One of the key concepts in Roger Martin’s The Design of Business is the notion that the pursuit of reliable or predictable results keeps many organizations from the kind of exploration that pursues the next opportunity (or the more current opportunity). This is big for all of us, but to really catch the significance you need to think about how an understanding of what works develops. I detail it in this discussion of the difference between heuristic and algorithm. Trust me…I know this sounds way technical…but it is worth the journey. Take 5 minutes and check it out right here.
Once you’ve caught on, the next step is recognizing that when the stakes are high, it is much more palatable for most organizations to settle for tried-and-true and predictable…even when the world has changed. That’s why so many of us are still doing what worked in the 80s and 90s (or 60s and 70s)…even though we shake our heads when it doesn’t quite work the same way now (or anywhere close). We want to explain is away, but we have a harder and harder time.
Need an example? Think about McDonald’s being late to the healthier-menu-item game. Their sense of reliable kept them focused on the path that had been so successful in the past. Their next steps were based on what had always worked. And when Subway burst on the scene with a healthier fast food concept, McDonald’s was caught unprepared. It was some time before they conceded that the world had indeed changed. Only when they recognized that the tried and true no longer worked did they begin to “emerge from the trough.”
An example from my world? There was a time when participating in the activities of a church was an all day affair. Church-goers rode into town on a wagon, attended a worship service as a family, went to a Sunday School class, stayed for dinner-on-the-grounds, worshiped together again at an evening service, hitched up the horses and went home. Although that time is clearly in the past, many churches still operate with that worldview still intact. Shaking their heads, they wonder why churches are growing that offer a more streamlined approach.
Settling for reliability is guaranteed to miss the main chance when the world changes. On the other hand, the pursuit of validity is a high-stakes gamble that doesn’t always produce a big win (or even a win). It’s risky. It’s a venture into the unknown. It seems crazy. And yet, you cannot move to a new trajectory without the willingness to search for validity; an understanding of what is actually happening.