Summer of Learning Week 2: From Wonder to Wisdom—Ask the Right Questions to Accelerate Your Learning

When I returned to alpine ski racing after a few decades of hiatus, I was instore for a big surprise. For starters, I was nervous that I would be one of the oldest racers on the hill. It turned out I was one of the youngest! Many of the racers out there were still going strong well into their 60s, 70s, and even 80s. That’s me on the left in the photo with my friend, Karl Landl, still racing at age 87.

This discovery sparked my curiosity. I wondered what kept these hardy souls coming out weekend after weekend, year after year, in all conditions to compete on our tiny Wisconsin race hill and countless others around the country. As you likely know by now, this curiosity led me to a years-long inquiry, and the discoveries I made resulted in my latest book, Staying in the Game.

Leading with Curiosity

From interviewing masters ski racers and other business leaders who embody agility, I soon discovered that the starting point of any successful and sustainable learning endeavor is to Lead with Curiosity.

Whether they are curious about how to increase their edge angles on steep turns or how to better navigate the twists and turns of a volatile market, the motivation is the same: continuous improvement and expanded understanding.

If your fast-paced life has crowded out space in your brain for wonder, this might be an excellent opportunity to slow down enough to ponder what you are curious about. Give yourself room to consider what is truly meaningful to you rather than everything you think you “should” be learning.

Curiosity is the secret sauce that helps all Embodied Agile Leaders stay motivated and relevant throughout their careers.

One of my favorite examples of curiosity from Staying in the Game is the career of renowned theater and film director Peter Brook. The New York Times called him “the greatest innovator of his generation” who pursued his passion with “relentless curiosity” throughout his life.

Brook led with curiosity starting at age seven, staging a four-hour production of Hamlet in his toy theater. This quest continued to his final production, aptly titled, “Why?” which opened in the fall of 2019, just months before the COVID-19 shut-down and less than two years before his death at 97.

The secret to his success?

It’s simple, he shared, “Never stop asking questions.”

Here are a few questions to get your curiosity wheels turning

  • Think about recent conversations, articles, shows, or podcasts you’ve been engaged with. What has stood out to you? What piqued your curiosity?
  • What new trends are getting your attention?
  • What are you hearing or reading about that you want to learn more about?
  • What challenges and opportunities are your customers grappling with?
  • What other questions do you have?
Use your answers to refine your learning focus in the coming months, with the Summer of Learning Framework as your guide.

Here’s where my curiosity has led me so far:

I promised to share my SoL process with you, hoping it keeps you engaged, but also to hold myself accountable.

Because I work with leaders and teams in various industries, from pharma to finance and beyond, I’m curious about how AI trends affect their businesses and how they work.

In addition to reading countless articles, participating in numerous webinars, and listening to more podcasts than is legally allowed, I am taking my inquiry to where it matters most: my clients.

In our conversations, I’m asking: “How is AI affecting your organization and team and your customers? How is it impacting you, personally? How are you using it? What are you learning? The answers I hear are as varied as the organization, specific team, and individual.

However, two themes are emerging:
  1. Almost every business is integrating AI into their products and services to improve efficiency and customization, particularly for their customers. Some are much further along than others.
  2. Employees are increasingly using AI to augment their work processes, but they must do so within strict company guidelines and follow necessary security protocols.

If you are interested in this topic, here are just two resources that I recommend:

  1. A recent Harvard Business Review panel, “Answering the Generative AI Skills Challenge”.
  2. Another great resource, especially if your work includes learning and development or coaching, is the Training Magazine Network. It has been offering several excellent webinars on AI learning trends and strategies.

In addition to learning about AI trends and resources, I have been experimenting with various AI features in the platforms and applications I already use. Here are two short insights from this past week and one lesson learned:

  • 1.  So far, my favorite feature is the Zoom Workplace AI Meeting Summary. Just turn it on, and it emails you a summary of your discussion, along with your agreed-upon action steps.
  • 2.  After several experiments with ChatGPT this past year, and more recently with Google Gemini I’ve concluded that, as a writer, I’m just not comfortable having someone or something else put words in my mouth. While sometimes more efficient, the results don’t sound like me and often bear little resemblance to what I was trying to say. At the same time, I am finding they help generating things like subject lines and headers and even to create summaries for longer pieces. You can also have some fun with it by doing things like playing the improv game, “One Word Story.” I’m also experimenting with Google Gemini’s image generator, which, so far, is less than impressive and doesn’t compete with Canva’s.
  • NOTE: Review the privacy statements on any AI app you use. With all AI products, it is wise to avoid entering any personal, proprietary, or confidential information. Many enterprise security systems have a firewall for GenAI sites.

Lessons Re-Learned: Progress, Not Perfection

I have been teaching and writing about this for years: Learning can be uncomfortable, messy, and sometimes even challenge our sense of ourselves as competent, capable people—especially in the workplace where the pressure to appear competent and in control can deter us from enthusiastically venturing into new territories.

Embodied Agile Leaders (EALs) model learning agility by courageously embodying the learning process. They don’t wait until they have attained a level of mastery to share their learning. Just because I know the discomfort of new learning in my bones doesn’t mean I’m immune to the temptation to defend myself against it.

One of the biggest challenges I am experiencing as I play with GenAI tools and new digital engagement strategies is not the actual technical learning or the “how-to” aspect. It’s that venturing into new territory in a more visible way feels a bit vulnerable and challenges my identity as someone who is fluent in all that is latest and greatest. This is an uncomfortable and wonderful experience to have as it is essentially what I ask the leaders I work with to do as they develop their agility capability. I’m learning to give myself some grace to become more comfortable with being uncomfortable in my own learning process, and I hope you do, too.

 

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