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Dave Gray, Liminal Thinker

Dave Gray, Liminal Thinker

Liminal Thinking by Dave Gray

“Not every book will be read at the same pace.”

It took me a few chapters of Dave Gray’s Liminal Thinking to clue in that it would not be best served to rush through the book. It was the new year and I had set ambitious reading goals for myself.

Before getting my hands on a copy, many across my Twitter feed were discussing the book and several influential people in the leadership and organizational development space were celebrating the work. Expectations were high to say the least. What I discovered was that reading it quickly was a dis-service to the opportunity the book provided in learning, growing and changing how one thinks.

Within each chapter, there are reflections, prompts and exercises to undertake—right there in the moment or to be incorporated into your life later that day or week. I needed time to work with them but most importantly practice them.

Working with, leading, and exploring change both as an individual but also inside organizations, I had not come across a value proposition as explicitly clear as Liminal Thinking.

Behaviors, rituals, and processes are frequently seen as the vehicles to effect change. But underlying all of them are bias, mindsets and frameworks for thinking—in other words our beliefs—forming the foundation for action. The book tackles this head on.

There’s long been association between our identity and “how we think.” Perhaps the fear of losing our “who we are” by changing “how we think” creates the imbalance in change management practices that lend themselves to exploring everything but this critical distinction.

Through a toolkit of nine principles and six practices, Liminal Thinking proposes to “create the change you want by changing the way you think.” It’s quite an interesting approach and perspective on how we can evolve our beliefs by getting in touch with our ignorance, seeking understanding and doing something different. I recommend digging through the website (and reading the book!) to get a better grasp of how those principles and practices can be used to change your thinking.

For me, change (whether voluntarily or involuntarily) is tied to our evolution and how we learn, which is why I decided to quickly profile the book here but also to take the opportunity to connect with Dave and dig a little deeper on what drives him, to hear his thoughts on learning as an individual and at scale, in a team or across an organization.

Jamie Black— Something I have been thinking about recently is the notion of learning as a responsibility to evolution. What is it about about learning that drives you as an individual, as an organizational leader and as teacher (through your work like Liminal Thinking)?

Dave Gray— We are often faced with novel, unique, or new situations. We can choose to face them with fear or curiosity. Fear can be a safer response, but it is also limiting. In numerous personal experiments of all kinds, I have found that curiosity delivers better results than fear.

How would explain your organization’s culture and approach to learning? What sort of tools, activities, processes do you incorporate to ensure a continued sense of growth – for both team members and service offerings?

DG— Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” At XPLANE we look at learning as a process by which we translate things that seem like “magic” into advanced technology, by practicing it, doing our best to observe ourselves in action and attempting to capture the most successful methods. Our efforts are ongoing but we have documented many of these practices in the book Gamestorming.

‘Learning & Development’ today reminds me of how “sustainability” first began to enter organizations. Early on, certain organizations embraced “sustainability” because it was the right thing to do but adoption did not gain momentum until the business case could be made. Where do you see L&D in its evolution right now – say both in traditional and progressive organizations? Where does it need to move? What is holding it back?

DG— Learning and development is something we all do. We learn. We develop. But in business, efficiency and repeatability are equally important. Companies need to deliver results today while preparing for tomorrow. There is a real need for organizations to make space for practice, for learning, both on the job and in periods of reflection about how things might be better. As the information era accelerates, learning and development are becoming more and more critically important.

Lastly, I saw an article recently about these “speed readers” reading at every gap of time in their day. The point of the article was that they were missing out on reality while being consumed by “content.”. When I read it I thought about Liminal Thinking. It had received so many strong endorsements before I started to read it that I felt “Oh man, this is going to be page turner.” Instead it turned out to be more like a workbook or tool, with each chapter providing space for exploration, reflection and action. I feel the book works better over time. What do you feel the dangers are of say, going overboard on trying to accelerate your own learning journey? What mindful tips would you communicate to our readers to consider?

DG— I am not a speed reader. If anything I am the opposite: a slow reader. I underline, take notes, make sketches and diagrams, and re-read passages. I do think it is important to make time for reflection if you want to achieve peak effectiveness. If you are an individual, you may do this at work or on your own time. If you are an organization and you want your organization to achieve peak effectiveness, you will need to find ways to make reading, learning and reflection part of “the way you do things” – a cultural habit. This is not something you can do overnight but it is one of the reasons we developed the Culture Map, to help organizations become more strategic about culture and to make culture more actionable.

Also published on Medium.

Jamie Black

Jamie Black is a consultant working globally across architecture, design, marketing and education. In an era of hyper-connectivity, it’s about fostering understanding at a deeper level; elevating and evolving how we work together; and communicating in authentic and straightforward ways. He works with this in mind while operating across facilitation, strategy and communications. To date Jamie has experienced over 40 countries and worked on four continents.