How To Adapt and Move Forward Into the Future with Nancy Giordano

Episode #13
Dec 4, 2018
[Nancy Giordano] Agile Living Podcast

How do you prepare yourself or your business for the future? With the advancement in technologies today, it’s easy to feel stress and overwhelm. So how do you keep up? Find out the answers on today’s episode as Jon interviews Nancy Giordano, a strategic futurist, speaker and founder of Play Big Inc. It is a company that helps businesses define and shape their future. They delve into the topics of AQ (Adaptability Quotient), self-awareness and curiosity and how these factors help us adapt to the future and prepares us and makes us successful in this dynamic and unpredictable world that we live in.


“When you asked me about the one thing that we need to cultivate in kids, it's curiosity and wonder.”

-Nancy Giordano


00:59 - Background on Play Big Inc. and how it help companies define and shape their future 

03:35 - What is AQ (Adaptability Quotient) and how it can help us in this fast-changing, dynamic world

08:21 - Proper mindset to be productive and innovative and why unlearning is the harder part of adapting

11:58 - The importance of self-awareness and mindfulness to adaptability quotient

16:10 - Collaborating and learning how to learn with others

19:38 - Benefits of having employees with self-awareness plus tips on how to build self-awareness

27:07 - Why it’s important to cultivate curiosity and why some employers are not supportive of it

29:48 - The important role of the environment and the people around us to our curiosity and success

31:40 - Removing the fear of technology and having the ability to manage it



 Connect with Nancy:


Jon Voigt: I'm joined today by Nancy Giordano. Nancy is a strategic futurist, speaker and the founder of Play Big Inc. We met in San Francisco at the Entrepreneurs Organization University in October where she was speaking. No doubt I was amazed by her talk and she wrote because she's also the curator for TEDxAustin. But she touched a number of things that really connected with me and I'm super excited to have her on the show. Nancy, so great to have you on the show. Perhaps you could start by telling the audience a little bit about Play Big and then I'd love to dive into this whole AQ concept and I think the discussion go can go from there.


Nancy Giordano: Again, thank you and I guess the simplest way to describe what Play Big Inc is, is that we are a strategic futurist consultancy, we are called a strategic inspiration company. What we're trying to help organizations and leaders do is define a clearer path to the future one that really engages them and excites them and gives them both foresight and confidence and enthusiasm to build really meaningful solutions that will be relevant over a longer period of time. So, they're not just reacting to things that are happening but they're actually building and shaping what the future looks like. And part of that work then is speaking part of that work is gathering and creating events that help educate and inspire people and you know sort of this weird tapestry of things that do to help people engage in the future.


Jon Voigt: All right. Right. It must be very difficult for some customers but different industries because every industry is going to be a little different and you have to kind of look into the future industry but it's fascinating because I think we can't really understand where our industry is going. How can we be ready for it?


Nancy Giordano: Well concepts like this, which is do you understand what the future needs and expects from you or from each of us. And do we understand what we're each in a unique position to create and contribute to it. So, once you've an understanding of what some of those again trajectories are, the confluence of demographic changes and economic changes and lifestyle changes and technology drivers and all that stuff you start to see again what the future will need and expect. And then there is this opportunity to think about what we're uniquely empowered to do because you've got resources, equities, curiosities experience, et cetera that can be brought to that feature. And that's on an individual level, that's on organizational level, if you are on an industry level. So, it's when you have that kind of framework to be able to triangulate where it makes a lot easier to see what the opportunities are. And when you put the human at the center that's really one of the things that seems to be missing often is that we kind of design around the human as opposed to being human at the center that it makes it clear what the right things are to do or with the most empowering or meaningful or sustainable things are to do. So, it's really rewarding when you can shine that light on that really big opportunity.


Jon Voigt: Right. Right. So yeah. When I heard you speak you know there's a thing you threw out there and I know we're going to take the conversation from other areas but I just wanted to touch on this because you brought this AQ concept. I'd love for you to explain that to the audience because it really resonated with me and my passions and how I view with the way the world's going. And the human touch is so much of that and I know we're going to go there with it as well so maybe we could start with the AQ concept. You can tell me a little tell the audience a little bit about it and we can go from there.


Nancy Giordano: Great. And the AQ stands for Adaptability Quotient and it is not something that I've made up. It's something that potentially I think may have been coined by another economist and speaker named Amin Toufani. But the idea is you know I used it in my talk in context to have as you imagine so many different technological shifts are going to be coming and that we need to learn to manage better. There is a need to handle what we call permanent ambiguity more effectively. Right what are the strategies or what are the ways in which we can learn to not just be stopped in our tracks by so much change but actually feel again that there's behaviors, mindsets, processes, whatever they are, they can help us navigate more effectively. And so, part of that didn't get sort of summed up in this idea of recognizing that we have an adaptability quotient that it can be cultivated and nurtured and what are the components of that. And we can dive a bit more into it. But I think again those components are not just that I understand AI or I understand block chain but it's also that I understand you know build a curious mindset that I think about how I collaborate more effectively about the role that humility plays again in building partnerships with others. So, there's a whole kind of toolkit that comes with this idea of building more capacity for adapting.


Jon Voigt: And I loved how you had this one slide where you talked about the history of mankind and how we've evolved and how we analyzed our success which was you know up front, who is you know IQ was so important and I would mention IQ and you'd only be successful if you had high IQ and then it went to EQ. And now the idea of this AQ which is you know, how ready are you. How adopted or just how mature is your body willing to adjust and be ready to change and shift.


Nancy Giordano: Right. I think again like how flexible are you right. How willing are we to unlearn some of the things that we've learned and how willing are we to learn new things? How quickly do we want to learn new things how do we feel about learning about new things? I mean there's a lot that is being asked of each of us as we move into again a very rapidly shifting and very dynamic slash ambiguous slash unpredictable nature. And so yes, our ability to manage that and feel confident in that and not be again either overwhelmed by it or stopped by it or frozen by it is really I guess one way of thinking about AQ. Right


Jon Voigt: And I think one of the initial parts of that is just the initial mindset of realizing that this is happening to us and the world is changing so fast and things are going to be different tomorrow than they are today. And you can either be overwhelmed during a bright light or you can you can feed off it and actually help it progressed you to the next date.


Nancy Giordano: Right. And feeding off it, I think. And again, I think that that is that is absolutely true. And yet I don't think it's like a magical quality that we have to do that I think that there's again there's are the things that we can cultivate right. So, recognizing that when you are reading and connecting the dots and spending time learning that that is not wasted time that's actually really critical time.


Jon Voigt: Right.


Nancy Giordano: You know it was actually interesting is at one point a few years ago I did a calculation of all the hours that I spent in a year doing these various things. I paid consulting work, learning what I could or conference or I'm part of a think tank or I read, volunteer work time with my family et cetera et cetera. I kind of did the math and realized I was really shortchanged on a whole bunch of stuff and that's why I was so tired and why I was not feeling as rich as I wanted to at the end of that year. And one of the things I realized is I had negated to put any of my calculus how important the learning time is.


Jon Voigt: Right.


Nancy Giordano: You know. And I'd like the reason I'm valuable whether it's on the stage or in a boardroom is because I've spent a lot of time learning. I spent a lot of time with other people and all of a sudden, I decided to boldly double all my consulting rates so that they would compensate for the learning time. And it was really. And it was successful like it actually worked out really well and it made it easier for me to defend that rate when people questioned it because like no but I'm messing you know so much time doing that dot, that dot, the DOT in order to be prepared for this work that we're gonna go do here right. You don't have time to go learn all that stuff. I'm investing the time and learning about it. That's what makes us good partners. And so, I think, first of all, it's like it's recognizing how important that time is and adjusting it. And then I think it's a lot about again cultivating relationships and partnerships right. This is a future in which not any of us are going to know anything empirically anymore or completely enough anymore. And so, the idea that we build a big network of people that we can learn from and consult with and build with and you know move through this with, is part of the work that we need to do.


Nancy Giordano: That's actually really again useful time to invest. And so, if you're an organization, how do you incentivize people to be curious and to build meaningful relationships both inside the organization and outside of silos and outside the organization with partnerships that could be useful. So, these are new mindsets and new ways of thinking about what it means to be productive. You know it's no longer an efficiency mindset. I really think that I talk about it having moved from being replicators of success right this was kind of the handbook and if we just all did it consistently, we could scale and grow effectively and these are kind of you know the Six Sigma or TQM tools to become more and more efficient at it to a place in which we are now navigating.


Jon Voigt: Right.


Nancy Giordano: And we're innovating and navigating as opposed to just producing and replicating and so that requires a different skill set, A different toolkit, a different capacity and that's why again I think the AQ concept is now resonating so much with people because they're realizing that they need to think about their work and their approach to it differently.


Jon Voigt: Right. Right. And you touched on the whole you know dedicating time for learning and then you also touched on a little bit, very quickly the unlearning side of things and I almost feel that is the harder part. You know it's so much out there to help people learn education, seminars, courses, retreats, all these things, but it's actually more difficult to unlearn things. And I actually feel people don't aren't taught that enough. It's not you know I go to conference and I come home with all these ideas and I can't even implement this stuff or I can't even let it sink in because I'm either so busy or I have so many other things on my plate.


Nancy Giordano: Well and I think again there's a certain view of ourselves that we've created and that I know this and I know how to do that and can and we feel confident and capable because of the things that we know.


Nancy Giordano: And it is challenging to work into it and walk into an environment or be in an environment in which things are shifting and changing we either have to learn a new tool or a new process or new behavior or just a whole new way of approaching things that is daunting. And what's interesting is when you watch kids it's so much easier at one point, I did do Tedx for ten years. I did four big lavish events for adults and then realized it was actually so much more rewarding to go to them for high school, middle school kids, because their aperture is so much more open.


Jon Voigt: Right.


Nancy Giordano: Right. They're literally looking for new information because they are trying to navigate a really you know an unknown world what clubs they should be in and what friends I should hang out with, what classes that should take, what college I should go to. They're really like this giant open portal versus adults who often have sort of decided that this is who they are. And this is what they like and don't like and it's much harder to get them to open or change. But I do think again that shifting and changing I just even watch with the audiences that I've addressed over the last couple of years, there is much more of a leaning in and a desire to want to learn. And I think to your point I don't know that unlearning is as conscious a thing, as much of it is that we don't use the phrases we used to do it like that or that's always how it worked or Oh I'm not very good at that or I don't understand that or you know I mean to self-talk that we tell ourselves about who we are and what we know. I think it's the kind of stuff that we get to unravel now and make it more empowering for us.


Jon Voigt: Right. I always think of the, you know really true learning is when you're out of your comfort zone you're not you know in the flow of things necessarily because you're absorbing so much and maybe that out of comfort zone where we really are growing, is when we're rewriting some of those belief systems and some of those emotional things to change the way we absorb and consume data. So maybe that is partially where we're unlearning things and that's why it's just so uncomfortable and so unfamiliar.


Nancy Giordano: Well we like to be competent at what we do right. We'd like to think that we've got a certain sense of who we are. And again, I haven't studied flow and those things as deeply as certainly other people have. And I do think there are more people who are more competent which is why then a concept like self-awareness ends up becoming a very compatible or complementary skill to this whole thing as part of AQ Right. It's like the more that we can understand who we are. Understand our blind spots understand how we react to things and understand what triggers us right. What makes us feel insecure then the easier it is for us to identify when that comes up in an environment where we feel unsure. You know I had the privilege of helping build for a short period of time an artificial intelligence startup. And you know at that moment I'm learning startup, I'm learning software, I'm learning AI and learning this role which had to do with culture and talent development and it was intense. Really intense nine months and I was exhausted which is why I also think that being compassionate with ourselves and with each other in environments that are so learning heavy is also really important. You know I think that's nap pods exists everywhere, and that pond should exist everywhere not just on university campuses. But there's a reason they're on university campuses right. And the Hall of Learning so but it was really interesting to watch really capable adults who'd come from tremendous backgrounds who had been brought into this startup because they were going to be then you this really meant phenomenal management that can you know run a billion-dollar kind of trillion-dollar organization. Hopefully someday find it really difficult to step out of what it was like when they were there as opposed to now be here.


Jon Voigt: And so, I think that because they had such an orientation at themselves as being really good at that. Yeah right. And now we need to become good at this. And so, I became really obsessed with this idea that the people that we wanted to hire to join us as builders of this future needed to not just have the aptitude or the attitude or the ability to play nice with others but really know we'd be better served with people who had a greater sense of self-awareness. Understood who they are and that way when they were confronted with the unknown or confronted with someone else's perspective on something, didn't freeze or want to hide or thinking somehow that they weren't capable or they were an imposter but really embraced it as you know with a sense of learning the sense of you know potential that could come or a sense of opening to something. And so that's why I again I think mindfulness has interestingly risen at the same time that all this you know desire and need for new information and new learning is also upon us. It's not to me a coincidence that that's happening and that's part of AQ right taking time to reflect, taking time to process taking time to be more internal versus only just reaction, nearly you know external, taking time to take good care of ourselves.


Nancy Giordano: You know I was close my talks by saying that this is not a sprint right. We don't need to just get through the next X number of weeks or months or even years. And then it's going to be over. It's only going to get faster. I think at some point tools would come and be developed that will make it actually much easier for us to integrate this level of information and change right. When you imagine A.I. predictive analytics and all kinds of things.


Jon Voigt: Totally AI to deal with a change for you.


Nancy Giordano: Well it's like it's like you know it becomes a more fluid tool in our life so that when we have this like you know abundant amount of information that we're sorting through we're not going to do it manually in some ways as we're doing it now. You know we were laughing on the day that with the sort of human machine interface where you could have you know a cookbook that suddenly superimposed on top of a cutting board right, I laid on a tomato and suddenly a screen pops you know for recipes for tomatoes. I've got some sort of AR goggles on or maybe some sort of contact lens that does it but whatever it is the interface kind of becomes a fluid part of my environment that will laugh. We tell our kids that we used to use cookbooks. And then somebody else says we're going to laugh that we said we should go to the Internet. Yeah and you got to go like type in search terms like why.


Nancy Giordano: So again, we're doing things and somewhat I think in a clumsier way and so I do imagine a future that all this is going to become more fluid and easier. But until we get there, right, how do we again ensure that we take care of ourselves at the same time that we're learning and unlearning and sharing.


Jon Voigt: Right.


Nancy Giordano: I think that's a whole another you know capacity about learning how to learn with others. I mean I'll just. Sorry for one second to say I was facilitating a two or three day offsite with really senior executives from various food manufacturing companies and they are not in competing industries and yet they were afraid to actually say things in front of each other to either not look like me and to look stupid I guess or to somehow give somebody a competitive advantage. I'm like You know I'm not selling the same stuff. It's okay to learn together.


Jon Voigt: Yeah.


Nancy Giordano: Now that's actually really helpful. That's again it's something that we need to unlearn in terms of behavior that everybody is a competitor. Imagine some people are just collaborators. And some of the most amazing things we're seeing are really uncommon partnerships between people who had a shared curiosity and a desire to solve a problem whether that's Amazon, JP Morgan, Berkshire Hathaway to solve health insurance or something a bit more day to day. But it's just again stepping out of that I have to know mentality and if I seem as if I don't and I'm not holding up my end of the bargain.


Jon Voigt: Yeah, I do quite a few different retreats or different micro events with entrepreneurs and a lot of them are pushing people to be more vulnerable and be more open and the change in the event, and then what people get back from it if they are vulnerable and open and just be more aware of how they're feeling and what they're thinking and being open with it is night and day. It's like it's so close to be more vulnerable and the results are so much better.


Nancy Giordano: Well and then again and there's nuances to that right. Because I do think being more, this goes back to self-awareness. Right. When you understand that you're safe and that you're well held on the planet and that you're really worthwhile and capable human being it makes it easier. But I also say you need to be in systems that hold that well because we've also seen environments where people were actually vulnerable and they kind of got cut down by that. So, there's a trust factor that really needs to be there. We often give an example about Microsoft's big huge shift when they were you know such I came in and a new CEO and asked like commanded everyone to do a hackathon and participate in a hackathon. That was a position that put people in a tremendous amount of discomfort.


Jon Voigt: Right.


Nancy Giordano: Right. And because the teams weren't assigned, they had to find them they did pick a project and then had to do a 30 second video and put it on the company intranet right. But they did a lot of really smart things. It was a company intranet it was never made public. It was not as a competition you didn't win an award. It was just designed to be a learning experience. Right and it's designed to help people understand you know a that they were more capable than they thought of it had more agency than they thought of. But also, probably had some blind spots that they needed to develop. Whether that was in their network or their way of you know a piece of technology that they didn't understand or want to learn more about or whatever it was, to be able to facilitate doing that again. And so, I do think it's important to ensure that the environment is congruent with the expectation when you ask that we have people.


Jon Voigt: I guess most of the events I'm going to there, a very trusted environment. You know, we have time to get to know everyone before we get vulnerable and its always multiple days.


Nancy Giordano: You're right. But I'm saying but you know that gets played into it as opposed you step in and you got to do or even if you do step in. Then once again how do you hold that information, how to hold each other blah blah blah. You know what's actually interesting is, work this come out of Harvard that shows that if you want to have an ideation session with greater output, start with an embarrassing story, right. Now that's a low risk thing where you don't have to worry about being a super safe environment. But if I can tell you about this crazy thing that happened to me you know in sixth grade or some other story and suddenly throwing out a crazy idea doesn't seem so risky right. Or commenting on somebody else's or accepting the commentary on someone else's. Because I appreciate that they had their crazy story. So, there are sort of small simple ways that we can start again putting this human technology this ability to connect effectively with each other more at the center of the work that we do. That makes it easier to do some really big heavy lifting stuff.


Jon Voigt: Yeah. Oh, definitely when you're talking about self-awareness technique and I and I repeated or mentioned that we just adopted a whole new assessment platform for hiring new people and how we review them and things like that. And one of the big metrics that was in that platform is the self-awareness parameter and we had so much of that as a as a priority thing to look at.


Jon Voigt: But I hadn't looked at it from the same perspective that you are which I think is just how important that is really becoming nowadays and what equality, how we can change the quality of how your people can learn because if they have no self-awareness, are they even going to notice that they don't know something.


Nancy Giordano: Well again and they get triggered by something that feels uncomfortable or unfamiliar or challenging.


Jon Voigt: They freeze or they don't react the right way.


Nancy Giordano: Well they react in a way that that you know that thwarts the project or misreads an intention.


Jon Voigt: Right.


Nancy Giordano: You know there's someone who I work in that sort of the more on the edge of the world of work with people who are very conscious and very confident about where the world is going and stuff like that. And when I was back in with that A.I. group, again really competent executives but probably people who live a little less on this conscious edge. There was a certain amount of tension and frustration as I was offering to help somebody with something. And a year or two later after this whole thing went down, this person took me to lunch and she had gone through a very big experience in her life where she become much more aware of now how she had approached leadership back in the day to what it is it really means to be you know a servant leader. And to frame it all really differently and all of a sudden, she understood why I was approaching it the way that I had but it had really baffled her and she felt very defensive at the time.


Jon Voigt: Right.


Nancy Giordano: Right. And I was like Oh my God we lost so much time you know. And I didn't understand what was going on for her because my orientation was so different from hers. So, which is why I think again there's work also coming out of Harvard about building deliberately developmental organizations and what does it mean to be able to be in places where we hold people well through that journey of self-awareness.


Jon Voigt: Right.


Nancy Giordano: So, you can try and cultivated and hire people for it. At the time that I made that wish, I was you know there's a lot of pushback that I can't find people who have that magic. You'll never built a company of people who are a

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