The Mindful Leadership Blog

Lost: The Key to True Learning

April 29th, 2011

It’s been said that true learning occurs when we are lost—in a liminal place, where nothing works, where old methods, strategies and knowledge just don’t cut it. It occurs to me that when we are lost, we truly find ourselves. When we are lost in the midst of flow-like situations, we find our passions. When we get lost in conversation, we find true connection to another. When we are lost in our relationships, we find ourselves head over heels in love.

How can we, as leaders, tap into this potent developmental space? How can we help people get lost at work in order to unlock the transformative power of passion, insight and new knowledge?

Push people into the unknown.

While many pride themselves on being people developers, Mother Nature provides a great example of truly helping others into the unknown. A baby bird pushed from the nest learns to fly! Here are three ideas for pushing your people into unknown developmental spaces:

· Details and assignments in functions that are very different from you own (either in your organization or with another organization)

· Job assignments that call upon very different skill sets.

· White time, creative space, or passion time—set aside time each week that can be used to pursue those things that one is most passionate about—to do the kind of work, connecting, or dreaming that brings one to the “lost” space.

Toy around with alternative futures.

Imagining that which we’ve not considered before can provide for liminal space—provided the stretch is challenging enough. This is a skill that futurists have perfected. Here are three good questions that we’ve found get most groups to a liminal place.

· Imagine providing our same product or service to ten times the number of customers that we have today with half the staff that we currently have, and providing those services/products instantaneously. How could we make that happen?

· Imagine a virtual world, George Jetson-like, complete with robots, holographic meetings, instantaneous food dispensers and the like. How would our product or service be positioned in that world? How would it get delivered? To whom?

· Imagine a world where we connect with each other, our customers and our stakeholders in new and different ways that are much more robust, fulfilling, productive and meaningful. What would that look like?

Master the art of the mindful question.

Learn to ask questions that call people into unknown areas. Mindful questions cause people to visit areas that have not yet been explored and by way of response encourage them to make explicit new insights or knowledge. Three basic questions can be found below.

· What other potential explanations can be offered for the situation at hand?

· What assumptions are behind your point of view?

· What are three other takes on the situation at hand?

To aid you in getting to that liminal place, ask yourself the following questions: When and how have you been lost? What was the outcome? When and how do you enable others to have the truly significant insights that come from being lost?

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