In the last article in this series I ended with a cliffhanger. I know, it was horrible of me!
In that article, I talked about the dawning of what I call The New Human Age and why unleashing our humanness is going to be essential for those who want to not only survive but thrive in the Digital Era. (If you skipped that piece, you should go back and read it before you go any further with this one!)
I boiled down humanness into three essential elements: creativity, imagination, and empathy — and then acknowledged that it is nearly impossible for you (or anyone) to just go be more creative, imaginative or empathetic!
So what can you do?
To answer that question, I’d like to introduce you to Ace.
The Big Idea
I like to think of myself as a modern, New Human Agesuperhero. Using my New Human Age super-powers, I travel around the world helping people understand what’s coming and what to do about it.
And what does every great superhero need? A sidekick!
Ace is my faithful superhero sidekick. But he’s also an acronym that will help you unlock, rediscover, and unleash your humanness. He (Ace) stands for Awareness, Curiosity, and Engagement.
The reason these three terms are critical is that I believe they are the building block underpinnings that lead to creativity, imagination, and empathy.
And while it’s very hard to “do” creativity, imagination, or empathy — we can enlist a set of practices and exercises that will help us build our personal capabilities around the building blocks of awareness, curiosity, and engagement.
That makes them the keys that will unlock our humanness.
Let me break them down for you a bit, especially because they are deceptively intuitive and simple-sounding.
Awareness, like it sounds, is the ability to be in the moment, free of distraction, and — most importantly — open to simply taking things in without judgment or a prejudice for action. It manifests itself in everything from simply allowing yourself to be immersed in a moment of music or silence, to noticing that the tone of an email from someone is different than normal.
In a world powered by social media and continuous interruption, awareness is something that is much harder to cultivate than it sounds. And even if you’re good at it, it’s a constant battle to maintain the practice. It’s a battle you must win, however, as it is an essential foundational layer to both curiosity and engagement.
You may not think of curiosity as a skill or capability you can develop. Aren’t people just naturally curious — or not?
No different than any other element that makes us human, some of us may be more or less curious by our nature. But make no mistake about: curiosity is a significant part of each of us.
Don’t believe me? I can prove it. The proof is you.
Assuming you somehow made it out of childhood and managed to become a functioning adult (if you’re reading this with your husband, be gentle), then it was curiosity that was the power behind that process.
As a small child, virtually everything we learn begins with curiosity — with the simple question, why?.
It’s natural. We don’t think about it. It is literally baked into our DNA. But as we’ve explored in this series, the Industrial Age infrastructure systematically beat curiosity out of us.
You can trace any number of corporate maladies such as, not-my-job-itis and it’s-always-been-like-this-syndrome to curiosity being beaten out of our systems.
So while curiosity is simple to understand as a concept, rediscovering it and then finding the courage to free it is anything but simple.
While the ACE elements are not sequential and do not require that you build one capability before you build the next (in fact, it can’t work that way), there is a sort of layered, foundational nature to these capabilities: the more awareness you engender, the easier it will be to be curious about things, and so on.
And the natural place this all leads is engagement.
Engagement is the process of exploratorily acting on your curiosity. Exploratorily acting doesn’t necessarily mean doing something, however.
Sometimes, it simply means an act of intellectual engagement in which you learn more about a subject of curiosity. It might also mean some exploratory actions that you enter into without any outcome expectations.
Engagement can also mean corporate exploration. This doesn’t mean some kind of organizationally sponsored activity, but rather just the act of mutual exploration with other people.
The process of engagement is central to other recently popular ideas such as fast failure and minimum viable products— these are essentially structural approaches to help teams engage with an idea in an exploratory fashion.
As you can imagine, there’s a lot more to each of these three elements and fostering practices and capabilities around them. That will be the subject of future articles.
But there’s one word that I’ve been using that you should pay attention to — did you catch it?
The word is practice.
The key to unleashing your creativity, imagination, and empathy is to foster your personal awareness, curiosity, and engagement capabilities. But you can’t do that by doing something, checking a box, and collecting a certificate.
Instead, you need to build a daily practice that helps you build and sustain these now-vital capabilities that will allow you to thrive in the Digital Era.
And that’s what I’ll be covering in the last article in this series. Stay tuned. We’re almost there!
The Next Step
I’m going to wrap up this discussion, as I always do, with an exercise. But before I do I want to stress just how important this process is to your future, both individually and as a Digital Era leader.
I believe this so much, in fact, that my wife and I have launched a separate organization called The MAPS Institute (I’ll get into that in the last installment in this series) and the first workshop we created as part of that organization was around ACE.
I’ll share more about that workshop later as well, but for now take to heart just how important this is to get your head around. Which leads me to today’s exercise, which I call Ace for a Day.
For one full day (I checked your calendar, tomorrow looks good!) create a journal (you can use a notes app, an actual diary or journal, or that year old CVS receipt in your bag, or on your desk.
Take a moment right now and choose three times that you will check-in and take note. Set an alarm (or whatever works for you) to make sure you do it. At each selected time, briefly note how you’ve exhibited awareness, curiosity, or engagement since your past check-in. Be specific! But do this without judging or analyzing.
The objective isn’t to actively pursue specific activities related to awareness, curiosity, and engagement (at least, not yet). Instead, you’re just trying to observe your own current-state behavior. Of course, this process is itself an act of awareness, but that’s ok! For now, just write it all down and, at the end of your day, take a moment to pull out your findings, and reflect on just how Ace-like you are at this point in your journey. (If you’d like some extra credit, as you reflect you can also start thinking about what you might abandon, or acquire to be a little more Ace-like.)
Until next time. Only one more to go!