Organizational Insights

Tips for boosting an organization's culture of discovery

Posted Jul 02, 2015

What can organizations do to foster discoveries? 

This is Part 3 of the “Boosting your Insights” topic that I started in May. Originally, I just planned a two-part entry, but I have decided to add this third part because organizations are so interested in ways to generate new ideas. 

Part 1 examined several different claims about how to increase insights, explaining the limitations of each claim. Part 2 presented the idea of an Insight Stance (In/Stance) that might actually have some potential to increase insights. The In/Stance is a mindset we can try to use, an active mindset driven by curiosity. Instead of slipping into a mindless approach to going about our daily activities, we can take on an active attitude of wondering about inconsistencies and anomalies instead of explaining them away. We can wonder about coincidences instead of dismissing them. We can speculate about connections between different ideas. We can notice possible leverage points for getting things done differently. We can prepare to be delighted by discoveries.

Here in Part 3 we explore some ways for organizations to get into the act and build on the In/Stance. Specifically, we can see how supervisors can encourage the In/Stance in their subordinates, and in themselves. 

Progress reviews.  Supervisors often conduct progress reviews with the people managing different projects. Typically, a supervisor will assess whether a project is on schedule, meeting the milestones, and controlling expenditures. Let’s take it up a notch. During these progress reviews, the supervisor can ask project leaders how have they changed the way they understand the work. What has surprised them? How are they tempted to change the project goals? If the project is novel and challenging, and the project leader explains, reassuringly, that everything is on track and nothing has to be re-thought, maybe the supervisor shouldn’t be reassured. Maybe the supervisor should start worrying.

If you are a supervisor, what you want to do here is to encourage your project leaders to be on the lookout for anomalies and surprises. You want them to speculate about new goals that might result in greater success. You want them to consider departures from the plan rather than being locked into meeting milestones. You want them to be adaptive, not only in changing the plan but in changing their thinking.

Confusions and conflicts. Here is an example. During a recent seminar I discussed how difficult it is for supervisors to communicate what they want. Subordinates frequently misunderstand. One person in the group interjected that he knew just what I was talking about. The previous week he had had that exact experience. He had given a task to someone on his staff, but when he checked back a few days later the man had gotten it wrong. So he explained his intentions again. Very frustrating.

So I asked this supervisor if he had questioned his staff member to see what the man thought was wanted, and the supervisor looked puzzled. “No,” he said. “Why would I do that?” And I thought — because the staff member might have a flawed mental model of the work and you could correct it. Or perhaps the directions you thought were so clear were in fact ambiguous and you can learn a lesson about communicating your intentions.

Episodes of confusion or conflict, which organizations like to dismiss for fear of disrupting harmony, actually offer opportunities for gaining insights. Organizations interested in gaining more insights, and in promoting an In/Stance, can harvest lessons from confusions and contradictions and conflicts, instead of suppressing them.

Gary Klein
Source: Gary Klein

These two issues, progress reviews and confusions/conflicts, simply illustrate the kinds of activities organizations can engage in when they want to create a culture that encourages discoveries, as opposed to a culture that just want to eradicate errors. Organizations have many ways to build on an Insight Stance. They have many opportunities to increase the insights of the workers and also the supervisors and leaders.