Welcome to Pragmatism in Practice, a Thoughtworks podcast. I am Tania Salarvand, and I'm joined today by Dr. Anita Sands, who is a global technology and business leader, a public speaker, and an advocate for the advancement of women. She currently serves on the board of three Silicon Valley public companies and as a board director at two private companies, including Thoughtworks.
Today is part four of a four-part series around thriving and ambiguity and what it means in relationship to resilience. We've talked in our first three episodes about the first three parts of the framework, which is awareness, belonging, and curiosity.
Today, we're going to dive into part four, which is really around drive.
Hi, Anita. Welcome.
Dr. Anita Sands
Hi, Tania. Great to be back. Thank you.
Glad to have you back. Thanks so much.
So we've talked a lot, for anyone who's been listening to the four-part series, around awareness, self and situational belonging, and the ability to enhance or encourage curiosity, creating that capability for people to go through change and change their mindset. I'd love for you to give us a little recap of the first three parts and how it ties into the fourth part, which is around drive.
Dr. Anita Sands
Thank you, Tania. Right. The interesting thing about drive, the last letter in the process that we've been talking about during the series, is that if you get A, B, and C right, which are awareness, belonging, curiosity, drive almost becomes a no-brainer. We'll explain, I guess, in this episode, why that is. But let me maybe just backtrack a little bit in terms of how we got there.
The reason I started doing this research this year with my partners at Propel Performance Group was because I recognized that what we were dealing with was different. This wasn't just about change and disruption as we historically or traditionally thought about it in a business context. This was far deeper.
What I came to realize as a result of my research is that what we're dealing with here is ambiguity, and ambiguity is actually an entirely different beast. It's this notion, of course I'd tell you where I want to hang my hat if only there were any hooks on the wall.
Also then, in order to not only endure ambiguity, but to actually thrive in ambiguity, it was going to require something different from us in terms of an approach or a set of tools or capabilities. So I wanted to go out and find out what they were. I wanted to know, hey, who's got the playbook for thriving in ambiguity, and what can I learn from it, and how do I get my hands on it? What, of course, I realized, Tania, is that there is no playbook for thriving in ambiguity, and certainly not in the business world.
But there are, however, teams who are trained and conditioned to not only perform, but to have an expectation that they are going to excel in conditions of acute ambiguity. So these are teams like, for example, military special forces. We've also been looking at the New Zealand, the All Blacks, their rugby team. You realize that these are teams of people who go out into conditions of pressure, uncertainty, stress, coming under enemy fire, unfamiliar terrain, unprecedented circumstances. This ambiguity thing is just a normal day in the office for them, and they've really figured out some of the tenets and the practices that enable them to excel.
That's where ABCD came from. Like we said, awareness is really about knowing who it is that's stepping into this unfamiliar terrain and stepping into this crisis. What are your strengths and weaknesses, your motivators, your triggers? It's also about situational awareness. How is the situation unfolding in front of me? How is it affecting me? What is it demanding from me? That's the awareness piece.
Then you think about belonging, which is, how do I bring my awareness to bear on behalf of a large organization so that we can look at something from a really strategic vantage point? That awareness is only going to come to life if I feel like I belong, and belonging is about trusting the environment and the people you're with. It's about feeling accepted for your diverse perspectives. It's about knowing and having utmost clarity of purpose as to why you all belong together. It's about having a spine of beliefs, a shared frame of reference. We know how it is that we're going to go about this belonging and this why thing.
Then we are going to leverage the super power, the secret sauce of curiosity to unleash and to co-create and to be curious about what sits in the mind of another diverse mind.
It's all about putting A and B and C together, Tania. Then where the drive piece comes in is, how do I leverage those three things in order to sustain my momentum, in order to keep going no matter how long I might be facing this ambiguity for? That's really helpful right now, I think, Tania, because none of us know how long this is going to last for. Even if we deal with this pandemic or this virus eventually in a really meaningful way, there'll be other forms of ambiguity. Drive is around how do I equip and prepare and enable myself to be at my best for the long haul no matter what's thrown my way?
When you talk about drive and it being maybe the sustained period of time or being able to do it in a more focused way, what are some of the key elements or components of what drive means and how you can enable it? How do you ensure that it's sustainable?
Dr. Anita Sands
Yeah. Well, look, the thing that, I guess it shouldn't have surprised me, but it was really incredibly apparent when you look at these championship sports teams or military special forces, is that they have a different idea of what a driven person looks like.
I think sometimes in the corporate world, we confuse drive with neuroticism, and we think busy people and are driven. But driven by what and driven to what and driven for what?
What you realize that these teams teach you is that they are unapologetic about the fact that drive is an oscillation, and it's an oscillation between those moments where you have to perform and be at your peak best and those moments when you are taking rest and respite and recovery. They're unapologetic about the need for rest and respite; and not only because it allows them to recharge and refuel and recover and so forth after a match or whatnot, but it's only in moments of rest and respite and reflection, Tania, that we can actually gain some perspective on what it is we've been through and the obstacles we've already overcome and/or gain some perspective on what it is we're heading into and what we're dealing with. So rest is important because it's strategic to them. That was one of the big lessons for me, and that they are unapologetic about it and they guard it ferociously. They guard it jealously, I guess is the best way of putting it.
That's a really interesting way to think about it because protecting yourself and maybe the things that you're trying to drive ties very closely back to some of the earlier things we talked about around awareness, self-awareness, situational awareness, obviously the sense of belonging that then leads to drive and, to your point, unleashing that curiosity.
How do you think that you can maintain that drive? It requires a lot of energy. It feels like you need to always be on top of it and be aware of it. What are some of the thoughts that you have around maintaining that drive?
Dr. Anita Sands:
Well, it's very simple. The answer to that question is very simple, purpose precedes drive always. If you have a clear sense of purpose, which as we talked about in episode two under the topic of belonging, when you have purpose, drive is almost inconsequential.
I was thinking about this just the other night, Tania. I was watching this documentary. I think of it was on HBO, and it was about champion sports people. Greatest of All Times, I think was the name of it. It was about Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, Wayne Gretzky.
Gretzky's story was very interesting because as he was doing his clips, this ABCD thing just kept popping out. Gretzky, you could tell used awareness, self-awareness of himself, his own capabilities, but then situational awareness in every second of every game to read the situation.
Well actually, the essence of the documentary was about how all of these people are incredibly creative in how they've developed their greatness. It's not just around innate talent or perseverance, but this element of creativity, which to me sounded just exactly like what we get as part of curiosity.
Gretzky leveraged his curiosity because he said, "Look, I recognized from a young age, I was 14 year old playing the under 20s team in Canada, and I wasn't as big as the other guy. So I couldn't afford to be out in the middle of the rink getting slammed into the side of the rink. I needed to be curious about how I could leverage my own innate capabilities to play the game differently and to figure out a different approach for me." So I love the curiosity.
But then he talked about purpose and how he never felt he did a day's work in his life, and he always had passion for what he was doing and that kind of thing. He talked about on a Saturday afternoon when he was a teenager, his friends would call around and ask him if he wanted to go to the movies. He was like, "No, I'm not going to the movies. I'm just staying here, lads. I want to play hockey." He would spend two hours out in his backyard practicing his shots on net. Just that sense of being driven and that sense of drive, even as a teenager, but you can see how purpose preceded that drive and didn't even leave him with the sense that, "Oh, here I'm being driven, and therefore I'm going to feel depleted at the end of this drive thing." It wasn't like that at all because that sense of purpose was in place.
You see there that not only does purpose precede drive, but also that when you get A and B and C right ... In Gretzky's case with belonging, he talked about recognizing the teams where he knew he would belong best and play best given his style and the coaches under whom he would perform the best and learn the best from as well. So he really used A, B, and C, and then drive just became easy after that.
I will definitely have to check that series out. It does sound quite interesting. I think you're right, there's a lot of takeaways from those high-performing individuals who bring the best out in others around them. I think it probably could be said for many of those athletes.
How does drive translate into building resilience and high-performing teams? How does it translate to how the teams then come together?
Dr. Anita Sands:
At a team level, that's exactly the right question, Tania. What you recognize about these teams relative to drive is that they are unbelievably disciplined around what they're driven about. They have what they call goal-paced intensity and drive. They match the level of energy and resources and time that they need to give to the goal or to the situation at hand.
The All Blacks will say, for example, "We recognize when we are six points down or with 10 minutes to go, that that's going to require us to lean into that moment with a level of intensity and focus and drive that we wouldn't if we were cruising to victory with a 40-point lead." So these folks are very intentional and disciplined about what they engage in and in what way and with whom.
Let me translate that into the business world. I think, Tania, we are far less disciplined. In fact, I think we can be quite sloppy about how we manage our time and our energy and our resources. We don't think purposefully about who is engaged in what and for what reason.
For example, we have standing meetings or we have standard reports that are produced. When do we ever really step back and say, "Is it necessary to have everybody in this standing meeting when they show up once a week, once a month, once a quarter?"
This just struck me last week. I was on a standing call with an [inaudible 00:12:58] committee, and there were 16 people on the Zoom call, and six of them spoke. I wondered, "Was that the best use of two hours of time for the other 10 people? Were we being disciplined enough or were we just simply interfering in their ability to do their job because we were pulling them into this unnecessary meeting?"
Dr. Anita Sands:
This is all about being disciplined around how we allocate our resources. At a leadership level, that means you have to be ruthless in your prioritization, particularly at times like this when people are under pressure and feel fairly exhausted or depleted, and they may not have a whole lot of fuel in the tank. When people are feeling under pressure and they don't have as much energy or they don't have as much to give as they would in normal times, then we even have to be more ruthless and more disciplined and prioritize even more rigorously around what we engage in and with whom and in what way.
So I just think that, particularly during a crisis, we tend to fall into routines and cadences more quickly than in peace times. Now that we are six months or seven months into this thing, it's a perfect time for leaders to take a step back and say, "All right, how can I reprioritize? How can I efficiently allocate my resources? How can I ensure that my team get rest and recover? How can I ensure that my team are replenished? Then more importantly, how can I help them find their equilibrium again and reconnect back to the purpose?" Because that's the other thing that these teams are unapologetic about is they're unapologetic about doing what it takes to find their equilibrium, to re-anchor themselves, and to reconnect back to their sense of purpose and their purpose and alignment with the broader organization.
I imagine, Anita, just hearing you speak about this, that as leaders, you clearly play a big role in that, to your point of having meetings with multiple people on a regular basis that might not be required or whatnot. If you reflect on your role as a board member and director and the various organizations you work with, how do you reflect on ABCD through all of that, and how do you leverage that to help support, guide, and provide advice to the teams that you work with?
Dr. Anita Sands:
Yeah, that's a great question. Well, look, let me just take it even from the vantage point of being an actual board director and how boards run. Boards typically show up once a quarter, and we look at lagging data, which is last quarter's results. You have to recognize, Tania, that in a time when ... Change happens faster in times of change. So in a situation where the world is so much more dynamic right now and things are changing and you need that situational awareness in the moment, it behooves us to not meet just once a quarter, but perhaps to meet more frequently. So a lot of my boards have been doing that.
The second thing is that we're questioning what is the data we're looking at, and is it helpful to have people spending time putting together these endless committee reports and whatever on lagging data? Or do we need to just get the highlights of all of that, but then focus on leading indicators for around how the business is or might perform as we look into the future?
So that's the second thing. But then the third thing we're doing is, board meetings used to be typically day-long affairs, two days long, sitting in the boardroom for eight hours at a time. That just isn't as productive or effective over Zoom. So we've started across many of my boards being much more purposeful about the pre-read material and the purpose that that serves, and then doing shorter meetings. But because the pre-read material is prepared with a far higher degree of intentionality, it serves its purpose more; and therefore, the meeting can be more effective and shorter in duration. So I think that's just an example of ways in which effective boards are recalibrating right now and using this ABC to be curious about how is it that we can do our job best right now? What is maybe under the belonging theme this new shared frame of reference that we have to have for how we're going to do our job and being aware of the necessity of that? I think it's very much coming alive for me, at least in my day-to-day work as a board director.
That really does say a lot about how relevant this is across the board if you think about at the personal level, the team level, the leadership level, of course at the board level, and even in your personal relationships outside of business in other ways. So I think that, at least from my perspective Anita, I really appreciate you sharing this with us. I think there's a lot we can take away from it and a lot to continue to evolve and learn both individually and, like I mentioned, as leaders and on teams.
As we wrap up part four of the series, Anita, is there any key takeaways or things that you hope our audience members take away if they've had a chance to listen to all four parts?
Dr. Anita Sands:
Well, I guess maybe there's two or three incredibly important things. Or maybe four, one for each letter.
I think under awareness, my big takeaway is always mind where my mind goes. Mind where your mind goes. As we said in episode one, "Where your mind goes, the rest of you follows."
I think understanding as leaders the power of belonging right now and how it's like gravity to an astronaut and how that bond of belonging has to be strong enough to hold our employees together and hold them to the organization. So just understanding that belonging bond and what it involves.
Dr. Anita Sands
Staying curious, staying open. Instead of grieving what it is that we have lost, Tania, this year, staying curious about all that we might stand to gain as a result. So really finding out on a personal level, at a team level, what do you do that can invoke curiosity or leave curiosity unconstrained and unobstructed as we talked about.
Then I think for drive, it's just so essential for all of us to know that rest and recovery and respite are strategic activities right now. They're important operational endeavors. This is not slacking off. This is taking the respite you need so that you can re-engage with the full intentionality and in the fullness of your capabilities.
I just love this idea of using A and B and C in order to give me a sense of drive that is sustainable over the long haul here.
I hope that what we've talked about over these last four episodes, Tania, is helpful to people and is tangible and pragmatic. They certainly can find me on LinkedIn or reach out to me through Thoughtworks. I'd be happy to provide any more information for people. More importantly, I really hope that all of our listeners stay safe and stay well and manage to invoke this new kind of form of resilience that we all so desperately need right now.
Thank you so much, Anita. I absolutely took a lot away from this, and I'm sure others did as well. I think what you said at the end is exactly right. Rest, recovery, respite are things that we don't typically do and I think during a time of crisis do less of because we're so concerned about everything happening around us and being aware and being alert and being on top of it all. So taking that moment, taking that breath, helping yourself be prepared for helping others, I think, is quite important. I really appreciate you sharing everything with us.
We look forward to, you mentioned early on in one of our episodes, a potential book coming out on these topics. So we look forward to reading that when it does come through. But in the meantime, thank you so much for your time; and we look forward to the next steps in the ABCD.
Dr. Anita Sands:
Thank you so much, Tania, and thank you to you and all your colleagues at Thoughtworks for the incredible job you're doing right now and for everything you continue to do for our clients in these difficult times. It was an honor to be here with you, and it's an honor to serve on your board.
It was our pleasure. Thank you.