Ep. 115: David Wray - Accelerating your “Power of Potential” for Business and Personal skills

March 22, 2021 | 18 Minutes

David Wray, Finance Executive in a Fortune 50 Multinational and now author, joins Count Me In again to talk about his approach towards acquiring new skills. The Harvard Business Review in October 2019 investigated where learning and development goes wrong. They found that organizations spend about U$360 Billion on training, asking the provocative question: whether or not it was worth it? In this episode, David shares his thoughts on whether organizational spending on learning and development offers a good return on investment. He also explains how his learning approach is different from others out there and goes into detail about the concepts of unconscious competence and conscious competence. For those of you interested in learning about learning, seeking advice on how to self-assess your own skills, and/or looking for more information on personal and professional development in the future, download this episode and listen to it now!

Contact David Wray: https://www.linkedin.com/in/david-w-29627882/

David's Website: https://davidwray.com (*access David's book and/or blog here)
Want to join David's LinkedIn Group?! https://www.linkedin.com/company/37817090/

Mitch: (00:00)
 Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA’s podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. This is your host Mitch Roshong and I'm here to welcome you to episode 115 of our series. Today you will once again hear from finance executive and a fortune 50 multinational and now new author David Wray. David is the author of the recently published, The Power of Potential: A Straightforward Method for Mastering Skills for Personal to Professional. In 2019, the Harvard business review investigated where learning and development goes wrong. In his book and during this podcast episode, David calls for a new mindset and approach towards acquiring new skills and achieving the level of mastery desired. Keep listening to hear about his learning approach and perspective on personal development.

Adam: (00:54)
The Harvard business review in October of 2019 investigated where learning and development goes wrong. They found that organizations spend about 360 billion US dollars on training and ask the provocative question whether or not it was worth it. So David, if we start with this Harvard business review article, can you share your thoughts on whether organizational spend on learning and development offers a good return on investment?

David: (01:27)
Yeah I can Adam, it's a great question to set the context for our discussion. So the typical organization spend on development is definitely not worth it. If we start thinking about the reoccurring themes that seem to come up, you know, survey after survey. So as you mentioned, the Harvard business review, they found that about three quarters of managers across about 50 companies give or take were quite dissatisfied with their company's learning and development function. Gardener on the other hand, found that about 7 out of 10 employees don't feel that they have the skill necessary to master their roles and the findings go on and on. So I started to undertake my own research and thought, well let me find out what's happening and most of the individuals I spoke to experienced real frustration and disappointment with what it took to learn new skills for them. So hence they tended to give up. I heard a lot of funny things and some of them were interesting things I heard with things like, “I feel like I'm faking it, hoping it just comes to me one day, perhaps I'll have an epiphany” or “I'm pressured to work harder pitches doesn't help, I can't seem to master the critical thinking skills I need”, or “I've been asked to speak at an upcoming medical conference and I'm truly petrified and end up sounding like a toddler”. And when I started hearing and seeing firsthand these stories of people really giving up while trying to acquire a new skill, I began to wonder why, why do some people struggle when others seem to manage it almost effortlessly? Why is this happening? And it was really this curiosity that motivated me to start researching, identifying, and then eventually understand the differences that make a difference between those individuals that see it through and those that give up. And from the research that I did, the model I share in the book really comes to life. It's basically a methodology that's used unconsciously by masters in their field, and it offers real value for time and effort invested to learn a new skill. And it's a really a new way of approaching learning, especially for accountants where so much of the learning happens on the job.

Adam: (03:29)
Okay, now you've really piqued my curiosity. We at this podcast with Count Me In, we're really trying to help accountants, whether it's through learning or seeing what's happening in the industry. Can you tell me a little bit more about your approach and about how your approach is different from everything that's already out there?

David: (03:47)
Yeah of course, I'm happy to give some insights into the model. If you really start to think about situations where you've undoubtedly seen a really talented individual in action and you've been sitting there secretly wishing, “gosh I wish I could do that and do it as easily and effortlessly as they do it”. Well, you can. Now you might be wondering how. Well to do so, we all simply need to just understand both the visible and the invisible workings that an expert utilizes when they're doing their thing. And basically the power of potential teaches readers about these real, but invisible internal processing mechanisms that we all go through when we receive information. And basically think of the receipt as information as something like an external event or an externality. And these externalities, they occur every single day and they can range from very benign things, something as simple as being, for example, cutoff in traffic, but they can also range to the other extreme, which is life-changing. And an example of that might be for example, hearing a terminal medical diagnosis. So clearly a life-changing and difficult thing to hear and individuals react very differently to the same information or the same events. So why is that? That's what I started to really wonder. And what I determined on, what I discovered is that the differences in how we process information, because when we process information we do so using our own view of the world. We relay each filter information as we process it. So for example, some individuals may choose to ignore information or they may generalize by associating it to some past experience. Let me give you an example of that. Imagine that you're an individual who's giving constructive feedback to a peer or to another team member. While there are one or two ways that constructive feedback can be received. It can either be seen as an opportunity by the individual receiving it, or it could be seen as a threat. Now how that's received will depend very much on the person's prior experiences and that's what I mean by the view of the world. So each of these information filters that we have is basically influenced by how we see ourselves. So things like what we believe, what we value, any kind of powerful memories, whether they're positive or negative, and also how we speak to ourselves. So for example, is our inner chatter self-critical, or is it self-respecting? And as if all of this rapid processing wasn't enough, our current state of mind also affects outcome. Let me give you another example of that, to help bring it to life. If we're cut off in traffic on a day where we've just heard some great news, the other drivers lack of consideration, will probably roll away like water off of a duck's back. But if we've just received news of a layoff that relatively minor traffic slight could become a trigger to an uncharacteristically angry outburst. And it's that, that I mean when I talk about state of mind. So these rapid information processing systems basically result in the behaviors we exhibit and in turn, how others perceive us. And it's by understanding these inner workings that basically the reader is empowered with the knowledge and tools needed to harness them to their own advantage. Which means that the learning solution that I provide is really personalized. Let me give you another, a simple example. Imagine that you dream of moving into a finance leadership role, but you're really held back by your inability to present effectively. You feel physically unwell at the idea of being behind a podium and speaking to a group of people. You've already attended a public speaking course, which focused on observable things, things like posture, attire, media aids, technology, eye contact, voice, and things like that. But it's not turned you into a good, nevermind, an expert public speaker. Well, what if I then went on to tell you that you absolutely can develop lasting mastery in public speaking simply by understanding which beliefs, values self-image and life mission and vision are critical to that success. And what if I went one step further and showed you how to incorporate what you learn with your natural preferences and tendencies so that it feels smooth and effortless to you. And basically the power of potential does all of these things and more, which is why it dramatically increases development and retention of new skills. And that's what's different about the book.

Adam: (08:14)
That's great. There was an aspect of the inner workings of your book that as we were discussing this conversation, I was wondering if you could talk, about the concept of unconscious competence and conscious competence. Can you share more of what this means and how listeners can use this insight to accelerate their career?

David: (08:33)
Yeah, sure. It might help if I explain the terms for our listeners first. So before we go too far, let's think about how people typically learn. Most of us, or mostly we learn in a very systematic way. So we basically start from a place of not knowing sometimes even from a place of being unaware that we don't know and often we've probably each heard the expression, “you don't know what you don't know”. That's basically the starting point. Learning starts to happen when we start to evolve from this into a space of knowing full well that we don't know. It's basically now the state of being aware of our conscious incompetence. That basically means that we now are aware that we don't know something. So that's actually progress, believe it or not. The third step in the process, and when comfort really starts to develop in applying this new skill, we reach a higher level of self-awareness and this is referred to as the conscious competence phase. And as I mentioned, it's basically the third step in our journey towards mastery. Now we're aware, we basically know that we know something which is great, you can start to see the evolution. Once the target skill is mastered, we of course naturally put a whole lot less conscious thought into doing it. Now we've reached the final learning phase mastery with ease. This space is referred to as unconscious competence, and this is where the true experts excellence will lie. It's also the space where we don't realize that we're masters in doing something, we just don't think about it anymore. And you might think of a simple example around that and I was talking to a friend earlier today and I, when I was talking to her, I said, you know it's one of those cases where if you think about your mom or you think about your dad, if your dad does the cooking and you think about the fact that they can literally walk into the kitchen, open the cupboard, the fridge, pull out a bunch of ingredients and end up creating something quite incredible without following a recipe and often do so without even having tried it before. That's where this level of unconscious competence comes in. They don't even realize how good they are. That's the space where real mastery lies. Let me give you another example to show in an action, this is a true story. A number of years ago, an executive said to me, he said, listen, David, we've got some incredibly smart employees that learn much more quickly than most other individuals. So I know full well, they can acquire your finance knowledge within a year or so. And you know what I want you to make that happen. That's literally what he told me. Now, keep in mind that I had nearly 20 years of experience by this point. And personally I knew full well that, that was a completely unrealistic expectation to believe that any one can master two decades of somebody else's experience, whether it's in critical thinking skills, making sound judgments, or estimates or explaining complex issues within a year. So that said, I can teach people how I use a variety of inputs, how I weigh up what's relevant and what's not. And how I ask the right questions and how I get information that perhaps other individuals aren't able to get from functional teams that may not be willing to share that information. So how did I do it? Well, I taught aspects of applying the skill that you can't see. What I was teaching people was what I think about. How I create the patterns, why I make connections, how and why I ask the questions that I do, the words that I use in asking the question became very important. The tone of voice I adopt, how I got into a curious mindset. And really what drives me and the quest to solve a given problem at hand and why any of these things even matter. And that's just a glimpse. It's really all of this hidden magic that makes it seem all so easy. So bringing this hidden skill into the light is really where learning happens. And there is a trick or two of course to doing it well, which is what the power of potential shows readers how to do. So imagine what's possible using the right techniques after extracting the secrets to presenting financial information to non-financial users for example. Or the secrets to modeling the financial plans for a new factory. Think of the opportunities to influence that this provides to you. So basically I share several techniques and a very practical and relatable way to help readers gain a rich understanding of the behaviors, the skills, the capabilities, the beliefs, and values necessary to truly excel at whatever it is that they want to do, whatever their desired skill is. And it's basically by tapping into this space within highly skilled individuals that management accountants and many others can learn in a fundamentally better way and by extension accelerate their careers.

Adam: (13:25)
So if we jump ahead a little, what advice would you have for a listener who is trying to self-assess their skill level?

David: (13:31)
Another great question Adam. There are really a number of ways to assess achievements, progress or outcomes. And it basically starts from the inside out and it moves swiftly outside. But there's nothing more damaging than someone who thinks they're amazing at something when consensus shows the opposite. And this happens very quickly to individuals who are in a position of authority or power or either no feedback is solicited from anyone or the feedback received is simply dismissed. We need to be aware of the self-defeating traps because feedback is critical. We are only ever as good as we are perceived to be. So back to the question of self-assessment, there are many questions that you could ask yourself. One approach I found that works well is being customer driven. That is, put yourself in the shoes of your customers. So for example, if you're a pianist, is your audience moved by the music and transported away as you play, or as a finance leader, do senior management ask you for your opinion because you inspire their trust and confidence. How would you objectively assess a given skill? Because after all, there's no point in kidding yourself if the objective is skill mastery. So the inside out assessment approach really starts with a self-assessment and moves outward to put yourself in the shoes of a dissatisfied customer to ultimately directly asking customers or your extended network for feedback. There are many ways to basically get there.

Adam: (15:03)
So David this has been a very insightful discussion, but before we wrap it up, I like to ask one last question. What parting advice do you have for our listeners as they consider learning and development in 2021? I'm thinking even beyond, the required credits you need for your certification, you're looking at your full learning and development.

David: (15:24)
Brilliant question, Adam and I absolutely love finishing on a forward looking question. There really is no better time to start a new chapter, no pun intended of course, than today. I might be a little biased as the author, but I openly admit that I wrote The Power of Potential to help as many aspiring professionals as possible. Soft skills are more sought after than ever in accounting advisors. So developing them is a 21st century necessity for every single finance and accounting professional. The book takes readers through a journey of self-discovery from a big idea through self-improvement and mastery of any desired skill. Each chapter provides secrets that allow readers to get a jumpstart on their careers and take control of their future. I might go so far as to say it's highly likely that our listeners will find themselves enjoying a life free of what if regrets and living the life they want. And I basically love seeing people succeed in their careers and personal lives. And it's in that spirit that I write a weekly blog on leadership and soft skill development. So if our listeners want to accelerate development of the soft skills, I really encourage them to sign up at the website and receive it right in their inbox every Monday morning or join the LinkedIn group if that's easier. After all, the world is our oyster, only we can seize the opportunity and reach our full potentials in 2021 and beyond. Thanks a lot for having me Adam, I really enjoyed sharing this story with you.

Closing: (16:49)
This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at www.imanet.org.