Speaker, Writer, Global Citizen, Advisor
A conversation with April Rinne is energizing.
Her interests are wide ranging: she speaks and writes about inclusive business innovation, policy reform, sustainable development, and emerging markets. Having visited more than 100 countries (and worked in more than 50), she maintains a truly global perspective.
April is also more comfortable with uncertainty and change than many. The sudden death of her parents when she was away at college plunged her world into disarray, and she’s been learning since how to thrive in a world in flux.
Today April advises startups and governments trying to deal with change in the workplace or the world. Her energy and enthusiasm is consistent and inspiring, and she’ll get you thinking about how you’re dealing with change in your world.
Unlike the other writers I’ve interviewed here, April was still working on her book when we spoke. Her theme is (flux mindset) applies particularly well to authors, and she has a unique take on using a book as the “connective tissue” in the work she does.
We talked about:
- What a flux mindset is and why we really need it now
- Why “running faster” isn’t the answer to handling change
- Her career as a “cross-pollinator” and finding her niche at the intersection of many themes
- What do to when current events overtake your drafting process
- Engaging and providing value before the book is published
Her book Flux Mindset: Disciplines to Thrive in Constant Change will be available from Berrett-Koehler in 2021.
- Learn more about April on her website: AprilRinne.com
- Learn more about Flux Mindset
- Watch her TedX talk
Listen to the Audio
Read the Transcript of the Interview
Anne: I’m really excited to talk to you about your concept of flux mindset, and also about how you how you got there and what you’ve been doing. You have possibly the most fun web page I’ve ever visited. I am interested in hearing more of your story.
April: Thank you so much and it’s a delight to be here. I’m really happy to share.
Anne: I’m captivated by your idea of a flux mindset. Having just listened to your TEDx talk and read about it, it seems to be a companion or cousin to the growth mindset that Carol Dweck writes about. In your case, it’s about dealing with change and uncertainty. Do you want to extrapolate on that to help me understand it better?
The concept of flux mindset
April: I think of it as an ally to the mindset. Very clear disclaimer: I’m not a psychologist and I’m not trained as a psychologist. I’m taking a lay person view that’s accessible and approachable. It applies quite broadly, not just for children and education and learning, which is where growth mindset mostly shows up, but for all of us.
Taking a step back and zooming out, we can talk about my professional journey, my personal path—it all fits. We are living in a world in flux, in pretty much every aspect. I said this pre-COVID. COVID is the master accelerant of all of this.
I spend a lot of time working with startups and governments and a range of stakeholders who are looking at how the world is changing: the future of work, the future of food, the future of education and learning. The pace of change has never been as fast as it is today, when we look at connectivity, how much information you’re asked to consume, and what we’re able to accomplish in any given day.
The pace of change has never been faster than it is today. And yet … it’s likely to never again be this slow.”
And when you sit with that concept you go, “Gosh!”
I’m not a change management expert. But I was looking at the narrative that we’re given largely by consumer-driven society, which is: If things are going ever faster, the way that you survive is to keep up. You have to run faster. Whether that’s on a hamster wheel or whether that’s just feeling like it’s the daily grind. I’m working with organizations who are grappling with that from pretty much every angle. Some are producing the latest app that will help you optimize your life and save you ten minutes. Others are policymakers and governments around the world who are invariably the lagging indicators. Policy reform is needed on so many levels today, and they can’t keep up.
At the core of this is the sense that we are living in a world in flux—whether that’s the workplace in flux, or education. Education is in flux with homeschooling as well as the future of education. We’re looking at whether we’re going to be prepared in terms of skills gaps. We’re looking at financial markets in flux, we’re looking at families in flux, we’re looking at whatever you thought your career might be in flux.
It’s fractal. At any layer of abstraction you can look at this. I asked myself, how do we get through this, as individuals, as organizations, and as a society.
I started to realize that, in my opinion, we’ve got things backwards. The answer to thriving in a world of flux isn’t “run ever faster.” As far as I can tell, any system that tells you to run ever faster—and implicit in that is however fast you were running today, you’re going to need to run faster, tomorrow—is unsustainable at best. At best, it leads to burnout. But more than that, it keeps everyone from reaching their full potential and living a life that is aligned with the human being, as well as goals, priorities, etc.
Once I started peeling away the layers of that onion, it became really rich, really fast. The flux mindset has a series of what I call disciplines.
The irony is that in a world in flux, we need to be disciplined. But the disciplines we need are not the ones that society typically tells us.
Anne: We can’t possibly control everything or understand everything. We have to find a different way to deal with it.
April: Exactly. Humans on the whole don’t deal well with change. That’s not a criticism. I am always giving the caveat these days that the amount of adaptation that we’ve done in two months of quarantine and lockdown is extraordinary!
We are very adaptable when we need to be. But it took a crisis and a pandemic for us to adapt like this—COVID being the master accelerant. We need to get better at grooving proactive muscles to cope with change. We’re not good at change.
When I look at the future, this is an essential part of our path forward. I think of it like strengthening a muscle. It’s almost a muscle we don’t realize we have and we need to start exercising it. Once it gets strong, it’s quite capable. I’m not saying that with the flux mindset, all of a sudden you can solve all problems and find all solutions. I’m saying that you’re much better equipped to navigate, and ideally thrive, in a world of flux whatever your particular situation might look like.
Dealing with uncertainty
Anne: It’s about strengthening that skill within ourselves. What I love is that it’s something that we can all adapt. I know that we all have different degrees of comfort and discomfort with uncertainty and ambiguity, and what happening right now is we’re like in a ramped up situation of uncertainty and ambiguity. Either we panic and try to go back to something that was before, or like you said, we start working on these new muscles and new ways of being. We try to figure out how to be stronger and more resilient in an uncertain world.
April: I have a couple of anecdotes or side notes to add to this. Like I said I’m not a psychologist, so I’m not looking at this in terms of empirical evidence and running lots of tests. I’m talking about being at the 50 yard line while this happens. We can talk more about my global community and the things that I’ve done because I’m nested within a whole bunch of different communities that allow me to be a cross pollinator—a bumblebee, taking ideas and insights and perspective from one place to the other.
You bring up a connection: fear, anxiety, depression. A whole bunch of what I’m looking at is informed by mental health. I’m not a mental health therapist, but I’ve had exposure into that space. This is very much a business- oriented book. By business, I mean professionals. I want it to be accessible to everybody, but as I know you’ve said before, you cannot write for everyone. This is definitely geared towards navigating the future of work and change management, but not in a typical sense.
It’s written for a business audience, or professional audience, but I’m bringing in insights from mental health but also, for example, yoga. I’m trained as a yoga teacher. I don’t teach yoga, but I love having the credential. It’s a huge part of my life. When you start digging into yoga philosophy, you realize there are all kinds of insights going beyond having weekly yoga class in the office because it boosts it boosts employee productivity. That’s just surface window dressing. I want to bring these different disciplines and ways of seeing the world in a way that is accessible. I’m talking about yoga a lot in the book, and in many cases, I’m not sure if I use the word yoga. The moment I do that, the conversation shifts and certain readers will lose interest.
Deciding to write a book
Anne: How have you gotten to the point where you just casually drop, “I consult and advise governments and startups.” That’s such a wildly diverse group of clients! It sounds like part of this idea and your current platform has come from your wide ranging, cross pollination and synthesizing across domains. Would you say that’s a big part of what you’re bringing to your practice, to your ideas?
April: Huge. People have been asking me for more than 20 years, “When are you going to write a book? You’ve got to write a book.” What was interesting is, most of those people thought I would write a travel book. I can see why they would say that. [April is an avid traveler and spent four years, between college and graduate school, traveling the world.]
I love reading travel books, and I have my favorite travel authors. I don’t think the world needs another travel book. If I have limited time on this blue marble, I’m not sure that’s how I ought to spend it. Also, I have enough friends and colleagues who are published authors to realize this is not for the faint of heart. This is a big thing to lift.
I never wanted to feel like I had to write a book. So, it was on low simmer for a long time. For the vast majority of my life, I thought I’m not going write a book because it’s not my thing. I’m too out there in the field. I want to travel. I want to do this or that.
Then, a couple years ago, I started to feel like a book was coming out of me.
It was as though I needed to marinate in enough different places that I could start developing a unique point of view and perspective.
I could start making connections that felt like, “Wow, if I wrote these up and shared them beyond blog posts and OpEds, this could be really helpful.”
I have been, or am, a lawyer, a hiking and biking guide, an impact investor, a yoga teacher, a global development executive, and a public speaker. As it relates to my public speaking, which I’ve been doing now for the last six to seven years—and I absolutely love it—I am routinely told, “You can talk about so many things. We can put you forth for a keynote on all of these different topics, which is quite extraordinary.” And I love that. At the same time, I still get the question: “What do you do? I don’t really get you. Your CV is like what?”
This is not why I wrote the book. I started to feel a book coming out of me. I love the different chapters in my book of life, so to speak. By no means have they been easy. And by no means have they dropped from the sky. I’ve had to work really hard and there’s been a lot of challenge and difficulty. But I’m grateful for the chapters I’ve had.
Finding her niche at the intersection of ideas
This is the first time that I actually can look at a book and a point of view as the container for everything else that I’ve done.
The notion of flux mindset gets that door open. If I’m working with governments, I can talk about cities in flux, or policy reform. We can bolt it on to something. If I talk about the new economy and business models, that’s in flux, too. That follows me through. I can talk about mental health.
From a platform perspective, it finally becomes that connective tissue that pulls together what people are really attracted by, in terms of the diversity of what I’ve done, and the communities that I’ve myself in. When people ask, what do you do? I’m like, “Here. This ties it all together. Let me send you here and hopefully that helps answer the question.” That’s a first for me.
Anne: That’s fascinating because I can see you’ve got wide ranging interests. You’ll be one of these people afraid of saying, “I’ve got a niche,” because you’re not contained by any boundaries: global boundaries, industry boundaries. You have wide-ranging interests.
April: The niche is at the intersection. I spent a lot of time talking about networks. We’re moving from a world of centralized institutions to networks, from centralized to decentralized.
The most powerful node in a network is not the largest node. It’s the most connected.
If you can position yourself at the intersection of enough of different spokes, you can have a lot of exposure. It’s not the way we typically think of niche.
Anne: It’s not niche the way we normally think of it. It’s an area of enormous amount of influence, it’s a lens that you can put on and it applies to a bunch of different topics.
April: On this note, I have my law degree. I spent time as a lawyer. I have my finance degree. I spent time in finance. I spent a lot of time working with tech startups and so forth. People love that I have these degrees and I use these degrees every day, but I’m not practicing law, and I’m not investing. What people are asking me for is the global perspective, which only comes when you’ve traveled enough or worked in a global context enough that you have grooves and expertise that by its very nature is intersectional and interdisciplinary.
Anne: Yes, the global perspective. You describe yourself as a global citizen, and I think that’s a fascinating way to look at it. So, I can see how this has grown out of everything you’ve done.
Writing a book while the world is in flux
Anne: You’re now working on the book. We chatted before we started to record about how this whole pandemic is an accelerant. This is so timely as the flux mindset something we need now. But, you’re finding it’s worth slowing down at this point and looking again. Do you want to just go a into what you meant by that?
April: Sure. I have conversations almost daily about the fact that I’m writing a book about change in the world that is in flux—talk about multiple moving targets! When it comes to the table of contents, we will button this down. But if this is not emergent, I don’t know what it is. Getting comfortable with that has been a part of the journey.
I was already working on this concept of a flux mindset for roughly a year. Meanwhile, I’d started writing about it. And I gave a TEDx talk late last year about it. COVID had not hit yet, it hadn’t even shown up in Wuhan. At that time, the book was geared towards the world in flux like: will automation take my job? Will the climate wreck the planet? So much is in flux and we can’t predict it.
Then COVID hit and people said, “A world in flux? Yes, very much. Please.”
At the most basic level, I want to write a book that is timeless.
I want to write a book that 2, 3, 5,10 years from now, people still look at and think, “Wow, that was super helpful.” At the same time, I would be deluding myself if I didn’t take a hard look at the ways in which COVID and the pandemic, its impact and responses are shifting how we think and what we struggle with. It definitely gives my argument and my book more heft.
In this weird way, even though I would have loved to have written a book and have already published, I think I dodged a bullet. It took longer for the book to get lift-off, and that turned out to be a real blessing. I’m grateful that people I’ve talked to say, “Your book is more needed now.” It is not something that’s going to get shelved.
Books as a whole are not doing great unless you’re reading writing a children’s activity book, but business books, technical books—that’s not where you really want to be. But mindset books, in the sense of how we navigate, can be helpful. I’m really trying to figure out where it could make the book more powerful to insert aspects of the “new normal.” Some people are saying that obviously we’re not going back to some kind of normal, what’s the new normal? I heard a friend recently call it the now normal, or the new-now-never normal.
It’s also making me realize several things for purposes of this conversation. One is that shy of getting the book out, there’s a lot of low hanging fruit that’s much shorter, pithier, and more directly-today helpful. For example, flux self assessments.
Providing Value Before the Book is Out
It’s fun when I ask people, “What do you think about flux?” Because of my global community, this was a challenge that I had for book titles. Some people said, “It’s intriguing. I think I know what it means, but I don’t really know.” Many people were like, “Ooh, this is good, this is really juicy.” Flux has a meaning that relates to metallurgy and chemicals. It’s a binding agent. I did have some people who said, “Don’t use it; flux makes me think of indigestion.”
Anne: There is something medical there.
April: It was quite funny. You’re never going to please everybody.
When I say flux and flux mindset, in what part of your life is it showing up most? For most people, it’s showing up at the workplace, at home, when they think about the future, when they think about the family. But the relative balance is different for each person. So I’m getting a sense of where can the concept be most directly helpful now.
That’s one way in which, if I need to invest in doing that sort of thing and the book takes longer, it’s totally okay. If I can be directly helpful sooner, great. Also, it’s prototyping, it’s data, it informs the book itself. I’ve had to realize that this is a dance. I keep telling myself there’s not a bad outcome here.
Dealing with uncertainty, with the book and beyond
The irony is that I’m having to apply the principles of a flux mindset [to writing the book.] One of them is that it’s not about predicting and controlling the future, it’s about preparing for a bunch of different scenarios and holding that future gently. There’s no better way than to walk the talk.
Anne: That’s right. So you have this enormous laboratory, learning opportunity and platform building opportunity by being helpful and sharing right now and even deepening what goes into the book as it comes out. I don’t think you need to worry that in six months, the world won’t be in flux anymore—that it’s going to be stable from then on.
April: Exactly. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at how flux mindset relates to growth mindset or outward mindset or fixed mindset or fear mindset. It’s right in there. We can line those up on a spectrum.
But also, when we’re talking about a world in flux, people in business world say, “Oh yeah, it’s like VUCA.” If you’re unfamiliar with the word: Volatile Uncertain Complex and Ambiguous. And it is.
I have no problem with the concept. VUCA as a concept is super helpful to the world. VUCA was designed specifically by and for the military, and has been used mostly in business. And, I say this with all respect, it’s 100% designed and written by men. I can’t find a single female leader that responds to VUCA. I had a conversation with a Harvard Business School professor, who is also a friend of mine, just last week. He was going on about VUCA and I asked, “Where are the female-led responses to VUCA?” He said, “I know. At HBS, we teach by case study, and we can’t find cases about women,” It is as though he needed me to help find case studies about women. I said, “You need a different paradigm. Maybe it’s the paradigm.”
Anne: Maybe it’s not the women, it’s the paradigm.
April: We need a different response. I share this because clearly we’re heading into a more VUCA world, a more flux-y world, and we need better responses, which mindset is part of it. Also, I love the potential for bringing in more of a gender balance.
Not to discredit any men out there, it’s back to yoga. It’s the yin and yang. Yan energy is male, Yin energy is female. We need those in balance. For the last few centuries, we’ve been living in a world of yang overdose.
Anne: I’m excited to see what you do with this how it builds out. I’m going to share your website and places where people can see what you’re doing. Given your perspective, your connections, your views on the world, and your energy, I think this book will do wonderful things.