BIAS FOR ACTION IN ACTION III: DOING SOMETHING

Thus far in phases one and two of a “Bias For Action in Action”, the manager’s work I have described has been primarily intellectual. Many organizations and managers excel at analyzing their problems and identifying potential remedies. Turning that “knowing something” into “doing something”, however, is often the hardest part. This is why the book “The Knowing-Doing Gap” I discussed in my original posting on this topic is so appropriately titled.

As I have noted previously, there are a number of reasons for this frequent reluctance to act. Here, I wish to highlight one in particular that for some managers — those who fear the consequences of accountability — is especially difficult to overcome: how do you really know which one of the good ideas you and your team have identified is the right or best option to choose?

My answer: you do not and cannot know that for certain; period. Results will be the only true test of what you ultimately accomplish. So you must act and cease worrying about the allusive search for the “right” thing to do. Since you have already selected a short list of very good ideas, it’s time to follow your gut instinct and just PICK ONE.

Then ask yourself and your team another simple question: by what measure will we conclude that we have succeeded in solving our problem or meeting our challenge no matter which option we try? Your answer will constitute your best measure of final success.

If you believe you need some top cover at this point before you act, seek it. But I recommend you present your case in terms of what you intend to do unless told otherwise thus communicating your bias for immediate action. In my experience, you will be told no far less often than you might expect.

Now it is time to implement and experiment. Chances are you will make some mistakes, missteps will happen, unforeseen consequences will occur, and you will not be satisfied with the original results. The point is that you are doing something and moving forward.

Tom Peters encourages his management audiences to “fail early to succeed sooner” because, he says, “it is far better to have sloppy success than perfect procrastination”. The Peter’s mantra is “test fast, fail fast, adjust fast”. At IDEO, the same idea is expressed as “fail early to succeed sooner”. This is why IDEO’s designers are such fans of rapid prototyping. Building a crude version of something early gives them and the client something to see, touch manipulate, refine, and strive to perfect. They call it “building to think”

Unless you are an engineer or designer, however, most manager’s problems and challenges do not require building anything. Rather they generally involve creating or improving programs, policies, practices, processes and/or procedures that increase efficiency, worker satisfaction and morale, and productivity. So my recommend version of rapid prototyping for these types of challenges is the do-fix-do-fix-do-fix-do-fix method.

Whatever you call your approach, the point is that you are taking action. Given the measure for success you and your team have agreed upon, you will know when to stop and move on to the next challenge.

Taking action is what the best managers know and regularly do. Their organizations — big and small — are invariably creative, innovative, dynamic, and a great place to work. Characteristically, these managers have to live with frequent false starts and experience mistakes and failures on a regular basis. But because they view their mistakes and failures as learning laboratories, and understand that you can always fix and adjust what you have just done, they — and their organizations — develop, grow and succeed far more often than their counterparts stuck in the knowing-doing gap.

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