The one constant in the universe is change. Or so the great philosophers say–you can’t step into the same river twice, after all.
Given the possibility that this is true, it makes sense for all of us to be better prepared to acknowledge the inevitable nature of change, prepare for it, and learn to benefit from it when possible.
To help us wrap our heads around this, we touched base with L&D guru and change agent Arun Pradhan (you may remember our earlier discussion with Arun on lifelong learning and learning agility). A million thanks to Arun for sharing his thoughts with us on change.
As for you, you’ve got two choices–watch a recording of the video discussion immediately below, or scroll down further to read a transcript. Either way, we hope you enjoy this.
Note: If you’re reading this article, you’ll notice we’ve included some images Arun made. These are all from Arun’s blog and we encourage you to check that out.
Convergence Training: Hey, everybody and welcome. This is Jeff Dalto of Convergence Training and Vector Solutions back with another one of our recurrent podcastaudiocastwebcast series.
And I’m super-duper excited because I’ve got a guy who I really like to follow, I’ve learned a ton from, I feel kind of indebted to, and that’s Arun Pradhan. Arun is a Learning and Performance strategist. He’s also the founder of Learn2 Learn; if you haven’t checked out the Learn2Learn app, do, and we’ll be talking about some issues related to change.
Arun, how are you doing? I am super excited to have you on thank you so much for coming on. I’m really happy.
Arun Pradhan: I’m really happy. I was just talking about how we’ve been in contact for so long, and I’ve learned a lot from you as well, I’ve found your articles and your podcast and other happenings really useful. And it’s wonderful to actually be face-to-face finally.
Convergence Training: No doubt. Yeah, one thing I think you know this, I enjoy your stuff because it fits in with my L & D interests and everything, but I have also found it really fits in well with a lot of work I do, for example, with safety professionals and stuff. So you’re kind of a Swiss Army knife, jack-of-all-trades type. So I really appreciate that.
Arun Pradhan: Oh, that’s good. Thank you.
Convergence Training: Alright, so Arun, we’re going to talk about change in a little bit, but can you just kind of tell people a bit about who you are and what you’re interested in and about your background a little bit first?
Arun Pradhan: Yeah. So what I do at the moment is I’m the founder of Learn2Learn, which is a product to enable learning agility and innovation at scale across organizations. I’ve also got a consumer version of that to help individuals develop learning agility.
And my day job tends to be consulting with companies to support…often it’s an L&D/HR uplift around performance consulting or the way they’re actually trying to be more business partners. Other things are helping large-scale blended learning solutions using design thinking techniques. It tends to vary as you say, I tend to, I tend to play in a few different spaces.
But when I step back and think about, not just what I was putting myself out there as, you know, the labels I use, so Learning and Performance and those sorts of things, because that’s kind of what people understand in the corporate world, and they can buy, you know, and I ultimately like to feed my family so that was the way I was productizing myself in a way. But when I thought about what I actually did, it was really about change and different elements of change. So that is, I think, what led to this conversation.
Convergence Training: Right, good setup, and that leads to where we’re going. So you’ve got a model that I’ve kind of been looking at recently and enjoying about change with four aspects. And I’m going to ask you about each of those in detail, but I wonder if we can just start if you can give them off the top of your head, what are the four aspects of change you’re focusing on.
Arun Pradhan: Yeah. So I haven’t got them in front of me so it’s really about it’s predicting or seeing the signals for change firstly, like being sensitive around that. And then it’s also about adapting to change. So when change happens, what you’re doing about it. And then it’s developing oneself around change, to embody it. And it’s also leading change. So creating innovation and leading that change as well.
Convergence Training: Okay, cool. So we’ll drill down into those in just a second or I’ll sit passively while you drill down into them, but I wonder if you could start just by telling us why is it so important to just study, talk about, and facilitate change, and why are you so interested in it?
Arun Pradhan: Yeah, it’s been a theme throughout my work. I’ve realized in looking back on it, it’s something that keeps coming up.
I think the thing that I find most interesting about it is it’s absolutely inevitable. It just is happening. It’s, you know, this idea of the Buddhist notion, I guess, of impermanence. It’s just there. And at the same time, we suck at it so badly. Like, we as humans, we’re just so bad at change on an individual and organizational level. We’re in denial, we just assume, you know, there’s all the cognitive biases around it, around stability bias around, you know, resistance to change.
And, you know, people like Jack Welch, even back in the day…one of one of my favorite quotes of his was “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside than the end is near.”
And also, the fact that change happens, the fact that we suck at it, and today, the fact that change is happening at an accelerated pace. And I don’t necessarily believe that this is the fastest time ever, I’m not suggesting that, but I do believe that change happens in waves on a societal level, and we are going through a period of accelerated change.
Convergence Training: Alright, convincing points. So the first of those domains of change you mentioned already had to do with reading signals to identify change. Can you tell us what you’re talking about here? And maybe fill us in a little bit more, please?
Arun Pradhan: Yeah. So I think it’s about being sensitive to understanding what trends are happening and having a conscious approach to spotting those trends and evaluating them.
So it’s not necessarily just about jumping on the next new fad. It’s about seeing what the trends are, and understanding which ones are going to be most relevant.
And I think part of this is about filtering. You know, it’s so easy to get overwhelmed in our culture today. In our world today, there’s so much information and things coming at us. And so we all need filters. We all need ways of choosing what information, what things we trust, what information we look at.
And I think when you look at this idea of looking at those signals, you’re really looking at are you are you putting in place the correct filters? Are you putting in place filters and ways to access the right information that is going to influence what’s going to happen next and allow you to position yourself?
And I think there’s, you know, there’s technology that can help with that in terms of what are your feeds on your social networks, or the other apps you use.
There are people, like, what sort of networks are you connecting with? And who are you exposing yourself to in terms of those ideas?
And then there’s internally the cognitive frameworks that you’re using. What are the assumptions? What are the belief systems that you’re using that make you dismiss evidence or information or, you know, take it on board?
And I think there are those three levels.
And if you look at some examples, you mentioned examples. I think it’s about being both sensitive to what’s going on around you and skeptical, and that’s a real hard balance. And I’m not suggesting I get it right. I get it wrong all the time. Like on a personal level. One of my examples was one of the reasons I got into design thinking many years ago was because I did a job which went quite badly. And I realized that I needed to…and in talking to colleagues, I realized that there was the theme I saw of us being disconnected from our actual audience group and having all these assumptions. And so I had a very direct signal in my face of a failed project.
But also, if I’d listened to it before, it was around, it took that sort of more obvious experience for me to say, “Well actually step back. What else could I be doing to understand my audience and their context more effectively? Here’s a tool that’s being used in another context, what can I do with that?”
From a political point of view, even–I won’t tell you my opinions. But I’ll just from an objective point of view, the fact that Trump won that last election in the States and that most people didn’t see that, or a lot of people didn’t see that, coming, I think that calls into question…if you get surprised by something like that, I think you have to question the filters that you’ve currently got. You’ve got to question the news sources, the information, the people-based networks that you’re in. Like if everyone you knew thought Trump was a joke, and yet Trump got in, you’d question “Am I putting myself in a silo here? Do I need to actually reach out and change some of my filters so I can be more sensitive to what’s going on?”
I think those big surprises are wake-up calls to say we need to examine our filters.
And then even in the L&D world, I think the filter I see often and not being interpreted in a positive way is, I was just working with a learning leader recently in a contract job. And he was complaining that this group had created their own resource, this terrible resource. It was like this massive printed hardbound book, which is not practical for that purpose. And yet, it’s a signal that this group actually created something. And that’s a signal to say that there’s a need here. There’s initiative here, there’s energy here. And even though the actual artifact wasn’t great, it’s the signal that we can actually start to adapt our behavior around.
Convergence Training: Yeah. So I guess there’s an aspect of exposing yourself to what’s new and out there, there’s an idea of being sensitive to it, and then filtering it and reflecting on it, correct?
Arun Pradhan: Yeah. And having criteria because it’s that thing of, too, not just like, you know…take VR and AR, it’s not like, you know, you saw those signals coming from a while ago, that, you know, this was going to be a thing. And it’s not to say that they’re just adapting it for everything. It’s also staying true to your, I guess, cognitive framework and your criteria and having some skepticism to say, “Well, how can this be used? How can it not?” And also knowing the limits of your own expertise to say “Well, actually I have no idea how this might be used. Who can I talk to you? Where can I go for more?”
Convergence Training: That’s a position I found myself in a lot.
Alright, so the next domain you talked about is navigating change. Which is not always easy. I want you to talk to us a little bit about that one.
Arun Pradhan: Yeah, I take two elements, two aspects here.
The first is around shifting mindset. And I think that’s the most challenging, you know, because theoretically, in Learn2Learn, I talk about the idea of having optimism through ambiguity, which I think came from IDEO. They talked a lot about that, and that design thinking world, and it’s about having that sort of confidence in the process and in the tools that you’re using, and feeling okay with not knowing how it’s going to end up.
Having said that, it’s bloody hard to do because we all want certainty. We all want control. We all want, like, you know, that confidence, but it’s that..how do we make that shift, for example, focusing on skills development, rather than focusing on obsessing about a specific job? Or, I like Amy Edmonson’s reframe where she talks about rather than talking about strategy and implementing a strategy, how can we focus on constantly testing hypotheses. So you don’t come up with a strategy for the next three years, you come up with a hypothesis, which you test in the market, and then you change.
So it’s trying to be a bit more fluid. It’s trying to hold on to tools and mental models lightly. And then being able to adapt. It’s bloody hard.
And so the other one, which is easier, and I think that’s inspired me more recently is behavioral economics. And this idea of fast thinking versus slow thinking, of understanding that we as humans, only make conscious, really thoughtful rational decisions, very few moments in a day. And most of the time, we’re on automatic pilot. So how can we support ourselves through our environment and the environmental design by being around the right people?
You know, I talked about this idea of organizing serendipity. I think Ross Dawson talks a lot about serendipity. He’s a futurist, a great futurist to follow. And yeah, this idea of how can you put yourself in a position where you’re going to be influenced to make the right decisions at the right time? And you know, there’s the whole nudge framework around that as well.
Convergence Training: Right. So there are two aspects of that, I guess with the Kahneman, fast thinking/slow thinking thing. One is that it is nice sometimes to slow down and reflect and work against, potential, your cognitive biases. But on the other hand, like you’re saying, we can’t do that all the time. You have a really nice SlideShare, which I’ll remember to link in the transcript of this discussion, on that issue of the kind of nudge that I think is really useful for people too.
Arun Pradhan: Yeah, I think nudges are the sort of most practical end of behavioral economics, if you want to look at nudge theory and particularly, the framework I find the most useful is the EAST framework, which came out of the Behavioral Insights Team, which was the first nudge unit in the UK. Now there are nudge units all over the place. But you know, they’ve gone out flavor in some areas, but their framework asks: (1) How can you make it easy? (2) How can you make it attractive? (3) How can you make it social? And (4) How can you make it timely?
And yeah, the presentation you mentioned that I did a while ago now, that slide pack has lots of very visual examples of how you can actually nudge people in that direction. And I often think of, if I need to get something done, how can I nudge myself? How can I actually nudge or create sludge? Like make the decisions you don’t want to make harder as well? Because I know I can’t myself because I know my brain is going to go for the simple solutions, it’s going to go for this sort of fast-thinking, from-the-hip solutions.
You can’t maintain that level of cognitive awareness and rational thought throughout the day. So how can you support yourself in automatic pilot? I think that is the question.
Convergence Training: Yeah, no doubt. Okay, cool. So that’s reading signals to identify change, then adapting to navigate change, which leads us to innovating to lead change.
Arun Pradhan: Yeah. So innovation is obviously the flavor of the month in many ways, because people know we’re in a period of accelerated change and our controlling nature makes us want to lead that change rather than be victims of it, is the perception.
And I think there’s a few things there like obviously, you know, I know we’re both interested in the underpinnings of innovation being psychological safety. And you know, Google, through Project Aristotle, which is one of the probably most evidence-based studies in that human resources kind of world
…so I saw your cat in the background that my cat isn’t as polite as yours, it will just come right into my face…
Convergence Training: Mine is Bubbles. What is the name of your cat?
Arun Pradhan: That one is actually my kids, cats. That one is Otto, the neurotic one. And I’ve also got Milo. And I also got a dog who’s much more polite and just stays in the background.
Convergence Training: Or perhaps is less interested. Well, I’m glad we’re both in good company.
So we were talking about innovation and psychological safety and Project Aristotle.
Arun Pradhan: Project Aristotle showed how crucial…I mean, we all knew it on an intuitive level that psychological safety was crucial. Like, you know, you’ve been in a work environment where you feel like, if you make a silly suggestion, you’re going to get persecuted or be made fun of or whatever, and you keep it quiet. And you’ve been in those environments, hopefully, where you feel like you have trust with the people around you. And you can make the silliest suggestion, what’s perceived to be silly. And it might not be that suggestion, but that’s going to prompt other people, because they’re going to take it openly. They’re going to build on it and so on.
So part of that too, is are you in a diverse team? You know, there’s more and more evidence now to show that diverse teams breed better innovation.
And it’s not say diverse teams are easy. I know, myself being in diverse teams, which I push for, it’s frustrating when people…like I know people who work similarly to me, they think similarly to me, and I love being in those teams because it’s so comfortable. The other teams have painful, especially in the early stages, and yet, they make you explain your assumptions. They make you question things that you took for granted, which can seem very annoying at the time and inefficient, and yet, it tends to lead to better results more consistently.
And the last thing I’d say around innovation is really…as you know, I’m a huge fan of design thinking. And I think obviously design thinking…the criticism against design thinking often takes it as a superficial kind of two-dimensional element. But really, for me, design thinking where you’re starting from a place of empathy, you’re co-designing and collaborating, you’re failing fast and prototyping and doing iterations, and you’re thinking of the whole experience rather than just a moment in time. I think it’s a really powerful process, which undermines this whole idea that some people are creative and some people aren’t. You can take people through a process and actually be creative in that process.
Convergence Training: Yeah. A little off-topic, but have you ever participated in a hackathon? Some kind of situation where you’re trying to lead people through that kind of process?
Arun Pradhan: I have. I’ve been a participant in one and then I’ve run a couple. I’m running one next month, actually, for a group on leadership coaching. Basically, I’m doing a hackathon for them.
Convergence Training: Alright, cool. I’ll look for you talking about that on social media.
Alright, so and then the last domain about change is developing to embody change. What are we talking about here? And what can you tell us about it?
Arun Pradhan: Well, I think that’s the more traditional domain of learning and development, because that’s what we always go to. We’ve got a performance issue and therefore people have to change, to deal with that performance issue. That’s kind of the standard approach.
And that’s the shift I’ve made is like, often when I’m thinking now about how can we change the environment before we change people, because environments that tend to be easier to change than people.
But in terms of learning and development, the way I break it down…I mean, obviously, there’s mindset and motivation, which is one area which we kind of touched on. But the two key areas are really knowledge or skills. And in knowledge, my focus tends to be, I think we’ve talked about this previously about you know, developing that latticework of mental models, of having or bringing an awareness to what concepts you are using to make decisions to do your work.
And this constantly amazes me. With Learn2Learn, I often run learning agility-style workshops. Now I’ve done it even with executives, and I’ve introduced the concept of mental models if they haven’t come across that before, of what are the concepts in their brains that they’re actually…what are their go-to sort of frameworks that they’re using to understand the world and to act in it. And what amazes me is that even executives who are working at a pretty high level in the organization often struggle to identify more than seven or eight mental models that they’re consciously using. I can cajole them to do a bit more if I’m introducing, I know that, for example, there’s GROW coaching, or there’s the Pareto principle and when I give them some models as examples, they can probably push it up to about 10. But most people, I’ve found, don’t actually have a conscious library of mental models that they use. So that, for me, is remarkable.
And in the meantime, often, L&D is so focused on just getting information through as opposed to building up what’s really important is the toolkit in our minds. So that’s one area.
And the other area is skills development. It’s actually how does that how do those models come into play in the real world? How do you actually develop those skills? And my go to there is Anders Ericsson, who wrote the book Peak, who really talks a lot about deliberate practice, and having those feedback loops and also the loops of targeted practice, of feedback and honing in on your weak spots. It’s not just doing, it’s having that deliberate practice loop.
Convergence Training: Yeah. And I think that’s…talking about going beyond knowledge and skills and working with the environment…I guess I have a couple thoughts about that.
One is that I think if you really want to get an effective kind of feedback loop, in that way that Anders Ericsson talks about in Peak, it really helps to involve more people in than just L&D, if you want this, you know, continual feedback to workers, including, I guess, their managers and performance reviews and alike. Would that be true?
Arun Pradhan: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s one of the big things. It links back to what we’re talking about in the beginning, which is like what filters have you got on, what are you taking in from the world, what do you believe in, and what are you not believing.
Similarly, are you just around a yes club to your fan base? Or are you exposing yourself to critics? And not in a way that is just going to leave you depressed and flat, but in a way that you can be curious have that might curiosity mindset to say, and to look for that active feedback from people who you wouldn’t necessarily go to from that diverse kind of group. And it’s not to say that you can agree with all the feedback. But hearing that feedback and assessing that feedback is how we’re going to learn more effectively. Otherwise, we’re just doing it in the in the dark and randomly and it’s just not efficient.
Convergence Training: Right. I’ve got a question for later but I’m going to steal from a little bit right now because we’re talking again about changing the environment and it makes me think about human performance improvement and systems thinking. And I wonder if you have any thoughts or any recommendations for folks out there, some books or thinkers you’d recommend on HPI and also on systems thinking.
Arun Pradhan: I’ve got a book, it’s called Systems Thinking, I can’t even remember who wrote it, which is a good introduction. I think it’s just called Systems Thinking. But I still go back to Peter Senge, I guess it was maybe the standard as he was the one that I first discovered systems thinking discovered.
I haven’t found many wonderful sources which explain it in a way that feels practical, to tell you the truth. And even what I would love to read is, and if you find the source tell me, I would love a way for people to have it as part of their process to be able to be in the midst of the heat of a moment where you’re just focused on dealing with what you think is the initial causal factor, and having that process to be able to step back and to actually develop those systems.
Most of the systems-thinking thinking literature, I’ve found to be more focused on explaining that these systems exist, but it doesn’t help people in the midst of it to step back and to actually identify the systems that are running behind the problem that they’re looking at. I mean there are simple things like, you know, the Five Whys, where you’re digging deeper and root cause analysis, that sort of stuff. And maybe what I’m talking about doesn’t exist, but I feel like it does some way I just haven’t found it yet.
Convergence Training: I’m in exactly the same place. So I like Senge, who I think I learned about from you. And I know he says more in his book than just this, but I like this general idea of “Hey, look at the total system, look at the interactions, look at the big picture, be holistic,” but being told to look at the big picture and being told to be holistic, is not super actionable, which I think is kind of what you’re saying. Right?
Arun Pradhan: Exactly. Yeah.
Convergence Training: Yeah. So I’ve studied–like you, I own one systems book, I also don’t remember the title or the name of the author, but it’s a kind of white cover with a multicolored slinky-like tool on it, and it just basically sketches out the things that systems have in common and the different components and the way they tend to either grow or decrease. And I’ve been wondering, “Is this an effective tool? Once you get these models down? Can you start to identify these at the workplace like, Oh, do I have a stock of learning that’s accelerating or decreasing? Or safety, do I have a, I don’t know, a stock of distrust or something like that.” I’ve been trying to find exactly what you’re talking about. (Note: Jeff was thinking about