One of the biggest mistakes we business people make is executing the plan/do model. We plan, and then expect people to do. We forget about that middle stage of exploration, thinking, mistaking, learning, testing, accepting, supporting and struggling. For some odd reason, we see the middle stage as a sign of weakness.
In reality, just about every change theorist will tell us that, contrary to our conceptions, questioning how we do things is the most significant sign of potential success. After all, change isn't in the big things; change is the little learning stages along the way. None of us popped out the womb as managers, educators, and leaders. We all had to start somewhere.
The theme of T.S. Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Evolution is that scientific revolutions are not so much revolutionary as they are methodological thought progressions. Progress moves slowly, sometimes over years. Only in time of crisis does change movement lead to revolutionary shifts.
Kuhn' evolutionary stage is that middle period of execution where real thinking, observing, and mistaking goes on. Secure and confident managerial behavior is present in productive cultures in which managerial behavior is based in solid reasoning powers. Reasoning managers learn their environments through time-thinking. Time-thinking is a process in which decision making is complete after introspective pondering of a problem, thus that middle stage.
Our goal as leaders should be to look at intermediary stages as our growth periods, where we learn to do things differently. For example, think of a redevelopment project in a downtown urban setting. Transformation of worn out downtown centers has been done before so you'd think future redevelopment projects would follow a typical plan/do model. Not true. Every large project seems to be a cluster of issues as new learners, environments, and innovative ideas are brought into the mix. That's a cool dynamic, as more people learn the process of change.
It's easy to get depressed in the growth stage, partly because we are our worst enemies. We expect excellence at every step. It doesn't work that way. Steve Jobs didn't jump right into iPad thinking-mode. His path was one from an appreciation of music/Bob Dylan,to hardware construction of the first Apple computers to Macs, then Pixar, back to Apple with iMacs, iPods, iPhones, and now iPads.
Ways of thinking about music, communication, and styling changed because of these seemingly error free advancements. But, Jobs saw plenty of mistakes along the way, most notably internal strife and disagreements on product purpose, ultimately being let go from Apple. Although his disappointments had to have been depressing, they forced him to look at computers in brand new ways, not so much as processors, but as social change mechanisms. Who knows where we'd be if Steve Jobs had given up and joined a commune instead of venturing into his own new paradigm zone.
That foggy period of program development is interesting in that it forces us to ponder and think about how we do our jobs. The minute we think mistake-less progress is possible, we've lost the battle of being different. Many popular change theories in a business context are that leaders must transform from one understanding level to another to understand and instigate change. However, those theories often leave out the inevitable mid-level mistaking period. The environment is in constant flux. Just when you get used to one way of doing things, the rules change, necessitating change.
Jobs never lost sight of his purpose-definition, to innovate rather than adapt. Innovators challenge the status quo to solve problems. They like to bend the rules, sometimes act in shocking ways, and may come across as impractical and insensitive. Adapters, on the other hand, prefer structure, are sensitive to group norms, and bend to social pressure. We need the adapters as part of our social mix, but it's the innovators who push for change, even though the middle stages of change may be uncomfortable. Innovators, like Steve Jobs, enjoy the middle stage. Quoting Walt Disney, "It's kind of fun to do the impossible."
Change as Knowledge
In essence, the ways of change are no different from those of knowledge acquisition and transfer. Knowledge is not a goal but a process. It begins as data, or a mishmash of raw material. Over time, data begins to take shape as information. Data as information becomes a useful commodity, allowing us to make more educated decisions. However, the most enlightened stage is when information turns into knowledge. Knowledge is that rare ability to take information learned in one environment, morph it, and apply it to multiple, seemingly unrelated uses. Change is not unlike the transformation of data to knowledge. Change is a progressive state of gathering knowledge.
My favorite business/leadership philosopher, Rosabeth Kanter says, "Everything can look like a failure in the middle." In the right culture of acceptance, support, positivity, affirmation, and just plain fun, those middle-failures turn into the new iPads.
"No man [or woman] ever became great or good except through many and great mistakes." [William E. Gladstone, British Prime Minister.]