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Start With Naive Pragmatism

Published: June 26, 2018

A quick hint for change agents.

The best way to get support for an experiment is to talk about about a present challenge. What is your blocker right now? What do you want to try right now? Why?

I say this from experience…talking about a systemic problem (and advocating for a more lasting solution) will be unsucessful for some high percentages of audiences. Most folks are more “here and now”, and that heuristic has worked decently well throughout history.

For systems thinkers this can be very challenging. We want to to address the root dynamic. We want something that will “stick” and will be self-sustaining. We may want to engage diverse perspectives to further explore the problem.

But you have to keep your eye on the prize.

Example… say I want to address the problem of unplanned work sapping throughput from my team. I can talk about it on a high level, or I can dig into the last 7 days and look at the specific issues that cropped up. Then I’ll explore the expected issues in the next week, and together with my team try to solve *today’s problem *(not the broader systems problem).

Another example. Take something like the lack of high level strategy. Saying “we need the big picture” is OK. Saying “we need to know [some information about the future] to make X,Y, and Z decisions that will benefit the business by [some benefit]” is a good deal more powerful.

This isn’t to say that you should abandon lasting solutions. Don’t abandon your “start with the Why” instinct. Keep that, but narrow it down to “why right now”. Most people will respond to local experiments that work. They’ll be initially unreceptive to the bigger discussion — those are scary, and unpredictable, and vague. But with some momentum that can change.

Experiment, and amplify what works.

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