I would argue there are five levels of listening:
Level 0 – not hearing.
Being ignorant of what is going on around you.
Level 1 – shallow/narrow/twisted listening.
Listening and translating what you hear based on your biases/the existing categories in your mindset/culture. Only listening in a limited set of domains. (For example, only keeping track of technology trends, not regulatory trends.)
Level 2 – deep/broad listening.
Listening to a wide variety of sources on a wide variety of topics, triangulating the information and thinking through what the sources were trying to say. This requires what psychologists call ‘theory of mind’ – understanding that there are other individuals/organizations in the world, with their own world view; they are not just objects in your world.
Level 3 – active/dynamic listening.
Proactively experimenting and testing to explore the situation and the possibilities. This includes hacking, champion/challenger marketing, and other means of dynamically exposing the context.
Level 4 – full lifecycle listening and learning.
Closing the loop so that learnings are synthesized, and actions taken based on what you learn.
Professor Ed Hess, author of Learn or Die2, talked about the importance of listening at the LEF CIO Forum in Washington in May. LEF’s Simon Wardley also refers to it, as situational awareness. Lewis Richards and Bob Barker have developed a two-day Digital Xperience Lab, a hands-on playground that exposes participants to new digital skills with a view to effecting change within their businesses. And of course, our 2016 study tour is aimed squarely at this need.
In our report Raising IT’s Game Through BRM, published this month and based on our experiences of running over 50 BRM workshops for clients, Robina Chatham, Kirt Mead and David Moschella make it clear that great Business Relationship Managers must have triple deep skills – technical/digital skills, business skills, and finely honed interpersonal skills – including listening, and its close cousin, empathy.
Great Business Relationship Managers must have triple deep skills.
How do you know if you have good (enough) listening skills? Perhaps the single best way is ethical business hacking. Not to be confused with more technical hacking, this technique involves trying to find ways to destroy your own business. Set up one or more teams, with mixed skills, knowledge and backgrounds, ideally including outsiders. Get those teams to envisage real and hypothetical (but possible) threats to your business. They could be based on data capabilities, dominant channel positions, new business models or brand extensions. Then analyze whether your organizational listening skills would have caught these threats. If not, look to close the gap in your armour through broader, deeper or more dynamic listening.
Are you listening…?
- Hiroyuki Itami and Kazumi Nishino, ‘Killing Two Birds with One Stone: Profit for Now and Learning for the Future’,Long Range Planning, vol 43 2010
- Edward Hess,Learn or Die: Using Science to Build a Leading-Edge Learning Organization, Columbia Business School Publishing, 2014
This post first appeared on Leading Edge Forum in August 2016.
Author: Dave Aron
Dave Aron, based in the UK, is Global Research Director for Leading Edge Forum. In this position, he guides a series of global research initiatives aimed at helping CIOs and other Business/ IT leaders reimagine their organizations and leadership for a tech-driven future.
Dave’s key areas of research include digital business, strategy and new business models. Previously, Dave spent more than 12 years at Gartner, as a Gartner Fellow, focusing on strategy and CIO leadership issues. Dave has more than 30 years’ experience in the IT business and has been writing, speaking and teaching on digital business, IT strategy and other topics around the world for more than a decade.
Dave holds a BSc in Computer Science from Queen Mary College, and an MBA from London Business School.
Dave’s alter ego is Mu, The 21st Century Anti-Strategist, which comprises Dave’s distilled thoughts about what doesn’t make sense as 20th century organizations sleepwalk into the 21st century.