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Don’t Blindly Copy Ways

Published: June 26, 2017

Why can’t you just copy [insert tech company here] and be successful? Why can you know something is wrong, but be unable to improve the situation? Why is the “superstar” exec successful in one domain, but falters in the next (or the opposite … she gracefully adapts)? What forces must an internal change agent marshal to catalyze change?

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There are seven key abilities/capabilities/concepts at play:

  1. The Way **to go from one **Way to another Way
  2. The Way to discover the right Way (for right now, and adapt accordingly)
  3. Why a Way is working (or not working)
  4. The Way it is (what are we actually doing?)
  5. How to make the current Way work
  6. Awareness that another Way is necessary
  7. The principles guiding all Ways for a particular domain (and ability to identify that domain) You can have someone who is awesome at a particular Way (#5) … but lacks the other skills (#1-#4,#6,#7). They may have a vague idea something is wrong (#6), but perceive it to be poor execution of the current Way (#5). Or, they self-identify with doing things a particular Way and they’re fearful— their career and training depends on it — so they resist learning about first principles (#7), and embracing change.

Similarly, you can have a situation where everyone is motivated to change (#6), but no one knows how to discover that new Way (#2), how to get there (#1), and exactly what is broken about the current Way (#3). So they “shop” for new Ways to copy, without deeply understanding applicability for their domain (#7) and Why that particular Way works (#3). Or an org that knows exactly where it needs to go (#2, #3, #4, #6, #7), but has a very, very hard time changing and adapting (#1).

Finally, you find “midas touch” leaders who have an incredible knack for instilling #2 on their teams (discover the right way for right now), understand first principles (#7), and are able to inspire the people on the front lines to measure what’s working (#3), and own the change (#1). As long as the domains are reasonably similar, they (and their orgs) excel.

You get the idea…combinations abound. Another way I’ve described this is as follows. To “win” you need:

  1. Craft
  2. Ability to sense the demands of your environment
  3. Know how to adapt based on changes in your environment
  4. The leverage to adapt (time, money, resources, safety, etc.) So when you find yourself wondering why something isn’t working … ask yourself if all of these abilities are present and are functioning correctly. Also, challenge yourself to think beyond roles, titles, and the current management structure. Who can you involve in the activity that has the information you need? How can you discover the Way as a team? How can you bake these skills into your org culture?