A Sense of Wonder & Awe

You have paused and reflected. You are grounded. Now you can initiate some structured thinking which activates your learner mindset. As a learner, you are willing to explore the edges of what you do know and do not know.  Your goal is to turn on the curiosity and wonder in your brain.

We use the word wonder because curiosity can seem a bit flat for what we’re trying to describe. You might be curious about a fact or a detail, but what we really want people to say is, “I wonder what if . . .” and “I wonder how . . .” There’s a deepening, an expansiveness, when you talk about wonder. It has an open, childlike feel, with few limitations on your thinking, few restrictions limited by past experience or even assumptions. What you’re really trying to do by activating the learner mindset is turn on that internal sense of wonder and then help turn it on in others. (In the next chapter, we’ll talk about what you can do to orient your team or audience to the same way of thinking.) That, in a sense, is what Walt Disney did.

When people are in this state of mind, the traditional boundaries of seniority, roles, and rigid social structures disappear. When everybody’s looking at the sky in a sense of wonder, they’re not thinking about who the boss is and who the employer is. They are truly on the same side of the table because they’re peers in what they’re exploring.

A leader certainly has some responsibilities that are different from followers, but the truth is that, when we’re being creative and curious, we’re all equals. A leader’s humility can help create that sense of creative wonder, which allows everyone to move forward and think differently about a given circumstance. When that leader is in the learner mindset, something wonderful happens. We’ve said before it’s like a positive virus. Status evaporates. Hierarchy evaporates. The differentials evaporate. All of a sudden, you’re in this place of incubation, where everyone is focused on finding solutions and possibilities.

There are specific actions you can take to get yourself ready for broader thinking. The following are four things you can do to activate your learner mindset.

1. Challenge Your Assumptions

Start by looking at the assumptions you bring to a situation. Push the edge of those assumptions to see if they’re real, or if they’re just things that you’ve quietly or tacitly agreed to, only to find that they have narrowed your potential.

When business leaders fail to question these assumptions, they cannot break through to new levels of performance in their organization because they shut down organizational thinking. The act of questioning assumptions creates energy and has been demonstrated to achieve significant engagement and increased performance.

2. Bring in Fresh Eyes

The second technique for activating a learner mindset is to involve what we call fresh eyes—that is, outside people who have a different point of view, or equally important, customers who are receivers of the work. It’s amazing what can happen when you listen to outside people who don’t know all the rules and haven’t been soaked in your work tradition. They’re willing to think completely differently about problems and solutions.

Bringing fresh eyes to a situation can activate a creative learner mindset because the last one to see water is the goldfish. When you’re in the goldfish bowl, everything looks fine. You don’t notice you’re in water.

3. Involve the Group

A third technique is to have that fresh-eye conversation by means of a group rather than a one-on-one discussion. The knower might use the idea of gaining another perspective in a one-on-one interview. He’ll gather a bunch of facts and come to a conclusion on his own. By doing it that way, the outcomes are limited 1) by the leader’s ideas, and 2) by the nature of a one-on-one dialogue.

A learner leader, who’s not trying to control the situation or own the outcome, will bring a group of people together and create an active dialogue. What happens is that participants start feeding off each other. The set of ideas people come up with expands. One small comment gets amplified by a second person, and it zooms out much further than it ever would have in a series of one-on-one interviews. The whole thing just amplifies itself, like a deeply-resonating drum.

4. Be Open to the Answers

When you ask questions in a learner mindset, you are open to other people’s answers and even open to the fact that people’s answers and ideas may be better than your own.  These techniques are part and parcel of respecting others and what they have to offer.

The Power of the Pause

Originally seen in Smart Blogs 12/3/15.


With our seemingly never-ending to-do lists and 9-to-5 back-to-back meetings, we are navigating at breakneck speeds in our work days to attempt to keep it all together.

The ability to prepare and carefully take aim before firing (in making the right decision or taking the right action) has collapsed into a default of constant action, with little time to reflect and pause to create a more accurate course of action.

The speed of business for many has created a culture of fast-paced decisions and actions often resulting in leaders missing the mark because they have no time to reflect or ponder prior to taking action.

Imagine having access to a remote control where you (metaphorically) hit the pause button to gain more clarity on the situation or issue before moving to action. Who else may benefit from being a part of the solution? What other information may be required prior to pulling the trigger to an action? With many people having a tendency towards extraversion, there is a natural energy for this part of the population to be in action, as taking action provides a kind of adrenaline rush. We can learn from our introversion counterparts to slow it down, reflect and inquire before taking action.

In other words, remember to hit the pause button.

Evoking a pause — be it for a minute or 24 hours — provides time for deeper reflection on issues, allowing you to listen to your intuition and then respond. Consider downhill skiing and the chairlift. The chairlift moves quickly up and down mountains transporting skiers quickly to their desired destination. However, as it approaches the skier, it slows down to ensure the skier is able to properly get seated and secure before picking up speed to the desired destination.

Using the power of the pause helps to guarantee the same precision in daily decision-making.

Reflect on your daily pace at work. How fast do you move and how often do you evoke the pause? Many times, what is being asked of you is important, but not necessarily urgent, and a pause allows time for reflection. How prone are you to be in action for action’s sake? If we arrive to our work with our foot on the accelerator and do not release until we get home, not only will it result in our reserve tank flashing red as we arrive home, but we will possess less energy for our personal lives.

The power of the pause allows for better energy management throughout the day. Pauses can have a huge impact on our decision-making capability, with increased judgment, more reflective thinking and better results.

The Courage to be Curious

Originally seen in Careers in Government 1/9/16.


Leaders being asked to do more with less resources sometimes default to a “just get it done” attitude when tackling daily tasks. As a leadership tool, the willingness to evoke curiosity in these times often falls to the sidelines in one-on-one dialogues and team meetings.

The courage to be curious implies a willingness to step away from the head-down-plow-through mentality we sometimes default to, and, instead, pause to reflect on what has not been asked about the issue that could bring greater clarity or benefit. What open-ended question(s) could be asked that would result in innovative, creative, and possibility thinking before springing into action?

When evoking a curiosity-based mindset, the results are powerful, therefore leading to positive engagement and satisfaction in your workplace. As a leader, having the confidence to ask genuine questions of your team (that may slow down the action process), requires courage. However, in doing so, the process and end game improve.  When leading with curiosity, you are ensuring that everyone is with you and your vision. When we assume “everyone gets what I am saying,” before springing into action, it can be very costly. Instead, take a moment to be curious, and ask for confirmation from your team. As a team member, having the courage to ask a clarification question will lead to better and more productive relationships. To contrast, by nodding positively, you’re indicating that you fully understand – but don’t. Imagine if the very question you are thinking would significantly add value to the issue at hand by having the courage to clarify.

Curiosity Readiness:

  1. How courageous are you to be curious in your work?
  2. How often are you pausing to evoke curiosity in a team meeting vs. moving through the agenda of actions?
  3. What conditions stop you from being curious:
    1. Confrontational situations?
    2. Big team meetings?
    3. When authority is in the room?

By reflecting on what may derail, you can allow yourself to work new muscles for greater impact and personal authority.

Is the Digital World Making Us Less Curious?

Our continued dive into the digital world of emailing and texting to move our projects forward is blocking us from human face-to-face interactions where we can pause to ask the curious questions. Powerful open-ended questions starting with “what” or “how” with the right tonality of curiosity invite collaboration and fresh thinking to any issue. Yet, if we are relying on email vs. live conversation – does it not reduce our ability to lead with curiosity?

Have you ever texted someone sitting near you vs. getting up and engaging in a conversation? With more workers emailing someone who is sitting next to their cubicles vs. engaging with them, it is resulting in an increase of work depersonalized. It’s time to have the courage to increase one-on-one exchanges to stimulate richer dialogue for possibility thinking and new ideas.

A generation ago, curiosity in conversations was more prevalent because of the face-to-face time where we heard the tonality behind the words and could read the body language at the same time. Workers spent more time being curious and crafting what they said and how they said it. With the absence of tonality and body language with emails and texts, we are often prone to misunderstanding or forming a false assumption. Worst, we then act on the misunderstanding or false assumption, and it can make the situation worse– resulting in poor outcomes, derailed relationships or stalled results.

Having the courage to be curious, regardless of newer or older work generations, fosters increased collaboration, innovation, and a sense of connection allowing the workplace to move forward with a greater appreciation as a “we” culture vs. a  “me” culture.