Categories
SYNG

How to Lead With Curiosity

All the major breakthroughs and inventions in the history of the world derive from one thing: curiosity. As defined by Mirriam-Webster, curiosity is the desire to know and I would add that it is inherently intrinsic to who we are as a species.

Curiosity is linked to all aspects of human development and it’s what allows us to acquire knowledge and skills so we can support our lives and have an impact on the world around us.

It inspires us to ask questions we want to understand something, create something original, or solve a difficult problem. This is why curiosity has led to so many wonderful breakthroughs because it’s not too far apart from creativity. In fact, it fuels it.

As humans, we have an instinctive desire to seek and explore. It’s a natural, insatiable drive that we should prioritize as much as any other drive because it can lead us to greatness in all aspects of life.

The question I want to work with today is this: if curiosity leads to breakthrough innovations, unbound creativity, and transformative ideas, why aren’t we all tapping into this powerful asset?

The Fear of Saying “I Don’t Know”

Saying “I don’t know” is something most people tend to avoid like the plague. But why is that? What is wrong with admitting that you don’t know everything? Absolutely nothing. Not knowing is a positive. In fact, it opens us up to possibilities.

“I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of uncertainty about different things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here. I don’t have to know an answer.”

Richard Feynman

What happens when we ignore something? We take steps to seek the information we need and we end up learning a lot more than we originally intended to.

As Chamath Palihapitiya said, “It’s really powerful to be able to say ‘I don’t know’. American culture is this weird thing of know-it-alls. When is learning going to be valuable?”

What We Are Taught About Failure

If you remember what it was like to be a child or if you’ve had the chance to observe a child, then you already know how much curiosity we have in those early years.

Sir Ken Robinson has a great story about this, “A little 6-year-old girl was in a drawing lesson and she was in the back drawing. The teacher was fascinated by it because the little girl could never pay attention so she went over to ask what the girl was drawing. The girl answered, ‘I’m drawing a picture of God’. And the teacher said, ‘But nobody knows what God looks like’, to which the girl said ‘Well, they will in a minute.’

When children don’t know something, they simply take a stab at it because they are not afraid of being wrong. That’s why they are so creative! If you are not prepared for failure, how can you expect to come up with anything original?

By the time we grow up and become adults, we become scared of being wrong, and that’s why there are so many leaders out there who stigmatize mistakes and failure.

This is how people are educated out of their creative potential because we are taught to stick to the left side of our brains, but in doing that, we stop questioning things.

The Work Culture Issue

Work culture often consists of an incentive structure that is set up to stifle and silence curiosity and creativity. However, as Elon Musk has said, “The massive thing that can be done is to make sure that your incentive structure is such that innovation is rewarded and not punished.”

When curiosity is incentivized, innovations occur left and right, so people rise through the ranks and meet their goals a lot faster. As a result, the organization thrives more than ever before.

So, you can see how our curiosity is silenced by external forces since we are children, but that changes today. From this moment on, you are going to turn things around.

Take the stigma and fear out of not knowing and turn it into a positive because that allows you to honor your curiosity by wondering, investigating, exploring, and learning.

What Does This Mean for Your Organization?

When you learn to say “I don’t know” you go from being the carrier of knowledge to being the person who asks interesting questions, and that is a lot more valuable than we’re taught to believe.

One of my favorite things to say in meetings or conversations is “I don’t know, what do you think?” This propels the conversation, leads to collaboration, and it allows you to empower people.

When you stop offering solutions, in the words of Michael Bungay Stanier, “You begin to empower people not by giving them the answer, but by helping them find their own answer. Not by holding onto control, but by giving up some of it and inviting others to sept in and step up.”

Categories
SYNG

Forget the T-shaped skillset: Try being a comb instead!

Landing your first job might be tricky if you don’t have a specific skill set, but you know what? Getting hired with a plethora of skills is even more challenging contrary to what you might think. More means more chances of getting noticed by the hiring manager, right? No.  

Don’t sweat it; I’ve been there, done that. I’ve field-tested and learnt what works the hard way, so you don’t have to. And that’s what we will explore in this article. How to pass the recruitment process like a silk scarf through an engagement ring when you are a comb? It’s the Indian rope trick equivalent, except you get hired at the end, and no one disappears.

Here is what you will take away from this article:

  • What are the different types of skill sets, and which one is right for you?
  • How to show up in front of potential recruiters / hiring managers? 
  • What to put on your resume?
  • How to get work? The dos and don’ts of being a comb.

Before we dive into the differences, let’s clearly define each of these concepts. There are three commonly known skill sets T-shape, Pi shape and Comb shape. But, for this article, I’m going to make a case for the comb because I want you to aim higher than lower.

The short version goes like this. 

One area of expertise: You’re a T

Two areas of expertise: You’re a Pi

Multiple areas of expertise: You’re a champion (or a comb)

I would argue that a polymath is the embodiment of a comb. Did I lose you there? It’ll make sense in a minute. Hang tight. First, here’s a good definition of T-shape by Jason Yip:

Image source.

“A T-shaped person is capable in many things and expert in, at least, one.

As opposed to an expert in one thing (I-shaped) or a “jack of all trades, master of none” generalist, a “t-shaped person” is an expert in at least one thing but also somewhat capable in many other things. An alternate phrase for “t-shaped” is “generalizing specialist”.”

Jason Yip

Being a comb comes from combining several T’s, meaning you have expertise in multiple verticals and a multi-disciplinary approach. Full-stack, baby!

Cariel Cohen captures it quite well in his article here.

When you have a T-skillset, you become confined in a uni-dimensional box- a niche. You might know the whole ball of wax about it, but you are entirely clueless about other skills related to your career. And that’s where being a comb helps you bridge the gap. And that’s what we are doing here. 

Some areas where T-shaped works better than anything else include specialized doctors, lawyers, athletes and professors.

A T-shape skilled person is ideal for filling a role in a large company because all the skills are distributed, and you act as a cog in a piece of large machinery. 

On the other hand, Combs prefer to take on more responsibility and are usually leading companies or teams because they have a knack for understanding and solving complex situations and problems. 

Disclaimer: Agreed, this can sound a bit overwhelming to a few and being a comb can be challenging! It’s also not for everyone. There is no one right way. However, if there’s a spark, then I encourage you to read on.

You’ve probably heard the most famous and familiar quote used in arguments for specialist vs generalist: Jack of all trades master of none. Yep, that one! It’s factually incorrect. The complete sentiment goes as: 

A jack of all trades is a master of none but often better than a master of one.

To be a comb, you need to be hyper-curious, live in the nuance and the chaos. It would help if you got away from the mindset that you are only required to excel in one field and not know a dime about others. 

Elon Musk is a comb. He has disrupted banking, rockets, the auto industry, ai, and so on. 

The biggest challenge of getting hired is when you’re a comb, provided that is your predicament.

It is about time we address the disclaimer given earlier. While it gives you a competitive edge, the considerable skill knowledge can act against you too! 

Wonder how? Well, it’s from the hiring manager’s perspective. The wide range of skills leaves the potential employer baffled as to where to fit you. The only way out, according to them, is simply negating your application. 

And here is how you will play a different hand! Look, talk, behave like a T-shaped skill person when preparing your resumes and giving interviews. Acting like a T early in the conversation is to eliminate the decision-making fatigue for the recruiter. You’re thinking from the hiring manager’s perspective and making it easy for them to hire you. You’re giving them evidence to solve a problem they have. 

However, that doesn’t mean you will have to act like a T all the time. Once you have landed a job, start being a comb by taking an interest, being curious, and demonstrating your expertise in every facet of the role, team, and company you sit within.

How will the employer or the organization take it? If you’ve played your cards right, slowly but steadily, you’ll sit at the heart of several functions and projects, making you indispensable and the ideal candidate for a promotion.

There you have it! You’ve either come out wanting nothing to do with combs, or the torn voice inside your brain which desired more has finally discovered its path and place in the world.

Categories
SYNG

The Art of Remote Storytelling

Virtually presenting your creative ideas and telling engaging stories can be limiting and challenging. Most people observe passively and multitask in the background adding to your frustration. Is there a way to get noticed and replicate the in-person experience remotely, influencing and winning the audience? Don’t sweat, I’ve done the leg work and have got you covered. 

Calling out the audience in the room.

The medium of communication may be different, but one element remains unchanged: people. And, since the dawn of time, people have loved telling and listening to stories. Ironically, filmmakers have mastered the art of telling people stories on a screen! Imagine if Hollywood directors and editors, the likes of Wes Anderson and Stanley Kubrik, were guiding and helping you execute a virtual presentation. 

Park yourself in a comfortable chair, kick your feet up, make some popcorn. Let’s dive into the 3 acts of preparing, delivering and closing virtual presentations like a boss (cue drum roll).

Prepare.

Tell a story without slides.

If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this article, it’s to stop prioritizing your PowerPoint slides and focus your efforts on content and storytelling. Don’t get me wrong, professionally designed slides are a great tool, but no one cares if you spent 3 hours selecting the perfect sans serif font and shade of incarnadine on the cover. How many big-budget production-heavy movies can you think of that tanked at the box office? My point precisely. Your audience will remember the story you told and how you made them feel. 

Begin by thinking like a movie director and an editor. You’re taking the audience on a journey from point A to B, so be surgical and omit the riff-raff. Zero in on what emotions you’d like people to experience during and after the meeting. Ever come out of a full-day session feeling charged up and ready to tackle the world or come out of a 30-minute rant and felt drained?

Apply the simple three-act story arc to your presentation with a beginning, middle and end. Open by drawing your audience into your big ideas. Think of this as your hook point. Next, why should they care, and what will be the reward at the end? Heck, spice it up and throw in a plot twist. Five-finger discounts, anyone? 

Get into your audience’s head.

We love talking about ourselves, our process, our charts, our projections, our slides and spraying the room with our industry lingo. I’ve been there, guilty as charged.

In your next meeting, flip the switch, think about your audience’s experience – their needs, fears, challenges and what drives and excites them. Use their words and lingo. Win them over emotionally, and they’ll rationalize analytically. 

For example, even before the meeting day, level-set your audience expectations by adding the high-level schedule in the calendar invite, just like a snappy movie trailer. 

Your first assistant director or moderator

If possible, get someone on your team to help moderate and scribe. From giving others screen sharing permissions, muting guests (we’ve all been there) to scribing and noting action items, a moderator can help keep the conversation on track. This way, you can remain focused on storytelling.

Deliver.

Warm up the crowd. Get ’em stretching, literally.

Empathy reels them in. Depending on the time of day, duration of your scheduled meeting and context, use the first few minutes to make small talk (ice breakers) get people out of their chairs to stretch, drink water, eat something or use the bathroom. You don’t know how their day has been leading up to your presentation—ever heard of Zoom fatigue? By having empathy for your audience, changing their physiological state, you’ll make them far more receptive to your ideas. 

Use these initial minutes to share your meeting structure and set some simple ground rules. A few examples include: 

  1. People should say their names before they speak. 
  2. Have attendees drop their questions in the chat window to be addressed at the allocated time of the session (your first assistant director can help prioritize them). 
  3. Set roundtable checkpoints with key decision-makers to ensure they get a chance to speak. 

By doing the above, you keep everyone engaged and add transparency to the conversation.

Help people imagine. Think like a sound designer.

You ranted for an hour, and towards the end, during QA, one could hear the crickets in the hollowing silence. Can everyone hear you, and are they listening? Someone famous once said, “people see with their ears.” To keep your audience engaged, speak in a clear and balanced voice. Limit talking to short bursts of one to two minutes. Pace yourself and take deliberate pauses to emphasize specific points. Ever heard Obama recite a speech? Sprinkle in anecdotes and experiences. Nostalgia can be even more powerful than memory.

Remove any audio distractions (do the best you can with your situation): mute cell phones and other electronics, schedule your child’s trombone practice in the next room before or after your meeting. Sound about right?

Technology is wallpaper. Ten tips, tricks and hacks!

Your tech and production should work comfortably in the background. Here are some simple tips in no specific order. 

1. Stick to the technology you know well or, better yet, learn what your audience uses.

2. Despite preparation, there could be unforeseen hiccups. So be prepared to go without your slides. 

3. If you’re using Zoom, when setting up your meeting, select the “Mute upon entry” option. This ensures you avoid disrupting the flow of your presentation.

4. Turn on your camera and frame yourself. Sit bang centre of the screen and have the camera be at eye level (throw some books under that laptop). Have the light source be in front of you, so your face is lit up properly. Occasionally look into the camera. 

5. Get that sweet podcast voice. Connect an external mic to improve the fundamentals in your voice and reduce the echoey sounds. 

6. Clean up your background. Get rid of laundry or any distracting elements. Zoom backgrounds are great, but keep it simple and avoid overdoing them. 

7. Connect and use a secondary monitor so you can have easy access to your notes, chat window and any additional presentation materials ready to go.

8. Practice and test before. You can also start the meeting early with your moderator to iron out any issues. 

9. Be mindful and keep meetings short. Schedule multiple if necessary. 

10. Consider the different time zones when scheduling and send passwords in advance.

Close.

Give people time back in the day. 

Take deep dives offline, being mindful of others. With the help of your first assistant director (moderator/scribe), share notes, action items, next steps, roles and responsibilities etc., immediately after the meeting while it’s still fresh in everyone’s mind. Then, schedule a follow-up (include movie trailer).

Remember, your story will make or break the presentation. Be ready to scrap your slides. Have empathy for your audience, keep it short and sweet – staying razor-sharp focused on their experience. And finally, no one can read 12 point font on your slides, bruh!