Do you have to be a chef to start cooking? A note of Strategy Execution and ‘starting’ 

Habits are crucial for driving execution excellence. Four things contribute to forming better habits:

  1. Being deliberate – be clear on what you want
  2. Being consistent – commit to keep going
  3. Looking down now – start as soon as possible
  4. Looking up often – learn and iterate as you go

Here’s number 4.

Why ‘looking up’ is important

“We don’t learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.”

John Dewey

John Dewey was a philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer (1859 – 1952). He was a progressive thinker for his time and a lot of the education system as we know it today is because of the concepts he introduced.

One of those concepts is that ideas should be viewed as tools for experimenting, that we learn from doing. This seems obvious, yet we still struggle with it in business today. Eric Reis posits something very similar in The Lean Startup – “build, measure, learn” sounds very similar to Dewey’s “experimenting”.

The key to this process is reflection. Or looking up.

Dewey calls it reflective thinking (differentiating it from other types of thinking).

For Eric Reis, it might be part of the split testing process (or one of the various other methodologies in the Measure and Learn buckets).

Annie Duke, author of Thinking in Bets, might call it “bet to learn”.

Duke says that the quality of our lives is the sum of the quality of our decisions and luck. We tend to equate the quality of a decision with the quality of an outcome. This is dangerous because “we take credit for the good stuff and blame the bad stuff on luck. The result is that we don’t learn from our experience well.”

To improve the quality of our lives (or our businesses), we need to separate the quality of decisions from the influence of luck. And then, we need to work on making better quality decisions.

How we do it

Through looking up. It’s like a chef in the Masterchef kitchen telling a contestant to “taste, taste, taste” but they’re too busy looking down. Stop, look up, taste the food. It’s hard for a chef who tastes their food constantly to remain skinny 😊.

In OKR language – reflect and reset. Reflect on your process, reset your OKRs for the next quarter.

In your reflect session, ask these four questions:

  1. What do we celebrate as successes? This sets a positive mood, irrespective of whether this is due to good decisions or good luck.
  2. What do we accept as blunders? Separate those due to bad luck from those due to bad decisions. Think about your process, your decisions and your environment. They are not mistakes; they are simply things that happened.
  3. What are the options to improve? For each of the blunders, think about a possible solution. If there is none, don’t worry too much – the unfolding future doesn’t always have something to teach us.
  4. What do we choose to change? From the list, choose 2 or 3 at most. It’s a bit like split-testing – if you change everything at once, you actually won’t know what’s working.

Two questions from me: 

In studying Dewey’s work, Carol Rodgers distilled from his writing four criteria for reflection (see her full article here). Two of these criteria I want to turn into questions:

  1. Reflection needs to happen in community – are the forums or communities in place to allow your teams to reflect?
  2. Reflection requires the right attitude – are you creating the right culture to foster reflection, learning, and growth?

Note: I’m by no means an expert on Dewey and his work, and have applied the principles I’ve observed to our context, with an understanding that it’s very unlikely that this was his purpose for these principles. If I’ve in any way misrepresented him or his principles, please let me know!

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