A Transformation Mindset

Last week I was speaking with an executive who told me about a transformation effort he had been assigned.  He had been directed by his CEO to find a way to increase revenue by 25% over the next five years.  No small task.  He had reached out to me to discuss the challenge and seek help in brainstorming ideas of how to achieve it.  As he described the situation he mentioned the need to “get this right”.  We continue talking about the details of the assignment and he came back to the same statement – “I gotta get this right”.  He was obviously anxious about the challenge.  He knew this could be a huge boost for his career if accomplished or a bust if he failed.  We discussed the fact that the CEO must have substantial confidence in him if he gave him this effort to lead.  He once again mentioned that confidence would be shaken if he didn’t “get this right”.

At this point I asked what he meant by “get it right”.  Not surprisingly he equated his comment to being successful.  I then asked if success was really based on him getting it “right” or getting it “done”.  In his mind they are the same thing. However, while they may mean the same thing to him, the mindset they put you in is quite different.  For example, “getting it right” is, perhaps counter intuitively, a negative mindset as opposed to “getting it done” which is more positive. Here are three examples of how this is true.

Risk versus Opportunity

Thinking about getting something “right” immediately begins the mind churning on all the things that could go wrong.  What mistakes I should avoid, embarrassments that could result, or the business risks that could be encountered along the way.  All of these tend to contract thinking and focus the mind on things that could go wrong. A negative mindset.

Thinking about getting it “done” is much more open ended.  It focuses the mind on possibilities.  This is where you want your mind when you are striving to come up with transformative ideas.  Later you can factor in risks associated with the ideas you generate, but if you start with the risks you will never get past them. View the challenge through the positive lens of opportunity not the negative lens of risk.

Constrained versus Innovative

Similarly, the “getting it right” mindset constrains thinking.  How? When you think about getting something “right” your mind starts worrying about all the challenges that must be overcome. Technical challenges, policy challenges, quality, regulatory or operational challenges.  These all constrain the ideation process.

Again, focusing on “getting it done” drives an innovation mindset and allows transformational thinking.  It allows consideration of all the possible ways of accomplishing something, regardless of how realistic it is.  When handed a transformational problem to solve, it’s best to start with the greatest pool of approaches to accomplish it.  Focusing on how to get it done opens up that world of possibility after which risks can be weighed and constraints factored in to determine the most optimum approach.

Passive versus active

Finally, “getting it right” is passive.  It puts you into a planning mindset as opposed to “getting it done” which is active and puts you in an execution mindset. There is nothing wrong with planning.  In fact, it is highly encouraged.  However, you don’t want the plan to become the project. Again, taking an active approach and developing innovative options is a far more productive starting point.  Once you have your options, then develop a plan on how best to execute, taking risks and constraints into account so you can track progress.

Adjusting the mindset

This obviously begs the question of how encourage transformational thinking.  Here are five simple steps to do this which parallel the concept of minimal viable product (or service).

  1. Start with questions that open up possibilities not constraints.  Those that start with “What if we…”; “How could we…”; or “What would it look like if…”.
  2. Look for options as opposed to looking for “the answer”.  One big solution may not be possible, but many smaller solutions may combine to do the trick.
  3. Refine the options by ensuring there’s clarity around each one.
  4. Incorporate constraints and risk so you can bring your transformation options down to Earth. This is where reality sets in. However, don’t be too harsh and remember to ask questions in a way that drive fresh ideas in order to find solutions to the risks and constraints.
  5. Pilot the options to learn quickly which ones have potential. Once done, return to step 1 to further refine solution options.  It is not uncommon the pilot results may generate additional ideas.

In the end, focusing on “getting something done” is much more effective in driving transformation, execution and ultimately success.

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