In our work, we emphasize the importance of small wins when generating solutions for big, complex problems. The reason: that’s how you develop and leverage the power of networks.
WHY IT MATTERS
To accomplish something big, focus on something small: doing the doable.
The paradox grates on some.
When I was in Ecuador last year, a business leader posed a sensible question. “You ask us to use Strategic Doing to help us develop clusters and transform our economy. Yet, you emphasize the importance of going slowly at the beginning and focusing on small, doable projects. How will we ever transform our economy with these small projects?”
He needed an important insight: transformations emerge as we leverage expanding networks.
When you understand how to design and guide networks, focusing on small wins — relentlessly doing the doable — makes sense.
DIG DEEPER: HIERARCHIES TO NETWORKS
In his writings, John Dewey shared a valuable point: We make progress when we abandon old paradigms. We can then embrace new paradigms to generate better results.
In the past, hierarchies provided the predominant paradigm in our organizational life. Hierarchies make sense with a defined process. Activities may be complicated, but they are relatively stable. We can create a logical flow and establish accountability for results. Within our corporations, for example, hierarchies work to manage financial accounting and similarly fixed business activities.
But hierarchies have their weaknesses. They do not adjust easily to rapidly shifting environments. They don’t adapt. The routines that define hierarchies discourage learning.
Teams, collaboration, and networks work better In fast-changing environments.
SHIFTING TO NETWORK MINDSETS
Network mindsets are deeply different. They are more horizontal than vertical. More cyclical than linear. More ambiguous than certain. More collaborative than competitive. More team-based, and less individually focused. More dependent on collective leadership, and less on heroic leadership. The process of collective visualization carries more impact than a singular vision statement.
DIVING DEEPER: THE EMERGENT POWER OF NETWORKS
Network dynamics open new opportunities. As the power of the network grows, the definition of what constitutes a small win also grows. (Complexity scientists have a useful concept: the “adjacent possible”. As the network grows, the adjacent possible also grows.)
The potential for impact increases as a function of two factors: 1) more resources from a growing network; and 2) more efficiency in leveraging assets arising from collective learning and increasing levels of trust across the network.
It all starts with building a collective set of habits. Focusing on small wins. Doing the doable, relentlessly.
We still need one essential component: an open-source operating system to speed up collaboration and network development.
(Think Linux for human networks.)
That’s what #strategicdoing provides.
The Director of the Lab at UNA and co-author of Strategic Doing: 10 Skills for Agile Leadership, Ed’s work has focused on developing new models of strategy specifically designed to accelerate complex collaboration in networks and open innovation. He is the original developer of Strategic Doing.