I had a terrific conversation with a client this week about shifting from knowing to learning. The conversation didn’t start out this way but as we reflected, it definitely ended up there. In this instance, their team was being hesitant to take action. It wasn’t quite analysis paralysis, but there was something holding them back from moving forward.
Our desire for certainty
As we unpacked the situation, we realized the team was searching for certainty. They valued being right and when there wasn’t enough data available to be certain, they were stuck. They didn’t know the answer. It is ironic, that by not taking action they weren’t going to address their problem. The only way we can learn and become more certain is to take action and see how it works out. Following an iterative process of adjusting as we go.
This team has been doing work with the GOST planning framework. Interestingly, the framework follows an iterative learning process. We start by setting out a goal, and high level plans we call strategies. From there the process is highly iterative. Short term tactics describe the action we will take and we use objectives to assess our progress. In essence, we plan action and then assess if it is moving us towards our goal. If it is, we do more. If it isn’t, we change our tactics and try to find a different set of actions that will work. It is a process of iterative learning.
Shifting from Knowing to Learning
Doing it well requires shifting from knowing to learning. If we focus on being right, our tendency is to rigidly stick to the plan. We don’t want to deviate because that means we are wrong. In contrast, if we adopt a learning mindset, we expect to be wrong and instead focus on learning. With this mindset, it is much easier to let go of a plan. We set out our assumptions and use reality to test them, learning from the results. If we do this well, we will make better assumptions over time.
Are you working with a knowing or learning mindset? Do you find it hard to let go of the plan? Perhaps it is time to try something new?