One of the greatest things about being married to an innovation-guy is that there’s always something new going on around here. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. He was, after all, a former engineer who had just left an R & D role at Starbucks to enter Business school when I met him. But the intensity in which he immerses himself in his client’s world has been something to behold. If he has a client in the coffee business, he starts ordering beans off the internet and roasting them at home. We do elaborate coffee taste-tests. He creates spread-sheets listing all the variables. He becomes a mad-coffee-scientist – our kitchen his laboratory and everyone who knows him, his test subjects. If he’s got a client in the yogurt business, it’s all about the yogurt – flavored, unflavored, Greek, custards, with fruit, without – we make smoothies, we use it in recipes – our fridge is packed with every yogurt imaginable (although after the initial research is done, I’ll get in trouble for buying non-client products). If it’s spirits, we have a grand ole time educating ourselves about the variables of Scotch (although we’ve learned to be careful not to have toooooo much fun so we can retain the research!). Now as the founder of NYC’s newest innovation company, Tangible Labs, my immersive spouse will be applying his talents to turn great ideas into tangible revenue. As you can imagine, life is never boring in my house!
I think the reason I love this about him rather than find it annoying is that it reminds me of my theatre-days. Every new play required an immersion into a new world. Within a very short amount of time actors have to gain not only a full cerebral understanding of what it’s like to work in a speak-easy, or inhabit Shakespeare’s England, but be able to viscerally transfer that understanding to create an honest and believable character on stage. To stand outside the world of the play and just learn about it is not enough – for that leads an actor to judge the environment and make assumptions about truths. In order to perform powerfully, an actor must be willing to “go there” – to delve so deeply that they cannot stand outside the process. They become part of the process – completely immersed.
Like my husband, I find I use this skill in most everything I do. Whether I’m working with leaders in casual dining, in the creative industry, or from an airline – whether they’re from the US, or Japan, or Tunisia – whether they’re senior leaders or emerging leaders – I immerse myself in their world. What are their stressors? What are their days like? What do they love? What is their environment like? What customers do they serve? What’s their culture like? Where do they fit in the organization? What obstacles do they face? What do others say about them? How might it feel to be them? How do all of these things have an impact on how they show up and lead? Complete immersion.
It was a lifetime ago, when I had my events company in Seattle, that I first recognized how immersion mattered in business. I was working on-site for my biggest client prepping for their global company meeting, and the new Senior VP of Communications liked my work and wanted to learn more about me. She brought me into her office, looked me over and, like she was evaluating a piece of property she might buy, and asked me about my background. I don’t remember what I said, but it must not have been terribly impressive or articulate, as she turned her back in dismissal, simply saying, “Hmmm…that’s different than I thought it would be.”
Something about her response lit a fire.
I remember diving into some diatribe about how actors are trained to understand human motivation, and that there is no more valuable skill in the world of internal communications. I let her know how the ability to immerse myself in how others were thinking and feeling and driven to act, informed everything I do, and then I thanked her for her time and left. I think we were both a bit bewildered by the exchange. Several months later she approached me with an opportunity that changed the trajectory of my career – the chance to develop, manage and lead a global program to help everyone in the company better understand their customers. To immerse them in a different world.
Immersion is something open to all of us. All it takes is a sincere curiosity and desire to deeply understand and experience another reality. To dive into research with a hunger. To look with new eyes – without the filters of culture, or history, or experience, or expectation – and see without judgment.
Imagine how that could change the way you see your customers, or experience your employees, or your boss, or your significant other. How would a deeper understanding what drives them impact your ability to influence them? How could immersion change the way you read the news and view other cultures? How might it inform how you prepare for a meeting or an interview? The way you coach others? How would it transform the way you show up, the presence you bring, if you understand how they might experience you? It’s such a powerful tool – immersion.
©OnStage Leadership, 2013; Kimberly Davis is the Founder/Director of OnStage Leadership, a full-day experiential leadership workshop. If you found this helpful, interesting, thought-provoking, or inspiring please “recommend”, “Like” and share. It is only through your generosity that we can reach those who may find it valuable too.