new would show up. A year and a half later these new questions came together.
Aviv: I'm glad I asked you. Would you mind restating the question one more time? Then let's see how I can thread my way through it.
Bill: I'd be happy to do that. How can we create workplaces where every voice matters, everyone thrives and finds meaning, and change and innovation happen naturally?
Aviv: My experience and sense with a powerful question like this, in the context of the background you offered is that they often emerge from a place of want and lack.
Therefore, such questions are often not optimally conductive or attractive to bringing forward the intelligence and the energy we hope will help us redress and sufficiently address the want. I prefer to re-frame your question just slightly to help me find a different entry, one that can provide for both of us an elevated access. Here is how I will re-frame the question.
I would say: Imagine a workplace where every voice matters, everyone thrives and finds meaning, and change and innovation. They happen naturally. Imagine such a workplace. Now tell us please what had to become true to enable such an emergence.
It's the same question just restated, and this is a formulation that provides a faster entry and a life-affirming path because it is anchored in the desired state rather than in the place of want and scarcity.
If I look to respond to that question, I'll say there are two short answers I can offer, and one longer answer. The first short answer is interior based, so when I imagine a workplace where every voice matters and where people thrive and find meaning and change and innovation happen naturally, I imagine a place where we have made a leap forward. A place where we've evolved as people. Actually, we've evolved as a species where sapient sapiens is not merely a name but an actuality. That's the short inner or interior answer. Now we can then talk about what had to become true to enable that outcome and that would naturally lead us to the longer answer.
The second brief answer is more exterior, outward focusing. Here again, the short version is that when I imagine a workplace where people thrive, and where they find meaning, and where change and innovation happen naturally, and where the reciprocity of work and its benefits bring the replenishment and the enhancement to all people involved. I can envision a place where the entire socio-economic framework and the capital system were transformed. A transformation to shift from the short-term extractive bias that governs many companies and organizations today to a more sustainable, and even life-giving seven generations forward orientation. That's the second and the more exterior leaning framing of the answer.
The third longer answer, which will double click on those two, is that when I imagine a naturally arising and evolving workplace where people thrive by bringing forward the best ideas and best contribution and where the economic framework is aligned to help facilitate and bring forward the organizational and social equities that people want to cultivate and build, and are aligned with the entire ecosystem emergent purpose and health -when I imagine that kind of ecosystem, I imagine that we have overcome at least seven blockages. You can call them seven evolutionary or developmental blockages or stop situations.
The first is the leadership blockage or stop situation. In this space we are together envisioning, I imagine that we now have enlightened and illumined leaders. Obviously, we can talk about what's the journey that will facilitate that, but that's the number one stop situation and blockage that we have broken through.
The second is the human development blockage or stop situation. When I imagine that we are breaking through that one, I envision employees who engage with work as a development opportunity and in a way that enables them to transcend and embrace higher levels and higher stages of development, of creativity, of innovation and of expression. So that's the second breakthrough in terms of human development.
The third breakthrough is one where we can transform the winner/losers' impediment. Instead of the equation that for every winner, there must be many losers in the now especially potentized and aggrandized winner-takes-all scenario, I envision a socio-economic algorithm and paradigm that enables somewhat a rewired affair of companies and the whole machinations of the marketplace. One that enables many winners and where a new paradigm has been established. One that facilitates in people the creative and generative capacities and capabilities even much more so than today.
Then I imagine in the fourth place that to enable these breakthroughs, there had to have been some kind of new energy source breakthrough where we shifted from an extractive paradigm to a multi-source sustainable and generative sources and resources. I'm talking about some technologies that are coming online and other technologies and capabilities that I imagine, and I believe will come online in the next decade or two.
In the fifth place, I imagine that for these to propagate and all we talked about so far that the entire market machinery and its incentive systems are being rewired and that enables a system-wide realignment and repositioning of the organizations that thrive in this newly realigned system.
And sixth, that what happens then is that because of all that in this utopian story I'm giving you is that the third blood system- the blood system of distrust and suspicion-is replaced. Because that's what's flowing and motivating and powering today many people in the workplace and in business. And I imagine a marketplace where distrust and suspicion were absolved and replaced with a currency of trust and co-creation.
Finally, I'd say in the seventh place that this entire utopian future I'm describing is enabling (supported by a series of breakthroughs) an evolution in consciousness where enlightenment and illumination are the bread and butter of everyday living. It's no longer the property of a secluded elite that have embarked on that specialized Journey.
In summation, I'd say this is obviously an audacious utopian future, but remember that utopian visions often get realized and actualized a century later. Perhaps on this occasion we will not have to wait for a hundred years.
So I'll offer these as a three-layered response to the question.
Bill: Thank you for that comprehensive, insightful response, Aviv. That's a lot to consider and think about. I'll just briefly comment on a couple things. First, I really appreciate the way you rephrased the question and where that takes the conversation.
Then you talked about the changes to our inner selves. That's really the story underneath me doing this work. When I began to uncover what was underneath from my conversations with leaders, I realized that I was creating the conditions where I was open, and they felt comfortable speaking whatever was on their mind. The experience was changing me from the inside out. It changed my state of being. It changed my consciousness, and that's a journey that continues, but I see that's so important in bringing about this transformation.
Aviv: That's awesome. Essentially, you are validating what I've offered in my response.
Bill: Yes, absolutely! There's more I could validate from your response, but we probably should take that up at another time.
Bill: What does it take to get an employee's full attention and best performance?
Aviv: My experience with this very important question is that nothing energizes and liberates people more than the opportunity to shape and create their own future. That's why this is the central element of my work.
I believe that what leaders and companies must do is get people involved in co-creating and shaping their futures. By that I mean the future of the organization, the future of the business, the future of the department, and the future of the function. By doing so, they will gain their full attention, best performance, and greatest contribution.
I believe it so strongly that I have created a whole thriving practice around that belief and core tenet. In my work with senior teams in Fortune 100 companies, we find that to create and unleash an organizational movement, you must bring people into that kind of conversation. That's how I will offer to think about the conundrum of creating and facilitating fuller engagement and unleashing the fullest creativity of your people.
Bill: What do people really lack and long for it work?
Aviv: I believe there are two aspects to this. There are the interior and the exterior dimensions to consider. Whether people know it or not, they long for self-insight and for getting themselves back. When you get yourself back that's a big part of perhaps what you're looking for. Because inside it, you get to appreciate the human condition and your own conditioning too. And these insights lead to finding your strength and appreciating that inside your strength, there also may be a weakness.
And also that inside your weakness, there may be a latent strength. As you know, there are many dyslexic people who are brilliant and found ways to lead and transform to bring tremendous innovation into a variety of spaces. It's just one example of how self-insight and how understanding your superpower, including appreciating your weakness, and how inside your weakness there may be a latent strength can be very powerful. These are mission-critical insights if you are to manifest your gifts and talent to bring forward your greatest contribution.
I think also that people long for a variety of other properties or qualities or energies if you like. We all need and seek connectedness. We all seek and or need respect, dignity, and opportunity. Human beings need to be seen and recognized. We hope to be given the opportunity to influence and shape our destiny.
All those are naturally arising longings in human beings. When these needs are met at work, they unleash incredible power, creativity, and resourcefulness. This naturally would include the opportunity to contribute to a meaningful purpose. One that affords us the feeling we are serving and are part of something even bigger than ourselves.
These are truly the biggest creativity and innovation release factors. The sense that we are serving a purpose and a mission we can identify with, and that we can believe in. And that through that mission, purpose, and contribution, we get to express our talent and capabilities. That I believe is what people long for at work.