Adapting Requires Pushing Past Procedures

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“People taught to understand the system develop richer mental models than people taught to follow procedures.” -Gary Klein ‘Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making’

In the movie Jurassic Park we are given visual to these incredible behemoth walls that were built as safety precautions to keep both the people visiting the park safe and confined within, as well as keep the dinosaurs and the danger they represented at bay.  The problem is that at some point, like with all obstacles or walls that we create, the danger we are trying to keep out finds a way in.  While those confined within discover that they’re going to need to move beyond those barriers if they are going to stay safe.

Which is the world that most organizational leaders live within.

Those walls are often the procedures enacted to create order and constancy within, while keeping the chaos and instability out.  The problem with this thinking, which is prevalent in so many organizations, is that when we fail to allow people to learn and act beyond the procedures we inevitably diminish opportunities for continued growth and capacity.  The overall effect of procedurally-driven organizations is that they will fail to have the necessary skill-sets or knowledge to work effectively outside of those procedures when needed most, when the danger has broken through or scaled the organizational walls.

If our mental models are grounded in procedures and implementation, we have effectively limited our ability to act with judgment and expertise.  Which is especially limiting as we find ourselves more often than not forced to move past organizational boundaries into much more uncertain and ambiguous spaces pushed by the pace of change.  Spaces where procedures and checklists are no longer valid, relevant or supportive.

Organizational leadership has become a much more complicated and complex proposition in a world that is more turbulent, volatile and uncertain.  Which means we are going to need organizations, leaders and people that are less procedurally-driven and more proactive and adaptive in their thinking, decision-making and problem-solving.

Some see the boundaries of their organization as a wall, an electric fence to recoil from, while others see it as an obstacle to overcome and push past.  A Mount Everest to scale.   It is here that procedures and checklists no longer help or serve as a guide.  Pushing past and through these unknowns takes a different type of leadership, a different type of mindset. One of a pioneer.

“Skilled performers need latitude to depart from procedures.”  -Gary Klein ‘Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making’

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