Avoiding Dinosaur Syndrome

About 66 million years ago, there was a mass extinction event. It was the end of the age of the dinosaurs. It is an event that continues to fascinate us to this day – not the least because earth was the domain of the dinosaurs for at least 230 million years before their demise.

Theories abound as to why the dinosaurs became extinct and some are more plausible than others. The two most popular theories involve either a meteor the size of a mountain slamming into earth, or ongoing, huge volcanic eruptions.[1] 

As no theory has been conclusively proven, may I be so bold as to suggest another? Potentially the dinosaurs simply stopped learning and thought they knew it all. After 230 million years at the top of the food chain, they had good to reason to believe that. And today in the workplace, those kind of dinosaurs still exist. And just like their prehistoric counterparts, the threat of extinction looms.

We all know the kind of dinosaur that I am referring to. Those who are reluctant to learn, dismissive of colleagues with fresh ideas and typically very resistant to change. In my experience, they are also a lot more cynical. 

To be clear, being a dinosaur is not necessarily about your age – it is really about your willingness to learn, adapt and look to the future. I have seen young dinosaurs at work, and I have seen much older innovators. This is really about your mindset.

In my view, avoiding extinction and the dinosaur label is an individual challenge. Your organisation can provide the right environment and resources, but ultimately, it is up to you.

Here are my top 5 tips on how to take ownership of your mindset and avoid extinction:

1.   Keep learning

It seems so simple, but many forget the art of curiosity and the desire to learn. Learning is not necessarily about being book smart either. Learning takes many forms and is really about curiosity. It is about asking why, doing intentional work to understand and stretching your perspective.

Interestingly, many adults reach a “learning plateau” and simply stop being curious. But the ability to learn and adapt is essential, no matter your station in life. The person who knows and tells but lacks the humility to be curious, learn and grow will find themselves irrelevant and lacking critical skills and perspectives needed to thrive in the modern era.[2]

So, keep reading, listening to podcasts and audiobooks, attending events, travelling, watching documentaries and films – and above all, work to keep your curiosity alive.

2.   Reverse mentoring

For me, one of the best parts about coaching others is learning from them. Without exception, every coaching assignment has taught me a great deal and challenged my thinking. Part of that is having an open mindset and embracing the wisdom of the person before you – regardless of age or their role.   This is sometimes referred to as “reverse mentoring”.

Reverse mentoring is the concept of pairing younger employees with executives to mentor them on various topics of strategic and cultural relevance. [3] The general idea is that the more junior employee can share their expertise on topics that the senior employee may not be familiar with. This usually covers topics such as technology and digital media. It is a recognition that both parties can learn from each other and that there are skills gaps on each side.[4]

Reverse mentoring doesn’t need to be a structured program or a coaching assignment either. I have learnt more from my teenage children than I ever anticipated – their perspective on the world is refreshingly unfiltered and still relatively free from cynicism.   

So, park your ego and accept that those who may have less experience than you in some respects will be much wiser than you in others.

3.   Be open to new ways

This is hard, especially when you feel that you have mastered a particular skill. Letting go of that and embracing a new way is letting go of your mastery – quite a challenge for anyone’s pride. But being open to change, new ideas and new ways of working is important to sustain your success.

Having an open mindset means that you are receptive to new ideas and information and allows you to be more objective, listen to other perspectives and be willing to admit that you don’t know everything.

In a world where the present is an increasingly unreliable guide to the future, competitive success depends less on planning for what will come next and more on continuously experimenting with what could come next.[5] So, although change might feel uncomfortable – it might also present a whole raft of new possibilities. Getting comfortable with feeling uncomfortable is the key.[6]  

It is also helpful to understand that your reactions to change are completely normal and that it is a process that we all move through.  However, some of us move through it faster than others, as it is a very individual experience. The change curve is part of the human condition – the trick is understanding that and moving to acceptance.  

If you are not familiar with the Kubler Ross change curve, this will help you understand why change often feels uncomfortable:

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Image credit: https://www.educational-business-articles.com/change-curve/

4.   Technology is your friend

The term “technology” is used so often nowadays that we often forget the true definition. Technology is “the application of scientific knowledge to the practical aims of human life”.[7] So, put simply, technology is about using science to make your life better. 

Technology spans across the environment, food production, construction, transportation, communications, manufacturing, medical and the military. So, new forms of technology will continue to be introduced and we should embrace that.

Nowadays, there is a huge focus on the likes of artificial intelligence, as the next big step in technology. Artificial intelligence (AI) is a constellation of many different technologies working together to enable machines to sense, comprehend, act and learn with human like levels of intelligence.[8] It isn’t just one form of technology – and perhaps that is why many fear AI and what this means.

However, learning about AI is important, as it continues to evolve and shape our working lives. And in case you were not aware, you are probably already using AI, as most software that analyses data to optimise a given function is considered to be a narrow form of AI – for example, a weather app on your phone.

In short, understanding how technology continues to evolve to make your life better, is an important part of staying relevant.

5.   Embrace your creativity

I was chatting to one of my favourite work colleagues the other day and we both marvelled at how much more creative we have been of late. After some discussion as to why this would be the case, we agreed that it came from allowing space in your brain to be creative. 

Previously we both worked in toxic environments where politics and fear seemed to rule our daily work. This consumed a lot of our energy and brain space. In contrast, we now find ourselves working very happily and creatively in environments that don’t have that kind of negativity.

Often, your creativity lies dormant when you are in the wrong environment. This causes real problems when you are trying to embrace innovation. But aside from the impact of the company culture, there are other ways to make sure that you embrace your inherent innovation muscles and think outside the box. Creativity is also a mindset – but a critical mindset to keep companies competitive and employees engaged.[9]

Here are a few tips on how to heighten your creativity at work:

  • Create opportunities to collaborate and brainstorm with others. This is best done face to face and with the move to hybrid work, may need to be scheduled.
  • Diversify the people you engage with – the more diverse your influences, the better. If you always talk to the same people, it is harder to be creative.
  • Normalise failure – failure is a natural part of taking risks and trying out new ideas.
  • Share knowledge with others – keep learning from other perspectives and ideas and be sure to share your own experiences too.

A final observation

So, in my view, there is no need to fear the fate of the dinosaur. Regardless of your age or role, the label “dinosaur” really only applies to those who fail to maintain a sense of genuine curiosity and a love of learning. If you can continue to cultivate an open mind and be willing to let go of “the way things have always been done”, then you are well on your way to maintaining not only relevance but making a genuine and innovative contribution.

Ps. The image used is that of “Blue” the velociraptor, my favourite dinosaur, and arguably the best female character in the movie “Jurassic World”. She is sassy, feisty, crazy smart, super-fast and ultimately the real hero of the movie.  What’s not to love?!

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1] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/dinosaur-extinction

[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2021/06/01/curiosity-why-it-matters-why-we-lose-it-and-how-to-get-it-back/?sh=2ffa49f22fa4

[3] https://hbr.org/2019/10/why-reverse-mentoring-works-and-how-to-do-it-right

[4] https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/reverse-mentoring.htm

[5] https://www.tlnt.com/3-ways-for-management-to-be-open-to-new-ideas/

[6] This quote is attributed to Peter McWilliams

[7] https://www.britannica.com/technology/technology

[8] https://www.accenture.com/au-en/insights/artificial-intelligence-summary

[9] https://www.betterup.com/blog/creativity-in-the-workplace