The innovation mindset is rooted in the mantra ‘fail fast, fail often, repeat’. While saying ‘fail fast’ is easy, one must be cognizant of what happens to peoples’ mindset when they fail often. Is our business ecosystem ready to support multiple failures, and take them as a journey towards success by supporting them again and again?
As the world is going through an unprecedented crisis with uncertainty and randomness dictating the market environment, there are new ways of thinking about problems and solutions - ‘design the thinking’ is one such mindset. The traditional design thinking model developed by Stanford is given a twist as a life-skill rather than a process.
At the heart of ‘design the thinking’, there are three fundamental factors:
1. Fundamentally listen: Empathetic, hyper-listening is about what is being said and what is not being said. Leaders must listen deeply to understand what the end-user is going through.
2. Dialogue: ‘Design the thinking’ is about what is right and not who is right. i.e. unbiased dialogue versus debate.
3. Observation: Observing things must become a habit and not a forced action.
Great designs and ‘design the thinking’ go hand-in-hand:
At the core of a good design is empathy for the stakeholder ecosystem and a driving purpose i.e. “Why am I doing?” This translates to the elements of great design, namely, simplicity, ease of experience, frictionless and efficient systems. For example, the COVID-era broke the assumption that work-from-home was not a practically feasible option. And WFH became an ingrained way of life.
1. Understanding stated and unstated requirements: How much do we truly listen to, and try to understand what people are implying? Often, customer-needs are unstated and subtle. For example, Steve Jobs saw a person on vacation tediously juggle a bulky digital camera, phone, address book, and music-system, sucking out all the fun. No one explicitly said it, but the iPhone was born out of an unstated need.
2. Observing: Patterns and the lack of patterns: As HR leaders, we must open our eyes to patterns. For example, employees taking adhoc leaves may indicate disengagement. Anti-patterns are all about identifying the constraints, leveraging and overcoming them.
3. Connect the dots – Within the box, and outside the box: A classic example is benchmarking the recruitment process against similar industry players, versus exploring how training is approached in military/ elite academies and how that model can be applied to the organizational leadership development. It is about creating algorithms beyond what’s obvious.
4. Unearthing blind spots: Don’t know what I don’t know: Leaders and employees must be open to peel layers and unearth the blind spots arising from an attitude of “I don’t know what I do”.
‘Design the thinking’ is a radical shift from – ‘What is the right answer’, to ‘What is the right question?’ ; ‘More talk’ to ‘More listening’; ‘Data”’ to ‘Stories’ ; ‘Events’ to ‘Experiences’ ; and ‘Talking about facts’ to ‘Talking about feelings’. It is human-centred, future-focused and creates value.
How can HR shift the focus to an anti-fragile mindset?
‘Design the thinking’ is not about the problem, but about the person who is facing the problem. The journey mapping tool covers the various stages of enter-engage-exit-reflect that a person goes through, and what he/she is feeling-thinking-doing across each of these stages.
Fragility is often related to the breaking of glass. When translated to an organizational context, it can be related to an employee breaking down under pressure, often leading to reduction in performance, productivity, and engagement levels. A Fragile mindset gets harmed by tension and crushed by adversity; a Robust mindset stays the same under tension and is able to rebound well. On the contrary, the Anti-fragile mindset stands apart by benefiting from the tension i.e. gets stronger with adversity. To truly be anti-fragile, organizations must learn to imbibe uncertainty. This comes from the “Power of belief”. Hence, leaders must facilitate creating a more powerful world-view in their people, not biased by past experiences, interpretations, or own beliefs. This is possible by leveraging the SEPIA - Drivers of design: i.e. building skill, expanding expertise, gaining perspective, generating ideas and seeking alignment. Leaders must pose questions like, “Are employees aligned to what the organization is driving?”, “As HR leaders, are we aligned to operational efficiency, organizational purpose and strategy?”
How can employees cultivate an anti-fragile mindset?
An anti-fragile mindset starts at the individual level, and cuts across teams, functions, and organization. Eliminating the DCAFE - 5 frictional forces helps create good friction.
1. Doubt: If people have constant doubts regarding their decisions and always look for external approval, it slows down the delivery-mechanism and pulls down business. Cultivate an approval mindset.
2. Conflict: Difference of opinion, perspectives and expectations persist, and leaders must work to identify the sources of conflict and ways to diffuse it. Dialogue is necessary to foster this.
3. Anger: Anger stems from helplessness, so it is essential to reduce this at an individual, cluster, teams, and organizational level, by embracing acceptance.
4. Fear: Fear of commitment, fear of failure, and fear of the unknown resides in everyone. We must acknowledge and foster courage and learn to move despite fear.
5. Ego: An ‘I have it all’ mindset at a team and leadership level kills innovation and creativity. Leaders must espouse Humility as a value.
Organizations must encourage everyone to walk with DCAFE profiles. For this, leaders and managers must cultivate a culture that allows its people to be vulnerable.
How to provide a conducive environment for employees
The HR function must work towards building an ecosystem that pushes people away from their comfort zones, while providing a short-term safe passage for vulnerability. Three capacity levers will help achieve this:
§ Uncertainty: Moving people from a comfort zone to a vulnerable zone while supporting them increases their thinking by 10X.
§ Appreciation: Genuine, specific and timely i.e. GST of appreciation is important. Appreciation need not be monetary.
§ Limiting beliefs: Both in the minds of people and minds of a team, if not addressed, limiting beliefs reduces their capacity.
Asking the right questions will positively shift the energy level multiple times. As John F Kennedy said, “It is not about putting the person on the moon, it is about bringing the person back safely to Earth”. In the HR context, we can look at HR being a process developer, but we must shift our outlook to being an experience architect and curate the best experiences and outcomes for our people, based on the bedrock of empathy and innovation.
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