Lifelong learners will thrive in environments of change.

In continuation of the RECONVERGE:G2 symposium theme of reinvention, Rob Shook, Program Director, IBM Training and Skills, IBM, and Bill Kirst, Organizational Change Management Leader, West Monroe Partners, spoke to the gathered audience of intelligence professionals about thriving in chaos as part of the future of organizational learning.

“People who cannot invent and reinvent themselves must be content with borrowed postures, secondhand ideas, fitting in instead of standing out.” –Warren Bennis

The speakers conducted an interactive session in which they addressed questions of each other, and asked participants to join in on-line polling to monitor their experiences and beliefs.

Shook started at IBM 20 years ago as an engineer, and currently leads IBM training and skills. They use five global training partners to deliver skills to employees. Kirst’s company blends expertise in IT and business; his job is about organizational change management.

A question of consideration for the session is: How will we prepare for the unexpected, plan for the unknown and harness the chaos among us to grow and set ourselves apart?

Do you have a process? Is there an “a ha” moment when you realize that the world has changed around you and that it’s time to change? Do you look for flags or markers?

Shook says it depends on perspective: Some problems require a telescope, others need binoculars, others require magnifying glass or microscope—some need a 365-degree view. Bring a liberal arts mindset of curiosity and consideration of many variables to learn and solve problems.

Some long-term problems (example of water shortage in Tanzania) have long-term issues that need assessment of current day circumstances—near-term problems are considerations.

Kirst says it’s about vision—he wants a “why” and “what” to help navigate. Communication style, size of teams, and other elements change, but answering “why” and “what” will help direct the process.

The audience was asked, “What is happening to the pace of change?”

Real-time responses indicated most feel the pace of change is accelerating—true for 82% of attendees.

What does disrupting or reinventing yourself look like in the workplace? Everything from bio-hacks to hackathons—what is the span of the possible here and where do you see this going inside the organization?

How do we move from surviving to thriving in change?

Can the brain be trained?

Meditation can help the shift from reaction to response.

It comes down to adaptability, says Shook. And those who move between environments will have an easier time due to their experiences.

Kirst asked Shook: What has kept you vital and successful in a 30-year career with the same company?

His responses:

  • Willingness to constantly reinvent
  • Nobody will care about your career more than you will—look for opportunities and consider circumstances
  • Taking lessons from one domain and applying them to another: What’s the big picture?

Shook then asked the question of Kirst.

Kirst said that an appetite for curiosity as well as desire to connect people has helped him find success, in addition to pursuit of lifetime learning.

Where do you see the opportunity for reinvention in your current role?

Shook says communication is key and he hopes to create compelling content—one example is that of a monthly newscast he has initiated at his company; and customers watch as well.

Also, he considers how education is being delivered. His five global education providers deliver a certain number of courses, virtual courses, etc. Classroom based training is on the decline, but the market demands knowledge to meet a limited need—what is the value-add for the education providers?


A second inquiry for attendees: “What are the risks in reinvention?”

Results of a word cloud illustration indicate fear factors in reinvention are failure, change, mistakes, culture, error, people, security, the unknown, barriers, job loss, relevance, and losing.

Shook says failure is important, however, due to its consequence of innovation and forward-thinking perspective. It creates a culture that invites change.

Kirst adds that culture cannot be ignored—relevance and “time sinks” are bothersome; and that other life distractions can be influential.

Use of language is important: People are either proud of or hiding something, and this is a quick way to ascertain culture. “I listen a lot more than I speak,” says Kirst.

Speakers then asked participants: “What was the biggest reinvention in your life so far? What prompted it? Was it something you chose or did it choose you?”

Kirst said the September 11 terrorist attack was impactful, as he attempted to enlist in the service, he was redirected to further education had opportunity to train in technology; this experience in the military has led him to the career successes he enjoys today.

One participant indicated an opportunity to sing in public and discovered that “it’s all about attitude,” a lesson he has carried with him.

Another change was outlined by a participant who suffered health problems and gave greater consideration to giving back as a result. When she asked herself how she might do so, she consequently wrote a book.

“What’s the biggest failure you’ve seen by a company trying to stay vital? How could it have been avoided? Conversely, what was the biggest success?” were the next inquiries posed by speakers for consideration.

Shook outlined a failure in which a product was heading to market, at great cost. A week prior to press release, a competitor came out with a lower in-market price. They had to terminate the project.

A success he outlined was that a civil rights advocate speaking to new manager classes addressed IBM’s non-discrimination policies. A lack of domestic partner benefits at IBM became part of the discussion, and a policy change was the result.

“How is the delivery model of education changing? Is that a reinvention for education providers, and what role do corporations play?”

“Should we try to slow down change, and if so, can we do it without being branded a Luddite?”

We can’t control change, the best course of action is self-care, says Kirst. His believe is that change should not slow down.

Equipping students in how to deal with change should be part of curriculum in school, observed Shook.

“Letting go of the old is a lot harder than welcoming the new,” says Kirst. If it is helpful to grieve old processes, it is OK to do that.

“How do you keep the company’s ‘soul’ if you’re changing? How do you cling to the core value and keep those?”

Corporations should have touchstones, and gravitate to the known.

One final question posed to conference participants was, “What would you ask a prospective employee to see if they are a lifelong learner and able to be an agent of change?”


  • What books are on your bedside table?
  • How did you handle a failure?
  • What’s the last class you took?
  • What are you really good at that you’re not doing in your job?
  • Give them a context and say, “What questions would you ask to learn more about that?”
  • How do you feel about being staffed in a job that has nothing to do with your experience?
  • Name a person that you admire.


  • Communicate
  • Lifelong learning for you
  • Hiring people who already know the value of lifelong learning
  • Allies are important: No man is an island. It may be someone different from you, be challenged with different perspective.