When people face a problem, their common response is to figure out how to do something better to overcome it. In a discussion with some clients recently, they focused on how to use different techniques to achieve better results. As I listened to the conversation, it struck me that nobody challenged the system in which the problem was manifesting itself.
Overcoming Key Limitations
Let me explain with an example. I have a process to make widgets and I can produce 100 an hour. By improving the existing process, I find I can increase the maximum output to 150 an hour. But what if I need to produce 200 an hour? Improving the existing process isn’t going to be successful. Instead, I create a new process with capacity greater than 200. In other words I need to replace the system instead of incrementally improving it.
This is easy to understand when we are dealing with a machine where output is simple to measure. It is much more difficult when we are dealing with human interactions. An example came up with another client who needed to influence the CEO to support projects he was leading. We worked on how to improve his influence skills, but it became clear it wasn’t succeeding. No matter how good an influencer he became, each time the CEO approved the projects but didn’t provide the necessary funding to support them. To overcome this, he had to change his approach and start by influencing the CFO, who would then win over the CEO.
The Concept of Games
Bob Dunham, from the Institute of Generative Leadership describes this in terms of playing games. A simple game of checkers has an objective how to win the game. There is a description of how the game is played and the rules outlining what is and is not possible. The players follow strategies to increase their chances of winning the game. This construct of games can be applied to anything we are working on by asking these questions:
What is a successful outcome?
What is it that we are doing?
What is allowed and what isn’t allowed?
What strategies are we following?
These questions help us to frame the game we are playing and decide if the game is working for us. Most people’s reaction when the game isn’t working is to try harder and it usually leads to frustration. In effect, the game is playing them. The better approach is to change the game they are playing, and create a new one that will generate the desired outcome.
What games are you playing and how well are they serving you? Is it time to change them?
Thanks Andy – many of us use this time of year to revisit our strategy and your post is a great prompt to think about the games we are playing in. Both personally and at the enterprise level, we can identify all the elements of the game (that we have often assumed to be unchangeable, and consider re-inventing them. In my own case, we actually make use of online games to develop people’s ability to team and collaborate, so your post has even more juice for me 🙂
Hey Phillip, Yes you do! You have one of the most innovative uses of games I know to teach leaders about teaming. You are definitely encouraging them to play a different game. 🙂
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