At Talentism, we’ve long believed that the companies which learn the fastest will win in the long run. As we all experience the macroeconomic currents becoming increasingly choppy, active and intentional learning – as individuals, leadership teams, and organizations – becomes more critical and more challenging.
There are two non-negotiable components to effective learning: action-taking and sensemaking. Taking action is essential, and it can feel exhilarating to grind through a to-do list. But since you cannot learn from experiences that you don’t understand, reflection is non-negotiable. Conversely, reflection is necessary but insufficient for learning, as you must enact your revised hypotheses and gather new data in order to progress.
While the lack of action and lack of reflection both have significant consequences, I find with my clients that the lack of action is the stickier trap from which to emerge. There are many ways to get caught in a rut of inaction. I often see overwhelmed paralysis or frenetic motions that don’t lead to tangible change and evolution.
When my clients feel stuck, it is often because they feel caught in a prison of imagined constraints. But if you hold untested beliefs about the system you’re operating in, you are blind to potential solutions. A first step could be taking stock of where you have concluded a constraint exists, and taking action to test that boundary.
Once you start examining through evidence the designs you’ve created and are operating in, you will likely uncover disconnects between your assumptions and the experienced reality. This is one of the most productive places to find yourself. Because from here, you can look at the differences between how you believe things should work and how things actually are working, make a targeted change, and then experience new results. The smaller and quicker you can make these learning loops, the faster you can make progress toward a goal.
Another common trap is disguising inaction with activities like excessive planning that feel like “work” but are actually serving to help hide or delay what you are afraid of. If I take action and I fail, the consequences will be dire. If your organization and the individuals within it are pursuing excellence, you should expect to confront fears. This is another reason why we advocate for many tight experiments and smaller learning loops that build into larger ones. Sometimes lack of action is evidence of lack of perceived safety.
Learning and finding clarity is key. Clarity, as we describe it, is not an end state. Clarity is productive action in spite of doubt. While doubts and fears will never fully disappear, taking the action to turn confusion into clarity can continually expand the boundaries of what we believe is safe.