Not kidding. Once upon a time ‘experimenting’ was something that only scientists did. Most people would associate the word to labs and white coats.
In the old business environment, the one of the ‘get it right first time’, most things were lineal and predictable. It was a matter of, say, resources to be able to tackle challenges. The old Army model was the old business model. My tanks are bigger than yours. That kind of thing.
Today, most of the old management toolkits are redundant. Why? Because they were built, developed, sold and taught for a linear and relatively stable environment. Concepts such as risk, decision making, or information systems were largely mechanistic. It worked because it was about machines, and we had a good handle for them. Today, we have an environment that changes faster that our own internal structures, processed and systems. That is why long term strategic planning, amongst other, is dead.
In the absence today of sure input-output models, if they ever were real, we now need to use the Weapon of Mass Instruction: test, prototype, experiment, get it wrong, try again, experiment again, keep going, here is another one I’ve made. No apologies.
If I were the chairman of the Board, I would ask for the Portfolio Of Experiments. But I am not a chairman of any Board.
It’s messy. Certainly more than the old ‘if you do A, I guarantee that you’ll get B’. Today, nobody has a clue on how X,Y,Z will turn out. It’s a wonderful opportunity to invent, innovate, shape things. Messy, yes, but not boring.
But we need to accept that the modern organization today should look like a host of multiple experiments. Some of them will succeed, some won’t. Next, fast, new. Traditional management sees heterogeneity with horror. The idea that a Business Unit A with little structure, high risk and in unknown territory, could coexist with Business Unit B, full blown predictable, mechanistic, and productive, is not something that is well absorbed. People who tell me, ‘not, not us, we are OK with that’, tend to progress towards uniformity of structure, processes and systems at the speed of light. Give them a couple of months and the Big Consulting Group would have landed to put some order and uniformity on behalf of efficiency. These people are excellent sellers of efficiency when we need effectiveness.
Management is not wired for the messy stuff. We don’t like the messy stuff, because we were not educated for it, we were told this is a sign of bad management, and Harvard Business Review gives us daily and monthly assurances that some people, actually, are in the possession of the truth. How nice.
The truth of the truth however is that you make it as you go along, with multiple pockets of experimentation, multiple risks, multiple fast reaction, and above all, failing faster than anybody else. It’s the Buffett and Munger school of management: we are successful by making less mistakes than others.
By ‘experimenting’ here I mean trying, prototyping launching hypothesis and testing them across the board: products, services, process, systems and structures. Also structures. All of them.
Leadership is here the art of running the company as a fantastic, magnetic, adventurous Big Lab.