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YOU Try It!

experiment before you implement

“Try before you buy!!!”

A television commercial about three young brothers siting around the table during breakfast captured the 1974 Clio award (the Oscar of advertising). The two older brothers prod each other to taste the new, ‘healthy’ cereal. (“I’m not gonna try it – you try it!”) They decide to have their little brother try it (“Let’s get Mikey to try it. He hates everything!”) Mikey stares at the bowl, tastes the cereal, and then starts wolfing it down…

Have you ever test-driven a car, sampled food, or dated before marrying? Of course! Like Mikey, most of us experiment before we implement… outside the work environment. Yet, how often or well do you apply this “try before you buy” approach at work? If you’re like Mikey’s big brothers (who wouldn’t taste the cereal), not very often or well!

Consider the email I received from a leader who lamented that her CEO had recently distributed another popular leadership book to her and all her colleagues. The CEO expected everyone to apply the ideas in it. She complained that his ‘leading by bestseller’ seldom delivered results, took time from other projects, and frustrated her team.

She has reason to be skeptical about the CEO’s ‘flavor of the month’ approach to leadership development. Julian Birkinshaw of London Business School asserted that “Nine-tenths of the approximately 100 branded management ideas I’ve studied lost their popularity within a decade or so.” (1)

Whenever you think about implementing any new management or leadership idea, I urge you to answer three quick questions first:

1. Where’s the beef? Many management books make extraordinary claims, backed by anecdotes. But anecdotes are not evidence. Without substantial data, scientific research, or a review of best practices, anecdotes (and case studies) are the cotton candy of management literature. Astronomer Carl Sagan reminded us that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Before you try something new, make sure you have evidence that predicts it works, so you will not labor in vain.

2. What are the costs? If you spend your time working on activity A, you cannot spend that same time working on activity B. That is your opportunity costs (i.e., that which must be given up to achieve something else). Know what you’re giving up when you consider trying something new. When asked for his most important truth about life, the dying Zen master whispered, “Don’t waste time.”

3. How can you think small? In the Life commercial, the older brothers invited Mikey to try it. They didn’t tell him to swallow the whole thing. I’ve seen many leaders try to change their organization by implementing initiatives for their entire organization. It’s referred to as “the fallacy of the big bang fix.” They think to do it at all; they need to do it all! WRONG! There are many times when doing it small, paying attention to the results, then adjusting your approach is the better way. Think small and consider an experiment before you implement.

How might you apply the three questions to help you decide if you should experiment before you implement? Have you seen people fail to answer these questions when rolling out new initiatives? What were the consequences? How could you help them avoid problems next time?

Let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

Keep stretching when you’re pulled,
Dave

1. Cited in Schumpeter; The Holes in Holacracy, Economist, July 5 2014, 56.

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