ChangeFamily/CommunicationLeadershipReflectionMarch 12, 20141The Seduction of Incrementalism

Doing things 'a little bit better' can be a cop-out....

I’ve been notic­ing late­ly how very much eas­i­er it is to focus on mak­ing good things a lit­tle bet­ter — rather than fig­ur­ing out how to re-invent good things to make them fan­tas­tic.  Ad I’ve also been see­ing the ben­e­fits of doing the latter:

Exam­ple #1:

I spent the last cou­ple of days with a client group that did a tru­ly bang-up job of NOT going for the easy answers, even though it would have saved them a lot of time and men­tal ener­gy to do so. We spent the sec­ond day doing a “re-boot” of the vision and strat­e­gy map they had cre­at­ed in 2013, and when we got to strate­gies, it was clear that the ones they had come up with last year were pret­ty good and still direc­tion­al­ly cor­rect. It would have been by far the eas­i­est choice sim­ply to re-com­mit to last year’s strate­gies and come up with new tac­tics for this year.  We actu­al­ly start­ed down that path, but after a few min­utes, we all kind of looked at each oth­er and said, “This isn’t going to hit on some of the most crit­i­cal new aspects of our busi­ness — imper­a­tives that have just arisen over the past few months. We need to start from scratch.”  It required about 90 min­utes of brain-stretch­ing con­ver­sa­tion to come up with those new strate­gies, and anoth­er cou­ple of hours to craft appro­pri­ate tac­tics, but at the end of it they had cre­at­ed an excit­ing plan for this year that has the poten­tial to be game-chang­ing for them.

Exam­ple #2:

My hus­band, who is in the process of cre­at­ing Great Life Brew­ing, has come up with some real­ly excel­lent beers — espe­cial­ly his milk stout and IPA.  He recent­ly entered his first round of com­pe­ti­tions, and received “good” rat­ings, along with one “out­stand­ing” that gar­nered a medal.  Based on the feed­back he got, the eas­i­est thing (and per­fect­ly rea­son­able) would have been to do slight tweak­ing of the recipes to make them a lit­tle bet­ter.  Instead, he decid­ed to exper­i­ment with a sig­nif­i­cant change to the sparg­ing process (part of extract­ing the malt from the grain) to raise the spe­cif­ic grav­i­ty of the unfer­ment­ed beer — which would address a con­sis­tent piece of feed­back he’d received about the ‘body’ of the beer, and that he felt kept the “good” rat­ings from being “very good” or even “out­stand­ing.”  After a 12-hour dawn-to-dark brew­ing day yes­ter­day: suc­cess!  His new approach to sparg­ing increased the spe­cif­ic grav­i­ty by a big mar­gin — and (accord­ing to him — I haven’t tast­ed it yet) made an imme­di­ate dif­fer­ence in the taste and mouth­feel of the beer.

In both instances, these folks avoid­ed the seduc­tion of mak­ing things “a lit­tle bet­ter.”  It’s real­ly easy to jus­ti­fy that approach, to con­vince our­selves that we’re doing all that can be expect­ed of us. Now under­stand — I’m not talk­ing about tak­ing the path of least resis­tance: shirk­ing, or doing things bad­ly.  I’m talk­ing about doing what most peo­ple would con­sid­er an OK job.

But I’ve come to believe that world-class indi­vid­u­als and orga­ni­za­tions are most often dis­tin­guished by their will­ing­ness and abil­i­ty to do the tough work nec­es­sary to make break-through changes when that’s what’s need­ed, and what’s possible.

And the good news is — even though it can be a lot hard­er (it takes more of your time, ener­gy, focus; more risk of fail­ure; more let­ting go of assump­tions) —  it’s so much more sat­is­fy­ing to make sub­stan­tive, even dis­rup­tive improve­ment in some­thing impor­tant that it gen­er­al­ly feels as though it’s all been worth it, what­ev­er the effort involved. 

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