Back in 2006, I had the opportunity to study for three weeks under a masterful commodities trader. It was an incredible learning experience that tested me personally but also deepened my appreciation for continually shifting the probabilities of success every so slightly in my favor. Learning to think in probabilities has been a competitive advantage that has allowed me to surface better thinking, decisions, and actions in moments big and small.
Last winter, as I prepared materials to expose one of our team’s to the practices of adaptive thinkers, I remembered an image from that 2006 experience. The image conveys the difference between successful and unsuccessful traders. It applies equally to business leaders who too often fall into the trap of over-complicating problems and pursuing solutions that are out of step with what was needed.
All too often, in the face of a baffling challenge, leaders search outside themselves and their organization. They can become fixated on pursuing a silver bullet to their organization’s dilemma(s), things like new software systems (e.g., ERP, CRM) or best-selling methods (the young rabbit hunter style). Invariably, the invested time, energy, and money do not produce the desired results.
Instead of looking outward to resolve the challenges they face, leaders benefit more from turning inward to:
- Deepen their understanding of what’s really going on… to see things as they are
- Use their inborn creativity to generate simple changes that allow them to apply the right amount of effort, in the right place, at the right time (the old rabbit hunter style).
When you learn to turn inward, you discover that what you need to meet this moment has been waiting for you.
Does a young rabbit hunter even know what they don’t know in order to adjust? Or does consistent focus on seeing what they’re really getting and adjusting tend to solve the problem?
Love the question! In my experience, when a leader believes the answer is outside of themself (e.g., circumstances need to change, there is something they must acquire), then they are orienting from the young rabbit hunter style. Looking outside oneself can be a sign that the leader believes the power to create what they want is not present (not available) within themselves or their team.
Wise leaders understand that an overriding “action bias” can stand in the way of achieving what they want. In learning to escape actions driven by their anxiety or fear, these leaders begin to see simple and obvious next steps to creating what they want.
It is true that creating anything new is an evolutionary process, filled with new actions AND adjusting UNTIL we are successful. Being the wise, old rabbit hunter just involves less detours.
Good insight, Scott. Also quite relevant in today’s business landscape. In software, for instance, the shift to IPO, 10X ROI, etc., makes this ‘young hunter’ phenomenon even more pervasive and popular.
Looking inward (Gemba) feels unpopular, slow, and more like an issue for the next buyer (of the currently VC-held company) to deal with. As such, what feels more appealing and de rigueur is to bring in external consulting with preset playbooks.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to consulting for IPO strategy; however, when it comes to operational execution excellence and effectiveness, I don’t believe there are shortcuts.
This is where the old hunter shines. First, understand the ‘flow of the rabbits’ (go to the scene) and then pick them (strategize on which improvements to address first for greater impact).
Good stuff. Thanks for sharing. Cheers!
Appreciate your sharing, David.
For some of the more dramatic actions we see from CEOs and their financial buyers, the true motivation is performative rather than substantive. Meaning decisions are made primarily for optics – the message the action sends (inside the firm or to shareholders) – rather than rooted in motivation to create more shareholder value.
In contrast, the old rabbit hunter engages in the world authentically. He is not focused on projecting power or competence nor dependent upon a pre-engineered script. Instead, the old rabbit hunter accurately perceives what’s happening and responds effectively. His good choices deliver the desired results with the least negative consequences and effort.
As you point out, a Gemba practice can help leaders increase their ability to see problems, understand the underlying forces at play, and act to seize on opportunities or transcend obstacles and challenges. Developing this fundamental cognitive and intuitive capacity is a hallmark of consistent winners.
What can we do to turn inward? Can you share an example of how turning inward helped you to solve a business problem?
A valuable question, Krister!
While there are many ways, I’ll share one that’s accessible to everyone.
Beneath the search outside ourselves for answers is a conditioned sense of lack. So when guiding leaders in our portfolio companies, I often generate experiments to show leaders how powerful they are. These experiments allow leaders to directly experience that it is not current circumstances which limit what’s possible but the quality of their vision and choices.
First, I ask them to envision a clear picture of what they would love to create. Then, I ask them honestly acknowledge their current reality. Finally, sitting in the tension between what they would love to create and their current reality, I ask them to name obvious actions they could take. And the answers pour out of them.
They learn through direct experience that the more they courageously take action on what emerges, the more insights they get. And the clearer their vision of what they create in contrast to what is objectively true about their current circumstance, the better the quality of the choices they perceive.