Popular culture celebrates experimentation and gives lip service to
accepting failure through stories like Thomas Edison's long quest
to invent of the electric light bulb, about which he said, "I
haven't failed; I've simply found 2,000 ways that don't work." Yet
in reality, we forget such lessons and the idea that
experimentation is not just good, it's desirable.
In organizations, we often act as if there truly is nothing new
under the sun and the ways of doing things are clear, established,
and sacrosanct. Not only that, we position failure as the worst
possible outcome, to be avoided at all costs. This bias against
failure blocks experimentation, which then blocks innovation and
creativity at a time when the global economy in which we live
cherishes speed and invention. Organizations simply cannot remain
competitive unless they embrace experimentation that will allow
people to question and challenge the status quo.
What is experimentation?
Experimentation invites risk and encourages us to work outside of
our comfort zone. If organizations aren't encouraging employees to
push against their limits, the implicit message is that
experimentation and creativity aren't valued, and perhaps not even
tolerated. This plays into the fear many have of trying something
new and the failure that can result. Experimentation also requires
new a mindset about the value of failure - which society hails in
theory as necessary for invention, but that in practice is
generally discouraged or leads to punishment.
Some ways of thinking that block experimentation relate to
planning. Most organizations teach their people to rehearse and
plan - if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. While planning is
critical, just as important is the ability and flexibility to know
when and how to veer from the plan. Moreover, organizations should
remember that spontaneity can lead to great results - sometimes
having no plan is good thing.
Organizations must also make room for employees to slow down and
reflect on established methods, so they can sort the helpful from
the outdated and wasteful. Additionally, experimentation must go
hand-in-hand with flexibility. When moving in one direction results
in a dead end, we must be ready and able to adjust to make major
course changes quickly, nimbly, and efficiently.
When individuals are permitted and encouraged to experiment and
grow, boundaries are broken, encouraging exploration of ideas that
may reside in uncharted territory. We (and our organizations) need
to not only explore such territory - we need to write the new maps.
Tara Whittle is vice president of strategy acceleration for the
Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group. For 40 years, Kaleel Jamison has
been partnering with organizations to unleash higher operational
performance using inclusion as the how; email@example.com.
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