One of the great nuggets – that I’d otherwise have lost had it not been for the visual notes I took – from the Adaptive Leadership piece in HBR that I talked about yesterday is about how to run experiments in adaptive settings.
Since adaptive challenges have unknown solutions, by definition we must make adaptive leadership decisions with incomplete information. Even better, often the biggest breakthroughs come from holding two seemingly opposable ideas, goals, even values at the same time and trying to meet two seemingly incompatible needs.
In these adaptive situations, our only choice is to run experiments – to make a decision based on the information we have, with a clear statement of our hypothesis and an articulation of what data we will use to determine if the experiment is working. (Very Lean Startup-y, in a very different context, which is always nice to see).
The soft underbelly of these situations isn’t WHETHER to run experiments (we have no choice) it’s HOW we run these experiments.
It’s all too tempting to view these tough calls at 51-49 situations, to continue to see all sides of the argument even after you’ve started running the experiment. This is even more tempting in situations in which you disagreed with a decision – it’s so alluring to talk about the path not taken, to keep on hedging your bets just in case this path doesn’t work out. Think how smart you’ll look if you have an “I told you so” moment three months from now.
Here’s another way to look at it, from the Adaptive Leadership piece:
Holding incompatible ideas in your head at the same time is a little like deciding to get married. At the moment you decide that this is the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, you have to fully embrace your choice; you have to believe wholeheartedly that it is the right decision. But your practical self also knows that you probably would have fallen in love with someone else under different circumstances. So how can your intended be the only “right” one for you? If you treated the decision to marry this particular person at this particular moment as a 51–49 question rather than a 90–10 question, you would never take the leap. The same paradox applies to adaptive leadership interventions. You have to run the experiment with full and hopeful conviction.
I’m much more of a romantic than that, so the analytical approach to the decision to get married just doesn’t sit right with me. But that’s another conversation.
What I like is the memorable analogy and the great last sentence: “You have to run the experiment with full and hopeful conviction.”
Not doubt, not worry, not with side conversations about how this will never work or with hesitation or second guessing.
Full and hopeful conviction.