Try a Lot of Stuff and Keep What Works

Great Leadership Lessons, NOTE 16
8 Ideas to Guide Your Constant Experimenting

Remember we are talking about  stimulating the periphery. We are not talking about the core. You always keep and preserve the CORE. On everything else, Collins says great organizations are constantly innovating, experimenting . . . trying a lot of stuff and keeping what works. Here are eight ideas to help you do just that.

Remember, preserve your core mission, values and culture.

All innovation and experimentation is in the service of your CORE.

3M you can only stumble if you're movingTWO:
You should be trying out "lots" of new ideas.
These new ideas are about your strategies, programs, processes, procedures, products, services, models, audiences, etc. In all this the goal is continuous improvement. Most of what we do can be improved. Some of it can be done better. Some of it needs to be dropped because there are other better things to do. 

Be comfortable with failure
Some things you try are not going to work. In the last year, I tried a new format for a learning community I lead. I had a model I really liked. It had served me nicely so far. Circumstances had changed and I thought a different approach was needed. I figured out the approach, made a good case (to myself) that it was not only doable, but had a lot of potential. Do I designed it, launched it, tweaked it and week after week was frustrated with it. Two months into the process I had concluded - IT DIDN'T WORK and I couldn't make it work. So with some adaptation, we went back to the prior model to finish out that learning community process.

Failure. But some of the best learning experiences come during the things we try that aren't working out the way we wanted.

Be a sponsor of the ideas of others.

If you have done a good job in hiring the right people, then empower them and give your best people an open invitation to hear their best original ideas. Give them space to run with their ideas. Don't micro-manage. Do support them for success. Don't act like a gate-keeper about their ideas. Do sponsor and promote the best ideas that come from others. Give lots and lots of credit and cheerleading for what they do.

There is a growing number of TOP SHELF organizations that give employees (or at least some of them) 10% of their total work hours for "personal projects" of interest that are outside the work they are hired to do. These organizations belief in their people, trust their creativity and believe their is benefit from giving this kind of space and respect for trying new stuff.

Give good ideas the full support they need.

This is tied in with the previous point, but needs emphasis. Don't be stingy with the resources others need for their ideas to have the best shot at succeeding. Great leadership seeks to create a full climate for others to succeed. I had a friend who had a great idea and was given the go ahead to run with it. But no sooner did he start running with it, then at every step he had to "plead for" and negotiate for the support and resources needed for it to really succeed. In the end, it did, but it was almost in spite of his supervisor and not because of him.

Learn why some things you try don't work.

A lot of stuff won't work. That is what you get rid of. Before you toss it out, do an autopsy. Why didn't it work? You were excited about it. You believed it had potential. But if fizzled... flopped... failed. WHY? It would be good to know why? If you don't know why, maybe some of the same factors that kept it from succeeding will affect other "new things" as well. Mistakes and failure is permitted. Not learning form them is not permitted.

Keep your eyes open for the evolutionary leaps.

Much of what I described is the daily/weekly continuous improvement that organizations need. However, we live in time of disruptive, high level change. In such a world, the slow, steady process of continuous improvement is not enough. There are times when you need BIG jumps... BIG leaps. I helped one organization make such a leap when we designed new developmental models for their people. It was a completely new approach. They gave space for a controlled experiment with a specific group of people. It worked. Now it is a core model for them. These evolutionary experiments are much bolder and come with more risk and reward. Still, in our current world - they are needed.

Remember the essential check you must do about every new idea.

Is it advancing our CORE? It may be a great idea, it may have worked. But if it did not advance the CORE of your organization, it was a distraction and detour.

Entrepreneurial explorations
Great organizations give lots of room for all this. Jim Collins says it simply: "Try a lot of stuff and keep what works."

So what new stuff have you been trying in recent weeks?
What new stuff are you thinking about?
Game on...

Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International