Learning Mode

Although organizations spend billion of dollars annually on leadership development, many leaders who have attended leadership programs struggle to implement what they’ve learned. It’s not because the programs are bad but because leadership is best learned from experience. Still, simply being an experienced leader doesn’t elevate a person’s skills. Like most of us, leaders often go through their experiences somewhat mindlessly, accomplishing tasks but learning little about themselves and their impact.


Our research on leadership development shows that leaders who are in learning mode develop stronger leadership skills than their peers. Building on Susan Ashford and Scott DeRue’s mindful engagement experiential learning cycle, we found that leaders who exhibit a growth mindset diligently work through each of the following three phases of the experiential learning cycle.

First, leaders set challenging learning goals in the form of “I need to learn how to…” For some leaders, the goal might be to become more persuasive or to be more approachable. With a goal in mind, leaders can identify opportunities to make progress toward it. These could include a new project, an international assignment, a job rotation, or simply striving to approach routine encounters in a fundamentally different way. Next, they find ways to deliberately experiment with alternative strategies. A leader interested in increasing their persuasiveness, for example, might experiment with sitting in a different place or speaking first or last in a critical meeting. Creating and capitalizing on learning opportunities can be bolstered by having a coach or peer provide feedback and act as a sounding board. Finally, leaders who are in learning mode conduct fearless after-action reviews, determined to glean useful insights from the results of their experimentation. Candidly reflecting on what went well, what did not go so well, and what might work better in future are essential though often neglected initiatives for learning from experience and discerning what to focus on learning next. Understanding these principles is important for organizations not just because it means that leadership development doesn’t have to be expensive, but also because it means that leadership skills can be systematically learned and practiced.

How can leaders enter learning mode? Leaders can construe setbacks as meaning they have not yet developed the required capabilities, rather than them being just not cut out for the task at hand. They can also avoid the trap of constantly seeking out places and tasks to highlight their strengths, as well as feedback that affirms their innate talents and self-esteem. Simply asking themselves, “Am I in learning mode right now?” can be a powerful cue to wholeheartedly focus, or refocus, on their leadership development, as well as their leadership performance, and thereby truly learn from their experiences. 

How can organizations help leaders enter and remain in learning mode? Organizational leaders can help rising leaders focus more on being progressively better than they were in the past, rather than on constantly benchmarking themselves against others. They can model construing mistakes as potential learning opportunities rather than as indicators of leadership inadequacy. In hiring and promotion, organizational leaders might give priority to those most likely to grow and develop in a role. Finally, they might conduct an audit of fixed mindset cues in their organization — such as the use of psychometric testing to select the most “innately qualified” high-potential leaders; forced ranking performance appraisals; and winner-take-all reward systems — and tweak them to focus more on developing than diagnosing leadership capabilities.

The bottom line is that by supporting leaders being in learning mode, organizations can develop the capabilities that leaders need to anticipate, respond to, and continually learn from the stream of emerging challenges to organizational prosperity.

(extract from Harvard Business Review, 2017)


Comic Motivational Truths

News has almost become synonymous with negativity, and it seems that we sometimes fail to appreciate small instances of light. This is where animation movies should inspire you more.

1. Kung Fu Panda – Po and His Father

“Po’s Father: The secret ingredient is… nothing!

Po: Huh?

Po’s Father: You heard me. Nothing! There is no secret ingredient.

Po: Wait, wait… it’s just plain old noodle soup? You don’t add some kind of special sauce or something?

Po’s Father: Don’t have to. To make something special you just have to believe it’s special.

*Po looks at the scroll again, and sees his reflection in it*

Po: There is no secret ingredient…”

Kung Fu Panda not only provides simple comedy that anyone can enjoy, but also packs some very important lessons. The conversation above occurs towards the climax; Po, finding himself incapable of protecting his city against an intruder (Tai-Lung, a vicious snow leopard…), has lost a lot of confidence. As Po is leaving, his father chooses to reveal an age-old secret – the secret to his secret ingredient noodle soup. It turns out there is no secret ingredient. As the quote reads, the soup is “just plain old noodle soup”. All along, Po thought he needed some special powers to protect the city. This conversation, however, makes him realize that he never needed special powers – the strength within was enough to achieve great things.

Oftentimes in the professional world, we think that we must have the perfect idea, something no one else has ever thought of, to progress. We invest our time trying to drill down on this “secret ingredient”, without realizing that the time could be better invested by simply developing ourselves and focusing on the strengths we already have. A little trust and confidence in yourself can take you a long way, and it may even help you protect your city against a vicious snow-leopard.

2. Despicable Me 3 – Gru and Agnes

“Life is just like that sometimes. We’re hoping for a unicorn, and we get a goat.”

Before you start wondering whether or not you read that quote properly, let me just say…yes. Don’t worry, I would have never expected to be reading about unicorns on LinkedIn either. In the DM trilogy, Agnes (the youngest of the three girls) is obsessed with unicorns. In the third movie, she goes on a hunt for a unicorn in the forest. After hours of waiting for a unicorn to appear (and attempting to lure it in with candy), she finally finds one and brings it home…or so she thinks. In reality, she had brought home a goat, not a unicorn. Gru, having to play the role of the father figure, sits Agnes down and explains to her that she found a goat rather than a unicorn. In that discussion, he imparts some simple wisdom that we can all use.

In business or in life, you won’t always get exactly what you expect. In most cases, you won’t even be able to control the situation handed to you. You may have a demanding client or need to make last-minute adjustments on a presentation. What you can control, however, is how you can react to the situation. Even though Agnes didn’t find a unicorn, Agnes treated the goat like a unicorn. Similarly, when handed a tough situation, we can treat it like an opportunity and turn it into a motivator rather than a roadblock.

3. Finding Nemo – Dory

“Just keep swimming.”

This lesson is fairly self-explanatory. Just keep swimming, just keep pushing on. Troublesome situations can arise at any time, but you can’t progress if you let them become barriers. While working on a project, you may come across an issue that sets you back. Rather than fixating on and complaining about the problem, you need to immediately starting thinking how to fight it. Find a way around it, go with the flow, and problems will start turning into opportunities left and right.

Along with this quote, there are many characteristics of Dory which we can apply to our lives. Like Dory, it is sometimes helpful to have short-term memory. You may have made a business decision that just didn’t work out. Let the past be like a rearview mirror in a car. Use it occasionally to look back and reflect on decisions, but keep your focus in the moment ahead of you.

4. Kung Fu Panda – Master Oogway

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.”

Kung Fu Panda strikes again with a phenomenal message. This one comes in a conversation between Master Oogway (the Kung Fu master…the giant tortoise) and Po. Po, lacking self-confidence, explains his confusions and drawbacks to Oogway, who simply replies by saying “you are too concerned with what was and what will be”, followed by the quote above.

It is a simple reminder to appreciate each moment. Each and every day is a gift, and needs to be utilized to the fullest. There will be days where you go to work or show up to class lacking all motivation. To get through them, try focusing on the opportunity that lies ahead of you – the chance to innovate in your workplace or learn a new skill in class. Put just twenty minutes of focused attention on whatever is in front of you, and see if you feel more motivated after that.

5. Shrek – Donkey

Live life with enthusiasm

Like Donkey, learn to maintain positivity in as many situations as possible. Even in Shrek, we see scenes where Donkey has his tail between his legs. But what we also see is how he rebounds from each situation. Donkey was never able to remain sad, and because of that, neither was Shrek. In a similar vein, you can be the person to shine light on someone’s rainy day, whether it be a colleague, classmate, friend, or even a stranger.

The great stuff about storytelling, whatever entertaining or not it might be, a real storytelling is filled with truths that you can mirror with your life and your expectations. Go to see and learn more from animated movies…

Time has come Today

If you have the chance to practise and use different languages, more than just your mother tongue, you’ve likely discovered a word that captures an idea that doesn’t quite translate directly into your own language.

The ancient Greek language has two different words for time. Chronos refers to the kind of time we measure by the ticking clock. It’s the time we use as we try to meet deadlines, make it to appointments, or go to bed at a decent hour. We cite it in numbers: 8:45 a.m., 4:15 p.m. Kairos, on the other hand, has a spiritual implication, a sense of significance. It represents time “in the moment,” giving everything into that moment and receiving everything it has to offer. On Kairos time, you are truly present, not rushing toward the next thing.



Most of us operate in Chronos time, particularly at work. We have meetings that begin promptly at a certain hour (although they might be endless most of the time), reports due on a certain date, and a time on the clock when we get to go home for the day. It gives structure and predictability. You definitely know what to expect and try to structure the day around those expectations. But if you believe strongly in the purpose of your work, it might benefit you to leave time for Kairos in your day. That’s where inspiration strikes — the time you have to you lose yourself in the moment and uncover new ideas and creative solutions.

Unfortunately, you can’t always schedule deep moments of reflection and purpose in your day. But there are some things you can do to prepare yourself for a “Kairos moment” when it comes:

  • Continually reflect on your purpose: know the why of your job.
  • Create space in your calendar: as practical as that sounds, you need time to think, reflect, and be inspired. You may not have profound moments in your first attempt at Kairos time, but that’s not the point. The point is beginning a practice of reflection, daydreaming, or reading something totally out of your field and being inspired by the application it could have for your work. You can’t predict it, but you can enable it.
  • Physically mark off space: Kairos can occur in everyday life — you can suddenly lose yourself in a moment, for sure. But it’s difficult to experience Kairos in the midst of chaos. Find a space that inspires you and allows for quiet and reflection.

Getting things done is awesome. But we can all realise that you actually get more significant work done when you block off time to allow Kairos to unfold. Kairos time requires rethinking our modern conceptions of efficiency and “getting things done.” But if you focus on effectiveness over efficiency, you’ll realize that Kairos time helps you achieve your goals and prevents you from burning out and losing the passion you have for your work. We need structure in our day…and give more attention to Kairos.

QR Codes are Back

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment QR codes became a joke. Was it the guy who scanned one of those black and white squares on the back of a Heinz bottle and landed on a page full of porn videos? Or when Gillette ran ad inviting you to scan a code to “read Kate Upton’s mind”? Maybe it was the codes plastered around the New York City subway, across the tracks, making it impossible to scan them without killing yourself. Well, we will never know but everybody started to hate QR codes, they were everywhere and mostly nobody was using them. Before that, though, QR codes seemed like a window to the future. Just point your camera, scan the code, and instantly check into your favorite place on Foursquare. At least, that was the idea. More often it went like this: Point your camera, remember your phone’s camera doesn’t do QR scanning on its own, download another app, open that app, point the camera, scan the code, and end up on some corporate website that’s not even optimized for your phone. Few people ever scanned a code; fewer did twice. QR codes live on in the wild, but they’re like pay phones: a reminder of how things used to be.

QR code

Don’t look now, but QR codes have begun to creep back. They have different names now—Snap Codes and Spotify Codes and Messenger Codes and Other Things Codes—and a much improved sense of style, but the idea hasn’t changed. Because QR codes, it turns out, were just ahead of their time. They required a world where everyone always had their phone, where all phone had great cameras, and where that camera was capable of doing more than just opening websites. Over the last few years, both the underlying technology and the way people use it have caught up to QR codes. Before long, scanning codes will feel as natural as thumbing your fingerprint to unlock your phone. And the rise of QR codes will bring augmented reality into your life in all sorts of previously impossible ways. QR codes aren’t a failure from the past. They’re the future. No kidding…


The WeChat Way

The second wave of QR codes started around 2014, when Evan Spiegel went to China. The Snapchat CEO had long been fascinated with WeChat, the messaging app that dominates the online lives of hundreds of millions of Chinese users. During his travels, Spiegel kept seeing WeChat users scanning QR codes. A code-scanning camera is one of WeChat’s central tools: users can quickly point their camera at that dotted square to exchange contact information, interact with brands and celebrities, buy clothes and food, access the web, and much more. Spiegel went home thinking there had to be something there for his own camera-first smartphone app. He called the team at Scan, a Utah-based company behind one of the App Store’s most popular QR readers. Snap acquired the company for a reported $54 million, and Spiegel set the Scan crew to work bringing codes to Snapchat. Three days after the Scan team showed up for work at Snap, Spiegel walked into their office with a giant cardboard box in his arms. He set the box down and lifted out an old dot-matrix printer—one of those loud, whining machines that takes forever to print a page and forces you to rip off the edges once it’s done. Snap’s codes, Spiegel told the team, have to be scannable even if they’re printed on this outdated machine, even if the ink bleeds or fades. He had visions of codes showing up on receipts, or planted on shop windows to be battered by weather and passersby. The code had to look good and work well even in the roughest circumstances.That’s a tough ask for QR codes. If you’re trying to encode anything longer than a simpler URL, your QR code becomes physically too large to put anywhere or too complicated to scan reliably. You definitely can’t scan anything from more than a few feet away. And the jumble of black and white dots doesn’t reveal anything about what’s on the other side, which makes scanning a QR code a risk every time. Plus, they’re hideous. So in addition to bringing QR scanning to the camera that opens every time you tap on Snapchat, the Scan team set out to build a new kind of code.

After some back and forth and a lot of printing on the dot matrix, the Snap team settled on a yellow rectangle with rounded corners, a ghost in the center, and a pattern of dots. They called them Snapcodes. When Snap launched Snapcodes in 2015, offering an easy way to add someone as a friend on Snapchat—just scan their code!—users blanketed the internet with theirs. Snapcodes showed up in Twitter and Facebook profile pictures, on business cards, and tattooed on at least one person’s body. “The White House made a Snapcode, and put it on whitehouse.gov and made it the White House’s Twitter profile picture,” says Kirk Ouimet, one of Scan’s founders and now the leader of Snap’s Creative Camera team. “That was when I was like, all right, I feel like we’ve contributed something meaningful to Snap.”


Codes turned out to be a perfect addition to Snapchat. The app’s design has always tiptoed the line between delightfully discoverable and impossibly unintuitive; you could spend a thousand years using Snapchat and never encounter all its features. Snapcodes offered shortcuts to all the good stuff. “When you scan a Snapcode you’re going to get a lens that you normally wouldn’t get,” Ouimet says. “The lenses are like the ultimate candy to unlock.” Scan the code on the jumbotron at the football game, get the lens for that specific game. Scan the one on your Dr. Pepper, and you too can become Larry Culpepper, the visor-wearing, soda-serving star of the company’s commercials. Since Snapchat controls the codes and always warns you what you’re opening, scanning one doesn’t feel like clipping a wire hoping the bomb doesn’t explode; it’s more like opening a treasure chest.

Right now, Snap says users are scanning upwards of 8 million codes a day. And that’s with Snapcodes only doing a few things: unlock filters and lenses, open websites, add friends. What will people do with all those codes in the future? Ouimet won’t say, but WeChat and China offer some intriguing ideas. You could walk into a restaurant, scan the code on your chair, and then order and pay for a meal on your phone that’s brought directly to your seat. Rather than just using a code to get into the movie theater, you could scan a poster to buy the tickets. A bike-sharing service can use QR codes to let members check out bikes just by scanning a code on its frame. All of this exists, and more is coming. “You can imagine a television where you scan a QR code and that takes you to a troubleshooting instruction manual,” says Connie Chan, a partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz who focuses on China. You could go to a store, and rather than a cash register they could just have a QR code. Scan it and you’ve paid.

Whatever the future looks like, Snapcodes is built to handle it. Snapchat’s camera uses the ghost to properly orient the code, reads the grid of dots—160 in all—to determine which code you’re scanning, then match that to the Snapcode database. Simple, and virtually infinite: Ouimet says Snapchat users could create a Snapcode every second and still not exhaust every option before the heat-death of the universe. “It’s like 160 undecillion” options, he says. “It’s basically, for all intents and purposes, infinite.”

Relax…Don’t do it

Relax into Greatness…this integrated ad is a reminder to all that we need to take a breathe once in a wile, to take the most of our environment to be ready for the next challenge. Just nice and positive…