What If There Isn’t a Right Answer

What if there isn't a right answer

These are uncertain times.  We are navigating a pandemic, the scale of which we haven’t seen in a 100 years.  The US election is not completely resolved with uncertainty about what happens next.  On top of this, the pace of change continues to increase.

Phew!  It is no wonder some leaders are reluctant to make decisions.  I see this showing up in two areas:  goal setting and action planning.  In the domain of goal setting there is a reluctance to set goals because we aren’t sure what they should be.  A similar phenomena is true with action planning.  There is a reluctance to set a plan because we aren’t sure it is right.

As you can see above, this reluctance centers around the need to be right.  This is understandable because these leaders didn’t get to where they are today by being wrong.  We also expect our leaders to know the answer.  We also may think they have the answer, and we need to figure out what that is.

What If there isn’t a right answer?

If we knew there isn’t a right answer, would we still be reluctant to act?  In complex situations as I described above, there isn’t a right answer.  These situations have so much variability, what may have been right in the past likely will not be so in the future.  If there isn’t a right answer, what do we do?  We still have to deliver results.

It requires a shift in mindset from knowing to learning.  A knowing mindset is founded on the belief there is a right answer, we just have to find it.  A learning mindset recognizes we can’t know the answer and shifts our focus to learning.  This is a big shift.  We no longer talk about being right or wrong, we focus on what we learned.  Did we learn this approach is generating the desired results or do we need to try something else?

If we do nothing we learn nothing

Perhaps the most important thing about a learning mindset is it forces us to take action.  If we do nothing we learn nothing.  Even if the action leads to disappointing results, we are still learning.  In these uncertain environments, it is also important we learn fast.  We don’t want to do lots of works only to learn it wasn’t particularly valuable.  This means we need to build in regular feedback.  As you take action, design indicators that will provide early indications of results.  Are you on track or not?  The sooner you learn that, the better.

I’ll be talking about taking action that leads to results in the ‘Leading Action’ webinar on Dec 9th. You can learn more at this link.