Listening for the Future



It is interesting for me to read that our brains can process ideas at about 600 words per minute, whereas we tend to speak at 100-150 words per minute. What this means is that listening to someone speaking – paying careful attention to what he or she says – needs deliberate work.

No wonder we oftentimes do not listen fully to what is being said! Our mind wanders, thinking that we can multitask between listening to a person speaking, and thinking other thoughts at the same time.

As leaders we need to be good listeners. Our people deserve our attention and our time.  To make a deliberate point of listening to what they say is to honour their effort and show by our action, that we appreciate and recognise their thoughts and ideas.

By failing to listen carefully, we often miss ideas and fail to catch the imaginative ideas of others, which can possibly use to conceive something new and unique in future.  If we adopt such an attitude, listening will not be a chore even if it may not be a pleasure…rather, listening is a way into the future!

The iPhone and iPad are creations by Steve Jobs of Apple. What is noteworthy is that no new technology was involved in the creation of the iPhone and iPad. What Steve Jobs did was to listen to many ideas, take proven technology, and combine them in a new and creative way that benefits millions of people all around the world.  This is how listening with an open mind offers opportunity to create new possibilities from others’ ideas.

Leadership is to think anew and prepare for the future. Listening is an integral and important part of preparing for the future.


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Leaders have to think about the future and position their organisations well for the future, even though the future is uncertain, unpredictable, volatile and complex.

Of course it is not an easy task, but that is what we are expected to do as leaders – make sense of the uncertainties, make our best guess, and move with courage, yet also with humility to accept that we might be wrong. We must be prepared to change as we see more, hear more and sense more.  Failing to anticipate the future is by far the most frequent reason for organisational dissipation, destruction, and death.

We are seeing rapid expansion in applications based upon computers.  In earlier days, the development of machines has replaced blue collar jobs. Then the development of computers has replaced white collar, office, and administrative jobs. Now the development of artificial intelligence or machine language in computers is replacing knowledge workers.

The disruption of jobs and businesses today is happening right around us. Consider the disruptions we can already see:

  • The world’s largest taxi company owns no taxis (Uber)
  • The world’s largest accommodation provider owns no hotels (AirBnb)
  • The world’s largest phone companies own no telecommunication infrastructure (Skype and WeChat)
  • The world’s most valuable retailer has no inventory (Alibaba)
  • The world’s most popular media owner creates no content (Facebook)
  • The world’s largest movie house owns no cinemas (Netflix)
  • The world’s largest software vendors don’t write the apps (Apple & Google)

We can see the “sharing economy” spreading its reach day after day.

If we are alert as leaders, we may see opportunities or foresee dangers for our organization, and will thus take action to prepare our people for these changes.

If we do nothing and simply hope for the best, we fail to be leaders.  We may fail even if we try.  We will certainly fail if we don’t try to “Be in Time for the Future!”


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