An Interview with Mykel Dixon from Australia, who is the #1 choice for a Keynote Speaker on Creativity,
Leadership, Culture, Engagement & Experience.
Noventa Consulting: Who are you and what is your vision?
Mykel Dixon: I’m a musician by trade but a gypsy by nature. I very much love human development, and I love pushing the world towards a more artful existence. I want leaders, I want individuals, I want brands to think more artistically about the way that they do things. My vision is to design ecosystems through the world of work that supports and sustains the self-expression of its people. Creating such atmospheres, and environments allow the full actualization of everything we do. I think when that happens, we will be less focused on making lots of money and more focused on making lots of beauty.
NC: Why do you believe that the future belongs to the artist?
Dixon: The 20th century belonged to science and rational thinking. I’m not saying these are bad things. This approach has led us to where we are now, a very efficient world. But, it’s a not the right way in the 21st century. Now it is all about emotion, intuition, qualitative thinking, sensory experience, beauty, meaning, purpose, and art. There’s one particular kind of person that is fluent in those skills, languages, and behaviors, and that is the artists. I think there’s not a better time for the business world to look towards the Arts. The artists can help organizations to claim and repurpose for the complex and uncertain environment of today.
NC: That’s powerful. I think that companies neglect thinking about creating engaging cultures. On your website, you mentioned immersive experiential learning. Can you describe that for me?
Dixon: A teacher who is standing hours in front of the classroom to teach organizational development, leadership development, or any other subject matter is no longer effective. I’m not sure if this way of teaching ever was fruitful. The immersive experiential learning means that you are actively co-creating a part of the content of the day. It’s highly participatory, interactive, hands-on, and emergent. You might have an outline for the day which you’re willing to adapt and change depending on the collective energy of the group. Every learning experience is unique, relevant and tied to that particular group of humans that were in the room at that specific time. It is a much more organic way of learning by getting the hands dirty, testing, tweaking. Discovery and questioning are the fundamental parts of the learning experience.
NC: With one’s horizon, you cannot think so much different than the rest. Bringing in artists opens up the playing field for a different kind of thinking.
Dixon: I think we’re going to see many consultants who see an opportunity and make their training programs highly immersive, experiential or participatory. But they might not have the skills required to facilitate the training. To be able to do it effectively it’s not about knowing the topics intellectually; it’s about being and communicating. It does take a different kind of facilitator or leader to create this kind of learning environments. It’s less hierarchical, and more like a facilitated space where everyone is equal, and on the same page. Diversity and inclusion are enhancing the environment. These are big words which everyone is using right now. I think it is a unique skillset that some people are good at, but they might never have set foot in the business world.
NC: Immersive learning is a great way to train lean principles. At Noventa Consulting, we aim to conduct training in this way; we have still a lot of potential for improvement. I see when we do theoretical training, people change their state and become students: they lean back, they consume or don’t, and they become passive.
Dixon: Exactly, yes.
NC: How do you help your clients to reinvent the organization for relevance?
Dixon: Relevance is about getting the organizations anchored to why they’re in business in the first place. We all know that business is about hitting the quarterly targets and the metrics. I believe that it is worthwhile to take a few days off to stop and reflect on why are we doing this? It’s valuable to think about who we are doing it for, and why it matters?
For so many people, the reasons for being in business is so much more vibrant than 30 or 40 years ago, when it was to make an income, to buy a home, to keep the boss happy. Back then, all that mattered was growth, growth, growth. But now there’s employee engagement and a sense of belonging; it’s about purpose, it’s about sustainability, it’s about advocacy and legacy. Businesses now take responsibility to create environments that are transformative for their people. I help organizations to redefine for relevance by facilitating the conversation that whatever was happening yesterday might not be relevant to today. Every single moment, someone is disrupting an industry, market, a team, or an organization somewhere. I want to make my clients realize that change is happening now. When they get that, then we can have the conversation about what matters to them. Once we have defined the way, we find the way forward. To see what’s going on, we have to stop and take a breath, and ask ourselves what’s going on, where are we and what’s our purpose?
NC: In the examples of successful companies like Airbnb, Uber, Space X and Tesla, we have seen that industry outsiders drive the disruption.
Dixon: In the beginning, we were talking about the idea of cultural architecture. I used to run an innovation co-working space. We had table tennis and all that stuff that Google has. Government officials and corporate executives would come to the innovation space. I explained to them how we are working and how it is cross-pollinating. We had a series of events and activations to get people to collaborate and co-create. When the visitors left, they would always say, that they understood the concept and that they need to get ping pong tables, free beer, and a red couch to be more innovative. It’s fascinating to me that this was their takeout after their visit. I think my work has evolved to be less about creating the spaces and more about working with the people. The often can’t see why they need to cultivate a physical space that can enhance their culture.
NC: Using a tool without the mindset, doesn’t deliver any results. If the mindset and culture are not implemented, no one will sit on that red couch, because the other people will think that they are not busy. This example shows that you cannot just copy a tool of another organization and produce the same results, without installing the way of thinking. In Lean Management Consulting, I see this phenomenon as well; many companies copy blindly the tools used by Toyota, without understanding the fundamental principles and way of thinking.
Dixon: I think it’s more important to focus on disruption coming from within. There’s the danger that we assume that external experts, neighbors, competitors, or other countries are doing it better and that we need to adapt their practices. To have relevance, it’s far more useful if it comes from within. You can activate your employees because they are already emotionally invested in your vision and values. I observe that we are all in such a rush to quickly fix things and to quickly make more money and growth. The kind of work that we are talking about here and what genuinely affects the organization takes years. It’s a personal transformation; it’s a real growth of an individual in awareness, presence, and wisdom. This transformation doesn’t happen over a week, or while listening to a TED Talk or watching an inspirational Youtube clip. Real change comes from a life being lived with all its trials and tribulations. It’s an interesting challenge to balance the calendar that we are operating on and real long-term growth.
NC: How do you build innovative, inclusive team cultures?
Dixon: It’s all about building trust. A Google Study and other studies confirmed what we have known for years, that we need to feel safe with our peers to be willing to put ourselves at risk by presenting ideas that are unpolished.
I used to do a lot of these exercises in songwriting workshops. You have to trust your teammate and know that they won’t laugh at you, they won’t ridicule you or make fun of you if you put forward an idea that may not be that good. The awareness must be there that an imperfect notion might inspire your team members to come up with something more significant.
You create a safe space by facilitating experiences where the team grows together through being at risk, making things, and every member is putting themselves and their creativity out there. You have to be vulnerable. When people are creating things like short film, group play, or write songs, there’s no way to hide. You have to be creative; you have to contribute and put yourself out there. Because everyone is doing this together and no one is particularly good at the game I’ve set up.
If you practice that enough, it starts shining back into your work, and you start developing a shared language. With shared rituals and behaviors, you create a culture.
It’s always fascinating to observe the participants at an event. At the dinner, after a bottle of wine is when everyone finally softens up. There’s a real intimacy and a vulnerability that emerges organically. It’s always interesting to point out, why weren’t we that relaxed at 9 am? Why wasn’t everyone so comfortable around each other, so authentic, straight and friendly without the alcohol or food?
We need to stop this duality of the personal and the professional identity. You have more impact on your work if you show a little bit of vulnerability and authenticity, and if there is congruence between who you are at home and who you are at work. There is a lot more energy in this leadership. Starting feels dangerous and risky. It works in your favor if you are willing and courageous enough to step into it.
NC: When we talk about feelings in organizations, people think it’s esoteric and awkward, but it’s closer to our true nature.
Dixon: The amusing thing is feelings haven’t just arrived recently, they’ve always been there. It’s not a phenomenon we’ve created now. We have always had feelings towards our work, at our boss, towards our clients, and our colleagues. We are now starting to understand them more and can leverage them. The marketers and advertisers have known for a century that feelings are the driving force in just about everything that we do. The irony in business is that we assume the people make rational decisions, and then they never do that. We know so many statistics, but still people make wildly irrational and emotional decisions. This is true across the board, from CEO to factory worker.
NC: Do you have a message to round-up our conversation?
Dixon: The reason why people stay at work after 5 pm is the emotional context. This feeling is what’s driving us to work harder. It’s like the secret that’s hidden in plain sight.
I think now is the time for you to bring all of yourself to your work. We’re not going to be around for very long. Think of all the businesses that have come and gone, some have made money, some haven’t. We remember the ones that have created a real impact on communities and culture, and that stands for more than money, growth, and success. I just think why not? If you have big, bold, beautiful ideas about what your career or what your company could look and feel like then my invitation is why not just go for it and create something that no one’s ever created before. By being bold, you are being rewarded in financially and regarding fulfillment. We need more courage and audacity in business.
NC: Thank you so much for sharing your insights.