#Listening to Foster #Innovation, #Creativity and #Transformation with Gemma Jiang

Too many interruptions are taking us away from what truly matters. We also see leaders afraid to listen. And this blocks the dynamics of listening, preventing a decision to trickle down to the lower echelons of the organization.

Sense-making is a process that uses listening as a tool to foster learning that encompasses innovation, creativity, and transformation. It supports all voices being heard and leads to successful business outcomes while having positive societal impact and a sense of belonging.

Dr. Gemma Jiang is the founding director of the Organizational Innovation Lab at the University of Pittsburgh. As a complexity leadership scholar and practitioner, Gemma is committed to bridging the “knowing-doing” gap by building capacity for addressing complex social challenges. She is involved in a diverse set of projects, including a National Science Foundation-funded convergence research project on circular economy and two Pittsburgh locally funded projects: the Pitt u.lab hub and the Adaptive Space. 

In this episode, Gemma shares how projects she started, like, ‘Let’s do lunch’ and ‘Ideation Expo’, set the tone for sense-making in its true meaning. Voices from the bottom are heard and listened to; fear barriers are broken, their concerns and aspirations taken into consideration. A picture of bottom-up and top-down interaction through listening can create an environment of learning and belonging.

“Listening engenders belonging. Learning and belonging mutually reinforce each other.” – Gemma Jiang

Listen IN Notes:

00:01 – One of the key tools in sense-making: listening to each other and listening to the environment, making sense of it, and making adaptive changes based on what you hear. 

02:35 – Relational measures and ecosystem awareness: how individuals work together with fellow team members.

06:05 – How you make sense of the ecosystem: you develop your relationship with the community you’re a part of no matter how small or big.

08:17 – Understanding a bigger system through giving and receiving. Speaking through dialogues.

10:24 – Why everybody is so busy: there is not enough sense-making.

13:02 – An initiative she started called ‘Let’s do Lunch’ — a very bottom-up approach to listening. 

17:36 – What is this ‘Ideation Expo’ she created — where the bottom-up dynamic meets the top-down dynamics.

21:14 – Turning fear into taking action

24:27 – Do you listen to the fear, or do you listen to one’s future highest potential?

25:06 – Where she experienced the power of listening: Asian culture gives more emphasis on listening versus the western culture

27:24 – The importance of sense-making where once you start to see things differently, the solution surfaces.

31:43 – Questions she asks in her research: How might organizations create enabling conditions to center listening and questioning?

32:20 – Where this question led her: Learning is only part of the story. The other part of the story is belonging.

36:20 – Listen to your people, they might have the answer. 

37:05 – How can leaders listen to their people?

40:05 – Why are leaders afraid to listen?

42:56 – What are adaptive spaces and how can they support organizations?

49:49 – What does adaptive spaces encompass other than the physical space?

55:39 – How is listening tied to gratitude?

Key Takeaways:

“I think people…are too busy with action-taking. And that action-taking…is almost like a group of arrows, shooting out and around at the same time. There’s no coordination, and there’s no coherence in it. And the arrows are canceling each other out…That’s why everybody’s so busy; you are busy canceling out each other’s efforts.” – Gemma Jiang

“The mirroring back was absolutely amazing. It was like I became an owl; it’s like I had a 360 view of the events. I was able to see perspectives and aspects of my challenge that I would never be able to see with my own perspective.” – Gemma Jiang

“When everybody listens from their perspective, and when they mirror that back, it helps you to see your situation differently. It also helps you to see where the listener comes from. It’s like all of a sudden multiple lightbulbs came out. I came to know myself better, my situation better, and also I came to know my listeners better.” – Gemma Jiang

“If you have a question, listen to your people; they might have the answer.” – Gemma Jiang

“A lot of times, we have this illusion that if you are a leader, you have a lot of space. But I think the reality, especially in more hierarchical organizations, it’s totally opposite. The higher you are in the hierarchy, the less room you have to be creative. What’s more, the system demands you to carry on the agenda of the system.” – Gemma Jiang

“Adaptive space stands in between the bottom-up dynamic, which we call adaptive leadership, and top-down dynamic, which we call administrative leadership. And adaptive space stands right in between these two and connects them.” – Gemma Jiang

“I often tie listening with gratitude. Because it’s a rare connection. It’s a weird connection. But, in my mind, it makes sense because they are both in a state of receivership.” – Gemma Jiang

“Organizational transformation is grounded in individual transformation. One message is probably to investigate and examine personal relationships with listening, and then bring those new insights into organizations and into any relationship that we are part of, what a transformative effect it has.” – Gemma Jiang


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