If your business isn’t working and things aren’t going according to plan, it’s easy to look for obvious solutions. Occam’s Razor and all, the simplest solution is probably the correct one. However, the right solution might not be very simple at all. The right solution could require you to ask fundamental questions that challenge what you thought was the right path in the first place.
What are we doing in the first place?
Beyond the hyperbole of claiming to have found the “secret ingredient” to success (fans of the film Kung Fu Panda already know what the secret ingredient is), this Op-Ed from the New York Times hits the nail on the head with what separates the people who wow the world, and those who make it: Secret Ingredient for Success – NYTimes.com. In the piece, the examples all focus on not just looking at “why aren’t people eating in my restaurant” or “why did I lose that tennis match,” but questioning the assumptions made to get to that point.
Learning digging below the surface
The authors cite Chris Argyris as the progenitor of double-loop learning, and I thought this quote from the piece brought the article into crisp focus:
LESS common but vastly more effective is the cognitive approach that Professor Argyris called double-loop learning. In this mode we — like Mr. Chang — question every aspect of our approach, including our methodology, biases and deeply held assumptions. This more psychologically nuanced self-examination requires that we honestly challenge our beliefs and summon the courage to act on that information, which may lead to fresh ways of thinking about our lives and our goals.
Are you creating an app that sounds great, but in reality, no one really wants? As you listen to people, they give you the idea for something even better—but totally different. It wouldn’t be the first time. Vancouver’s Tiny Speck (made up of a lot of the original team behind Flickr) first made a game called Glitch, which didn’t succeed, but sometime in the interim, Slack was born, and it’s growing like crazy—Andreessen: Slack Has Gone Crazy Viral. I’m betting that when Stuart Butterfield saw that Glitch wasn’t going to work out, he asked many questions about what was working. I bet Slack was built as a side project to help the people working on Glitch coordinate. Stuart asked a better question: why don’t we develop our in-house chat/collaboration tool as something we can let other people use?
Maybe not so much.
Ask yourself: Are we playing on the right field?
This is the essential part of double-loop learning. It’s asking the tough questions. Tough questions don’t mean you give up what you know you’re good at. David Chang didn’t stop cooking, he just cooked something wildly different. Martina Navratilova didn’t quit playing tennis and changed how she approached her training and the game. It comes down to asking this: Are the assumptions we’ve made about winning the game the right ones?
When you face a challenge, roadblock, setback, or failure (remember, failure isn’t bad), asking the deeper, harder questions lets you come back stronger and not just win the day but seize and master it.