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Hope is Not a Strategy

I see quite a few posts on social media that express the hope that this will soon be over and that we can return to normal—so do I, of course.

But the problem is that hope is not a strategy for coping with the complex issue that we all face: What to do next?

Most of us in our managerial  and team leader roles are used to navigating in a relatively ordered environment. Things are generally simple or complicated. But even when things are complicated, there are principles, with the causes and effects more or less mapped and understood.

If it gets overwhelmingly complicated, we call in experts, consultants and other good people to help us understand whatever it is that we are struggling with, but we are still navigating in a relatively ordered and predictable environment.

Now, that has all changed.

Collectively, we have taken a step into deeper uncertainty in the direction of chaos—that alone is enough to scare the life out of most of us.

There is no longer order and no clear rules for cause and effect—nobody has the answer. No experts to call, No SOP, no best practices—

Are we just left with hope? No, not necessarily.

If we are to develop a strategy for coping with the current situation, we need to develop our understanding and awareness of complexity. For most of us, this is an unfamiliar domain.

It is also a huge subject and a real rabbit hole you can get lost in for months. I will provide some links further down.

Let's just take one tool that could be helpful for now and that will get you started.

Instead of thinking strategy in the traditional sense, I invite you to look at the concept of adaptive action.

Adaptive Action is as Powerful as it is Simple.

Three questions will help you make progress:

What?

This opens your eyes to the current reality. The idea is to challenge your expectations and assumptions. In practical terms, that means we start collecting data, information and stories about what is happening around us. Start writing on a notebook or whiteboard, or creating a wiki or one of those scrapbook-like walls with pictures of suspects that you see in crime movies—whatever works for you: I like Wakelet. Collect stories from your current world. That means customers, colleagues and suppliers—all the stakeholders. Involve the team in this. Have your colleagues asked questions of their contacts? What are they doing? How are they coping? What is changing for them? Get together and share what you are learning. Map out keywords or concepts.

So What?

This invites you to make meaning in new and creative ways. As you examine all these stories and data, start looking for patterns: What direction are things taking? What signals seem to be popping up regularly? Where are these signals pointing to? How can you group or cluster the data to make even better sense of it? Where do you see connections?

Now What?

This question brings you to action. Even that which you cannot predict or control what will happen, you still need to act. Without action, we don’t learn. How then can you take some action that would confirm or reconfirm what you think you are sensing from the data? Try that, preferably on a small scale initially. Accept that you don’t know how. Whatever you decide to do will work out, but at least it will provide you with more data. And as you will see that brings you back to What?

You Can’t Do This Alone.

In this process, we are looking for as many inputs as we can get—and we will always be able to find more data. It is then an iterative and never-ending process that takes shape and reshapes as we work with it. There is no right answer—or solution, in the traditional sense—just emerging and ever-evolving patterns. At best, you will only have partial truths, but that is not too shabby either.

Make sure to appreciate different perspectives. Disagreement is a gift in this process. It helps us not to get locked into our habitual, linear and orderly cause-and-effect thinking. Challenge each other’s thinking.

Obviously, if you have been following my series in this blog on building quality relationships and strong teams, you will recognize that the above exercise is impossible to do if there is no psychological safety on your team.

In a complex and rapidly evolving environment, we realize that interdependence is what this is all about. None of us can work it out on our own.


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Mike Hohnen, MBA is a coach, trainer, author and public speaker who supports leaders, managers and their teams in implementing the principles of the Service Profit Chain.

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