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Book Review: How to Lead a Quest, by Dr Jason Fox

How to Lead a Quest: A handbook for pioneering executives

by Dr Jason Fox, Wiley, $29.95

Don’t let the red beard and vests fool you. Dr Jason Fox is probably the closest thing to a modern-day swashbuckler you’ll find in business thought leadership. To use his own words, he spends his time “liberating the world from default thinking and the curse of efficiency”.

Dr Fox has already explored the science of motivation in his first book, The Game Changer, which looked at how to make progress inherently motivating with game theory. Now, he turns his attention to developing the pioneering leaders who will make things happen. This book is not heavy on research or study analyses; the only footnotes are his own asides about things like coffee or direct addresses to the reader. But it’s also far from speculation. Dr Fox has years of experience as a motivation-strategy and design expert, and he draws heavily on his work with companies like Suncorp, Telstra and CSIRO as practical case studies that best illustrate – as either dos or don’ts – the points he wants to make.

His writing is irreverent and the content injects a dose of the fanciful, so fair warning that some suspension of disbelief is necessary. This style is characteristic of his presentations, but unusual in business writing. It’s clear that he doesn’t take himself too seriously, and that’s the point. Dr Fox asks readers to abandon the default thinking, delusions and conventions that plague today’s workplaces and characterises default thinking as a Kraken of Doom lurking in the murky depths of offices everywhere.

The business of doing business can be sterile, he says. Companies today look for innovation and creativity without confronting what that actually looks like. Everyone wants the success of a start-up, but few understand the core values that power these innovators: “By seeking to reduce uncertainty – instead of questing within it – we end up reducing the very things that allow us to pioneer and unlock game-changing strategic innovation: creativity, serendipity, imagination, diversity, experimentation and learning,” he says.

On old maps, cartographers would often mark uncharted territory with warnings of “Here be dragons”. The phrase has since been adapted as a metaphor for venturing into the unknown. This is exactly where Dr Fox thinks leaders should be heading.

Chapters are packed with exercises, diagrams and illustrations of core concepts with titles such as “Failure and the Nine Layers of Fell” and “The Importance of Pioneering”. The uniting force is the hero’s journey – the quest that leaders are on to tame the behemoths and leviathans within their organisation. 

So how do we get there? Dr Fox lists the four most important traits leaders need to progress through uncertainty as imagination and curiosity, but less predictably, doubt and wonder. 

As a refreshing counter to all the self-help “You can do anything you set your mind to” literature, Dr Fox considers doubt – the ability to constantly question your thoughts and actions, and those of others – to be a valuable asset for pioneering leaders.

His sections on quest-augmented strategy expand on doubt and wonder as uncredited champions of progress. “Wonder exists in the undivided mind, within the overlaps of both art and science,” he says. “And doubt is the black sheep of the family … yet it is one of our most stalwart companions to any quest.”

Perhaps one of his most pithy insights is that strategy has no present tense. It’s a bit of a “yes, and” statement, but indicative of how businesses hold themselves back. It all circles around to his Kraken of Doom and why we stick to the safety of the shallows. For anyone looking to brave the deep, unknown waters, this book is a useful torch.

Dr Jason Fox will be speaking at all AHRI State Conferences in 2016. To learn more, click here

This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the April 2016 issue of HRMonthly magazine as “Here Be Dragons”. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here

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