This following blog post is an excerpt from Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes’ Founders Session speech, delivered at the 2011 Adizes International Convention in Vilnius, Lithuania. (This is part 1 of a 6 part series)

First, I am going to react to the presentation the Minister of Education made, because it relates to the Adizes Methodology, and to being a CEO, a manager, and a human being.

Im very happy to be here, and to have this opportunity to share what I hope can be helpful to you in leading change.

On Education

The day I got my doctorate from Columbia University, I was extremely proud. I was carrying my diploma in my hand, walking down the corridors as if on a cloud, feeling full of myself. A classroom door opened and students who had just took the qualifying exams for the doctoral program came out. They were about two years behind me. I was so arrogant, I said, “Let me see that exam.” But when I looked at it I realized I would have failed that exam. The day I got my doctorate I was already obsolete.

We live in a world with such a high rate of change that our education should not teach us to know, it should teach us how to learn. We have to realize that whatever we learn has a short lifespan. It becomes obsolete very fast.

The danger in management, and in education—not only management education; but in all education, even in the sciences—is that someone finishing his degree believes he is done learning. That’s the beginning of ignorance.

Adizes Associates are the agents of leading change. We must constantly be learning. Every night before you go to sleep, ask yourself, “What did I learn today?” Learning is not necessarily from books. Too much of our education is based on studying books. You actually can learn from anything. Part of my lifecycle theory, for example, was based on watching stones. I was rafting down the Colorado River with my son, and the guide was telling us about the stones. One was from 2,000 years ago, another one from 200,000 years ago. I thought to myself, stones have a lifecycle. Human, trees, and cars all have a lifecycle.

What is the difference between the human lifecycle and the lifecycle of stones? We are conscious; they are not. We can control our lifecycle by being conscious. You can be 70 years young, or you can be old at 20. What makes a difference is how much you are willing to learn. As long as you are constantly learning, you will stay young, because you are growing. The day you stop learning, you start dying.


Let Go of Your Past

Aging organizations don’t learn. They repeat what they have done in the past. They rely on past success to produce future success. It doesn’t work. The world changes. The reason for your past success could be the reason for your future failure.

Do you know how to catch a monkey? You put a coconut inside a hole in a tree—such a small hole that you can hardly put the coconut in. Once the monkey grabs the coconut he wants to wants to escape, but he doesn’t want to lose the coconut. He holds on to the coconut, but the hole is too small to get the coconut out while he is holding on to it. Many companies are like this. They are holding on to the coconut, their past, but then the market catches up with them and they die.

Let go of your past.

This is also true for personal career development. Perhaps you were a very successful engineer in the past. You told everyone what to do, had all the answers, and knew everything. Leadership to you was analogous to pointing your finger. You had a big mouth but small ears. But as you climb higher in the organizational pyramid, this approach doesn’t work anymore. There are too many people for you to be able to point them all in the right direction. What do you do now?

You have to switch from being the pointer finger to being the thumb. The thumb is the only finger that works with every other finger. It is a hand maker, a team builder. If you don’t have a thumb you don’t have a hand. Now your job is not to tell people what to do, but to get them to work together. Now you need a small mouth and big ears.

This change—from pointer finger to the thumb, from a big mouth to a small mouth—is a major shift in style. Some people cannot make the transition, because the secret of their past success had been to drive people, to be a pointer finger. Now, they have to stop relying on their past success and learn something new.

You have to change, without fear of changing. Continuously learning is a prerequisite for being a leader.


What Is a Leader?

What makes you a good wife, husband, executive, leader, or human being is not what you know, not what you have, but what you are. What you know will become obsolete very fast. With the stock market going up and down, and economic bubbles, what you have, can disappear in no time. But what you are is forever: willing to change, willing to learn, flexible and open-minded, and learning from everything, whether it’s storms or trees or babies. It’s not all in the books.

I had a big client in Australia say to me, “You know, Dr. Adizes, you are absolutely right. I have three doctorates and I did not finish high school.”

“How did you do that?” I asked him.

“I hired them,” he said. “I hired three doctorates. It was easy.”

To know is very easy. You can hire the people who know. To be—that’s a different story. That you cannot buy. It’s not a degree that makes a good executive. It’s not how many books you can quote. It is how clearly you can think. How fast you can change. How open-minded you are. Where do those traits come from? From mutual trust and respect.

Just thinking.

Ichak Kalderon Adizes

Stay tuned for part 2 next week.