In the realm of the Unknown, effective teams are intentionally assembled with diverse talent who have different experiences, knowledge and relationships. One of our favorite examples of this is polar explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton. When planning for the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, Shackleton reviewed thousands of candidates for the crew and selected people with different skills, experiences, and relationships. Only five of the twenty- eight crew members on the Endurance ship were able seamen. Rather, the crew included individuals who had no previous sailing experience, such as an artist, a doctor, a scientist, a carpenter, a mechanic, and a meteorologist who played the banjo.
When the ship eventually wrecked and survival was paramount, the diversity of talents and experiences on board, coupled with the dually literate genius of Shackleton, allowed the crew to pivot into new approaches frequently during their ordeal. This diversity allowed the crew to look at their challenges from different perspectives and come up with innovative solutions. In part, it’s what enabled them all to live, surmounting the heavy odds against them.
If you want to navigate more effectively, hang out with people who know things you don't.
A common characteristic of leaders who excel in navigating ambiguity is a commitment to ongoing learning with diverse lenses. Effective leaders intentionally create or join multidimensional learning teams or communities and they are actively engaged within them. Hybridity of experiences, skills, and relationships always allows us to compare, contrast, include, and learn. A culture of trust takes hold within these communities and gives rise to inspiration, resilience, and growth.
As humans, it’s within our nature to find comfort in what’s familiar, and stick with people much like ourselves. However, this is also the antithesis of the curious explorer’s mindset. Explorers constantly thrust themselves into the unknown, and often it can be quite uncomfortable. But that discomfort, inevitably opens the door to greater possibilities. That being the case, we recommend engaging with as many Exploratory Learning Communities as you can.
In our Expedition Program, we like to break down our knowledge into three main territories:
For example, when you set off on an expedition, you have a basic knowledge of the terrain and the climate, but you may not be sure how many days it will take you. That length is a known unknown. You can prepare for that by bringing extra provisions. But you may encounter an unforeseen obstacle such as a ravenous wolf pack. That would be an unknown unknown. But perhaps someone in your multidimensional learning community has been on a similar expedition and can give you a heads-up on the possibility of wolves and how to successfully survive an encounter with them.
An exploratory learning community is a network that is critical to expanding your knowledge and experience so you can effectively navigate the unknown. Our networks, and how active we decide to be within them, are a primary predictor of leadership success. During our life’s pursuits, when we include others with diverse experiences, skills, and relationships, we expand our access to knowledge. That, in turn, provides more wisdom to draw upon for any trek into the unknown, enhancing our chances for success.
This article was adapted from the 2nd edition of our book, Explore or Expire, available now.
Questions to Explore:
1. Which Exploratory Learning Communities are you currently a part of?
2. Can you identify areas of expertise that you don't possess? Seek out others who do.
3. How will you continue to stay involved with Exploratory Learning Communities throughout your life?