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Curiosity in the Art of Adaption- The Learning Pillar

Throughout our lives and particularly as we reach adulthood we hear the phrases “be a continuous learner or learning never stops.” It’s a simple truth, but not practiced frequently enough.

The first of the three pillars of the Art of Adaption is curiosity (The Learning Pillar). We cannot hope to garner the trust that is necessary or develop respectable standards of accountability if we are not curious.

As one advances up the staff career ladder or assumes a position on a board of directors the necessity for being curious, the desire to learn or know more becomes increasingly important. Boards of Director Members regularly receive introductory orientations. This often includes policies summaries , procedures, their fiduciary responsibilities, and legal structures. How often are they ask to be inquisitive? Are they encouraged to bring to the table new and engaging thoughts and ideas? It is not that directors haven’t the capacity for this curiosity, but rather that it is frequently stymied by the procedural role of the director. They receive a mountain of reports, and numerous presentations about ongoing programs and activities. In some cases, the role or their selection was primarily to enhance fiscal stability, to raise funds, or facilitate some perceived balance in geography. And of course, they are taught the basics of their fiduciary responsibilities; care, duty, and obedience. They are fed much of the whirlwind that staff face each day. Rather than enhancing the boards oversight and future thinking responsibilities, a great deal of time that should be devoted to long-term strategy and future thinking is diminished by a dirge of written and verbal reports that limits their time and avoids discussion of potential futures.

On the Executive Staff side, individuals have risen to their positions as CEO or COO, etc. and are busy in the day-to-day whirlwind of institutional work. Now that the industrial age has transitioned to the new knowledge or internet age or whatever we decide to call this new era, it is important that boards and their chief executives be more curious than ever before. Knowledge about our specific areas of expertise is a necessary tool in the process, but not an end in itself. Knowledge is always important, but knowledge alone is not enough. What we learn and know must be put into action.

Developing our thinking and analytical skills is more important than ever. We must learn to use that knowledge through profound, deep, probing, powerful questions in order to adapt to the new ecology. It is important to add a desire to look at potential futures.  Learning how those futures affect the vision and sustainability of the organization is a function that should be fully developed. Technology strategy is yet another area for development. Repeat, strategy! One does not need to be a technologist to develop the technology strategy. Apply technology in support of the mission, the advent of artificial intelligence (AI), as well as the optimization of existing practices can be handled by staff. However, being data hungry is not only a IT function. Making sure the data is health and useable comes with knowing the organizations strategic technology objectives. Obtaining analytical skills that were not as necessary in previous periods will make it possible for the organization to adapt to the new ecology the world has left at our doorstep. While it is not the Boards job to do the work, it is the boards job to know if the organizational  strategy is enhanced by what the technologist are doing.

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” How passionately curious are CEOs and boards relative to the learning, knowledge, foresight, and thinking skills which are necessary in the interdependent environment in which all of us and particularly associations must live.

There are countless tools associated with the Learning Pillar. The following is not an exhaustive list but rather a starter set.

  • Reading, not just about the organization’s area of focus, but about organizational development, the vast interdependent nature of the new ecology in which the organization conducts its business, and a thirst for the tips of new thinking about institutional as well as current mission focused activities.
  • Learning to ask powerful questions. I would recommend as a start the pamphlet book “The Art of Powerful Questions.” It may be found at:
  • A continuous scan of the political, economic, social, and technological world in which the work of the Association is conducted. The internal and external scans generally associated during the strategic planning process should not be limited to that function. Rather, there is a need for continuously scanning of broad external areas. That is the advantage of PEST over the SWOT Analysis. For a PEST analysis, you might use a free tool such as:
  • Learning the new skills of data awareness. From data collection through predictive and prescriptive analysis and the enormous alterations that artificial intelligence (AI) bring to the debate must become a regular part of the board and staff tool kit, and
  • Staying in tune with the organizational and mission specific literature associated with the vision and mission of the organization.

The Curiosity Pillar is but one of three interdependent pillars for long term organizational success in the evolving ecology that requires us to learn to adapt so as to succeed and thrive.
Do not forget, our clients, members, allies, confidents, and competitors are just a mouse click way from loving us, checking us, condemning us, or promoting us. And, with voice recognition advancing every day, the mouse click itself may soon pass away.

Without applying the pillar of curiosity, our lack of inquisitiveness will make us less competitive in an ever more competitive environment. Without curiosity, the desire to be a continuous learner, there is little chance that the long-standing traditions of the Association community’s mission will survive the new environment. The Art of Adaption process is designed to help Association Executives and Boards fostered and actualize the many potential futures we face.

Comments welcomed!