Training magazine Events: Exploring Three Impossibility Frontiers

As Walt Disney said, “It’s fun to do the impossible”—especially when it comes to building individual and organizational capability.

By Tony O’Driscoll, Executive Director, Duke Corporate Education

As we set our sights on the Training 2013 conference in Orlando, we wondered what guidance Walt Disney himself might have for us.

What insights could Walt provide to help guide our unending quest to help organizations and the individuals working within them become the very best? Time and time again we kept coming back to a single quote of his: “It’s fun to do the impossible.”

As with many quotes from Walt Disney, there is much more to this string of six words than first meets the eye. Not only is he asserting that doing the impossible is actually possible, he also is declaring that doing the impossible is fun.

So where to begin if we want to do the impossible when it comes to developing individual and organizational capability? First, we need to define the possibility space and move our thinking well beyond it. The only reason we create a possibility frontier if we want to do the impossible is to be clear on where we do not want to end up. Knowing the possibility frontier allows us to intuit the impossibility frontier.

So what possibility frontier might we look to break wide open when it comes to describing the impossible? Naturally, our minds tend to go toward outer space…it is the “Final Frontier,” after all. But that is too obvious. What if we looked at inner space instead? The vast frontier that lives between our ears remains the biggest enigma of all. What is the impossible challenge when it comes to the human brain itself? Why, figuring out how it works, of course! To figure out this impossibility frontier, we will be joined by Ray Kurzweil, who will share his latest thinking on how to reverse engineer the human brain. Impossible? Ray doesn’t think so. Fun? Probably, but I have a feeling my brain is going to hurt as we explore this.

OK, now that we have the brain all sorted out, what next frontier might we explore when it comes to building capability? Well, how about the body? Or more specifically, the bodies that carry these brains around. What about the age-old challenge of figuring out how to optimally configure individual people into high-performing teams? How do we reinvent an organization’s talent, management, and measurement systems to fully optimize the performance of each individual within it? To figure out this impossibility frontier, we will be joined by Paul DePodesta, who worked with Coach Billy Bean of the A’s to reconceive how the team defined, developed, and deployed talent, resulting in the team with the lowest payroll achieving the best winning percentage in baseball. Impossible? Paul doesn’t think so. Fun? Sure seems like it would be!

OK, so now that we have mind and body taken care of, what is the next impossibility frontier to tackle? Well, it must be the soul—that illusive space between the brain and the body where the heart sings. When we think of organizations, we rarely conjure up the image of legions of employees working together in perfect harmony. Instead of hearts singing, we have images of hands wringing. While many of us have little trouble believing that happier employees yield better organizational performance, the impossibility frontier here appears to be in figuring out how to infuse the workplace with happiness. Here again, we have found just the person to show us the way forward to define this impossibility frontier. Jenn Limm worked with Zappos to develop the first Culture Book that explains how companies can successfully use happiness as a business model that increases productivity and profitability. Impossible? Jenn doesn’t think so. Fun? Er…that is the point!

So there you have it. Join us chez Walt February 18-20 at Training 2013 in Orlando to explore the three Impossibility frontiers of Mind, Body, and Soul, where we will experience firsthand that it is “fun to do the impossible” in building individual and organizational capability.

I look forward to seeing you there!

Tony O’Driscoll is an executive director at Duke Corporate Education. His most recent book, “Learning in 3-D: Bringing a New Dimension to Enterprise Learning and Collaboration,” explores how emerging Web technologies are transforming the learning landscape within organizations.

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