In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli speaks with Edward D. Hess. Ed Hess is a Professor Emeritus of Business Administration at the Darden Graduate School of Business, University of Virginia. Ed Hess is the author of 13 books, including Learn or Die, Humility is The New Smart, and his latest Hyper learning: How to adapt to the Speed of Change.
In the conversation, Professor Ed Hess shares why we need to accelerate our pace of learning in the digital age, some of the barriers and challenges we face in learning new ideas and concepts, and how leaders can implement hyperlearning in their organizations. Ed Hess also shares frameworks, practices, and mindsets individuals need to adapt to build trusting relationships and effectively collaborate.
- Ed Hess on experiences which helped him understand the need for genuine humility in leadership
- The necessity for hyper-learning in a fast-changing world
- Ed Hess on how our unique human emotions can help advance our thinking and our capability to adapt to change
- How ego and fear prevent us from learning
- Ed Hess on the necessity for modeling as a part of learning
- The difference between old smart and new smart
- How to create caring and trusting relationships
- Ed Hess on the necessity to collaborate and tap into collective intelligence
- Hyper-Learning: How to Adapt to the Speed of Change by Edward D. Hess
- Learn or Die: Using Science to Build a Leading-Edge Learning Organization (Columbia Business School Publishing) by Edward D. Hess
- Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age by Edward D. Hess
- Robert Kennedy, 64th United States Attorney General
- Herb Kelleher, Co-Founder, and CEO of Southwest Airlines
- Ray Dalio, Founder of Bridgewater Associates
- Barbara Fredrickson, professor in the department of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Connect with Ed Hess:
Ed Hess Official Website
Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:
More information and resources available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website:
Welcome to Partnering Leadership. I'm really excited this week to be welcoming Professor Ed Hess. Ed is a Professor Emeritus of Business Administration at the Darden Graduate School of business University of Virginia. He is author of 13 books, including Learn or Die, Humility is The New Smart and his latest, Hyper learning: How to Adapt to the Speed of Change.
I really enjoyed the conversation with Ed. And I've learned so much from him in reading his books and most especially, through the opportunity to gain insights on how we can all become better learners if we are willing to have a little bit of humility along with taking on some of the practices that Ed recommends in his book and in this conversation.
I also love hearing from you. Keep your comments coming. email@example.com. There's a microphone icon on partneringleadership.com. I really enjoy getting those voice messages. Don't forget to follow the podcast. Tuesday conversations, magnificent change-makers in the Greater Washington, DC DMV region, Thursday conversations with brilliant global thought leaders.
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Now, here is my conversation with Professor Ed Hess.
Professor Ed Hess, welcome to Partnering Leadership. I am thrilled to have you in this conversation with me.
Thank you so much for inviting me. I look forward to a wonderful conversation.
Such a big fan of your books. You've written 13 books. I love Humility is the New Smart, Learn or Die. And we'll spend most of our time in this conversation on your latest, which is Hyper Learning: How to Adapt to the Speed of Change.
Before we get to that, Ed would love to know whereabouts you grew up and how your upbringing impacted the kind of person you've become.
My upbringing was pretty unique. I understand that, I was an outlier. My father was an immigrant from Germany. He got out in 1939. My mother was from New England and I was raised in a small rural town, 60 miles west of Atlanta Georgia.
And, we were different. I was different. And the groundwork of my upbringing was my family. They were entrepreneurs, but we weren't wealthy at all. We were from a very humble background, so to speak. But the one thing my mother did was she saved money. And every two weeks she took my brother and I to a bookstore and she gave us money to buy books. And so I bought the Hardy boys and I bought the whole series about people that were excellent, the Mayo brothers and certain politicians. And I grew up in that little tiny town. And reading was my passion and just dreaming about what the world was like out there
And the second big way that my background was influenced. Sports were so important in that small town. In fact, the football coach was one of the star football coaches in the state of Georgia. And he basically was, God would a little G in that town. And in the third grade, I went out for pop Warner football and like all the other guys, so I had to be part of it. I was a chubby little guy. I couldn't wear Levi pants, which was the in thing. I had to wear Wrangler pants. And so I was humiliated because I was the only guy wearing Wrangler pants. I went out on the football team and I was the only person not chosen to play in the Peewee football team. And that also made me feel, and I had to figure out a way to succeed and that way to succeed was through reading.
But that way to succeed was I outworked everybody. And whatever was going on, whether it was a test, whether it was a Monday morning Bible test where everyone stands up and the teacher reads something from the Bible and asks where it was. I learned the Bible. I won because of my rigor and intellectual ability.
My life was transformed in the start of the eighth grade. Eighth grade was high school and the football coach called me. I never met him. And he said, “I'd like to talk to you.” And I said, oh my goodness. I wonder what I did wrong. And so he said, “I'm going to come by and see you. Ask your parents if that's okay.”
And we met. And he says, “I'd like for you to come to my house every morning and ride to school with me. Would you like to become an athletic trainer?” I said, “What's an athletic trainer?” “You will tape ankles and you will work with a team and you'll be like a junior coach to me, knowing what I'm doing. And you will be talking with the players and helping me.” I said, “That's great.”
So from the eighth grade, till I graduated, at 7:30, I was at the coach's house or even a little earlier. And we drove to school and in rural Georgia at that time, riding shotgun with the best football coach in rural Georgia to school, all of a sudden changed my life.
People that wouldn't talk to me talk to me. People in the community, I'd walk in and they say, “You sit there in the back. I'll maybe get to you whenever I get to you.” When I walk in, they say, “Here, you sit right here by me. And you're the next in line.”
That individual changed my family's life and my life. And to this day, I'm highly indebted to him. And so I came up in this environment where going into the unknown and exploring things and being different and figuring out how I could succeed was foundational and impacted really everything that's gone. And not that I wasn't a genius or anything, but that would occur all through my life.
I mean, I went to law school at the last minute. Not because I want to be a lawyer, it's because I met Robert Kennedy and felt that he had something and I wanted to go into politics. Then I went to Wall Street and the business side as an executive, I never took a finance course. I mean, I told the chairman when he made the offer and I said, you know, I don't know how to do an IRR.
He said, “I know that because you worked for me in my law firm, but I know you will know how to do it by Saturday.” And so I was the person that he would send around the world to do the jobs nobody wanted to do. Go to Puerto Rico and learn how to make false teeth. Go to Puerto Rico and learn how women make brassiere because all that was relevant to litigation we were doing. Go out in the mountains of Puerto Rico and work with the women and I will learn to make brassiere. I'll learn to make false teeth. None of it concerned me. And I went to academia without being an academic. So I went to investment banking without being a finance person. I went to academia.
I've had this life that's been very blessed, but the key is not me. The key is I've always had people who helped me. And that's why otherness is such a big, important part of my life, my work and anyone's success, if they're really humble and they understand. And this ability to engage with other people in ways that they want to help you without sucking up to people, but trying to be a good human being.
What a beautiful way of putting in context much of what your work has been all about, Ed. Ongoing learning, that is part of what you continue to do and advocate for in your own work. The otherness that you mentioned, there have been people that have reached out and supported your growth and development, and you try to do that for others. And it's something that you advocate for. What you mentioned comes across also in your work.
One other aspect that I found interesting is that you spent a lot of time here in Washington and had a week that none of us would want to have that impacted the trajectory of your life.
Yes, we're living in Washington. In fact, we were living close to Georgetown University where you went to school. And, I was in investment banking and doing real well and everything. And I loved my work. I was full of my work. And my wife's a very wonderful person. Also she's smarter than I am. And has a law degree.
Well, she went to Georgetown. You have to give her that.
Yeah. She has a law degree. She has a PhD in public health policy from Hopkins. And she's a microbiologist immunologist. She's very smart. I came down to breakfast one morning and she said, “We need to talk.” And I said, “Okay, what's up?” She said, “You're not the person I married. You're never here. Even when you're physically here, you're not here emotionally. You are your work. You are consumed by your work. This is not working for me. And we need to have a conversation and work through this.”
And this is probably so embarrassing to say, but I was so out of touch. My answer was, “I hear you. That's very important, but I got a meeting I need to go through. Can we talk about it tonight?” And I left and then I came home and there was a note on the table telling me she was moving out for some months and that I needed to get help. And I did get help from, found out who was a great coach and a wonderful woman. But that was number one the thing that hit me.
Number two, my brother and I had created a business in Jacksonville, Florida, where he was a cardiologist. It was 20 years ahead of its time, but it was what CarMax is today is what we built. We built a very nice car dealership that sold used cars and it was the same model. And that same week I got a call from my brother and he said, “Bro, we got a problem.” I said, “What's the problem?'' “The bank called in. They need a million dollars from us.” I said, “What in the world is going on?” And he said, “Well, there's been an embezzlement in the business and we need to put up $500,000 each.” Okay, well, that was a real downer.
And then the same week, I was in the final two to be CEO of a leading company in Washington, DC. And the executive recruiter called me up and this is all the same week, he called me and said, “Let's have lunch.” So we go for lunch, and I'm psyched. I know he's not taking me to lunch to tell me no. And this was the CEO of probably the premier real estate developer in the whole Washington Area. And he sat me down and he said, “You're the most successful person we've interviewed. You will be wonderful in this job. You know this area, you know the community, you know, the international people that we would be financing with. But I'm not recommending you for the job.” And I said, “Excuse me?There's a misconnect here.” He said, “No. I don't think you will ever be happy. I think you would keep this job for two or three years, do well, get bored and leave my client. And I'd rather have my client hire the second best person who doesn't have your ambition and who wants to even seek more.”
So in one week my wife and I separated, I had my first financial loss and then my path to corporate CEO gets passed. And then I went home. It's the first time in my life. I actually dropped to my knees in the family room and cried. At the end of it, I said, okay, there clearly is a message here. There's some consistency in all of this. You need to get help and you need to start working on yourself. And with the help of my counselor, coach, and Anne, this is 30 years later, I'm still working on myself. And I hope I will always be working on myself because none of us will achieve the level of excellence that's our potential. We're all on journeys.
But yeah, that was a heck of a week.
And Ed shows the authenticity that you have and the humility that you also talk about. One of the reasons I thought it was important to talk about that part of your experience, even though it's not necessarily focused on hyper learning, is that you are not just recommending these things to other people without your own personal experiences, without consistently working on yourself and learning.
This is not a recommendation for others. It's what you're doing yourself, which I believe is really important. Leadership is example. Leadership, as you say, is behavior. So you also show that in your example and your behavior. I really appreciate you sharing that.
Your book is on Hyper learning: How to Adapt to the Speed of Change. And we are going through a lot of change. What is hyper learning, Ed?
Hyper learning is the ability to really learn the pace of change. People say, well, I'm a good learner. I got good grades. But they really never focused on the science of adult learning. And the science of adult learning is crystal clear. We're all suboptimal learners. And successful people have a hard time even hearing those words that we are sub optimal learners, but the science is overwhelming.
We're wired to be speedy, efficient thinkers. We go out in the world and the world has so much stimuli. We only process less than 0.1% of what comes into our body. And so how does our body know what to process, what our body, and our mind, everything, we seek confirmation of what we believe. We go out in the world and seek confirmation of what we believe. And we seek affirmation of our ego. And we're emotionally defensive if our views are challenged.
And the other point is we got these stories of how our world works. And we seek cohesiveness of our stories. We don't like to say my story's wrong. So we are machines. Confirmations seeking ego or affirming cohesive seeking machines. That's us. And the science shows it in the last 20 years. Neuroscience has proven it.
And so in a world where technology is going to continually advance. It's going to change how we work and who works. And human beings are going to have meaningful work if they can do the things that technology can't do well. And that's thinking in ways that technology can't think. Being able to emotionally engage with others in ways that are positive, not competitive, but from a leadership perspective in ways that enable people to grow. So we got to think differently and emotions are going to be our key uniqueness.
Well, think about it. You went to business school and everything. How much time did you spend on emotions in business school? How much time in the workplace historically, have we spent on, how do we connect and relate to other people in positive ways that build the types of relationships, let's just say optimize collective intelligence or be in a state of flow. Just like teams. The thing about it is that we're suboptimal learners.
I can see it. A lot of leaders nodding in agreement that we are confirmation seeking machines. We are not naturally good learners, ego and fear play a role in it. However, that doesn't apply to me because I have been able to make the right decisions to move up in my organization, to get into the right schools, to get to the position I'm in. So there is a level of agreement on the statements that you make about the general population or about most of the people that I'm surrounded with. However, I have been able to achieve this level of success because I am not a confirmation seeking machine. I don't let ego and fear get in the way.
Well, the environment in which the person got to his success is going to be completely transformed and is being transformed in the digital age. Part of the necessity for being open to these changes, the speed at which change is going to occur and the skills that are going to be needed to transform. Organizations are going to have to create different cultures, really get into the human development business. Because people don't really have never been trained how to think, how to go into the unknown and explore. How do you train somebody to go into the unknown and explore? Because technology is going to do all of the stuff that's, let's just say, easy to do. The environment is going to change. The environment that you're going into requires a different skill set in the environment that you're in now.
So I've had CEOs tell me, “Look, I've only got three to four years left. This is not going to happen until 7, 8, 9, 10 years. I'm just going to play the game I got.” I've had CEOs tell me that. And my answer is, the legacy you want to leave behind, do you have any duty to the organization or to the thousands of employees to help get them on the journey so that once you leave successful and when it hits the fan, all these people are going to be out.
And I have those types of conversations with people. So it really comes down to CEOs, have got to buy into the story and have got to have a purpose why they believe the organization has got to change. That's part of the story.
And what's very interesting. The two biggest inhibitors of learning are ego and fear. Most of the CEO's that I've worked with, who have made the change. We've had conversations like you just had. And this is the way I approach it. I said, what do you want your legacy to be here? And we have a conversation and most CEOs buy into what we're talking about because of ego or fear.
Ego wanting to go out a winner. I want to stay the best. Fear about legacy, being negative, people changing their views of me. Now learning the two biggest inhibitors are ego and fear. But what's so funny is people make the judgment and they'll say to me, “No, I want to leave behind something. I want to leave the best company behind. I want to be able, when I leave to look five years out.” Well, I said “Well, if you're going to do that, you have to build a foundation now because it's not possible five years from now. Even if you don't think you need all this stuff, your people do because they're going to be here.”
And then we get to the conversation as to, okay, in order for this to work, you got to role model, the behaviors that you want your people to role model. That's a different conversation, but it's a new story. It's what I call the difference between an old smart, and new smart, which is a different approach to work.
And, you know, and I tell them, old smart is the new dumb. Technology has made the old smart, the new dumb. But it is, you're exactly right. This is not an easy sell.
That's why it's important Ed and I want to make that point, that regardless of the level of success we've achieved in life, whatever school we've gotten into, whatever grades we got, whatever positional power we have in the organization. All of us need to become hyper learners.And it requires letting go of that ego that my past successes differentiate me. Therefore, I know what I'm doing,letting go of that ego and letting go of that fear, which requires what you mentioned that new smart. What is new smart that you go through five principles of what it takes to be smart in this new age.
Just a little background, the concept of new smart. I created the concept of new smart, back when my Humility book was in the market. And I was having a hard time having conversations about humility with CEOs. And so I said, I gotta have a different story.
And so what is new smart? I’m defined not by what I know or how much I know, but by the quality of my thinking, listening, relating and collaborating. It's not how much I know. But it's the quality. How I think, how I listen, how I relate to people, how I collaborate.
My mental models, now this is through science. My mental models are not reality. They're only my generalized stories of how my world works. You have different mental models than I have. We both have different mental models than Jane or Jim Haynes. And so they're not reality. They're these stories we created by being confirmation biased people. I'm not my ideas. I must decouple my beliefs, my ideas from my ego. In other words, don't define yourself by what you think you know. Be open to going out in affirmative looking for disconfirming information. I must be open-minded and treat my beliefs, not my values as hypotheses. To be constantly tested subject to modification by better data.
And this is one of the principles of Ray Dalio at Bridgewater. I mean, there's one thing in his organization, is everything has to be stressed test because data is changing. There's new information coming out. That's the way we stay up with it. And my mistakes and failures are opportunities to learn. So long as you're learning. You don't really have mistakes or failures. You have mistakes and failures when you rationalize the mistake or failure and say, someone else made a mistake or the data's not right. Or, we're missing something instead of doing data. So it's a new approach, which enables people to really sort of detach their essence from, I know this. I'm smarter than everybody.
It allows you to constantly get smarter and smarter because you are improving your knowledge. Improving your ability to go in the world and discover. You're learning how to have better conversations with people that enable them to speak up and bring their uniqueness to the table. You're learning how to behave in ways that enable your organization to have a real mindset, but a real philosophy of oneness. We're all in this together. And we will, everyone needs to be successful and we're all here to help each other. Instead of this survival of the fittest competitive mentality that comes out of the industrial revolution age.
The digital age will require survival of the fittest and competitive mindset in organizations to go away. And if they don't go away, those organizations will be sub-optimized. Because really, and truly, going forward, organizations are going to have to embrace the fact that our human uniqueness going forward with technology, getting smarter and smarter is the emotional component.
And that's something that COVID brought to the table. Companies were confronted with the emotional needs of their employees and stress. And so many companies because of COVID started having, voluntary or meetings early in the morning or meetings just about how are you doing. How are things at home? How can we help you in this situation? Probably more conversations in the last two years and probably happened in the last 20 years added together.
Ed, each one of the principles is a gem that we could spend hours talking about. And that's why it's important to read the book and do some self reflection around it. Because thinking through each one of these principles also adds a level of humility with which we approach conversations where I understand that my mental models are different than yours, therefore, there is a different level of engagement that I need to have with you on that front. Or I must be open minded with respect to every idea being a hypothesis. So each one of these in my view are worthy of in-depth conversations with the team in order for the team to become a high functioning team.
I agree with you. You're spot on. I'll give you an example. There's a global organization in every conference room, in every building that they're in, rented or owned in the world, has a rule of engagement, which the organization came together from the top down and created, how do we want to behave in collaborative conversations? And there's a checklist. And everybody goes in and they start each meeting with a check-in. How's everybody? Where's your head? Where's your heart? Is everybody in a good position to have this conversation? You feel alright? Anything we need to talk about? Anybody know why we're here? Let's have our, what I call high quality making meaning conversation. And go through the conversation and then the end of the conversation, everybody looks at that checklist and everybody grades the group on the checklist and then they have a short conversation. And then they have the checkout.
I have a lot of teams which have adopted the philosophy of each meeting, having a time, two, three minute meditation time or silence time or centering time taking deep breaths, calming down, being fully here, getting in the right mindset. All of these tools help people slow down.
The two fundamental concepts of success in the digital age from an individual viewpoint is inner peace and otherness. That we can come to the table in a state of inner stillness, quiet ego, quiet mind, calm body, and a positive emotional state and be open to the conversation Non judgmental, fearless, open-minded. I'm convinced that the differentiation in success going forward, especially in big organizations, is the quality of conversations that occur in the organization. Because effective collaboration is going to be mission critical in the digital age because of the speed of adaptation that's needed.This is not going to be certain individuals solving everything. And, this inner peace, do I come in ready to have a good making meaning conversations.
And then the second concept is the concept of otherness. Barbara Fredrickson, a noted professor at the University of North Carolina who does wonderful work. A quote of hers I use all the time. It is scientifically correct to say that nobody reaches his or her full potential in isolation. This ability to come together and have conversations that are not advocacy, not self promotion, not competition, but seeking mutual understanding.
You mentioned it before. I need to understand your story. You need to understand my story. Maybe the real story out there that we need to do is somewhere in between, or maybe there's a new story that neither one of us got. How do we figure out that new story? That's the type of work. And having seen companies that do this, this will sound weird. It's magical.
People will tell me that what used to take a day can be done in two and a half hours of meetings, because we've gotten to the point where we've got these, we trust each other. We care about each other. It's not competitive. We've got our egos tamped down. It's for the greater good of the organization, people, society. It's magical when this happens.
Because as you say, Ed, the highest level of collaboration happens in caring, trusting teams. And to underline the points that you made, it first requires the individual to be able to have some inner peace. You provide frameworks and practices for each one of us as individuals to do that. And then that otherness, which requires a different mindset than the way a lot of us approach relationships with. So the inner peace and the otherness can help create the trusting team that has that competitive advantage of speedy trusting collaboration.
Yes. And, the key in the business world going forward is what's called high collective intelligence. The intelligence of the group, not the intelligence of the individual. We all have been successful because we've been good at knowing the digital age, the people successful and the people who excel in not knowing and learning, sort of everything's upside down.
In that process, as you mentioned, it's the ability to tap into that collective intelligence. And you share the example with the manufacturing team, talking about love in the business. That is one of those terms that a couple of businesses have been known in using, but needs to happen more. You knew and worked with Bill Turner and Herb Kelleher who famously we're really into having love in the business as a part of business practices. What role will that love play in tapping into the collective intelligence of the high functioning teams and organizations of the future?
If you think about it in order to have those high functioning teams in the future and get collective intelligence, people on the team, you've got to have those caring, trusting relationships. So if you think about it, deep caring, the difference between deep caring and platonic love is pretty small. I care about you as an individual. I want you to be successful. I feel your pain. We have this strong friendship. It's which of, trust and caring. That's really, if you think about it, platonic love.
It was interesting, you mentioned Herb Kelleher who was a wonderful human being and a very unique person. And, I was with him in his office in Dallas one day, working on a project. And civil it's time, your car will take you back to the plane and courses. I was flying Southwest air. And, he said, “I'll walk you down.” And I said, “Don't worry. You don't need to do that.” He said, “No, you need to go through a couple of floors with me.” So we started going through a couple of floors and people started getting out of their desks and their cubicles and coming up and saying, “Hello, Herb.” And every one of those people, he knew their names and he asked about their children and I was, it was just like, wow. And I mean, that said something.
I had another senior executive at American Eagle Outfitters years ago when I was doing work with them, their headquarters outside Pittsburgh. And I was spending a day with him and it’s 11:00 AM. He said, “We need to take an hour break.” I said, “But we got our agenda.” He said, “What I'm doing in this hour is very important, more important than what you're doing with me. So you can go with me.” So what he did is behind American Eagle Outfitters was a big, industrial warehouse where all of the clothing that comes in from Asia for the east coast is there. And it was people unpacking and putting fixing orders. And it was hundreds and hundreds of workers, women, and men workers. And he said, “okay, we're going to go down three lines.” So we go down a line and he stops at a person. I don't remember the names of things. He said, “Mary, how are you doing? How's your son, Billy?” He goes down the line, every person, he knows their first name. And he asked them about how they're doing family-wise and everything. And I'm just saying, wow. And I come back and he looks at me and he was vice chairman of the company, he said, “the most important thing I do is that hour, everyday I'm here. And do you understand why? I said, yeah, I think I get it. He said that's where high-performance comes from. When people feel cared about.
And what a beautiful example of that genuine love that some of the leaders have shown consistently over the years. Now, one of the interesting things is we have the opportunity, Ed, to tell new stories. I love Yuval Harrari’s Sapiens, how a lot of frameworks around us, our stories, therefore we can change the stories in order to be able to thrive in that future. And, Gary bolus, singularity university also says much of the frameworks around us are not natural laws. These are man-made decisions and policies. So this new era is going to require a new kind of thinking, new policies, new stories, however, it all starts back with ourselves, our individual selves, our teams. And as you said, the leaders of organizations, which have the opportunity to embrace that hyper learning and a different story within their organizations.
For people interested to find out more about your work Ed, you're writing, where can they connect with you and read more of your work?
A lot of stuff on my website, www.edhess.org
The hyper learning book and posts and articles. That's the easiest way. And then people will have, they'll have my email and everything. People can reach out if they have questions. There's a lot of information there to start. There's visuals, the journey to hyper learning a one page visual, having high quality making meaning conversations, what collaboration models should be. On the website, there are blogs, and as I said, lots of articles and lots of podcasts.
What a great way to throw down a challenge to the audience that's listening to this, Ed. I really appreciate, your work. We just touched on the surface of it. So there is a lot more to be read, both in Hyper Learning and your other books. Most importantly, though, there is a lot to be done in practicing what you lay out so we become hyper learners and continue to grow and get better. Which is why I really appreciate all the great work that you've done in allowing me to continue on my journey of learning and sharing this with the partnering leadership community. Thank you. so much Ed Hess.
Thank you. You are most kind. I enjoyed being with you. Wish you all the best. And I hope our paths cross again.