Breakthroughs happen when we realize we're wrong.
At Google, one of the most common causes of friction between leadership ad the working level that I observed came when the leader, who was involved in the creation of a brief for a certain project, sees the project evolve away from what they expected it to when the project began.
Two reasons for this friction, in my opinion.
The first harkens back to something I was thinking about and covered in last week’s post: ego. Particularly in an intense corporate environment, it’s extremely easy for us to get attached to the value we bring by being able to very directly see our fingerprints on a piece of work that gets produced. This is understandable, especially when the visibility of those fingerprints are often the thing we’re evaluated based on and rewarded for.
The other reason the friction arises, though, is a general lack of imagination. When we grow attached to a certain idea as a solution to a problem, it’s easy to develop a sort of tunnel vision that prevents us from being able to envision a different idea being applied in a way that’s similarly (or, oftentimes, even more) efficacious.
Both of the emotional experiences driving these reactions are totally human and understandable. But, they also both belie our ability to understand that our first idea may not be the one that’s best for our users – or even the one that’s best for our business, which folks at the working level often discover upon trying to execute an idea that ends up being impractical for any number of reasons.
One of the most limiting things a poet can do when sitting out to write is to assume that they know exactly what they’re going to write about. They might have a clear idea of a theme or an image that’s inspired them to pick up the pen, but when they grow too attached to the vision they have when they first sit down, they lose the ability to listen to the unexpected connections that begin spontaneously nudging their way into the poet’s imagination with each line that comes to life. Writing a poem is an act of providing, but of searching for the answer, and being open to the possibility that many may present themselves; many that may even provoke a different question than the one we started out with.
That listening is where breakthroughs happen, and we would do well to become more comfortable with applying it in our work as leaders and innovators.
Making this shift is tough, as it requires that we shift our bias towards certain emotional reactions that can be pretty deep-seated. At the risk of sounding trite, though, I think the thing we have to do to make that shift is pretty simple.
It comes down to liberating our understanding of what success might look like in the projects we sew together.
It comes down to noticing when a shift in our original plan makes us think: why?
And taking just a few seconds to instead ask ourselves: