Bias not built for the networked age is our 21st century “rock in the road”

By Raphael Louis Vitón

If victory today depends on sustained innovation, then our lack of cognitive diversity and our default/counterproductive biases will continue to be the primary obstacle (rock in the road) to designing and implementing a new, winning strategy. Our counterproductive biases are the No. 1 business challenge from which all other business challenges are born. Bias is a 21st century business issue, not a diversity issue. Are we doomed? What if we’re working for zombie leaders who are trapped by their biases? What if we’re the zombie leader? Is there an antidote that we can use to keep from becoming “walkers” ourselves?

THE METAPHOR

Like the “Rock in the Road” episode from Season 7 of the Walking Dead when Rick Grimes tells a story about a rock in the road that nobody removes, it keeps causing all kinds of problems until finally a young girl digs it out.

RICK: “Well, when I was a kid, my mother told me a story. There was a road to a kingdom, and there was a rock in the road. And people would just avoid it, but horses would break their legs on it and die, wagon wheels would come off. People would lose the goods they’d be coming to sell. That’s what happened to a little girl. The cask of beer her family brewed fell right off. It broke. Dirt soaked it all up, and it was gone. That was her family’s last chance. They were hungry. They didn’t have any money. She just… sat there and cried, but… …she wondered why it was still there… for it to hurt someone else. So she dug at that rock in the road with her hands till they bled, used everything she had to pull it out. It took hours. And then… …when she was gonna fill it up, she saw something in it. It was a bag of gold.”

The moral of the story is: Whoever has the perseverance, decency and determination to dig up the rock in the road, gets the gold reward.

It has a nice “better angels of our nature” storyline. But let’s not go there; that’s distracting. Let’s not attach this business antidote to a fictitious storyline or moral, intuitional, spiritual, anecdotal truism. Let’s not bring it up in the context of L&D, HR or gender, diversity and inclusion (none of which historically have had enough corporate authority or decision rights to drive meaningful change). That’ll just give us a reason to minimize the impact. Let’s not even attach the antidote to a legal argument. Let’s stay in the realm of objective reasoning and business logic. Let’s work within our reliability-oriented, overachiever, operational mindsets from the industrial age, where delivering business results is what matters. In business, we’re taught to “put up (the numbers) or shut up.” I’m cool with that. So let’s talk about this in the context of irrefutable evidence, observable math and real-world experiments that prove, without a doubt, exactly what to do for better business outcomes.

In our 21st century reality, we’ve been walking around our “rock in the road” for decades. Whether it is explicit or implicit (conscious or unconscious) biases, Drucker warns us that in times of change, the greatest danger to complex problem solving and effective decision-making is our tendency to act (unconsciously) with yesterday’s logic, beliefs and mental models (aka the leadership complexity gap).
SeeChangeHomeFlash-1

But we’re all so smart and so successful that we can’t imagine that Drucker was talking about us — that other executive over there for sure…he is a classic example of being a prisoner of thought patterns, but not me…no way. The reality is that no one is immune. Our brains are always applying default biases and rules that are both productive and counterproductive whether we consciously know it or not. We’re biased about the biases that are counterproductive. We have HUGE blind spots and amazing powers of denial.

We all have biases. The problem isn’t that we have biases; the problem is that we deny that we have biases.

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Here is what it sounds like when we resist learning how to mitigate our biases:

I don’t do any of that. This doesn’t apply to me. I’m not biased. If I am biased, it’s only a little, and I do not suffer from cognitive biases. I am not drawn to details that confirm my beliefs (confirmation bias and bandwagon effect). I don’t notice flaws in others more easily than I do in myself (bias blind spot).

I don’t fill in characteristics from stereotypes, generalities and prior history (fundamental attribution error, negativity bias). I don’t preference people I’m familiar with or fond of as better than others (in-group and out-group bias).


I don’t simplify probabilities and numbers to make them easier to think about (normalcy bias, gambler’s fallacy, neglecting probability bias). I don’t assume I know what other people are thinking. I don’t infer what others’ intentions are (illusion of transparency, projection bias). I don’t project my mindset and assumptions onto the past and future (self-consistency bias).

I don’t favor the immediate, relatable thing in front of me over the unknown future thing (hyperbolic discounting). I don’t avoid making irreversible decisions or making mistakes because I’m trying to preserve autonomy and group status (status quo bias). I don’t have a tendency to disproportionately advocate for or focus on things I’ve invested time and energy into (sunk cost bias).

You might think, “I get it, and I am humble enough to realize that, yes, I can make mistakes. Got it.” No, NO, NOOO. The point is that I/we do not/cannot appreciate the extent to which I/we have error-prone thinking patterns (biases), as evidenced by the near century of data (and neuroscience) illustrated in this beautiful graphic on the 200+ biases that our limited minds and egos can’t seem to comprehend.

Cognitive_Bias_Codex_-_180+_biases,_designed_by_John_Manoogian_III_(jm3)

That’s part of the problem. Most successful, smart senior executives “know” this on an intellectual level. We “know” too much, actually. We’re stuck in the knower mindset versus the learner mindset. Apparently, we don’t “know it” in a way that we’ve been able to consciously choose to do the things it takes to mitigate these biases when it matters most. Our biases from the industrial age have us trapped and make us unwilling to effectively change our corporate lifestyles/habits quickly enough to walk our talk when it comes to “leading differently.” Against Drucker’s warning, we have not prepared ourselves to lead more effectively in the networked age. In most cases, we are far behind where we should be. We need to drop everything and train on deliberate, focused lifestyle practices that help with readying ourselves to pursue a new master plan. Now is not the time to be defensive nor waste valuable time and energy enabling professionals who still choose to deny their own biases.

THE WINNING FORMULA

Let’s get to the antidote — the best way to mitigate the limitations of our own brains. While taking a University of Michigan massive open online course (MOOC) on Model Thinking and Understanding Complexity, I came across Scott E. Page, a famous social scientist, professor of economics, director of the Center for the Study of Complex Systems and author. He is best known for his research on path dependence, culture, collective wisdom, adaptation and computational models on how human beings work together. In his decade-old book, Page reveals the winning formula that every business professional can embrace as fact…the absolute fact…the undeniable mathematical rules…the gold prize under the rock in the road…the Diversity Prediction Theorem.

diversitypredictiontheoremCompanies that love the reliability of math, algorithms and big data, like Google, Netflix etc., have been putting the formula to work to improve predictions about the future, modeling consumer behavior and addressing previously unsolvable business challenges. The formula proves to be true, beyond any doubt. No assumptions have to be made. No conditions have to be considered. It’s just a mathematical fact. The math shows that the Crowd’s Error is the Average Error minus the Diversity. Said differently, our team’s accuracy is driven by individual’s accuracy plus the team’s diversity. Individuals make decisions/predictions based on models (e.g., mental models, math models); therefore, the more models/perspectives that we use, the more accurate our decisions/predictions will be. This is a very important concept, as it shows that optimal outcomes are attained with more diverse perspectives.

Question: How can a group attain more diverse options to choose from and therefore better potential responses to challenges and circumstances?

Answer: By having different perspectives from a diverse group of people. “A perspective is the way in which an individual views the possible solutions to the problem. The way to attain a variance of perspectives is to have a diverse group across multiple variables. These variables can include age, race, gender, education, location, religion, sexual orientation, class and occupation. When people are different across these lines, they have different perspectives on many solutions. The different perspectives create the variance that is important to the Diversity Prediction Theorem.” Put more simply: The greater the number of perspectives, the more options we have. The more options we have, the better our decision-making and strategies will be. (Yes, I’m aware that my confirmation bias has led me to find this Diversity Prediction Theorem…bias strikes again. See how that works?)

THE ABSOLUTE AND INEVITABLE

In the networked age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, VUCA is the norm. Global markets, interconnectedness, digital transformation, complexity and exponential change drive the need for expanded capabilities. Corporations in all industries are transforming themselves in pursuit of greater advantage from specific competencies and cultural attributes (i.e., collaboration, innovation, agility, building high-performance teams, attracting, hiring and retaining the best talent). Where leadership and culture transformation is concerned, the unit of work is dialogue. Problem solving and decision-making are the highest value products of professionals.
“When solving complex problems, cognitive diversity beats talent, and when making a prediction, diversity matters just as much as ability.”

Not “probably” matters — cognitive diversity ALWAYS matters. So when leadership transformation programs, immunity to change programs and/or gender, diversity and inclusion programs that are intended to address bias and shift mindsets are bolted on like an elective course versus integrated into business strategy, you continue to see the disconnect between biased behavior and what is in the best interests of the business. Investors, leaders and boards of directors who ignore this fact are enabling their organizations to continue to walk around the rock in the road. That seems negligent and unprofessional, like the childish ostrich effect (cognitive bias) in behavioral finance, which is the attempt made by investors to avoid risky financial situations by pretending they do not exist. The awakened market won’t let childish leaders/bystanders get away with that kind of “pretending” for long.

Here’s where we can choose to stay awake or give in to the temptation to go back to being unconscious. Conscious leaders make better innovation leaders — stay calm and be conscious.

Adult development and culture transformation are not mysterious black boxes. The solutions are simple but not necessarily easy. They’re not necessarily “hard” either. It depends on and is relative to your current individual and collective readiness levels. Do the deep work and train together to accelerate the transformation.

The majority of senior leaders want to expand their level of mental complexity and emotional intelligence so they can lead successfully in today’s business environment. They don’t want to be a prisoner of their biases, nor do they want their organizations to be limited by their collective biases. They want their organizations to break down the silos, be more open, collaborative, creative, curious, engaged, courageous and inclusive. Ironically, though, their own biases make them unaware of the impact that their mindsets and behaviors have on stifling the expanded capabilities of the organization they want to create. It’s a vicious circle. Leaders’ biases keep them trapped in the comfort zone of what they know (knower mindset). Leaders’ biases make them still want to be the ones who have all the power. Leaders’ biases make them think they can keep the power by having all the answers and telling everyone else what to do.

 

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Leaders’ biases make them still want to believe that what worked in the past (the old success formula) will work today. Leaders’ biases make them still think they know which sticks and carrots (recognition and rewards) will motivate people to comply with company rules and be motivated to fulfill company goals. Leaders’ biases still make them think they can command and control their way through complexity and culture change.

Decade after decade, despite the irrefutable research on how adults can, in fact, update their mental models, the rock still sits in the middle of the road. It trips us up. We struggle trying to shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. We struggle trying to shift from a victim orientation to a creator orientation. We struggle trying to wake up from being socially defined to self-authoring. Our organizations suffer unnecessarily until serious, permanent damage to the organization itself causes the long-awaited transformational awakening. Until then, most leaders will remain trapped by their (industrial age) biases like zombies/“walkers.” If they are trapped, then we all are trapped. If they are “walkers” (walking around the rock in the road), then we are destined for unnecessary suffering.

CONNECTING THE DOTS

We will need to choose the deep work of individual and collective transformation in order to be leaders who see our own unconscious bias and try to understand it and mitigate it. The aware but “consciously incompetent” leader, pointing out everyone else’s biases, does us little good. Rewiring our default, industrial age habits for the age we’re entering into will lead us to our “bag of gold.” Today, a business leader’s job isn’t to just be better at responding to volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity; it is to nurture a more self-led, learning and adaptive environment while facilitating teams of diverse human beings to bring 110 percent of their passion, curiosity, creativity, intelligence, identity and courage to work. Leaders need to be working on elevating mindsets and putting wedges in place that make it impossible to regress to the default (old), counterproductive, less accurate ways of thinking. The ROI is there.

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A powerful “connecting-the-dots” approach to business benefits will prove to be the only sustainable, proactive cure for these “walking dead.” And only a few of the best culture transformation programs — as well as gender, diversity and inclusion programs — have proven to be successful at facilitating the powerful mindset shifts (e.g., from knower to learner, from fixed to growth, from victim to creator) that lead to individual behavior changes, team behavior changes and organizational behavior changes that then lead to better business outcomes.

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WHO’S DIGGING? WHO’S “BYSTANDER-ING”?

Who’s responsible for the road to the future at your company? Who’s responsible for digging out the rocks in the road? CEO, the buck (the rock) stops with you. Walking around the rock undermines your winning business strategy. Why would you tolerate that? Digging out the rocks will amplify your winning strategy and the desired results.

Let’s not keep walking around the rock in the road. Let’s commit to keep on digging.

______________________________
This idea also is represented in the recent book “The Obstacle is the Way,” by Ryan Holiday. In the book, he shares a similar story about a “rock in the road” that blocks a common path of travel for the villagers. Each of the villagers who came upon the rock tried and failed to move the obstacle.

obstacleisthewaydrawing

 

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Are people undermining your strategy (execution)?

By Tim Altaffer and David Kallás

Strategy execution is a central issue for companies and their directors. Academics and executives have long been researching for the best theories, practices and effectiveness. Studies have found that two-thirds to three-quarters of large organizations struggle to implement their strategies[1]. Figure 1 shows the average performance loss (by importance ratings) that managers gave to specific breakdowns in the planning and execution process[2]

Figure1Figure 1 – average performance loss in specific breakdowns in the planning and execution process

All but one of the factors presented in Figure 1 is controlled by the leadership. In addition, the reasons for this high failure rate can be traced to both hard and soft skills. By hard skills, we mean the processes and methods to organize ideas and to establish indicators, among other management tools, that are taught at most business schools. On the other hand, strategic execution soft skills are the intra and interpersonal attitudes and behaviors that engage people to deliver the processes

The hard side: the strategic execution and alignment process and tools

The term “strategic administration” (and, further, “strategic management”) comes from the 1960’s, when academics, especially Igor Ansoff, questioned the efficacy of performing the strategic planning process once a year. As a result, several models and theories were developed over time. One of the most popular of these models was introduced by Kaplan & Norton, and is illustrated on Figure 2. By management system, the authors refer to the integrated set of processes and tools that a company uses to develop its strategy, translate it into operational actions, and monitor and improve the effectiveness of both.

The model includes five stages, beginning with the strategy development stage, which involves applying tools, processes, and concepts such as mission, vision, and value statements, SWOT analysis, shareholder value management, competitive positioning, core competencies, etc. to formulate a strategy statement. That statement is then translated (Stage 2) into specific objectives and initiatives, using other tools and processes, including strategy maps and balanced scorecards.

Strategy implementation (Stage 3), in turn, links strategy to operations with a third set of tools and processes, including quality and process management, reengineering, process dashboards, rolling forecasts, activity-based costing, resource capacity planning, and dynamic budgeting.

As implementation progresses, managers continually review internal operational data and external data on competitors and the business environment. Finally, managers periodically assess the strategy, updating it when they learn that the assumptions underlying it are obsolete or faulty, which starts another loop around the system[3].

Figure2Figure 2 – Kaplan & Norton Closed-Loop Management System

Level order planning is a planning model based on the formal logic of cascading goals and strategies throughout an organization to drive action towards the creation of a future desired business state. In Figure 3, the formal logic of goal oriented planning is illustrated. Goals and strategies are cascaded throughout the organization based on the transfer of strategies from one level to the goals of the next level. This simple model describes how alignment of direction is achieved throughout different levels of an organization.

As you begin the planning process throughout the levels, it is important to understand the definitions of goals, strategies and tactics. First and foremost, the definition of a goal, strategy or tactic can be answered best in the context of the level within which it is being defined. One level’s goals may be another level’s strategies. For example, in the chart below, a second level’s goals are derived directly from the first level’s strategies and so on.

Goals define a future desired business state relative to the part of the organization that is defining the goal. Goals can be stated as measurement and this is often a clear way to define their intended purpose. Strategies are a statement of “how to” accomplish a goal. Strategies further define action for the organization. Tactics are most important at the level of planning closest to the customer. Although tactics can exist at each level within the enterprise, tactics always describe “what” actions need to be taken to fulfill a particular strategy[4].

Figure3Figure 3 – Strategic Alignment and Level Order Planning

The soft side: conscious business, alignment and coordination

Hard tools and processes are a necessary but insufficient condition for impeccable execution. Statistics show that alignment is not a problem. Coordination and collaboration are. A recent study showed that 84% of managers can rely all or most of the time on their bosses or their direct reports. However, when this question is about colleagues in other departments and external partners, positive answers drop to 59% and 56%, respectively.  What it comes down to is that most executives are just not used to coordinate and collaborate

To increase execution effectiveness, then, we need to look at the “who”. The “who” refers to the people that control the tactics, that manage the systems and processes and that insure the execution of the strategy. No matter what type of business or situation, the only way to guarantee effective execution is through talented, motivated and conscious employees, led by conscious leaders in a conscious business context.

By conscious employees and leaders, we mean those that demonstrate seven qualities, as defined by Fred Kofman (Figure 4)[5]. The first three are character attributes: unconditional responsibility, essential integrity, and ontological humility. The next three are interpersonal skills: authentic communication, constructive negotiation, and impeccable coordination. These qualities seem obvious but they challenge deep-seated assumptions we hold about ourselves, other people, and the world.

Figure 4Figure 4 – Counscious Business Principles

In addition, every organization has three dimensions, as shown in Figure 5: the impersonal, task, or “It;” the interpersonal, relationship, or “We;” and the personal, self, or “I.” The impersonal realm includes technical aspects. It considers the effectiveness, efficiency, and reliability of the organization. The interpersonal realm comprises relational aspects. It considers the solidarity, trust, and respect of the relationships between organizational stakeholders. The personal realm comprises psychological and behavioral aspects. It considers the health, happiness, and need for meaning of each stakeholder[6].

Over the long term, the “It”, “We”, and “I” aspects of this system must operate in concert.  Execution (the “It”) will not be effective without equally strong interpersonal solidarity (“We”) and personal well-being (“I”).

Figure 5Figure 5 – Integral Approach: Three Dimensions

Finally, as shown in Figure 6, our attention is normally drawn to that which we can see (the effect), which obscures the importance of what remains hidden (the cause). We focus on results (the having) and forget the process (the doing) necessary to achieve those results. We are even less aware of the infrastructure (the being) that underlies processes and provides the necessary capabilities for their functioning. Achieving specific results requires behaving in the way that produces such results, and behaving in such a way requires being the type of person or organization capable of such behavior[7].

Thus, the highest leverage comes from becoming the person or organization capable of behaving in the way that produces the desired results.

Figure 6Figure 6 – Integral Approach: Three Levels

The path to impeccable execution

The path to impeccable execution is presented in Figure 7, where we compare and contrast the hard and soft skills, and how they interact with each other[8]. The worst-case scenario is in the lower left-hand quadrant, with low soft and hard skills. This situation is very rare, since companies in this condition would not be sustainable in a competitive world over the long haul.

The most common case we see is in the upper left-hand quadrant, the one we call “Mechanical Process” (high hard, low soft skills). For example, we worked with a mid-sized service company facing this problem. One senior manager was consistently getting negative feedback from the CEO in every strategy execution meeting (stage 4, in Figure 2). However, he didn’t seem to care, didn’t seem to change his behavior and consistently failed to deliver on his commitments. After several attempts to identify the root cause of the problem, he finally confessed that he didn’t know how to coordinate his team.

The lower right-hand side (low hard, high soft skills), the situation we call “Unleveraged Energy”, is a strange case, but it also is present in a variety of companies. An example is a large telecom company we worked with, that had 10 regional units. In one case, they tried to develop an inventory of projects, integrating all the projects from all the units into a single plan. At the time, they had more than 300 initiatives, and many of these were identical to others in other units. Because of the work, they were able to reduce their investments by $6 million just by identifying repeated projects among the units and joining them.

Finally, in the upper right-hand corner (high hard and soft skills), we find the situation we call “Impeccable Execution”. In our experience, we don’t see many companies in this space, but we are encouraged to note some positive growing trends here.

Figure 7Figure 7 – The Path to Impeccable Execution

One important case in this space was the successful design and implementation of a Strategic Alignment project (Figure 8) in our client, Microsoft LatAm[9].

Through a focused plan of alignment and coordination at all levels, that included more than 350 managers from across the region, all teams became aligned with common goals, interdependent strategies and detailed action plans.  The employees’ individual commitments also were tied to the company’s strategic direction. The process created strong organizational alignment and a culture of accountability throughout the region, from the Leadership Team to individual contributors.

The results were nothing short of spectacular: The region’s revenues grew 49.7% in four years while the region scored the highest rating in the company’s internal organizational climate survey. The planning process itself became a company best practice.

Figure 8Figure 8 – Strategic Alignment Process

As the Microsoft example shows, Impeccable Execution is possible when you have the right balance between hard tools and soft skills.  All else depends on luck!  It is time that more companies recognize the importance of these soft skills and move towards an execution mindset in addition to their tools and KPIs.  In addition to alignment, this will foster coordination and collaboration, which will increase execution effectiveness.

[1] Source: Sull, Homkes & Sull, 2015.
[2] Source: Mankins & Steele, 2005.
[3] Source: Kaplan & Norton, 2008
[4] Source: Durig, 2010
[5] Fred Kofman, 2006
[6] Ibid.
[7] Fred Kofman, 2004
[8] Altaffer & Kallás, 2017
[9] Axialent
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CHANGE (INNOVATION) IS HARD. RELATIVE TO WHAT?

Screenshot 2017-01-17 19.46.18.png“Change is hard.”

Is it?

What if that’s just an opinion disguised as a fact? What if that is just a socialized complaint/expression that we’ve all been brainwashed into believing and repeating?

“Change is hard” can often be heard as an unconscious declaration of an inevitable, early surrender from the leader to the team that they are responsible for leading.

“Change is hard” often sounds like a veiled equivalent to: “Yes, I’m the boss, but I’m not going to be taking responsibility for implementing/supporting the new strategy or the business results….because change is hard.”

Screenshot 2017-01-17 19.47.06.pngThere are, however, many corporate executives and entrepreneurs alike who get excited about the possibility of change; they are masters at it; it’s easy for them. They would never say, “Change is hard.” So the “hardness” of change might not be an absolute truth. I’m not sure it’s true at all. “Hardness” may be a measure of mineral’s scratch resistance (e.g., Mohs’ scale), but “hard” is not necessarily an attribute of change. Is it?
“Hard” or “easy” (success or failure) is usually a relative comparison of two things: 1) the challenge and 2) our ability/inability to respond to the challenge effectively. Whether the challenge is to squat 300 pounds or to engage in expanding corporate competencies, there’s two ways to approach it: I can say, “300 pounds is too heavy,” or I can say, “300 pounds is too heavy for me. My leg muscles aren’t strong enough to squat 300 pounds.”

HARD is only relative to our ability to respond. HARD is not an attribute of change.

If our muscles aren’t ready for the challenge, then the challenge/change is harder for us. That same challenge may NOT be hard for others. Change (innovation) is not hard for leaders and teams whose muscles are developed/trained and ready to respond effectively.Screenshot 2017-01-23 15.41.25.png

Chief innovation officers (CINOs), transformation experts and executives who have learned from experience will agree that change (innovation) is harder when:

  1. We wait too long to get started or lollygag through the process of starting.
  2. We don’t prioritize it; we don’t have a plan or resources dedicated to it; we haven’t separated the essential from the important.
  3. We treat it like an event versus a lifestyle; we don’t walk the talk.
  4. We don’t use expert tools and processes; we wing it or “amateur-hour” it.
  5. We don’t create the space (culture) for creativity, collaboration, etc.; we try to command and control culture change.
  6. We’re not aware of our default, reactive language and habits; we hang on to old success formulas for too long.

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7. We don’t ask for help; we pretend we know what to do when we don’t.

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Screenshot 2017-01-23 16.24.56.pngExperienced CINOs, transformation experts and executives will also agree that change (innovation) is easier when:

  • You see more: You’re more conscious (less likely to be driven by default, reactive habits), more awake, more open to learn and more curious to explore multiple perspectives beyond your own (conscious leaders make better innovation leaders).
  • You collaborate better: You’re more skilled at engaging and empowering people to use innovation tools/processes effectively; you’re more skilled at healthy debate, committed action and accountability; your leadership and culture of the organization help diverse groups of people feel powerfully valued and powerfully challenged.
  • You feel stronger: Your energy is sourced from a higher-order purpose — values and guiding principles are unconditional; you are grounded in sources of certainty that help you make decisions and take action in the face of increasing uncertainty.

Screenshot 2017-01-23 16.00.40.pngWe might expect to hear “change is hard” from stereotypical leaders/politicians when they shirk accountability and make a career out of saving face and preserving their innocence versus keeping their promises. But it never makes sense when accomplished, successful leaders responsible for change inside of powerful and abundantly resourced organizations say, “Change is hard.” However, we hear it all the time in reference to corporate initiatives that involve: a) doing something new versus doing the usual/status quo and b) letting go of old default habits in favor of more effective habits. You’ll hear it in every innovation/transformation and change management meeting. You’ll hear it in every systems implementation, digital integration and customer experience session when the experience involves a people-centric service or delivery system. When a leader responds to these kinds of challenges regarding learning, complexity and ambiguity (aka innovation/change/growth) with the “change is hard” hedge, the change does in fact get 1,000 times harder. It gives the organization permission (from the top) to lower their standards. It gives everyone permission to resist learning/training — permission not to grow — permission not to be a part of changing because, after all, “change is hard.” The boss even said so! In these contexts, it serves as an early and convenient scapegoat to hide the leaders’ inference that their teams’ muscles might not be ready to follow through and deliver. When the team isn’t ready, that’s the leader’s fault. Don’t blame the team and don’t blame the culture. Your team can do it. They need an innovation leader to lead them. That’s you.

In today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environment, unskillfully declaring, “change is hard” is nothing more than an expression of the victim — a choice of powerlessness and incompetence hiding behind an external circumstance, portrayed as something out of our control. A creator/player would never say that. It is true that I won’t be able to change/innovate effectively if my muscles (and the organization’s muscles) are not ready. But the hardness is relative to my muscular readiness. If I were more ready (if my organization was more ready), I could do it more effectively. Instead, my mind will go immediately to blaming the change itself for being too hard.

If you’re the leader of your business, department, community or family, stop saying, “change is hard.” Try this instead: “I don’t think I’m ready” or “my team and I aren’t ready for change. We need to be more ready.” Ask, “How can my team and I get more ready?” That’s what a player/creator would do. Then we will see if that helps us focus and find an even more effective response to dealing with change. We might as well choose to change (and stop blaming it for our poor results) since change is going to keep coming, whether we are ready or not.

Being a creator/player does not mean that I/we will magically be able to change everything and anything. Being a creator/player means I need to train because the speed of change/VUCA and the challenges I have in front of me have exceeded my ability to handle them. It is essential for me and my team to develop an expanded capacity for change — or as Argentine Ricardo Gil, Axialent chief culture officer…aka RichiWanKenobi, would say,

“Learn to live at peace with the difficulty and suffering you’ve chosen by not developing (the appropriate growth muscles).”

Don’t be a victim. Victims can’t innovate, and they don’t usually change without creating permanent damage and unnecessary suffering. That can be avoided. Change is easier when you train for it. It’s harder when you don’t. Drop everything and train #d3&t. “Don’t just be a better leader, be an innovation leader.” Train to be a Jedi. See more, collaborate better and feel stronger (build those muscles and you’ll be more Jedi). The world needs more Jedi.

Focus on separating the essential from the important. It is critically important that we get the DOING innovation management stuff right (e.g., process, strategy, metrics). But don’t minimize the innovation essentials (e.g., people, leadership, culture) just because we think the people/change part is “hard.” Prioritize the essential and it becomes easier.

 The important goes on the to-do list.

The essentials go on a to-die-for list.

Screenshot 2017-01-23 16.00.19.png

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