August 13, 2015 Team Mint

Beyond the Status Quo

Too often we do things the way we’re used to doing it, the way we’ve always done it, the way that makes us comfortable, the “company way”. Too often we don’t stop and ask ourselves: “Is this the best way?” “Is there a better way?” “What is the best way?” We can have tunnel vision in just doing, which can occur in isolation from critical thinking.

At the core of every investigation, every project, every venture, one of the first questions we should be asking is “Is this the best way?” What indeed is the best way?

Why do these questions not come naturally? I’ve witnessed barriers precluding this question from being asked, and I too am guilty of going with the flow and not stopping to ask myself “Is this the best way?”. Here are six common barriers I’ve seen…

“I’m too busy”
Feeling crippled by ever increasing workloads is the best way to ensure someone is busy doing, and probably not spending time critically considering if what they’re doing and the way they’re doing it is the best way forward.
In the face of a large workload, our natural inclination is to work longer and harder to get it done. What many don’t appreciate is that protracted working hours can often impose unnecessary constraints on out-of-the-box thinking. Long hours can inhibit the inclination to pare back the issue, the project, the approach to its raw components.

It may feel counterintuitive to take a break when workloads are peaking. But stepping away from the project and changing up the environment can be the most productive way to allow space for our creative, non-analytical brain to take the lead and provide us with additional perspective. Nike may have it wrong; just doing it to get it done can work in the short term, but may not be the pathway to the best result over the medium or long-term.
Try stopping just doing. Get up and walk away from it. Give yourself the space for some introspection and ask “Is this the best way?”

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”
Just because something may have worked in the past under one set of circumstances, doesn’t mean that this is the best way to address a similar question. When looking to past successes, we need to be cognisant of confirmation bias – we will interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms our beliefs.
Yes, we need to give a nod to the evidence base where this exists, but rotating the problem, thinking about it orthogonally and being experimental all have the potential to bring a certain genius. Consider this approach from time to time: if it ain’t broke, you might want to break it.

We are experienced “this and that-ers”
We have qualifications in this, degrees in that, the know-how to do this, years of experience doing that. We all use tried and tested approaches. But how did these methods become the tried and tested methods? Through research and experimentation. I’d like us all to acknowledge that we are all real-world researchers. We need to trust ourselves more to actively engage in experimentation within our worlds. Sometimes it might be good practice to force ourselves to deliberately try different things in order to find the best solution for the problem or question at hand.

“It’s the company way”
Applying an existing framework or company approach can make sense under some circumstances, but under others can sometimes feel awkward; like fitting a square peg to a round hole. Recognise: everything has a time and a place. Many occasions call for new thinking and clean inspiration. Look to what others are doing, and learning.
The company way is not the be all and end all. In seeking the answer to “What is the best way?” there is room for the tried and tested, as well as the new and shiny.

“It’s too hard”
Cognitive energy and mental resources are required to answer the question “What is the best way?” Where does one start? Start with the problem, the issue, the question. Not the obvious question either, the REAL question. Break it down into the sum of its parts; the smallest building blocks; its naked state. Ask: How did the problem become a problem? The issue an issue? The question a question? Once you know the underpinning fundamentals, you can investigate how it all fits together, and ask at every point, “What’s the best way to address this?”
It’ll involve a bit more energy, but remember that we get out what we put in. Give your work a part of you and you will do work that you’re proud of. You may come full circle and end up using an approach you’ve used in the past, but at least you’ll know all the reasons for and against each alternative approach, and your decision will be highly considered and defensible.

“It’s too scary”
Putting yourself out there isn’t something everyone is comfortable doing. Showing employers, colleagues, and peers, new and untested ideas can be intimidating. “What if they disagree?” But what if they agree?

Leadership comes from offering solutions, so throw your hat in the ring. The risk may be high, but so may be the potential to gain. The worst that can happen is a rich discussion, even if an alternative solution is used.

These are six barriers that can prevent us from asking ourselves “Is this the best way?” and “What is the best way?”. Can you think of some more? We might never get to the very best way – but with a bit of effort there is a very good chance we can get to a better way.

I strongly feel that there is much to be gained from actively seeking opportunities to ask this question. Let’s change things up a little. Let’s embrace the experiment. Let’s question our surroundings. Let’s be curious and live the experiment.

-Marianne Campbell, Director, Mint Research

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