Disrupting The Answer-Implement Loop Of Leadership

“Organizations are resistant to undertakings that pull them out of their familiar equilibrium. When the leader focuses on an issue and strives to generate urgency surrounding it, the guaranteed first line of defense is for the organization to turn back to the leader for an answer.” -Pascale, Millemann, Gioja via Surfing the Edge of Chaos

This is often the point at which the opportunity for creating capacity erodes…

Leaders have the choice of providing the answer OR having their leadership come under question.

If an answer is provided, the opportunity for learning and capacity-building is wiped away from the process. Ultimately leading to an implementation mindset within the organization, removing any type of commitment or accountability to the process and eventually laying any form of failure at the feet of the leader for taking them down this unwanted path of change. Unfortunately, this is often the path most traveled by most leaders in these circumstances.

We have come to treat leadership as an answer-driven activity. Even though it has proven to have diminishing returns on creating organizational capacity. We have created this answer-loop in most organizations. A problem, issue or challenge is discovered, the organization looks to the leader for an answer, an answer is provided, the organization implements the answer, and the world goes back to normal until another problem, issue or challenge raises its ugly head, and then the process repeats. A repeating process that does more to entrench the status quo than improve the collective capacity of the whole.

However, if the leader determines to take the path less traveled, the one to creating individual and organizational capacity, it must be understood that their leadership ability will be constantly questioned and come under heavy fire. Especially when the answer-implement loop is disrupted.

When leaders not only lead with questions over answers, but allow questions to linger and push the organization into inquiry and require determining their own collective answers to those problems, issues and challenges, it goes against the grain of the answer-implement loop and disrupts the equilibrium of the organization. And while it will eventually lead to greater commitment and internal accountability and capability, in the beginning it will cause deep discomfort and frustration. When answers are not readily given or provided, the organization will begin to grumble and question…

“Where is the leadership around here?”  

“Where are the answers we need to these problems and issues that plague us?”

When a leader pushes through these questions that poke at the very foundation of their leadership ability, as well as their ego, when they hold strong to pushing through this barrage of frustration, refusing to provide an answer or accept the first ones hastily given, they put their people on the path to building real depth and collective capacity throughout the organization.

Except, they won’t realize it.

Allowing for disruption of organizational equilibrium in an effort to create organizational capacity requires true servant leadership. For it is understanding, even while taking all of these hits to your leadership ability in an effort to create greater collective capacity, that when collective commitment is garnered, the organization will celebrate with the rally cry of…

“Look what we have done!”

As a leader, you can choose the first path, the one most traveled and be the hero with all the answers. Just understand, organizational capacity will fail to be created, allowing status quo to win out, not to mention the wear and tear on your leadership having to have all of the answers and constantly working to create ‘buy-in’ and commitment to any change process or initiative.


As a leader, you can choose the other path, the one least traveled, the path of the true servant leader to build the organizational capacity that leads to greater commitment and internal accountability. Just understand it will be the heaviest lift you will ever endure, both internally and externally as a leader. However, if you can withstand the pressure to avoid being answer-driven, you can ultimately build up real depth and capacity that cascades across the entirety of the organization.

In the end, you can choose to be a hero OR you can choose to be a servant.

“The unrelenting challenge of adaptive leadership is to manage the level of distress in a way that keeps the entire organization constantly aware that discontinuous results can only be achieved by discontinuous means.”  -Pascale, Millemann, Gioja via Surfing the Edge of Chaos


Designing For Dragons

“In the early days of navigation, mapmakers would mark mysterious gaps on their charts with cheerful warnings such as “There be dragons!” Truly creative people are those who are irresistibly drawn to do battle with them.”  -Marty Neumeier The Designful Company: How To Build A Culture Of Nonstop Innovation

So the question today’s leaders have to ask themselves is twofold…

What are our modern day dragons?  

And where are they?

The problem is that we are so busy implementing short-sighted answers, that we never engage the questions that lead to long-term progress. We are so caught up in planning for success, that we fail to design for any type of impact. We find ourselves so busy in the urgent, that we never leave time for the important.

In fact, most of the time we find ourselves slaying the wrong dragons.

In fact, what we often discover when we go hunting dragons is that our organizations and systems are designed with the structures and processes that keep us away from those “mysterious gaps” where “there be dragons!” Or they force our focus and attention on the wrong dragons, if they were even dragons at all.

Our modern organizations, if they’re ever going to do battle with real dragons, need to be designed to have layers, not lanes.

They need to allow us to push past our boundaries, to the edges and peripheries where “there be dragons!”  

Marty Neumeier, in his work The Designful Company, gives us three ways we can begin to lead in ways that we design our organizations to be more focused on doing battle with real dragons…

“Stay In The Dragon Gap As Long As It Takes”

Neumeier shares that we have to be willing to “embrace paradox” and have a “willingness to brave the discomfort of creative tension” if we are going to not only do battle with dragons, but find better solutions to the wicked problems and challenges that we face as leaders and organizations.

“Third-Brain Thinkers”

Neumeier shares that this is the place where “holistic thinking” kicks in and we allow ourselves to “zoom in and zoom out” on our problems and challenges in order to reframe our perspective and view of those problems and challenges. It is here we engage the AND of the whole to the granular. When battling dragons as “Third-Brain Thinkers” it is important that we “don’t settle for easy options.”

“Adrenalized By The Ambiguity And Uncertainty That Come From Constant Change”

Neumeier shares that in this space we have to be able to “trade the false security of best practices for the insecurity of new practices.” For which he adds, it is about being “driven to create wealth instead of merely unlocking it.” The problem with most organizations is that they are more focused on creating processes and structures that lead to linearity and predictability, than being willing to step out into the ambiguity and uncertainty that accompanies change and the unknown.

Once we design our organizations and systems to do battle with real dragons, we will see a move from the urgent to the important; from irrelevant to relevant; and in the process we will create an environment that unleashes the creative and innovative spirit that often lies dormant across the entirety of our organizations.

Creative Destruction Teams

“Our organizations tend to be good at what was important yesterday.”  -via Creative Destruction: Why Companies That Are Build to Last Underperform the Market – and How to Successfully Transform Them

While the term “creative destruction” was first coined by Joseph Schumpter back in 1942, the pace and turbulence of change in today’s world has made it a much more prevalent and necessary reality in today’s modern organizations. In his work Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, Schumpter described creative destruction as a “process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.” However, to make it a bit clearer for the purposes here, Investopedia defines it as “creative destruction occurs when something new kills something older.” While WhatIs.com describes creative destruction being “a process through which something new brings about the demise of whatever existed before it.”

While we may not attach the term creative destruction to it, we are seeing this demise of the old and introduction of the new happening at much more heightened and accelerated rate in today’s world. For many, creative destruction is a seen as a disruptive and divisive force to be avoided at all costs, while others see it as a natural and intentional process of evolving and transforming forward.

Foster and Kaplan share in their work Creative Destruction, “We believe that all institutions benefit from the refreshing processes of creative destruction. We also believe that the forces of creative destruction are impossible to resist in the long term.” They continue, “Failure to provide avenues for sufficient continual change – to create new options and to rid the system of old processes – eventually results in organizational failure, whether at the national, institutional, or individual level. If the forces of creative destruction are suppressed for long periods, the resulting ruptures can destroy institutions and individuals with astonishing speed and cruelty…”

In many ways, as we look at the current situation of our organizations, we see rising tensions as many forms of transformation, often spurred on by the exponential shifts of Moore’s Law and the speed of technology, try to take hold; hierarchical vs flattened, status quo vs disruption, analog vs digital, discontinuity vs continuity, steady vs agile, and fixed vs growth mindsets. Today’s leaders are awash amidst a turbulent shift from having to deal with technical problems to how to handle more adaptive challenges.

The concern is that, when faced with the rising volatility, multitude of unknowns, and heightened complexity and ambiguity of these modern challenges, we often choose to recoil back to the past (practices) or limit ourselves to either/or thinking. When in fact, we need to be investing and connecting to AND thinking. We need to be widening, not limiting the dots we are connecting. Especially if we are to continually refresh and evolve our organizations forward in new and relevant ways.

So whether we are connecting the work of Brafman, Pascale and Gutsche around Chaos, Kotter with Dual-Operating Systems, or Foster and Kaplan’s thinking around Creative Destruction, as well as the plethora of new ideas bubbling up amidst this transition into the Fourth Industrial Revolution; connecting and designing new ways and methods to improve the relevance factor of our organizations in a VUCA world will be vital to avoiding future irrelevance.

Which leads to the idea of not just creative destruction, but Creative Destruction Teams. Too often, our organizational teams are just extensions of the hierarchical, status quo, core system and do more to protect the current way of operating, than to look at more dynamic and innovative ways of moving forward. Too often our current teams are so focused on continuity and protecting the successes of the past, that we are blinded to different ways of moving forward into the future more effectively.

The problem is that the hierarchical, predictable, linear, command and control mindsets are often so entrenched in many large organizations, it is near impossible to remove or flatten current structures, especially to align with the current speed of change. Which then leads back to Creative Destruction Teams. The idea that infusing space for internal disruption allows big organizations to look at much more agile, adaptive, startup ways of thinking alongside the current core (status quo) system and begin to infuse for more creative and innovative ways of working.

In building on this idea of Creative Destruction Teams existing alongside the hierarchical,  status quo teams (think Kotter’s Dual-Operating System), Salim Ismail shares in his work Exponential Organizations for “a big company to assemble a team specifically designed to disrupt itself.” For which he adds, “and charge them with the task of setting up a startup whose sole purpose is to attack the mother ship.”

Which takes us back to the idea of embracing AND.

In a world of either/or choices, we need leaders who can connect too AND thinking. Leaders who can connect this dot AND those dots, not just this dot OR that dot. Creative Destruction Teams begins the process of creating the space for AND thinking to exist in our modern organizations.

“Rather than just acting as custodians of operational excellence, and being buffeted by the winds of change, we urge corporations and their leaders to be the captains of their fate, the masters of the forces of creative destruction that shape and renew the markets into the new millennium.”  -via Creative Destruction: Why Companies That Are Build to Last Underperform the Market – and How to Successfully Transform Them