Trust is what teams, students, teachers, employees and leaders
need in order to challenge the process on the way to a better answer.
Earlier this week I stumbled upon some notes from a meeting I attended more than two years ago. The tile: “Conversations about Solutions.” My colleagues and I were discussing various student challenges and possible solutions. My jottings revealed a real plussing/amplifying session—not a collective monologue of gripes. We were pitching not bitching.
That day we focused on the fact that so many of our students came to us looking for “the right answer” instead of searching for an understanding about the process. Unfortunately, this oft-stated complaint about our educational system highlights the emphasis placed on minutiae and following the leader, rather than on reflection and process.
Coincidentally, I recently watched a TED Talk by Astro Teller of X (formerly Google X). He used two related metaphors to describe how he and his colleagues tackle issues of importance: Moonshots and The Factory.
Moonshots represent their ideas—big and audacious visions about how the future can be different. The Factory is where they do the messy work of both “harnessing enthusiastic optimism” and working “to kill our project today.”
At first it sounded contradictory and negative to me. On one hand Teller and his team would come up with wonderful ideas and with the other carve them up. Actually, it is an enlightened and positive approach to teamwork, solutions, and process.
Teller and his colleagues wanted and needed to know about the Achilles heel of their thinking up front before they got too far along in the process. More than just looking for “the right answer,” they wanted to be sure to expose as many obstacles as possible; know what lies ahead from the get-go.
Contrast that with the ineffective manager who presents an idea (many times dictated from above) to a committee under the guise of “let’s have a discussion.” Unfortunately, anyone who disagrees or comes up with authentic concerns gets tagged as “not a team player.” No plussing allowed. Forget about amplifying. Forget about the messiness of exposing an Achilles Heel. You end up with people moving lockstep toward the dictated “right answer” and the process be damned.
Back to Teller and his cronies. They don’t see exposing flaws as a negative or that the moonshot on the drawing table is dead. The exposed (possible) flaws allow for deeper conversation and a more profound product. Or, if needed, postponing or ending the project.
A personal example. I am at the point now with a book manuscript where I need to/want to have deep and reflective feedback. Not meaningless compliments. I need authentic and honest feedback. Toward that end I’ve sent my work to nearly two dozen experts and practitioners around the nation for their considered critiques. This manuscript is my current “moonshot” and I need to engage in the messy work of revision before I put it out there in the marketplace. It’s the process that makes the final product, not the final product that dictates the process. I trust in the people I have solicited for input.
Maslow identified security as the second level of his famous hierarchy of needs. For security we need trust. And trust is what teams, students, teachers, employees, and leaders need in order to challenge the process on the way to a better answer. True, a math problem may only have one correct answer, but shouldn’t we at least embrace the eloquence of the process? Who knows maybe that will set the stage for embracing the messiness of creativity and teamwork on the way to another product. As one of my colleagues once said, “Let’s get the thinking better.”
Author Brené Brown recently stated, “We need cultures that support the idea that vulnerability is courage and also the birthplace of trust, innovation, learning, risk-taking, and having tough conversations.”
Video recommendation of the week.
Again, Teller of X: “Being audacious and working on big risky things makes people inherently uncomfortable…Enthusiastic skepticism is not the enemy of boundless optimism. It’s optimism’s perfect partner.”
Make it an inspiring week as you pursue your authentic “hell, yeah!” goals.—H.T.R.B. as needed.
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My books Choices for College Success (3rd edition) and Study Skills: Do I Really Need This Stuff? (3rd edition) are published by Pearson Education.
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