Leaders and learnership

Gone are the days – we hope – when leaders were expected to come up with all the answers. These days a leader is judged as much for his or her ability to ask the right questions in a fragmented, volatile environment. “I think Amazon.com may know as much as any other company about e-commerce, but I bet we know two per cent of what we will know two years from now,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in 1998. “This is the Kitty Hawk era of e-commerce, and most of the interesting stuff has not been invented yet.” Curiosity about the ‘What if?’ questions is what drives innovators like Bezos and others who have carved out successful businesses where none stood before. Creativity expert, Matthew May, calls it learnership, natural curiosity combined with the “relentless pursuit of better”. “Due to the Amazon patent nicknamed ‘1-Nod’, it may not be long before you can make purchases simply by nodding your head at whatever screen you have in front of you,” May says. “And last December the internet was all abuzz about the Amazon patent that lets you return a gift gotten through Amazon before it even arrives. The listed inventor? One Jeff Bezos.” Columnist and author, Adam Bryant, interviewed more than 70 leaders for his book, Corner Office, trying to isolate the X factors of successful CEOs. First on his list of traits: passionate curiosity. “Many successful chief executives are passionately curious people,” Bryant says. “It is a side of them rarely seen in the media and in investor meetings.” Behind the scenes, a different persona emerges; questioning, doubting, curious about other people’s stories. “It’s this relentless questioning that leads entrepreneurs to spot new opportunities and helps managers understand the people who work for them, and how to get them to work together effectively,” he adds. “It is no coincidence that more than one executive uttered the same phrase when describing what, ultimately, is the CEO’s job: ‘I am a student of human nature’.”

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