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Those familiar with The Leadership Challenge know Challenge the Process—one of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®—is all about…
- Experimenting and taking risks to drive continuous improvement
- Searching for opportunities inside and outside of the organisation
- Generating ‘small wins’ to successful change
This is so important in business because we need to create regular feedback loops (a great example of a tech development feedback loop can be found here, and there’s no reason this cannot be applied to more traditional businesses, too). These feedback loops enable us to participate in ‘reality testing’, to answer several key questions: Are the ideas we come up with just ideas, or are they opportunities? Can we improve on what we’ve got? How can we test that? How readily can we apply our hypothesis? Following these feedback loops is essential for businesses and part and parcel of helping leaders Challenge the Process.
The trouble with Challenging the Process in Asia
This Practice may not always be easy to implement in many cultures, but in Asia it is often the most difficult to promote. After all, we’re trying to get people to take risks, make mistakes, and even disagree with each other – all things that Asians naturally really don’t like – OK OK – hate doing! Here’s why:
- As a people, Asians tend to be much more risk averse than others around the globe. To ‘challenge’ anything often has negative connotations and, more importantly, induces feelings of fear. So there is a natural bias to avoid challenging the process when it comes with so much risk. Obedience, instead, is more highly valued.
- Challenge the Process is about continuous improvement, usually by trial and error, which means that mistakes are inevitable. However, in Asian societies mistakes are associated with fear, partly because of this innate aversion to risk and partly because the education systems in Asia are obsessed with ‘right/wrong’ outcomes (to protect the ‘face’ of teachers). This carries through to adult life and everyone becomes used to a culture where mistakes must be avoided. This cramps risk-taking and it also cramps action.
In addition, there is substantial pressure within nearly every corporate culture—no matter where it operates in the world—to conform to the rewards and punishments in place when risks are taken. (Check out this post, Corporate Culture’s Million Dollar Question and read what Jim Kerr, GE’s ex-Chief Learning Officer, had to say about this.)
So what can companies do to promote risk-taking? How do we encourage this behaviour when there are no roots for it to grow from?
Here’s one solution…Challenge the Process—gangnam style!
Right now, Gangnam Style is big and, let’s face it, fun.
Fun is what we look to when we want to get risk-averse Asians over a barrier. Fun is why Thai advertisements regularly score highly in Cannes Advertising Awards (these guys have spent billions of dollars researching this and know their onions!) And fun is the energy that helps Asians forget the serious of risk aversion, the fear of making mistakes, and all those cultural constraints they have grown up with.
Fun can also help you get your leaders to Challenge the Process. Here’s how:
1. Next time you’re stuck in an unproductive meeting or brainstorming session or ‘fear doom loop’ switch to YouTube and play a Gangnam Style video.
2. When you’ve all had a laugh watching it, explain that you’re going to play it again and by the end of the video you want everyone to be able to dance ‘gangnam style’.
3. Get everyone up dancing. Stop the video after one minute has elapsed. Split your team into pairs and encourage them to improve each other’s technique. They have one minute to do so.
4. Start the video again. Play for another minute and then pause. Take another break as above. Repeat the process for a third time.
5. Ask participants: Has there been any improvement? How did we improve? You’ll find that those who improved followed a ‘trial and error’ process—or feedback loop of observe – idea – test – apply.
6. Now you can relate this to your task in hand, explaining that mistakes are part of progress. They can be healthy and even fun—not something to be avoided.
Voila! You have just improved innovation and problem-solving in your team – gangnam style!
Nick Talent, CEO of Talent Technologies (Asia) Co. Ltd., is an innovative trainer, facilitator, and motivator who helps individuals achieve their best. He continually adapts The Leadership Challenge to the diverse range of participants in the Asia Pacific region with good results both during and after the training. He has been featured on Thai TV and his work has appeared in professional publications throughout the region. More details can be found on his blog at www.talent-technologies.com, including the original How to Challenge the Process—Gangnam Style article and links to the video and other postings referenced here.