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The never-ending experiment

I recently met with a client that was feeling stuck...again. We worked together last year, which resulted in improved trust and collaboration within their team. Yet here they were coming up against more challenges, needing new solutions and not knowing where to start.


It’s easy to fall into negative thinking when this happens. To lament about there being something wrong. The thing is, this is completely normal.


Encountering difficult situations and struggling is just part of life and work. It could be viewed as a source of dismay and frustration. But it’s a lot more freeing to see it as a meaningful challenge to overcome. A chance to stretch our wings.


With this framing in mind, we have the foundation to shift our thinking in another way.


All solutions start off as experiments. We don’t know if they are going to work until we give it a try. That takes the pressure off of getting it perfect from the get-go. It also balances planning with doing so we don't get stuck in analysis paralysis.


So if you want to increase engagement at work and decide to shift the format of staff meetings, it’s ok to test it out first. That allows there to be some give and take. The very change you’re experimenting with becomes a way to engage staff by gathering targeted feedback. Making the benefit two-fold.


As we settle into new routines, It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that growth and learning are a continuous process.


While we might feel more comfortable in a static environment, doing what's known and embracing what's predictable. It’s more empowering to accept that refinement is ongoing. That needing to conduct more experiments is a way of making forward progress, not a sign there's something wrong.


What starts as a single experiment, inherently morphs into more hypotheses worth testing. The process of trying new things illuminates more opportunities for learning, new challenges worth overcoming.


In this vein, leading is a process of guiding never-ending experimentation. With such acceptance, the challenge becomes directing meaningful experiments that are worthwhile.


Not everything needs to be refined or improved. An exceptional leader learns how to provide adequate direction for collective experimentation to occur that actually serves a need. Otherwise it's change for the sake of change. Without deep comprehension about the problem or a shared understanding for why the experiment is necessary, there won't be sufficient buy-in and engagement to follow through.


Seeing leadership as an ongoing process of experimentation takes the pressure off of needing to have everything figured out. It also provides a pathway forward when obstacles are encountered. You don't need to know the right solution, you just need to experiment with the very next step.


In the case of my client, their feeling stuck again begged the questions - What precisely is the problem? And what's the next experiment you're going to do about it? Along with a friendly reminder that the process of experimentation is never-ending. After all, exemplary leadership isn't about arriving at a final destination, it's about making forward progress while reaching new levels of self-efficacy.

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