Below is the fourth installment in our series, The Power of Immersive Experience, in which we explore the key aspects of immersive experiences (directed attention, expanded perspective, human connection) with the goal of understanding how they relate to building collective intent and spurring organizational change.
It has been reported that Warren Buffett spends 80% of his day reading and thinking. In fact, he ascribes much of his success to a lifetime habit of reading 500 pages a day. “I read and I think” Buffett says. In other words, for Buffett, carving out regular, focused time to gain new knowledge and expand his perspective is critical.
What if you wanted to scale Buffett’s behavior to an entire leadership team? And what if you didn’t just want your leaders to reflect on their newfound knowledge individually, but rather to engage in a collective process of finding ways to apply their new ideas to the larger organization? As part of our immersive workshops we have found that engaging in an activity called “Read-Dialogue-Apply” allows organizational leaders a chance to experience such a scenario.
Case Study: Fresh Ideas in Financial Services
We recently worked with over 200 leaders of a global financial services firm to explore strategic questions related to achieving and sustaining competitive advantage. We divided the large group into roughly 30 teams. We then presented the groups with over 250 different curated articles and books focused on a dozen topics, including: emerging industry technology, being digital and engaging customers in new ways, capitalizing on business adjacencies, achieving scale and agility, and building winning cultures. The goal was to immerse the group in new information that would provide a fresh vantage point from which to solve for their organizational challenges and opportunities.
During Part I of “Read-Dialogue-Apply,” the rapid read period, we asked the group to divide and conquer an assigned set of readings. We asked them to take note of how the new concepts and ideas in the articles compared with what they knew–or thought they knew–coming into the day. We also asked them to pay attention to what was surprising, exciting or puzzling. In Parts II (“dialogue”) and Part III (“apply”) portions, we invited the groups to apply their new concepts and ideas to their organization by bringing their own organizational knowledge and experience to the table.
Our intent was to allow leaders to direct their undivided attention towards salient materials and issues, and to expand their perspectives. Multiple leaders remarked on “the luxury of being able to focus on reading good material without distraction.” Many noted that adding new perspectives to their own experience had led them to new and potentially better ideas. In particular, they felt that the infusion of fresh thoughts helped reinvigorate their thinking around the organization’s long-term strategic goals and the role of leadership in creating meaningful change.
In addition to leveraging specific insights from the readings, the leaders took an overarching lesson away from the activity. As one leader put it, strong leadership and organizational success depend on an “openness to ideas that might take us into unfamiliar or uncomfortable places.”
I’ve facilitated at least one hundred of these Read-Dialogue-Apply exercises over the past two decades, and I believe the fundamental value of this activity is captured in this last quote from our client sponsor: “[I see] the value of remaining open to new and sometimes challenging perspectives. When leaders are given the opportunity to devote time and attention to the expansion of their thinking, palpable energy and enthusiasm result.”
If you’ll allow me a metaphor drawn from my love of gardening, I’d say these experiences of working to rejuvenate leadership teams reminds me of watching my flowers visibly perk up and become more vibrant after watering them with a healthy boost of plant food. In building strong leaders and organizations you can’t underestimate the value of focused (distraction-free!) time to engage with new material and perspectives. What is more, if you process these ideas with your colleagues, you foster collective curiosity, create connections, reveal new patterns, stoke innovation, and generate productive decisions.