Experimentation :: A New Habit for a Constantly Changing World


Here’s the good news; You don’t have to be a genius to be a leader.

I’m fascinated by the phenomena of how an old word became the term of the day. It seems every conversation includes talk of a need to “pivot” these days.


This covid pandemic and its roller coaster of changing dynamics mean all of us are constantly thinking about adjustments and changes—aka. the “pivots”—we have to make everyday.


So, let me suggest it’s time to get out of reaction mode and get proactive by cultivating a new habit that might actually serve as a long term game-changing path of leadership.

The habit we need: RELENTLESS EXPERIMENTATION

A friend who is a church planter in Oregon put this concept of experimentation in a creative and helpful way for me. His comments went this way.


“I actually love these covid restrictions. We are in uncharted territory and none of us knows exactly how to respond. No one knows anything more than their next good idea. I realized, I’ve been given a blank check: the opportunity to propose or experiment with any idea or adjustment that seems worth trying,

And, not only have I been given a blank check to experiment with new ideas, I’ve also been given a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. If those experiments go sideways, everyone knows that we are making it up as we go along. Everyone knows there is no road map for us to follow. So, there is grace and forgiveness and the recognition that all we’ve got is our best effort.“


That’s not bad. This season of wholesale change and uncertainty has given everyone of us a blank check and a get out of jail free card. That is, we’ve been given permission to experiment as an everyday approach to leadership.

The truth is, cultivating the habit of experimenting with new ideas has long been a best-in-class practice. This pandemic has simply made it necessary. This pandemic offers all of us time to work on it as a permanent posture.

LET’S GET SPECIFIC:

An experiment is simply an educated guess about a solution to a problem or a way to seize a new opportunity. By definition, an experiment means we are doing something temporary, unproven, worth a try. We hope it works, but it might not. Whatever happens, we will learn from it.


Components of Healthy Experiments:

  • They leverage your best ideas, best intuition. Experiments are not half-baked ideas. They call for thoughtful design and planning.

  • They are clear about the specific time-frame of the experiment. Experiments are not permanent plans disguised as a short term test.

  • They identify the problem they attempt to solve, the needs they hope to meet, or the opportunity they want to take advantage of. This clarity gives an experiment against which they can measure results.

  • They define the time at which evaluation will take place and the primary criteria by which the experiment will be measured.


When leaders make these pieces of an experiment clear, their people find it easier to play all-in rather than resist the experiment because they perceive it as a ruse for installing some sneaky process of change.



THE SURPRISE CHALLENGES FOR A LEADER

There are a few unexpected pinch points leaders can discover in the process of promoting an idea for an experiment. The tough ones are internal in orientation.

  • We often entangle our sense of personal value and security in promoting new plans that are semi-perfect and permanent. We like designing something that will be a home run for our organization. Experiments, on the other hand, require surrendering the notion that we are really smart and that our plans are amazing.

  • Experiments have no guarantees. In fact, they embody the idea that we are learners. We are leaders who are trying to figure things out and sooner or later we have to admit we don’t know everything.

  • Experiments take our learning curve public and require a level of courage that admits right up front, “we might be wrong.”

  • Experiments require us to lean on and trust other people. They force us to let go of our desire to be self-sufficient and relatively omniscient. We have to involve other people. We have to invite honest feedback and evaluation by others. We can’t lead and execute experiments in a vacuum, only in interdependent community.


However, there might be few approaches to change and new ideas that have as much power as the organizational habit of making experiments.


So, whether during this pandemic or afterward, consider taking that great idea of yours and introducing it as an experiment. Give it a no-holds-barred effort for a limited season. Then evaluate, improve, and adjust. It’s possible that in the ever-changing dynamics of the moment in which we live, the needs you want to address will shift before your experiment is completed anyway.

Make it a habit.

You’l become more nimble. More responsive. And, more trusted.

Photo Credit: Louis Reed on Unsplash

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© 2020 by Gary Mayes