You don’t know.
It can be liberating (certainty is overrated!)
We are in unchartered waters, the market we currently compete in has never existed before and don’t get too comfortable with it, one of its key characteristics is that is keeps changing at an accelerating pace.
These conditions can make it hard to push forward out of fear of making a mistake. You can stop being afraid of making mistakes, you will make them. The most important part of any decision and especially the ones you get wrong is to maximize your learning. Every decision needs to make you smarter as an organization.
As a leader, you play an important role in determining whether your organization is setup to learn or setup to be terrified of failure. When something goes wrong in your company do you respond with;
How did this happen?
Who is responsible for this?
Think about how you would react to a line of questioning like this? I think my blood pressure went up just typing those sentences. This is the reaction that builds a culture of fear of any risk or any uncertainty. In this culture, everyone is trained to make as few mistakes as possible, what that means is that people stop going up to bat until they are 100% of the pitch (which isn’t very often). You stop moving as a company. You stagnate at a time when everything is moving around you.
What if something goes terribly wrong; let’s just make up something silly like you’ve been trying to implement a Print MIS for 18 months and you haven’t launched yet (a totally fictional event in our industry). What if your reaction to this painful situation is to go to your team and ask them;
What have we learned?
What was our role in the failure? (focus on things you can control)
How are we smarter than we were 18 months ago?
How can we use this new wisdom to move forward?
If we were starting today, what would you do different?
A culture of learning breeds more idea generators, people from all levels of your organization who are empowered to make suggestions, try things out, solve things for themselves before they even become an issue. When you build a culture of fear, everyone tries to keep their collective heads down. When you ask questions about what was learned, don’t put up with endless complaining about 3rd parties (that dumb consultant we hired or that vendor that lied to us during the sales process). Complaining about things you don’t have any control over and that have already happened does absolutely nothing to improve your current or future state. I’ve seen people and companies stay in this spin cycle of complaining about things they don’t have any control over for months and sometimes years. Stop the madness. There is nothing gained by recycling your frustration over and over. Your job is to succeed despite all the dumb consultants and lying vendors!
Ignore sunk costs. Maximize learnings.
One of the best ways to learn is to challenge assumptions. I hear them all the time. “My customers don’t want to interact with us online, they prefer to call us” – a very dangerous assumption that has lost a lot of printers big clients over the years. When you’ve worked at a place for a long time, the culture builds up assumptions. A category of assumption that I like to challenge is, “this won’t work for customer x or plant x or employee x.” This is the assumption that we’re imagining a future that will suite EVERYONE’S needs perfectly. We are not. We are imagining a future that keeps our business relevant, competitive, and creating real value for our customers. This will not “please or work” for everyone. Finding the exceptions is the easiest form of resistance to change. Kill off the assumption that you are trying to please everyone. You can’t.
More learning, less fear equates to a business that moves faster, makes more mistakes but is keeping ahead of its competition by continuing to learn and innovate. Sitting still is not an option.