We are living in unprecedented times. With global economies shifting overnight, dramatic events on the political and social stages, and the pandemic dragging on, it is becoming clear that in this ever-changing landscape, business leaders need to prioritize their “learning agility” in 2022 and take steps to improve it.
Indeed, the world and how businesses respond to it have changed dramatically over the last few years – and there are no signs things are slowing down anytime soon. In dynamic industries like cannabis, learning agility takes on even more urgency. Here are a few strategies we live by to make sure we are responsive, reflective and ready for anything that comes our way. Read for how we have learned to pivot with ninja-like dexterity.
Curiosity is at the heart of learning. Stepping away from the daily grind to wonder about how things are going is both restorative and productive. As a team, we take time out to be reflective. These time-outs with decision-makers and leaders allow us to integrate the lessons coming our way.
Let’s face it—the world moves so quickly it feels like we are living in dog years. At that clip, reactivity almost becomes the default. At Item 9 Labs Corp., parent company of Item 9 Labs and Unity Rd., we have become intentional about pausing to reflect and consider where we could do better and how we can implement lessons learned. We do this in an annual executive retreat as well as weekly meetings between department heads and the executive team. We consider and discuss what was good, what was bad, where we can get better and what opportunities we can seek going forward with a spirit of curiosity and wonder.
I also do this on a personal level. I meditate daily, usually for at least a half-hour. It is non-negotiable for me; offers a major reflection period and a chance to get a bird’s eye view of what is happening.
I focus also on bringing the spirit of curiosity to my daily life – I keep a book on the go and plow through a range of titles and genres. It keeps my perspective fresh and broadens my view of the world. Even though many, if not most, of the books I read have nothing to do with my business or industry, they reconnect me to the human experience and allow me to think in new ways about the world, people and culture. That trickles into my business decisions, even on a subconscious level. The more expansive we are with our thinking and interests, the better we serve our team, shareholders, franchise partners, guests, patients and community.
Celebrate Mistakes as Learning Opportunities
Successful learning agility depends on your openness to being wrong. We aim to create a space where mistakes are seen as learning opportunities and risks are encouraged. In business, I seldom view negative events as so-called “mistakes.” We try to play the long game and view these events as learning opportunities. If we stay awake and attuned, we can drop the self-defeating attitudes when things did not go how we had envisioned and instead see them as opportunities to knock it out of the park in the future, as the “mistake” gave us a better lay of the land.
Our leaders encourage transparency and often open up the floor for wild brainstorming. We create a safe space for creativity and vulnerability, which usually delivers the best thinking and better results.
On the executive team, we allow people to learn for themselves by encouraging calculated risk-taking. Allowing people to be bold and make mistakes—instead of predicting the outcomes for them—drives the greatest impact for the greatest good.
Challenge the Status Quo
In working environments today, employees feel bound to their status and are often scared to disagree with others. This is especially prevalent when the person they are disagreeing with is senior to them. Instead, we actively invite our team to ask questions, present their ideas and suggestions and offer alternatives. When employees voice their opinions, this leads to a better solution or outcome for the team.
Personally, I first experienced the benefits of challenging the status quo when I began an investment group and flipping homes. Everyone told me the way I had to do things – they said, “This is just how things are done in the construction industry.” And I said, “No, I do not think it is – I think there are better ways.” We then began building sustainable homes and scaled that into a 41-unit apartment complex. It was the first net-zero energy apartment complex in the country. In the end, it tracked pretty closely with normal construction pricing and people were surprised.
The construction industry is a great example of how we can get stuck in a rut. While there is clear value in the wisdom of experience, there is more value in thinking expansively and doing bigger and better things.
From a team perspective, we have worked to create an environment where people throughout the hierarchy can feel comfortable putting themselves out there and perhaps even saying things that may cause friction.
My leadership philosophy allows for decision-making to trickle down. Team members feel empowered and realize they too have the right to make good decisions. It encourages them to speak up and builds trust, while offering a more dignified way to do business that brings out people’s best selves.
We are a corporation, but at the same time, we need to be able to pivot because the cannabis industry moves at warp speed.
This ability to shift on a dime is essential for success. Thankfully, businesses have access to resources that provide the analytics to make informed decisions quickly. By way of example, we noticed market price in Arizona for flower had dropped precipitously because of the development of the recreational market. The hyper-mobility of our internal processes allowed us to shift our focus on the flower side to pre-rolls, which better suited the current market environment and allowed us to get a much higher return. It filled a gap in the market and made the best of our position.
We have worked to make our business modular, as it allows us the flexibility, we need to respond to market demands, shifting regulations and the general landscape. Our facilities in Coolidge, for example, are built utilizing six different phases for over 650,000 square feet of operations.
We spaced cultivation into six different segments because it allows us true adaptability – if everything created with phase one product is selling out, we can assess market penetration and move to phase two.
Due to the diverse nature of our business and the sweeping range of potential deals, from retail shops to cultivation and product, and the ever-evolving legislative environment, this ability to read trends, forecast and react intelligently all rests on our willingness to put agility first.
The franchise model in particular demands flexibility. Because cannabis is governed by state policy, those in the industry are essentially working with 50 different rule books. At Unity Rd., we rely on several different platforms to serve different markets, from Oklahoma to Oregon. If we are not up to speed on the regulations in a certain state, figuring out how to help a potential franchise partner has to happen on the fly.
Licensing applications work in the same way – we may have dedicated capital and funds to an application that is being held up and need to shift suddenly to other opportunities that have arisen. To seize these opportunities, we have to utilize everything I have mentioned – it gives you the awareness plus structural soundness to seize the day.
If the last few years have taught us anything, it is that we need to be receptive to new ways of doing things. In this sink or swim environment, learning agility will propel you forward.
Andrew Bowden is the CEO of Item 9 Labs Corp.