Sometimes following that adage: “Don’t just sit there, do something.” is the right strategy. At other times, we’d be better off reversing the advice and following the Zen saying: “Don’t just do something, sit there.”
In our book Thriving in Business and Life we reference the Titanic disaster and detail five practical strategies for avoiding disasters in life and at work.
First, slow down. Yes, there are times when we need to act fast. But, overall, most of our decision making can be more measured, allowing us time to inquire more deeply and broadly; to consider the downstream effects of our possible decisions.
Abraham Lincoln famously said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Sharpening the axe relates to preparing for the task, laying the groundwork, making sure that—when we do act—we’ll work smart.
Second, be realistic about what’s required for significant change. Change can be hard. Most of us have some level of resistance to change, particularly when it requires us to give up or risk something that seems important. The challenge is that far too often what seems important is maintaining the status quo.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” people often bark, with an air of authority in their tone. And yet, breakthrough innovation and continuous improvement are creative instincts that would have never seen the light of day, if preserving our comfort zone were our first priority.
When we work with teams this dynamic is amplified. “Business as usual” or “That’s not the way we do things around here,” can carry a weight in most business cultures that warn would-be change-makers that they are amply advised to leave things well enough alone. Or, at the very least, have well thought out plans that include getting the gradual buy-in of key influencers before flying the flag of change too quickly.
Third, learn about the hidden 87%. That’s how much of an iceberg lies beneath the surface. Similarly, any situation we are dealing with has its inherent hidden aspects. It takes some serious sleuthing to surface what’s obscured but so worth the time and effort.
Fourth, activate your radar for early problem detection. That entrepreneurial excitement we enjoy so much has a down-side, namely missing adverse indicators. This means that we need to be aware of and look for signs.
But, if we’re flying solo or have surrounded ourselves with “yes” people, our detractors will often sit back quietly, allowing our early enthusiasm to goad us into becoming too confident of our plans. Such clever naysayers can engage in “malicious compliance” by acting as if they’re on board, doing exactly, precisely what our change regimen requires even when they know it will lead to problems. Then they simply smile to themselves as our initiative derails.
Be aggressive in looking for shadows and listening to the naysayers. Those who disagree with our grand schemes can be some of our best thought partners if we can find common ground on what we do agree upon. This requires us to slow down at times, rather than doing end-runs around our detractors or trying ramrod our ideas through. Ample research at MIT, UCLA, BYU and the University of Michigan demonstrates that it is the diversity of our ideas that leads to better decisions and more accurate predictive abilities.
But, of course, this can take time and yet, if we include such research and discussions in the early stages of our ideation and plan development, objections can actually improve our plans and create better buy-in and cooperation across the board.
At Toyota, and other Japanese-based companies, such a process is called “nemawashi,” a Japanese word meaning “digging around the roots of a tree to prepare it for being transplanted to another location." From the tree’s standpoint that’s a pretty radical change.
From a practical business point of view, nemawashi refers to an informal process of quietly laying the foundation for a proposed change or project, by talking to the people concerned—including those who will be impacted by the change, those who will be the project’s implementers, those who initially are against our idea, and those individuals who will make the key decisions or strongly influence them.
The idea of the process is to hear stakeholder’s concerns early on and by addressing them and completing the communication loops throughout the process, to gather growing support and valuable feedback before the initiative is ever formally launched. Toyota executives have shared that this is how they generate consensus without compromise. Because by the time their decision is announced, they have fully mined the intelligence of their people and addressed the major obstacles up front.
Finally, our fifth point is to cast a vision that focuses on the value and benefits your proposed change can bring about as everyone works together. Meaningful inclusion and processes like nemawashi make this much more doable. And, if we have truly understood and addressed the needs, interests, and concerns of those affected by the change before launching our vision, a shared excitement can grow within the those involved as they anticipate the announclement of the vision have had a hand in crafting.
As we cast such a shared vision it will be one that is jointly owned and embraced by the critical mass of those needed to carry it to completion and beyond. When we have invested the time, and prepared in this way, we will understand why one wise master of such techniques once told us, “You must slow down, in order to speed up.”
That corporate sage wasn’t merely offering a clever turn of phrase. His experience had taught him that rushing on the upstream side of a vision process, can lead to catastrophic failures, slow-downs, and ineffectiveness downstream.
If we will allow ourselves to embrace such wisdom, the visioning techniques we discuss in our chapters on vision, will be utilized more fully. In so doing, as we invite people to imagine what our combined success will feel like in the future, our collaborators' minds will be far less likely to be distracted by misgivings and unaddressed concerns. Instead, our partners will be able to carry the hope and motivation of that future feeling with them throughout the change process, especially when challenges or difficulties inevitably arise.
Here’s your Thriving tip for the week:
“Ideal progress means
finding your perfect speed.”
Christopher Harding and Will Wilkinson