Your capacity to facilitate change is your key asset in business today. And that relates to helping colleagues adapt to new ways to work, as well as introducing innovations into the market. One of the ways to build that capacity for facilitating change is to ensure that you practice your ability to connect with others. This is because the primary foundation of business is cultivating relationships. However, for decades we have called the fundamental ways to connect- empathy, collaboration, emotional intelligence, curiosity- soft skills. In reality, those "soft skills" are what I call "The Core Skills".
In the future of learning and work we will need clarity about our own value proposition as humans especially as the reality of integrating with artificial intelligence sets in. In fact, Strategy+Business (published by member firms of the PricewaterhouseCoopers network) devoted its summer 2017 issue to exploring not only artificial intelligence, but also artificial imagination! Algorithms can create not only straight forward factory production processes, but also musical jingles for commercials and other creative efforts. It turns out we will want our machines to be equipped with these Core Skills as well.
Here are 3 ways you can practice fine tuning The Core Skills.
1. Have More Conversations: Outside of work, reading more fiction is a great way to build your capacity for empathy because you are immersing yourself in another person's world- sometimes even another gender, another culture and geography, or a different time period. Within work, have more conversations with customers and with your colleagues. Schedule more coffees in addition to focus groups; re-design the workspace so that "accidentally on purpose" encounters happen. Stories are data too. Remember that while big data shows us patterns, the information we gather through qualitative research shows us "the WHY" behind behaviors. By default, you will also fine-tune the core skills of listening and observing.
2. Lead by Learning: Being a "learner leader" is a great way to practice being more collaborative. I first came upon this phrase when working with leadership coaches Colleen Bracken and Lauren Steffen of Bracken Leadership as they developed a "Learner Leader" curricula for a group of MBA students. In my view, this is a variation of servant leadership. When you take on the mode of being a "learner-leader" you increase your curiosity quotient about areas you know nothing and seek out colleagues who can teach you. This is especially wonderful if you seek out collaborative meet-ups with people below and above your pay-grade. This could be in a range of topics, from navigating social media to better understanding an assessment tool the company is rolling out. Invite a person from a completely different department to join or lead a meeting. Creative abrasion happens when we intentionally optimize friction by putting together diverse teams of people; it is "thought diversity" at its best. Ultimately, collaboration with others, has a wonderful outcome of making us more self-aware.
3. Take A Hobby Seriously - If you want the core-skills of emotional intelligence to show up more consistently in your work life, you must practice variations of them in your personal life. Want to be more intuitive? Take up the tango. Want to practice focus? Try fencing or chess. How about anticipating someone's needs? Try poker and the ability to read body language. It is no coincidence that some of these are physical activities. The role of muscle memory in embedding new behaviors is huge.
Practice these three habits and witness a shift in your ability grow your business from the inside out.